What is an MLS?

March 24th, 2015

What is an MLS?

Odds are you’ve spent a little time online searching for homes. After all, most home searches begin online. You may have even used a broker’s website or a site like Trulia or Zillow to help you browse listings.


But where does listing information come from?


Way back in the day, prior to the Information Age revolution, brokers used to gather and exchange information about their properties. The idea was fairly straightforward: I’ll help you sell your properties if you help me sell mine. It’s a “private offer of cooperation and compensation.” Cooperation meant the real estate industry could thrive and buyers and sellers could enjoy smoother transactions.


This spirit of cooperation gave rise to Multiple Listing Service(s) (MLS). By consolidating information about housing inventory in an MLS, listing brokers and buyers’ brokers can easily share up-to-date information about homes on the market. Though an MLS is typically a private database available to brokers, much of the information is syndicated to outside sites in the interest of casting wider net for buyers and sellers.


As an MLS is the primary source of information about a property, it tends to be the most accurate. It may also contain private information for use by brokers only, such as times the home is available for showings and seller contact information.


There are upwards of 850 MLS databases in the U.S. alone, and to a certain

extent, there is market pressure to centralize these into a national MLS database. We’re sure to see changes in how Multiple Listing Services are used in the future, but the core benefits to home sellers and buyers is sure to remain.


Ready to put the power of an MLS to work for you? Search with me today for homes on the market right now. I’d be happy to help you find your next home:


Affording a Home……….

March 24th, 2015

Home shopping can be tough when you’re not sure how much you can afford. If you’ve wanted to live the dream of owning your own home, but haven’t been sure where to start, I’ve put together a few tips that can make it easier to get a handle on where to start.


1. Tax benefits usually mean you can afford more than your rent. Interest deductions on taxes typically translate into significant savings. Many people find they can afford about 33% more than their current rent. To get an idea of what this might be for you, multiply your current rent by 1.33.


2. A home price two-to-three times your gross income is usually a reasonable place to begin. For example, if your household made $75,000 last year, you could begin looking in the $150,000 – $225,000 range to start.


3. Know how much you can put down. Ideally, you’d want to have 20% of the home’s price set aside for a down payment. On a $200,000 home, this would be roughly $40,000. While people qualify with less, it can result in higher interest rates (which translate to higher monthly payments).


4. Determine your “debt factor.” Lenders will often cite the 28/41 rule when it comes to your debt. This means that your mortgage (plus taxes and insurance) shouldn’t exceed 28% of your gross monthly income. Your total payments (credit card, car loan, etc.) plus your mortgage shouldn’t come to more than 41% of your gross monthly income.


I often work with first-time buyers and renters to get themselves lined up for home ownership. If you’d like to learn more, or have questions, I’d be happy to help.


To Renovate or Not?

February 10th, 2015

Over time, almost any home could use an upgrade. Not only is wear and tear an issue, but our needs change as we do. Birth, death, marriage, the kids going off to college… all can have a profound impact on the utility of our home and the pleasure we take in it. Home renovation can be an excellent way to improve your quality of life, but is it always the best choice? By asking yourself these five essential renovation questions, you can gain real insight into the right decision.


1. What are your renovation priorities?

Yes, if you could do it all, it would be great. But odds are you won’t be able to do it all. So brainstorm all of your renovation desires and write them down. Next, rank them by order of importance. Some will be large and some will be small. Consider your budget. Would you be happier with one large revision, or would several small ones be better? Prioritize to clarify!


2. How disruptive will the renovation be to living in your home?

Understanding your appetite for disruption is important. Some renovation projects are minor and may take a day or two. Others could drag on for months and months. What are you willing to tolerate?


3. How will the renovation impact the home’s balance?

Major renovation projects can throw a home’s feel, flow, or look out of line. If you put a commercial-grade, ultramodern kitchen, will the nearby living room look shabby or antiquated? What if you add a bedroom but you only have one bathroom?


4. How long will you enjoy the renovation?

People typically renovate when they’re planning on staying in their home. Which direction is your neighborhood heading? Are you planning to downsize in a couple of years? A renovation may be overkill if you don’t think you’ll stick around long.


5. Will you recoup your investment?

Happiness with your home should be your top priority, but before you renovate you should understand that a major renovation isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get your money out when it’s time to sell. This may or may not be a factor for you.


I’m perfectly happy to walk through these questions with you. Renovating may be the right choice, but sometimes only a move will do. Either way, I’m here to help:




Be a smarter buyer with this bonus information checklist…… The questions buyers forget to ask

January 6th, 2015

When you’re home hunting, information is power. The more you know before you make an offer, the better. Usually when two homes are equally appealing, digging into the details can make a difference. Here’s a list of “bonus information” that most buyers overlook or forget to ask about while they’re shopping for a house:


Homeowner’s association rules: Certain neighborhood covenants may be a deal maker or breaker for you, so if there’s a set of guidelines you’ll be required to adhere to, get them up front. They can cover everything from paint schemes to lawn design and beyond.


Utility bills: Most sellers won’t balk at sharing with you what utilities cost annually. Water, power, gas, and even telecommunication or cable service provider bills can help you get a better idea what it will cost monthly to live in the home.


Pest control: In areas where pests can be a problem, asking for information about who has been maintaining pest control (and how much it costs) can help you plan financially and get a sense if the sellers have been keeping up with pest issues.


Service providers: Save yourself some leg work and ask the sellers who they like for lawn maintenance, pool maintenance, home repair work, housecleaners, and appliance repair. Not only will the list save you time, but the providers will already be familiar with the home’s condition and systems.


Home insurance company: You can bet the company insuring the home will want to continue to keep the business, and getting this cost information and provider contact info from the buyer is a good idea.


Floor plans: Having a floor plan will help you understand whether or not your stuff is a good fit for the home. Not every seller will have these handy, but sometimes a seller’s agent will be willing to get a current floor plan put together if it’s important to you.


They may seem like small details, but they can make all the difference.


I love helping home buyers make informed decisions about their next home. I can help you walk through the pros and cons of every detail.

Get in touch today:   Call Kate  703-395-5802


How to save your plants this winter

November 14th, 2014

When the colder months settle in, there’s no reason to sacrifice all of your plants. Depending on the type of plants you have and the severity of your winter, there are ways to help ensure your favorite decorative greenery sees another spring.


Before it’s too late, take the time now to plan your plant protection strategy. These tips selected from gardening experts from around the web should help many of your most beloved shrubs, bushes, trees, and potted wonders make it through the harsh weather.


Move potted plants off concrete and onto the earth. Protecting the roots of a plant can be key to its survival. The top of a plant can often endure more trauma than the roots. Concrete can warm considerably in the sun, and then become very cold at night. This heat/cool cycle and the rapid swings in temperature it brings can damage roots.


Plant in big pots. Soil is insulation for root systems. In a 10-gallon pot you’ll have ten times the protection a 1-gallon pot provides. It can also be useful to buy a pot with a thickness greater than one inch as a means of helping further shield the roots.


During winter, water at the warmest point in the day. When temperatures climb above freezing, water your plants. Water is often used as a defense against freezing temperatures, in part because when water freezes it releases heat. Also, wet soil does a better job protecting from invasive cold than dry soil (which contains air pockets).


Position plants where temperature swings are lower. Often southern exposures will experience the greatest temperature fluctuations, so consider

Tips to Save Our Most Precious Resource: Water – Lower Water Bills and Conserve for the Future

October 1st, 2014

Water is our most precious resource. As our planet becomes more crowded and the demand for clean drinking water grows, it’s increasingly important that we look for creative ways to reduce needless waste. You might underestimate how small changes can really add up. Did you know simply by turning off the water while you brush your teeth, you may save up to as much as 25 gallons per month? (A great way to make this point with kids is to show them at the grocery store what 25 gallons of milk looks like… that’s a lot of water!) Even shortening your shower by two minutes can add up to 150 gallons per month.   Below are some creative tips you can use to cut down on your water consumption, lower your water bills, and preserve a resource we truly can’t live without:   1. Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap. Instead of waiting for cold water, every drop ends up as part of your drink.   2. Wash veggies and fruits in a pan of water, then gather the water you use and reuse it to water indoor plants.   3. Consider installing an instant water heater near your kitchen, so you don’t have to run the water excessively when you need hot water. (This can also reduce overall energy expenses.)   4. Remember: Washing dark clothes in cold water saves on both water and energy, and it helps your clothes retain their vibrancy.   5. Rather than following a set watering schedule for your lawn and garden, check for soil moisture two to three inches below the surface before watering. If it’s still moist, hold off on running those sprinklers.   6. Reduce the amount of lawn you have to water by practicing xeriscaping, which is landscaping and gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation. (Rocks, natural, local vegetation, etc.)   7. Does your shower fill a 1-gallon bucket in less than 20 seconds? Replace your shower head with a water-efficient model.   Share these seven tips with others and encourage people in your neighborhood to join you in your support of water conservation. If you’re interested in looking at eco-friendly homes, give me a call! I’d be happy to show you what’s on the market:    

The Secrets to Pricing a Home Right

September 12th, 2014

The pricing conversation is always a challenge. You want top dollar for your home, and your real estate agent will, too. After all, a better commission comes from a better price. But a lot of psychology and strategy goes into home pricing, and if you don’t go in with your eyes wide open, you could end up heartily disappointed.


Here are some tough truths about home pricing. While they can vary a little depending on unique market conditions, they should all be in the back of your mind as you prepare to list.


1. Some agents will try and “buy the listing.” Sad but true: Some agents will tell you what you want for the home is accurate, even if it’s too high. Figuring they can manage disappointment and reductions down the line, the less-than-ethical agent will try and cut off the more honest competition by telling you the price you think you should get for the listing is the price you should shoot for.


2. Nobody cares what you paid for the home. No buyer in the history of real estate has ever agreed to pay more for a home because of the profit a a seller hopes to get. Yes, you may have sunk $150,000 in renovations into the basement, but the market will dictate the pricing, not what you “think is right.”


3. Lowball pricing is risky. Yes, you can generate a lot of interest by undercutting other listings on the market, but people may still attempt to negotiate. While you may stay firm on your price, you could find yourself making contract compromises you’d rather not make.


4. Precise pricing suggests you’re less wiling to negotiate. List a home for $403,750 versus $400,000 and you’re basically broadcasting a kind of inflexibility. This may or may not be part of your pricing strategy, but whatever you do, don’t do it unconsciously.


5. Seasonal timing can influence pricing. Are you the only comparable home on the market in January? You might be able to get a little more, especially if schools are good.


6. Infomercial pricing can make a difference. Have a million dollar home? Swallow your pride and try your hand in the $990K+ range. Slipping under the seven-figure mark can cast a slightly wider net for buyers.


Most homes sell within 3% of a market-savvy asking price, so go with an agent who is willing to explore the deep local conditions. Curious how much your home might be worth right now? I’d be happy to put together a no-obligation pricing matrix for you: Call Kate @ 703-395-5802



Why hasn’t anyone made an offer on your home? It could be the bedrooms. Is it time to freshen up your bedroom?

September 8th, 2014

Why hasn’t anyone made an offer on your home? It could be the bedrooms. Here are some serious signs you’re in need of a bedroom makeover.

Bedrooms don’t come with an expiration date, but some really should. When buyers are touring a home, a stale bedroom with outdated style can be a deal-breaker. Problematically, many sellers simply can’t see their own bedrooms honestly anymore. Give your bedroom the “has it gone bad?” sniff test by checking for these common signs of stale design:

Your ceiling has more popcorn than the home theater: Is your ceiling a constellation of dusty, stained popcorn texture? Nothing says “state of the art 1950s design” like the popcorn ceiling. Removal can be a dirty job, and you’ll want to have it checked for asbestos before you do, but getting rid of it goes a long way to modernizing the look.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall. And the closets. And the… ceiling? A little reflected light makes a bedroom look bigger, but if you’re rocking the fun house / journey-into-infinity effect, consider removing some of those reflective surfaces.

Frills, frills everywhere. Check those bed skirts, window dressings, and curtains. Could a Civil War-era southern belle scratch together a formal dress from your assortment of puffy fabrics? Tone it down.

Sorry, captain, the pattern is… retro. Check the paper in your drawers, the shelves of your armoire, and the paper on the walls. Does it feel like felt? Is it yellow like a pirate map? Does it remind you of an 80s prom? Any (or all!) of these are signs you need to update.

Prison ward pillows. Wow, that bed looks… really, really flat. You sleep like that? Clean lines are one thing, an uncomfy bedroom is another. Puff it up and make it cozy.


Formica anything. Does your dresser look like it would make a nice kitchen island in the 1970s? Spring for some staging furniture and replace that laminate wonderland.


But I’ve had that alarm clock / television / stereo for 30 years! Yes, and it shows. Nix the flip-digit clocks, the wood grain television cabinets, and the neon-striped boom boxes. Modernize or put them in storage, stat.


Yes, buyers can modernize a bedroom when they buy the house, but expecting them to see past your bedroom’s past is taking a gamble. Do a few simple things to freshen up that room!


Need someone to evaluate your interior appeal? I’m happy to share my candid thoughts and guide you towards maximizing your home’s appeal:

Cleaning Up Credit Inaccuracies – How to Dispute an Error on Your Credit History

August 14th, 2014

Discovering an error on your credit history can be a rude surprise when you’re attempting to get pre-approved for a mortgage. Though most people don’t think about the details of their credit report until the need to secure a loan, it’s a good idea to check your report for inaccuracies periodically.  There are companies that do a FREE annual credit report.  Just make sure it is truly free!

If you do find an error, the best way to attempt a correction is through a dispute letter. Dispute letters allow you to formally request a fix by the reporting agency. Though it may take a little time to get the errors removed, cleaning up these mistakes can have a direct (and favorable!) effect on your credit score, helping you secure lower interest rates and better terms.

Here’s what you’ll need to include for each mistake you find:

1. Which account shows the mistake.

2. Specifically what’s incorrect about the account where it appears in the report.

3. What changes should be made and why those changes should be made.

4. Any supporting evidence or documentation which will bolster your claim.


For example: “On my report, the Chase Visa ending in XXXX shows my account is still active. I closed this account in 2012 and should be shown as closed, not active. Included is a letter from Chase bank, confirming the date of my the account’s closure.”

It’s a good idea to keep copies of everything you send. Also, be sure to send the correction to all three major reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) as well as the original creditor (i.e. the credit card company, utility, etc.). You can find the current dispute mailing addresses on these company’s websites. Federal law mandates that agencies must help you within 30 days. Keep records of your disputes and when/how you communicated with the agencies.


Getting your credit in shape is an important step to take when you’re preparing to buy a home. I help buyers prepare every day!

Get in touch:  Kate Martin 703-395-5802



10 Tips for Protecting Your Home During Vacations

August 3rd, 2014

I hope you all have  a safe and relaxing time during your vacation this summer.  It’s crucial that we all have time to recharge and recognize what’s important in life.  We only go around once, so it’s important to savor what we have.


Before you leave town, I thought you might be interested in a few precautionary safety tips to keep your home and your possessions safe while you’re gone.  Often in the run-up to a vacation, people neglect to take simple steps to protect themselves from becoming a victim of theft or vandalism.


You’ve probably covered your bases, but just in case, here are 10 basic precautions you can take:


  1. Have someone collect your mail and newspaper daily.
  2. Leave shades and blinds in normal positions.
  3. Put at least two lights and a radio on automatic timers.
  4. Have someone leave trash at your curb on garbage collection day.
  5. Have someone park a car in your driveway occasionally. If you leave your car outside, arrange to have it moved every so often.
  6. Leave a key with a trusted neighbor in case of an emergency. Let the neighbor know where you are going and when you are expect to return, also leave them a way to get in contact with you in case of an emergency.
  7. Lock all windows and doors before you go. Do not forget to double-check basement and garage doors.
  8. On extended trips have someone to maintain your landscaping, (grass mowed, leaves raked, etc.)
  9. Consider turning off your home’s water main to prevent damage from a burst pipe.
  10. Be careful how much you check-in on social media while on vacation. If your privacy settings are incorrect you might reveal to strangers your home is vacant!


Be safe and have a blast…

To view more helpful articles and or search for homes visit my website www.KateMartinTeam.com