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Welcome to Real Estate Live, a biweekly discussion of the Washington area housing market. Post real estate reporter Daniela Deane takes your questions and comments about Washington’s real estate market.

Daniela is out sick today so Maryann Haggerty, Washington Post real estate editor, will answer your real estate questions today.

The transcript follows.

Editor’s Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Maryann Haggerty: Hello, all. As the intro says, Daniela is out sick today, so I’ll do my best to fill in. There are already a bunch of questions, so I’ll just dive in.

Silver Spring, Maryland: I am a first time home buyer. I am just starting to look. I have never bought a home before and don’t know where to start. Where should a complete novice start when looking to purchase a home?

Maryann Haggerty: Educate yourself. Start by reading our real estate section every Saturday (hey, it’s a good one!) Then get yourself to the library; there are lots of good beginners books out there. And both Freddie Mac & the Fannie Mae Foundation have good Web sites aimed at beginners.

Gaithersburg: The Post has a section on its website for finding out recent home sale prices in the region, by zipcode or street or even by owner. Do you know of a national site with that info? Realtors.com can give you the list prices, but not the actual sale prices.

Thanks.

Maryann Haggerty: I’ve never found a good, reliable national Web site with that info. But many, many counties across the country have posted their public real estate records. Find the page for the county you’re interested in.

Virginia: How much money should I use for a downpayment? I could put down 20% or get an 80/10/10 or get an 80/18/2? The 2nd and 3rd options have higher rates (9/10%) for the 2nd mortgage (18% or 10%) but avoid PMI payments.

Maryann Haggerty: This is the classic do-the-numbers question. Work out what each option would cost you each month, INCLUDING what PMI would cost you. (Depending on interest rates, it may be lower than the non-PMI options.) Many people who have the cash prefer 20% down. It’s comfortable & less expensive. But if you don’t have the cash-or you think you can put it to work better somewhere else-then less down could be better. First-time buyers usually don’t have the spare cash to put down 20%.

Arlington Va.: My landlord just told me that he is thinking of selling the house I am living in. It is a bit more than I would shop for if I decided to buy right now.

Are there any creative financing strategies that I should look into to buy this property?

I know and love all my neighbors and it would be a fantastic investment as it is a great Metro-locale.

Maryann Haggerty: Is it more than you WANT to pay (in which case stretching might be the most creative thing possible) or more than you CAN pay? Talk to a banker or mortgage broker for specifics. And also ask your landlord whether he’s willing to carry back part of the mortgage. That’s usually not necessary in a market like this from the seller’s point of view, but maybe he wants the cash flow.

Columbia, Md.: My condos are 54% owner occupied. Can I have a conventional buyer? will they qualify? What about FHA/VA? Can they qualify?

Maryann Haggerty: I assume you mean the condos in your building are 54% owner occupied–& thus 46% tenant occupied. A buyer will have a very tough time getting a standard mortgage in that building. You may have to offer owner financing to unload your unit.

Fairfax, Va.: My mom lives in a small single family home on a 3/4 acre size lot.

– How can she find out if a new home could be built in her backyard (while keeping her current home)? – Would her neighbors have any say on this matter?

Thanks

Maryann Haggerty: She should start at the county planning & zoning dept for details. If this is intimidating-highly likely, depending on her personal background–she may want to hire a lawyer to do it for her. And yes, the odds are that the neighbors will have at least some say!

Oakton, Va.: I am planning to move out of state due to work reasons. Therefore, am deciding to sell my home, however, I have lived there for only 1 year and will be subjected to capital gains tax. I read somewhere that one is exempt from the capital gains rule if the sell is due to work reasons. Is this true? And if so, what are the specific rules regarding this? Must one move immediately after selling? And does the sell and move have to occur within the same tax year?

Thank you!

Maryann Haggerty: If the move is due to work reasons-the same distance, etc., rules that allow you to deduct moving expenses-then yes, you get a break, It’s pro-rated, but it’s still a break. As my columnist Bob Bruss would say, consult your tax adviser.

Arlington, Va.: I want to share a story of success with everyone. I’ve been looking for a two level/two bedroom townhouse or condo (in the $225,000-$260,000 range) since November, 2001. I was only looking at places close in, Arlington or Falls Church, to keep my commute reasonable. After five months and four unsuccessful offers (all with escalator clauses and all competing against at least three other offers), last week I finally made a successful bid for a townhouse in Arlington!! I beat out three other offers and got exactly what I was looking for while staying in the middle of my price range. So for everyone still looking, keep at it, go out looking every weekend and be ready to make that decision on the spot. Don’t settle for something you don’t want though. I’m so glad I didn’t make offers on some places that weren’t quite right and held out for what I really wanted. If you keep at it, you’ll eventually find what you want. Good luck!!

Maryann Haggerty: See? You really CAN do it!

Columbia, Md.: Got a question on accelerating paying off a mortgage…is it better to make extra monthly payments or just to add extra TO the monthly payment, with the extra going only to principal?

Maryann Haggerty: Depends on your cash flow, & how the lender amortizes the mortgage. Technically, if they amortize immediately upon receiving payment, then you’ll save a bit by paying extra each month rather than waiting till December. It’s just a little bit, but it is something. I personally find it easier to pay a little extra each month rather than write one big extra check a year, too. It’s more automatic.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Daniela —

I very much enjoy your real estate pieces that appear in the paper. However, in reading your recent piece on West Virginia panhandle-commuters, I was puzzled. No where in the piece did you quantify your claim as to how many homeowners in West Virginia are making the commute to work in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area. I realize there are a lot of anecdotal claims made being made in your reporting, but it would have been nice to see some "hard numbers" to support this trend. Thanks.

Maryann Haggerty: Obviously, I’m not Daniela-but we did try to get that questions answered. The best numbers-the Census bureau’s commuting time figures-are due out in a couple months; the last set are 10 years old. For some reason, the Council of Governments, the region’s traffic overseers, couldn’t find the numbers. I suspect we might have been able to cobble something together from the Va. & West Va. Highway depts., but weren’t able to do so on deadline. I really look forward to seeing the Census figures.

Washington, D.C.: I’ve been waiting for this chat and could really use your help. I rent a one-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill in a rowhouse with six other units. I’ve lived there for three years and my lease is up for renewal in June at which time my landlords (an older couple) advised me that they were raising my rent by what came to be over 10 percent.

My minimal understanding of rent control law is that they cannot raise it by this much. My lease does not stipulate that my apartment is free from rent control and there are more than four units in the building. Are they just hoping that I don’t know about these laws? Am I missing something here?

Also, I had a difficult time finding information on rent control laws. Can you please advise where I may be able to find this information so that I can present my landlords with it.

Thanks so much!

Maryann Haggerty: In D.C., rent control involves complex formulas on allowable rent ceilings. What happened in a lot of places is that for many years, landlords couldn’t actually increase rents because the market wouldn’t bear it, but they DID file to keep those allowable ceilings rising. Now that the markets will bear, they can jump the rents. For a lot more detail, see the city’s Web site, http://dcra.dc.gov/information/hra/rent_control.shtm. There’s also an active tenant-rights lobby in the city, the D.C. Tenants’ Advocacy Coalition, TENAC. Contact info escapes me now, but I bet you can find’ em easily.

Washington, DC: Hi — love your bi-weekly chats …

My wife and I looking for a detached house in No. Va — preferably near a metro. How much the does the distance to a metro increase the price of a unit (assuming all other things equal)?

It’s probably hard to tell but we’ve seen some wildly fluctuating prices with one house just a half mile closer to a metro stop than another.

Maryann Haggerty: I’ve never seen precise dollar-per-yard numbers on this, but being walking distance to Metro is a big, big plus. It might be interesting to map out, if I’m ever stuck for something to do…

Columbia, Md: Give this web site to Gaithersburg, Md:

http://sdatcert3.resiusa.org/rp_rewrite/

Gives home sales throughout Maryland.

Maryann Haggerty: Yes, in Maryland, numbers are all statewide. If you start with any county, it will direct you to the state data base…

Fairlington, Va.: Where to start w/ contractors?

I bought a house that has some structural issues. Leaking pipes have caused dry rot under a bathroom floor, which has started to sag. I know that the pipes and floor need to be totally replaced, but I don’t know where to start. A general contractor? A plumber? An architect? I don’t want to change anything with the bathroom, just to fix what’s wrong and then put new toilets, shower stall, sink back in the original places and then re-tile and repaint.

Maryann Haggerty: If it’s REALLY serious, then you start with the engineer. An architect can give you a good overview if you think this is going to turn into a major project. Several contractors can also give opinions; for mid-sized project, that’s probably the best start. If you had your house inspected before you bought it, you may want to call the inspector; they’ll come out & maybe for $100 give you an overview of what had to be done. (I found this helpful when I couldn’t decide whether to patch or replace a roof.)

Arlington, Va.: Historically, what close-in neighborhoods in the DC area hold housing value best?

Maryann Haggerty: Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda (the rich get richer). BUT: In the early ’90s, when stuff was crashing all around, it didn’t fall nearly as sharply in Prince George’s, because prices hadn’t gone up nearly as sharply in preceding years–i.e., there was no bubble to pop.

Arlington, Va.: Do you have any statistics on the building material(s) and exterior color of a house that are most popular in the DC area? I prefer clapboard house in whites and pale colors with dark shutters but I know a lot of people supposedly prefer brick.

We have a red brick one and a half story bungalow (1930s) in a historic neighborhood in North Arlington The ends of the roof are white clapboard. We are considering painting the brick white, for aesthetic reasons, but wonder how that effects the resale value. Any thoughts?

Maryann Haggerty: Take a walk around your neighborhood. What might be appealing to the whole region may not apply on your block. See what other people have done. I know, it sounds stultifyingly conformist, but that’s an indication of what people like. Also, think real hard about painting brick. If it wasn’t originally painted, it might look funny to do it now–& historically incorrect.

Quiet, Please!: I want to buy and looking at the market it looks like I am going to have to go with a condo. This means sharing walls.

I almost never have any noise (TV. etc) on when I am at home and wish to live somewhere that will be really quiet. So quiet I won’t even hear the neighbors TV. through the walls. What are my options? Is extremely quiets and soundproof the sort of characteristic that I can tell my agent (I don’t have one yet) to look for?

Maryann Haggerty: Make it clear to the agent that quiet is important to you. Some buildings ARE quieter than others; an experienced agent should have a good idea which ones are which. Also, make sure you arrange to see the unit in the evening, when people are home, so you get the full idea of the noise or lack thereof.

(soon to be) Columbia, Md.: After an 8 month home-buying adventure, full of searching, escalation clauses, multiple offers, not quite right houses, etc, we are scheduled to settle next week. The appraisal was good, the inspection was fine. Our lender and agent say we are all set. Is there anything that can go wrong at this point and ruin the settlement? We would like to prevent ANYthing from messing this up!! Thank you!

Maryann Haggerty: Oh, then you don’t want to hear about the day I spent chasing a FedEx truck around Washington trying to get the almost-lost cashiers check being sent to me from Florida, do you? (I can laugh about it now!) Make sure you have all your paper (especially that darn cashiers check!) Ask the lender when you’re going to see the HUD-1 (the final closing statement) so that there are no surprises. Also, make sure the moving company hasn’t screwed anything up…

Washington, DC: Good afternoon;

I have set a budget of roughly $500K for my first home purchase. This figure includes a down payment of roughly $160-170K. I wonder where I might get the best value for money? Bethesda, Kensington and Silver Spring are possibilities I have considered.

Thanks.

Maryann Haggerty: Ahh, the philosophical question. What is value? Do you value a short commute? Cost per square feet? Lots o’ yard? A cute house? My advice: get to know your neighborhoods. Only you can decide which is best for you.

Alexandria: Quiet condo suggestions: Look at condos in older buildings (built in 1950’s), with plaster walls. I lived in Park Fairfax and now Fairlington Towne and could barely hear my neighbors through the plaster walls. In parkfairfax, noise did travel through the floors, so be aware if you pick a unit with someone above you. Other older condo communities are Colonial Village (Arlington) and Fairlington in Arlington.

Maryann Haggerty: People generally do believe that plaster muffles sound better than dry wall. (Scientifically, AIR is the best muffler, so it depends not only on what material was used, but how it was designed.) But yes, do try out those older complexes.

Arlington, Va.: My wife and I are in the market for the first time, and I have a question about the realtor relationship. It has been very difficult because we are on the low end of the market yet we want to close to Metro. We went out with our realtor several weeks in a row, and I could tell that he was visibly frustrated when we turned down a couple of places he showed us.

Now we haven’t heard from him in a couple of weeks. I know from web realty engines that not much has come on the market, but he used to call us at least once a week just to let us know that there was nothing new that week. Has he cut us loose without telling us? My wife is so insulted that I don’t know if we will be able to work with him again at all. Are we supposed to inform him that we are going to be using a different realtor?

Maryann Haggerty: What if anything did you sign? If you had an official buyer brokerage agreement, you do need to notify him, according to terms of the agreement, to make sure you don’t owe him anything. If you didn’t, then he wasn’t really representing you anyway. Either way, I’d call and ask him what gives. And if you don’t want to deal with him in the future, don’t. Relationships between would-be buyers & agents are relationships between human beings, so they are complex, & sometimes folks just don’t get along.

Downtown: We have been perusing open houses in Arlington. Is there any way to find out how much over the asking price (if at all?) the house finally sold for if you only know the address? I assume there is a time lag with the public records the WP information is based on…

Maryann Haggerty: Yes, there is a time lag. If you’re desperately curious, you get go down to the courthouse & look at the actual filing; that’s available within days of closing. (That’s what I do when I’m reporting a commercial building sale, for instance.) Or you can ask your real estate agent. They are very good at that.

Washington D.C.: To the person seeking quiet – depending on where you’re looking, you need to look at noise issues in ALL kinds of buildings. I live in a rowhouse and there is actually more noise through the shared walls than in some apartments I’ve lived in. And, if you’re in a dense-packed neighborhood (such as the central city) there’s outside noise to contend with.

Maryann Haggerty: Another noise comment. Speaking as a town house resident, I heartily concur. I just wish the teenager next door had half-way decent taste in music!

Washington D.C.: Another noise question: are there laws about how much noise your neighbors can make? for example – if they are blasting a stereo outside 15 feet from your bedroom window (but not on your property) is there anything you can do??

Maryann Haggerty: More: Every municipality has noise regulations. If it’s really bad, ask the cops. They can & will enforce stuff. But, hey, ask the neighbors first. Every time the teenager’s music is really horrendous, we just call, & he turns it down with only a minimum of grumbling.

Washington D.C.: I live in a very large apartment complex in DC owned by a major city landlord. There is a mentally ill woman living on my hall. Lately, she has been screaming in the middle of the night, and recently smeared blood down the hallway. The scent of urine sometimes comes from her apartment and there is a clump of hair outside. I suspect she is only violent to herself, and this seems to be a new development. We worry this could worsen. What, if any, action should/may I be taking? Complain to the landlord? And what if they do nothing? It seems the landlord would also be in a difficult position. Are there any resources for this type of situation or law I could read?

Maryann Haggerty: This is a very sad situation. Many large landlords have had their people trained to some degree on how to deal with this kind of thing. make sure your building managers are aware. Local mental health agencies may also have some idea. I have read stuff, but can’t remember. (There was a story we ran, maybe a year ago, on a DC group that specifically worked to keep elderly, sometimes confused, tenants in their apartments by hooking them up with appropriate support. I wish I could remember the details. Oh dot-com producer, can you find it? The author was Barbara Ruben…)

Columbia, Md.: I listed my condo with 2% commission. After the sale, the agent wanted the full 3%, I agreed to $500 extra fearing her lousing up the deal. Is this legal? Can she request more?

Maryann Haggerty: What did your written contract say? This is what she’s obliged to follow. Even though the deal is past, contact her broker (i.e., her boss.) I wouldn’t be surprised if you prevail. And do not hesitate to report her to the state regulatory agency if needed.

Sterling: Thanks for hosting Maryann. I’m very close to deciding whether I want to buy a townhouse/rowhouse in DC or VA and was wondering what home-related expenses I should consider that are different for homeowners in DC and VA. How much more expensive can property tax, sanitation (trash pickup) fees, electricity, etc., be between DC and VA? Anything I’m missing in terms of significant cost different in home ownership in both areas? Any resources? Thanks.

Maryann Haggerty: Actually, DC property taxes are remarkably low. Virginia income taxes, though, are much lower. There’s a recent study (I haven’t read it myself & can’t vouch for it) that argues that at certain income brackets, DC taxes are lower than Md & on a par with Va. See story on page 2 of today’s District Extra. Trash pickup fees vary by neighborhood (there aren’t any in your basic DC neighborhood.)I’ve never compared utility costs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the heavily-regulated DC utilities are competitive or even less than the less-heavily regulated Va. ones. Take into account your commuting & parking costs. In many ways, it feels that the little things cost more in DC–handymen, etc. And for now, you’re going to land up driving out to the ‘burbs if you want a Home Depot, but one is planned for NE soon.

Washington, DC: Hi, I always hear about Arlington in VA and Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac, etc. in MD as wonderful neighborhoods in which to own a home. I’m thinking of moving to the Silver Spring area and was wondering how are sales fairing in general in that area. I know that Silver Spring’s downtown is being revitalized. In your professional opinion, is it likely to ever become an "IT" neighborhood. Thanks.

Maryann Haggerty: I don’t know–have never known–what an "IT" neighborhood is. I know many people who live in & like Silver Spring–& are pleasantly surprised at the last year’s home price appreciation after several years of lagging behind their wealthier cousins to the west. I also know many people who will never be able to surmount their opinion that Silver Spring is somehow lower class than Bethesda.

Forestville, Md.: Is PMI available to second-time buyers? We own (ha! Wells Fargo owns) a townhouse. We also have a home equity loan that we took to pay off some bills. Now we realize that the house is really too small. Can we put down the 10 to 15% that we would have after the sale of the home and some stock, with PMI, to get my dream house?

Maryann Haggerty: Sure. PMI (or 80/10/10 mortgages, if that works better for you) is available to move-up buyers.

Arlington, Va.: My wife and I were delighted to see that a condo in Bethesda was reasonably priced, so I called the agent and learned that the condo fee is more than we are currently paying in rent! We only saw the building from the outside, and while it looked like it is nicely maintained, there no extensive facilities, i.e., a dinky pool, no exercise room, no community room.

What gives? At the risk of posing an unanswerable question, what would a "reasonable" condo fee be?

Maryann Haggerty: Condos have to show you lots of numbers–operating budget, reserves, etc.–if you’re considering buying. Look at the numbers. See what the money goes to. It’s all there in black & white. There may be expenses that aren’t evident from the outside. Remember, though: It’s false economy for a condo board to "forget" to save for future capital repairs (new roof, etc.) to keep the condo fee down.

Washington, DC: I hope I am asking in the right chat.

I see condos and townhomes for sale in places like "Leisure World" or other communities marketing themselves for an "Active over-55" crowd. The prices and sizes must be good for empty-nesters about to retire, but they are also prefect for singles, never-nesters, far away from retirement age. So my questions are, how can they get away with an "over-55" place? How is that different than direction certain nationalities to areas? Isn’t it a form of age-discrimination and subject to EEO laws regarding fair housing practices?

Thanks, -Just another twenty-something who can’t afford to by anything in the area.

Maryann Haggerty: There is a specific legal exemption in the fair housing laws that allows over-55 communities.

Metro Rule Of Thumb: Being within walking distance of a Metro station (15 minutes or 3/4 of a mile) usually tacks on 30% to the price of a condo, townhouse or detached house. Ironic, isn’t it, that only the wealthy can afford to live near mass transit?

Maryann Haggerty: That’s a good rule of thumb, though I’ve never seen it anywhere else. I would consider it highly ironic–except that I know that taking Metro saves me $2,500 per year in parking alone (even after I subtract the cost of Metro)–and lord only knows how much in car payments, gas, insurance & aggravation.

Arlington, Va.: My husband and I are first time home buyers we’re not sure as to when to purchase a home. We just started looking, but I wanted to know if interests will be going up?

Maryann Haggerty: Depends what happens with the economy. Alan Greenspan said yesterday he doesn’t think the Fed should raise rates just yet. While Fed actions & mortgage rates are NOT directly correlated, that does seem to be an indication. On the other hand, rates are so darn low now that I doubt they can go any significant amount lower in this current cycle.

Great Falls, Va.: I know it’s a seller’s market right now, but is this a common practice? When it happened to me I found it fairly frustrating and annoying.

Made an offer on an Arlington two-bedroom condo, with an escalator clause going up to $20,000 over asking price. Seller’s agent makes a counter offer to me at the top of my escalator, mentioning that there was an offer just above mine, and just below, but wanted to offer to me because seller liked my application/financial package best. Not wanting to be taken, I replied that I would be willing to pay whatever price my escalator took me to. Turns out there was no offer above mine, and the next highest offer only escalated me up to a few thousand above list price.

Seller then removed property from market, and relisted a couple of weeks later at $30,000 over original asking price.

Maryann Haggerty: I find that sleazy–but it may not be illegal. (you might want to ask another agent.)Agent shouldn’t have lied to you about the other bids–but I don’t know how the statement was worded. Simple fact, though: If the seller doesn’t like any of the offers, he’s fully within his rights to pull the property off the market, even if the offers are above the asking price. He’s not, repeat not, obligated to accept your escalator clause’s top. Frankly, consider yourself better out of this one. You didn’t pay more than you wanted for the unit.

Vienna, Va.: two questions – 1. re the chatter above and pro-rating capital gains if it’s work related – I moved from the Boston area where I had been out of work for a year to this area and bought a house here for about $100K less than the selling price of the one in Boston. I did make some improvements in the first two years to cut down on the capital gains but then paid. I was unaware of the "work related" issue. This was in 1993. Can I still go back and get a refund? Is that a relatively new law?

2. I will be retiring in a couple of years and moving out of state. I have been searching and searching the web for construction costs per square foot either in the state where I’ll be moving or relative costs in different parts of the country but can’t find anything – can you direct me?

Thanks so much for taking my questions

Maryann Haggerty: 1: If memory serves, the tax law was different in 1993. You didn’t get the cap gains exemption then; it’s only been the past few years. 2: Means, the definitive construction cost estimation company, may have something in one of its publications. (Full name, I think, is R.S. Means.)Most of the cost of a house is the land, though, not the construction. As far as overall costs by area, there are lots of surveys, etc., of that. Take a look at Web site www.bestplaces.net

Alexandria: For Arlington who is looking near the Metro but is on the low end of buying, I would suggesting looking near the Huntington Metro in the Fairfax Co. area of Alexandria. Within about a mile there are duplexes right near the Metro, small single family homes, slightly larger brick homes probably built in the 1950’s, and some new townhomes going up. A wide range of prices within walking distance, might be worth a look.

Maryann Haggerty: A suggestion…

Kensington Md.: I own a small 2BR 1BA house and want to trade up. My financial situation has greatly improved since I first bought and I have about $50K cash to put in the sale in addition to around $50K equity. Should I buy what I can afford like the lenders tell me ($325K) or what I need like the Real Estate agents tell me ($275K)?

Maryann Haggerty: Back to a constant theme: It’s a matter of your priorities. The way I look at it, buy only what you need & use the extra cash for a nice vacation, or your retirement account. What the lenders are telling you is the MAX you can afford. But there are people who believe that buying the most house you can possibly afford is a good investment, because you’ll sell it for zillions some day. I’d rather travel. Or, if I truly believed in investing that much in real estate, buy a second property & rent it out.

Washington, DC: We are buying a rowhouse, and it has a rental basement though not separated metered. The seller said it would be easier for us to do because we are new owners, and city will be easier on us for the permits, rather than for they to do, which will required all the construction permits. Is it truth? They will give us credit on the closing if we acquire the meters on our own.

Maryann Haggerty: If they need construction permits (and I assume they do), you would too. One difference: It takes time for permit processing, construction, etc., & that could greatly delay your closing. Ask an electrical contractor what this would cost. If the credit they give you makes it worth it, you’d probably want to handle the work yourself after you own the property.

Love it in Alexandria, Va.: Greetings! My husband and I are renting a rowhouse in Old Town but would love to buy ANY kind of house (sfh, row-, town-) in OT, Rosemont, or parts of DelRay. Our modest salaries currently don’t allow us to compete in the white-hot market of these affluent, close-in ‘burbs, but we REALLY like this area & want to raise a family here. Therefore we face a dilemma: Should we cut our losses now & move elsewhere just in order to be able to buy something, anything? (As our parents, siblings, & friends advocate ad nauseum.) Or is it just as valid to want to live somewhere so badly we’re willing to "wait out" the market? And is waiting-out the market even possible in Alexandria? Obviously we’re saving up as we wait. Thank you very much.

Maryann Haggerty: I don’t know–no body knows–whether "waiting it out" makes a difference, or whether it’s even possible. Are your really, truly sure you can’t buy ANYTHING? Try hard. But if it does come down to the tough choice, you have to look hard at your priorities. Renting really is throwing money away. Buying in a less than perfect neighborhood does allow you to, possibly, build up toward your dream house some day. But if you’d be miserable living anywhere else, that would be wrong for you. But you might also try having an open mind about other neighborhoods. Lotsa buts here; sorry.

Alexandria: FYI, bestplaces.net doesn’t work. Did you mean bestplaces.com?

Maryann Haggerty: No, I don’t. The .com address is someplace completely different. I mean .net

Re: Painting brick: Once brick is painted it must always be painted. Our house is a nice 1930s brick colonial that previous owners painted. It is not what we like, and we have to keep repainting it when the paint job gets old. It is an additional expense for no good reason.

Maryann Haggerty: I’m about running out of time, so I’m going to throw out a few comments from y’all, then get back to work, (After all, Thursday is my deadline for the Saturday section.) Worse–if you want to remove the paint someday, it’s a major hassle.

Bethesda, Md.: There’s -no- doubt that some buildings are quieter than others. The condo I live in is so quiet that people who have visited me ask (jokingly, I assume) if I’m the only person living in the building.

Maryann Haggerty: and this…

Washington, DC: OK, I promise, this is my last "noise" about noise. You are SO RIGHT about talking to the neighbors about this & any other issue. I had a major problem and after repeatedly getting woken up (at which point they’d turn the music down – but at 3 AM when you’re awake, damage is done) – we had a more "intense" discussion and since then things are fine. (They are basically good neighbors who were being clueless.) Most people don’t want to annoy you.

I do have another neighbor who is hopeless, but fortunately not TOO much of an irritant. You can ask, but it does no good.

Which leads to my advice – try to check out a house on several different days/times of day. You may find some surprising things.

Maryann Haggerty: And, finally, this… It’s been fun. Make sure to pick up the Saturday paper–besides all the usual educational stuff, we’ve got a good read about all the fantastic, charming, marvelous adjectives people use to sell houses!

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