- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2005

The water, city lights and the ninth hole all have a special allure when viewed from a front porch or picture window. A home with a view will always be worth more than a similar home with no view, real estate agents and appraisers say, and the scenery offers far more than a mere dinner-party conversation topic.

Homes with picture-perfect views are harder to find and come with a larger price tag. But what is the value of a good view?

In addition to providing attractive scenery, homes with a view have lasting appeal. Many buyers have been willing to make sacrifices to get the view they want.

Mary Smirnow of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. sells waterfront properties along the Potomac River in Fort Washington.

“If there’s someone who sees a view and it strikes them emotionally, they’ll pay the price,” she says. “That’s what helps drive the value up. It is an emotional thing and sometimes hard to put a value on a view.”

Simple supply and demand plays a big part in the price. If every home had a good view, they wouldn’t be prized so highly.

“The fact that a view is unique means there’s a limited amount of it, and that will also increase the value,” Ms. Smirnow says. That is also one of the reasons why appraisers say that they include a desirable view in their appraisal process.

Sue Bowers of Suburban Appraisers & Consultants Inc. in Fairfax agrees that a view is important.

A purchaser will definitely pay more for a good view, she says, and a house with a view will appraise higher than a comparable home without one.

“The more dramatic the view, the higher the value. For example, a wider view of the water is more valuable than a narrow view,” Ms. Bowers says.

When appraising condominiums, Ms. Bowers says, she often makes adjustments by floor based on the view. One building in Reston had a condominium unit with what she called “a gorgeous view” and was appraised for $200,000 more than the other units that had no view.

Ms. Bowers says it’s not uncommon for condominiums on one side of a building, with views of the Washington Monument, for example, to sell for more than those on the other side of the same building.

Pete McCormick, an appraiser in Winchester, Va., has been appraising properties in Washington and Northern Virginia for more than 30 years and says a view is definitely something each appraiser has to take into consideration.

Mr. McCormick says he remembers that when Watergate at Landmark in Alexandria was built, sales on the upper floors were slow at first because people wondered if the fire department could get ladders that high.

“When they found out that they did have ladders that can reach the upper floors,” Mr. McCormick says, “[upper floors] began to sell for a premium.”

New-home builders charge buyers more for premium lots, and appraisers say that makes a difference when it comes time to sell.

“If a new subdivision is charging ten or twenty thousand dollars more for properties along the golf course or on the water, when it comes time to sell, if the market is reflecting that buyers are wiling to pay for those kinds of views, then I will recognize it in the appraisal,” Mr. McCormick says.

A great view also can help a home maintain its value through a recession, Ms. Smirnow says.

“During the recession that took place in the [1990s], we all lost value on our homes,” she says, “but the ones with unique views bounced back quicker and retained their value better.”

Real estate insiders say that golf views are especially popular in newer neighborhoods and that buyers like the open space that comes along with them.

Mr. McCormick says the benefit of a golf-course view “depends on whether or not they catch a lot of [stray] balls. I appraised one really nice property that backed to a golf course, and the owner had a five-gallon bucket of balls in her basement.”

Real estate agents and appraisers agree that of all of the views, a water view of some type is usually the most desirable.

“I think that’s because water is a magical thing,” says Ms. Smirnow, who owns a home on the Potomac River herself.

She admits to being reluctant to buy a home on the water in the beginning.

“I was sort of dragged a little bit kicking and screaming by my husband, who had been raised on the water,” she says. “For the same money, I could have a state-of-the-art, squeaky-clean house in the new home subdivision as opposed to one that needed total renovation.”

However, Mrs. Smirnow says, she enjoys her waterfront home, realizing that “you can change your house but can never change your lot. If you find a home on the river that’s in need of a little TLC, you can always change that to what you’re looking for.”

Ms. Smirnow says her buyers are very specific about whether they want a creek view, wide-open river view or bay view.

Ms. Smirnow also says some people don’t care if they have a view but want to be close enough to the water to have access and a place to keep a boat.

Buyers should make sure to find out if the view has the potential to change over time. There are many stories of buyers purchasing homes for the view only to have that view disappear. Trees can grow tall on a protected shoreline, for example, obstructing a water view. Environmental buffer zones can forbid topping of trees.

“It’s important to find out if the view will change,” Ms. Bowers says. “If there’s a view of a wooded area, find out if all of those woods will come down and be sold for timber later on.”

City views and water views — especially from condominiums — run the risk of being obstructed by another building that comes along later.

“I had that happen to me on a beach condo years ago,” says Ms. Smirnow, who purchased a property before she got into real estate, only to go back and find out that there was an apartment building being built right in front of her condo.

“If you’re primarily interested in the view and you have some distance between the property and the water, make sure that no one can build on it,” she says.

With water views come access issues, too. Buyers should check to make sure a prospective property has access to the water — and docks are permitted — if boating is their primary concern. Shorelines can be restricted, or they can be set aside for public rights of way. Waterways also are subject to navigation and environmental regulation.

It all adds up to supply and demand, which affects the value of property.

“When you have the access and the unobstructed view also, that is what brings the money,” Ms. Smirnow says. She also suggests that potential waterfront buyers check the depth of the water, especially if they have a large boat.

The quality of the view will determine how much a buyer will be willing to pay for it.

Appraisers say not to expect a home with a good view from only the corner of the second-floor bedroom, or a view filtered by trees, to be as valuable as a full view.

“If you live in a house with a great view that relaxes you, whether it’s water or some other view,” Ms. Smirnow says, “your year-round home becomes your little safe haven and your spot for relaxation.”

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