- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

The mantra “location, location, location” still bears repeating by Washington-area Realtors. But other considerations are important to residential real estate buyers, too. “With prices as high as they are in our area, the very first thing everyone does is look for a location where they can find something they can afford,” says Gwen Pangle, a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate in Leesburg, Va. “Affordability really comes even before location because a lot of people might want to live closer to the city or to own a lot of land in the country, but they have to be realistic about what they can spend. Location follows this and is determined in part by what the buyers can afford.”

Joseph Himali, principal broker of Best Address Real Estate in the District, identifies location as the top concern for his clients.

“The time and length of someone’s commute is of primary importance, so buyers are looking at a property’s proximity to Metro,” says Mr. Himali. “Within the city, parking is also very important. It’s rare to find a condominium or even a home which includes a garage or parking space. Recently an outdoor parking space, not even in a garage, just the parking space, sold for $110,000 in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.”

Alana Lasover, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Bethesda, says, “Buyers will start by looking at price and location. Right now, there’s a lot of interest in being able to walk to everything, to live in Northwest D.C. or Chevy Chase or Bethesda, which offers a completely different lifestyle than living in a distant suburb.”

In the Washington area, perhaps more than in some other regions, transportation is an important element for the choice of a home.

“Walking to Metro is a huge plus, but for people who can’t afford to buy a close-in home, access to a bus or being able to drive easily to a Metro station is important,” says Sharyn Goldman, a Realtor with Long & Foster in Bethesda.

For parents, buyers who intend to have children and consumers who recognize the impact of educational systems on real estate values, the school district surrounding a property influences the desirability of the home. But this impact is significantly higher in the suburbs compared with the city.

“In the District, the school district is slightly important to buyers of single-family homes and town homes, but it rarely matters at all to condominium buyers,” says Mr. Himali. “It’s really different from the suburbs, because most of the buyers don’t have children, have grown children, or don’t worry about this issue because they will be sending their kids to private schools.”

Once the location and affordability factors are settled, buyers can begin to separate the “must-have” items in a home from the “would-like-to-have” items. These differ from consumer to consumer, from suburban to urban neighborhoods and from price-range to price-range, but some of the important home attributes are the same across the board.

“Today’s buyers want a home that is in good condition, in move-in condition,” says Ms. Goldman. “No one wants a fixer-upper these days because the homes are already so expensive to begin with. This is important in every price range. If someone can afford a home for $850,000, they want that home to be perfect. They might be willing to pay $700,000 for the same home if it’s not in good shape, since that would allow them some extra money to pay for the work to be done. It’s the same thing in the upper brackets. If someone can afford to buy a $2,500,000 home, it had better be perfect.”

Even in the District, where most of the homes and condominiums are older and new homes are rare, buyers expect a property to be in good condition.

People want a place to “be ready [for them] to move in immediately,” says Mr. Himali, “and they prefer remodeled kitchens and baths if they can get them.”

Most buyers today are savvy enough to think about the future resale value of the property they want to purchase, so they may factor in elements of the home that mean little to them but do affect the long-range value of the home.

“Most of the time, it’s hard to sell a detached three-bedroom home,” says Ms. Goldman. “Even if someone doesn’t need four bedrooms, they prefer to buy a home with four bedrooms so that it’s easier to sell later.”

Ms. Pangle says, “It used to be that three-bedroom, 21/2-bath homes were the norm, but now homes usually have four bedrooms. A single-family home with less than four bedrooms can be really hard to sell, just like a two-bedroom town home is harder to sell than a three-bedroom town home.

“But what matters a lot is not just the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but whether the layout suits the family,” she says. “For instance, a family with young children might not want a home with a first-floor master suite and the other bedrooms far away, even if it is a four-bedroom home.”

Just as single-family homes usually sell more easily with four bedrooms, town homes with garages are more popular than those without one, says Ms. Lasover.

“In the District, the ideal condominium configuration has two bedrooms with two full baths,” says Mr. Himali. “For single-family homes, three bedrooms and 21/2 baths are the norm. Most of the housing stock in the city is prewar, so things like walk-in closets are just a dream. Buyers here are making the trade-off between living in the city and having a lot of space, so even a 350-square-foot studio will sell for $250,000.”

After the basic needs of the buyers have been met, in terms of price, location, condition and number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the next most common area in which to focus is the kitchen.

“Buyers think a renovated kitchen is really important,” says Ms. Pangle. “They also want to see a nice master bath.

“The ‘deal-breaker’ attributes that matter to buyers in the lower price range include the lack of a powder room on the lower level, not having a garage, and the kitchen,” says Ms. Goldman. “Most people want a table-space kitchen at the least, and families with young children really want a family-friendly floor plan with a family room open to the kitchen.”

For wealthier buyers in the suburbs, at least three baths are desirable on the upper level, says Ms. Goldman.

“Buyers in the upper brackets want homes with high ceilings, finished attic spaces, home offices and at least a little bit of land so there’s space between the homes,” says Ms. Goldman. “Lately, more and more buyers of homes that are in the $2,000,000- to $2,500,000-range want a swimming pool, too, which is a change from the past.”

In the condominium market in the District, Mr. Himali says, “Buyers look for two things in a condo, light and outdoor space. Even if there’s not a lot of floor space, buyers want as much light as possible. And an outdoor space is important, too. It doesn’t matter how small it is, but everyone wants a little patio or balcony they can walk out on.”

Says Ms. Lasover, “Home offices are important to a lot of people, even in the more moderate price range. A lot of families are turning over the first-floor study to their kids because they want them using the computer on the main level rather than in the basement or in their bedrooms.”

Desirable features for high-end buyers, Ms. Lasover says, include a bathroom for every bedroom, or at least a connecting bath for the bedrooms. Other amenities in demand include a master bath with a steam shower, separate walk-in closets for each spouse, laundry rooms on both the upper and main levels and a kitchen with restaurant-quality appliances.

As more and more homes are priced at $1,000,000 and higher, buyers are demanding higher quality features in every part of the home, focusing first on the kitchens and baths.

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