Tax Reform for Homeowners

Now that the House and Senate have passed their own versions of tax reform, homeowners are wondering what’s next?  There’s no reason to panic just yet because we don’t know which version will be adopted. Furthermore, the majority of mortgage interest deductions won’t be affected anyway since the majority of mortgages are under $500,000. For the higher priced areas we certainly hope that the Senate version will prevail.

Here’s a breakdown on the legislation:

Deductions Senate Version  House Version
Capital Gains Exclusion Owner must have lived in the property for 5 of the last 8 years Same
Property Taxes Deduction limited to $10,000 Same
Mortgage Interest Deductions on loans up to $1-million Deductions on loans up to $500,000
State & Local Taxes Not deductible Same
Second Home Mortgages Not deductible Same
Moving Expenses Not deductible Same
Home Equity Line of Credit Not deductible Same
Interest on Student Loans Not deductible Same

The next step is for both sides to come to an agreement on a final bill. And then that bill needs to be voted on. It’s not too late to make your voice heard. Let your congress member know what you’re thinking! Click here for an easy way to contact them.

With Due Respect For The Home And Its Past

Buyers and Sellers, take note! Renovation money spent wisely now can reap big rewards in the future. As agents, we feel really lucky when a house presents nicely and has had the benefit of a proper architect or designer. However, there are good renovations and there are bad renovations.

good renovation
A renovation gone awry in Brookland. The house BEFORE (left) and AFTER (right)


For want of a nail…

We once had a seller who fondly spoke of a napkin he had framed with the initial sketch from a builder who put an addition on his house. Builders should not be confused with architects. You get what you pay for. That’s not to say that all design/build firms are hopeless. But in this case, it didn’t work out so well.  Other local homes with additions roughly the same size had reliably sold within a specific price range.  This particular house was such an oddball that buyers didn’t know how to react, and it sold for a good 25% less than counterparts. That’s some serious money. For what might have run @ $5,000- $10,000 at the time of construction (in architectural fees), these sellers sacrificed close to $200,000 25-years later.  For want of an architect, a fortune was lost.

Destroy Renovations

This is our term for “fixes” that sacrifice the charm of an original home. When solid wooden doors in a hundred-year old house are swapped for hollow Home Depot specials, or when original brass doorknobs and hinges are replaced with something shiny and cheap. You’ve seen the flips with plastic overhead fan/lights instead of the quaint lighting fixture that preceded it. Don’t get us started on the siding salesmen who, as kit house expert Rosemary Thornton likes to say, “had their way” with the exterior of an unsuspecting and taste-free homeowner’s abode. Examples are too numerous to cite, but maybe these photos will help illustrate our frustration.

Historic "Martha Washington" Sears house in Forest Hills, before and after
Expansion of historic “Martha Washington” Sears house in Forest Hills, BEFORE and AFTER. The architect was perhaps a little too creative as he designed the side addition with a two-story foyer, but there still a love for the preserved original house palpable


There are, on the other hand, numerous examples of beautiful expansions, renovations and even modernizations that work respectfully and often lovingly with the original character of the house. This recent addition to a home in the Takoma Park Historic District, done by a local design/build firm for instance, showcases this very well. (Click on the picture below for a description of the project.)

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 10.55.59 AM

We can help!

We don’t just sell houses.  We’re also passionate about architectural integrity and historic preservation, namely of our city’s homes, and are available for consultations (free!) if  you are trying to figure out what best to do (or avoid) when renovating or expanding your older home. We know what buyers are looking for and we know what sells. If you’re not sure that your home really needs an expensive X, Y or Z, we can certainly offer up an opinion.

Murphy’s Law For Air Conditioners

Dc HouseSmarts-Ice in Summer

Dc HouseSmarts-Ice in SummerLast Wednesday was the hottest day of the century in DC.

Okay, that might not be true, but it sure seemed that way. My AC stopped working in the afternoon, when the outside temperature read in the 90s. By the time the realization set in that it was indeed just luke warm wind coming out of the vents and that reprogramming and restarting the system wouldn’t change that fact, it was after hours. Of course.

By nightfall, we had about a million degrees in the upstairs bedrooms. Opening the windows added insult to injury because the humidity must have been close to 100 percent.

Our CAC  is less than two years old and overall quite fancy; it shouldn’t have just failed on us.

Diego, the lovely tech who showed up on Thursday–after the weather had suddenly turned dry and cool–took about two seconds to diagnose the problem. The “capacitator,” a 10-dollar part that kickstarts the compressor, had blown out. Who would have known. But it’s a very common thing to happen, Diego assured me. (If you’re either very handy or willing to risk your life, you can even learn how to fix this yourself.) And of course, it always happens when you need it the least, because that’s when those air conditioner parts tend to overheat.

Truth be told, I felt grateful that it wasn’t one of those third-world power outages this time. Miserable or not, we still had ice and fans to work with! (For a really nifty list with 24 suggestions on how to survive such nights, check out the Greatist here.)

Fun Fix For The Floor

Floor fixes on a budget

It’s getting harder to surprise us. We’re getting to see a lot of houses each week, and much of what we see repeats itself. Design trends, fashionable features, architectural styles. We can date the kitchen cabinets after just a glance, and we can tell you in what decade those kinds of windows were used. It doesn’t help that the DC market and home owners have been incredibly traditional in their choices. (Yes, we do have some eccentric outliers, but let’s leave those out for now.)

So, it’s always fun to discover something that’s whimsical but not weird, that’s economical and not too hard to replicate. Painted floors as a design feature have not been widely used in the past hundred years, but they can be a really great idea. I took these pictures in a couple of houses that were recently for sale. It might not show too well in the photos, but in each of these cases, the paint made a huge difference in cleaning and cheering the place up.

In fact, we’re often asked by our sellers about their floors – brittle old linoleum in the laundry room, cracks and oil stains in the garage floor, stairs covered in un-revivable carpet, or even the bare floor in an attic playroom that was originally only intended for storage. The owners have long gotten used to overlooking the sore spot. When getting the house ready for the market and trying to look at it with the eyes of potential buyers, they suddenly find it embarrassing.

If you want to paint a floor, why not turning it into an opportunity? It’s certainly a way to make the house look pretty on a budget. whether time- or money-wise. Companies such as or Cutting Edge Stencils

And you don’t even have to wait — you can reap the benefits of your beautification while you’re still in the house. If the fix was inexpensive enough, you can always repeat it later on. You might surprise yourself (and us!) with some great new ideas.

Sukkot in DC — Celebrating Shelter And Comfort

Private Sukkah in Rosemary Hills, Silver Spring MD

In a way, it’s a celebration of the home. This week, Jewish families all over the world celebrate Sukkot, the “Feast of Booths.” The observance requires life — meals, gatherings and perhaps even sleep — in a fragile and temporary structure that is neither heated nor rainproof. It’s a joyous and at the same time humbling experience. Even if you’re not Jewish, you might have seen the big tent-like structures set up in many places downtown that office workers take their lunches to, or you might have noticed the little hut your neighbor built on their balcony or in their backyard. Sukkot is a way to connect not only to our suffering biblical ancestors but to those today who are without proper homes and shelter, who are refugees or otherwise lacking the basic comfort we take for granted.

We have asked friends and clients to share cell phone pictures of Sukkot (booths) this week, either their own or of any they might spot somewhere this week.  You can find the beautiful collection in the slideshow below, and we will keep adding to it. So, if you happen to have a Sukkah or see one, make sure to email or text us a picture!

[Update 10/7: Thanks to all of you who contributed! One picture was even sent in from Denver, Colorado!]

When Nature Is Zooming In On You

Hornet infestation Chevy Chase

Agressive Hornets on house in chevy chaseI had thought my problem was ants. Tiny little ants that gradually invaded my house for the past couple of months and formed into armies two weeks ago, after the dreadful Pepco mega outage. There were dozens of them on even the tiniest morsel of food left on the kitchen floor, and seemingly hundreds of them started attacking the cat food bowl even while the kitty was still eating from it. Yuck.

Well, the guy that was sent by my favorite pest control company showed up this morning and set out to explore the perimeter of my house for ant hills (or nests, as he called them).

No nests could be sighted. What he found instead, was every creepy thingy, pest and vermin imaginable. There were a couple of carpenter bee holes in the fence, paper wasp nests under a seat on the deck, large spider nests outside the garage and lady bugs that might live in the walls. The worst, however, was a football-sized nest of bald-faced hornets right above my kitchen door. The entrance to the hive-like thing was crawling with huge inch-long wasps. “And these are really nasty ones,” the exterminator explained. “They will attack you massively if you just stare at them.”

How could I have missed this all??!! Perhaps it’s the weather — it’s been so brutally hot that we haven’t spent too much time outside. (Note to self: never again judge home sellers who might have missed a little infestation here or there…)

Hornet infestation Chevy ChaseAnother two hours and multiple treatment measures later (I pitied the guy who came to bait ants and ended up having to climb around my house in a beekeeper’s suit,  in 100 F heat), the tiny ants on the kitchen counter looked, well, sweet and harmless.

If you own a home in the DC area, here’s my advice for you: grab a pair of binoculars or even just your sunglasses when you come home today, and then go around the house to check if nature might be trying to take over your place as well.