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Realtors Speak: Real Estate in Washington, DC

Jan. 22, 2013
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Who doesn’t love the bars of Dupont, the vibrancy of U Street, or scaling the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on a morning jog? Many’s a man – or woman – who would love to own a piece of real estate in Washington, DC. But buyer beware – the housing market can make congressional infighting look as genteel as a soiree. Thankfully, experienced realtor Katie Wethman of the Wethman Group is ready with advice for first-time homebuyers in our nation’s capital.

What do first-time homebuyers in DC need to know?

It’s a very competitive market right now. We’re down to about 2-3 months of inventory to choose from (a balanced market is 5 to 7 months). Even though prices may be down from the bubble days, it’s a seller’s market – there just isn’t much to choose from, but there are plenty of motivated buyers. That’s a challenging situation for a first-time buyer who may be uncomfortable making quick decisions.

» MORE: First-time home buyer programs in Washington, D.C.

What are some good resources for those homebuyers?

Broker-provided search sites have the best and most reliable data on available listings. Look for local first time home buyer classes to get familiar with the basics of the process.

What are the three most common misconceptions about buying a home in DC?

Pre-approval is no guarantee. I often see buyers who think that because they’re pre-approved and have a down payment that they are in the driver’s seat, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Being pre-approved is just the ante to get into the game when you’re making an offer. Everyone making offers is pre-approved.

It’s the seller’s problem. Second is the idea that a seller has to fix everything that comes up in a home inspection. It’s a negotiation, just like everything else. Frequently when there were multiple offers a seller is quite willing to say no to everything and just circle back with one of the other buyers who bid.

The dream house is out there – and it’s cheap. First-time buyers think that there is this needle-in-the-haystack house that will meet all of your needs and come in at 75% of the market price, yours for the taking if you just look hard enough. The market is surprisingly efficient with regards to pricing. A perfect home and a discounted price rarely go hand-in-hand.

Is there any advice you’d have for younger homebuyers in particular? 

There are no perfect houses. When you’re buying a home, you’re going to have to accept some trade-offs, whether it’s a longer commute than you were hoping for, or one less bedroom, or living on a busier street. You need to find a house that meets 90% of your needs that you can live with for the time frame you’re looking for. First time buyers need to remember that this isn’t their ‘forever’ house – what’s important is that you can be happy there for the length of time it takes to make financial sense to buy, and that it can be resold fairly easily at that time. It’s not going to be perfect. Start with the biggest constraint first: price range. Once you have a range you’re comfortable with, work with your agent to understand the locations and types of properties that are available in that range so that you know the trade-offs you’ll have to make.