Kathy O'Neal
Fairfax, VA 22033
Office: 703.802.2850
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Should You Lease Or Buy Your Next Car? It May Affect Your Mortgage.

Chantilly/Centreville  residents should you lease a new car, or should you buy one? Like most financial questions, the answer depends on your situation.  For some people, leasing a car presents distinct economic advantages.  For others, buying a car is the way to go.

There’s plenty of online material to help you choose your optimal path, but this 3-minute piece from NBC’s The Today Show serves as an excellent summary.  In it, you’ll learn about the basics of leasing a car, and for whom leasing can be a great fit.  You’ll also hear reasons to avoid a lease completely.

The NBC interview makes all of the following points :

For many people, it concludes, buying a car is preferable to leasing one, with a notable exception being those people who can claim their car or truck as a tax deduction.  Be sure to check with your tax advisor if you plan to take that route.

However, for another group — homeowners and active home buyers — leasing a car can invite mortgage approval trouble.  This is because a car lease payment is assumed by a mortgage underwriter to be a perpetual debt; one that never reduces or gets extinguished.  When a lease is complete, it must be replaced with a new lease, and so on.

Therefore, no matter how many payments remain in a lease, mortgage applicants must use the full car lease payment for purposes of a mortgage approval.

By contrast, for people whom are owners of their automobiles, car payments must only be added to debt ratios if more than 10 car payments remain until the car’s loan is paid-in-full.  For homeowners and buyers in Fairfax , this can improve debt-to-income ratios and support a higher purchase price on a home.

There is no firm rule for whether it is better to lease a car or to own one.  The arguments for both sides are compelling and reasonable.  Start with the video, then do your own research.

If you are considering purchasing a home in the Northern Virginia area  we are here to help!   Our website has many useful  tools for home buying and you can contact me directly with any questions.

Written by Kathy ONeal | Discussion: No Comments »

Chantilly Homeowners – Clever Ways To Reduce Household Water Usage

EPA water usage chartHow well do you conserve water?

The government’s EPA estimates that the average family of four uses 146,000 gallons of water per year, at a cost of $700.  With just a few small changes, however, that cost could drop by as much as 28%.

Chantilly homeowners you’ll save on more than just your water bill, too.  You may save on taxes.

This is because water management is often handled at the municipal level and as water usage grows, so does the need for costly investment in water treatment and delivery systems.  Less usage means lower costs.

You’ll also enjoy lower home energy bills.  25 percent of a home’s energy bill is used to heating water for home use.

So, with the above three benefits in mind, here are three ways to cut your household water usage.

Catch Your Shower Water

Nobody likes to step into a cold shower, and we sometimes run our showers for 5 minutes before stepping in.  Even with today’s low-flow shower heads, that’s 10 gallons of water wasted.  Instead of allowing pre-shower water to run down the drain, catch it in a bucket, instead.  Then use the bucket to water house plants and your garden.

Stop Pre-Rinsing Dishes

Today’s dishwashers are heavy-duty food busters.  Don’t pre-rinse dishes in the sink, only to move them to the dishwasher where the job will be duplicated.  Instead, use a wet sponge to wipe dishes clean, then place them in the dishwasher.  The job will get done just as well.  Or, for caked on foods, follow the steps above then start the dishwasher.  After 3 minutes, pause the cycle to allow water to sit-and-soak on your dishes.  Then, restart the cycle as normal.

Test Your Toilets

A single leaking toilet can spill 60 gallons of water per day and there are several places where leaks can occur.  The toilet may have a worn out flapper; or, a damaged gasket under the flush valve; or, a crack in the overflow tube.  One clear sign of a leak is having to jiggle the handle to make the toilet stop running.  To test for leaks, try “the dye test”.  Fill the toilet tank with food coloring or instant coffee to a deep color and wait 30 minutes.  If any of the coloring finds it way to the toilet bowl, you know you have a leak.

In addition to the tips above, the EPA keeps a list of water-saving steps on its website.  See how many steps you can take to reduce your home water usage.

And if you are buying or selling a property in Northern Virginia let us know how we can help!  As always, we are here to serve Chantilly and Northern Virginia area home buyers and sellers with our signature personal and state-of-the-art service. 

(Image courtesy : EPA.gov)

Written by Kathy ONeal | Discussion: No Comments »

Freddie Mac 30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Rates Rises To 3.55%

30-year fixed rate mortgage rateMortgage rates couldn’t fall forever, it seems.

This week, for the first time since mid-June, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate climbed on a week-over-week basis, moving 6 basis points to 3.55%, on average, nationwide.

According to Freddie Mac, 3.55 percent is the highest average rate at which the benchmark product has been offered in close to 4 weeks.

The Freddie Mac published mortgage rate is available for prime borrowers willing to pay a full set of closing costs plus an accompanying 0.7 discount points.

Discount points are a one-time, upfront mortgage loan fee to be paid at closing where 1 discount point is equal to one percent of your loan size.  In this way, a Chantilly home buyer who pays one discount point at closing will be responsible for an additional $1,000 in closing costs per $100,000 borrowed.

However, although Freddie Mac says that the average mortgage rate is 3.55%, not everyone who applies for a conforming mortgage will get access to that rate.  This is because Freddie Mac’s published rates are the ones offered to “prime” borrowers, the definition of which often includes :

Borrowers not meeting the above criteria should expect slightly higher mortgage rates and/or discount points.  In some cases, such as when an applicant’s credit score is below 680, mortgage rates may be higher by as much as 0.500%.

Although mortgage rates are up this week, though, the impact on home affordability is muted.  Mortgage payments rose just $3 per month per $100,000 borrowed this week as compared to last week.  3.55% remains the third-lowest Freddie Mac rate of all-time.

Mortgage rates remain unpredictable and there’s no guarantee for low rates to last forever — much less through August.  If today’s mortgage rates meet your needs, therefore, consider locking something in.

If you are considering purchasing a home we are here to help!   Our website has many useful  tools for home buying and you can contact me directly with any questions.

Written by Kathy ONeal | Discussion: No Comments »

How To Beat The Bacteria In Your Kitchen

Within Chantilly/Centreville homes, the kitchen is often the most “used” room in the house. It’s a meeting place for meals, for conversation, and for family.  Unfortunately, that makes it a meeting place for bacteria, as well.

Along with bathrooms, kitchens are the most bacteria-heavy rooms in a home.  Kitchens require a good, daily cleaning.  This 4-minute interview on NBC’s The Today Show shows you how to do it.

Using ordinary household cleansers and some elbow grease, you’ll learn :

  1. Why sponges should be out of your kitchen and why loofahs should be in
  2. How to catch and trap fruit flies that spread germs and disease
  3. How to clean and disinfect porous cutting boards

You’ll also get tips on removing stubborn stains from the bottom side of a frying pan.

The video is loaded with good advice and is worth a watch if only to learn a single sanitizing tip.

For example, did you know that you shouldn’t soak wooden bowls or boards in water because the water causes the wood to separate, leaving it “open” to kitchen-borne bacteria?  Or that, because of new soap-types, today’s dishwashers should be regularly disinfected?

Keep your kitchen free from bacteria is a constant battle but, using the tips from the video above, you’ll give yourself a fighting chance.

And if you are preparing your home to sell, please know that the Kathy O’Neal Team is here for you!

Please feel free to contact us anytime!  We have a section devoted to seller strategies on our website that may prove helpful!

Written by Kathy ONeal | Discussion: No Comments »

New Home Sales: Fast Start But Slower Now

New Home Supply 2010-2012

The number of newly-built homes sold slipped 8 percent in June from the month prior.

This according to the U.S. Census Bureau in its latest New Home Sales report. The June data shows 350,000 homes sold nationwide on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.

Home sales fell short of Wall Street expectations but the Census Bureau revised higher its previously-released results for March, April and May by a collective 33,000 units. This left the June New Home Sales report as the weakest of the last five months, yet still stronger than the 21 months preceding February.

So, despite retreating from May, the June New Home Sales data was still quite strong. As compared to June of last year, sales of newly-built homes are higher by 15% and the national inventory of new homes for sale is down to 144,000 units.

This marks a 13 percent inventory reduction in just twelve months.

At the current sales pace nationwide, the complete stock of new homes would “sell out” in 4.9 months, a noteworthy data point because analysts believe that a 6.0-month supply of homes marks a market in balance. Home supplies of below 6.0 months suggest a “seller’s market” where sellers have pricing power and excess leverage in negotiations.

Home supplies have been south of 6.0 months since October 2011. This is the same month that marked a shift with other housing data points, too, including Existing Home Sales and the Home Price Index.

Since October 2011, the average new home sale price is higher by 6% nationwide, a trend that should continue in Centreville through the end of 2012 and into 2013 — especially with mortgage rates at new all-time lows and home affordability at all-time highs. As more buyers enter the market amid limited supply, prices are expected to rise.

Given all of the above, consider that If you’re a home buyer in search of new construction,your best new home “deals” you may find may be the ones you find today.  And if you are looking for someone to answer questions about the Chantilly and Northern Virginia real estate market, please know that we are here for you.  We also invite you to take a moment to view our testimonial video, in the words of people we have served.

Written by Fran ONeal | Discussion: No Comments »

How To Clean A Water Aerator

How to clean an aeratorTypically found at the tip of indoor water faucets, water aerators split a single water stream into droplets, slowing the overall water flow and reducing the degree of “splashing”.

Homes in Chantilly/Centreville area with aerated faucets use up to 50% less water than homes without.  However, aerated faucets can lose their effectiveness over time if they’re not cleaned at least periodically.

This is because aerators can collect and trap particles including minerals deposits and grit, depending on the make-up of your home’s water supply.

The good news is that cleaning your faucet aerator is a do-it-yourself job that requires no technical plumbing skills, and takes less than 5 minutes to complete.

Here’s how to clean your home’s water aerators.

First, close or cover the drain of your sink.  This will prevent pieces or parts from getting lost.  Then, unscrew the aerator from the tip of your faucet.  You may be able to turn the aerator with your fingers.  If you cannot, and need to use pliers, wrap the faucet with a towel to prevent damage to the faucet from the pliers.

Also, don’t squeeze harder than necessary — you may bend the aerator casing.

Next, on a small towel, separate the parts of the aerator and lay them flat.

Then, using your finger, poke the mesh filter out from the aerator, being careful not to bend it.  Use tap water to rinse sediment from the filter or, in extreme build-up cases, place the filter in a small cup of vinegar, soak it for an hour, then clean it with a small brush.

At this point, your aerator is clean.  Replace the parts as you found them, and twist the water aerator back onto the faucet tip.  If you use pliers for this step, remember to protect your faucet’s finish with a towel.

There is no specific rule for how often an aerator should be cleaned.  In some areas, it’s twice yearly.  In other areas, it’s every 5 years.  If you’ve never cleaned your water aerators, though, make today your first time.

And when you are preparing your home for the possibility of selling here in the Northern Virginia area (or moving from elsewhere), please know that I am here to help!  You can contact me directly with any questions.

Written by Kathy ONeal | Discussion: No Comments »

How To Revive A “Brown Lawn”

Brown lawnsDuring summer months, a lush, green lawn can transform into a brown one within weeks.  And heat, while oftentimes a catalyst, is not always the culprit.

As a homeowner in Chantilly, you can take precautions to minimize the likelihood of a brown lawn.

First, let’s look at the reasons why a lawn may go brown, starting with drought stress.

Drought stress is a condition caused by excessive heat and/or lack of water.  Drought stress can lead to dormancy, a normal condition for grasses of all types.  A good test for drought stress is to step on one of the grass’ brown patches.  If your footstep remains as an imprint in the grass, it’s likely that your lawn is water-deprived.

Brown spots from drought stress appear randomly and without pattern.  This is different from brown spots that may occur because a sprinkler system is miscalibrated, or because some lawn sections are shaded whereas others are exposed to direct sunlight.

Lawns which have been dormant for long periods of time may need to be reseeded.

Drought stress also reduces your lawn’s natural defenses against pests and disease.  This includes plant-based pests such as weeds which can starve your grass of much-needed food and water, as well as insects such as lawn grubs and chinch bugs.

These two forces, as well, can lead to brownout.

Lastly, your grass may be dying.  Either from a lack of aeration; or, cutting grass blades too short to provide “natural shade”; or, over-watering among other reasons, your grass may not live forever and, when it dies, it’s likely to thin and turn brown.

The good news is that each of these conditions is non-permanent.  You may not have stopped your lawn from turning brown, but, generally, you can nurse it back to being green.

To water a brown lawn back to health, start with a steady watering schedule — typically 2 hours every few days (approximately 1 inch of water) — and be careful not to over-water.  Then, just wait.  It may take a lawn 3-4 weeks to return to its natural green color.

Then, to manage weeds, use an over-the-counter herbicide.  For larger weed problems, get treatment by a professional lawn care company.  The same is true for pests, too.  Tackle them yourself but using a lawn care company can be more efficient and effective.

And if you are getting your Northern Virginia lawn in good shape because you are preparing to sell, please know that the Kathy O’Neal Team is here for you!

Please feel free to contact us anytime!  We have a section devoted to seller strategies on our website that may prove helpful!

Written by Kathy ONeal | Discussion: No Comments »

Chantilly Home Buyers and Sellers: Home Purchasing Power Jumps To New Highs

Purchasing power grows in Q2 2012

With mortgage rates down to all-time lows, you can buy a lot more home for your money.  Home affordability is at an all-time high.

According to Freddie Mac mortgage rate survey several weeks ago, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage has dropped to 3.62% nationwide. This is down from 4.08% in March, and down from 4.60% from one year ago.

Mortgage rates are “on sale.”

Falling mortgage rates can make one of two changes to the way a Chantilly/Centreville home buyer looks at properties.  They can either make a given home’s monthly housing payment that much more affordable to a buyer, or they can expand that buyer’s home purchasing power to a higher, maximum price point.

Since July 2011, that maximum price point increase has been significant.

Assuming a principal + interest payment of $1,000 per month and a 30-year loan term, a category that includes 30-year fixed rate mortgages and most adjustable-rate mortgages, here’s a maximum loan size comparison of the last 12 months :

With an increase in maximum loan size of more than $22,000 in just 12 months, it’s no wonder that multiple-offer situations are becoming more common — today’s buyers know that low home prices and low mortgage rates are combining to make home buying more affordable than at any time in recent history.

However, the buyer-friendly environment can’t last forever.

First, home prices have started to rise nationwide.  Demand for homes has outpaced home supply in many U.S. markets and that leads home prices higher.  Second, low mortgage rates can’t last forever.

A recovering economy will lift mortgage rates back above 4 percent, a scenario that will hit home affordability hard.

Home-buying conditions are optimal this season. If you’re in the market for a new home, talk to your real estate agent and loan officer about maximizing your home purchasing power.

And if you are a home buyer, either living in the Northern Virginia area or moving to it, we are here to provide help and information.  If you are looking for someone to possibly work with, we invite you to check out our authentic Testimonial Video which is mostly in the voice of people we have helped to realize their real estate goals.

Let us know how we can help!

Written by Kathy ONeal | Discussion: No Comments »

Tips To Keep Your Home Cooler Without Turning Down The Thermostat

Energy-saving tips

The typical U.S. household “loses” up to 30% of its annual heating and cooling bill to energy inefficiencies, according to ENERGY STAR®.

The good news Chantilly homeowners is that there are dozens of ways to help your home perform better.

As the calendar turns to July, and as temperatures warm in DC and nationwide, implement even one of the following cost-saving moves and you can expect your home’s energy bill to drop.  Implement two or more, and you can expect your bill to drop by a lot.

Keep it simple at the start. When the sun shines through a window on a cloudless day, it can raise a room’s temperature by as much as 20 degrees.  Therefore, the first energy-saving move to review is the easiest one — simply close your home’s window blinds and shades to block out the sun.

With the shades drawn and the sun blocked, your rooms will stay cooler, and so will your home.  This is especially important during the mid-day hours when the sun is at its strongest so, before you leave for work, make sure you’ve closed your blinds.

The next step is to change your home’s air filter.

Air filters are meant to be changed quarterly, or monthly if your home has shedding pets.  When your air filter is clean, the HVAC unit won’t have to work as hard to push air through your home’s air ducts, saving up to another 7% off your annual energy costs.

Next, replace your home’s incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient ones.

This step can be costly up-front, but over the long-term, savings are big.  Not only do energy-efficient light bulbs such as CFLs and LEDs last for years, but they don’t pump heat back into a room like an incandescent bulb will.

Incandescent bulbs are shown to convert 97.5% of their energy into heat, meaning just 2.5% of their supplied energy is used for light.  This 97.5%  then warms up your house, which costs money to cool.

And, lastly, if your home has ceiling fans, use them.

When a ceiling fan is running, it can make a room feel up to 8 degrees cooler.  Just remember that ceiling fans cool you and not the room.  Be sure to turn them off when you leave the room.

And when you are preparing your home for the possibility of selling here in the Northern Virginia area (or moving from elsewhere), please know that I am here to help!  You can contact me directly with any questions.

If you are searching for a Chantilly area real estate agent, trying to make sure you make a great choice from the start, I invite you to visit our real estate Testimonial Video.  It is an honest presentation of what makes us different.

Written by Kathy ONeal | Discussion: No Comments »

How To Keep A Clean Refrigerator

Clean refrigeratorChantilly homeowners – do you clean your refrigerator regularly, or only after you’ve run out of space?  If your answer is the latter, your refrigerator may be harboring dangerous bacteria that can make you, your family, and your house guests ill.

Refrigerators should be cleaned monthly, inside and out, ideally.  The process involves removing all foods, cleaning all shelves, and wiping down drawers.  Spoiled food is removed and old containers reclaimed.

The process takes 20 minutes. Here’s how to do it.

First, prepare your cleaning stations, including filling a sink with soapy water, and having drying towels handy.  Complete this step before you start to remove food from the refrigerator.  This limits the amount of time that food has available to reach room temperature.

Next, remove all food from the appliance. Throw out old food past its expiration, and leftovers which have been in containers for more than a few days.  Check dairy products for expiration dates — especially cheeses and creams.  Toss fruits and vegetables that have spoiled.  Wipe down condiment jars and bottles with a damp towel.

Next, with the refrigerator empty, remove all shelves and drawers and wash them in the water-filled sink. Scrub to remove any caked-on foods and spills.  Rinse off the soapy water and dry the part on your drying towels.

Then, while the shelves and drawers are drying, using a mixture of baking soda and water, wipe down the interior surfaces of your appliance. The mixture should be roughly 2 tablespoons of baking soda for every 1 gallon of water. Wipe the mixture off with a clean towel.

Lastly, move the shelves and drawers back into the refrigerator and replace all of the food that’s “good”.

Refrigerators can be a dirty place.  We rarely wash our hands before handling food in a refrigerator and that can contribute to a bacteria-heavy environment.  A good cleaning, though, can keep our foods — and our home — healthy.

Clean your refrigerator regularly.

And when you are preparing your home for the possibility of selling here in the Northern Virginia area (or moving from elsewhere), please know that I am here to help!  You can contact me directly with any questions.

Written by Kathy ONeal | Discussion: No Comments »