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Have You Thought Of a “Friend” Getaway Lately?

6 Nov

Girlfriend (or Guyfriend) Getaway?

One of the fastest growing travel specialties these days is the “Girlfriend Getaway” (or Guyfriend, I wouldn’t want to be sexist). With all the stress of everyday life, getting away from “reality” with true friends who enable you to totally be yourself without fear of judgement is most enjoyable and relaxing. A few days away with the “buddies” on the golf course can be more valuable than hours of therapy! Here are a few suggestions for some great escapes:

 1. A little Retail Therapy?
Most women love to shop, so for the girlfriends, why not combine a weekend in the “big city” with great shopping, dining and entertainment options? New York City, Chicago, maybe even London or Paris are a few of the many amazing options available that are served by convenient airports. Also a great option for the guys, maybe without the retail therapy…
 2. Why not consider a Spa or Yoga retreat for a wellness weekend? Another one more likely for the ladies. A little pampering never hurt anyone, and it may even be beneficial enabling some new healthy habits, and maybe even some lost pounds…both potentially good things!
 3. “What happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas”…you know that old tagline! In addition to gambling, Las Vegas (not my favorite place, but it is for many others) not only offers gambling but also has amazing dining, shopping and live entertainment…and most resorts have great pools and spas too! Las Vegas works well for both genders.
 4. A few days spent wine tasting or possibly signing up for a culinary boot-camp (or great cooking school) are fantastic options for getaways because good wine and good food are ALWAYS a great idea!
 5. A sports-related trip works well for both girls and guys too! What about a fitness retreat for those who love to exercise? Or a golf weekend at an amazing resort with tee times daily? Or a scuba diving trip in the Caribbean? Or even tickets to a sporting event of some sort? All it takes is a shared interest and some planning!
 6. All-Inclusive Resorts and Cruises are a natural fit for this type of travel, where all you really need to decide is whether to order champagne, a beer or a martini…or whether to sit by the pool or on the beach. Why not consider some mental “down time”.
So, try to think what YOUR idea of the best getaway is and who you want to spend some time with? Most of us have folks in our lives who we are long-overdue for a meaningful visit. Why not let me help you plan that all-important trip soon…
One of the best quotes from Buddha is:
“The Trouble is…you think you have time”


26 Oct

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Once your offer is ratified (read: accepted), there are a myriad of details that need to be discussed and provided between all of the different parties involved. Sometimes one party can cause delays to another, drawing out deadlines and causing you serious stress. While significant issues are not common to most transactions, moving forward cautiously and with realistic expectations will help you to keep your cool.

Here are three things to keep in mind while closing on your home:


If you’ve ever bought a home, you know that the amount of paperwork required by your loan officer can seem never ending. Because there is a certain amount of back and forth required during negotiations, it may take some time to lock in your rate. Eventually, that can lead to your pay stubs and bank statements becoming out-of-date. Be prepared to provide new ones by saving all new pay stubs and having bank statements readily available when your financial institution updates them.


After your loan has been secured and closing is fast approaching, you will receive what’s known as an ALTA settlement statement. Walnut Street Finance has a great explanation of ALTA statements, including this definition:

The ALTA settlement statement is essentially an itemized list of all of the fees or charges that the buyer and seller will pay during the settlement portion of a Real Estate transaction. The form also clearly spells out important transaction dates such as tax payoff, recording, and disbursement dates. Additional information that is listed within the form includes loan amount, adjustments, title charges, transfer charges, and the property sales price.

Basically, this equates to you having all the information about your closing before you get there. This way, there are no surprises. There are A LOT of numbers included on this statement, but don’t worry – your real estate agent has your back.


The days leading up to closing can be brutal, but they don’t have to be. A good real estate agent is going to keep you abreast of everything you need to know, and take care of all the little things you don’t. When it comes to closing day, your agent will be there to answer any questions you may have, as well as the title company lawyer they’ve likely assisted you in carefully choosing. After all of the details have been attended to, closing day will really be the easy part – so no need for anxiety.


25 Oct

Buying or selling real estate is a significant event. It normally requires the services of many professionals, including a title company. A title company is an important part of your real estate “team” and they play a key role in looking out for your best interests. At the time a contract is signed, a buyer has the right to select a title company of their choice. This is an important decision and it deserves careful consideration.


The title company plays two roles:

  1. A title company is an insurance agent, selling title insurance to protect purchasers against claims that can be made against the title (ownership) to the property. Problems with the title can limit your use, ownership or enjoyment of the property as well as potentially cause you significant financial loss. Approximately 1 in 5 title searches reveal a title problem. Some examples of potential title issues that may or may not be revealed during a title search are: mechanics liens, unreleased trusts, tax liens, missing heirs, frauds, and forgeries. Title professionals work to identify and resolve these issues before you go to closing. This is a labor intensive exercise that requires the hard work of experienced professionals. Title insurance is unique in that it emphasizes retrospective risk elimination. This means that title professionals are looking back in time to research and examine the history of title and working to eliminate any potential risk to your ownership.

    Your title insurance policy will protect you if a covered issue arises and was not found during the initial search.

    Most people take care to choose an experienced insurance agent when purchasing life, auto or home owners insurance. Your title insurance agent is no different. For most people, their home is their largest asset. Choose a title company that is staffed with experienced experts who can guide you through the choices that you have pertaining to title insurance so that your asset is properly protected. They play an integral role in managing the closing process and representing all the parties to the contract. This work requires significant staffing and a keen attention to detail.

  2. A title company is also your closing or settlement agent. They play an important role in managing the closing process as well as conducting the closing itself. These professionals ensure that the transaction is carried out in compliance with the terms of the contract and the instructions of all involved. Some examples include paying the seller their proceeds, ordering payoff numbers from the existing lender, obtaining money from the buyer and the new lender, ordering surveys, collecting necessary documents from pest companies or inspectors, preparing the settlement statement and closing disclosure, ordering deeds or releases, collecting recording fees and taxes for the local governments and filing the necessary paperwork at the courthouse. The title company will also conduct the closing. Real estate transactions can be tenuous, challenging and sometimes emotional. It is important to have a settlement agent who understands this and can handle the sometimes tricky situations that present themselves leading up to or during a closing. It is not unusual for a settlement agent to have to assist in resolving issues or disputes that arise. This can sometimes mean the difference between closing your transaction or walking away from the table unsuccessful.The settlement agent is also tasked with reviewing and explaining the documentation that will be signed at closing. A good settlement agent will be familiar with all sorts of transactions, willing and able to explain the key factors in a language you can understand, and will have good working relationships with local lenders and service providers in case issues or questions come up.


Does the title company have an in house attorney? No two real estate transactions are alike and one in five transactions will have some sort of title problem. Your title company should be able to address title problems accurately and efficiently so that you are protected and there are no delays to your transaction. Having an in house attorney is a huge asset.

Stability and Reputation of the Company: The company will be responsible for handling the money in your transaction so making sure the company enjoys a good reputation and subscribes to industry best practices, including escrow controls is very important. You’ll also want assurance that the title policy is underwritten by a financially stable company able to pay potential claims in the future. Check the company’s website for history, experience and involvement with the local industry.

Staffing and Service: Proactive and timely communication, attention to detail and experience are crucial when processing real estate transactions. Choose a company that has invested in its professionals and technology as it can be the difference between a smooth transaction and a “nightmare” transaction.

A word about fees: Fees that are charged for title and settlement services can vary from company to company. That said, the majority of companies will charge fees that are within a couple hundred dollars of one another. So, while fees should be evaluated, cheaper fees are not necessarily better. In fact, when dealing with what is most likely your largest asset, the true measure of a title company is the service and expertise that they deliver.

Article written by Keith Barrett, Vesta Settlements. Original post appeared on


24 Oct

You planned listing your home for months, accepted an offer and now you can hardly wait to move into your new home. You’ve been picking out paint colors, planning how you’ll decorate, and checking out the restaurants in your new neighborhood. While planning for a move is exciting, there’s one very important thing you need to wrap up first – your sold home! Here are some helpful tips to make moving out go off without a hitch.


The more you can get done ahead of time to prepare for moving out of your sold home, the better. On moving day, all of your belongings should be packed in boxes and ready to go to your new home – moving day is not packing day! Packing up your belongings a little each day in the weeks leading up to your move will make the process feel manageable, and you’ll also be able to put the time and care into packing your things carefully if you’re not rushing.


Change can be difficult, and this can be an especially sensitive time for children. While they hear you constantly talking about the “new home” they might be feeling scared or even sad to leave your current home. In the weeks leading up to your move, be sure to talk positively about the experience. This means no complaining about the work required or any hassles. They’ll feel your stress, so make it a joyful time as much as possible to make it seem like moving will be fun.

Hopefully, during your home-hunting process, the kids came along, so the new place won’t be a surprise. After closing on your new home, bring the kids there to explore. If your kids are feeling sad about leaving your old home, encourage them to take something from their current home as a memory, like rocks from your garden.


Leaving the memories you’ve made in your old home can bring up a lot of emotions. Prepare yourself emotionally by letting yourself feel these things instead of trying to push your feelings aside. With the bustle of moving out, emotions will be running at an all-time high. Take the time to acknowledge the emotions of your family members when they surface and, should you notice yourself feeling frustrated or annoyed if the movers show up late or if your boxes aren’t fitting in the truck – relax. Stress will only make the move feel harder than it should.


Moving is also tough on your four-legged friends. If you can, bring your pets to your new home a few times to explore before moving in. This way, they’ll identify it as a familiar space when you arrive on moving day. Sometimes pets’ eating habits will change for a while after moving – they may seem uninterested in food for a while. On moving day, let your pets stay with a trusted friend or family member. This way, they’ll be out of the way and won’t pick up on any moving day excitement that could stress them out further.


It’s a smart idea to keep your valuables with you in your vehicle in a small bag or box so you don’t need to worry about them getting lost in the moving truck, or during unloading. Unpack these items first and keep them in a safe spot like a small safe or box you can easily identify and stow it in your bedroom closet or kitchen cabinet.

These overall tips are a great guide for what to do when it comes time to move out of your home. When in doubt, if you’re not sure when you’ll be moving out, or you still need guidance with selling your home, reach out to a local real estate expert for some one-on-one assistance.

What You Need to Know About Real ID and Air Travel by Oct 01, 2020!

22 Oct

Where and when is this taking place?

Image result for real id documents needed virginia

October 1, 2020, is the REAL ID deadline, and most people will not be able to board even a domestic air flight in the U.S. without either a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a passport.

First of all, what is Real ID?  Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 based on recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) appears ready for the roll out — signs are showing up in airports, TSA officials are telling travelers personally about the upcoming deadline, and TSA press secretary, Jenny Burke, said “You’ll see a lot more in the future from us.”


While most states offer REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses or will soon, not everyone with a driver’s license has one that is REAL ID-compliant, even in compliant states. To determine whether a driver’s license is a “REAL ID,” look for a star in the upper right-hand corner.

A REAL ID compliant Virginia driver's license.

States are preparing for a “rush” – some hiring more DMV staffers and extending their hours of operation. The best way to avoid the expected lines and delays is to act sooner rather than later to get a compliant driver’s licenses, especially if you do not have a passport. As of 2018, about 42% of U.S. citizens held passports – a 15% growth rate since 2007.

In Virginia, an in-person visit to a DMV office, along with proper documentation, along with proper documentation, is required to obtain a REAL ID. In order to receive one, you must present proof of identity and legal presence in the U.S. such as an unexpired passport or birth certificate, proof of Social Security number, two proofs of residency and proof of name change, if applicable.  For a complete list of accepted documents, visit the DMV’s website.  For a complete list of accepted documents,

For a complete list of accepted documents:

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                  Image result for real id documents needed virginia


In addition to REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses, other forms of acceptable identification include: passport cards, permanent resident cards, border crossing cards, DHS Trusted Traveler cards, federally recognized tribal-issued photo IDs, Canadian provincial driver’s licenses, and USCIS-issued Employment Authorization Cards (EADs). Children under 18 will not need to present identification as long as they are traveling with a companion who has acceptable identification. TSA agents will receive training to deal with special circumstances as necessary, but failure to provide one of the required identification documents could lead to more inspections, delays, and, possibly, the inability to board.

While some question whether TSA will really implement and possibly create chaotic scenes at airports just one month before the November 2020 presidential election, TSA said it is “moving forward as if implementation will occur.”

real id and airport security

One more thing. Real ID doesn’t nullify the passport requirement for international travel. You still need a passport to leave the country.

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Travelers should be on the lookout for public service announcements and a publicity splash from TSA.

Happy travels!

Contact me:
Meryl McGhee, Luxury Travel Advisor
Follow MLZ on Facebook:
“Destination Home”












National Snapshot: How’s the Real Estate Market?

13 Sep

The U.S. unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, and consumer confidence remains high. In fact, the University of Michigan’s latest Surveys of Consumers found that Americans have their most positive personal finance outlook since 2003.

However, if you follow national news, you’ve probably heard speculation that we could be headed toward a recession. Global trade tensions and a slow down in the GDP growth rate have sparked volatility in the stock market, leading to economic uncertainty.

Given these differing signals, you may be wondering: How has the U.S. housing market been impacted? Where is it headed? And more importantly … what does it mean for me?


In August, Freddie Mac reported that the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate hit its lowest level since November 2016, falling to 3.6%, down a full percentage point from a year earlier.2 Variable mortgage rates also fell when the Federal Reserve cut interest rates at the end of July for the first time since 2008.

This was welcome news for many in the real estate industry. Freddie Mac predicts that low-interest rates and a robust job market will help the housing market remain strong despite the threat of recession. 

“There is a tug of war in the financial markets between weaker business sentiment and consumer sentiment,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “Business sentiment is declining on negative trade and manufacturing headlines, but consumer sentiment remains buoyed by a strong labor market and low rates that will continue to drive home sales into the fall.”

What does it mean for you? If you’re looking to buy a home, now is a great time to lock in a low mortgage rate. It will shrink your monthly payment and could save you a bundle over the long term. Or if you plan to stay in your current home for a while, consider whether it makes sense to refinance your mortgage at today’s lower rates.


According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, housing prices continue to rise. But the rate at which prices are rising is slowing down. For May 2019, the National Home Price Index rose by 3.4%, down from 3.5% the previous month.

Of course, national averages often don’t present the whole picture. Some markets have seen modest declines, while other areas are witnessing double-digit increases. The key differentiating factor in most cases? Housing affordability.

Since 2012, home prices have increased at about three times the pace of wages, according to National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun.

“Housing unaffordability will hinder sales irrespective of the local job market conditions,” said Yun. “This is evident in the very expensive markets as home prices are either topping off or slightly falling.”

But what about all this talk of a recession? Will we see housing values plummet like they did in 2008? Economists say no.

If we look at history, the real estate crash experienced during the Great Recession isn’t typical.

The recent Housing and Mortgage Market Review report from Arch Mortgage Insurance provides data to support this. “What we found is that the next recession is likely to be far less severe on the housing market than the last one. It’s not that this time is different; it’s that last time was really different from historic norms.”

“A large decline in national home prices is unlikely in the next recession,” Arch economists write. “A persistent housing shortage should help cushion home price declines.”

What does it mean for you? If you have the ability and desire to buy a home now, don’t let the threat of a recession hold you in limbo. The market is cyclical, and it will experience ups and downs. But over the long term, real estate has consistently proven to be a good investment.


As we’ve seen in the past, it’s become a tale of two sectors.

The low-end of the market remains highly competitive as buyers compete for affordable housing. A lack of new construction during the last recession led to an undersupply of starter homes. This trend continues—despite growing demand—due to a lack of skilled workers, rising land and material costs, and a slow permitting process in many areas.

The result? There’s a shortage of homes for sale that Americans can actually afford to buy.

The luxury market, on the other hand, has softened. Economic uncertainty, changes to tax laws, and rising prices have slowed demand. Plus, to recoup their higher costs, builders flocked to this segment—causing an overabundance of supply in some areas.

“If you’re selling an entry-level home, you’re probably still looking at a pretty competitive market in most places,” according to Danielle Hale, the chief economist at “But if you’re selling a more expensive home you probably have to adjust your expectations.”

What does it mean for you? Move-up buyers, you’re in luck! If you’re ready to trade in your starter home for something more luxurious, you may get the best of both sectors. We’re still witnessing strong demand for entry-level homes, giving sellers the upper hand. At the same time, buyers of high-end homes are finding a greater selection (and more negotiating power) than they’ve had in years.


There’s one group that hasn’t been slowed down by lack of affordability or economic uncertainty: investors.

According to CoreLogic, investors are purchasing homes at a record pace. In 2018, the share of U.S. homes bought by investors reached 11.3%—the highest level since the company began tracking nearly 20 years ago.

Notably, this increased activity wasn’t led by institutional investors, but instead by small and individual investors focused on the starter-home segment. Declining interest rates and an uncertain stock market have led investors to flock to real estate as they seek out greater stability and higher returns.

“With declining mortgage rates … they’re searching for a better return for their money,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

What does it mean for you? If you’re looking for a way to “recession-proof” your money, you might want to consider investing in real estate. People will always need a place to live, and (unlike the stock market) a rental property can provide a steady source of cash flow during uncertain economic times.


While national real estate numbers can provide a “big picture” outlook, real estate is local. As local market experts, we can guide you through the ins and outs of our market and the issues most likely to impact sales and home values in your particular neighborhood. 

If you have specific questions or would like more information about how market changes could affect you, contact us to schedule a free consultation. We’re here to help you navigate this shifting real estate landscape.


  1. University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers –
  2. Freddie Mac –
  3. CNN –
  4. S&P Dow Jones Indices –
  5. National Association of Realtors –
  6. Forbes –
  7. CNN –
  8. Forbes –
  9. CoreLogic –
  10. Fox Business –


Will Your Remodel Pay Off? The Best (and Worst) Ways to Spend Your Budget

8 Jul

Most new homeowners have something about their property that they want to change. And as family needs and design trends shift over time, many will eventually choose to remodel. Some homeowners make updates to their property before listing it to maximize their potential sales revenue.

Whatever your reasons are for taking on a home improvement project, it’s wise to consider how the money you invest will impact your home’s value.

We’ve taken a look at six popular home renovations and identified those that—on average—have the best and worst returns on investment. So before you lift a hammer or hire a contractor, take a look at this list and see if your remodeling efforts will reward you when it comes time to sell.


These three common home improvement projects not only add function and style to your home, but they also offer a strong return on investment. Making strategic upgrades to your property will help you increase its value over time.

Minor Kitchen Remodel

The kitchen is often referred to as the “heart of the home,” and for good reason. Traditionally used for preparing food, it has morphed into so much more. Many of us now eat our family meals in the kitchen, it serves as a favorite spot for homework and kids’ art projects, and it’s the place guests tend to gather when we host events. 

Because we spend so much time in our kitchens, it’s natural that we will eventually want to make updates and upgrades to better suit our needs and changing style preferences.

Luckily, a minor kitchen remodel is one of the best investments you can make in your home. According to Remodeling Magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report, it has an average 80.5% return on investment.

The key to making a kitchen remodel pay off is to keep it modest in scale. Spend too much on custom or high-end selections, and you are less likely to recoup your investment. Instead, make an effort to keep your existing layout if it works for you and your family. Paint or reface cabinets instead of replacing them. Update countertops with low-maintenance quartz and swap out old light fixtures with modern alternatives. Replace outdated appliances with energy-efficient models. The average cost for a minor kitchen remodel is $22,500, and it’s likely to recoup more than $18,000 at resale.

Wood Deck Addition

A deck addition is a popular way to extend and enhance the use of your outdoor space. It’s the perfect spot for grilling, dining alfresco, and entertaining. In fact, 81% of surveyed homeowners said they have a greater desire to be home since completing a deck addition.

For a 16 x 20-foot wood deck, you can expect to spend around $13,000. Fortunately, the money you invest offers an average return of 76%.

Decks made of composite material are a popular alternative these days, as they don’t require the regular sanding and staining that wood decks need. However, at an average cost of $19,000 for a 16 x 20-foot composite deck, they are significantly more expensive. Plus, the expected return on investment is only 69%. Still, if you plan to hire someone to provide regular maintenance to a wood deck, then a composite deck may offer cost savings over time.

Siding Replacement

Everyone knows good curb appeal is important when selling your home. And while it may not be the most exciting way to spend your remodeling budget, new siding can make a big impression on buyers … and your selling price.

Your home’s exterior is one of the first things buyers see when they view your home. It sets the tone for what they are going to see inside. It also gives an impression of how well the property has been maintained. Worn, peeling, or rotted siding can be a major red flag for buyers.

Replacing 1,250 square feet of siding costs around $16,000 and will net you an average of 76% at resale.

For an even greater impact, consider replacing a portion of your siding with manufactured stone veneer. It can have a dramatic effect on the visual appeal of your home. A 300 square foot area will run you around $8,900, but you can expect to see a nearly 95% return when it comes time to sell.


These three popular remodeling projects are homeowner favorites. However, don’t expect to see a high rate of return at resale. Instead, consider them an investment in your current quality of life. Just make sure you’ll be living in the home long enough to make them worthwhile.

Major Kitchen Remodel

If there’s one room the majority of homeowners dream about making over, it’s their kitchen. From custom cabinetry to high-end appliances, the possibilities are endless. But those dreams can come at a cost. 

An upscale kitchen remodel with high-end cabinetry and countertops, commercial-grade appliances, and designer features can cost upwards of $130,000. And unfortunately, you’ll only get back around 60% at resale. Even a mid-range kitchen remodel that includes new semi-custom wood cabinets, laminate countertops, and energy-efficient appliances could run you around $66,000 and net you a mere 62% at resale.

Of course, an outdated or non-functional kitchen could turn buyers off from your home completely …  and keep you from enjoying it yourself! So if your kitchen needs a major remodel, you shouldn’t necessarily scrap your plans. Just go in with the realization that you may only get back a fraction of what you invest. Then you can decide which upgrades are worth the splurge.

In-ground Pool

Few additions deliver more entertainment or enjoyment than an in-ground pool. It brings families and friends together, provides a break from the summer heat, and offers a fun and convenient way to stay fit. Plus, you’ll be the envy of your neighbors! But before you dive into a pool addition, consider whether the benefits outweigh the (substantial) costs.

The average expense to install a standard 18 x 36-foot in-ground pool is $57,500. And the estimated return at resale is only or 43%. In addition to the installation cost, plan to spend money each year on maintenance, repairs, and additional insurance. 

However, 92% of surveyed homeowners said they “have a greater desire to be home” since installing a pool, and 83% have “an increased sense of enjoyment when they are at home.” For you and your family, the perks of a pool may be priceless.

Master Suite Addition

If you own a house built before the 1980s, there’s a good chance it lacks a master suite, which is a feature that has become commonplace in most newly constructed homes.

Master bedrooms have evolved from a simple place to sleep into a homeowner’s retreat—often featuring a sitting area, his-and-hers walk-in closets, and an attached bathroom with double vanities, a soaking tub, and a walk-in shower.

And master suite additions have become increasingly popular—both in homes that lack one as well as those with aging owners who can no longer accommodate stairs to an upper-level bedroom.

But what’s the typical return at resale? Unfortunately, a master suite addition offers one of the lowest returns of any remodeling project. With a median cost of $125,000, most sellers will only recoup around 52% of their investment. Nevertheless, in a survey of homeowners, the majority were satisfied with their decision to add a master suite, giving it a “Joy Score” of 10 out of 10.


It’s always wise to enter into a remodeling project with knowledge of how it will impact your home’s value. In most cases, upscale or highly-customized upgrades are less likely to offer a high rate of return. That said, home renovations that improve your quality of life and enhance your enjoyment may be worthwhile no matter the cost.


  1. 2019 Cost vs. Value Report –
  2. NAR’ Remodeling Impact Report –
  3. Zillow –
  4. House Logic –
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