Great time to refinance your mortgage

July 19th, 2016

Recently, a very successful and experienced mortgage loan officer we know said that rates are now “stupid low.” This is from someone who’s been doing what he’s been doing for a long time. He should know. Mortgage rates have been at historical lows for a number of years now, allowing new buyers the opportunity to purchase more home for their money, and existing homeowners to refinance their loans. This has allowed homeowners to cut hundreds of dollars a month off their higher rate mortgages.

Well, here we go again! Just when you though rates couldn’t get any lower, the markets reacted to the Brexit vote overseas and you, the homeowner, could be a major beneficiary! Rates have moved to all-time lows and those looking to refinance or purchase a new home are responding quickly so they don’t miss out on this opportunity.

Even if you’ve refinanced previously, today’s rates could bring you savings that may enable you to lower your monthly payment or pay your home loan off more quickly. Home prices have also risen and those who have equity could consolidate costly consumer debts or even purchase their dream vacation home.

Most homeowners and prospective home purchasers understand that this is an opportunity of a lifetime. It’s as if there is a sale on money right now. If you are thinking of refinancing, purchasing a new home or consolidating debt, now is the time to act and there are a number of reputable, experienced lenders out there to choose from. We encourage you, though, to talk to at least three lenders and do your homework. Since different lenders have slightly different, and sometimes unique, rate programs and incentives, you should definitely make sure you understand what is available out there and which loan program benefits you the most for your specific circumstances and needs. Beware, though, of “too good to be true” rates you’re quoted on the phone. Many times these ridiculously low rates come with a lot of strings attached, which end up costing you more in the long run. It always pays to educate yourself about mortgage loans and to shop around.

If you would like referrals to some of our trusted mortgage lenders, feel free to contact us!

Radon – What Every Homeowner Should Know

May 22nd, 2016

If you have bought or sold a house in Northern Virginia, you’ve undoubtedly encountered radon tests and have some basic knowledge of the hazards of radon. Radon comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. You can’t see radon. And you can’t smell or taste it. But it may be a problem in your home. In fact, nearly 1 in 15 homes in the US is estimated to have elevated radon levels. Long-term effects of radon can cause lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

Your home may already have a radon reduction system installed but if your home is not equipped with such a system, it’s especially important to test for radon every year or two to make sure you and your family are not living with unsafe levels of radon (EPA recommended levels of 4 pCi/L or above). Radon testing is inexpensive and easy. To test for radon, you can hire a radon specialist or simply purchase a home test. Keep in mind that even if you don’t have a high radon level this year, you could have a higher-than-normal radon level next year. And, similarly, even if your next door neighbor had tested for very low levels of radon, it doesn’t mean your home couldn’t have high levels. Radon levels can vary house-to-house and year-to-year.

When testing for radon, there are two types of tests, short-term and long-term. Short-term tests take as little as 2-3 days and can be performed through a do-it-yourself kit that can be purchased at a hardware store or can be administered by a professional (e.g., when purchasing a home). Long-term tests, on the other hand, take 90-120 days and are more accurate since they give you readings that are more typical of your home’s year round radon level.

The good news is that if your home tests for elevated levels of radon, you can generally reduce even high radon levels in your home by up to 99% by having a radon reduction system installed at a relatively small cost, typically under $1,000…a small price to pay for your family’s long-term health and peace of mind.

For more information about radon, visit or call or email us and we’d be happy to send you a free copy of “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon.”

You can reach the Lutkins Group at 703-855-3071 or Or visit our website at




Real Estate Myths

March 15th, 2016

Common Real Estate Myths That Plague Buyers and Sellers

While there’s a prevailing belief that buying without a real estate agent will save you money, the truth is you’re almost always better off working with a pro. Buying or selling a house is not something most of us do every day. Despite the fact that most of us enter the world of real estate only rarely, we can easily assume we know how it works, based on the experiences of friends and family members, stories we have heard and things we have read. But for everything we believe we know about the industry, there are a number of myths that circulate about how real estate actually works. Buying into these myths can hurt your chances of buying or selling the right home at the right price.

Also, many people believe what they read on the Internet. Take everything you read on the Internet with a grain of salt. Also, be careful with advice you receive from family, friends and work colleagues. The danger with believing everything you hear or read can cost you money when it’s time to buy or sell a home. Here are three of the most common myths that can trip up buyers and sellers:

  • Set your home price higher than what you expect to get. In reality, listing your home at too high a price may actually net you a lower price. That’s because shoppers and their real estate agents often don’t even look at homes that are priced above market value. It’s true you can always lower the price if the house doesn’t receive any offers in the first few weeks but buyers are highly suspicious of houses that have sat on the market for more than three weeks.
  • You can get a better deal as a buyer if you don’t use a real estate agent. This is a completely false assumption since the seller pays your agent’s commission. If the house is listed with a real estate agent, the total sales commission is built into the price. If the buyers don’t have an agent, the seller’s agent will receive the entire commission.
  • You can save money selling your home yourself – otherwise know as FSBO’s (For Sale By Owners). The myth is you will save money on commission if you sell your home yourself. Although it’s not impossible to sell a home on your own, you’ll find that buyers expect a substantial discount when you do, so what you save on a real estate commission may end up meaning a lower sales price. According to the National Association of Realtors, the typical FSBO home sold for 15% less than for an agent-assisted home sale. The fact is you lose money if you try to sell it without the assistance and marketing expertise of a professional real estate agent.


Hiring Remodeling Contractors

March 14th, 2016

It’s almost spring and many homeowners are thinking of hiring remodeling contractors to prepare their home for sale this spring or are looking to upgrade their existing space or add an addition. As with any industry, there are some excellent remodeling professionals out there and there are some less-than-desirable ones as well. Hire the wrong one and you could be dealing with a nightmare. Here are some excellent tips for all homeowners when hiring a remodeling contractor.

1. Get at least three written estimates. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for.
2. Check references. If possible, view earlier jobs the contractor completed.
3. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau for complaints and ask if the contractor belongs to a professional organization such as NARI or NAHB’s Remodeler Council.
4. Be sure the contract states exactly what is to be done and how change orders will be handled.
5. Make as small of a down payment as possible so you won’t lose a lot if the contractor fails to complete the job.
6. Be sure that the contractor has the necessary permits, licenses, and insurance.
7. Check that the contract states when the work will be completed and what recourse you have if it isn’t. Also, remember that in many instances you can cancel a contract within three business days of signing it.
8. Ask if the contractor’s workers will do the entire job or whether subcontractors will be involved too.
9. Get the contractor to indemnify you if work does not meet any local building codes or regulations.
10. Be sure that the contract specifies the contractor will clean up after the job and be responsible for any damage.
11. Guarantee that the materials that will be used meet your specifications.
12. Don’t make the final payment until you’re satisfied with the work.


Finally, if you feel that your project is not being handled correctly or your contractor is not honoring your written contract, don’t hesitate to consult an attorney. A strongly worded letter from an attorney to your contractor can many times get your project back on track quickly.


6 Stellar Reasons to Buy a Home in 2016

January 19th, 2016

If you’re thinking you might want to buy a home in 2016 but are hesitant for any reason, check out this excellent article from




Staging Tips: Keep it Simple and Real

January 18th, 2016

Thanks to HGTV©, staging a house to sell has evolved from a novelty practiced by a few to a necessity expected by the majority of agents and buyers. Over the past ten years, buyer expectations have shifted along with market conditions. Take a well-staged home from 2010, list it in today’s market, and it will be perceived as un-staged by current standards! So here are some great staging tips to consider…

So, what are the staging trends for Spring 2016?

I tell my clients, “If you want to know what’s in, ask a thirty-something”! While the buyer pool is made up of different age groups, the trendsetters are homebuyers aged 28 – 40. Generally speaking, they love simplicity and minimalism, a.k.a. Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel.

What’s Out:


⬥Fichus Trees, Greenery, & Silk Flowers

⬥Valances, Swags, & Drapes

⬥Set Tables

⬥Area Rugs

⬥Ornate Décor & Furniture

⬥Model Home Staging “Props”

What’s In:

⬥Brushed Nickel & Oil-Rubbed Bronze

⬥Natural Elements

⬥Blinds, Shades, Panels, & Bare Windows

⬥Simple Table Centerpiece or None

⬥Bare Hardwood Floors (No Rugs)

⬥Simple Décor & Furniture

⬥ “Real Life”…Simplified


What’s responsible for the current trends?

From my observation, there are two phenomena driving the current trends. First, is the reliance of buyers and sellers on the Internet to buy and sell homes. Because web appeal has replaced curb appeal, online photos are critical and must be incredible! A few empty corners and strategically chosen bare walls equal better photographs. Buyers choose or reject a home in seconds when viewing online virtual tours. A current, staged look paired with professional photographs will do more to sell your home than any other marketing tool.

The second phenomenon is, what I refer to as, the “Allergy Aesthetic”. Countless numbers of my clients, who have allergies and whose children have allergies, have been advised by doctors to remove “dust collectors”. Out went their toss pillows, rugs, curtains, silk plants, and wall-to-wall carpet. In went new hardwood floors! What began as a medical necessity ended as a popular, new aesthetic.

How Do I Get it Right?

Read and follow a “how-to” staging book, and it’s still possible to have an improperly staged home. Real estate is a local business, so the key to great staging is to know your market and target demographic. Consult with an experienced Realtor© and ASP© (Accredited Staging Professional), preferably a team with a proven track record. Together, they can provide you with objective feedback and advise you on the right staging plan for your home. Ultimately, the best staging is invisible. Just remember to keep it simple & keep it real!

Increase your home sale price

December 10th, 2015

Home sellers do not always welcome the idea of renovating their property before selling their homes due to financial constraints. Furthermore, home renovations are not only a cost issue, they’re also an issue about time and effort. But the one thing to keep in mind is that minor renovations and touch ups can do so much to help you increase your home’s value and sales price. So, if you’re wondering what you can do to keep your expenses low but be able to do some necessary home renovations before putting your home on the market, here are a few things to consider:

Kitchen touches

The kitchen is one of the most important parts of the home since it’s where most people tend to congregate. Since food and eating are the common link for everyone, the kitchen is many times the focal point for homebuyers who are considering purchasing your home. So, when you’re putting your home on the market, keep in mind that the kitchen can easily make or break a deal or the amount offered for your home. If your kitchen is outdated and needs a refresh, you don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune to make it appealing to prospective buyers. For a very reasonable budget, you can increase your kitchen’s appeal by purchasing upgraded appliances, for instance. Also, if you have original cabinets, you can get them professionally painted to a more contemporary color, which will definitely improve your kitchen’s appearance. Updating fixtures, knobs and lighting can also make a very positive impression.

Bathroom fixtures

 Next to kitchens, bathrooms are very important to buyers. Many homes in our area still have bathrooms that feature original builder grade mirrors, lighting and plumbing fixtures. Simply updating these items, with a fresh coat of paint can greatly improve your bathroom’s appearance and perceived value. We recently had our handyman paint our client’s old builder oak vanity with espresso color paint and exchanged the lighting and plumbing fixtures. It made a huge and very positive visual difference…all for less than $500.

Carpet clean up

 A tidy looking home with clean carpets makes a much better impression to buyers than homes with old, stained and smelly carpets. When selling your home, it’s always advisable to budget for professionally cleaning and deodorizing your carpets or, if needed, replacing them altogether.

Lighting can do magic

 Remove builder brass lighting fixtures and replace them with brushed nickel or rubbed bronze before putting your home on the market. When they see original brass fixtures, buyers begin to look for other original items that need to be replaced. Also, it’s not only about the lights that you choose, but also about the placement of the lights and the areas they illuminate. Consider purchasing new lampshades that complement the colors of your walls.

Windows and screens

 Lastly, when putting your home on the market, take out all the window screens and store them away, then hire a professional window cleaner to clean your windows. The cost is only about $7 per window and it will make a huge difference in the way your home looks.

Mold and Your Home

September 18th, 2015

In a recent article in the Home section of the Washington Post, columnist Sandy Gadow highlighted mold in your home and the dangers it can pose to the health of your entire family, And, left unattended, fast growing mold can cause damage to your home that will cost in the thousands of dollars to eradicate. It’s been estimated that up to 70% of homes have mold behind their walls. While the EPA sets levels for acceptable radon levels and states regulate termite inspections, there are no state or federal regulations that dictate a safe level of mold for a residential property.

Mold in a house can lie dormant until it gets the needed heat and humidity to grow and multiply. Additionally, it needs a food source, such as dust, dirt or some other organic debris. While not everyone will react to this growth in the same way, those sensitive to allergic or toxic mold can develop alarming symptoms upon merely entering a contaminated room. The result can be a serious – even life threatening – illness if not treated in time.

If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to mold – or begin to experience dizziness, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath or other symptoms of illness, contact a mold specialist and have your property inspected as soon as possible. The EPA provides helpful information in its publication “A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home” at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focuses on the health hazards of mold exposure and provides recommendations for removing mold exposure at

So how do you get rid of mold that might be lurking in your home and behind your drywall? The article mentions that there is a new product on the market, a “fogger” that emits a fine spray, that is non-toxic to humans and animals, and is able to kill mold even behind drywall. It sounded too good to be true to us, so we questioned our own local expert sources and discovered that one of the experts quoted in the article is also the manufacturer of this product. While we’re not claiming that this new product doesn’t work in some instances, we suggest caution before thinking this product is a one-stop miracle cure to mold. Our own mold remediation expert sources say that homeowners should do their homework before making a hiring decision and to seek at least two expert opinions. Our experts also say to keep in mind that the main cause of mold begins with moisture. Before you start thinking about killing the mold, homeowners need to hire a mold remediation specialist who can first do the detective work to locate and stop the source of water that is allowing the mold to grow in the first place. If you suspect mold in your home, please feel free to call us if you need the names of reputable mold remediation specialists in our area.

ReStore — A Hidden Treasure

August 14th, 2015

There’s a hidden treasure here in Loudoun County sitting at the corner of Rt. 15 and Battlefield Pwky in Leesburg. It is called the ReStore and it offers a great place for shoppers to find deals on new and gently used furniture and home remodeling materials. For donors, it offers a place to make a charitable donation while repurposing items no longer needed in your home or business. For the community, all profits from the ReStore go to build affordable housing for families in need.

What is the ReStore?

Habitat for Humanity ReStores are nonprofit home improvement stores that sell building materials, furniture, appliances—and much more—at discounted prices.  Loudoun Habitat ReStores accept donated items from individuals and businesses then resells them to the public at discounted prices. 100% of the profits generated by the sale of these items are invested back into Loudoun Habitat. With these contributions, the ReStores help to cover the costs of land acquisition, construction, rehab projects and other affiliate operations. In addition to supporting affordable homeownership opportunities, ReStores also support a healthier planet. By recycling used items, the ReStores provide an outlet through which the community can donate items to be reused, thus diverting millions of pounds of material from local landfills.

Treasure Hunters Delight
The ReStore is hard to describe if you’ve never been there so get in your car one day and check it out! Walking through the 14,000 SF store you’ll find sofas, chairs, dining sets, office furniture, beds, dressers, a wide range of home décor, rugs, lights, tools, cabinets, flooring, windows, doors, lumber, and much more. Our appliances include refrigerators, ovens, stoves, washers and dryers, and microwaves. There is even a book nook with CDs, DVDS and of course books.

  • Need cabinets to give your kitchen a facelift? The ReStore has a many styles and
  • Replacing your bathroom lights? The ReStore offers a variety of lighting options – many are new from local contractors.
  • Looking for a unique piece for that hard to fit space? The ReStore has new inventory coming in every day of the week so you never know what you will find at the ReStore.

And, then there are the unique items that you only can find at the ReStore. On a recent visit, we found an antique trunk, rare rocking horse, great bikes, a hand-crafted table from Africa, copper kitchenware, and a metal card catalog.

Donations Needed

If you have items that still have ‘life’ in them, please consider donating to the ReStore. There is free pick-up of large items and donations are accepted during store hours. Call to learn more about what the ReStore accepts and to schedule a pick-up.

Loudoun Habitat ReStore
700 Fieldstone Drive, Suite 146
Leesburg, VA 20176

Store Hours: Monday – Friday 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.


Hail damage and insurance claim tips

July 17th, 2015

A recent hailstorm in our area has brought up a number of questions from concerned homeowners including, “Did the hail cause damage to our roof and siding?,“ “What’s the best way to check if there is damage?,” and, “Should we call our insurance company?”

To answer the last question first, beware about calling your insurance company before making sure there is damage to your roof or siding. Some insurance companies may log in your inquiry as a claim, which might adversely affect your insurance rating and rates, even if it’s found that there is no damage. Since hail damage to a roof is not always visible from ground level, it’s best to first call a reputable roofing contractor in your area and schedule an inspection as quickly as possible to determine the extent of the damage, if any. If damage is found, it is recommended that the homeowner submit a claim to their insurance company as soon as possible, since hail damage can many times lead to roof leaks. Many contractors may also assist you in the claim filing process.

Once your claim has been filed, your insurance company will require your home to be inspected by an insurance claims representative.  This is where you want your roofing contractor to be there at the time of the insurance inspection to make sure the inspector sees the same problems they saw.  Insurance claims can get quite tricky and intricate, so having a reputable local contractor handle the issues that arise is very important.

Every insurance company sets its own guidelines for compensation for damages and replacement. Sometimes it will work in the homeowner’s favor and sometimes it won’t. Just because you have hail damage to your roof or siding doesn’t necessarily mean your insurance company will automatically cover you for the full cost of replacement or repair. Some insurance companies may only prorate the cost of a roof replacement based on how old the roof is. The older the roof, the less money will be given you for the replacement.

If you are thinking of seeking out the services of a roofing/siding contractor, be careful that they are a professional and reputable company. Many less-than-reputable contractors “chase” storms and prey upon neighborhoods that have been in the path of a recent storm. Do not agree to any contract to do work on your home before getting a second opinion by a more local contractor to compare price and reputation. Many times, the storm-chasing contractors are more expensive and have less than adequate credentials. We recommend that you work with only licensed and insured Class A contractors who can also provide you with a list of local references. Lastly, if you discover you do have hail damage and need to repair your roof or siding, the most important thing is to make sure that your roofing/siding contractor, the insurance adjustor and you are on the same page for repair cost and timing of when the work is to be performed.

For a list of reputable and trusted roofing/siding contractors, call me! I will be happy to share my list with you.