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HomeSmart Realty is an independent real estate brokerage, committed to providing outstanding service and value to buyers and sellers. We are widely recognized as the preeminent real estate company in Washington DC Area, while also beeing known for developing quality working relationships with our clientele; relationships based on respect, integrity, and trust.

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Real Estate News
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Fire-Tower Style Living at its Finest

2015-09-03 12:23:00

Filed under: Lifestyle, House of the Day
Tom Hanny/Zillow


By Catherine Sherman

They saw it coming: the mushroom cloud of smoke.

Dabney Tompkins and Alan Colley were on their deck enjoying the view when the Stouts Creek Fire broke out earlier this month. They'd read about moments like this -- spotting a forest fire from a 40-foot-high tower -- but nothing could have prepared them.

They weren't staffing a fire lookout, after all. They were at home.



Tom Hanny/ZillowAlan Colley, left, and Dabney Tompkins wouldn't trade their life above the trees for anything.


Treehouse Without the Tree

Tompkins and Colley's lives changed course on a ferry ride several years ago. Quite literally stumbling upon a book about fire lookouts used by the U.S. Forest Service, they learned how the structures on stilts were used to spot forest fires throughout the 20th century. Now largely replaced by satellites, very few lookouts are still standing.



Tompkins and Colley, who had downsized from their big Dallas estate to 1,400 square feet in Portland, wanted to know more.

"It was a magical moment that the book sort of fell off the shelf to us," Colley recalls. "We called the ranger district and said why don't we rent this thing? That was the beginning."

The urbanites rented several fire lookouts before purchasing 160 acres of meadow and forest land in rural Oregon, known as Summit Prairie. With the help of a local builder and engineer, their "treehouse without the tree" was completed in 2010.

For the first few years, it was just a weekend getaway, but those weekends quickly turned into something more.

"About a year and half ago, we decided to be totally irresponsible and quit our jobs and move here," Tompkins says. "We were just going to do it for one year because we thought this might just be too isolated, too boring, too rustic. But then we got down here and we started to meet people and really enjoy the rhythm of it." (See what life in the tower is like in this video.)

Life on the Prairie

Up four flights of stairs, the lookout is 388 square feet with a simple kitchen spanning the back wall and two narrow beds flanking the sides. Up a skinny wooden ladder, a "cupola" serves as a master suite -- minus the bathroom.

In fact, there's no bathroom to be found. Historic fire lookouts never had them, and Tompkins and Colley didn't want to obstruct their 360-degree view of the Umpqua National Forest. Instead, they created a few alternative options and put the shower out on the deck.



































"My favorite time to take a shower is when we have snow outside and you have to walk barefoot through the snow on the deck," Tompkins says. "Then you turn that hot water on and that yin and yang of hot and cold - and looking out and seeing the meadow - it's heaven."



Courtesy of Alan Colley via Zillow




Without the luxuries of a typical single-family home, Tompkins and Colley find themselves retreating to the "hammock tree" or soaking in their wood-burning, spring-fed hot tub.

"It's quiet -- so quiet it allows me to hear things I wouldn't hear in the city," Colley says. "There's no urban beat. You don't hear sirens, you don't hear traffic -- you hear us."

He says the experience has brought him and Tompkins closer, as they've allowed each other to grow and be different.



A Taste of 'Off the Grid'

They're also learning what it truly means to live off the grid, finding you often gain more than you lose.

"The saying we love to tell each other is 'just because we live off-grid doesn't mean we have to eat bad food.' And we have made some amazing meals," Colley says after making a blueberry pie from scratch.

Instead of buying organic produce from the grocery store, they have their own garden and are involved with the local farmers market.

Of course, living off-grid has its challenges -- like figuring out how to install solar panels -- but the biggest challenge came as a surprise.

"We're so enmeshed in this community, as weird as that may sound, that we really have to back away and say I just want time on my meadow," Colley says.

From vegan potlucks with the "old hippies," as they call the neighbors, to looking for ways to stimulate a local economy still dependent on timber, Tompkins and Colley are keeping busy.

The View Never Gets Old

They laugh when they think about how they used to worry about being isolated and bored.

"Reading, cooking, hiking and splitting wood are much more entertaining to us," Colley says. "If you're interested in those kinds of things as a DIYer, you're going to be fine in this situation."

And in the wake of a recent forest fire, they're even more thankful for the view.

"Every day, the sun is doing something different. There's no repetition at all," Colley says.

"Many mornings, we'll get up, and the entire meadow is shrouded in fog. And then as the sun moves up into the sky, the fog starts to kind of slip into the valley," Tompkins adds. "As you look out, it's like you're in an airplane where there's just this lower level of clouds. To me, that's magic."



Photos and video by Tom Hanny for Zillow.

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Mortgage Rates Rise From Recent Lows, Hitting 3.75%

2015-09-01 18:02:00

Filed under: Buying, Financing, Refinancing
ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun


Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans rose this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.75 percent, up 8 basis points from last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose throughout the week before settling at the quoted rate Tuesday.

"Mortgage rates avoided the erratic movement of the stock market and rose steadily last week on improving domestic economic data," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "This week, we expect rates to be volatile as markets look for further improvements in the economy's health -- especially Friday's jobs report -- that will influence the Fed's decision to raise rates later in the year."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.92 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.73 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for rate trends and up-to-the-minute rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

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Comparing a $13.9 Million Home to a $139 Million Home

2015-08-31 06:37:00

Filed under: Buying, Lifestyle


Zillow via Credit.comOne of these homes was listed for $139 million, and the other for a mere $13.9 million. Can you tell which is which?


By Michael Schreiber

Perusing homes out of one's price range online may as well be a national pastime in America. Who doesn't love imagining what it would be like to live someplace palatial, or even just gawk at these monster homes and their even bigger price tags?

In the world of real estate, however, there's expensive and then there's insanely expensive. The Credit.com team decided to take a look at two homes for this article, one of which is way out of our price range, the other of which is way, way, way, way, waaaaaaaaaay out of our price range.

(Or maybe one of these is within your price range. This calculator can tell you how much house you can afford, and this free credit scoring tool can tell you where you stand in case you'd like to apply for a mortgage for either of these fine homes -- or any home, really.)

The former is a seven-bedroom, nine-bath Florida home in Coral Gables, selling for $13.9 million. The latter is an 11-bedroom, 17-bath house, just up the road in Hillsboro Beach. The Hillsboro mansion was on the market for a mere $139 million before the listing was removed -- perhaps indicating a sale, or perhaps a change of heart by the seller.

We wanted to see what the real difference is between the two places. Is the Hillsboro Beach place really 10 times the house? How could one even arrive at that price?

Who are we kidding? We really just wanted to look at the pretty pictures.



Let's Start with the "Small" Place




Zillow via Credit.com


According to the listing on Zillow, here are the basics for the $13.9 million property in Coral Gables.


Seven bedrooms.
Nine bathrooms.
12,636 square feet.
2.07-acre lot.
Built in 1999.
Price per square foot: $1,104.
2014 property taxes: $96,863.
Parking: attached garage, four spaces.


And here are some of the highlights from description:

"A foyer with a grand chandelier and 28-foot ceilings opens to a formal living room with 30-foot tall ceilings....

"Perfectly manicured gardens permeate the scenery, and are complemented by a babbling brook, a resort-style pool with waterfall bridge, a sophisticated cabana with gourmet summer kitchen...

"While the canal does not support a large vessel, the estate comes with a deeded boat slip allowing up to a 60-foot yacht.

"Two downstairs wet bars, including one in a library lounge offers plenty of variety for entertaining...

"Across the hall from the library lounge is a home cinema....

"Take the elevator or the stairs to the second floor where a split plan finds the master suite set away from the other bedrooms.

"Special features include a 80 (kilowatt) generator with two buried 1,000 gallon propane tanks, mosquito misting system."




So What Could $139 Million Get You?




Zillow via Credit.com


For those of you with $139 million burning a hole in your pocket, here are the basics of the Hillsboro Beach property also known as "Le Palais Royal" that recently was pulled from the market. The listing is courtesy of Zillow.


11 bedrooms.
17 bathrooms.
41,774 square feet.
2.48-acre lot.
Built in 2014.
Price per square foot: $3,327.
2014 property taxes: $143,855.
Parking: attached garage, 30 spaces.


And here are some excerpts from the description of the house featured on Le Palais Royal's dedicated website.

"On one side of your very own private 465 [feet] of Atlantic beachfront and on the other side be romanced at the view of your yacht docked on 492 feet on the [Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway]....

"Custom designed doors...with 22-karat gold leafing, opening beneath the grand [staircase]... taking craftsmen more than two years to realize with an investment of $2 Million....

"The first-ever IMAX Theater contracted for private use... seating 18 along with a complete bar and IMAX lounge giving guests a unique experience....

"A 4,500-sq. ft. infinity edge La Piscine with a 12-ft cascading waterfall, a double-loop, LED-lit waterslide which plunges into the pool....

"An outdoor Jacuzzi is positioned above the waterfall allowing complete panoramic sea views....

"You may enter the Spa Privé massage room, as well as, access the outdoor Cuisine d'été furnished with its very own Four à Pizza and outdoor lounge...."

So which one will you take?

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How to Get a Chef-Worthy Kitchen for $50,000 or Less

2015-08-27 12:58:00

Filed under: Design, Home Improvement, Lifestyle
Trulia



By Brie Dyas

Even grilled cheese tastes better when made in a stylish kitchen.

For those who love to cook, a gourmet kitchen is the dream. However, unlike a living room or bedroom, this space is much harder to remodel. Kitchens can't be rearranged at whim, cabinets can't be easily changed, and counters -- well, there's very little you can do to hide 1980s laminate countertops. (Their existence is proof that not everything comes back in fashion.)

But don't shelve your dream just yet. It's possible to get a luxurious look for under $50,000, which is close to the average price spent on a budget kitchen remodel. We asked designers where they'd splurge, where they'd save, and other projects to consider for a space worthy of your culinary creations.

Before you start, carefully consider the space and your lifestyle.

"Design your kitchen for the way you live 90% of the time," says high-end kitchen designer Karen Williams. "Not the holidays or a visit from the in-laws."

She ranks the overall layout as the most important element in a kitchen renovation. "Good design is good design. A proper prep center, cooking, and cleanup [space] is essential." So before you get carried away on Pinterest, think more about the layout that best suits your daily habits rather than, say, Gwyneth Paltrow's.

Making a list of your main concerns will be invaluable for efficiently communicating with a designer. "Share your ideas and priorities by listing them top to bottom," says Sandra Brannock, principal at Expert Kitchen Designs. "Listen to the kitchen designer and ask for clarification if you are unsure about the design direction. If it is suggested something you want is not cost-worthy, listen and heed this advice."


Where to Splurge on Your Kitchen Remodel?




Trulia




Cabinets: Estimated Cost of $20,000-$25,000*

"The materials you choose for the kitchen cabinets will define the style," says designer Natalie Kraiem. "If you are going for a modern look, I love to use high-gloss or matte lacquer or frosted glass in a solid color. If you want to achieve a richer look, then go with wood veneers. You could use laminates for a similar but less expensive look."

Lifestyle also plays an important role in selecting materials. "Cabinetry will endure the most abuse, so look for all-plywood construction along with a superior finish and top-notch door and drawer hardware," advises Brannock. "Your investment will require 20 percent to 30 percent more upfront, but the obvious return will be realized five or more years later when your cabinetry looks and feels as great as when it was first installed."

Brannock has a few recommendations if you're looking to trim costs: "Opting for cabinets with MDF construction will save you approximately 12 percent. Oak, knotty alder, and hickory are no-upcharge wood species that will save you 6 percent to 22 percent. Consider high-pressure laminate for a contemporary look."

Appliances: Estimated Cost of $10,000-$14,000

Obvious as it may be, quality appliances are key to the gourmet kitchen. Kraiem likes side-by-side refrigerator and freezer models that offer custom panel options, which can blend in with your cabinets for a seamless look. A high-end dishwasher is also a luxury worth looking into, especially if it also offers the custom panel option. Hoods can be customized to suit the overall design.

If you're currently using an electric range, don't worry about converting to gas for a pro-caliber kitchen. Instead, replace the old stove with an induction model. "There are many high-end professional kitchens using this marvelous method," Brannock says. "It is instantaneous, efficient, and also minimizes the extra heat generated in a hardworking kitchen."

Luxe Details

Accessories have a big impact in a kitchen. "I like to splurge on hardware," Williams says. "It should look good to the eye and feel good to the hand. You see it and touch it every day."

Expanding Storage Options

Clutter can cramp the style of even the fanciest kitchen. However, you'll want to go for storage options that suit your kitchen.

"Extra deep drawers can be a blessing or a curse if not thought through for one's individual needs," Brannock says. "If incorporating them, consider a smaller hidden drawer above them or a narrow partition to house smaller items such as lids or food processor accoutrements so all the space is utilized. These drawers add $200-plus each but are totally worth it."

She also says that shallow-depth base cabinetry (13 to 18 inches deep) is especially cost-effective and can fit most people's storage needs.



Where to Save on Your Kitchen Remodel?





Trulia




Backsplash and Countertop: Estimated cost of $7,000

Renewed interest in marble means other natural materials can be found for a bargain. "With the popularity of white marble right now, granite may be a good choice. The marble yards have an overstock of the material and are usually offering to make a good deal," Williams says. "Stay with the softer, neutral tones so your kitchen won't look outdated."

Additionally, new designs in porcelain present another cost-effective yet stylish option for counters, floors, and other surfaces.

Since a backsplash tends to cover a smaller space, it's easier to cut costs here. "I tend to like to use the same countertop and backsplash material for a modern look. In this case, quartz is great because it doesn't stain or get damaged easily," Kraiem says. "I also like to use frosted glass or stainless steel for a unique look that's not so expensive." For more traditional kitchens, a tile or mosaic backsplash is the most budget-friendly option.

Flooring: Estimated Cost of $2,000

Your flooring is a big element of your kitchen, so it can have a big impact on overall style. "For example, with floors, 24-by-24- or 24-by-48 porcelain tiles in a concrete or minimalist color will 'speak' to those who walk on them as highly sophisticated," Brannock says. "Another option is wide and random-width hardwood flooring such as fumed white oak for a rustic yet timeless elegance." But the square footage here is probably less than in other areas in your home, so it'll be less costly than, say, redoing the floors in the living room.

Miscellaneous items (Faucets, Sink, and Garbage Disposal): estimated cost of $1,000-$1,500

While these smaller elements play an important part in the function of your kitchen, they aren't as noticeable, meaning you can get away with budget-friendly options. "Focus on the look and quality without splurging," Kraiem says.

*Costs for this report were estimated by designer Natalie Kraiem and are based on a 10-by-10 kitchen. Your costs may vary depending on individual design choices.

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A Decade After Katrina: View 10 Homes Built Since the Storm

2015-08-27 07:07:00

Filed under: Buying



ZillowThis 2,800-square-foot West End home built in 2009 is on the market in New Orleans for $475,000.




By Melissa Allison

It was a decade ago this week that the levees failed in New Orleans, and Hurricane Katrina became one of the deadliest storms in U.S. history.

The beloved city struggled mightily in the aftermath, battling flooding, bureaucracy, and mangled and rotting houses.

Ten years on, there are signs of hope and renewal, including homes on the market that were built after the cataclysm.

West End

6032 Pontchartrain Boulevard, New Orleans
For sale: $475,000


Zillow


A new construction home with a flair for history, this listing features a large front porch, hardwood floors and a Jacuzzi tub.

See more listings in New Orleans' West End.

Touro

3727 Constance St., New Orleans
For sale: $675,000


Zillow




A newly built home just one block from Magazine Street, this home features a master suite with a soaking tub, extra-large shower and a walk-in closet. The floors are made from reclaimed heart of pine.

See more homes for sale in Touro.

Lakeview

6480 Louisville St., New Orleans
For sale: $499,000


Zillow


High ceilings, a covered back porch and an enormous walk-in closet make this 2011 home special. The attic was designed to allow space for two more bedrooms and a bath.



Check out more homes on the market in Lakeview.

Central City

2045 Chippewa St., New Orleans
For sale: $325,000


Zillow




This newly built home features hardwood floors, high ceilings and spacious closets.

Check out more homes on the market in Central City.

Holly Grove

8725 Belfast St., New Orleans
For sale: $179,000




Zillow




This four-bedroom, two-bath home offers an open floor plan and a laundry/mud room that leads to a large raised deck.

Check out more homes on the market in Holly Grove.

Lower Ninth Ward

5201 N Galvez St., New Orleans
For sale: $127,500


Zillow


The hard-hit Ninth Ward is rebuilding, too, with homes like this one, which is being marketed as great for tenants or owner occupancy.





See more homes for sale in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Milneburg

2726 Athis St., New Orleans
For sale: $124,900


Zillow




Built in 2007 on a deep lot, this raised home features wooden floors in the living room and carpet in the four bedrooms. Its location provides easy access to universities and highways.

View more listings in Milneburg.

West End

6601 Fleur De Lis Drive, New Orleans
For sale: $410,000


Zillow




This newly constructed home boasts a breakfast room with bay windows, covered front and back porches and a large master suite with bay windows, wood floors and two closets.

See more homes for sale in the West End.

Navarre

882 Homedale St., New Orleans
For sale: $539,000


Zillow






Built two years ago with lots of character touches, this home includes reclaimed heart-of-pine flooring, one-foot baseboards, encased frame windows and a master bedroom that accesses a private balcony.

View more homes on the market in Navarre.

Lakeview

5934 Vicksburg St., New Orleans
For sale: $580,000


Zillow




Luxury touches abound in this 2,529-square-foot home, including high ceilings, hardwood floors, crown molding and clawfoot bathtubs. There are three fireplaces, a walk-in master closet and a courtyard with a gas fire pit.

Check out what else is for sale in Lakeview.



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