Loudoun’s real estate market off to a cold start

January’s cold weather has put Loudoun’s real estate prices on ice, but the market is also primed for a thaw in coming months.

In January, Loudoun’s average sales price was $363,394, compared to $392,641 in December 2010 and $382,119 in January 2010, which resulted in a 5 percent decrease year over year, according to reports released by the Dulles Area Association of Realtors and RealEstate Business Intelligence, a Metropolitan Regional Information System company.

Overall, Washington, D.C., area sales did not quite reach 3,000 units sold in January 2011. Compare January’s 2,963 sales to 4,413 homes sold in December 2010 and 3,417 homes sold in January 2010.  Washington, D.C., saw the smallest decline (22 percent), but Loudoun had the largest decline (40 percent) in sales, according to a report released by Loudoun housing analyst and consultant Rosemary deButts.

Loudoun’s sales dip resulted in only 251 single family homes, townhomes and condominiums sold last month, compared to 374 in December 2010 and 261 in January 2010.

“Activity in January is always slow and it was bound to be slower than last year given that the market is no longer artificially stimulated by the first-time home buyer’s tax credit,”  deButts said.

Donna Evers, president and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate in Washington, D.C., agrees.

Evers released a housing market report Feb. 14 for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. She stated that 2011 has gotten off to an uneven start for all of the metropolitan area’s jurisdictions. More buyers are out looking, but fewer desirable properties are on the market in the metropolitan area, she said.

“The flow of new listings was likely delayed by bad weather,” she said.

The good news: The number of homeowners listing their homes for sale has risen significantly, which may mean many Loudoun homeowners are prepping for an active spring selling season.

The number of new listings jumped from 364 in December 2010 to 585 in January 2011. This is a minor drop from January 2010, when 599 homes hit the market. This results in a 2 percent drop year over year, according to RealEstate Business Intelligence.

“With the combination of low mortgage interest rates and increased consumer confidence, we should see a steady, strong pace of sales in 2011,”  Evers said.

This article was first published by Hannah Hager on LoudounTimes.com.


County administrator talks economic development

The state of the county’s economic development was the hot topic at the Economic Development Commission meeting Feb. 11.

County Administrator Tim Hemstreet presented a slide show detailing the county’s economic indicators, which he had previously presented to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors at its Feb. 7 meeting. The highlights from the presentation included:

Commercial and industrial sectors
Loudoun’s vacancy rate was at 14 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, which is down from 16 percent from the same period last year.

Loudoun’s rate of decrease has been less than that of many of our neighbors, he said. Still, Loudoun permitted 1.6 million square feet of non-residential property and gained several high profile leases last year. Rockwell Collins added 178,000 square foot of space and 400 employees; Neustar expanded its facilities; and more than 350,000 square feet of industrial space was developed around the Route 606 corridor last year, he said.

Additionally, 268 employers started new businesses in Loudoun last year, he said.

Real property and assessed value

Loudoun’s main revenue base is real property, Hemstreet said.

Loudoun’s real property has shown appreciation during the last couple of years. The estimated fair market value of taxable real property in Loudoun in 2010 was $54 billion. That base will grow about $2 billion in 2011 and is projected to add $1.5 billion to reach $57.5 billion in 2012, according to county reports.

The average assessed value of a single family home in Loudoun jumped from $387,720 in 2010 to $397,300 in 2011 and an estimated $406,600 in 2012.

Loudoun’s revenue conditions

“All of our base revenue is doing positive,” he said.

The county has seen a significant increase in personal property as well as real tax, he said. On the other hand, the county’s key budget challenge is to focus on how to balance an increase in service demands while experiencing continued growth and ongoing reductions in support from the Commonwealth, he said.

The county has suffered a net loss of 95 positions during the last two years. Since then, the office of the county administrator has taken prudent actions to reduce the budget so that the county’s workforce would not face subsequent decreases.

“Your government is more efficient than it was two years ago,” he said.

Hemstreet’s proposed fiscal plan attempts to meet the board’s fiscal direction, preserves major board initiatives, opens and operates new facilities, continues to focus on the Department of Economic Development and invests in the county’s employees, he said.

Hemstreet emphasized that county employees are burdened by a heavier workload each year and have not received a pay increase for the past three years. Hemstreet hopes to give county employees a 3 percent pay raise this year.

“They continue to absorb additional workloads without additional resources,” he said.

The future of economic development

Hemstreet’s major goals for the Department of Economic Development in 2012 include:

– A proactive business retention strategy. Hemstreet hopes to add another position within the department that will focus solely on addressing the needs and wants of Loudoun’s current businesses.

– Reduce the county’s commercial vacancy rate by another 2 percent. County representatives need to pro actively meet with businesses who are looking to locate here.
– Enhance local agricultural products distribution. The spring and fall farm tours currently generate $130,000 in revenue and 15,000 visitors annually.

Contact the writer at hhager@timespapers.com.

This article was first published by Hannah Hager on LoudounTimes.com.

A day in the life of a delegate

It’s 5 p.m. and Del. Tag Greason (R-northeastern Loudoun) is just half way through his day.

As a freshman at the Virginia General Assembly last year, Greason didn’t know what to expect upon his arrival in Richmond. Now, sitting on the dais in the General Laws Committee, he snacks on candy bars and sips on Diet Coke while listening to issues ranging from the commonwealth’s green certification to fireworks laws.

Thomas “Tag” Greason (R-northeastern Loudoun) spoke at a 2009 Virginia House of Delegates candidate forum at the National Conference Center.

The January 2010 assembly was his first session as a Loudoun delegate. His biggest challenge? Learning the colloquialisms of the house floor.

“There’s an enormous learning curve that you’re trying to overcome,” he said.

There is a specific language used on the House floor – the way you address the speaker and other colleagues – that took him some time to get used to, he said. Greason, who had no political or legislative experience before his election, has now learned the specific procedures and protocols of the floor, which was “like learning a different language.”

Additionally, first-year delegates do not receive their committee assignments until they start their first day.

“There is no way to prepare or research what you’ll be working on,” he said.

Greason is now in the throes of his second session and has made it through his “cross-over,” the date by which he had to complete work on his own legislation. Both congressional houses must have completed their legislation by Feb. 8. The Virginia General Assembly will adjourn Feb. 26.

This time around, Greason said he feels much more comfortable and can now focus on the content of the bill he’s presenting and not how he’s presenting it.

Greason spread his wings with his most recent bill. The bill, if passed, would provide insurance coverage for autism in children—providing medically necessary therapies for children ages 2 through 6, with a $35,000 cap on annual benefits. The bill has advanced through the House and passed in the Senate Feb. 8.

Autism affects hundreds of thousands of people across the commonwealth, he said. Several of his constituents have come to him describing the cost burden of caring for their autistic children.

“One in every 110 children is affected by autism. How can you turn your back on it?” he said.

People have been discussing or working on the autism bill for years, but Greason and the bill’s coauthors finally created a bill that was delicately balanced and fair to both the business communities and the families, he said.

During last year’s session, Greason introduced eight bills to the General Assembly. This year, he’s introducing the maximum 15 bills, ranging from a bill to provide a gambling-addiction treatment fund to designating September as Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Greason sits on the Finance, Education and General Laws committees.

“It is fascinating to be exposed to so many different issues,” he said. “In a five- minute span you can be dealing with insurance, child abuse, autism or transportation.”

If it seems like a delegate’s day is jam-packed, it is. From the moment Greason steps into his office at 7 a.m. until he leaves his committee meetings around 10 p.m., every minute of his time is spoken for. Don’t just drop in. It’s not uncommon for Greason to be out of his office for hours on end. However, he and his staffers are very willing to schedule meetings.

His office décor relays the image of his fast-paced lifestyle – with some balancing details: Energy bars sit next to a Keurig coffee machine. Pictures of his wife and three children line the windowsill, and two Bibles rest atop his end table.

“Because we’re only here for 60 days, everyone in the entire commonwealth who has an interest in what we’re doing comes to see us,” Greason said.

The entire General Assembly building is bustling from morning till night with staffers and interest group representatives. This often leads to the spread of the common cold, and hand sanitizer machines abound. Nevertheless, Greason remains upbeat.

“I like to engage with people on issues that they care about,” he said. “The variety is absolutely exhilarating.”

Interest groups have stopped by Greason’s office to object to his votes on certain decisions. He has quickly learned that no matter what decision he makes, someone will always be unhappy with it. But he said he has found that if he can explain why he voted the way he did and that he researched it, he has never been faulted for a vote.

“I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know,” he said. “If you try to please everybody, you will fail.”

Contact the writer at hhager@timespapers.com.

This article was first published by Hannah Hager on LoudounTimes.com.


The man with the ‘golden voice’

If inclement weather is in the forecast, he’s the voice parents and school kids are longing to hear: Is school closed or not?

Few are embarrassed to admit that they wait by the phone for Wayde Byard, the Loudoun County Public School’s public information officer, to call. Recent snowstorms have prompted several parents to create a Facebook fan page for Byard called “Friends of Wayde Byard.” Started on Jan. 27 with the status, “waking families in Loudoun County since 2000,” the group attracted more than 900 fans in less than a week.

Wayde Byard

Byard rings Loudoun’s public schools teachers and parents to inform them of inclement weather delays or closures. His automated voice message sometimes calls at night, but he most often sounds off during the wee hours of the morning. Several parents, who likely recall last winter’s back-to-back blizzards, said they know Byard’s on the other end of the line when the clock reads 5:30 a.m.

“It’s to the point that he really can dismiss the formality of identifying himself when he calls, don’t you think?” Tiffany Powers Burfield commented on the Facebook page. “He should simply say, ‘This is Wayde. Go back to sleep.’”

One woman jokingly pleaded with Byard to stop calling her house because her husband is starting to get suspicious. Another mother inquired if he had her on speed dial. Loudoun schools have closed five days this school year and had a few delays.

Last Monday night, Kelly Young said she answered Wayde’s call with, “’What’s the good word, Wayde?’ And he gave me the good word! What a guy!” He informed her that school was closed the next day.

All may receive the call, but all do not want it. Carolyn Edwards Pennebaker wrote, “No offense Wayde … but I don’t need any calls this week!”

Many commenters wondered if Byard was aware that a Facebook page had been created in his honor.
“The wife’s amused, I’m amused and the dog doesn’t care,” Byard said.

Byard said he finds the fan page funny and thinks it was created in good fun. He also appreciated that the fan page founder had posed a recent picture of him.

“As a student of the media, it’s always interesting to see the next wrinkle in communication,” he said.

The fan page’s founder, who is not identified, said they foresee a t-shirt in the group’s future filled with the “Wayde-isms,” including, “What’s the Wayde-ger for tomorrow?” or “Wayde is the real man with the golden voice.” The t-shirt’s proceeds could make up the school’s budget deficit, the founder wrote.

Despite the presence of his fan page, Byard plans to use the traditional outlets to inform parents and teachers of the school’s operational status.

So, Byard’s fans and foes still can expect more phone calls in the future. And they are awaiting, like schoolgirls anxiously anticipating the call of a love interest.

“Looking forward to your call, Wayde! smile,” wrote Bethany Thiele. “Call me baby!” chimed Nancy Parisi Tessman. “Call me, I’ll be waiting,” wrote Anne-Marie Daniel Frattali.

Contact the writer at hhager@timespapers.com


This article was first published by Hannah Hager on LoudounTimes.com. 

Where’s WAGE?

Potential listeners want to know: Where is WAGE Radio, the Loudoun-based AM station that went off the air in August 2009?

WAGE Radio, owned by Potomac Radio, had planned to return to air on Oct. 31. But, financing and procurement snafus stalled the relaunch, Randall Minchew, Potomac Radio’s former legal representative told the Times-Mirror in November.

Many who have been looking forward to the new station have been left to wonder when it will finally come
“As a totally blind person, I have always had a love for radio of all types and hope WAGE can return to its former standing as a station which emphasized public service to Loudoun County,” said Annandale resident Chris Ramsay, who is anxiously awaiting the station’s return.

Despite a months-long delay in construction, the station’s new, three 195-foot lattice-tower AM radio transmitter towers have been raised at the intersection of Loudoun County Parkway and Gloucester Parkway in the Route 28 corridor. Still, its signal remains silent.

In 2009, WAGE went dark after more than 50 years as Loudoun’s local radio station. Immediately after shutting down, Potomac Radio began searching for a site for its new 50,000-watt towers – a 10-fold increase in the station’s previous wattage. The towers cost Potomac Radio $2 million.

Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) said the board has no official capacity to enforce timeliness upon WAGE Radio’s schedule. The supervisors’ task was to review Potomac Radio’s land use application to see if it adhered to the rule book for that area.

Miller voted for the application in 2009. He said he was impressed by the fact that the Commonwealth’s Attorney had come to speak at the public hearing, saying that the station could be useful for Amber alerts. Miller said he hoped the station would be beneficial to the community. The application passed by a 7-2 vote, with Supervisors Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg) and Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) against it.

Burk voted against Potomac Radio’s land use application because the station’s increased wattage suggested to her that it would not feature local programming.

“I still don’t think its going to be serving community,” she said. “I really don’t foresee it being a community radio station. But, time will tell.”

In November, Minchew said the construction site was “a beehive of activity” and that the tower’s concrete footers were laid and a crane was ready for the “erector set of antennas.”

The towers should have been completed before Thanksgiving, he said at the time.

Nearly two months later, the station is still static.

Potomac Radio’s president Alan Pendleton did not return repeated attempts for comment.

In an e-mail statement, Minchew said Jan. 21 that he does not have any new information and has “not monitored the work on the construction of the new WAGE station.”

Miller suggested that the down economy and the recent recession could be a factor in the delay of the station’s relaunch.

“I don’t know what their finances are,” he said.

WAGE sounded off in September, playing music and the program, “Wall Street Journal Today,” a syndicated program that is not reflective of WAGE’s future programming, he said.
The program played in the mornings and evenings for nearly eight days to ensure the station’s window of silent time had not elapsed under the Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Minchew said in November that WAGE’s transformation was “not a deal that didn’t have a few hiccups.”

“I think folks find AM radio as a comfortable place to be, something to keep lonely people and shut-ins company, too,” Ramsay said. “It serves a number of great purposes, so when someone says, ‘who cares about WAGE?’  I say that many more people than you think care about it. “

Contact the writer at hhager@timespapers.com.

This article was first published by Hannah Hager on LoudounTimes.com.

Loudoun’s 2010 home sales, median sales prices fluctuate

A fever chart accurately illustrates Loudoun’s real estate market in 2010.

The county’s home sales sputtered at the beginning of the year – 263 homes sold in January before falling to its lowest point in February with 254 homes sold, according to a report released this week by housing analyst Rosemary deButts. This is compared to the number of homes sold in those same months in 2009; 309 homes sold in January and 323 homes in February, respectively.

Home sales hit its peak in June 2010 with 551 sales, compared to 568 home sold in June 2009. It crashed in July, however, “primarily due to the expiration of the first-time home buyer’s credit ‘hangover’ that began in July,” deButts said.

“It is normal for sales to trend down in the second half of the year but the degree of drop-off was not only unexpectedly sharp but continued through most of the fourth quarter,” deButts said.

After hitting a second low in October of 356 sales, home sales again rebounded in the last half of the year, totaling 388 sales in December. Sales in eastern Loudoun and Leesburg decreased in 2010, by 10 percent and 6 percent, respectively, according to deButts. On the flip side, western Loudoun home sales increased by 8 percent.

The county’s median sales prices wrote a different story in 2010.

The median sales price declined during five of the last six months of 2010, deButts said, which is another indication of the detritus from the home buyer credit expiration. Still, they median sales prices never fell below 2009 levels.

The 2010 median sales prices increased over the 2009 levels because the number of foreclosures and short sales decreased, deButts said. Additionally, prices advanced $67,250 from January to June due to the increased demand generated by the first-time home buyer credit, she said.

The year-to-date median sales price in Loudoun was $359,000, which was up 7 percent from 2009, according to deButts. In January, the median sales prices came in at $323,000 before skyrocketing to $390,000 in June. The median sales price ended the year at $355,000 in December.

While median sales prices remained above 2009 levels, the number of distressed sales, which are defined as foreclosures and short sales, declined 21 percent in 2010.

In 2009, 1,996 sales were distressed, that number fell to 1,572 in 2010. In January 2010, 44 percent of all sales were distressed sales, double the January 2009 rate of 22 percent. By December, however, the number of foreclosures and short sales represented just 33 percent of all sales that month.

The Loudoun County housing market bottomed in the first quarter of 2009 and has been on the rebound ever since. The home buyer tax credit helped to stabilize the market, but no one foresaw how effective it would be and how long it would take to get back to normal, deButts said.

It’s still too early to examine any 2011 numbers. Generally, however, the winter months of January and February tend to freeze the real estate market.

“But, I’m hoping that good news in the stock market, increasing consumer confidence, mortgage rates at 50-year lows, easing mortgage qualification requirements and a growing employment base will create a strong spring market and a return to a normal market,” she said.

Contact the writer at hhager@timespapers.com.

This article was first published by Hannah Hager on LoudounTimes.com.

Supervisors eye new pads

Supervisor Jim Burton has one hand in the old, one in the new

The springs on Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio’s 2002 Ford Focus were crushed, he claims, from the heft of years of board meeting minutes strewn in his trunk.

Talk about a heavy workload.

Soon, Delgaudio (R-Sterling) will join the seven supervisors who made the switch from paper to iPad late last year after a county administrative office’s initiative to abate the amount of packets distributed to the board – saving paper, time and money. The Apple iPad, which was introduced in January 2010, is a tablet computer that has an operating system that falls somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop computer.

Supervisors receive minutes, agendas and supplemental packets for board and committee meetings as well as public hearings on a near weekly basis.
All together, the packets can measure 6 inches to a foot thick, said Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge).

But, Burton was relieved of his backbreaking board packets when he switched to the iPad in November.

“I was skeptical at first, but my 6-year-old grandson embarrassed me when he showed me how he surfed the Internet on his father’s laptop,” Burton said. “I said, ‘it’s time to get a little technically relevant.’”

The iPad hosts the board’s current meeting documents as well as all previously archived packets. It also furnishes the supervisors with the ability to take notes and mark-up the document’s pages, said Danny Davis, chief of staff for county administration.

Still, glitches happen. Davis admitted there have been some discrepancies between page numbers on the paper versus iPad versions. Delgaudio has several times handed over his hard copy version to a supervisor who can’t find the page they’re looking for during a meeting.

Familiarity with the technology is ongoing. At the board’s Jan. 4 meeting, Burton attempted to read a motion, but couldn’t find it on his iPad, instead muttering that he didn’t know how to use his “doo-dad.”

Davis, who gave a brief training session to each supervisor when they received it, pushed for iPads for the board when he heard of other Virginia jurisdictions utilizing the technology. The city of Williamsburg and other Hampton Roads area jurisdictions also use iPads, he said.

But, the iPads don’t just prevent sore muscles, they save time and money.

The administration office took a “back of the napkin” cost analysis of an iPad versus paper packages, Davis said. They outlined how many pages are printed, the cost of printing and distributing them and the use of staff time.

“It very easily pays for itself within a year, if not less than a year,” Davis said.

Each iPad for the nine supervisors costs $800. On the other hand, printing costs 10 cents per page for an average of 75 to 400 pages per packet for each supervisor, of which thousands are distributed annually. Additionally, every time the courier service is used, it charges the county $100 regardless of whether a single page or hundreds of pages are delivered, Davis said.

Cheaper iPads are on the market, but the supervisor’s tablets have the necessary amount of memory to support their lengthy documents. The iPads also have 3G access, which is a wireless technology that provides Internet access in any location.

Supervisors Delgaudio and Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) are the last to receive the iPads, which will be in hand in coming weeks.

Delgaudio said he wanted to wait until the county’s website provided an iPad (which he intermittently refers to as an iPod, which is Apple’s portable music player) application for the general public. All board documents are downloadable on the county’s website.
“[The iPad] will save money and it will save time,” Delgaudio said.

For his part, Burton said he’s already told county staff not to ship paper packets to his home anymore. He’s trying to clear them out to make way for his new tablet.

“I’m to the point now where I can almost see the top of my kitchen table,” he said.

Burton claims he’s still going through a learning process and that there will be hiccups in getting used to the technology. But, he’s especially pleased that he can go back to review items, data and reports so easily.

Has he nearly reached a 6 year-old’s technology

comprehension level?

“I’m working on it,” he said.

Contact the writer at hhager@timespapers.com

This article was first published by Hannah Hager on LoudounTimes.com.