One of the Best Presents You Can Give

December 30, 2008

“They played the oddest game in high school football history last month down in Grapevine, Texas.

“It was Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School and everything about it was upside down. For instance, when Gainesville came out to take the field, the Faith fans made a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through.

“Did you hear that? The other team’s fans?

“They even made a banner for players to crash through at the end. It said, ‘Go Tornadoes!’  Which is also weird, because Faith is the Lions.”


espn_logo Rick Reilly:  Cheering for the other side

You have to read it.

Last Chance For The Big Johnson

December 19, 2008

Right. You were holding off until the very last minute in case you had a brilliant flash of insight about the upcoming college football bowl games, but with Saturday’s 11:00 AM (EST) deadline looming, you have to get your entry in PDQ, ASAP, like NOW, man.

Perhaps you don’t need a new iPod Nano – I understand. My wife thinks she’s getting one for Christmas (heh, heh) so she hasn’t considered entering – I’m sure she would simply click the buttons for the colleges she loves (i.e. Georgia Tech, Cal, UVa, Virginia Tech, North Carolina) or has some friends who attended (e.g. Maryland, Notre Dame). Beyond that, she would choose those she might have heard of. And she’d probably have as good a chance at winning as anyone – after all, it’s not like you’re up against thousands of people here.

But did you know that I am willing to convert your prize into something you might value more? Last year the winner went for a contribution to her (get that guys? Her?) favorite charity. Others have gone for iTunes credit. Really, I don’t care.


  Kim’s Big Johnson College Bowl Mania

Click on it . . . read the instructions . . . go to ESPN . . . create your entry . . . make your guesses.


You are getting very sleepy . . . .

Stupid Home Buyer Tricks

December 11, 2008

I’ve been a real estate agent in Springfield, Kingstowne, and Fairfax for several years, and for the most part I have found that Northern Virginia buyers are pretty bright. But I have seen some prospective home buyers do things that make me wonder what they were thinking (or smoking, if you get my drift).

mandollarFor instance, wouldn’t you think it pretty important that you understand how much you are able to afford before you start looking for a home? Maybe you would want to consult with a good lender (or two?) to help determine that you can qualify for a mortgage, and for how much?


And then there are so many different types of real estate loans – 15-year, 30-year, even 40-year fixed rate – FHA guaranteed – VA no money down – local down payment assistance – 3, 5, 7 or 10-year fixed/adjustable – wouldn’t it be a good idea to understand your mortgage choices? A competent real estate lender will recommend the best financial product for your needs. I have seen way too many of those quickie print-it-yourself “You’re Prequalified!” letters from Internet mortgage “brokers” who promise you whatever they think it will take to get your money. Please, speak with a lender you trust, and ensure that you have been fully approved for your mortgage and that you understand it. If you don’t know a lender, ask your agent for referrals to some good ones.

realtorWhat?! You don’t want to work with a real estate agent? How many homes have you bought/sold/negotiated lately? It’s one thing to be bright, but entirely another to think you know everything about everything. Oh, you don’t want to pay a commission? Perhaps you didn’t know that as a home buyer, you ordinarily will not pay any commission. The seller pays the commission to their agent, and they share that commission with the buyers’ agent. You can choose to be “represented” or “assisted” by the seller’s agent, but that’s the same as not being represented at all. Get your own agent to make sure your interests are protected! We’ll wait . . .

So now you (and your agent – hint, hint) are out looking at homes. You’re a people person, so naturally you strike up a conversation with the sellers or their 


agent, or maybe their neighbors. Smile, but shut up, already! Everything you say, especially to a well-trained ear, gives them some information you may think is innocuous, but might undercut your negotiations later. You talk to your real estate agent, and let your agent get the answers. After the contract is ratifiedyou can jabber all you like. We encourage it.

Ooh, look – here’s the most expensive house on the block! Let’s get this one, honey! Who cares about later resale value? Most of the time, the highest priced home in the neighborhood will appreciate more slowly than others. Get the pool, the big sunroom, or other costly amenity if you really want it, but don’t expect to get your investment back when you sell unless that “extra” is common in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood? What about the neighborhood? Looked OK when you wrote the offer on Sunday afternoon! Of course, that’s when the 12 guys living in the frat house across the street were sleeping. Take a drive around the neighborhood at different times of day and evening. How’s the commute to your job?

bottlineContract, shmontract, they’re all the same. It’s all about the bottom line, right? Well, no. Designing and presenting a persuasive offer while keeping your options open is a skill born of experience and research. Formulate the offer with your real estate agent. Present yourself as a strong and committed buyer by being approved by a lender and having a competent real estate agent put the offer together with you.

You didn’t request a home inspection? Nah, your uncle is a plumber, so you don’t need no steenkin’ inspection. Every home should be inspected by a qualified home inspector. If you are buying in Virginia, a termite inspection is required. And, if you are considering a home with a septic system – as you might find in Clifton, Fairfax Station or other western and southern parts of Fairfax County – insist on a county inspection of the system.

quitOK – we’re all set. Settlement in two weeks. Hey, let’s buy a new car for our new garage! And while we’re at it, darling, go right ahead and quit your job so you’ll have time to pack your stuff and move! I have had buyers do something like this – well, not quite that bad – in the weeks prior to settlement, only to find that their chosen lender will recheck employment and credit just two days before the expected settlement date. No verification, no loan. Oops!


Buying a home in Springfield, Kingstowne, Fairfax or anywhere else can be stressful and there are many pitfalls. Let yourself be guided by a real estate professional you trust and respect, who has YOUR best interests at heart.

Yup – like me.

Sales Up Again In Northern Virginia

December 11, 2008


The number of home sales (year over year) rose for the fourth consecutive month in November, while the number of homes on the market declined for the fifth month in a row. Pending sales (homes going under contract) rose for the eighth month in a row. We currently have an absorption rate (current inventory/monthly sales) of 7.6 months.

It’s still a buyers market, but it’s starting to turn.


I guess the question is, what’s going to happen now? December is usually a slow month in Northern Virginia real estate, but mortgage rates have been falling (around 5.6% right now). The government has been making noises about trying to push rates down to 4.5% to kick-start the residential home market – so are buyers waiting until they get that low? Is the market anticipating this? What if the government decides it will take too much money – will rates shoot up if it doesn’t happen?

My own seat-of-the-pants view is that most buyers are going to wait until after the holidays, but that January and February will be extremely active – and spring 2009 will see a buying spree. There are sellers aplenty (many not yet in the market) and buyers – in our area – who have been salivating for years but nervous.

Get ready.

Wegmans Coming To Kingstowne

December 11, 2008


Attention all Wegmans fans: Kingstowne will be one of the next locations for this more-than-a-grocery store!

The new location will be part of a mixed-use project at Telegraph Road and Beulah Street near the Fort Belvoir military base. The company has already signed a letter of intent for the store location but still has to sign a lease and wait for various jurisdictional approvals. UPDATE:  The likely open date is 2012, so keep gassing up your cars for Fairfax, Gainesville or Woodbridge for now . . .

This is good news for those of us who live inside the Beltway and are jealous of those who get to shop at Wegmans in Fairfax, Woodbridge, Sterling or Gainesville (and soon in Fredericksburg and Leesburg).

The problem in getting a Wegmans closer to DC is that it’s all about size for Wegmans. The store is larger than most grocery stores, at 130-150,000 square feet. That’s more than double the size of an average Giant, which measures 55,000 to 60,000 square feet.

If you haven’t been to a Wegmans yet – make time, lots of time, because compared to your normal grocery store, it’s an experience. Janet and I have been known on several occasions to make an evening of it – movie, maybe, then dinner and shopping at Wegmans!

Born in Rochester NY in 1916 as a mom-and-pop, there are now 72 Wegmans in five states. The story we heard is that the Wegmans (Robert, now Danny) waited until the passing of Izzy Cohen and the sale of Giant Food to Royal Ahold before moving into the DC area. While it’s clear that Giant went downhill fast, even at its best it did not compare to Wegmans, and whatever it’s trying to do now to catch up is doomed to be second or third best.

Why is that? Could it be because Giant has a recent history of labor issues, and Wegmans is perennially atop the Best Companies To Work For lists (last 11 years, and last 6 years in the top 10)? 

By the way, the apostrophe in Wegmans disappeared in 1931 and isn’t coming back. So there, Janet.

Kim’s Big Johnson College Bowl Mania Is Here!

December 6, 2008

bigjohnsonGet In On Kim’s Big Johnson College Bowl Mania!!!

You know if it has three (!!!) exclamation points, and is written in red, it’s gotta be good.

This contest involves choosing the winning team for each of the 34 (yes, now it’s 34!) upcoming college football Bowl Games, to be played between December 20 and January 8. In addition to choosing the winning teams, you have to assign a Confidence Points factor of 1 to 34 to each game – your personal view of how certain you are of the outcome of each game. If you have high confidence in your choice, you give that game a high value; conversely, if you have no idea which team might win, you would assign a low value. If the team you pick wins, you get the points you assigned. For a tiebreaker, you have to guess the score of the BCS Championship game.

nanoThe contest will feature a small prize of some sort – probably involving chocolate – to everyone who beats me, and an engraved 8GB iPod Nano (your choice of color) to the top scorer. Second prize is a 1 pound tin of Mrs. Hanes Moravian Sugar Crisp Cookies. Mmmmmmm . . .

If your entry is really hot, you might win something from ESPN, too, but who cares? The Big Johnson is special!

You enter the contest by going to the ESPN website and follow the instructions below. There is no cost. You are welcome to invite your friends – any friend of yours is a friend of mine.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

How To Play College Bowl Mania the Big Johnson Way



To enter, fill out the free game registration at the ESPN website. A valid ESPN member name and password will be used as an identifier to sign in to game play, and to keep track of your entry’s score and standing. If you are already a registered ESPN account holder, you do not need to go through the registration process. If you’ve had an ESPN account in the past but forgot your password, visit Member Services and have your account information sent to you.


After you have signed in, you will be prompted with a screen with a “Create Entry” button. After you click on the button you will be automatically redirected to the “Entry Settings” page where you will be asked to name your entry and decide whether you would like email reminders.

  • Name your entry: Use the text box to determine how your entry will be displayed in the game. Use your imagination. Please. 
  • Scoring system: Use the radio buttons to select Confidence Points (required for our game).
  • Email Reminders: Use the radio buttons to select whether or not you’d like to receive email reminders from ESPN pertaining to game locks and game rules. I will send emails through the ESPN system to the participants about the game, so be sure to read the email account you use to register!

Once you have completed your game settings, click on the “Submit Entry Settings” button.


To join the Big Johnson group after you submit your entry settings, click on the words Create Or Join A Group. Search for the group named Big Johnson, and join the group using the password, “kimsentme” (get it? Kim Sent Me?). You can join the group as soon as you create your entry – you don’t have to make any picks first. Let me know if you have any problems getting into the group.


You won’t be able to make your picks for the games until all the bowl game contestants are known – probably by Wednesday, December 10. Then you will be able to pick your winner for each game, and predict the final team scores of the National Championship Game as the game’s primary tiebreaker. To select the team you think will win, click on the table cell containing the team name or the checkbox next to the team name. Once you’ve made all of your picks, you can “click and drag” the game up or down in the list to change the assigned Confidence Value for that game. The higher the confidence you assign to a bowl game, the more points you will earn if you have selected the winning team. Each game must have a different confidence value assigned to it from 1 to 34. To predict the final team scores of the National Championship Game, enter your predictions in the fields designated as “Score Guess.” Once satisfied with your selected picks, the confidence values for those picks, and the championship game’s score guess, click the “Submit Your Picks” button to enter them.

Register and submit your entry no later than the first kickoff of the first game of the college football bowl season (Saturday, December 20, 2008 at 11:00 am ET) at which point the game will lock and no additional picks can be made. If you change your mind about a game, you can go back and change your picks until the first game starts.

Step 5 – SCORING

In the Confidence scoring system, the higher the confidence you assign to a game, the more points you will earn if you have selected the winning team. If your chosen team wins, you get the points you assigned to that game. You do not lose points for incorrect picks.


You can join up to three (3) different groups with the same entry, not that you will give a hoot. Once you have enjoyed the Big Johnson, all the others are, well, kinda puny. Each user may have up to three (3) different entries – but only ONE entry in the Big Johnson.

Midtown Springfield On Hold?

December 4, 2008

The Midtown Springfield proposal, 9+ acres now occupied by a motel, closed discount wine store, near-vacant office tower, abandoned veterinary clinic and two restaurants, appears to be off the table. Last July, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors received a letter from the developer (Kettler/KSI) saying that efforts to resurrect the sagging project had failed. The Fairfax County Planning Commission has indefinitely deferred its decision to approve the project.

Kettler/KSI lawyer Gregory Reigle wrote in the letter, “Our belief was [that] the combination of additional time and continued partnership with the community and county would provide the opportunity to resolve the remaining issues and deploy still evolving county revitalization policies and programs.” But, the letter continued, “These efforts were not successful. Rather than pursuing a diluted plan that does not respect community expectations, there is no practical alternative than to withdraw the rezoning.”

The proposal called for three towers of 21 to 28 stories with 800 apartments and condominiums, a 160-room hotel, 40,000 square feet of offices and up to 100,000 square feet of retail space, all surrounding a central public plaza and gallery or auditorium. Parking garages and landscaping were to buffer the buildings from I-95 and the huge flyover ramp that looms behind the site.

However, with ongoing developments in and around Springfield such as the Fort Belvoir base realignment, and revitalization of Springfield Mall, I can see this one springing back onto the drawing board pretty quick. Like other developers in the current economy, Kettler has had to pull back. They have ongoing major projects in Reston (Midtown Reston Town Center), Woodbridge (Port Potomac/Potomac Club/County Center), Manassas (Piedmont), Arlington (West Village, The Metropolitan), Alexandria (Midtown Alexandria), and that’s only scratching the surface. It made sense to back off on one that was not yet underway. But if Kettler doesn’t do it, someone will!

Check out the artist’s rendition: