We recently got together with Abode Realty, a DC-based realty company with a socially-responsible approach to real estate to talk a little about their business, their roots in DC and the general Washington, DC housing market.
Can you please tell us a little bit about how you and Laura decided to startRealty?
Laura and I met years ago in college and even in those days talked about going into business together. We each have different strengths and skills that make us stronger as a team. It was when we finally had a chance to work together on a foreclosure prevention project at Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County that we saw our opportunity and our plan took shape.
As part of that job, we listened to hundreds of heartbreaking stories from homeowners who were facing foreclosure. We were horrified at the complacency, manipulation and sometimes outright fraud that had occurred in the housing industry. We believe that every player in a real estate transaction, including the buyers and sellers, have a certain level of responsibility. However, we also feel that access to accurate, easy-to-understand and unbiased information is not easy for a prospective buyer or seller to come by. As real estate agents, we have the ability to connect buyers and sellers with education and resources available in the community to help them make an informed decision around homeownership and advocate on their behalf to prevent them from becoming a victim of fraud or losing their home to foreclosure down the road.
Both Laura and I have years of experience working in area nonprofits. I have a MA in public administration and Laura has served as a Peace Corps volunteer. Community service is and always will be very important to us. And we felt that the nonprofit values and perspective we had developed over the years would easily translate to our work as real estate agents and indeed, it has.
What has the reception been like so far to the concept of socially responsible realty from the DC market?
In general, the reception has been great. Our fellow agents at Keller Williams have been supportive and the nonprofit community has been very welcoming. Our sense is that some nonprofit providers had been thinking about reaching out to agents for some time, and so were glad when we came to them. There are definitely a lot of agents out there who are socially responsible, but we are going a step further by branding ourselves and working to create ongoing partnerships with the nonprofit and government entities.
Potential and current clients have also responded positively to our mission. We continue to look for opportunities to “put our money where our mouth is” and show clients our commitment to our mission. We have recently earned Workforce Housing Certification provided through the MD Association of Realtors. We have volunteered to do first-time homebuyer educational workshops to HPAP participants at the Latino Economic Development Corporation and we have recently joined the Hispanic Homeownership Outreach Task Force, which was created as a result of the high numbers of Latino families who experienced foreclosure and whose goal is now to promote sustainable homeownership in the Latino community.
How do you help homeowners make more informed purchase decisions?
There are a number of things we do to help buyers be informed and savvy consumers. First, we are big promoters of consumer education. There are great nonprofit organizations in the Washington DC metro region which provide quality education and counseling to prospective and current homeowners. We work hard to partner with these nonprofits and to refer our clients to them for pre-purchase counseling, homebuyer workshops, one-on-one counseling, homebuyer clubs, IDA programs, etc. We like the fact that because nonprofits have no interest in the client’s transaction whatsoever, the client is confident that the information they are receiving is unbiased and trustworthy.
We don’t just leave it up to the nonprofits, however. As agents, we are committed to staying informed about the market and public policy and laws effecting housing. We are experts on the programs that exist in DC and MD to help buyers purchase a more affordable home. Essentially, when prospective buyers come to us, we assess their needs and connect them to programs and/or services for which they are eligible. We are also more than happy to work with clients using these programs despite the fact that they sometimes involve more administrative work on the part of the agent. Having utilized some of these programs personally ourselves, we believe that they are key to helping more community members access affordable housing and build wealth.
We know first-hand the vulnerability a first-time homebuyer feels. When Laura purchased her first house (before she became a real estate agent) using the HPAP program, she found the process overwhelming and confusing at times. And she saw how very easy it would be for a homeowner to be taken advantage of. She was grateful for the support and education she received from her housing counselor and as a result recommends homebuyer education to anyone who is a first-time homebuyer and not very familiar with the process.
We are also very selective in the vendors we work with. Our clients may always choose to use whichever lender, home inspector, title company, etc. they wish, but we find that many clients look to us for referrals. We only refer to vendors who we feel understand and support our mission and provide the same honest, quality services to everyone, regardless of their income. We like vendors who take the time to explain clearly to the client what is happening and who welcome discussing questions or concerns.
What have you seen from the DC real estate market in the past several years?
Given the fragility of the housing market nationwide over the past few years, we are all cautiously relieved that the DC has held up relatively well. We’ve maintained our confidence in the strength of our market, even though we recognize that not all neighborhoods are holding up as well. Overall though, DC is one of the strongest housing markets in the country and we have actually seen home prices rising from this time last year.
That being said, there are definitely people who have been hit by the economic downturn, namely job loss, and high-interest predatory loans. DC’s foreclosure rates are some of the lowest in the nation, but the highest rates of foreclosure in DC are in neighborhoods with the lowest home values to begin with. In other words, areas that were struggling before are struggling even more now. Maryland and Virginia have seen much higher rates of foreclosure than DC. Prince George’s County, MD and both Fairfax and Arlington County, VA were hard hit. Yet on the positive side, dropping home values and low interest rates have opened the door for some new buyers who would have been priced out of the market a few years back. Since affordable housing is such an important issue for us, this is something we’re excited about. Our goal is to make sure that these buyers are getting into homes that are truly affordable for the long term so as not to repeat the same cycle.
In regards to the condo market in DC, three years back we were in the midst of a condo boom. One had to be living under a rock not to notice all the new development popping up. The market has definitely taken a hit and many projects were put on hold. Recently, however, there have been signs of improvement in the condo market but the banks will not open up their coffers once again to condo developers until they see some strong, irrefutable signs of recovery. Yet, as is the case with single family homes in DC, well-priced existing condos in desirable neighborhoods are selling quickly and often with multiple offers.
How can people learn more about Abode Realty?
People can go to our website www.aboderealestate.wordpress.com and look for us on Facebook under Abode Realty. Or they can just give us a call and talk to us. We’re happy to sit down with folks, even if they know they’re not ready right now to buy or sell (or not sure whether they even want to buy or sell), answer their questions and discuss next steps they could take to get themselves prepared. Oh, and Spanish speakers can contact Laura directly.
adelorme (at) kw.com
Laura Bowman Pimentel
pimentel (at) kw.com