Real Estate - West Virginia

Know Your Flood Risk Before You’re In Too Deep

By Heidi Johnston, REALTOR®

Severe weather seems increasingly routine. The coastline is pounded by waves, and rivers and streams overflow their banks. Personal property is lost and damaged, and clean-up and repairs are expensive and time consuming. The scenario repeats and intensifies, so if you’re in the market to buy a home, factor the flood risk into your decision.

Free flood map tools can be accessed online. One source is, the website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Search for the Flood Map Service Center ( and type in your address to see an interactive map. This is a helpful starting point.

Watch out for the fine print though. Many online resources have disclaimers like “do not rely on this information for a property purchase,” which leaves you open to liability. The problem is that most floodplain maps are created from GPS data – and we all know how faulty GPS can be for driving directions, right?

More accurate sources of flood zone determinations are Western Technologies Group  ( and your insurance company. For a fee, WTG provides a certified, insurable determination, using different methodology. Ask your insurance company whether it can do the same, as well as provide a risk assessment and insurance quote.

If you already own property, these resources can help confirm your flood risk status. Mis-classifications are not uncommon. It’s possible that you’re paying expensive flood insurance, yet needn’t be, or that you aren’t fully protected and should have better coverage. It’s a good idea to doublecheck.

Incorrect flood plain determinations can be overturned. On some sloping properties, lower areas may be prone to flooding, yet structures are safely on high ground. Were variations in elevation considered when your insurance premium was calculated? If not, map amendments and cost adjustments can be sought with the help of a registered professional engineer or licensed land surveyor.

On the other hand, is your homeowner’s policy adequate? Does is cover flood damage and temporary housing? Flood maps change over time, so an updated needs assessment may be due.

If you are looking to buy a house, the tight inventory is probably forcing you to make compromises. Yet, keep a high standard when it comes to assessing the flood risk. If the land is likely to flood, is the house on high ground or built to withstand water? Can it be affordably insured? Will it be marketable later? If not, move on.

Real Estate - West Virginia

Stage Your House to Sell

By Heidi Johnston, REALTOR®

Do you want to sell your house fast and for top dollar? If so, roll up your sleeves and put it in showcase condition. You won’t need to spend thousands of dollars on updates, but you will need to make a serious investment of time to make it emptier and cleaner.

Start by setting aside your emotional attachment. Think of your house as a product to be sold. Pretend to see each room for the first time, as if through the eyes of a buyer. What do you need to change to help buyers mentally picture their things in the same space?

De-clutter and Clear Out

Your goal is to create space and provide an easy traffic flow pattern. Pack away or store anything unnecessary, including furniture. Designate a storage area in your garage or basement, or rent a POD. If you have items you don’t want to keep, give them away or contact worthy organizations in need of donations.

Thin overstuffed bookshelves to a quarter of their contents. Put away most of your artwork. Clear the kitchen counter tops by putting small appliances away, and strip the refrigerator of any flyers, mail or magnets. In the bathroom, keep everyday items in a bin under the sink.

Buyers will look inside your closets, so organize them. Give the appearance of ample closet space, regardless of the actual size, by making them partly empty. Use matching hangers, and gather loose items like shoes into bins. Store anything you don’t routinely use somewhere else.   

Avoid displaying anything fragile, political or personal, including family photos. The more neutral the room appears, the better. Make it a blank canvas for the next owner. 

Clean and Repair

Scour, scrub and dust. Wash the floors, and vacuum the rugs. Make the glass sparkle. The kitchen and bath, especially, should be spotless. Put the dishes away, empty the garbage and make the beds. Bribe your family to cooperate and reward them for a job well done!

If you notice a need for small repairs, make them. Loose door knobs and handrails should be tightened. Spent light bulbs should be replaced. Broken items, fixed.

Decorate and Brighten

Add simple accents, like pillows or vases. If you have a fireplace, highlight it. In the bathroom, color coordinate the towels, and consider a fresh shower curtain. Decorative soap in the kitchen and bath are an added touch.

Open the blinds and curtains and let in the sunshine. Add brightness with natural light or lamps. Repaint in light, neutral colors, if needed.

Add Curb Appeal

Make your house look inviting to anyone driving by. Put out a welcome mat and a modest seasonal decoration. Check the condition of the exterior paint and touch up as needed, especially on the front door and surrounding trim.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? It may be, yet consider that you’d have to do it eventually. By packing and cleaning before you list the house for sale, instead of right before you move out, you stand to attract more buyers and maximize their bids. You’ll be ahead of the game, and all the richer for it.

Real Estate - West Virginia

Considerations When Choosing a REALTOR

By Heidi Johnston, REALTOR®

Real estate agents go by different titles and a variety of designations. Should a buyer or seller in search of an agent pay attention to the alphabet soup?

Yes. The designations carry meaning and could impact the quality of services being provided.

For starters, real estate agent and REALTOR® are not synonymous. A real estate agent is a person who is licensed by the state to negotiate and transact real estate sales, whereas a REALTOR®, through membership in the National Association of REALTORS®, is a real estate agent who pledges to uphold the additional high standards of the trade association.

Most significantly, REALTORS® are subject to a strict code of ethics, above and beyond the standards required by law. The 17-article code of ethics covers such topics as honesty, non-discrimination, putting clients’ interests first, disclosing material facts and conflicts of interest, and truthful advertising.

REALTORS® also pledge to provide only those services for which they are qualified. For matters beyond their expertise, they serve as the “source of the source,” pointing clients to allied professionals who specialize in law, lending, construction and the like. Through the Eastern Panhandle Board of REALTORS® in Martinsburg, local REALTORS® can readily connect their clients with a broad network of attorneys, mortgage brokers, appraisers, home inspectors and housing advocates.

The Association also provides regulatory updates and educational opportunities, including programs for additional credentialing. For example, the Certified Buyer Representative (CBR) designation indicates a specialty in real estate purchases. CBR REALTORS® are professionally trained to represent buyers.

Another title is Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES). SRES REALTORS® have a niche practice in counseling people over age 50 through major financial and lifestyle transitions, including selling family homes, downsizing, relocating, and buying retirement homes.  

The decision to buy or sell a property is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. As you consider which agent to work with, ask about his or her qualifications and specializations. Has your candidate made a full-time commitment to working in the field? Have they pledged to uphold the high standards of the trade association? How has he or she been trained?

Professional affiliations and designations will help assure you of your agent’s seriousness about serving clients and his or her preparation to do the job.