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Local realtor Erin Mendenhall shares her top tips for first-time buyers. By Michelle Thomas
Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

The first time you do anything can be a bit tricky. But throw in a mortgage, a contract, and a potentially life-altering decision? That’s a whole new level of scary. We checked in with local realtor Erin Mendenhall of McLean’s Mendenhall Properties, and she shared her expert wisdom on what to know when you’re first setting out on the house hunt. The number one thing to remember: “Your agent should make you look good,” she says. “Just like a Hollywood agent lands celebs dream roles, or an NFL agent can take a college athlete to the big leagues—you want your agent to make you look good and to fight for you.” Noted. Read on for the rest of Mendenhall’s advice.

1) Get help. “A licensed real-estate agent is like both a matchmaker and a lifeguard—they’ll hook you up with your perfect home and throw you a lifeline to help guide you through the tricky process. But don’t just rely on us. You should also consult with your local bank, and seek a different opinion. Treat this decision as if it were a medical decision. You financial health is just as important. So many people go online to see how much they think they can afford. But if you broke a bone, you wouldn’t go on WebMD—you’d see a doctor.

2) Ask for a personal recommendation. “This business is all about who you know. So—who do you know? Have any of your friends recently bought a condo? Ask for their agent. Your agent is someone you need to trust. You’re going to have a million questions throughout this process—so make sure to think about that when choosing the right fit for you. Will they respond to text messages? Will they e-mail you back within an hour? Or will they make you feel like you work for them? That’s not the way it should work. Remember that.

3) Know what to expect from your agent. “At your first face-to-face buyer consultation meeting, your agent should explain to you the different representation agreements for Virginia, Maryland, and DC. Yep, all those agreements are different. This meeting should be about you: What’s your ideal home? What are your financial concerns? What is your timeline? You should leave that meeting with concrete steps that you’ll make along the process. Think of it as a syllabus of sorts with a college professor at the start of a semester.”

4) Be smart about your loan. “Your agent should fight for you with a lender, and your agent should represent you in a face-to-face meeting with your lender. If you’re taking out a loan, your agent should know before the meeting how much you can afford. Do not let the lender oversell and overpromise how much you can afford. Consult with your bank ahead of this meeting. And whatever you do, don’t use an online website (cough, cough, to fill out your financial information.” 

5) Prepare, prepare, prepare. “Remember when you were applying for colleges? You had your SAT scores, letters of recommendation, and a résumé. This is more important. Have two years of tax returns, two months of bank statements, and two months of pay stubs.”

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Posted at 03:00 PM/ET, 06/03/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
It’s easy. By Michelle Thomas

Like the idea of winning a grand to spend on Room & Board’s modern-meets-classic furniture line? Then you’d do well to swing by the 14th Street showroom this weekend: Not only is the store’s latest collection now on display, but shoppers who visit this weekend also get the chance at a $1,000 gift card. This year’s collection features plenty of timeless-yet-current interior trends (including such Open House faves as marble, velvet, and Scandinavian-inspired white and wood pairings, plus texture blending and lots of animal hides) spread out on four full floors of showroom space.

How to win: Head to Room & Board Saturday 11 to 7 or Sunday 11 to 6 to register for the prize.

Room & Board. 1840 14th St., NW; 202-729-8300.

Posted at 03:51 PM/ET, 02/07/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Leave the fake greenery in the box and head to one of these area farms for a fresh-as-it-gets tree. By Travis M. Andrews
Cut your own Christmas tree at these area farms. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

In case you hadn’t noticed, thanks to the tinsel and reindeer tunes, the holiday season is officially upon us. That means it’s time to put a tree in the living room, cover it in ornaments, and soak in that homey feeling of sitting in front of a lit Christmas tree. Of course, getting the tree is the first step. Below is a list of places to cut your own Christmas tree—many of which also offer a hot beverage to boot.


Homestead Farm
15604 Sugarland Rd., Poolesville; 301-977-3761 or e-mail
Cutting updates: For $49, you can find the perfect Scotch pine, Norway spruce, or Douglas fir. All of them are four to six feet tall. The saws, netting, rope and assistance are provided to help you unleash your inner Paul Bunyan.
Just for fun: The farm’s 230 acres were purchased in 1763, when James Allnutt purchased 746 acres of land. These days, Ben Allnutt and his wife run the farm.
Hours: Open Friday through Sunday from 9 to 5.

Butler’s Orchard
22200 Davis Mill Rd., Germantown; 301-972-3299
Cutting updates: The orchard claims the cut-your-own Christmas trees this year are the best showing it’s had yet. You can also find pre-cut ones, in case sawing in the cold isn’t your cup of joe.
Just for fun: The market is filled with seasonal goodies of various aromas and aesthetics. From ceramic pieces to candleholders to beautiful wreaths, this is your one-stop decorative item depot.
Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 to 5:30.

Gaver Farm
5501 Detrick Rd., Airy; 301-865-3515 or e-mail
Cutting updates: Either hit the 50-acre farm to chop down your own beauty, or choose from one of the pre-cut trees for sale, all ranging from $35 to $65.
Just for fun: On the farm is an entire store dedicated to wreaths. From 10-inchers to 50-inch balsam, Fraser, and Noble fir wreaths, the perfect door ornament is sure to be found.
Hours: Open daily from 9 to 5.

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Posted at 01:00 PM/ET, 12/03/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
A new exhibition explores the American residential landscape through the years. By Kathleen Bridges
Photograph by Maynard L. Parker; the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

"We all live somewhere."

These are the words that greet you upon entering the National Building Museum's most ambitious project to date, opening this weekend: a long-term exhibition investigating the American residential landscape, both inside and out. The exhibition's seven thematic rooms examine the role of the American house--where we live--as both habitat and haven, or, as the title suggests, as "House & Home."

"What better way to get people to understand the built environment than by starting with the home, peeling back the layers to truly see how America lives?" says curator Sarah Leavitt. "It's something we can all identify with."

Entering the main gallery, you literally walk into the first of these peeled-back layers: how the house is built. Wall-and-roof sections that beg to be touched--rough adobe, colonial timber, modern "green" lumber--allow you to step inside America's housing history. These hands-on sections are paired with a similarly chronological series of models of iconic American homes, celebrating the work of such architects as Thomas Jefferson, Charles Platt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, and Frank Gehry. It's fascinating to see how one structure inspired another--and how some things have come full circle.

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Posted at 04:30 PM/ET, 04/27/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
Forget the synthetic greenery. Here’s where to find the real deal in the area this holiday—plus wreaths, holiday treats, and more. By Laura Wainman

The National Christmas Tree is illuminated on the Ellipse. Official White House Photograph by Lawrence Jackson

If the Christmas carols jingling from every store and endless twinkling lights didn’t tip you off, it’s time to begin preparing for the bustle of the holiday season. And if you’re one of the brave souls not permanently scarred by the opening scenes of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Clark Griswold’s harrowing quest for the perfect tree, choosing and cutting your own Christmas tree can be a great place to start.

Luckily, there are myriad tree farms in the Washington area for you to choose from. All you’ll need is access to a car, and you can be on your way to finding your perfect holiday tree. Many of the farms even offer cider, hot chocolate, or gift shops chock-full of holiday decorations to get you in the spirit.

Before piling in the car for a day of good, old-fashioned family fun, remember to measure the area you plan to place your tree so you know what height your home can accommodate. And don’t forget to bundle up and wear sturdy boots capable of handling the muddy terrains of most farms this time of year.

Once you’ve returned home with your prize, place it in water as soon as possible to avoid drying it out and minimize needle loss. Lowering the room temperature will also slow the drying process. For more information on holiday safety, tree care tips, or to find a post-holiday tree recycling center near you, visit

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Posted at 09:20 AM/ET, 12/14/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
Our weekly roundup of events worth barking about. By Gwendolyn Purdom

Wednesday, November 11
Ingrid King, a former veterinary-hospital manager turned author, will speak about animals as teachers at the Humane Society of Loudoun County (1 Harrison St., SE, Leesburg; 703-777-2912) at 7. The author will also sign and sell books. All proceeds go to the Humane Society. For another book signing with King, see Sunday’s events.

Saturday, November 14
Who says you’re the only one who had a long week? Chasing your tail gets exhausting, too. Wind down at Chateau-Animaux’s (524 Eighth St., SE) Yappy Hour with fresh-baked Zanadoo biscuits for Fido and complimentary wine and cheese for two-legged guests. The evening will feature a free seminar, “Dealing With Down Times: Coping Skills for Dealing With Health Challenges, Healing, and Loss,” at 7. There’ll also be a Washington Humane Society adoption van from 5:30 to 8.

For more pet-themed education, Seneca Hill Animal Hospital Resort & Spa (11415 Georgetown Pike, Great Falls; 703-450-6760) and PetTech will host a four-hour first-aid course that will include topics such as restraining and muzzling; canine and feline CPR; assessing the pet’s vitals, fractures, and limb injuries; and shock and bleeding management. The class is $85, and the program runs from noon to 4.

Wylie Wagg pet boutique will host three adoption events: There’ll be Great Pyrenees at its Middleburg location (5-B E. Washington St.; 540-687-8727) from noon to 4; Greyhounds at its Tysons store (7505 Leesburg Pike, Ste. 120-A, Falls Church; 703-748-0022) from 11 to 2; and an event with the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA at its Fairfax location (11889 Grand Commons Ave.; 703-830-5454) from noon to 4.

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Posted at 11:46 AM/ET, 11/10/2009 | Permalink | Comments ()
Every week, we round up the best events for you and your four-legged friends to attend. By Gwendolyn Purdom

Adoption is the theme of this week’s pet-centric events. With winter around the corner, the timing might be just right for a new family member who’s happy to curl up at the foot of your bed and keep you warm.

Friday, November 6
Before you bring home your new friend, the Washington Animal Rescue League will host a free new-dog orientation Friday. The league’s certified trainer will talk about chewing, socialization, training, and more. 6 to 7:30; 71 Oglethorpe St., NW. E-mail to RSVP.

Saturday, November 7
Feline fans can find the perfect match at the Washington Animal Rescue League’s cat-adoption event at the Big Bad Woof (117 Carroll St., NW; 202-291-2404), a store for eco-conscious pet products. WARL staff will be on hand to steer new pet owners through the process. Noon to 3.

Adoption goes glam at Saturday night’s Fuzzy and Funky Fall Benefit at the City Tavern Club (3206 M St., NW), hosted by the Washington Humane Society. The party will feature music by Big Sam’s Funky Nation, hurricane cocktails, beer specials, and snacks. The $25 ticket price will go to WHS.

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Posted at 10:15 AM/ET, 11/03/2009 | Permalink | Comments ()
Home tours and designer show houses can offer a sneak peak into beautiful area homes and provide good decorating ideas. Here are a handful going on around Washington this month. By Julyssa Lopez

During the DC Solar Tour this weekend, more than 70 eco-friendly homes open their doors to the public. Spread out across the area—from Baltimore and Frederick to Lorton and Manassas—the tour sites use all sorts of cutting-edge  green technology. You’ll see tankless water heaters, low-water consumption toilets, green roofs, and more. 
October 3 and 4 from 11 AM to 5 PM. Admission is free with a copy of the brochure, available here.

In its 54th year, the Potomac Country House Tour showcases four homes in the ritzy Montgomery County suburb. Highlights of this year’s tour include a French Country Manor and a replica of Chownings Tavern, a 230-year old landmark in Williamsburg.
October 3 and 4 from Noon to 5 PM. Tickets are $25, $20 in advance.

Fourteen Eastern Shore designers have redone the rectory of the Church of Holy Trinity in Oxford, Virginia. Called the Country Rectory Showhouse, the newly decorated spaces are on view through October 4. Suzanne Hanks of S. Hanks Interior Design has designed the master bedroom in a green and creme color scheme that matches the foliage outside the bedroom’s windows. Designer Maggie Sarsaty painted animals along the walls of the foyer and staircase.
Friday and Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM; Sunday from Noon to 4 PM. Admission is $20 at the door. For more information, call 410-226-5400.   

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Posted at 02:05 PM/ET, 10/01/2009 | Permalink | Comments ()

More than a dozen Virginia estates in Middleburg and Upperville open their doors for the Hunt Country Stable Tour this Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 5. The 50th anniversary of this self-guided tour is a good excuse to escape the city and spend a day driving along beautiful, winding roads, peeking inside the area’s famous country estates. The tour includes horse stables, a winery, a track where thoroughbreds condition and train, and a 1,000-acre working farm.

If you want to extend your visit, here’s a guide to good restaurants  and shops  in charming downtown Middleburg.

For tickets ($25) call 540-592-3711 or visit

Posted at 07:55 AM/ET, 05/18/2009 | Permalink | Comments ()

Are you thinking about renovating your home but unsure whether you need an architect? How do you find someone who will suit your needs? And once you’ve found an architect or contractor, how do you communicate your ideas and negotiate the cost?

Head to the AIA/DC Chapter House at 1777 Church Street, NW this Saturday, May 9 to get answers to all of these questions and more. From 10:30 to noon, AIA/DC hosts “How to Work with an Architect and a Contractor,” a free workshop to help homeowners with design projects. Space is limited and registration is required. Register online at or by phone at 202-667-1798.

Posted at 08:12 AM/ET, 05/04/2009 | Permalink | Comments ()