As described in a previous text, the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) deferred a final decision on the re-zoning of the Reston National Golf Course until April 15, 2015. The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Supervisors, the Reston Association, and the residents of Reston overwhelmingly support the current zoning, and reject the ludicrous re-zoning effort by Northwest Mutual Insurance (NWM) and their backers.
The following is a letter I sent to residents of Indian Ridge Drive, perhaps the community which would be most obviously affected by any rezoning. Similar letters have gone out to other golf course-adjacent communities. The issues are the same.
January 23, 2015
Dear Indian Ridge resident,
Thanks to those of you who attended the Fairfax County Board of Appeals (BZA) meeting on Wednesday, January 21, 2015. And thanks to all of you for your support in helping keep the golf course zoned as open space, something that is critically important to residents on Indian Ridge.
A few people have expressed concern about my use of Indian Ridge as an example of a community on the golf course which would likely suffer severe price declines if the Northwest Mutual (NWM) re-zoning request is approved. It was important to present to the Supervisors an honest description of how those living immediately on the golf course would likely suffer extreme financial harm, and the cluster most impacted and easiest with which to make this point, is Indian Ridge. We have already seen the market for homes in your neighborhood go from quick sales to relative inactivity, in large part because of the fear from potential buyers about an adverse result in the re-zoning hearing. It is crucial that supervisors understand that among the biggest negatives in allowing re-zoning, and there are many negatives, is the likely collapse in home values at Indian Ridge and around the golf course.
The concerns expressed have centered around a fear that by specifically mentioning Indian Ridge, potential buyers will shy away from any listings there for the foreseeable future. This perspective assumes that there are many buyers who simply do not know about the re-zoning issue and will not be notified by their buyer broker, so that people like myself should remain quiet and just allow things to happen. Not only is this unethical and an unfair business practice, it is likely illegal. Any home sale closing at this time could be jeopardized in the future if the buyer claims that he/she purchased the home without being given knowledge of important known information regarding the future of the property. This could default the contract, or worse, subject the seller and seller agent to fraud. Let’s not go there.
For your benefit, I am enclosing a copy of my testimony to the BZA on Wednesday, which I hope provides its entire context. The objective is to alert the supervisors of the obvious and deleterious impact on real estate values in Indian Ridge and the entire Reston community, should they allow re-zoning of the golf course.
Given the decision is delayed until April 15, 2015, what should potential sellers do now? – This is a question which has also been raised, not only in Indian Ridge, but in the other communities. In Indian Ridge, I would promote the property for what it is: the premier community on Reston National Golf Course, with homes that are generally better-maintained and more dramatic in using the golf course as a source of enjoyment and value. In my estimation, I rarely see the community highlighted in all its splendor in any listing campaign. I would like to work to change that, and increase your profile as a premier and unique section of Reston. Does this mean ignoring the BZA issue in marketing your home? Yes, it does. However, the BZA decision remains the elephant in the room, and we are obligated to discuss it openly and objectively with any potential buyer before closing on any contract before April 15, 2015. But let’s look at the bright side: Anyone thinking of listing now will need to prepare their home for sale; do necessary preliminary marketing; list the home on the MLS; and go through a process that is unlikely to have a final closing before April 15, 2015 anyway.
So an immediate listing strategy: Professionally market and promote your home as the crème de la crème of golf course-adjacent homes, under the assumption that we get a favorable decision from the BZA. We continue to support the forceful and intelligent attack led by our Rescue Reston leaders, John Pinkman and Connie Hartke being by far the most diligent and resourceful, while simultaneously using the added publicity of the this re-zoning incident to highlight the beauty and value at Indian Ridge. At the end of the day, the publicity generated by this mess could be a major positive in attracting future buyers to the community.
I welcome your call and look forward to discussing these issues with you.
Ray Wedell, Realtor
Chartered Financial Analyst, CFA
Director, Rescue Reston
The following is a copy of the testimony I presented at the BZA hearing on January 21, 2015:
My name is Ray Wedell.
I have worked in many segments of the real estate business over the years, and now I sell real estate for RE/MAX.
I am extremely familiar with the market for housing in the affected area, and am speaking as a citizen with great concern on this issue.
There is no doubt that real estate values for existing homes surrounding the Reston National Golf Course will decline, and probably decline significantly, if this property is re-zoned.
The prime selling point for these homes is the proximity to, and in many cases view of, the golf course. In some clusters, this factor is so strong that it undoubtedly accounts for at least 20-30% of the current value of these homes.
The spillover effect into surrounding communities will be enormous as well.
In fact, the uncertainty over this potential re-zoning is already having a deleterious effect on property values and sales, and I would like to provide one example to illustrate this……
The homes on Indian Ridge are on an island-shape strip of land, surrounded by the golf course. The typical home here has a dramatic rear facing the golf course, with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. The golf course serves as a nature reserve and stunning view which magnifies the selling price of these homes far beyond the price at which they could possibly sell if surrounded by the type of development likely..….should this property be re-zoned and developed.
In the first half of 2014, there were six home sales on Indian Ridge, averaging over $500,000 and most selling within a very short time after listing. I would venture to say that perhaps the homes were actually listed too low at the time; selling prices could have gone higher.
However in the second half of 2014, there were NO contracts ratified for sale in Indian Ridge, and at year-end, five houses remained actively on the market. This sort of shift in market sentiment is in large part due to buyers’ uncertainty regarding the golf course re-zoning, and their unwillingness to invest in a life style which could disappear at a re-zoning hearing.
Similar examples can be seen in other clusters abutting the golf course.
Should the results of re-zoning allow for future development, the current uncertainty could give way to outright buyer fear.
There will likely be an instantaneous collapse in home values and listing prices, and this will spill over into other areas of Reston.
Allow me to close with a likely scenario, should NWM be allowed to develop the Reston Golf Course space:
• Home prices in the immediate area will decline, and probably decline sharply.
• Many home owners, particularly younger home owners who purchased recently with low down payments, will find themselves under water on their mortgage loans, leading to the very real spectre of future short sales returning to the area.
• As prices decline, even a slight increase in short sale/foreclosure activity will have a dramatic impact on the psyche of potential buyers and sellers who have spent decades building equity in their homes.
• Maintenance of properties will suffer. It is an established fact that homeowners spend less money on both external sprucing up of homes, and valuable maintenance updates of their homes, when property values are in decline, or if they fear the properties will be in decline.
• As maintenance suffers, the spiral of lower home pricing could accelerate.
• Future buyers will disappear, or surface only at much lower prices. The “bottom fishing” investor is likely to be the new type of buyer, leading to reminders of 2008-2009.
• That very real, but difficult to quantify, community spirit and pride will be broken. Perhaps more than anything, this will cripple home pricing.
• As for other areas of Reston which may feel “unaffected” by this……. Nothing could be further from the truth. A major reason people seek to live here is because of a strong adherence to open space and recreation within the context of logical development in other designated areas.
To conclude, we are not at all anti-development. Many areas of Reston were set aside for high density, and these areas blend in to form a unique life style recognized by countless national publications as one of America’s best places to live. There are literally decades of future construction already planned in other designated areas of Reston to capture any need for more growth. Sacrificing increasingly needed open space for even more development would depreciate values across the board in these areas as well.
In fact, the remainder of Reston relies on open spaces and recreational areas, and needs the Reston golf course to remain as a golf course. The financial value and the life style of the remainder of Reston has as much at stake here as do those we say are “directly effected.”
And let’s not forget: If the Reston Master Plan and existing zoning which we have all relied upon for 50 years is violated in this case…….. future buyers will no longer trust Reston as the idyllic community we are known for today.
In summary, any re-zoning of the Reston National Golf Course is sheer lunacy on every level.
I thank you for allowing me to speak in support of the citizens today.