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Pet owners face unique challenges when buying and selling a home

Not all neighborhoods, houses or condos will love your dog as much as you do. (istockphoto)

Elena Ruiz and her partner, Shawna Kerns, place such a high priority on their desire to rescue animals, they switched neighborhoods to find a place with a yard.

The couple had two cats and a dog when they began house hunting from their apartment in the H Street corridor area of Northeast Washington. Now that they have settled into their Marshall Heights home in Southeast, they’ve added a rescue puppy to their menagerie.

“Our animals determined which neighborhoods we looked at,” Kerns says. “We were able to find a place with a fenced front yard and a fenced back yard by looking at Marshall Heights.”

Ruiz says that they had wanted to stay near H Street but that their budget limited them to a condo in that area.

“We sacrificed location and walkability, but we love that we are getting to know all our neighbors and have space for our animals,” she says.

Millennials, in particular, are often motivated by their dogs when house hunting, according to a recent survey of that generation of home buyers conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf SunTrust Mortgage.

The survey found that the desire for a better space or a yard for a dog influenced their decision to buy their first home. Dogs were among the top three motivators — cited by 33 percent of buyers, compared with 25 percent who mentioned marriage and 19 percent who mentioned the birth of a child.

Top-of-the-market condos, with a top-of-the-market restaurant downstairs

Robin Waugh, a real estate agent with TTR Sotheby’s International Realty in Washington, says dogs are almost like children to their owners and need space to play, room for their toys, and a place to interact with other dogs and people.

Elizabeth and Patrick Carberry recently bought a rowhouse near 14th Street NW, primarily to accommodate their two dogs, Scruffy and Cody.

“I’ve lived with these dogs for the past eight years in the city in apartments and then in a condo, but one of my dogs is 15 now, and it’s harder for her to climb stairs,” she says. “It’s much easier to be in a house where I can open the door and let her out. I think it’s important that people with pets think about their long-term needs. Just like people, dogs grow and get older, and their needs change.”

About 68 percent of American households have pets, 60 percent of which are dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2017-2018 National Pet Owners survey. There are nearly 90 million pet dogs in the United States.

Home buyers and sellers with dogs, whether they are looking for an urban condo or a suburban house with a yard, often place a high priority on their pets’ happiness. Some communities have become more pet-friendly than they had been by developing dog parks where canines can run free. Condominiums and apartments are also catering to the needs of pet owners.

“I grew up in condos in D.C. and Maryland, and they were never pet-friendly, but now it’s almost inconceivable for a condo to not be pet-friendly,” says Valerie Grange, a sales manager with McWilliams Ballard condo resale division in Washington. “People consider their pets family members, which means they’re willing to do more for them.”

Even though a condo says it’s pet-friendly, says Lindsay Dreyer, broker-owner of City Chic Real Estate in Washington, it’s best to check the fine print, because there could be restrictions on the size of your pet, the breed and the number of pets allowed.

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Lisa Groover, a real estate agent with McEnearney Associates in Old Town Alexandria, specializes in working with dog owners.

“A lot of people don’t realize that various jurisdictions have regulations about the number of dogs you can own or how much space you need to have,” Groover says. “On top of that, homeowner associations and condo associations often have rules, too.”

Although every jurisdiction requires dogs to be licensed and vaccinated, some areas have noise ordinances, and others restrict the number of dogs you can have depending on the size of your property. In Prince George’s County, it’s illegal to own a pit bull unless it was born before February 3, 1997.

“In the city of Alexandria and some other cities, you are limited to a maximum of three dogs,” Groover says. “In Fairfax County, there’s a rule that if you have three or four dogs, you need to have a property with at least 12,500 square feet. That number goes up if you have more dogs.”

Groover worked with a buyer who had seven beagles and was living in a townhouse. He needed a property with at least 25,000 square feet.

In Montgomery County, dog owners face a penalty of $100 if their dog barks loudly and persistently. In Fairfax County, a noise ordinance prohibits barking and howling completely between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. and prohibits howling and barking for more than five minutes during the day.

“Neighbors can call the police if your dog makes noise, so if you’re concerned about this, it’s best to pick a dog-friendly neighborhood,” Groover says.

Grange says dog-friendly condos are a good idea, too — your neighbors are likely to be more forgiving of an occasional incident of barking.

Buying a home with a dog

If you’re looking for a single-family house, your focus is most likely to be on finding a place with a fenced yard.

“Don’t assume you can add a fence,” Groover says. “You may need to get the approval of an architectural review board and get permits. It’s important to get that information before you sign a contract.”

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Even an electric fence might require approval by a homeowners association, Dreyer says.

Most homeowner associations and condo associations, even if they are pet-friendly, have pet regulations.

“It’s essential to get that information or to ask your agent to get that information for you ahead of time,” Groover says. “You do have three days to review the condo or HOA documents and can get out of the contract if you find a rule that won’t work for you, but it’s better to know about it before you get that far into the contract.”

Sometimes you’ll need to pay a special fee for having a pet or need to make a special request for your pet to be approved. That, too, is something it’s best to know about before you make an offer on a home.

“Some condos have rules about how much of your floor must be covered with carpeting, but a lot of people prefer hardwood,” Dreyer says. “You can end up in a dispute with your neighbors if your dog’s nails make noise on the hardwood, and you could be forced to cover your floors.”

Dreyer says some condos have quiet hours, so you could have to pay a fine if your dog barks.

“If your dog is afraid of elevators or kids or other dogs, you might be better off looking for a first-floor unit with a patio or for a house,” Groover says. “But if your dog barks every time someone walks by, you might be better off with an area that can be fenced off and separated from nearby foot traffic.”

Dreyer says that lower-level units in condos, although not always the most desirable for buyers, are often popular with dog owners who like having a private patio and not having their dogs climb stairs.

“Some condos are starting to follow the trend of rentals and market amenities, such as dog washing stations and dog-friendly courtyards, to entice buyers,” Grange says.

Moving with a dog requires some extra attention to your pet’s needs.

Living in an Airstream travel trailer seemed like a fun solution when Julie Ackerman Montross, her husband, Jeff Montross, and their English bulldog Winston needed temporary housing while waiting for renovations to be completed on their newly purchased house in Old Town Alexandria.

“Now that we’re in week five, it’s not so much fun,” Julie Montross says. “But it will be worth it when we move in, because we’re excited to be in a pet-friendly neighborhood where we can bring Winston to restaurant patios. Our new place has a nice fenced yard, too.”

Selling a home with a dog

When the Montrosses were selling their home, Groover discussed their options for taking care of the dog while making their home attractive to buyers.

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“Our dog is a big shedder, and we have dark floors, so it was hard to stay on top of that to keep the house in perfect shape,” Julie Montross says. “We decided that in order to maintain our sanity, we’d board our dog with friends. It was a difficult four weeks and hard to adjust to living without the dog, but it was definitely the best choice for us.”

Julie Montross says their dog “spooks easily” and is young, which also convinced them that keeping him out of the house when strangers visited was best.

“Sometimes it works fine to keep a dog in a crate, but remember to think about whether your dog will bark or be stressed by visitors to the house,” Groover says.

Grange recommends putting explicit information in your listing about whether you have a pet in residence and what visitors to the home should expect.

In addition to concern for your pet, it’s important to remember that some people are allergic to dogs or simply afraid of them.

“Dogs make people uncomfortable, especially if their owner isn’t there,” Dreyer says. “You never know how a dog will react or how people will react, so it’s best to ‘de-dog’ your home.”

Dreyer says that if you can’t send your dog to day care or to a friends, you should at least take the dog out during showings. However, she warns, restricting showings too much to remove the dog first can hinder a quick sale.

Dog odors can be disturbing even if someone isn’t allergic. Groover recommends having a friend who doesn’t own a pet come by for a “sniff test” to see whether you’ve cleaned adequately.

“You have to clean everything deeply, including your bedding and your curtains,” Groover says. “Remove your dog beds and toys, and repair anything the dog has damaged. The goal is to make it as if a dog doesn’t live there, so you don’t distract from the house.”

At the same time, Groover says, the fact that a community is dog-friendly can be a positive marketing tool for a property.

“It’s very common now to see agents market a condo building or a neighborhood as pet-friendly,” Waugh says. “As long as you keep your home and your dog as clean as possible, you can actually entice buyers if you alert them to the location of nearby dog parks and good places to walk dogs.”

Dog-and-owner “yappy hours,” dog parks, doggy day-care centers and pet-friendly shops and restaurants that stock dog treats all cater to the canine culture in the Washington area, which makes it easier for dog owners to buy and sell property with their furry family members at the center of the transaction.

Tips for buying with a dog

● Know the policies in the jurisdiction and homeowners or condo association to be sure you can comply.

● Look for a neighborhood where many residents have dogs — they’ll be more accepting of your pet.

● Look for a neighborhood with pet-friendly retailers and restaurants.

● Look for the closest dog parks.

● Check out doggy day-care options in the area if you’ll need them.

● If you opt for a high-rise, know where you can walk your dog and whether your dog is comfortable in elevators.

● If you can’t find a yard with a fence, find out how much it will cost and whether you are allowed to build one.

● Be careful to check out the stairs if your dog has trouble climbing them.

Tips for selling with a dog

● Decide whether your dog will be okay to stay in a crate while your home is being shown or if you can walk the pet whenever someone wants to see it.

● Consider boarding your dog with friends or a family member while your home is on the market.

● Be aware of dog odors — have a friend without pets do a “sniff test” to see whether you’ve done enough cleaning.

● Have your carpets, curtains and upholstery cleaned or replaced if necessary.

● An air duct cleaning might be necessary to remove dog odors.

● Put away dog toys, leashes and other clutter when showing your home.

● Check for dog damage such as scratched floors and ripped screens or trampled bushes, and make repairs.