The Loudoun Times-Mirror spoke with local realtor Donna Lutkins about her history in the field and some of her best tips for folks looking to buy a new home, or sell their current one.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My husband Nick and I purchased our home in Cascades (Potomac Falls) in 1993 when Loudoun County consisted mostly of farmers’ fields and forested land. It’s been amazing to watch the development of the area as our family grew. We are blessed to have raised our three children in Cascades in the same home. Cari, 28, now lives in New York City; Nicky, 27, lives in Sterling while he’s completing his college degree using his GI bill following his service in the Marines; and Garrett, 24, who has joined the family business as a real estate agent. In addition to our children, our life would not be complete without our two rescue cats and rescue chocolate lab mix. In 2021, we finally downsized since we were now official empty nesters.
How long have you been in real estate and what inspired you to go into real estate? Neither Nick nor I started our careers in real estate – we see it as a happy accident. Nick owned and ran a successful advertising and marketing firm for many years while I was the CEO of the Lutkins Household (aka full time Mom!). The world of advertising flipped upside down in 2008 with the Great Recession, along with other major market forces, forcing Nick to pivot quickly. For me, it was the perfect time to dive into real estate with everything I had. When I first got my real estate license in 2010, my specialty was in Short Sales and I was able to successfully negotiate and close 100% of my short sale transactions and was also awarded “Rookie of the Year” in my brokerage. In addition to my real estate practice, I volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to help advocate for young children in court going through challenging family situations. The CASA experience contributed to, and greatly complemented, my passion for helping my real estate clients navigate through very stressful transactions and life transitions. With my husband’s deep experience in marketing, we felt we would make a great team and that it was time to join forces and start The Lutkins Group. We see ourselves as a family company that has a deep passion for serving and advocating for our clients at the highest possible levels.
What has the market been like for your business this year? What are the current market trends in Loudoun? In the past two years, the market has been hyper inflated and frenetic to say the least. It was a great sellers’ market but incredibly stressful for buyers. If a buyer wanted to purchase a home in these past two years, they basically had to waive every contingency, including home inspections and appraisals and pay way above asking price. This of course left our buyers very vulnerable and stressed out. We’ve definitely seen a shift in the market recently and are seeing a return to a more balanced market, which is offering better opportunities for buyers, despite the rising interest rates. Even though interest rates are rising, they remain low historically so it’s still a great time to buy a home. I’m convinced that home ownership is still the best investment you can make for yourself and your family over the long haul.
What is the most important thing for homeowners to think about doing to their home before selling? On the other hand, what should they consider when buying a home? It is crucial that sellers always consult an experienced agent, preferably one that has successfully navigated a shifting market and is a neighborhood expert. We make personalized recommendations based on what buyers are looking for in the current environment and what will give sellers the best net sales profit. It’s something my team specializes in; ensuring that our clients are paired with trusted vendors and contractors and creating a design aesthetic that stands out to buyers. As a buyer, it is equally important to work with an agent that is a neighborhood expert. Our design experience comes in handy when a client wants to put in “sweat equity,” or even discuss small changes that can make a house feel like a home. With first-time buyers we also help them think several years ahead to consider the costs of maintaining a home so there are fewer surprises ahead of them.
What is the biggest mistake they make with either buying or selling? Working with anyone other than a full-time experienced professional real estate advisor is a mistake. It is not the time to skimp on what really matters…there’s too much at stake. Buying or selling your home is one of the biggest investments and decisions in your life; why would you leave it to someone who sells real estate as a hobby?
What is your favorite home design trend currently? Home offices have seen a real facelift following the pandemic. It’s been great to see small spaces transformed, creating an energetic and inspiring home office where work and home come together harmoniously. Add in luxury vinyl plank flooring (LVP), and you’re set up for success!
What is the best advice you give to buyers? Do your research! It is important that when you make this big investment, you need to ensure that the agent you partner with will serve as your advocate. Check their reviews, recommendations, and track record on Zillow, Google and other internet sources. And don’t just take the agent’s word about themselves…check out what their clients are saying about them. Also, ask your agent for a few recent client names and contact information you can call to ask about their experiences. We’re proud to say that we’ve earned over 150 5-Star Zillow reviews since we began our business.
Describe a perfect weekend or way to spend your free time in Loudoun County. As a family of foodies, we feel lucky to spend lots of our free time in Loudoun County. It has everything possible to offer, from wineries, breweries, food trucks, to top-of-the-line restaurants. Our perfect weekend would be eating out with family, or sitting on our deck, grilling and looking out at the gorgeous countryside. Cheers!