Creature comforts: Invest in the healing power of pets

Owning a pet can boost your mental health. But remember your loyal dog or cat will need your tender loving care too, says Áilin Quinlan.

One day when my son was seven years old, he got into trouble for being naughty.

Feeling immensely sorry for himself, he went out to the back garden and sat on the steps to sulk.

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Within seconds, the family dog Cleo was beside him, nestling up to him and licking his hand.

Now a strapping 21-year-old college student, my son still recalls the sense of warmth, support, and comfort he got that day from our beloved springer spaniel.

Cleo was like that with every member of the family and, when she died of old age several years later, we couldn’t bear to replace her for many years — purely because we all missed her so much. Eventually, we did get another dog, Molly, who is now just as much a part of the family.

“Studies show that children who grow up with pets have psychological and health benefits,” says vet Pete Wedderburn, who adds companion animals are also good for angst-ridden teenagers.

“Animals are non-judgemental and love us unconditionally,” explains Dr Wedderburn, who points out that a beloved pet can make us feel better about ourselves.

Walking the dog can encourage us not just to take much-needed exercise — one of the major boosters for positive mental health — but to be more sociable.

“A dog always loves you and is always pleased to see you. They don’t get into a mood or give out to you and they are very good at making us feel loved — it’s great for our psyche,” says Dr Wedderburn.

They’re great social enablers too because when you bring them for a walk and meet someone else with a dog along the way, the dogs will sniff each other and you’ll find yourself talking to the owner.

Research over the past 15 or 20 years has shown why so many people feel better around animals, says Dr Danny Holmes, spokesman for Veterinary Ireland and the Federation of European Companion Animals Veterinary Associations.

“Being with an animal increases the levels of certain happy hormones in humans, the hormones which are associated with good mood.

“It has an actual physical effect on our bodies because interacting with them creates a sense of wellbeing — they trigger the release of [the hormones] serotonin and oxytocin,” he says.

Anyone who’s ever had a dog knows just how far its companionship can go towards alleviating a sense of isolation or loneliness — something that is becoming an increasingly important issue in Irish society today where according to the 2016 census, some 400,000 people now live alone.

A pet can also help to reduce stress. Research carried out at the Centre for Human-Animal Interaction at Virgina Commonwealth University in the US backs up her point.

A pilot study suggests that healthcare professionals, who spend as little as five minutes with a therapy dog, for example, experience the same levels of stress reduction as healthcare professionals who spend 20 minutes resting quietly.

Are some breeds of dog more loyal or friendly than others?

“I’ve moved away from trying to recommend a certain breed for different people,” says Dr Wedderburn.

Dr Pete Wedderburn

Instead, his years of experience have led him to urge people to consider adopting a rescue dog as a pet.

Firstly, he says, many rescue dogs “are lovely animals who just happened to be in situations where things didn’t work out.”

Secondly, rescue centre staff are usually highly experienced at matching people to dogs.

“They have a strong interest in getting the right animal for you. If you just buy a pedigree dog the person may only want to sell the animal.”

And what about cats? Felines, says Dr Wedderburn, generally fall into one of three categories.

“There’s the soft loveable cat who wants to sit on your lap and purr. There’s the scaredy-cat who is highly strung and vanishes when visitors come into the house, and there’s the grumpy cat who wants to do its own thing and will growl and even bite.”

Cats can be a bit unpredictable, he observes. However, don’t give up hope. Get the right kind of cat and you can be very happy.

Dr Holmes points to research carried out by the Mental Health Foundation in 2011, which found that 90% of people who had a cat felt their feline had a positive impact on their mental health as a result of looking after their pet and the physical comfort that came from stroking it.

A rescue dog or cat will only cost a donation to the animal shelter – whereas to purchase a pedigree dog or cat upfront can cost hundreds of euro, depending on the breed.

And that’s only the start of the costs you can expect to face when introducing a pet to your home.

Although most animal shelters will have had your re-homed animal spayed or neutered and vaccinated and micro-chipped, there are still the costs of settling them into your home.

The basics such as a bed, food bowls, toys, and a collar, plus a lead for a dog will set you back around €100 for a dog, while the bed, food bowls, toys, a litter-tray and scratching post for a cat can add up to over €70.

You’ll also have to purchase a dog licence — €20 a year or €140 for a lifetime licence. And then you’ll have to get your pet vaccinated regularly, which varies in price but costs somewhere in the region of €35 for a dog and around the same for a cat.

Pet insurance, if you opt for it, can cost in the region of €150 a year. You will also need to consider the ongoing cost of pet-food and of course, kennel boarding fees if you go on holiday — anything from €15 a day.

Remember, having decided to get a dog, it’s not fair to leave it locked up in the house while you’re out all day — you need to make provision for its care.

It’s a good idea to either have someone who can mind the dog while you’re out, or to use a doggy day-care facility.

“It’s not fair to leave a dog alone for more than six hours a day,” says Dr Wedderburn — it will get distressed and start barking or chewing things.

Strategic use of day care can be useful, he says. Although dogs don’t need it every day, sending your pet to doggy day-care a few days a week will keep your canine socialised and active.

Given the many advantages that come with owning a pet, investing in your four-legged friend’s health and fitness can only be a win-win.

Ruby lifted me out of a dark place

Getting a dog utterly transformed day-to-day life for businesswoman Sylwia Polak.

“She just bonded with me straight away and she brought so much happiness into my life,” recalls the 27-year-old who lives in Tralee, Co Kerry with her partner and five-and-half-year old rescue dog, Ruby, who is part collie, part huskie.

“I was a bit depressed before I got Ruby. I was going through a rough patch in my personal life, and there was work stress as well. There was nothing major wrong, but I just felt a bit down.

“I decided that when the opportunity arose I’d get a dog. I was thinking about a puppy but when Ruby came along she was just perfect. I fell in love with her."

Now, 18 months after Ruby, then aged about four, entered her life, Sylwia, a Polish national who moved to Ireland about 12 years ago, says she’s happier, more confident, physically fitter, and has lost weight.

She’s dropped from a dress size 16 to a size eight, primarily she believes, because of all the exercise she takes with Ruby.

Sylwia with her dog, Ruby. Pic: Domnick Walsh © Eye Focus LTD

To ensure the big dog gets enough exercise, Sylwia, who recalls that she previously took taxis almost everywhere, walks or skateboards up to 5km several times a week with Ruby loping alongside her.

“I have always had cats but my relationship with Ruby is much closer and more hands-on,” says Sylwia, manager of Tralee’s Eurogiant store.

“When we’re out we’re meeting people along the way and they always stop for a chat. I’ve met a lot of people that way and made friends — just from walking my dog.

“When you look into her eyes you just feel the loyalty, love and peace, and you cannot help but love her.

“Ruby has lifted me out of that dark place. It’s about the companionship. We rely on each other.”


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AHC to begin $100M apartment project in Arlington – Washington Business Journal

Key highlights:

AHC will begin construction next week on a replacement for the Berkeley apartments.The project will offer apartment units to those earning between 40 to 80 percent of AMI.It is one of several affordable housing developments being built by AHC in Northern Virginia.

Nonprofit developer AHC Inc. is set to begin construction next week on a $100 million project that will transform a 1960s apartment complex in south Arlington into a much larger mixed-income rental community.

Mary Claire Davis, project manager with Arlington-based AHC, said her company will tear down The Berkeley apartments at 2900 S. Glebe Road, which consists of two buildings totaling 138 affordable housing units. It will replace them with two five-story buildings totaling 256 units, 63 percent of which will be available to households earning 60 percent of the area median income. Another 21 percent will be affordable to those making 50 percent of AMI while 1 percent will be available to those making 40 percent. Fifteen percent will be affordable to those making 80 percent of AMI.

The project will deliver in 2020, offering units with rents ranging anywhere from $880 per month to $1,700 on the high end.

The project, designed by MTFA Architecture, is significant in that it fits within the county’s adopted Affordable Housing Master Plan. The Berkeley will go up in an area with a lower share of affordable housing.

"When we acquired it in 2001, we used some of the affordable housing financing programs, but we found that there were some residents who lived there that were not wealthy but [whose incomes] exceeded the parameters of those programs and we didn’t want to displace them," Davis said. "We’ve always had about 20 percent of the Berkeley at around market-rate. In redeveloping, we wanted to keep some similar mix because we wanted to have as many of the households who have to be relocated to come back if they want to."

Davis said AHC is pursing a redevelopment due to structural issues with the current building. "When we contemplated doing another renovation, the cost to solidify all these problems was so large it led us to consider whether we could redevelop and start anew," she said.

The project is being financed by a combination of company funds, private construction loans, low-income housing tax credits from Virginia Housing Development Authority, and loans from Arlington County’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund.

AHC is advancing the project as it also builds other affordable developments in Alexandria, including the 113-unit Spire.

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Real Estate Report: Many Virginia-shore singles own homes

The Hampton Roads area of Virginia posts the nation’s highest rate of homeownership among singles, according to a new study by the financial website SmartAsset.

Sixty-four percent of people who live alone in Chesapeake, Virginia, own their home, the highest rate in the nation, according to the study. The second-highest-rate, 57 percent, is found in neighboring Virginia Beach, Virginia.

The next three in the rankings are suburbs: Aurora, near Denver; Chandler, near Phoenix; and Henderson, near Las Vegas.

No Ohio city made the list of 25.

Area home prices rise 8.3% in a year

Central Ohio home prices were up 8.3 percent in March compared with a year earlier, according to a report released Tuesday by CoreLogic.

The mortgage and real-estate service found that home prices nationwide rose 7 percent during the same period.

Several years of rising prices have led CoreLogic to conclude that homes are overvalued in 37 of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, none in Ohio.

CoreLogic forecasts that prices will rise 5.2 percent during the next 12 months.

Distressed-property sales only 6.3% of total

Foreclosures and other distressed properties accounted for 6.3 percent of central Ohio home sales during the first quarter of the year, the lowest share in a decade, according to Columbus Realtors.

The trade group found that foreclosures, short sales and bank-owned properties made up 5.1 percent of new listings during the quarter; that also was the lowest level in more than a decade.

“The good news is that the number of distressed properties in central Ohio is a fraction of what it was several years ago,” said Columbus Realtors President Sara Walsh. “Conversely, with the lack of inventory, that is one less option available for buyers anxious to find a home.”

Several central Ohio communities reported no distressed sales during the quarter, while in three places, distressed homes accounted for more than 15 percent of sales: Circleville, the Groveport Madison Schools district area and the Washington Court House area.

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A half-century has brought many changes to Long and Foster and the real estate industry

A half-century has brought many changes and challenges to real estate brokerages. Through the years, Long & Foster has fended off its competitors to thrive in this market. (Kenny Kiernan/for The Washington Post)

Fifty years ago, the median home value nationally was $25,600. Today, that number hovers around $241,000. In 1968, real estate agents updated listings twice a week with perforated pages pulled from thick notebooks and tucked into boxes of 3-by-5 cards. Today, listings are updated in real time online for everyone to see, not just agents.

No one would have guessed that the 600-square-foot office in Fairfax, Va., opened in 1968 by Wes Foster, Hank Long and one real estate agent, would, over the span of 50 years, become the largest independent real estate brokerage by sales volume in the United States, with 11,000 agents in seven states and the District.

“Back then, all we thought about was ‘How are we going to pay the rent?’ ” says Foster, chairman emeritus of the company. “We had no idea we would grow to where we are now.”

Where they are now was big news in September, when the company was acquired by HomeServices of America, a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate and the nation’s second-largest real estate brokerage, best known for being owned by Warren Buffett.

“There really is something powerful to putting a monetary value on your time.” — Sanford DeVoe, associate professor at the UCLA Anderson School

“It’s bittersweet, but Warren Buffett is a fine, honest gentleman and he will do well by this company and treat our agents well,” Foster said.

The Long & Foster name will stay.

“When we started the company, Hank and I flipped a coin, and he got his name first, and I got to be president,” Foster said. “By the time I bought out Hank 11 years later, the name already had value, so we kept it. Hank became a developer, and we continued to work together occasionally on commercial real estate projects.”

As with every other industry, tech innovations dramatically changed the nature of the business.

“When I started in real estate we didn’t have cellphones or GPS, so I used to spend hours mapping a house tour for buyers,” says Carol Welsh, who has been a Long & Foster agent in Reston for more than 40 years. “There was no Internet with photos, so buyers looked to agents for everything, and we had to show them a lot more houses in person.”

Welsh remembers taking her own photos of her listings and waiting for them to be copied at a drugstore before she could glue them to a typewritten sheet with listing information.

“There were no lockboxes, so when we showed houses, we would have to stop by different offices to pick up keys, show the houses and then go back to those offices to return the keys,” says Dale Mattison, who has been a Long & Foster agent in the District since 1982.

Long & Foster was among the first companies to produce a website and create proprietary tech solutions in the 1990s, according to Larry “Boomer” Foster, Wes Foster’s nephew and president of general brokerage for Long & Foster Real Estate. As the pace of tech innovations increased, the company used a mix of its own technology and third-party vendors to try to stay ahead of the curve.

Technology has increased the pace of real estate transactions but also added to their complexity, Mattison said.

“When I started, contracts used to be one side of one page, but now they’re 40 to 60 pages in some jurisdictions,” he said. “No one would do that when they were handwritten.”

During its first two years, Long & Foster expanded with a couple of additional offices in Northern Virginia, and then decided to open in Maryland.

“We knew we’d get killed if we tried to compete in Bethesda at that time, so we went to Gaithersburg first,” Foster said. “We opened an office in Room 101 in a Holiday Inn behind the IBM plant, and it worked like a charm. We had targeted IBM in Manassas, and we did it again, just opening our door and selling houses to the people who were staying in the hotel and needed to move to the area.”

By the early 1980s, the real estate brokerage had expanded its business to include a mortgage business, now called Prosperity Mortgage, property management services, title services and homeowner’s insurance.

“We were already providing resources and training for our agents, so consumers would get a better experience with us,” Boomer said. “Expanding our business was also consumer-focused. People want convenience, the best service and the best price.”

While the business was growing with new divisions, its geographic footprint was also expanding. Today, Long & Foster has offices in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Delaware, North Carolina and the District.

“The goal is always to buy the biggest player in any market that also shares our values of integrity and customer service,” Boomer said.

One reason for Long & Foster’s longevity is the nurturing relationship agents find in the company.

“We’re a big company, but every day we try to feel small for our agents,” says Jeff Detwiler, chief executive and president of the Long & Foster Cos.

A lot of companies make you go through a lot of layers of people to talk to the people at the top, but at Long & Foster, you can get right through to anyone, Mattison said.

“The leadership, starting with Wes, has always listened to their agents and understand that their agents know the market better than anyone,” he said.

The company’s reputation for honesty and high ethical standards drew Welsh to Long & Foster in Reston in 1977. She says she is still with the company because of their consistent training and professionalism.

“Long & Foster has always been a family-run company, and Wes’s commitment to that family culture has historically been its guiding star,” says Holly Worthington, principal broker at Compass real estate in the District, who was with Long & Foster for 31 years. “Berkshire Hathaway will surely be a strong influence for them into the future. The industry has changed so much, and there are contributions toward progress from many brokerages.”

The role of the real estate agent has changed significantly over the past 50 years, Boomer said.

“Agents used to control all the information and the transactions,” Boomer said. “Now, the value of agents is their role as trusted advisers, experienced negotiators and market experts.”

Of course, a 50-year history in the housing industry means that Long & Foster has faced its share of down markets, including the most recent foreclosure crisis and recession.

“We’ve been through more than one bad market, and we’ve learned to cut back as much as necessary to eke out a little profit,” Foster said. “We never ever lost money.”

During the recession, Welsh said, there were fewer qualified home buyers, and houses sat on the market for three to five months or longer.

“It was terrible when people had lost so much value in their homes that they had to bring money to the settlement table,” she said. “I remember one guy had to bring $100,000 to pay off his mortgage.”

Bidding wars before the recession and during the current inventory shortage are also painful, Welsh said.

“I hate to tell people that their contract wasn’t accepted, especially when they’ve fallen in love with a house,” she said.

Another particularly tough period was in the early 1980s, when mortgage rates spiked to 17 and 18 percent.

“What kept us in business then was selling property that had an assumable loan,” Foster said. “We’d get the sellers to offer an assumable loan and take back a second mortgage for the rest of the price.”

One of Welsh’s triumphs in that phase of her career was the time a seller paid 12 points to buy down the rate for their buyers.

Challenges have also come from competitors within the real estate business.

“When Re/Max came along and offered agents 100 percent commission and charged them a fee for a desk and advertising, we eventually offered that, too,” Foster said. “We were losing 15 to 20 good agents a year, and we had to meet that challenge head-on.”

A difficult challenge right now, Foster said, is companies such as Compass that are paying agents to switch brokerages.

“They paid one of our agents $250,000, although usually they pay less than that,” Foster said. “That’s tough to compete with.”

Although discount brokers and real estate websites such as Zillow are pushing the real estate industry in different directions, Foster has confidence in the future of his company.

“There’s always competition and always a new game in town,” he said. “So far, we’ve adjusted. I think good agents will always be needed.”

Not everyone is as optimistic.

“Long & Foster is a great company . . . in a dying industry, sort of like Eastman Kodak or Bethlehem Steel,” says Rob Hahn, managing partner of 7DS Associates, a management consulting firm for real estate companies based in Houston. “The fact is that traditional real estate brokerages are not in the real estate business, but in the agent recruiting and retention business, and there are simply too many competitors and not enough of a unique value proposition for that in the long run. Competitors are not simply tech hybrids, like Redfin and Opendoor, but low-cost operators, like HomeSmart or RealtyOneGroup, not to mention every single tiny mom-and-pop boutique brokerage. I wish them the best, but without fundamental changes, it’s tough to see how any brokerage — even Long & Foster — survives the next decade.”

Detwiler’s vision for the future is a bit different.

“I see Long & Foster continuing to grow with its all-inclusive customer experience,” Detwiler said. “We want to build a relationship with our customers for life. We can already help people through their life cycle with finding them a rental, consulting with them to become a first-time home buyer, helping them with their financing, their title services and their homeowner’s insurance. When they’re ready to move up, we can help them rent their property or sell it, buy another or even buy a second home. We can help them invest in real estate. They don’t have to find someone new for each one of those activities.”

This long-term relationship, Detwiler said, is similar to the way people work throughout their lives with the same investment adviser or insurance agent through multiple transactions.

“Relationships and high-level service from real estate agents is still of primary importance, and we’ve never lost sight of that,” Boomer said. “The more the real estate business changes, the more it stays the same,”

As Long & Foster heads into its next phase as part of HomeServices of America, its leaders are counting on continuing the legacy of its founder and his family-centric values.

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Ballyhack Golf Club Breaks Ground on New Maintenance Building & Gating for Residential Real Estate – Washington Business Journal

ROANOKE, Va., April 17, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Ballyhack Golf Club has officially broken ground on its new maintenance facility and gating for the Estates of Ballyhack. The club, which came under new ownership in 2016, is today one of several private destination clubs that comprise the Dormie Network. These projects are among a number of renovations that have been in the planning stages for several months, (more…)


The San Francisco housing market is so absurd that teachers are living in dorms — even though their salaries are some of the highest in the country


Housing is so costly in San Francisco that the average teacher can only afford 0.7% of the homes on the market, according to a Trulia study.Most cities are becoming less affordable for teachers as housing prices rise faster than their salaries.Housing costs are also a problem — especially in San Francisco — for restaurant workers, programmers, and even doctors. (more…)


Wheeler Real Estate Investment Trust, Inc. Responds To Southeastern Grocers Filing for Pre-Package Chapter 11 Bankruptcy


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., March 15, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Wheeler Real Estate Investment Trust, Inc. (NASDAQ:WHLR) (“Wheeler” or the “Company”), a fully-integrated, self-managed commercial real estate investment company focused on owning and operating income-producing retail properties with a primary focus on grocery-anchored centers, (more…)


CORRECTION – Wheeler Real Estate Investment Trust, Inc. Announces 2017 Fourth Quarter Financial Results

News and Advice

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., March 07, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Wheeler Real Estate Investment Trust, Inc. (NASDAQ:WHLR) (“Wheeler” or the “Company”) today reported operating and financial results for three months and year ending December 31, 2017.

Please note that there were two errors in last night’s press release. In the first bullet under “RECENT NEWS”, the (more…)


In Search of Virginia Woolf’s Lost Eden in Cornwall


Godrevy Island and lighthouse in St. Ives Bay. Andy Haslam for The New York Times

Virginia Woolf wasn’t always the radical we imagine today. Before the debates on truth and beauty with her circle of early 20th-century artists, intellectuals and writers known as the Bloomsbury Group; before the polemic feminist lectures at Cambridge; and before the ever-constant push to experiment with new forms of fiction, there was the (more…)


Air Force members win Black Engineer of the Year Awards


WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Senior leader officials recognized two Air Force members at the 32nd Black Engineer of the Year Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Global Competitiveness Conference, Feb. 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C., for exceptional achievements in STEM career fields.

Timothy K. Bridges, Headquarters Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering and force (more…)