When it Comes to Bidding on Investment Property, Elsa Offers Sage Advice

If you have small kids, then you know all about Let It Go!   Yeah, come at me Walt!  Come at me!

Anyway, the phrase should be used much more often than it is in the high speed, lunacy filled world of property auctions.  If you're ready for some Arkie wisdom, read on.

If you're still bidding hotly during the last minutes of the auction, particularly if you're above your predetermined maximum, then you need to let it go!

Get a clue!  There's a reason why auctions get extended voluntarily and it's to take advantage of the undisciplined, win-at-all-costs crowd.  I've seen a lot a $ lost this way, and almost anyone is susceptible (the truck I'm driving now reminds me of this every day).  Beware and don't let the excitement and your emotions override fact based decision making.

If you have some misgivings about the property, AND you find yourself rationaizing with assertions like "well I'd live there," then you need to let it go!

We all have some experience or we wouldn't be investing.  To completely discount your "gut feelings" is typically fraught with peril.  Taking an investment risk should not involve arrogant foolishness and it certainly isn't always rewarded! 

If you suspect there's a significant defect with the property that a GENERAL contractor likely can't handle, then you need to let it go! 

If your home inspector or contractor has body language that is telling you they are concerned or worried about one or more aspects of the property, that's their experience telling them to avoid trouble.  To honor that is to prevent going down a path that you will collectively regret.

If you are certain you've singlehandedly identified the one valuable thing about the property that everyone else overlooked, then you need to let it go!

Undervalued property is a cruel myth.  If it's available for purchase, then someone assigns a value to it for one or more reasons.  Overpriced properties abound for any number of reasons as well, but I have yet to find a parcel that was truly being "given away" in a financial transaction.  Things like "we could build another house on this oversize lot and double our money!' make great television flip or flop show antics, but that's because it's H o l l y w o o d.  In the real world, 15 or more people already thought of or tried to do it already and failed for whatever reason and you're just the latest one with the epiphany there o' chosen one...

If you're bidding primarily based on one key valuation factor or you're bidding sight unseen, then you need to let it go!

The old adage "a fool and their money are soon parted" is apropos.  Purchasing based on one overriding criteria is a myopic delimma called evidence bias and it has led to some of history's greatest calamities.  Buying sight unseen is for the super rich and not to be done lightly by mere mortals.  Stay in real world and make an honest, well researched, ROI.  The excitement should come from success and accomplishment, not from going white knuckled through the purchasing and reselling process.

 Happy Hunting!


A Deck to Die For!

Every Spring/Summer the warmer weather brings flowers, grass cutting, cook outs, and, sadly, tragedy.  Deck failures and collapses kill friends and family (who else is going to be hanging out there) every year.  But, it doesn't have to be that way...

It all starts innocently enough...

A homeowner watches a DIY channel enough times, checks out a few YouTube videos, and then sleeps on the idea that they too can build a fully functional deck--saving thousands that would otherwise go to some overpriced, "know-it-all" contractor.  When they awake, they are suddenly endowed with the carpentry skills and engineering principles that would take mere mortals decades of hard lessons to learn.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you--"Harry," the self made handyman! 

The DIY challenge begins...

Harry draws up some plans, usually on college-ruled notebook or copier paper, stamps them with the coffee-cup stain--proving their authenticity, and then writes up his materials list.  Happy with his progress thus far, he then heads off to Home Depot to purchase the materials in his mid-sized car.  Quickly realizing that his Japanese princess and lumber aren't a good combination, he reluctantly agrees to the delivery fee and resigns himself to await the blessed arrival.  Time marches on...  Eventually, the great day arrives and Harry then discovers that several of the items he thought he bought aren't in the shipment.  Back to Home Depot, and so it goes.  Days drag into weeks, but Harry finally gets started digging the holes for the 4x4 posts he's going to build the deck upon.  As he's digging the holes, he thinks to himself, I'm already saving money, these posts are lighter and cheaper than those heavy, ugly greenish ones they had on the other aisle...

Where's an inspector when you need one?

Unfortunately, Harry doesn't know about permitting, inspections and such.  After all, they never mention these things on TV or YouTube, so they must not be all that important...right?  Nobody intervenes, and Harry continues building.  Sometimes he uses screws, sometimes nails, always a little at a time.  He eventually gets some help from his buddies, equally endowed in the construction arts of course, and the deck nears completion... 

Time to party like its nineteen, ninety, nine!

The day of reckoning has arrived and the christening of the deck occurs with a suitable celebration.  Friends and family all come out to admire Harry's handiwork, some even ask if he ever thought about being a contractor.  It's Harry's day!  Best of all, the newly built deck is awesome and nothing bad happened at all.  Those who warned him along the way were just being jealous!  Two summers so far, and the deck, although a bit squeaky in some spots, is still as awesome as ever!

Grandma arrives for Harry's July 4th extravaganza!

The party to end all parties is finally here!  Even grandma and her award winning potato salad are coming over!  In preparation for the festivities, Harry gives the deck a once over, drives in a couple of screws here and there, and proclaims the deck ready for the event.  Everything is going swimmingly!  What a great day!!!

Image result for public domain images gloating

Call 9-1-1!!!

Decks fail catastrophically when under loads.  The results are often tragic as most guests congregate near the edges/railings; thus, they usually wind up with everything else on top of them...

Leave deck building, especially if it's going to be elevated any distance at all, to the professionals.  If you think you can handle it yourself, at least get a building permit and have a trained County professional inspect your handiwork.  Your guests don't want to die in your back yard...





Beware! Fake Contractor Scams Also Blossom in the Spring...

Deferred home maintenance is oft-times caused by an aversion to confronting the fear of being taken advantage of (much less the thought of spending more money).  There are several things you can do as a homeowner to help yourself, but probably one of the most important is to adopt some basic guidelines that will serve you well in warding off the majority of scams that con men are out there with this year. 

 Image result for public domain images handy man sign 

Surefire signs of early Spring!


Homeowner's Guide to Springtime Contractor Hiring Decisions

License = accountability and security

Maryland has several requirements that it levies on its licensed trademen; and most of these are solely for the benefit of the homeowner (a.k.a. taxpayer).  To hire an unlicensed individual is to deprive the honest tradesmen of business, but, perhaps more importantly, it removes several key protections/benefits from the homeowner.  For example, if the guys you decided to hire off of Thumbtack, Craigslist, or Home Advisor are not licensed, and most aren't by the way, and they cause significant damage to your property, the only recourse you have is a civil suit--and that's only IF you can properly identify them.  Remember, there is no effective screening performed on individuals using or paying for these services.  Thumbtack and Home Advisor both make their money off of the people they're referring their leads to and their overriding criteria for "contractor" participation essentially boils down to the ability to pay their fees.  Additionally, there have been times when criminals have posed as tradesmen to "case" a house for a future burgalry (or worse).   Most typically, the unlicensed individual is going to do slipshod work and still expect to be paid.  The drama is rarely worth the perceived savings, so why go there?  Also, don't just take their word for it, look them up and check them out!    DLLR MHIC license search hyperlink

Deposits <= 33 percent of the project and should always be specified in a written MHIC contract agreement

It's not uncommon for a contractor to ask for a deposit to cover the up-front costs of materials, permits, etc.  By COMAR, a licensed MHIC holder can not charge more than 1/3rd of the contract's total value as a deposit.  If you're being asked for more than that, something isn't right.  Also, beware of verbal agreements.  Insist on getting the most significant items in writing within the contract document, and KEEP A COPY OF EVERYTHING!  If changes do occur, ask for a written summary--to include costs--so that there are no nasty surprises.  Also, don't expect that your seemingly innocuous color changes, etc. are going to be free.  Having to spend an extra few hours applying primer to a darkly painted room that you now want white again isn't going to be something that will be done without someone (read, the person requesting it) having to pay for it.  Just make sure you nail down how much extra it's going to be beforehand...

Social media and references matter

In today's marketplace, you simply can't rely solely on the online reviews anymore.  There are several motives for bogus reviews, and there are plenty out there.  Forensic analysis of some of the reviews we've looked into has found that the same exact phrases often appear on more than one site!  Most reputable businesses, contractors included, have a social media presence that can be reviewed by prospective clients.  Additionally, it's "okay" to talk to past customers, ask the contractor for pictures of projects in the before-during-after stages of past projects, and to verify the owner actually belongs to the house being photographed (via publicly available County property records).  Adherence to this one principle would foil the vast majority of the frauds out there...

Organization affiliations make a difference

If there's a professional trades or business association and the contractor you're considering doesn't subscribe to them, ask them why.  Affilation with professional organizations shows a commitment to professionalism that should parlay into a higher quality outcome on your project.  Belonging to the Better Business Bureau, etc. goes a long way in making sure you're dealing with a ligitimate business and actually comparing "apples to apples."  A word about the sea of Internet referral services out there: if you're getting the referral at no cost to you, who do you think is paying for it (and why)???!!!


Best defense is to hire a locally referred contractor who maintains a reputable, verifiable business.  Don't get fooled by slick, seemingly endless advertising and don't scammed by the guy referred to you by that free web-based referral service that HE/SHE IS PAYING FOR!"  In other words, you are not really getting "referred," rather you are being "steered" to the person paying for the "advisor" services you think you're getting for free.  Think about it...

Responsiveness and attitude matter as much or more than the actual contract

A policy isn't what's said or written, it's what is actually done... A contractor who doesn't return phone calls or e-mails within a reasonable amount of time is probably not going to change after the contract is signed and the deposit paid.  If the tradesman is agreeable and flexible with most of the requests, then you've probably hired the right one.  This is the guy or gal who puts the customer's desires ahead of their own (provided, of course, that the customer is being reasonable and isn't asking for "something for nothing").  Also, does it really hurt to insist on an arbitration or mediation clause?  Sure, you can sue them if you wish, but wouldn't it be easier (not to mention faster and cheaper) to have a means, such as Better Business Bureau, the MHIC Commission, et al, arbitration to make sure you have a workable means to compel an errant service provider to do the right thing... Think about it and then insist on this feature in your MHIC contract.  You can learn more about MHIC contract requirements at this hyperlink DLLR Notice of MHIC Contract Requirements  

MHIC contract rules have changed for seniors--be sure to insist on your hard-earned rights!

Maryland has recently enacted significant contract changes in MHIC contracts, under amendments to the Door-to-Door Sales Act, for those 65-years or older when hiring for work on their homes.  You can read up on these requirements at this hyperlink DLLR Explanation of Recent Sales Act Changes

Be the grown up in any disagreements with your contractor!

A final word of advice.  All contractors have had their share of unreasonable, overly-demanding clients.  Unfortunately, this has been the underlying cause of many of the almost pathological responses we hear about from time-to-time.  Reputable contractors are professional business owners.  That means they pay their taxes, keep their insurance in place, and have sage legal counsel to keep them out of trouble.  If you're the type that likes to immediately threaten litigation (or a butt whupin) the moment something isn't going your way, be sure you KNOW what you're doing first.  In many cases, verbally or physically threatening a service provider will immediately void any express or implied warranty related to their work, or worse, could actually result in civil or criminal charges AND involuntary enforcement of the contract.  Be the grown up in any disagreements.  If things aren't working out, arbitrate, mediate, or litigate--DO NOT ATTEMPT TO INTIMIDATE.  The same holds true for the threatened homeowner.  If you're uncomfortable with the behavior or attitude of one of the contractor's employees or subcontractors, you have the right to insist that they be replaced.  Keep in mind though that the contractor may have to amend the agreement to cover additional, REASONABLE costs associated with this.  Not all subcontractors will do the work for the same price, and a short-notice replacement of an employee will most likely extend the duration of the project, etc.  Still, it may be worth it if your safety/peace of mind is shaken by a personality you'd rather not put up with...





Holy Crapper! Check Your Commode Annually to Protect Yourself From Water Bills That Shock & Awe

High water bills are often caused by leaking toilets. Water can flow through an open fill valve at a rate of three to five gallons per minute—that’s up to 4,000 gallons of water being wasted each day! According to our local utility in Arkansas (a lot cheaper rates than where we spend most of our time), this would equate to roughly $18/day.  Imagine getting the monthly water bill, expecting it to be $50ish and seeing $540!!!  The bottom line is that a toilet leak can cause a significant increase in your water and sewer bill, don’t wait to have it repaired. If you cannot make the necessary repairs yourself, call a licensed plumber. We recommend that you test each toilet in your home for leaks once a year.

How to Check for a Toilet Leak
  1. Place one teaspoon of food coloring into the tank of your toilet.
  2. Wait 10–15 minutes. Do not flush the toilet during this time.
  3. Look inside your toilet bowl.
If the water in your toilet bowl is clear, your toilet does not have a leak.
If the water in your toilet bowl shows color from the dye, you have a leak. This means that water is leaking from the tank into your toilet bowl. The quicker the dye appears in the water, the more significant the leak.

What can cause a toilet leak?

The two most common causes of a toilet leak are the flapper or fill valve. To check for these leaks, lift the tank lid and look at the back wall of the toilet tank. You will see a water line that marks the level at which water fills the tank. Mark the actual water level with a pencil, then flush the toilet and watch the tank refill. If the water rises to a level above the pencil mark (and then goes down afterward), then you probably have a flapper leak. If the water level rises to a point below the pencil mark and then rises above it, you probably have a faulty fill valve.

  • Flappers can become warped or damaged over time, preventing a watertight seal on the flush valve. In-tank toilet cleaners are large chemical tablets or containers of chlorine liquid intended to help keep the toilet bowl clean. These can damage the flapper by corroding the rubber parts inside your toilet tank. Chemicals can wear away toilet flappers and other parts in the toilet tank, voiding the warranty and causing leaks. Some newer flappers are made to be chlorine-resistant, but even with newer flappers the use of these in-tank cleaners is still risky. The damage caused by in-tank cleaners is often the result of a toilet not being flushed for a long period of time, such as when a house is empty. Without flushing, the chlorine content of the tank water increases and is more likely to wear away the flapper.
  • The flapper, trip lever, or chain may no longer align with the flush valve, leaving a gap which can cause a leak.
  • Over time, grit or sediment can cause small cuts and other damage to the flush valve which can result in a leak between the flush valve and flapper.
  • A change in your home’s water pressure can cause water waste to flow down an overflow tube causing the fill valve to become stuck in an open position.

How Do I Repair a Toilet Leak?

If your toilet was manufactured after 1994

If your toilet was manufactured after 1994, it is likely that your toilet uses 1.6 gallons per flush. You can confirm this by looking for a “1.6 gpf/6 lpf” imprint on the back top surface of the bowl behind the back of the toilet seat. You may want to consider investing in a new high-efficiency toilet for better flushing performance, saving your family about $7 per person per year.

  • Replace the Flapper

    There are some common replacement flappers on the market for water-saving toilets, but not all of them will fit your toilet. You should always make sure that the new flapper is adjusted correctly for your water-saving toilet. Look for products with a five or ten year warranty.

  • Replace the Fill Valve

    If you have a faulty fill valve, you can either replace it yourself or call a licensed plumber to make the repair. Do not replace an old fill valve that has a float ball with a new fill valve that has a float ball. Instead, use a new piston-valve type fill valve. This device is often called a “Fluidmaster valve” and is manufactured by Fluidmaster, Korky, and American Standard.

    There are also fill valve products that help to prevent the constant filling and draining of a toilet tank that is often caused by a toilet flapper leak. These products guard against constant refilling by ensuring that a leaking tank is refilled only when the toilet is flushed. If the flapper leaks, these products will allow the tank to drain first and will ensure that the tank remains empty, rather than constantly refilling. The next time someone flushes the toilet, they will have to flush twice—once to refill the tank and a second time to flush the toilet. This prevents water waste caused by a constantly refilling toilet. Fluidmaster’s Leak Sentry Pro 400LS” and the “HydroClean” are examples of such fill valves.

  • If your toilet was manufactured before 1994

    If you have a toilet manufactured prior to 1994 and are deciding whether to repair or replace it, you may way to consider investing in a new high-efficiency toilet. High-efficiency toilets use less water and can save you about $30-$40 per year for each person in your home. These toilets use flappers that are resistant to chlorine corrosion which can help prevent leaks, and they have improved fill valves that do not leak like old-style ball cock/float valves.

  • If you have a flushometer-valve toilet

    Many residential toilets do not have tanks. Instead, they use a flushometer-valve toilet with a hand valve that is attached to a pipe coming out of the wall. This type of toilet does not have many moving parts but leaks can still occur. If you have a flushometer-valve toilet, take the following precautions:

    • If you see moving water in the bowl after the toilet has been flushed, this means the valve is leaking and needs to be repaired or replaced.
    • If the water to your home has been turned off, do not flush the toilet during this time. Wait until the water is turned back on, then flush the toilet once or twice to make sure any air is thoroughly vented from the system and the valve is able to open and close properly.
    • So-called “phantom flushes” can be caused by pressure changes in your building and should be investigated by a licensed plumber.



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