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Archive for December, 2011

Published: September 21, 2010

Get up to speed with the most outrageous laws and homeowners association rules.

Even celebrities such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson can be at odds with an HOA. Here are seven crazy examples of laws and HOA rules:

1. Can’t park your car in your own driveway.

In Odessa, Fla., a resident was fined by his board for parking his pickup truck in his own driveway because it wouldn’t fit in his garage. Not our problem, the HOA basically told him before slapping him with a lawsuit. After a protracted legal battle, he has since won the right to park his car, but only after two years and $200,000 in legal fees.

2. Don’t plant too many roses.

While foreclosure is an increasingly real threat to homeowners, few expect to lose their house based on gardening infractions. But that’s exactly what happened to a Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., resident who planted too many roses on his property. After $70,000 in fees, he lost his legal battle against the HOA and ultimately lost his home to the flower debacle.

3. Indoor drying only.

As seen in a Colbert Report expose, a Bend, Oregon, resident was shocked by her HOA’s rejection of her outdoor clothesline. Her natural drying method was dubbed a hazard, and they began levying fines that totaled nearly $1,000. She eventually took down the offending line, even after the Right 2 Dry movement got behind her.

4. No mothers-in-laws allowed.

If you’re a married man in Iowa, the government grants you a special privilege: you’re allowed to bar your mother-in-law from your home. While certainly useful to men trying to ditch their spouse’s mom, this law does not extend to women.

5. Only use sanctioned paint.

What appears to be an inoffensive pale blue house has caused a stir recently in one Georgia neighborhood. Unaware of his HOA’s rules, a homeowner painted his house before having the color officially approved by his board. And with a $25 per day fee levied every day his house bares the offending hue, he’s already racked up $6,800 in fines on top of legal fees.

6. No service dog for the hearing impaired.

A Fort Collins, Colo., HOA fined a hearing-impaired resident for keeping Pookee, her Pomeranian service dog. The HOA even threatened to put a lien on the property. All this despite the fact that Fair Housing Act requires condo and home owner associations to make reasonable accommodations in their procedures and rules to allow a person with disability to reside in a unit. This includes allowing service animals.

Have an issue related to service animal? Contact your local HUD office or local or state human rights agency.

7. Don’t use ‘inconsistent’ shingles.

As if it wasn’t tragedy enough when a plane fell out of the sky destroying a Sanford, Fla., man’s home, his HOA then challenged his rebuilding efforts. It threatened litigation because the shingles and elevation in his new house’s plans didn’t match his neighbors’.

Bending the rules

If you fight the law, you may lose. But there are ways to work with the restrictions of a HOA and still get your way. The first line of defense is to make sure you understand the HOA or condo association rules before you purchase the property.

If, after you move in, you’d like your home’s appearance to differ from that of your neighbors, you’ll need to submit a “variance” form of request. This request can be accepted or rejected at the board’s will, so it’s good to alert them early in your planning process. One tip to gain HOA support? Understand the challenges and perspective of HOAs, follow the rules to a tee, and offer to help them gain community support for their initiatives. Maybe even run for office. If you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.
What’s the strangest local government or HOA rule you’ve ever heard of?

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By: G. M. Filisko

Published: March 26, 2010

When your homeowners association has more to do than its volunteers can handle, it’s time to call in a professional manager. Here are 10 tips for picking the right one.

1. Know what you need. Start your search by making a list of what you’d like the management company to do. You can put anything on the list, as long as the HOA board keeps the responsibility to oversee the management company’s actions. Knowing what your HOA needs will help you focus your search.

2. Choose a person or committee to do the preliminary search. Expect to devote about 20 hours to choosing a company, says Elizabeth White, an attorney at LeClairRyan in Williamsburg, Va., who represents community associations.

3. Ask if your state requires some level of manager licensing. If so, seek out companies and candidates with the proper credentials. “We’re finding a lot of management companies in states that require licensing (that) haven’t gotten the license,” White says. States that require licenses or registration include Alaska, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Virginia. Starting in 2011, Illinois will require licenses.

4. Consider a company certified by the Community Associations Institute. This Alexandria, Va.-based organization has a range of certifications for companies and individual managers.

5. Be sure the company performs criminal background checks on its employees, especially its managers. Do your own background checks, too. Check references and do an onsite visit. “Speak to board members of associations managed by that company,” suggests David Regenbaum, CEO of Association Management Inc. in Houston. “Visit the company’s office and get a sense of its business philosophy. Some are merely bookkeeping and secretarial services. Others are fully committed and involved in the community. Make sure you select the company that’s appropriate to your needs.”

6. Investigate the firm’s bonding and insurance. Your state law and governing documents may spell out minimum standards for both, Taylor says. But a management company should also have liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance covering its employees. Ask for a copy of the company’s insurance certificate, recommends Robert White, managing director of KW Property Management & Consulting in Miami. His firm carries a $2 million liability policy, plus a $10 million umbrella policy.

7. Read the fine print. It’s the rare management company that works without a signed contract. “It goes without saying,” Elizabeth White says, “that you should never sign the management company’s form contract.” Have your association lawyer suggest changes.

8. Try to negotiate for a one-year contract rather than the three-year contracts many companies seek. Why commit to a three-year contract if you can negotiate a one-year contract with the option to renew at one-year intervals for two years at the same price?

9. Scrutinize termination provisions. “As a manager, I don’t mind receiving 30 days’ notice of termination,” Regenbaum says. “But you shouldn’t allow the management company to give you 30 days’ notice because it’s difficult to scramble to find another manager in that time.” You need 60 to 90 days to repeat the search process if things don’t work out with your current management company.

10. Ask for a complete fee schedule, so you can compare competing contracts. Big costs may be buried in extra fees. For example, a company may provide for a manager to attend one meeting every six months and charge $100 per hour after that. It may also charge separately for postage and to manage a vote on and payment collection for special assessments. The lesson, according to Elizabeth White: Bids that come in significantly lower than others should be red flags.

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By: G. M. Filisko

Published: January 20, 2011

Does your community need a professional HOA manager or can volunteers handle the load?

Checklist: A pro is the way to go if:

  • Your HOA must manage a lot of building systems, amenities, and properties.
  • Home owners don’t have time to volunteer to manage the association.
  • Home owners don’t have the skills to do association work, such as depositing and recording dues checks or managing a pool.
  • The management companies you’re considering can get discounts from contractors or service providers, such as insurance companies, and those discounts are important to your HOA.

Our HOA doesn’t need a professional manager

OK, if the issues above don’t stand in your way, you can save money by not hiring a professional manager. Recruit volunteers who can handle billing, correspondence, and complaints. In general, you’ll want to fill board and committee volunteer positions with folks who have skills in:

  • Finance
  • Operations
  • Law
  • Public relations
  • Vendor management

Use a mix of pro and DIY in your HOA

If your HOA can cover some but not all of the jobs on your list, split the work between in-house volunteers and outside professionals. Some HOAs have an accounting firm handle billing, deposits, and audits, while board members manage contractors and tackle correspondence, complaints, and inquiries from owners.

Either way, a professional management company should never run the whole show. It should take its direction from the board. Nor would it be fiscally wise to let an outside firm have full control over your finances.

And keep your eyes on the prize: property values. Smart home buyers will avoid buying into associations where common areas aren’t spiffy and community budgets show cost overruns and special assessments for unplanned repairs.

 

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Man Builds Fairy Tale Home for His Family – For Only £3,000.

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http://platform.twitter.com/widgets/hub.1324331373.htmlBy: Alyson McNutt English

Published: December 1, 2011

Solar Christmas lights don’t cost anything to operate, but the high purchase price might not add up to savings.

Now there’s a new kid in the string-light neighborhood: LED solar Christmas lights are appearing at retailers around the country, promising grid-free festive lighting for holiday-happy consumers.
Powering up solar Christmas lights
A string of solar Christmas lights uses a small solar panel for power; there are no extension cords that must be plugged into outlets. The panel — about the size of a hockey puck — powers rechargeable batteries that illuminate a 25- to 100-bulb string of LED lights.
Panels come with small stakes so you can put them in the ground, where they can take advantage of the sun. A fully-charged string of lights should glow for 6 to 8 hours after the sun goes down.
Solar lights vs. LED plug-in costs
Most consumers expect new technologies to cost more, but if saving energy and money is your main reason for considering solar-powered LED holiday lights, solar lights may not offer enough cost-saving to offset the higher initial purchase price.
Compare purchase prices:

  • The average cost for a 100-light string of miniature solar-powered LED lights is about $0.30 per bulb, or about $30 per string.
  • The average cost for a 100-light string of miniature plug-in LED lights is $0.08 per bulb, or about $8 per string.

Compare costs to operate:

  • Operating a string of plug-in LED Christmas lights for 300 hours — more than enough hours for an entire holiday season — costs about $0.30, using an average energy cost of $0.11 per kilowatt hour.
  • Solar-powered Christmas lights, of course, don’t cost anything to operate. That means you’re saving 30 cents per year in energy costs.

Do the math, and you’ll see that it’ll take about 45 years for the energy savings from solar-power to equal the difference in purchase price between a plug-in string and a solar-powered string.
Advantages of solar lights

  • no extension cords
  • no need for exterior electrical outlets
  • withstand cold temperatures and precipitation
  • zero cost to operate
  • light output comparable to plug-in lighting
  • a green option

Disadvantages

  • higher initial cost to purchase
  • may not operate under cloudy skies
  • unproven longevity (too new on the market for results)

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http://platform.twitter.com/widgets/hub.1324331373.htmlBy: G. M. Filisko

Published: December 10, 2010

With a few conscious choices, your merry Christmas can also be an eco-friendly Christmas.

1. Light up with LEDs. LED lights use at least 75% less energy than conventional holiday decorations, according to Energy Star. That saves the average family about $50 on energy bills during the holiday, says Avital Binshtock of the Sierra Club in San Francisco. Or douse the lights and use soy-based or beeswax candles; their emissions are cleaner than those from paraffin candles.
2. Make your own decorations. Save money and keep your kids busy by hand-crafting eco-friendly decor—strings of popcorn or pine cones—instead of buying mass-produced holiday flare.

3. Wrap with stuff you already have. Get creative with reusable shopping bags, magazines, and newspapers instead of using wrapping paper. Even gift bags that recipients can pass on make for a more eco-friendly Christmas, says Brian Clark Howard of The Daily Green.
4. Buy a real tree. Real Christmas trees, wreaths, and garlands are renewable and recyclable, Binshtock says. Real trees mean an annual cost, but that may be a wash if you tend to buy a faux tree several times a decade.
5. Say “no” to glossy paper decorations and wrapping. Shininess and color come from chemicals not easily recycled. Alternative: Decorations or wrapping papers that use soy inks or natural dyes.

6. Package it in cardboard. Plain, corrugated cardboard is good for packaging because it’s easy to recycle. If plastic factors into your holiday plans, look for No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, the easiest to recycle, says Ben Champion, director of sustainability for Kansas State University.

7. Create precious moments that don’t leave a trail of debris.

  • Do something experiential like taking the family to a museum.
  • Give a gift certificate or donation to an organization meaningful to the recipient in the receiver’s name. Happy holidays to you: No sales tax.
  • Buy fair-trade, organic, or locally made products, which are often one-of-a-kind and may not need as much packaging and shipping, Champion says.

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http://platform.twitter.com/widgets/hub.1324331373.htmlBy: G. M. Filisko

Published: December 10, 2010

LED holiday lights vs. old-fashioned bulbs: 6 tips to help you decide which is right for you.

1. LED holiday lights save you money. LED lights use at least 90% less energy than traditional holiday lights, according to the U.S. government’s Energy Star program.

That results in a $50 energy savings for the average family during the holidays, says Avital Binshtock of the Sierra Club in San Francisco.

Put it into perspective: The amount of electricity consumed by one 7-watt incandescent bulb could power 140 LEDs—enough to light two 24-foot strings, says Energy Star.

2. But LED lights typically cost more than old-fashioned holiday lights.

  • GE 100-bulb string of Energy Star-certified LED white lights: $18.97 at Lowe’s
  • GE 100-bulb string of conventional white lights: $8.97

But shop around because a growing number of retailers are offering sales on LED holiday lights and, if you can’t find a sale before the holidays, you can certainly find one after. Plus, prices will surely go down as these lights gain traction.

3. LED holiday lights last and last. LED bulbs can keep your season bright for as long as 100,000 hours, says Cathy Choi, president of Moonachie, N.J.-based Bulbrite, which manufactures LED and regular bulbs. That’s substantially longer than the life of your old holiday light strings.

4. You can string a BIG strand of LED lights. Safety wise, you shouldn’t connect more than three traditional light strings, but you can connect up to 87 LED holiday light strings, totaling a whopping 1,500 feet, Choi says. So blow your neighbor’s display away by cocooning your house in lights:

  • You won’t have to buy as many extension cords.
  • You can take your holiday lighting display further away from the outlet.

5. LED lights reduce the risk of fire. They stay cooler than incandescent bulbs, according to Energy Star.

6. How about that hue? Some people stick with their old lights because they don’t like the brighter hue that white LED holiday lights emit. But Choi says manufacturers now offer a “warm white” bulb that more closely mimics the glow of an incandescent light. Be sure to read the label to choose a bright or warm white and to ensure what you’re purchasing is Energy Star-certified.

Colored and color-changing LED holiday lights are more vibrant than conventional lights, making your display easier to see from the street, Choi says.

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