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Ask for help setting up an automatic home search

September 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Quick

Robot Pillows

A great feature of this website is the automatic home search. You can set this up yourself, or ask us for help. Here is a sample of what I will ask you to get started. This is based on a real email I’ve sent, with the details changed to protect my visitors privacy.

Hello,

I received your request today for help setting up the search robot. I
would be glad to help.

I will need some information to make this useful. We can start off
general, and make the search more specific as we learn more about what
you are looking for in a house.

The home you mention is in Reisterstown. Do you want to limit to
Reisterstown, or cover a larger area? We can center around a location,
like your place of work. We can center on Reisterstown, but zoom out
for a larger area. So first question: What area to search?

The home you were looking at started at $425,000 and has dropped to
$395,000. So question number two: What price range are you looking in?

This home is a detached home. Condos and townhomes are other choices.
So third question: Limit to detached homes?

This home is 3 bedrooms with 2 and a half baths. Is this the minimum
to search for? Fourth question: How many bedrooms and baths?

This home is on a quarter acre of ground. We don’t have to limit this,
but if you like we can find only homes with a certain amount of
ground. Do you want a lawn, or less grounds to care for?

That is good for a start. I will take your answers and setup an
automatic search. Every time a home that meets your criteria comes on
the market, you will get an email. It is a great way to keep a low key
home search on simmer. When something catches your eye, or if you are
ready to look in earnest, we can show you the homes. We arrange
private tours of the homes you choose. Some homes look much better
than their pictures. Seeing the homes in person is one of the exciting
parts of home shopping.

Thanks for stopping by my site at www.HelpShop.com. I hope my
questions put you on the right track for your home search.

In the meantime, I realize you are currently in the information
gathering stage, and may not be ready to “open up” about who you are,
or what your needs are at this time. Be assured this is perfectly
okay, and that Maggie and I will completely respect your online
privacy.

Also, keep in mind that my ability to help you is dependent upon
understanding your particular needs and wants with respect to finding
a home. So when you are ready to explore your real estate needs
further, I will be happy to assist you.

Have a great day, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Peter

Peter Baumbach, Realtor
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.
Graduate Realtor Institute
peter@helpshop.com
www.HelpShop.com
410-317-7662 (Direct)
410-795-9600 (General Office Line)

Take the next step and send me an email.

Photo credit, Jelene Morris.

How To Challenge Your Maryland Property Tax Assessment

March 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

US Supreme Court

When property values were rising, local governments were loving the new higher property tax assessments that went along with that. Existing homeowners were protected from quickly rising tax bills by the Maryland Homestead Tax Credit. But, new homeowners aren’t immediately protected by the Homestead Tax Credit. Still, at least they know in advance how high their tax bill might be. Now that most homeowners have had their property values decline with the housing market and slow economy, assessments will lag behind. Maryland assesses property values every three years. So two thirds of the homes will not be looked at this year. For that one third it remains to be seen if assessments will drop. In the end the responsibility falls to each homeowner to make sure their assessment is fair.

So, how do I challenge my assessment? Property assessments are supposed to reflect property values in a theoretical arms length transaction. This means if a neighborhood house was foreclosed on, or sold to a family member, the transaction value does not impact assessments. If we have enough of these transactions, as we do in some neighborhoods, then regular sales values are affected. These regular sales can then be relied on as evidence of reduced assessment values. You can look up sold prices at the Maryland SDAT property tax search, or you can ask a Realtor for a report on recent solds. If you promise me you will spread the word to family and friends about the HelpShop.com website and homes search, I’ll make you a report of the last 50 homes that sold within a circle around your home.

Read through the American Homeowners Association “Property Tax Reduction Kit“. This document is a good general guide to how to approach an appeal. It is not Maryland specific however. Next you might want to look over the Maryland Assessment Procedures Manual. Also, you may want to take a look at the updates. And SDAT has written a guide to the appeal process. For more background, here is an example worksheet for calculating the property assessment on a particular house. Everyone can order a copy of the worksheet for their house. If you are appealing then you have the right to order the worksheet for anyone’s house. Everyone is to be treated equally under the assessment process. You can use other peoples worksheets as a guide to how yours should be done. Each worksheet costs one dollar.

Armed with any factual discrepancies on your house, worksheets of similar houses, and sold prices in your neighborhood, you have a reasonable chance of reducing your assessment at an appeal. The first level of the appeals process is with the person that assessed your property in the first place. If you have an unfinished basement, but the tax records say it was finished, with proof, you will win this battle. Another avenue of attack is condition. The assessor has leeway to say the condition is less than 100 percent. This can translate into a percentage reduction in that portion of the value. The rest of your appeal will be more difficult. Your home has been categorized into very specific categories. If a neighbors home is a different style, then the assessor might not take it as evidence of inequity of treatment. If you can, get worksheets for homes styled like yours. The assessor will argue that you are protected by the Homestead Tax Credit, so you need not worry that the assessment seems high to you. Don’t let them get away with that. You could argue right back that since your tax is limited by the Credit, they might as well lower the assessment. A lower assessment could make it easier to sell your house, since the new owner will be taxed at the assessed value.

The next level of appeal is more formal than the first. Still, there are no fees, and you don’t need a lawyer. You can represent yourself. This appeal is before your county Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board. This is composed of three local residents appointed by the Governor. Be sure to request in writing at least 15 days before your hearing, a list of the comparable properties that will be used by the assessment office before the Board. Read over the rules for the board.

If you are still not satisfied with your ruling, you can appeal to the Maryland Tax Court. This too is made up of people appointed by the Governor. It is an administrative court under the Executive branch of government. It is still informal, but a lawyer might be wanted at this hearing. For any level in the appeals process, you might find it instructive to read some of the past rulings of the Maryland Tax Court.

Now that you have gone through channels, and used up your remedies within the Executive branch of government, your next option is to try appealing through the Judiciary court system. Another option, which a friend of mine succeeded with, is to petition the Legislative branch of government for a change of the law. This is another story, but in his case, the law did change…but this only benefits the rest of us. His case was still correct under the old law.

I am not a lawyer. I am only reporting my limited knowledge of the assessment and appeals process. If you have gone through this, or have any tips, please comment below.

Photo credit, dbking.

2009 Maryland Home and Garden Show, Friday Saturday and Sunday

March 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Quick

Garden Flowers

The 2009 Maryland Home and Garden Show is going on right now at Timonium fairgrounds. The theme this year is “The Joy of Color”. The show this year runs for the following dates: March 6th through March 8th and again the next weekend March 13th through March 15th. There is the Maryland Spring Craft show that runs simultaneously. The show opens at 10am each day and closes at 9pm on Friday and Saturdays and at 6pm on Sundays. The craft show closes an hour earlier than the garden show. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $3 for children ages 6-12, free for children under 6. Free Admission for Active Military, Police & Fire Employees with ID. Pizza Hut has some $1 off coupons.

Hhere is a link to a dollar off coupon: http://www.mdhomeandgarden.com/0_HG/01_HG_coupon.html

Here is the link to the show: http://www.mdhomeandgarden.com/0_HG/01_HG_show_info.html

I always enjoy a visit there, you can usually pick up some interesting primrose pots and some forsythia and pussy willow branches to force and bring spring inside a little early. I still have some Quick n Brite cleaners from a couple of years ago, it’s good stuff, and the home and garden show seems to be the only place to find the kind of mops with the rubber head, great for dust bunnies.

Photo credit, Brian Snelson.

How to monitor your website or blog status

February 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Quick

Comments Off

Google Uptime
I am proud of my website, but I can’t check that it is working around the clock, without a service to monitor it for me. There are many choices, but for now, I am using mon.itor.us. They offer a free service that anyone can use.

It is pretty simple. The basic steps are:

  1. Open an account
  2. Create an email contact
  3. Create an IM or SMS contact
  4. Create a test for your website address
  5. Verify that everything is working

My website status is now being checked automatically. When things go wrong, I am notified, so I can do something about it. If you ever notice a problem with my site, please email me or call me about it. Computers are helpful, but there is nothing better than people for knowing what is important. If you have a blog or website, sign up with mon.itor.us, it’s free and gives you insight into your visitor’s experience.