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“Temporarily Unavailable” is such a sad phrase

April 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Quick

Temporarily Unavailable House

Update #2 4-17-09 12:38am: Everything should be working again. Thank you for your patience. There was a server crash. Now Amazon S3 is being used to host the listing photos.

One of my clients provided a good tip. Even though the photos were missing before, many listings have a virtual tour. The virtual tour photos were working all along. Also, even though some listings don’t have any photos provided by the listing agent, that house may have been listed before. Ask us to search prior listings for photos, and other descriptions. We will be happy to provide that for you.

Update #1 4-16-09 2:52pm: RSS feeds now work. Photos will be working late tonight.

The HelpShop website is being repaired. Currently anything to do with search is missing photographs. The new-listings and special-searches categories also do not have working images. The search RSS feeds are broken.

A real estate search website without images is a sad spectacle. I am a strong believer in the power of photographs to market a house. I am also a big proponent of empowering the home shopper to find their dream home with great tools. Well today I have failed you. At least it is only temporary. But for many real estate websites and many home listings, the crippled presentation and search is real. Those websites and listings don’t believe in the internet. They make searching hard, and too many listings have poor if any photographs.

If you like what I am trying to build here, you can encourage me. Help me spread the word of the search engine. Tell your friends about it when they say they are thinking about buying a house. Save bookmarks to it on and other bookmark sites. Blog about it. Twitter about it. But not today. It looks so sad today.

My internal tools have photos and strong searching ability. And they still work even now. You are always welcome to ask me for any listing to be emailed to you. That will include photos. You can request custom searches, and those results will be sent to you. I can even have those searches automatically continue to email you if something new comes up. Also, I can search in ways that unfortunately cannot provide just yet, even when it works. I can search based on strange shaped regions. This way you can find only houses that are north of a diagonal road, or just inside the beltway for instance. I can search based on words in the description. This way you can find homes that promote their in-law suite for example. I can search on property status. With this I can show you sold and expired listings. We know how much the seller paid for his house. And we can find sellers that have a great house to sell that was priced too high, and nobody is looking at them anymore. They let their listing expire. You can make their only offer. So even once HelpShop is happy and working again, I can still provide custom searching for you. And of course when we run searches for you, we look them over too. We have a lot of experience finding great houses for our clients.

To Sell A Home For The Most Money, You Need Great Photographs

April 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Quick

Don’t you like it when listings have many photographs? Isn’t it better when the photographs look good? Taking photographs for my listings and my blog is a source of pride. Most every home for sale has been looked at by prospective buyers online before they decide if they want to see it or not. To stand out in the current crowd of listings, make sure the photographs are done well.

Maryland Photography

In Maryland, the multiple list system (MRIS), now has room for thirty photos. It used to be limited to twenty photos, and the agent had to pay $12 to get that many. If the agent didn’t pay, MRIS limited you to six photos. MRIS was right to decide to encourage more photos. The whole system is more valuable because of it. Still it is very common to find listings that don’t even have one photo. Apparently not every Realtor shares my view that photography is essential to marketing a home.

If you want to list your house and get it promoted well with beautiful photographs, then give us a call.

If you are already listed with another agent, and if your home doesn’t sell, then once your listing expires, you might want to consider a different approach.

Real Estate Descriptions Decoder Ring

March 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Quick


Reading property descriptions can be confusing even for Realtors. The space allotted for the description is shorter than what we might have to say to glowingly talk about the home. So we shorten words, and create acronyms. There is no standard; we are free to invent as we choose. And in doing so, we make it hard for our target market to understand what we are saying. Over time, some of these abbreviations have become common. Others are never to be seen again. Here is the beginning of a dictionary to define these terms. If you see any new nonsense words that should be added to the list, or you would like to know what something means, then please send it to me, and I will define it for you.

  • EOG – End of Group. Usually a townhouse.
  • w/ – With. Saves space in the writeup.
  • LR – Living Room
  • DR – Dining Room
  • W/D – Washer and Dryer
  • LG – Large
  • SEP – Separate
  • MOD – Modern
  • APP – Appliances or Application
  • Appl – Appliances
  • INCL – Included
  • FPL – Fire Place
  • FP – Fire Place
  • f/p – Fire Place
  • CL – Closet
  • HOA – Home Owners Association
  • DBL – Double
  • MBR – Master Bedroom
  • MBA – Master Bedroom’s Bath
  • MBD – Master Bedroom
  • FMBA – Full Master Bedroom Bath
  • ATT – Attached
  • GAR – Garage
  • Avail – Available
  • FF – Fully Finished
  • Kit – Kitchen
  • Ex – Excluded
  • Dist – Distance
  • LL – Lower Level
  • L/L – Lower Level
  • w/o – Without
  • BR – Bedroom
  • SF – Single Family
  • TH – Townhome, Townhouse
  • EZ – Easy
  • BA – Bath
  • POSS – Possible
  • FLR – Floor
  • RM – Room
  • FB – Full Bath
  • HB – Half Bath
  • sqft – Square Foot
  • Sq. Ft. – Square Foot
  • SF – Square foot
  • Hdwd – Hardwood
  • Cath – Cathedral
  • FR – Family Room
  • Fin – Finished
  • K – Thousand Dollars
  • P/ – Per
  • Fin – Finished
  • Bsmt – Basement
  • CAC – Central Air Conditioning
  • HWH – Hot Water Heater
  • REO – Real Estate Owned which means Bank Owned
  • A/C – Air Conditioning
  • yrs – Years
  • Fam – Family
  • Opt. – Optional
  • isl – Island
  • bkfst – Breakfast
  • TLC – Tender Loving Care
  • Settle co. – Settlemant/Title Company
  • Tot Fin SF – Total Finished Square Feet
  • Lot AC/SF – Lot Acres and Square Feet
  • HOA/C/C – Home Owners Association or Condo or Coop

Photo credit, Daniel Lobo (modified).

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 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.

How to find your next rental

February 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Quick

Comments Off on How to find your next rental

For Rent

You want to find a great new place to rent. So what can you do to make that happen?

Did you know you can have a Realtor represent you and help you with this process, and the landlord pays us? We are free to you the tenant but we are worth much more!

Here is the basic process:

Search Click Here

  1. Find the house, townhouse, condo, or apartment you wish to rent
    • With our industry leading interactive map based search, you can browse the listings on a map. Drag the map to see available rental listings in any direction. Change the search criteria to limit price/rent, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, detached home or condo or etc., and even search by things like days on market. No zip codes are required which greatly simplifies the search.
    • If you wish to take advantage of our expertise and skill, we can help you with the search or you can sit back while we send you listings. 
      • Just tell me what type of property you are looking for and in which areas. 
      • Do you have pets?
      • What length lease are you looking for? 
      • Do you desire rent to own? 
      • Next, I’ll send some listings for you to look over.
      • Ask us how you can still buy a house with zero percent down!
    • Once you have chosen or found some homes you would like to see, just tell me which ones you wish to see in person, and we go and see them together.
    • Now you narrow your choice to one, or we continue the search until you choose a suitable home.
  2. Get Approved
    • You fill out the application and give me certified funds for the application processing fee.
    • I deliver the application and fee to the landlords’s agent who then processes the application, runs credit report, researches your information.
    • The landlord’s agent then will contact me if they need additional information.
    • The landlords agent presents your information to the landlord/owner and then the landlord makes a decision to approve your application or not.
    • If approved, I will prepare the lease according to the landlord’s instructions.
    • Approved: We will then meet to sign the lease, you will provide certified funds for the first month’s rent, and I will deliver these items to the landlord’s agent. The landlord will review and sign the lease. Then prior to you the tenant taking possession the security deposit will be provided by you to the landlord (most likely in certified funds) and then the landlord will give you keys to the house.
    • Not approved: If not approved we will find out why and then we will decide what strategy we might need or what to change to get approved for the next house. Credit issues are common with renters, and many times things go through fine. But a solid housing rental or mortgage history is the most important part of your credit. If you had problems here, then we need to present the story or reasons that might convince a landlord that things are different now. The landlord usually has a mortgage to pay, and they need to be convinced that approving your lease is not risky. If you have the income, ask us how to get private cosigning insurance.
    • Application approval process usually takes 2-5 days for all the verification steps.
  3. Sign the lease and move in!
    • Lease preparation can be completed the same day as the approval, schedules permitting.
    • Exchanging keys and funds can also be completed in the same day as the lease preparation as long as all parties are available.

Sometimes I can help to save some time and fees if the landlord’s agent will accept a credit report run by my mortgage person. That is also a good way for us to review ahead of time if there are any credit issues that might present a problem and to work to resolving and explaining the issues. As early as possible in your search, you should provide us a Long & Foster Rental Application (no fee until we are ready to submit this for a particular application), and fax us your written permission to pull your credit report (ask for the form). Fax all documents to me at fax# (410)741-3601.

Photo credit, Shawn Zehnder Lea. (Modified)

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