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Baltimore Humane Society has a dog walk hike event every Wednesday

September 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Quick

I'm Emily. Adopt me at the Baltimore Humane Society.

I'm Emily. Adopt me at the Baltimore Humane Society.

Every Wednesday, the Baltimore Humane Society hosts a hike. The animal shelter is fortunate to have a beautiful property with many acres in Baltimore County off of Nicodemus Road. The hike is longer during the summer months, but you do get a nice tour of the grounds. The clever part, is on the hike you are provided with a dog for a walk. If you have your own dog, you can bring him instead. Maggie and I went today. We were given dogs that know each other, so we could walk together. Otherwise, you are asked to keep five feet or so away from other dogs. I ended up practicing my calm assertive energy that I learned about on the Dog Whisperer TV show, and walked Suzanne. Suzanne is a cute adult Jack Russell Terrier. I think she enjoyed the walk.

Before you start, there is a registration form for first timers. While waiting for everyone to sign up, and the event to begin, Maggie and I visited the cat shelter. The cats aren’t taken on walks, and miss out on this great advertising. Many dogs end up getting adopted from these walks. The event itself is not that large. I make it sound huge, but there was about 20 people. Our former vet is now the Humane Society vet, and she was telling us that the dogs are quickly adopted. The cats however are at capacity. Maggie and I can tell you that we saw many cute kitties we would like to take home. We do however already have six of our own. Giles is our alpha cat, and we would have to get his permission first.

Whether you prefer dogs, cats, or both, there is something great about sharing a home with pets. Unfortunately renters are faced with the extra difficulty of finding a home that accepts pets. Many pets end up in the shelters because someone wasn’t allowed to keep them in their home. As Realtors, a common request is to help someone find a suitable rental that will accept a dog. Certain breeds make it extra difficult to get approved. We will gladly try and find you a place. However, when you own your own home, you get to decide who is family. It is one of the great empowering parts of the American Dream. Your own home with your loving family that includes pets. We will gladly help you with that too.

Find out about the hike at

Find out the story of the stray cats and dogs, with pictures, at and

How to know more about security deposits than most Maryland landlords

April 28, 2009 by  
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Fells Point Door KnockerMaryland law has strong tenant protections, while also giving rights to the owner. As a landlord or tenant, knowing the law will reduce conflict and worry. The law sets down the rights and responsibilities of all parties. Following the rules makes everything easier. When people are treated fairly, and there are rules that set the ground rules of what is fair, there will be less misunderstanding and hard feelings. If you don’t know the rules, it is easy to break them. Breaking these simple rules can be costly.

This excerpt from should show you why visiting their site is a good idea: “The total amount of the security deposit may not be more than two month’s rent or $50; whichever is greater. If the tenant is charged more, s/he may recover from the landlord up to three times the excess amount and reasonable attorney’s fees. The tenant may demand refund of this excess at anytime while s/he lives in the rental property or within 2 years after s/he moves away.” Also keep in mind that “Any rent that is paid in advance is considered part of the security deposit and is subject to all the restrictions”.

The Washington Post also explains: “After the day your tenancy ends, your landlord has 45 days to return your deposit (plus interest), minus any costs incurred to repair damages.”

The Maryland State Law Library has details on the law written in plain language. It covers the security deposit topic, and many other topics of landlord – tenant law.

This information is not legal advice. For application of the law to your individual circumstances, you should consult an attorney. The information quoted here can and should also be verified by visiting Maryland State Law Library Sources of Maryland Law.

Top 10 Reasons Rich People Own Real Estate

March 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured


  1. Rent vs Buy : You are building equity. A 30 year mortgage means at the end of 30 years you have paid off the loan. The house is all yours. If you had a fixed rate mortgage, then that was 30 years without a rent increase. If you were renting, then you paid off your landlords mortgage, and your rents went up year after year.
  2. Value Appreciation : In the short term, we have seen prices drop. In the Maryland area, the price drops have been relatively mild. Prices have dropped the equivalent of going back four or five years. Looking back ten years prices are still double now than what they were then. There is the cost of ongoing maintenance, but a maintained home 30 years from now is likely to have quite a bit of value. Where are all those people that have decided not to buy going to live? They all have to rent from someone.
  3. Leverage : From three and a half percent down with an FHA mortgage to the classic 20% down of the no mortgage insurance conventional loan, you are controlling the full value of an asset by paying only part of the cost up front. A dollar invested in a 20% down mortgage means one percent value appreciation translates to 5% return on your dollar. That is five times the gain. This is a two edge sword, as the value can drop too. But, in the long term the increases have been greater than the drops. Of course the down payment is just the start, you have to make ongoing mortgage payments. The alternative however has you making ongoing rent payments. The scenarios where your rent payments are substantially lower usually means apartment living, or are a temporary situation that can’t be counted on for the long term. So your ongoing housing payments are part of your budget one way or another. Investors see leverage as a way to pyramid into more rental property owned than they could buy with cash. With 20% down it might seem like the investor can buy 5 properties, but since the tenants are paying a substantial part of the mortgage, a much higher ratio is possible.
  4. Forced Savings : Financial planners tell us that a necessary ingredient to building a nest egg for the future, is to pay yourself first. Putting money aside for savings should be a budget item like food. Yet, the reality is that much of us don’t follow the advice. Budgets stretch thin, and savings is the first to go. Well, every payment to your mortgage includes a bit of principal. In early payments most of what you pay is interest, but by the last payment, most of what you pay is principal. The principal payments are what lower your loan balance and increase your equity balance in your home. Home owners without any financial discipline still are managing to save through their mortgage payment.
  5. Better Interest : Interest rates on fixed rate mortgages are at historical lows not seen since the 1960’s. Still, interest paid on your savings account is much lower than the mortgage rates. The reward for putting money into your savings account is pretty slim compared to under your mattress. Putting extra money into your mortgage payment for most mortgages is a payment towards your principal. One hundred dollars extra is one hundred less dollars owed on your mortgage. If you have a 6% interest rate, that is like getting 6% on your hundred dollars. And you don’t have to pay income tax on your “earned” interest, so the compounding effect on your savings is not diminished. On my first home, I was paying 10.25% interest. But, I figured out that adding $100 to a particular payment, meant a bit more than two payments that I would not have to make at the end of the loan. My mortgage payment was about $900, so I saw that has $100 paid now is $1800 I won’t have to pay later. That is a pretty good return on $100 and was pretty motivating. My pay myself first plan was given a healthy boost with this. The power of this is strongest at the beginning of your loan, since most of your payment is interest. As time goes on, more and more of your payment is principal. But, when those times come, the new motivation is watching the loan balance drop substantially with each payment. Realizing how much of your payment is not lost, but just stored as equity is a great feeling.
  6. Control : Do you have money invested in GM, but wish the company had invested in making more fuel efficient cars? Maybe you own stock in Starbucks, but wish they didn’t open so many stores so near each other. Stocks as an investment means putting your faith in the current and future decision making of other people. The value of your home is not completely in your control, but you do have substantial control. You can take an ugly duckling of a house, and give it some tender loving care, and transform it into something magic. Many times these changes don’t have to be that expensive in the scheme of things. You really get to see the value of your house when you try to sell it. Fresh paint, with Martha Stewart colors will get your home noticed. So many homes are filled with clutter when they are for sale, that if you stick stuff in storage, your home will compare nicely. You can add gingerbread and moldings to upscale a house. You can add insulation and reduce your heating bills. There are so many ideas for increasing the value of a house, that I will stop here and make that a future blog post. The best part, is you can make the improvements now, and you too get the benefits of enjoyment. That is powerful motivation.
  7. Wide Market : Everyone needs a place to live. That means we are all potential home owners. Even gold isn’t all that interesting as a practical object to that many people. When you want to sell, you benefit from the wide utility of real estate. Aside from the home owner market, there is the investor market. Many investors see the value of owning multiple rental properties. You can rent your property outright, or if money was tight, you could rent out a room, or storage in the garage. Thirty years from now people will likely still be living in homes.
  8. Financial Cushion : Life is not predictable, and sometimes times get tough. The equity built up in your home is real money. There are plenty of mortgage products that will let you borrow against the equity to get access to the money without selling. For retirees there is even something called the reverse mortgage. This can allow someone to get ongoing payments from their equity into the retirement years. But, if you have to, you can sell the house. The Realtor professional is there to help you in this transaction. Many people have been thankful for the financial safety net they built by owning their own home.
  9. Liquidity : Real estate is widely criticized for lack of liquidity. But what is the story? A market valuation of real estate makes some assumptions. Comparable homes that have sold are used as a guide to establishing value on a house that has not yet sold. These sold homes were on the market for a number of days before a buyer found them and bought them. The estimated value assumes you are going to have this house on the market for about the same amount of time. Liquidity implies converting to cash in a short amount of time. A house is not your best choice to park short term funds. But, if maximizing value is less important than ready cash, you can sell a house in a surprisingly short amount of time. Even in slow markets, homes are selling. If you price your home low enough, then you are cutting in line so that your home is the one likely to sell next. Another option is to auction your home. This can be with a reserve price, or without one. And, as we discussed earlier, there are loan products for getting money out of a home.
  10. Tax Savings : Rent is 100% your money spent. Mortgage interest on your first and second home is deductible on your taxes. The Government is subsidizing home ownership through tax policy. To get this benefit you will have to itemize your deductions. The points you paid for your mortgage are deductible. The local property taxes are deductible. And, now that you are itemizing, ask your tax preparer what other itemizing deductions are possible. When it comes time to sell, if you have substantial gains in the value of your house, you will be delighted to know that under common circumstances you will owe no taxes on the gain. The small print is you must live in the home as your principal residence in at least two of the last five years. Single payers can shelter $250,000 and married couples can shelter $500,000. If you moved every two years, you could get this benefit every two years. Also, every dollar spent on improvements raises your basis and is tax free when you sell for any real estate. If you are an investor, you can sell one property and defer the gains into a replacement property with a 1031 exchange. This is powerful but technical, so seek competent advice. The investor also gets to depreciate the value of the house over time. Depreciation allows the rent payments to go substantially toward mortgage payments without having to pay income taxes with the money first. Claiming depreciation lowers your basis and thus increases your taxes when you sell. Taxes were just deferred. If you convert your rental into your primary residence, say in retirement, then you can shelter some of these gains with the same $250k/$500k benefit I mentioned above. That has its limits. Consult a competent tax adviser for all these items. Tax policy has changed many times over the years, but home ownership has been politically popular for a while.

I created to be a tool for home buyers and sellers, investors and resident owners. With it, you can zero in on the hidden deals and the best homes on the market. HelpShop search let’s you really understand the market. Jump right in and try the search, or first watch some video tutorials that give a small taste of what the search can do. I will continue to add to the site, including more tutorials. If there is something you would like to see, give me some feedback.

When you are ready to see some houses in person, we will be happy to schedule the showings. My wife Maggie and I are low pressure Realtors. We are here to help you reach your goals. When you need us, send us a note, or give us a call.
Click Here for Tutorial

Photo credit, Andrew Magill

How to find your next rental

February 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Quick

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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)