A few tips to ensure your house isn’t broken into when your away at Dollywood – or the grocery store.

burglarI thought I’d step a bit out of my Real Estate advice “lane” today (since I’ve already been swerving all over the road on this blog anyway), and suggest a few things I recently learned, that could greatly improve the safety of your home and belongings.

What inspired these tidbits of advice, was a presentation by the STATEWIDE Crime Prevention Task Force (cue the Dragnet music) to a business group I’m part of.  While I had been content in the bliss of not having been recently assaulted, robbed or otherwise violated, I did know there were probably many out there who had not been so lucky, so here you go…

Let’s talk about your SLIDING GLASS DOORS.  Most realtors have seen every contraption known to man to block access to burglars through sliding glass doors – the metal pin through the top, the plastic flippy thing you don’t see right away (which inspires a string of expletives, before you figure out why the door won’t open),  the metal clamp locks (that mostly just annoy realtors, when they’re trying to show the house), bedroom sliding glass doorsthen there’s the ever popular fallback, the sawed-off broom handle on the track! I hate to tell you, but none of these will do much good if a bad guy is really trying to get in, because all they have to do is lift the doors off their tracks and voila’.

So, what’s a homeowner to do? According to the CPTF, the most effective protection is a “sliding loop lock,” available for about $5 at a variety of hardware stores (Don’t you love a simple solution!) That oloop lockr a 120-pound Rottweiler, will give you plenty of peace of mind, (although a cheaper idea to buying palettes of Purina is just to get a “Beware of Dog” sign, for about $1. – and, according to convict survey, is just as effective a deterrent, presuming you don’t post a picture of your teacup Yorkie, Snuffles, on the sign (I shouldn’t have to tell you this). yorkie

If you have a garage (that you can, actually get a car into) one of the favorite scenarios for that burglar, is to break into your garage, park, then have a leisurely time emptying out your house – maybe even have a few cookies and a little milk before he leaves, ‘cause, what the heck, you posted all those pictures of yourself skiing in Colorado, on FACEBOOK, and told everyone you’d be away until the 19th. Wahoo! skier

So, what’s the tip on the garage?  You know that little rope in the middle with the handle (or bar) that hangs down if your power goes out so you can still open the door?  Take a plastic zip tie and thread it through the release on the garage door.   That way they can’t hook it with a hangar and pull it open, but you could still pull it open from the inside and release it in an emergency – easy, yes?

Many more protection tips await you, if you attend the full presentation! Exciting crimes to help you avoid, such as purse snatching, identity theft, and hotel break-ins! So, check out the seminar, given by Brian MacNeel and Protech Safety and Security Equip., Inc. I highly recommend it – very informative, and very funny! (would I recommend it if it wasn’t?)

Statewide’s number to book a seminar with Brian is 352-777-2152.



Just who is the “Bird Whisperer?”

parrot on toyI will be the first to admit that when I hung up the phone and readied myself for the journey out to Zaksee bird sanctuary I WAS NOT THINKING!  No, I was simply going to check out “Magic” the bird whisperer, and his beautiful Macaws and Cockatoos, for our event in the park. His story intrigued me and, being an animal lover, I thought his sanctuary might be something we could support and that would also provide some “spokes-birds” for our event.

Let me just say, for those of you that might be coorange and green parrotnsidering checking out this Sanctuary, that high heels and sleeveless tops are inappropriate attire, if you don’t want to permanently plant yourself in the jungle or be carried away by mosquitos the size of parakeets, not to mention that a little cotton or a pair of good old ear plugs would be helpful.

For those of you who have not made the acquaintance of many parrots, I will tell you, they can be LOUD, sometimes bite, and tend to not be very good housekeepers, which reasons are probably what started this whole thing to begin with.

Now, parrots are beautiful smart birds, to be sure and some people are great bird parents but we’ve all known someone who, at one time or another, owned a parrot, then, when it cramped their style, had to give it up. But many of these birds can live to be 50 years or older, so where do they go when they’re not welcome in their adopted home anymore, when even Jimmy Buffet fans can’t be reached? A few of the lucky ones have come to Zaksee bird Sanctuary, the Florida equivalent of foster care for the parrot set, where they are welcomed and provided for by owner “Magic” Esmaeili.

The problem is, the sanctuary already has about 200 birds and turns away about 10 a day. Now math never was a strong suit of mine but that’s over 3600 birds out there


Empty cages of Birds left at the sanctuary

circling the block, looking for a new home. Can you say Polly wants a room?

Starting to see the problem?  Yes, this is why Magic, started this sanctuary, named after one of his first Macaws, and why he has the goal to educate the public on the downside of parrot ownership — before Grandma buys that lovely African Grey for her 10-year-old grand-daughter who will probably lose interest within the week.  The sanctuary         also needs more cages and an adoption program that will place the birds in long term homes with people who understand what duties will be required of parrot ownership.

You’ll see the caring for these animals is genuine and it’s very apparent when “Magic” bursts into a duet of “pretty bird” with one of his charges, that this is his passion. So, if you believe that responsible stewardship of these beautiful birds is something you’d like to support, give him a call. Your time would be welcome, so would your donations.  But if you go, wear your sneakers and don’t skimp on the bug spray – mosquitos are not an endangered species!

The One Box You Don’t Want to Open…

gift box blue

There are many wonderful goodies that come in boxes, to name a few:  chocolates (especially chocolate covered cherries), smoked paprika, new computers, anything from Nordstroms – stop me if I break into a version of “my favorite things, but there is one thing you don’t want in the box, and that’s a hurricane!

Say what?hurricane

Those of you up north may have no idea what I’m talking about, but if you’ve lived in or even visited Florida from June through Nov., you may have heard about the infamous “box,” that box which will not allow you to close on your closing date if you have not bound your insurance.

Alright, just where is this box? you ask.

Well, it’s sort of a metaphorical box, rather than a geographical one, but for argument sake, let’s just say it’s somewhere in the Bermuda triangle – sounds more exciting that way, doesn’t it!

Anyway, if there is a hurricane “in that box” (which is just some insurance algorithm determining the location of the storm and its proximity to your property divided by the square root of time minus the price of a one minute advertising spot on the food channel) algorithmthen you will not be able to bind your insurance and you will not be able to close! (unless, or course, you’re paying cash).

The only silver lining I can see here is that, if the house is blown down, you still won’t own it – my apologies to sellers.

So, what’s the moral of the story? Bind your insurance early – as soon as you get that loan approved, and let’s all “think outside the box.”

Ps. Make sure you get a good insurance agent, one who knows when you want to close, one that will watch when a storm is approaching to make sure you don’t miss your window of opportunity. For suggestions, call us.

What would you do with another room?

A little cramped? …… Been dreaming about more space?

Now may be the perfect time to move! 

Certainly, one of the more popular reasons people want a larger home is for the coveted “extra room,” either to accommodate additional children, additional stuff, or for that “special” activity they always wanted to pursue, but never had the room to do so (pun intended). I thought it would be interesting to do a little survey so I asked a number of you what you would do with an additional room. Here’s what you said:

Apparently, there are a few of you out there with a LOT of shoes, clothes and accessories, because the subject of storage/closet came up more than once – even got a vote for a “Big A__” pantry.  There were also, notably, a few that REALLY, REALLY, liked cats, and a few entrepreneurial types that mentioned AirB and B, but, by far, the vast majority of you would use your extra room for your creative pursuits — writing, painting, dancing, music, skeet shooting (?????????), etc. One friend even mentioned a sound- proof “prayer room,” which, I don’t know about you but, I’ve never needed sound-proofing when I prayed. Of course, when I read further on her wish list, I realized that she also wanted to practice the bagpipes –  makes sense now, doesn’t it!  Not sure it was her or a family member that wanted the sound proofing, but either way…

All are perfectly legitimate reasons for another room and more space but while the reasons may vary from person to person, the fact, that now is a great time to take advantage of summer months to move, does not.

Contrary to what some may suspect, all indications are that we are NOT in a housing bubble, like we were before the big crash.  People who are buying homes now are actually qualified to purchase (and more importantly, “to pay off”) their homes.

Even though prices have gone up lately, we are still nowhere near the highs of 2005 and 2006. Plus average annual new housing starts at the beginning of this quarter were not only WELL below 2005-2006 figures but also below new housing starts going as far back as 1980 (when interest rates were like basketball scores.) which leads us to the next big plus – Interest rates — still crazy low – I’m talking hockey or soccer score low – especially when you figure they were about four times what they are now back in the 80s. 

Anyway, if you’ve dreamed of another room or just more space in a different place, call us. We’ll give you the scoop on what you can get for your current home and lay out a plan of action for finding you just the right place, with room for all your shoes, paintbrushes, ballet bars, and bagpipes – and maybe even a cat or two.

Know Anyone That wants To Buy A House With No Money?


home_6Got your attention with that one, didn’t I!  Well, it’s not quite as simple as “Have no money, Get a house.”  But there’s definitely help for many first-time home buyers who qualify right now.

Florida, the state that brought you alligators, retirement communities and humidity (I can say that, I’m a Floridian), is now offering an AMAZING down-payment assistance program for first time home buyers. Right now, in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties you can receive up to $15,000. to go toward your down-payment and closing costs on the purchase of a new home (or a used one, for that matter) Pasco you can get up to $7,500  (what’s up with that, Pasco?)alligator with golf club

So bring out those kids that need to get out of your spare bedroom, and anyone else looking to purchase their first home.

Now, there are a few requirements, as you can imagine.  The would-be buyer must have a credit score of at least 640 also, as an individual, you can’t make more than $70K a year or as a family $80K a year.  Remember when you couldn’t make $40K or more? No, me neither… ahem, but it wasn’t that long ago!

And what does first time home buyer mean? We’ll, I’ll tell you. It doesn’t mean FIRST TIME HOME BUYER! This is why I write these blogs, folks, because it’s a jungle of deception out there.  No, first time home buyer actually means anyone who hasn’t owned a home in 3 years.  That’s it, just 3 years.  Doesn’t matter if you’ve owned 19 homes over the course of your lifetime.  As long as you haven’t owned in the last 3 years, you’re good!

So call us, we know many wonderful lenders just looking to facilitate a loan for friends and love-ones. And we know a couple of great realtors that would love to find you the perfect home. (No, not your friend’s cousin Marvin).

Help! I think I need to sell short. Do I need a lawyer?


Before I launch into this  post I want to make it clear that this does not imply, suggest, offer, hint at, or insinuate legal advice, nor should you assume, deduce or presuppose the same!  Also, my purpose here is not to malign the legal profession (actually, they’ve done a pretty good job of that on their own) but to suggest from our experience that you consider using a title company to facilitate your short sale instead of a lawyer.

Now, before Lady Justice smites me with her sword and my lawyer friends start writing me poison pen letters, please let me explain…

the inspiration for this post came from a recent lady-justice-freeclient of ours who hired a law firm, before hiring us, to do their short sale.
The upshot of this regrettable action was that the lawyer (I think we went through two or three at the firm) never returned our calls, often did not return the sellers calls and, as a result, we lost 3 potential buyers and months of time and it’s still unresolved due to no communication– not to mention the expense to the seller.

I decided to dig into this a little further and I’m sharing this info with you so hopefully you won’t make the same mistakes.

When a person is under water on their home (talking financially here), has fallen behind sandbags-protecting-against-flood-waterand can’t keep up with their mortgage payments and/or has to move and is unable to sell their home for the amount owed, a short sale may be a good option.  Sometimes, unfortunately, if a seller is behind by many months and receives a lis pendens on their property, they may panic and call the first lawyer available, concerned that their house could quickly be taken from them, or that the wrath of their mortgage company could result in the death and destruction all life and the universe as we know it – not saying it’s rational – just natural!

There is something you should know, however, about Florida, #1 All foreclosures in the State of Florida must go through the court system.  #2 In MOST cases the deficiency judgement (the difference between the mortgage balance owed by the seller and the amount realized through the sale of the property) is waived.

As far as #1, this means that no one can just snatch your home when you are not looking – even though you may be behind.  man-with-clock-head-freeIn almost all cases, should a lis pendens be filed, you should have time to respond and to sell your property, if that is your best option.  If you’ve waited til the zero hour, even then the short sale facilitator can often negotiate more time by letting them know that there is a viable offer on the property.

As far as #2, in most cases the deficiency judgement is waived.  There are a few exceptions for some home equity loans, for instance, or for a Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae loan with a second mortgage, but these are in the minority.  A title company with a savvy negotiator (called facilitator) will know which lending institutions will allow what and work with them to get you the best possible outcome. The short sale process has been taped and most title company facilitators know what they’re doing.

OK, so you’re behind on your payments, now what? Decide what you want to do.  Will selling your home short get you out from under the debt and allow you to move where you need to go?  If so, call a realtor and if they have a good, experienced title company that can “facilitate” the sale I’d go with them.  Or…

If you’re situation is complicated and you simply want to call a lawyer, make sure to ask them who, specifically, in the firm, will be handling your case.  Will they be reachable by phone and call back? Will they make themselves available to review your documents as the sale proceeds through the closing process OR will they file an “affirmative action” (counter to the lis pendens) with the court, thereby making the bank effectively an adversary and making it more difficult for YOU or a representative such as a title company to communicate with the bank?

A short sale facilitator at the title company told me she had come across cases where the lawyer had filed documentation making it impossible for anyone else, other than that lawyer, to advance the short sale, then, when the seller fired the lawyer, they did not withdraw the actions filed through the courts and effectively stretched out the sale of the property for months beyond when it should have closed. So make sure you check this point and affirm that you or a representative will be able to speak with the bank yourself and that that lawyer will withdraw documents from the court should their status with you change.

The last point on this is that most title company services for handling a short sale are free if you are closing with them.  A lawyer will charge a flat fee or monthly.  If they charge monthly, RUN! No really, don’t even go back for your wallet! The longer that sale is dragged out, the more it will cost YOU and the less likely it is to close! piggy-bankEither way you or your potential buyer will need to pay but, speaking from a buyer’s viewpoint, a $1500 charge to the buyer on top of the purchase price of a home and closing costs is not a great incentive!

To sum it up, in Florida we use title companies to close our real estate transactions.  This is what they do all the time, and most of them are really good at it. Some of these title companies are owned by lawyers and that’s great, but a law firm that doesn’t specialize in “closings” is usually not nearly as experienced as a title company and using one can sometimes lead to complications that needn’t be there, or worse slow the sale. So check with a realtor, who will put you in touch with a title company, who can handle the process at no extra charge. Find out if you qualify for any benefit programs if you sell short, (and by all means speak with your accountant beforehand) and then, if you’d still like to speak with a lawyer, follow the above guidelines and you should be all set.

The Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center

The Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center 


One of the Coolest places you’ve driven by but probably never seen…

I’ve been meaning to check it out,”………….  “I think I’ve heard of it but they must have torn it down years ago,”………….”

Safety Harbor has a museum???”

Yes, folks, these are few of the many things you hear from tourists, as well as locals, who haven’t been to the Safety Harbor museum.  Contrary to popular mythology, or lack thereof, it does exit and, you don’t have ttime_portal_by_lyze_creative-d9uuqwmo travel through a hidden time portal to get there.

Nor is it hidden in dark forests of refracted light intentionally avoiding the public.  Actually,  I believe that’s Big Foot.


Anyway, this neat little museum is within walking distance of downtown.  Situated up on a hill (yes, we do have hills around here – just ask the ants) above Bayshore Boulevard, the museum is housed in a charming craftsman style bungalow that’s home to both a permanent local history exhibit and a revolving community art display which features local Artists of all kinds.

When I was in there, they had just set up the display by local Cuban-American artist Ben Cardoso, whose retrospective of life in Cuba spans his memory of five decades – a nostalgic glimpse of the Cuba of bygone days, captured forever on canvas. (sorry, don’t want to sound like an art critic! Please stop me if I try to use phrases like “contemplative palette,” or brush strokes pregnant with meaning….)safety-harbor-museum-inside-3

Anyway, in the museum, you can learn about our local Tocabaga Indians, their culture and art and pick up a cool map of Florida’s Indian heritage (or visit www.trailoffloridasindianheritage.org  for more information on county state and national parks that showcase more than 65 archaeological sites.)

Remember the dioramas you had to make in 3rd grade? (what can I say, I went to a private school) Actually, I’m trying to forget that diorama experience – I think it was Marvin Finklestein that let a large cockroach loose in mine and I was ruined for the rest of that project, but I digress… I mention that as I particularly loved the Tocobaga Diorama at the museum – intriguing in its detail – kids will love it, and no cockroaches!

The museum is also proud to offer an acclaimed children’s summer camp as well as being a popular destination for school field trips and various clubs looking for interesting tours on the area history.  Check out an art class – maybe you’ll be good enough to be a “featured artist”


……. or not!  

Come take advantage of the many adult classes available to our community.   You’ll wonder why you waited so long ……………. even if you don’t become a featured artist!