Dave's Blog

My blogs will feature articles and information relating to all sorts of things real estate related -- from home improvement tips, to landscaping ideas, designing interior spaces, home repair items and local real estate market updates. Feel free to comment on the blogs, or if you'd like me to blog about a certain topic, just let me know.

Aug. 26, 2014

A Color Primer for Home Decorators

HomeYou don't need to be an interior decorator to understand color, or create satisfying personal spaces around your home. Here is some quick inspiration for your next decorating project.

Blue has timeless appeal, the wide range of hues make it a continual favorite for bedrooms and nurseries—and not just for boys. Pale blues in living spaces for grownups are just as appealing.

Yellow is extremely versatile, creating the illusion of light or complementing light-filled rooms. Yellow is accompanied well by other colors found beside it in nature like tangerine, brown, fuchsia, lime green and persimmon.

Green gives visual impact even as a neutral. Bring the outdoors inside and mix greens the same as you would in the garden, adding accents of aqua, pink or even white.

Red is intense and dramatic, a backdrop for strong accessories like silver and porcelain. Always a great choice in dining rooms, accented with charcoal grays, dark chocolates and rich caramels.

Purple shades make for fabulous accent pieces, but work well for bedrooms, too, especially for kids.

Pink doesn't have to be the shade of bubblegum to be useful in living rooms, master bedrooms or girls' rooms. As an accessory, a little pink goes a long way to soften hard edges.

White is a backdrop allowing other colors to stand out, or help showcase collections. White walls draw the eye upward to artwork, or serve as a great wake-up space in the breakfast nook.

Brown creates a cozy cocoon in a bedroom, small living room, library or office. Look to nature to inspire your accent colors: pumpkin, terra-cotta, and saffron, or deep red, green, and turquoise.
Posted in Home remodeling
Aug. 20, 2014

The Truth about the "Rain Tax"

No, Maryland isn't taxing rain.


You undoubtedly have heard the term "rain tax." Fox News started using the term earlier this year.

Local news outlets picked it up. It is a catchy label, but it misrepresents and smears an otherwise 

praiseworthy state initiative.


I think veteran environmental writer Tom Horton best put the "rain tax" in perspective:


"They might as well call quarterly sewer bills 'a bowel movement tax' or paint the food sales tax 

as government intrusion in 'swallowing.' So long as water runs downhill and connects 'your' 

property to 'our' bay, word games won't make the stormwater problem go away."


Basically, the state is asking residents and businesses in its more populated areas to help solve a 

serious problem that largely originates with them: urban polluted runoff.

Of all the water pollution problems we face, urban runoff generally is the least understood, and the 

most expensive to fix. Sure, we've heard that farm manure, fertilizer, and sewage plants pollute the 

Chesapeake Bay. But another major source is the rain that runs off our parking lots, driveways, 

roofs, and other hard surfaces.


Around the Bay region, this source of pollution causes about 16 percent of the excess 

nitrogen in the Bay. But the percent is far higher in many creeks and rivers. The Anne 

Arundel County Department of Public Works, for instance, found in 2010 that 37 percent of 

the nitrogen in the Magothy River comes from urban runoff, not to mention 94 percent of the 

excess phosphorus, and virtually all of the sediment and bacteria pollution.


So it's a major problem, causing real harm. For instance, the state cautions Marylanders 

not to swim in any natural water for 48 hours after a rain storm because of the unhealthy bacteria

carried by runoff. A fresh water stream downstream of Frederick City can be just as polluted by

urban runoff as a beach near Annapolis. A child wading into that stream is just as at risk for bacteria

infection after a storm.


Urban runoff has been a problem for years. But not enough was done to address it. It's actually 

getting worse as development continues to sprawl out to our rural areas, and more 

fields and forests are turned into malls and housing developments. Baltimore City and the state's nine

most populated counties are actually required by federal law to reduce this type of pollution under

Clean Water Act permits. Many have made commendable attempts. But the size of the problem far

exceeds the resources those localities have used to address it. That's in part because the problem

was ignored for so many years.


Enter the Maryland General Assembly in 2012. First, the legislature budgeted tens of millions 

of dollars to help local governments upgrade their stormwater managements systems. But 

lawmakers also decided the local jurisdictions needed to contribute themselves. After all, this is a 

problem that originates in the local areas, and often as the result of local zoning and growth 



So the legislature passed a law saying if you are one of those ten localities in Maryland already 

required by federal law to reduce stormwater, then you must collect some level of fee dedicated only 

to this work.


Call it a state mandate if you like. But it was mandated after years of insufficient effort by Baltimore 

City and the nine urban/suburban counties. And, as Horton points out, it was mandated because 

"your" property impacts "our" Bay.

The legislation gave wide flexibility to the ten jurisdictions to set the size of the fee, and how it is 

calculated and collected. The result wasn't surprising: Fees approved by local governments this 

spring range from $21 to $170 per household per year, and potentially significantly higher for 



The key is local governments decided these amounts, not the state. Some governments 

opted to charge a flat fee to everyone, regardless of property. But others decided a mall should pay 

more than a mom-and-pop deli downtown. Remember, the more hard surface, the more polluted 

runoff comes from a property. And keep in mind the benefits we will see as local governments start 

using the new funds to upgrade their stormwater management systems. Montgomery County 

already started and has created about 3,300 full-time, private sector jobs. Prince 

George's County estimates it will create about 5,000 jobs. And that's not to mention 

the obvious: clean water, open beaches, and happy crabs and oysters. (Courtesy Home 1st Title)


July 16, 2014

Still Work to be Done

As the euphoria wears off in the aftermath of our stellar June employment release, we realize that there is still work to be done in order to fully recover from the financial crisis and deep recession. The recovery has been going on for five long-years, but it is still not fully mature. For example, while we have recovered all jobs lost during the recession, we have not added enough jobs to accommodate the population growth that has occurred during and since the recession. Even at today's increased pace of job growth, this void will not be filled for two years or longer.

Furthermore, while the unemployment rate has dropped to 6.1% -- which was the lowest in almost six years, the "underemployment" rate still stands at 12.1%. The underemployment rate includes those who are working part-time because they can't find full time jobs. The labor participation rate stands at 62.8% which is a 36-year low. It is true that the baby boomer generation is reaching retirement age and this contributes to the labor participation statistic. On the other hand, it is not merely how many jobs are created -- it is also what type of jobs are created. America needs more high paying full-time jobs.

So before we celebrate the end of bad times, we must understand that there is truly more work to accomplish. The fact that we have more room to grow is actually good news for right now because this gives the Federal Reserve Board latitude to keep interest rates lower for a longer period of time and not worry about the economy overheating. The markets will cause rates to rise as we witness the start of the cycle of better times. If this surge in job hiring spreads to the real estate markets, we will start making up ground in a hurry instead of the snail's pace of the past five years. If that happens, expect the Fed to act much more quickly..

Posted in Economic news
July 15, 2014

Questions To Ask About a Home's Mechanical Systems

This checklist doesn't replace a thorough home inspection, but make sure you ask and understand the answers to these questions:


1) Is the amperage high enough for needs of modern lifestyles?

2) Is any knob-and-tube wiring still active?

3) Has the electrical service or panel been changed in any way? (If yes, ask for permits)

4) Are there and hidden junction boxes?

5) Are fuses or circuit breakers overloaded?

6) Are there enough outlets throughout the house?

7) Are all outlets near water sources properly grounded (GFCI)?


1) What material is used for supply lines?

2) What material is used for waste lines?

3) How big are the main supply lines?

4) Is there adequate water pressure?

5) Are there any signs of water or waste backing up?

6) Do toilets and sinks drain quickly?

7) Is the vent stack the correct height above the roof line?


1) Is it in good condition and how old is it?

2) Is it big enough for your needs?


1) What type of furnace and heat distribution is there?

2) How old is the furnace and what is it's life expectancy?

3) When was the furnace last serviced?

4) What is the condition of the oil tank if any?

5) Are there any unused oil tanks in the basement or elsewhere on the property?

6) What is the condition of the ductwork?

7) Are all vents open and receiving airflow?

8) Are all rooms adequately heated?

9) How old is the air conditioning system and what is its life expectancy?

Posted in Home Buying
July 14, 2014

Question Checklist about a Home's Basement

Many of the important systems of a home are found in the basement. This checklist doesn't replace a thorough inspection by a good home inspector, but make sure you ask and understand the answers to these questions:

1) Is there any evidence of moisture -- mildew, mold, a musty smell, condensation on walls and windows, dampness in floors and walls, visible leaking from foundation cracks?

2) Are any wood or metal studs attached directly to exterior masonry walls? (If yes, check for signs of moisture on walls)

3) Is there any insulation on exterior walls? (2" rigid foam or polyurethane)

4) Is there insulation under finished flooring? (1" rigid foam board is best)

5) Are there adequate fire escape routes for any basement bedrooms?

6) Are there enough heat ducts and a cold air return?

7) Is the furnace big enough to heat the house?

8) Is all new electrical or plumbing properly tied into existing systems?

9) Is the basement plumbing (toilet, sinks) vented properly?

10) Do any walls appear to be buckling, bulging or leaning? How extensively?

11) Are there any major cracks (1/4" or more) running in more than one direction? If yes, consult a structural engineer.

12) Are any joists sagging or not fully connected to the subfloor above?

13) If joists have been given extra supports (e.g., jack posts), have these been installed properly and safely?

14) Are there any notches or cracks in the joists?

15) Is there any rotting wood in the joists or other supporting members?

Posted in Home Buying
July 11, 2014

Questions to Ask About a Home's Exterior

This checklist doesn't replace a thorough home inspection by a good home inspector, but these are important questions to ask about a home you're considering buying:

1) YARD - If there is fencing, what condition is it in? Are trees close enough to the house for roots to damage the foundation, or for branches to damage the roof of the gutters?

2) DRIVEWAY - What material is the driveway and what condition is it in?

3) ROOF - What material is the roof and what condition is it in? How old is it?

4) ROOF - Is there more than one layer of roofing material?

5) ROOF - Is there an uneven or sagging roofline?

6) ROOF - What type of flashing is around the base of the chimney and what condition is it in?

7) ROOF - Are there enough roof vents and gable vents? Are any of them dented or blocked?

8) FOUNDATION - What type of foundation is it? Condition?

9) FOUNDATION - Is there any buckling, bulging, leaning or major cracks in the foundation walls?

10) SHEATHING - What type of exterior sheathing is there? Condition?

11) GARAGE - What size is the garage and what condition is it in?

12) GARAGE - If the garage is attached, is there an adequate gas barrier between it and the house? Is there a fireproof door to the house? What condition is the door in?

13) PORCH/DECK/BALCONY - What is the age and condition of the structure? Are there any wood members in contact with soil? Is the structure properly attached to the main building?


Posted in Home Buying
July 10, 2014

Questions Your Realtor Should Ask the Seller

A home inspection can start even before  your home inspector comes to look at the house. Here are some important questions your Realtor should ask the seller to begin the process:

1) How long have you owned the house?

2) What's the sales and renovation history of this house? What repairs or improvements have you made in the time you've owned it?

3) How old are the major structural and mechanical systems -- roof, windows, furnace and air conditioning, plumbing, electrical?

4) Are there building permits and building inspection reports for all work done on the house?

5) Have there been any problems with water and waste drainage?

6) Has the heating system been converted from oil? If so, what happened to the oil tank? (Was it buried on the property?)

7) Are there any rooms that require additional sources of heat?

8) If there is a functioning fireplace, has the chimney been cleaned on a yearly basis?

9) Were the fireplace and chimney properly installed by licensed technicians? When?

10) What are the annual heating and cooling costs for this house?

Posted in Home Buying
July 9, 2014

Questions to Ask Home Inspectors

Hiring the right home inspector could save you money, heartache and nasty surprises. Don't be afraid to ask plenty of questions, including the following:

1) How long have you been working as a home inspector?

2) Did you have any experience in the building trades before becoming a home inspector? If so, what kind and how much?

3) Do you belong to an association of home inspectors? Are you a certified member?

4) What kind of equipment do you use while inspecting (binoculars/ladder/infrared thermographic imaging camera)?

5) Can you provide me with at least 6 references from people who have hired you in the past 3 years?(Following up on these references is critical, especially references from clients who have owned their homes for at least a year.)



1) How did your home inspector check the roof, roofing systems and chimney?

2) Did your home inspector show up on time? How long did the inspection last? Did the inspector encourage you to take part in it?

3) What tools did your home inspector bring? Did they include a thermographic imaging camera?

4) Did you feel that your home inspector explained the limitations of the inspection thoroughly?

5) Did your home inspector recommend other specialists to investigate and potential problems?

6) Have there been any surprises since you've moved in? Did your home inspector miss anything?

7) Did you feel your home inspector was honest and trustworthy?

Posted in Home inspection
July 9, 2014

Don't let an Open Building Permit ruin a Purchase or Sale

In Anne Arundel County, a permit is required for all home construction,
including replacement work and most repairs (except for painting and shingle
replacement). Because open permits “run” with the buyer, an unpermitted or
incomplete permit project can lead to a buyer having to pay fines or remove
structures. This also includes fines for removal of trees and adding piers without
county permission.

For instance, a homeowner with a pool may have taken out a permit five
years ago to add fencing. If the final inspection was not done and the permit is
still open, this could be discovered when the home is put up for sale. At that point,
if the building standards have changed, the work might have to be redone at a
significant cost. If it is discovered after the home is fold, the new buyer would be
liable for the cost of updating the project, plus any fines. This situation is very
common with older homes. Although the county has not established a timeline to
determine when a homeowner would have to remove or replace a project, it still
must be upgraded to current county standards. In addition, buyers cannot make
any changes to their new homes unless all prior permits have been closed out and
fines have been paid.

Listing and selling agents can avoid getting caught in a nightmare
situation by looking up incomplete and open permits (those that have not had a
final inspection by an Anne Arundel inspector). In addition, listing and selling
agents can check with the Planning and Code Enforcement Office if you suspect
something was built without a permit. It’s an easy way to make sure you have all
the information needed for your listing and that your transaction will close
smoothly with no future surprises.

Searching for Permits on the Anne Arundel County website:
Proceed to County Homepage at www.aacounty.org
- On home page, click “Residents” scroll down to “Code/Licenses/Permits”
- Click on “Inspections & Permits”

- Under “I & P Quick Links”: 

* Click on “View Permit Status”
* Click on “Permit Inquiry” at bottom of screen
* Click on “Street Address”

Begin by entering first 2 letters of the street name hit the drop-down arrow and
select the street name. Enter the house number in the “House Nbr” box and Click
on “Submit Search”. If there are any permits, a screen will pop up with the tax
account number. Click on the Tax Account number. Permits in the system will
show up on this screen as Active, Pending, Expired, or K (for cancelled).

B #’s Building      M #’s Mechanical
G #’s Grading      E #’s Electrical
P #’s Plumbing    T #’s Health Dept.

PLEASE NOTE: This may not show ALL open permits. Contact us or the Permit
Application Center for any questions on the permits at 410.222.7730, 410.222.7720 or
410.222.7719. Or check on the inspections and Permits portion of the website at www.aacounty.org/IP
for additional information, including Frequently Asked Questions.

July 9, 2014

Mid-Year Employment Reading

I hope that everyone enjoyed the 4th of July Holiday. There were plenty of fireworks during the weekend but the day before the holiday started the government provided their own fireworks with the release of a strong jobs report for the month of June. Most analysts were expecting a decent gain in jobs at just over 200,000 and for the unemployment to remain steady at 6.3%. The numbers were stronger than expected, especially when considering the fact that the previous months of jobs gains were revised upwards.

In June the economy added 288,000 jobs which is robust by anyone's standards. The unemployment rate dipped to 6.1% and the decrease cannot be attributed to people leaving the workforce as the labor participation rate stayed steady. Though these numbers are subject to revision in later months, the fact that ADP released a similar number for private payroll growth the day before just confirmed the fact that the job market is indeed heating up. What does that mean?

This is just what the doctor ordered for the economy. More jobs should translate into higher levels of consumer spending and especially spending on big ticket items such as cars, furniture and houses. A stronger housing market and automobile industry should create more jobs and the virtuous cycle will be created. If job creation continues at this pace, we should expect a pickup in interest rates and the growth in home prices should continue. We know we have said this before -- the combination of low rates and low housing prices will not last forever. While the stock market has been strong, rates have remained low. However, this news might just be the beginning of the end of the nation's sale on money.

Posted in Economic news