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Famous Haunted Homes

Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall?

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Perhaps it wasn't the wind that slammed the door shut or there really is no one to match the footsteps down the hall? Or maybe it is a great marketing ploy for bed and breakfast inns and historical societies? Or maybe people are comforted or enjoy the idea of hauntings? Okay, so not all of us believe in ghosts, but the stories and histories behind many haunted homes can be just as unique as their "spiritual" residents. For a little fun and change of pace, we have compiled a short list of famous haunted homes and buildings in America. Dim the lights, sit back and enjoy a little Halloween-flavored fun and learn a little history too!

*Many haunted houses seem to get their start from murder or untimely death. Although we have not gone into graphic details here, please note that if you follow any of the links to the right, some of these sites do go into much more (sometimes gruesome) detail!

Alcatraz Island - San Francisco Bay, CA

The History: Not a house per se, but people "lived" there right? Anyway, Alcatraz started as a military fort in 1850. It was used as a military prison and then a federal prison after 1934. In 1963 the prison was closed due to the cost of operations. As a prison, Alcatraz had a reputation of being a hard place to live in which prisoners were there to be shut away rather than rehabilitated. Punishments could be harsh such as restricted diet, solitary confinement, and hard labor. There were the now infamous solitary cells like the "strip cell" and the "hole" that even made the most hardened prisoners think twice about breaking any rules.

The Haunting: This place was creating ghost stories before being shut down. Guards retell odd tales of ghosts attacking inmates or making noises. Today, there are still many haunting "hot spots" on the island. There is the utility corridor where three escapees were gunned down; this doorway is now welded shut but many say there is the sound of clanging against the door; perhaps something wants out... There are also reports of running in the corridors, voices in the cells and medical ward and screams from the dungeons and isolation units.

How to see it: Tours are available of the island and complex. Depending on the time of year, you may have to use different ferry system to the island. 

Driskill Hotel - Austin, TX

The History: Jesse Lincoln Driskill opened this hotel in 1886. The hotel was grand and luxurious, funded by his success as a cattle baron. In 1888, the family lost its fortune due to drought and a cold winter that killed most of the cattle. The hotel then changed from owner to owner with the most recent change of hands in 1995.

The Haunting: Driskill is claimed to still wander the hotel, puffing cigar smoke and turning lights on and off. There is the ghost of a small girl, daughter of a Senator who was left unattended and fell to her death while playing with her ball - she can still be heard bouncing the ball today.

How to see it: The hotel is open to guest today and offers all kinds of luxury and pampering. 

The History: Hannes Tiedemann built the house in 1865. Unfortunately, they lost four children in a short amount of time leading to some speculation of unnatural deaths. The house architecture aids in the mystery of the house as there are secret passageways and hidden rooms throughout. There are also rumors of Tiedemann having affairs that lead to jealousy and ultimately, to murder. One of the most tragic tales is that of Tiedemann hanging his niece to put her out of misery from her insanity or to punish her for her promiscuity.

The Haunting: Past residents have heard a small child crying and heard footsteps out in the corridor. There is also claim that the tower room where the "woman in black" can be heard choking. Lights also swing around and some objects have been moved or thrown.

How to see it: Today the mansion houses a private club restricted to members and their guests. It was rumored at one time they would eventually start tours to the building, however, nothing is posted on their website about this yet.

Heceta House - Yachats, OR

The History: This house accompanies a lighthouse on the Oregon coast built in 1894. Many families occupied the house complex over time which included a post office, school and the light house. But it is only the keeper's house that has tales of hauntings. Many believe this is the mother of child who fell off the cliffs back at the turn of the century.

The Haunting: The ghost named Rue is said to be an extra caretaker of the house. She makes it known if she is displeased with any activity in the house. One of the more humorous accounts was of her screaming in the middle of a card game, she didn't want them playing cards in her house!

How to see it: This house is now a bed and breakfast. It also has guided tours from its interpretive center. Although the current owners don't play up and advertise the ghost they have said guests have told them of strange encounters. 

Hickory Hill House - Equality, IL

The History: This house was built in 1842 by John Crenshaw. Although it was illegal to own slaves in the state of Illinois, it was legal to lease slaves from slave states to work in salt mines. John Crenshaw leased slaves from nearby states to work in his salt mines. It is also said that he would kidnap free blacks and force them to work in his mines and eventually sell them into slavery. All the slaves where kept in the upstairs attic in horse stall-like cells that opened to one large corridor. John Crenshaw had a particularly nasty reputation for cruelty and abuse.

The Haunting: The house opened as a tourist attraction in 1930 and many claimed to hear the rattling of chains and muffled cries from the attic. The home had the reputation that no one could spend the night. In 1978, a reporter named David Rogers was the first to spend a whole night in the house.

How to see it: Currently the house is protected by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and closed to the public. A grant was received in late spring 2006, hopefully it will be able to reopen soon!

Lemp Mansion - St. Louis, MO

The History: This house was purchased by William Lemp around 1864 to use as a residence and office for the family brewery. William's father had used a family recipe/method to create a lager beer. This beer quickly became popular and William's father abandoned his grocery store to become a full time brewer. The beer continued to be made by the family until 1922 when family mishap and prohibition forced them to shut down and sell for good. The mansion itself has a sorrowful history with one brother dying under mysterious circumstances and three other men of the family committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: With three suicides one can easily guess where the idea of ghosts haunting the mansion started. However, the families odd history of tales also leads to the idea of more ghosts. There is the rumor that William Lemp had an illegitimate son with down syndrome who was kept hidden in mansion attic his whole life. He is now said to be seen haunting the mansion and has the nickname "Monkey Face Boy." Tales of haunting first started after 1949 when the mansion was sold and turned into a boarding house. Strange knocking and footsteps throughout the mansion scared the tenants away so the house started to run into disrepair. In 1975, the mansion was saved and renovated and turned into a restaurant and inn. All types of sights and sounds have continued and are still reported today.

How to see it: Spend the night! Or take a tour if you're too scared... The mansion is a bed and breakfast that offers tours and a restaurant to those who don't want to spend the night. They also host a Halloween Party and Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. 

Lizzy Borden House - Fall River, MA

The History: As with so many haunted homes, this story begins with a murder. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered by ax in their home. Their eldest daughter, Lizzy was tried and latter acquitted of the murders. However, she was ostracized from the community for the rest of her life. Some consider that she had a split personality, even those close to here recall erratic and violent behavior. And of course there was the creation of the rhyme: Lizzie Borden took an ax Gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done Gave her father forty-one!

The Haunting: There is a strange woman who tucks guests into bed and perhaps the same woman can be heard weeping in the night. Objects move on their own and electrical equipment such as lights and cameras have some interference. Many claim the most active room is Lizzy's old bedroom - which you can stay in if you want...

How to see it: The home is now a bed and breakfast. You may spend the night, take a tour or even spend a weekend at Ghost Hunter University! To find out more,click here.

Myrtles Plantation - St. Francisville, LA

The History: This home was built by David Bradford in 1794 but stories of hauntings did not start until the 1950's. The house had a long history with many different owners. There is only one recorded murder of William Winter in 1871. However, there are many tales that are told about the home to justify the hauntings. Most of these seem to be fabricated tales, but many say that is just because the house is so haunted, people needed to make up some kind of explanation.

The Haunting: Among the haunting activity is the ghost of a woman in a green turban who some believe to be the ghost of a slave killed for poisoning the head mistress and her two daughters. Others claim that there is a woman but she is not a young slave but an older, unknown woman. There is also a little girl who has appeared as well as a frustrated piano player who continuously practices the same cord over and over on the old piano.

How to see it: You can dine in the restaurant, take a tour or spend the night. The choice is up to you. 

Villisca Ax Murder House - Villisca, IA

The History: On June 10, 1912, the Moore family and two overnight guests were brutally murdered. The ax murder of two adults and six children horrified the community and its story still horrifies people today. Regardless of the unprecedented effort of police, detectives and neighboring departments at the time, the case remains unsolved to this day.

The Haunting: The most common account seems to be of children's voices in the house. Things will also move unexpectedly and lamps won't stay lit regardless that there is no breeze in the home.

How to see it: Tours of the home are available through the Olson Linn Museum. They also offer night tours, but these must be arranged in advance.

Waverly Hills Sanitarium - Louisville, KY

The History: Okay, not a house, but since it has such a grand reputation of being haunted, we thought to include it. Waverly Hills opened as a hospital for tuberculosis patients in 1926. Tuberculosis was a dreaded killer of the time and most of the patients who entered would die there. It is estimated that at the height of the epidemic a patient died every hour. This large complex had a long tunnel nicknamed the "body chute" where the bodies were transferred to a train at the bottom of the hill. It was covered so patients would not be disheartened by seeing the number of dead being removed from the hospital. Because Tuberculosis was not well understood, there were many experiments that occurred, some were beneficial and some were more brutal leading to tales of mistreatment and abuse. In 1982, the hospital was shut down under allegations of abuse.

The Haunting: The tales of hauntings started after the hospital was shut down and allowed into disrepair. Transients, vandals and kids would break in. Stories began to spread of small children playing in the halls, lights going on when there was not power, doors being slammed, voices crying out, and various other ghoulish activities. One specific spot, room 502, is on the floor where the mentally ill tuberculosis patients were housed. This room was the nurses station where two nurses committed suicide on separate occasions for reasons unknown.

How to see it: There are tours run by the Waverly Hills Historical Society. Tours must be arranged as this is a private site and trespassers will be prosecuted. Overnight tours can also be arranged in advance.

Whaley House - San Diego, CA

The History: This house was a home, granary, court house, theater, ballroom, billiard, school and polling center. It was also the site where criminals were hanged before the house was built. Once built, it also had the tragic history of one of the Whaley girls committing suicide inside.

The Haunting: There are many ghosts in the Whaley House. There is "Yankee Jim" who was one of the criminals hanged at the site. He now stomps around the house with a heavy step and even the first family, the Whaley's, reported hearing him in the house. Thomas Whaley, the first owner of the house has been seen lingering around the upper landing. Thomas' wife, Anna, also wanders the downstairs and the garden. There are a few other apparitions and even a little fox terrier ghost dog that is seen on occasion!

How to see it: This house is now a museum and is open for tours on most days. Their website has more details about times and price;

White House - Washington D.C.

The History: The White House became the home to our presidents in 1800 with President John Adams being the first resident. There have been many presidents and first ladies in the home and some have decided not to leave...

The Haunting: President Abraham Lincoln is the most popular ghost with the most sightings. The first to see him was First Lady, Grace Coolidge. He has also been spotted by guards and guests. Other presidents that like to make an appearance are President Benjamin Harrison, President Andrew Johnson, President John Tyler and President Andrew Jackson. First Ladies that have made appearances include Abigail Adams and Dorothea Madison. There is also the apparition of a black cat which has been said to be seen before national tragedies such as the stock market crash of 1929 and before the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

How to see it: Of course you can still visit the White House today.  Winchester Mystery House - San Jose, CA

The History: Sarah Winchester, daughter-in-law of Oliver Winchester, manufacturer of the Winchester rifle, began the construction of this house in 1884 and kept the project going until her death 38 years later. The legend says she constructed the house continuously to confuse the bad spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. In the end it had 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces and various oddities such as doors leading to a sudden outside drop or staircases leading to the ceiling.

The Haunting: Some of the ghosts are said to have been invited by Sarah Winchester as she is said to have held a séance with them every night to determine the construction for the next day. Reports of footsteps, doors closing and opening, cold spots, and other paranormal behavior have been reported. However, some skeptics in the ghost hunting world believe the mansion is more of an oddity than a true haunting ground. Guess you'll just have to go to find out for yourself!

How to see it: The mansion is open to tours today. You can select a standard tour and see 110 rooms and their various oddities and details or you can also do a behind the scenes tour to see how the house functioned. 

Back to School Basics

Tips and Tricks to Save $$

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In our area, the made-up snow days at the end of the school year made this past year seem long. Therefore, it's a bit jarring to be thinking about back to school supplies already. However, planning ahead can help prevent a lot of the headache in back to school shopping. Many times the quest for new supplies and clothes can seem like an endless scavenger hunt that quickly eats through money in the bank! Below we have compiled a few tips on how to keep the costs low, as well as things to consider when deciding on which supplies will best fit your student's needs. We have also taken a look at a few of the activities you can still be doing the final days of summer to keep your child's mind sharp and ready to jump into the next grade. Students on average lose a month of learning during summer vacation and can lose over two months of learning for harder subjects.* Luckily, there are ways to battle the summer brain drain while still having fun! *"Summer Vacation Slide" by Barbara Pytel

Back to School Supplies Armed with a supply list provided by the school, it is time to begin the scavenger hunt. As you look for supplies for your children, below are a couple items to keep in mind.

  • Waste Not, Want Not Take a look through left over supplies from last school year. Did older children leave something the younger ones can use? Where certain supplies never used or still have some life left in them? Do some supplies just need new batteries, lead, erases or other refills? Also, check older items that may be spruced up a bit with stickers, photos, etc. - it makes for a fun project for the younger kids and can help get them excited about going back for the next year.
  • School Supply Closet If you don't already have one, set up a supply closet/space where you can keep old and new supplies all year round. Here you can keep packets of pencils and stacks of paper or notebooks that you know will be used throughout the year. Buy commonly used items in bulk and you will save in the long run.
  • Collect Year Round Now that you have a School Supply Closet set up in your home, you can more easily take advantage of deals as they arise during the year. With a place to neatly keep school items you will have a better idea of what you need more of as you shop. Although Back to School sales can be good, you may find even greater bargains at the end of the season or during clearance sales.
  • "Ouch! My back!" Backpacks are often overloaded with school supplies and can cause back pain and muscle soreness for students of all ages. A backpack should only be 10-20% of the student's weight. If a smaller student is expected to carry a lot, then you may consider getting a rolling backpack.
  • "But everyone else has one..." The plaintive cry of so many children around the country. But be strong - get only what your child really needs for school. Get supplies that are basic and therefore timeless. Fancy cartoon or pop-icon covered supplies are short lived. If you do get them, only get a few that you are certain your child will use before they become "unfashionable."
  • Quality is still #1 You can shop cheap without going so generic all you get is poor quality. You don't want to buy supplies that will break, leak, rip, or fall apart before the end of the first week. (I still remember a black glued notebook I had in high school that literally just fell apart at the seems with paper scattered about the floor - not fun!) Make sure there is some quality in the products you buy. Keep in mind how roughly binders may be handled, how pens may be shoved at the bottom of a backpack and how that same backpack will be tossed, dropped, kicked, lugged, shoved and zipped/unzipped more times than worth counting.
  • Batteries not Included Avoid gimmicky and flashy supplies that twirl and light up. Teachers find these are very distracting in the classroom. If you do get a fun item like this, keep it at home where it can make the homework blahs a bit more fun.
  • Accounting 101 As your children get older, include them in the budget planning. Working together on budgeting for supplies will teach your students how to prepare and why all the flashy supplies may not be worth it. You will soon find your child will learn to appreciate the cheaper supplies so they may budget for one or two more fancy items.
  • Organization 101 Along the same lines as Accounting 101, sit down with your older children and take the time to recall what worked or didn't work last year for their learning. Did they find note cards useful and need more this year? Did color coding subjects help or would an all in one binder be more useful? Are they still struggling and need to try something new?
  • Munch a Lunch Increasingly, online access allows parents not only to review the menu but to check their child's account and upload more funds when necessary. Many schools are also adopting healthier menus. If you don't have a picky eater, this may be the most convenient option. However, if you do have a picky eater in the house or if your child has any food allergies or dietary restrictions, then packing a lunch is the better way to go. Buying food and snacks in bulk has decreased the grocery bills of many households. With a bit of pre-planning, you may actually save money if packing lunches with items you know your children will eat. For growing teenagers with insatiable appetites, giving them as many snacks as possible can help curb the fast food purchases and the extra expense of impulse hunger-buys. Packing Get a good, strong lunch bag. Brown paper bags don't hold up well and are not environmentally friendly. A good lunch bag will protect other items from spills and with a small ice pack can keep food at a safe temperature until eaten. Free Tupperware is good (i.e. sandwich meat containers) however they only have so long to live after being tossed around in a lunch bag. Good containers is a worthwhile investment as they will be used 5 days a week to pack a healthy and full meal! Munchies Include your children in planning lunches for the week. Do this on a regular basis as they may have been all about bananas the last two weeks but are now sick and want a different fruit or veggie. Find out if lunches are satisfying - are they still hungry or brining extra home? If they are brining a lot home, find out if they are preferring a food/snack served in the cafeteria. If you are trying to save money by buying in bulk, you may be able to buy this favorite to pack in their lunch or find a healthier alternative instead.
  • Free Shipping Shopping for school supplies online is not out of the ordinary anymore. Many office supply stores and their competitors are allowing parents to shop from the computer. Compare shipping rates - you might even get free shipping with purchases at a specified total.

Back to School Clothes Most kids grow out of their clothes and shoes at an amazing rate. Keep their closets full with basics and not the trendy fashion of the day. Keep clothes practical and you won't break the bank!

  • Basics, Basics, Basics Keep the clothes to the basics as much as possible. Going for trends and fads will only hurt the checkbook when your child refuses to wear them again. This doesn't mean you can't get trendy clothes if it fits your budget. One way to make this easier is to get your child involved in the budget process. Let them know how much is budgeted for the season and then shop together for some basic items while saving for a few "gotta have" fun items.
  • Playground Attire (At Every Age) Can you run, jump, play and have fun in those clothes? Make sure your kids try moving around in the clothes they want to buy. Oddly cut pants are no fun for young kids to play in and skinny jeans will not be as appealing to that middle school student once they try to sit in a chair hour after hour of class. Make sure your children on aware of the functionality of their clothing choices. Finally, make sure you check out what is allowed at the school. Funky, trendy, or skimpy may not be practical and they may get your child sent home too! Take care to read slogans on t-shirts, ambiguous language or even blatant references to questionable or illegal subjects (i.e. drugs/alcohol) may not be allowed as well.
  • Hand-Me-Downs (Even with the Neighbors!) If you have more then one kid, hand-me-downs can be great. Especially if you stay with the basic and timeless classics, it will be easier for the younger kids to use what their older siblings can no longer wear. With how quickly they grow through clothes, most of the clothes will be in great condition and you can't beat the price! If you don't have older siblings, consider roving the local garage sales. Or talk with parents at the school, some parents plan exchange nights where they all bring clothes their kids can no longer wear and exchange with each other - again, you can't beat the price of a good barter in kind!
  • Consignment & Charitable Stores Both consignment and charitable stores can offer a great way to fill your kids closet. Get your children involved. At the consignment store they can make their "own" money by turning in old clothes for cash or store credit. Going to charitable stores, children can learn early how to stretch their dollar. Especially when shopping for items they know they will not be using often - so they need a white dress shirt for choir but will only wear it one season - a charitable or consignment store is a great fit. For the really creative kids, this can be a great way to mix and match and create their own style for cheap.
  • Shop In and Out of Season Without a doubt the department stores and outlet stores will run great deals and back to school sales. But also keep a look out for seasonal closeouts. Items you may not use this year might be used the next - just be aware you may have to do some good guessing on future sizes! Again, when shopping seasonal or end of the year sales, make certain to go for basic and timeless styles - the trendy may be a good bargain, but may not be worn by a stubborn teen next year.

Back to School Learning As mentioned in the intro above, research has shown that children lose about a months worth of knowledge over a 3 month summer vacation. For more difficult subjects this loss may be even more. There are ways to keep your kids mind sharp and even learn new things over the summer while keeping it fun and relaxed.

  • Homework Hour Okay, I know we just said to keep it fun and relaxed...it still can be with a scheduled time at night for quiet "study" time. Try to leave an hour open twice a week (or more) for a homework hour where you and your kids play a challenging game, watch a documentary, quietly read, or they can play an educational computer game - there are many online covering everything from dinosaurs to foreign languages. It will help keep you child's mind sharp and attuned to concentrating on one task like they will have to when real homework starts again in the fall. Of course this is generally for the older student, younger kids wouldn't need to do a whole hour - something more comparable to what they do in a school activity. The idea is not to sit them down with a chart to fill in or tables to review. Instead, get them to apply some of their learned knowledge in an activity.
  • Summer Reading If not done during homework hour, summer reading can be done daily. Read to the younger kids, read along with the older ones and read quietly next to the tweens and teens. The idea is to again make the environment conducive to some reading time. Take a trip to the library once every two weeks to stock up on books. Perhaps an older kid might be interested in entering one of the many reading contests that happen every summer. Read the same book as a family and compare opinions. Read books related to an upcoming summer vacation. Read books with a movie fast approaching and compare them to each other. Read non-fiction books as well. Simply put - read!
  • Inquiring Minds Want to Know Consider making national pastimes a chance to learn - How do fireworks work? What creates a thunderstorm? Why do we celebrate July 4th? Which constellation is that? How does a camera work - perhaps put it on manual and figure what different apertures and shutter speeds can do. Or turn a family road trip into a chance to learn a bit more - stop at a national park or try a different cuisine from what you get around home. Challenge yourself to look at items we take for granted as possibilities for learning and experimenting.
  • Did we say Experiments? What better time then summer to make a mess in the backyard. Make a homemade volcano, your own play dough, or put together a model car/airplane/ship/dollhouse. Get your kids involved in projects - perhaps you are doing a home improvement, although you child may be too young to help with the tools, they might be able to help you figure the square footage as you plan your project. Need help in the garden? Don't make them the "weed puller" - instead let them help you tend soil, plants, discover bugs, create a sculpture or taste some ripe berries off the vine.

SELLING YOUR HOME? USE THESE TIPS!

Increase The Curb Appeal Of Any House.

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Clean up the outside.

  • Curb appeal is the first impression of your house. Keeping the grass cut and the area tidy will help make a great first impression.
  • Paint or wash the exterior of the house (including window casings, shutters, and doors).
  • Wash the windows inside and out.
  • Check the gutters and chimney.

Increase The Curb Appeal Of Any House. Simple, low-cost curb appeal and house makeover improvements that anyone can do in a weekend. Or, there are many landscaping companies that can help with the job if time is an issue.

Touch up the interior.

  • Put a fresh coat of paint in the most used areas of the home. This will clean as well as brighten up the rooms.
  • Wash the walls where paint is not appropriate (i.e. wall paper, paneling).
  • Wash all floors and bathroom tiles.
  • Shampoo dirty carpets.
  • Get rid of clutter. Clean out your closets, garage, basement, and attic. Use shelf storage if necessary.
  • Replace air filters to help keep the dust down.

Replace bathroom and kitchen fixtures that are worn or leaking.

  • People will notice a leaking or worn-out faucet. By replacing these items, you will give a new look to the room.
  • Clean under the sinks. If there are any leaks, fix them. Then clean up the damage using contact paper or paint.

Home Improvement Contractor. Find and research local contractors, and get free no obligation quotes on your home improvement projects.

Get rid of any bad smells in your home.

  • Pay attention to pet or cigarette odors.
  • Place scented potpourri around the house.
  • On the day you're expecting a potential buyer, pop a batch of frozen cinnamon rolls, home-made bread, or an apple pie into the oven for a great aroma.

One roof or two?

My 1950’s home has recently developed ceiling cracks running lengthwise through all of the rooms.

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Q. My 1950’s home has recently developed ceiling cracks running lengthwise through all of the rooms. Recently, I had a new shingle roof put on, and the roofing contractor told me that I could save a little money by putting the new shingles on top of the old ones. I wonder if this could be contributing to the cracking of my plaster ceilings.

A. The new roof over the old is most likely the reason for the ceiling cracks. Some roofing contractors will put new shingles over old ones because it saves them time and money, but this is no benefit to the home owner. Your house was framed to handle the weight of one shingle roof, but not the weight of two. The extra load on the structure is placing stress on the rafters, braces and ceiling joists, and causing stress cracks in your plaster ceilings. At this point, your best option is to just live with the cracks, because if you patch them without relieving the extra load on the roof, the cracks will just come right back. Next time you are ready for a new roof, insist that the roofer remove all of the old shingles, felt, tar paper and any other materials right down to the plywood or boards and start from scratch. This will not only eliminate the extra weight problem, it will give you a better looking, tighter and longer lasting roof.

Becoming a Landlord

How to be a Good Landlord

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Perhaps you inherited property or purchased property as a new investment and now you are contemplating becoming a landlord. If you decide to rent an extra piece of property, you should know some ground rules. In this months article, 'How to be a Good Landlord,' we will discuss some of the basics that every landlord should know. We will discuss what it takes to be a landlord, what makes a good rental property, what are your responsibilities as a landlord, how to advertise your property, how to avoid legal pitfalls and how to evict a tenant if the relationship deteriorates. Overall, this is a short list, hopefully it will help you start with a little more direction and know-how.

Do you have what it takes to be a landlord?

The decision to become a landlord should not be taken lightly. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the type of job where you just sit back and watch the cash flow in. Regardless of the challenges, more than half of landlords are self-employed. Doing it yourself will mean you take on the responsibilities of a small business owner. You need to have great communication skills. You will be working with all types of people; sometimes even the difficult ones. Being an effective communicator in person and in writing is vital. You are an accountant. This includes everything from rent payments and deposits to repair and maintenance costs. You are a manager. You may have staff to train and watch over. Their professional behavior reflects upon you and your property. If they are inconsistent with your policies they can damage your business or even get you into legal trouble. You may also need to contract repair or maintenance jobs you cannot complete on your own. You will need to project manage these items through to completion. You are a marketing director. Getting your place advertised and your units filled is an ongoing challenge. Advertising also includes many legal regulations that you should know (more on this below). Your knowledge of this business should also include legal knowledge. Consulting a lawyer is recommended for anyone starting as a landlord, especially since every state has specialized landlord/tenant laws. But in addition to this, you will be responsible in making sure any staff or contractors you use also know the laws when working with tenants. You should be dedicated and patient. Being a landlord is a tough road to start. You should be prepared for hard work with a slow, trickle-in type of income, especially at the beginning. On average, a landlord should only expect about a 10% profit annually. The rest of the monies will be recycled into items such as mortgage payments, taxes, repairs, management costs, insurance, advertising and a rainy day fund (to name a few). There are tax breaks available to landlords, however, these are not enough to turn your profit margins sky-high. These qualities listed above will help you become a great landlord.

Perhaps there is a trait above that gives you pause. "I really don't want to manage all the accounting." or "I don't want to live onsite or nearby." All is not lost. You can hire a property manager. Doing so will cost you about 10%/month of any monies the property takes in. However, it can be a wonderful way to manage your business. When looking for a project manager, treat it like any other contracted service. Perform rigorous interviews, check references and make sure you have the same ideas about responsibilities of each party. Find out if they are insured, if they already have working contracts with maintenance and repair companies, and if they charge any extra fees for these contacts. Once you decide on a property manager, be certain to create a detailed contract covering all responsibilities. As with any of your other endeavors with your rental property, keep all your records and agreements in writing! Other professionals you may use to help manage your property include accountants, maintenance specialists, marketing directors and lawyers. Of course all of these will eat into your profit, but be honest with yourself and utilize these people when you need them. You can save yourself headaches down the road if you strengthen any weaknesses at the beginning.

What makes a good rental property?

When purchasing a rental property, there are some important questions to ask:

Do you have a enough for a down payment? Because rental property is viewed by lenders as a higher risk, you may be asked to put as much as 25-40% down on the property. Lenders calculate about 75% of your mortgage payment will come from renters. This leaves you with 25% to make up and even more if you cannot rent all the units. They may give you the option for a lower down payment at a higher interest rate. However, the higher interest rate may defeat any benefits.

Could you live on the property? If you use one of the units as your own residence this will help lower the risk factor for lenders. Lenders can offer a lower down payment and you can learn the ropes of being a landlord without being far from your investment.

Can you get the rent you need for the mortgage? Take a look at the neighborhood and compare the rental costs. Your rental rate needed to cover mortgage should not be too far above the market or you will lose your ability to rent units. - If you inherited or already own the property, you should consider if you can meet current mortgage payments. It may be more beneficial to sell the owned/inherited property and reinvest in another neighborhood.

Is the building up to code? Make sure to hire a home/building inspector before purchasing the property. Make sure the inspector is aware that you hope to rent the place as this may change some safety and code requirements. Take time to make yourself familiar with codes for your locality. This will help you ask better questions and understand any improvements you may need to make.

Is the property maintained? At first you may think it won't be a problem to repaint, re-roof, update the wiring and plumbing, etc. until your list becomes too long for the investment to be worthwhile. Again, hire a home inspector and make certain you know what needs repair and the estimated cost of repairs before you buy.

Is the property secure? Review reports on neighborhood safety. Check for ample lighting, especially at entrances and in parking areas. Make sure windows and doors are solid. Consider the cost to change all the locks and add window locks. Think about the security of your tenants in the property.

What are the responsibilities of a landlord?

Let's assume you are going to take on most of the business yourself and have found a wonderful property to rent. Now, what are some of the responsibilities you have as a landlord?

Tenant Screening: Your first interaction with possible tenants will be the background check that includes a financial review and calling references. Overall, you must perform background checks fairly. You should not do the check on one person and not on the other as this favoritism, or "trusting your gut feeling," is a disservice to all involved. You owe it to yourself, possible tenants and current tenants to perform fair background checks. For yourself, you can avoid headaches with tenants that don't pay the rent or have caused problems, such as costly repairs, in the past. For possible tenants, you may be providing that reality check - can they really afford your rental? For your current tenants, consistent background checks let them know you are looking after your investment giving them a sense of security. On average, working with an agency, this will cost you about $20 per check; an investment well worth the cost.

Clear, Consistent Communication: To avoid any misunderstandings, make sure all your interactions with tenants are clear.

  • HAVE A CONTRACT! Make sure you supply the tenant with a copy of the contract so they may reference it if any questions arise. Review the contract with a renewing tenant and discuss any questions they may have over the language or meaning.
  • Collect rent on a schedule. Keeping consistency with your tenants is imperative. If you are too lax one month, you may have a hard time collecting rent the next month. Or, if you are lax with one renter and not another you can create tension or even a legal issue.
  • Always provide written notice before entering a tenants space. This varies from state to state. However, for good business practice and common curtsey, let the tenant know when you need to enter the property they call home.
  • Use signs, flyers or other WRITTEN communication to inform tenants of policies and policy changes. Provide all tenants with copies and/or make clear postings around the complex.
  • Serve notices and warnings in writing. Verbal notices will not protect you if a situation deteriorates. Make certain to give your notices in writing and make yourself available for questions or discussion. Serving a notice and then disappearing from sight does not offer clear communication and can aggravate a situation!

Provide a Safe and Maintained Environment: Every landlord should offer tenants a living space that is up to code, safe for habitation and in working order. Even if you decide to contract out maintenance services, you should provide your tenants with repairs in a reasonable amount of time. Make good relationships with contractors that understand the nature of the work and are willing to come out after normal working hours. Save money for a rainy day so you can pay for emergency repairs when they arise. Maintaining the property will encourage tenants to take pride in their home and maintain their surroundings. Also, strive to make your tenants safe. You cannot control all conditions. However, changing locks, providing ample lighting for parking and having emergency procedures written and distributed are a few of the ways you can keep your tenants safe.

How do you advertise a rental property?

Advertising a rental property is important for getting units filled. Today you can use everything from word of mouth to online sites to advertise your property. In larger cities, you may even use "finding agencies" or real estate agents/brokers to advertise. When advertising your property, keep a clear list of amenities and useful services in the neighborhood. When composing your advertisement you must watch your wording as you cannot exclude any demographic. There are many federal laws/protections that regulate how you advertise your rental. The fair housing laws make it illegal "To make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination." (Source: U.S. Code Collection - Cornell University Law School). In addition to this clause, many states and cities may also prohibit discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation. Most landlords have good intentions to rent to all qualified tenants. However, there are certain ways of wording advertisements which may be perceived as discriminatory. For this reason, you should carefully choose your wording when advertising your rental property. Avoid words and phrases such as: prefer, suitable for, ideal for, ethnic neighborhood [or other cultural identifiers]. For a good list, take a look at the Pennsylvanian Human Relations Commission's Reading Between the Lines: A guide for housing and commercial property advertisements as they include a list of terms to avoid. Another resource for examples is the Guidance Regarding Advertisements Under §804(c) of the Fair Housing Act by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Keep in mind this good rule of thumb: always describe property, never describe people.

What are some legal pitfalls to avoid?

There are a lot of legal concerns when renting out property. As we have seen, the law influences advertisements of rentals. In addition to this, you create a contract agreement with your tenants every time you rent. Therefore, it is important to have sound legal advice as a landlord. Establish a relationship with a lawyer who you may hire for any contract questions or possible representation. No one ever wants anything to get as far as a lawsuit. So here are some ways to avoid legal pitfalls in the first place:

  • Always perform background checks with every possible tenant.
  • Call tenant references.
  • Treat every tenant the same in process; never cut a corner for one tenant because of a "gut feeling" or personal relationship.
  • Keep all notices in writing. 
  • Keep all due dates consistent from month to month and from tenant to tenant. 
  • Always perform background checks on any staff.
  • Make certain all staff are trained. They should know what they can and cannot do for tenants. If they are handling rental paperwork or advertising, they should know fair housing laws.
  • If you contract out maintenance work, make certain they treat your tenants professionally. Although they don't work for you full time, they do represent you since you hired them.
  • Keep housing up to code and safe for living.
  • Investigate any complaints against your staff immediately.
  • If a situation arises, consult a lawyer. Know how to legally proceed before taking any action.

How do you evict a tenant?

Evicting a tenant is one thing all landlords would rather avoid. However, sometimes circumstances deteriorate and eviction is the only feasible solution. If you have tried open communication but cannot get the tenant to pay rent or obey rules of the property it may be time to start the eviction process. The rules behind evicting a tenant vary from state to state. It is therefore imperative you discuss your options with a lawyer. Indeed, for the best security, you may want to do the whole eviction process through your lawyer. Regardless of the ups and downs involved with evicting a tenant, make certain to always maintain a professional decorum. Do not allow personal emotions to collide as this can only lead to further legal issues. Keep all of you requests in writing. The first step to any eviction is to send a written notice for them to pay back rent, fix problem behavior or move out. For example, in some states you may send a Demand for Rent or Notice to Quit form to a tenant who is behind rent payments. Or you may send a Notice to Cure Breach of Lease to inform the tenant that they must fix behavior that is contrary to your rental agreement. A Notice Regarding Termination of Lease may be used in some states when there is no chance for reconciliation. For example, the tenant is involved in illegal activity on the premises such as drug trafficking. If problems have not be rectified after notices have been given, then a suit is filed against the tenant. Upon winning this, it is law enforcement personnel who deliver written notice when the tenant may remove their items from the premises. You should never remove a tenant's items yourself. Using the police will ensure that you cannot be accused of taking or damaging any of the tenant's property. Essentially, make certain to obtain legal advice, serve warning notices required by your state, keep all notices and communication in writing and use local law enforcement to help keep you protected from any accusations of unfairness.

None of the above is a substitute for legal advice. An attorney should be consulted.

FREE Rental Agreement Forms

In cooperation with our partners at Lawchek® and Lawsonline™, Homecheck is pleased to provide a sample Rental Agreement Forms for FREE. This is not a substitute for legal advice. It is never recommended that an individual undertake his or her own representation in such matters as real estate law, even though most states do permit such activity. Any individual who is serious about proper real estate transactions would want to have capable legal assistance. An attorney must be consulted.

  • Blank Rental Agreement Form Example Rental Agreement Form
  • Blank Apartment Lease
  • Blank Notice to Quit "

This work is protected under the copyright laws of the United States. No reproduction, use, or disclosure of this work shall be permitted without the prior express written authorization of the copyright owner. Copyright © 2008 by LAWCHEK, LTD."

Resourceful Links

Fair Housing by CivilRights.org
www.fairhousinglaw.org 
The Fair Housing National Multimedia Campaign is designed to increase public awareness of the Fair Housing Act and its protections, encourage the reporting of fair housing discrimination to the appropriate agencies, and provide information and resources to help communities and institutions support individuals and families who exercise their fair housing rights.

Landlord.com
www.landlord.com
In early 1998 the decision was made to spin Landlord.com off as a separate entity, dedicated to providing services to landlords and other real estate professionals on-line.

National Fair Housing Advocate Online
www.fairhousing.com
The National Fair Housing Advocate Online is a resource designed to serve both the fair housing advocacy community and the general public with timely news and information regarding the issues of housing discrimination. Find local organizations to help with any Fair Housing questions: http://www.fairhousing.com/index.cfm?method=agency.search

National Fair Housing Alliance
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) is the only national organization dedicated solely to ending discrimination in housing.

US Department of Housing - Home & Communities
www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/
The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) administers and enforces federal laws and establishes policies that make sure all Americans have equal access to the housing of their choice. We can help you with your housing discrimination problem. If you feel your rights have been violated, let us know.

US Department of Justice - Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq., prohibits discrimination by direct providers of housing, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions and homeowners insurance companies whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons because of: race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.

Bankruptcy Law 101

This is the article that no one hopes to need and we would prefer not to write.

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As of December 2007, bankruptcy filings are up 28% from last year and are expected to increase in 2008 due to the combined factors of high household debt and rising mortgage costs. American Bankruptcy Institute

This is the article that no one hopes to need and we would prefer not to write. The word 'bankruptcy' is weighed down by such doomsday words as failure, defeat, impoverishment...well, you're getting the depressing idea. However, it is not 'the end of the world' to declare bankruptcy. Instead of running away from this topic, it is time to demystify bankruptcy with a little 'Bankruptcy 101.'

What is bankruptcy?

For most people, bankruptcy is a way to get a fresh start after acquiring too much debt. Most individuals who file for bankruptcy will file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Depending on which is filed, one may get most of their debt erased or work out a workable solution with lenders to pay off existing debt.

Are bankruptcy laws determined by Federal or State government?

Bankruptcy laws are made by the Federal government. States can pass laws that protect the "lender and debtor relationship" but they cannot regulate how a bankruptcy is processed or if it is to be granted.

Can all debts be erased?

No. Whichever type of bankruptcy is filed, there are certain debts that cannot be erased at all. These include alimony, child support, most student loans and legal judgments against fraud or criminal negligence such as a drunk driving accident. Some taxes may be erased, but not all. In fact, taxes have their own set of bankruptcy rules.

Do I need a lawyer?

When filing for bankruptcy it is important to find a bankruptcy lawyer who can help you navigate the process. Bankruptcy lawyers specialize in this area of law and are familiar with the distinct differences and effects of the process; they can be your greatest ally in a tough, seemingly bureaucratic system.

How long will bankruptcy effect my credit?

Bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 10 years. There are ways to improve your credit rating and make yourself more appealing to lenders. For more information on this, check out this useful website: www.lifeafterbankruptcy.com. It is not an easy road back and those filing for bankruptcy should have a realistic expectation to work hard at their future spending practices.

Do I have to do debt counseling?

Yes. Under the new bankruptcy act passed in October 2005, it is now required that all persons applying for bankruptcy meet with a government qualified debt counselor first. After one has successfully filed for bankruptcy, the debtor must again meet with a counselor before the bankruptcy file will be closed.

What is Chapter 7 bankruptcy? (In a nutshell)

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also known as a "liquidation of debt." A person can file for Chapter 7 every 8 years. This usually involves the liquidation of property to pay back debts. An appointed trustee sells all secured, non-exempt property for the debtor and distributes money raised among the lenders. Unsecured debts, such as credit card bills and most medical bills can be erased. This may mean the loss of secure debts such as a home. However, most states do have protections for debtors in place to insure they may keep life necessities such as clothing and some furniture. Retirement funds such as IRA's are also protected and debtors may keep these as well. After the changes to bankruptcy law in October 2005, many debtors may not get approved for Chapter 7 and be required instead to apply for Chapter 13. In short, if you still have an income and make more than the median for a household of your size in your state you may have to file for Chapter 13. To find out if you should be filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, you can use a mean calculator like the one at legalconsumer.com. Again, this is where consulting a lawyer becomes very important.

What is Chapter 13 bankruptcy? (In a nutshell)

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also known as a "reorganization of debt" or the "wage earners' plan." One can file for Chapter 13 more often as long as any previous filings are already closed. This is the bankruptcy for those trying to a find a way to get out of debt but still expect to pay off some of their debt. Generally speaking, if you still have a source of income and could make payments, just not the high ones you have now, you can be restructured into a debt payment plan under Chapter 13. This is the most likely to be used to try to stop a mortgage foreclosure. In this scenario, you can keep the house, car and more than you could under Chapter 7. There are limits to the amount of debt that can be restructured. If one is above those limits they would file under Chapter 11, however, the average American Joe/Jane is not in this category.

More Resources
US Department of Justice - US Trustee Program
www.usdoj.gov/ust/
A complete listing of approved credit counseling agencies is available through links on this Web page. [Listed by state.] www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/cc_approved.htm
A complete listing of approved providers of financial management instructional courses is available through links on this Web page. [Listed by state.] www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/de_approved.htm

American Bankruptcy Institute
www.abiworld.org
The American Bankruptcy Institute is the largest multi-disciplinary, non-partisan organization dedicated to research and education on matters related to insolvency. ABI was founded in 1982 to provide Congress and the public with unbiased analysis of bankruptcy issues.

Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005
www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s109-256

Bankruptcy Action
www.bankruptcyaction.com
The objective of this website is to provide the person, thinking about filing bankruptcy, the information he or she needs to make an informed decision.

Lawyers Listings
www.lawyerslistings.com/about.shtm
Our mission is to present to the Internet community an easy-to-use site in which to search for law firms and individual lawyers.

Life After Bankruptcy
www.lifeafterbankruptcy.com
On this website you'll discover everything I did to recover so quickly...and many other bankruptcy recovery and credit repair strategies you'll find nowhere else.

NOLO Bankruptcy Library
www.nolo.com
Nolo is your legal companion, empowering you and saving you money whenever the law touches your work, life or finances.

US Courts - Bankruptcy Basics
www.uscourts.gov/bankruptcycourts/bankruptcybasics.html 
Bankruptcy Basics provides basic information to debtors, creditors, court personnel, the media, and the general public on different aspects of the federal bankruptcy laws.

What can you do to prevent Bankruptcy?

  1. Continue to take care of essential bills first: mortgage/rent, taxes, child support, and utility bills.
  2. Eliminate frivolous expenditures. No more department store credit cards, cable TV, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, etc. Be honest about what you can live without with for a while. 
  3. If you own your home, consider a home equity loan to get rid of high rate debts such as credit cards.
  4. Watch your credit report. Close unused accounts, check for errors and resolve any questions with lenders immediately.
  5. Know the warning signs: -Are you using credit cards to pay off bills or credit cards? -Are you borrowing against unprotected debt? i.e. Are you borrowing from a credit card to pay the mortgage? When you see you are bouncing debt around and not making any headway, it is a good time to look at credit counseling.
  6. Warning about credit counseling: If you choose to do debt consolidation recognize that it will effect your credit score. Also, make sure you understand how the payments will work and if you can really make the payment - sometimes they are set too high!
  7. Avoid aggressive lenders. If you begin to get offers for loans that sound too good to be true - they are! There has been a big push to penalize aggressive lenders who only help people acquire more debt. However, they are still out there and you should be a careful shopper of any loans you take.