2010 June :: The Construction Management Pro

5 hints for hiring a contractor

June 28, 2010

For costly home projects, consider licensing, lawyer

By Mary Umberger

In her home state of Florida, Kia Ricchi has witnessed the devastation wrought by hurricanes for many years. A licensed contractor for more than a decade, she also has witnessed what her fellow Floridians have gone through in trying to put their physical lives back together.

“They were making emotional decisions,” she said of many home-remodeling experiences she’s seen. “Emotion was the overriding factor.”

But it wasn’t just the post-disaster mindset that made an impression on her. It seemed to her that even people in ordinary circumstances often approach expensive building and remodeling decisions with their hearts, not their heads. Regret often ensues, she said.

Ricchi decided consumers need a blueprint, and not just for putting their houses together. She blogs at TheContractress.com, a site she said is dedicated to demystifying the contracting process for consumers.

And now, she’s written “Avoiding the CON in Construction” (Centerline Production, $19.95), a book intended to provide an insider’s view of the front end of the process — finding and researching the right workers to do the job and signing a contract in an informed way.

Five things for consumers to know about tackling a construction project with a level head:

1. Scrutinize a candidate contractor’s licensing: Not all licensing is the same, she said. For starters, a consumer needs to distinguish between “professional” and “occupational” licensing.

“Occupational licenses have to do with the business entity,” Ricchi said. “Is the company registered with the state so the state can collect taxes?

“A professional license has to do with a person who can do harm if they perform their trade incorrectly,” she said. “That’s why surgeons, nurses and contractors are licensed by the state — because they can cause harm.”

But each state and many municipalities have their own standards for contractor licensing, and consumers need to be familiar with the local requirements, which might range from no professional licensing at all to merely paying a fee for it, to passing exams and completing continuing-education requirements, she said.

Consumers should check with local building departments and state offices of professional licensing to understand the requirements and to see if a candidate contractor has met them — these records are often found online, she said.

2. A contractor’s insurance protects both his business and the consumer’s financial interests, she said. A contractor should be able to prove that he has it.

“The state will have a minimum amount of liability insurance that it requires,” Ricchi said. “It varies from state to state, but what I’m finding in Florida is the insurance companies are pretty much sticking with $1 million.”

3. Be prepared to do some digging to research a contractor’s background and reputation, she said.

In this day and age, records are everywhere, Ricchi said. “It’s so easy with the Internet now that within 30 minutes you can have a pretty good idea of a person’s character, and that might be the deciding factor if you’re looking at three contractors and they’re all compliant in regard to licensing and insurance.”

Court clerks’ offices maintain records of civil lawsuits and criminal actions, though the way they manage the records varies widely; it also may reveal tax liens.

Ricchi said in big building or renovation projects, a homeowner who wants to be sure about legal ghosts in a contractor’s closet might want to hire a professional investigator, not only to do the research but to help interpret the legalese that he might turn up in court records.

Private sources, such as user-review Web sites like Angie’s List or your local Better Business Bureau, also can be helpful, she said.

How deep to dig? Until you hit your comfort level, Ricchi said. Maybe it needn’t be deep at all, if the contractor also comes highly recommended from trusted sources, she said.

4. Consider consulting a lawyer before signing a contract, Ricchi said.

She believes the language of most contracts that contractors offer to clients is intended to favor the contractor. And she said homeowners are known not to even read construction contracts before signing them.

Obviously, some tasks are so simple and straightforward that contracts won’t be terribly complex, she said.

“If it’s an expensive job, I think it’s worth the money to have (a lawyer) look at the contract,” she said. “And you should work with an attorney who (has a background in) construction law.”

She said such specialists usually can be found through recommendations from local bar associations.

5. Does this sound like a lot of work? Ricchi said it sure does — and it is.

“I think it’s important,” she said. “But I can tell you this, as a contractor who hires a lot of subcontractors, you’d better believe I do it. It can be time-consuming, but once I’ve gone through it, then I’ve got this database of contractors who I will use again and again.”

Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.

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6-28 Trends In Real Estate Investing

June 28, 2010

Real Estate Investing In a Down Market

Timing may be everything, but is now the right time to invest in real estate, given the steep declines seen in the housing marketing in recent months?  Some real estate investment professionals seem to think so.  In fact, the smart investors are buying, buying, buying properties right now.  Why?

“First, let’s define what we mean by “investing,” says real estate mentor and author Minh Pham, whose popular real estate seminars pack convention rooms with novice real estate investors eager to learn how to make money with real estate.  “Are you intending to be a knowledgeable, well-educated buyer of under-priced properties and stay in the real estate market for the long term in order to see excellent returns?  Or are you looking for a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme?  If so, my real estate seminars are not for you.”

Pham explains that buying a cheap property in the hopes of immediately reselling for a lot more than you paid is speculating, not investing.   And speculating is as risky as buying a lottery ticket.  No credible real estate investment coach will teach you how to speculate, because there is no way to guarantee profits.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t start seeing profits in a fairly short space of time – you just need to know what you are doing.

Becoming a successful real estate investor involves getting educated, doing excellent research, and putting together a well-thought-out strategy.   This may seem like homework to some, but for those who have done it the financial rewards are more than making up for the time spent learning.

“Can you make money in real estate in a down economy?  Absolutely.  Can you do it without knowing what you are doing?  Absolutely not,” says Pham. “Worst case scenario, you could lose thousands of dollars and end up being very disillusioned, as many people are right now as a result of not really understanding what they were doing.  There are rules to any game, and if you don’t take the time the learn them you could lose your money.”

According to Pham and other real estate investing experts, in order to be successful it’s important to learn how to make money in both ‘up’ and ‘down’ markets. You need survival strategies for when the economy is bad, and know how to win in a competitive market when the economy is booming.   “Don’t fear the competition – embrace it,” advises Pham.  “If you see a lot of investors competing for deals, then know you’re not the only one that sees the potential for profit.  There are more than enough good deals to go around. At any given time there are hundreds of properties for sale in local market niches, enough for every savvy investor to make the profits they’re looking for.

Even in today’s uncertain climate, novice real-estate investors are making money, especially in smaller properties that are easy to acquire and manage.  Owning property that pays for itself is what it’s all about.  But how do you find those kinds of properties, and how do you recognize them when you do?  “Ah, you’ll have to come to one of my seminars,” grins Pham.

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Real Estate Investing with Facebook

June 28, 2010

www.BillCrosby.com Describes how to use Facebook for Real Estate Investing purposes. Keywords real estate invest real estate investor real estate investment real estate real estate investments how to invest real estate make money real estate creative real estate real estate secrets…

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6-30 NSP 3 Funds included In Fin Reg Bill

June 27, 2010

After an all-night conference meeting, the House-Senate conference committee approved a version of the financial reform bill  that included $1 billion for a third round of funding for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) to be allocated by formula (similar to NSP 1). The compromise bill must now go back to the Senate and the House for approval.

The House appropriations subcommittees are beginning to mark up the FY 2011 appropriations bills. It is unclear when the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) bill, which contains funding for the FY 2011 HUD budget, will occur, though it is likely to happen sometime after the July 4 recess. Given the current budgetary constraints and the push to reduce FY 2011 discretionary spending, it is important that you contact your Members of Congress and express your support and concerns for the FY 2011 HUD budget.

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06-25-2010 – Gulf Oil Spill Not the Biggest Ever

June 25, 2010

The Ixtoc I oil well blowout after the oil platform Sedco 135 burned and sank in 1979. (NOAA)

The leaking Deepwater Horizon oil well is still second (for now) in size to the massive Ixtoc I blowout in the late 1970’s, which gushed for 290 days. Source: Discovery News, Author: Jessica Marshall


  • The ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout is still not as big as the Ixtoc I leak in 1979.
  • That spewed around 3.3 million barrels into the Gulf over 10.5 months before the well was capped.
  • The environmental consequences of that spill were not as bad as they might have been.

Forty-two days into the worst oil spill in U.S. history, somewhere between 500,000 and 780,000 barrels of oil, possibly more, have contaminated the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

But the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil-well blowout is not the worst spill the Gulf has seen. The 1979 Ixtoc I well blowout spewed oil into Mexico’s Bay of Campeche for 290 days, dumping around 3.3 million barrels of oil into the warm Gulf waters, as gas belching from below fed a continuous fire on the ocean’s surface.

“The fire was so hot you couldn’t face it, even at the distance we were, I suspect it was 100 yards,” said Jerome Milman, retired professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who worked on stopping the Ixtoc I spill. “It would actually feel like it was burning the backs of your ears.”

“That fire was a good thing,” he noted, because it burned away the toxic gases, “except it prevented you from getting real close.”

Compared to the 5,000-foot depth of the Deepwater Horizon spill, the Ixtoc I came from much shallower waters, about 160 feet, still within the reach of divers.

Otherwise, many of the circumstances were similar, with oil emerging from a broken pipe on the sea floor, and mixing with water and gas under high pressure to make goopy emulsions. Both blowouts followed the explosion and sinking of their respective drilling rigs. In both cases the blowout preventer failed.

Responders to Ixtoc I tried stopping the gush with a plug of metal balls, and with a giant “sombrero” placed over the well to capture the oil, much like the “junk shot” and containment dome attempted by BP. None of those methods worked.

The fact that the spill happened in warm offshore waters made the effects of the Ixtoc I spill less than they otherwise might have been, experts agreed. Warm temperatures accelerate the evaporation, weathering and microbes’ consumption of oil. Much of the oil stayed offshore, evaporating or settling out on the sea floor.

“We were surprised there were so relatively few effects,” said Olof Linden of the World Maritime University in Malmö, Sweden and part of a United Nations expert group that assessed the Ixtoc I spill.

There’s a rule of thumb that for every 10 degrees Celsius increase in water temperature, chemical and biochemical reactions happen twice as quickly.

“That means if you compare the recovery time of the Exxon Valdez, where you had average temperatures of, say, 5 degrees, with those in the Mexican Gulf where the temperature is about 25 degrees, you have two doublings. What will happen in 20 years in Alaska will take five years in the Gulf,” said Arne Jernelöv, who lead the U.N. team.

“The damage caused by the Ixtoc spill was huge,” he wrote recently. “Beaches, mostly in Mexico but to some extent also in the United States, were hit, and birds succumbed in large numbers, despite the dispersion efforts. Because of the dispersion, shrimp, squid, and some fish populations suffered, with fisheries hit even harder.”

The use of surface dispersants did help reduce bird kills, he said, but it took a heavier toll on small animals living in the water. Fish and octopus catches reportedly dropped by 50-70 percent that year from 1978 levels in some places, according to Jernelov and Linden’s report. Fisheries in the area closed for a period, including the shrimp fishery, said Jernelöv, now of the Swedish Institute for Future Studies.

However, he said, “The much-reduced fishing pressure on fisheries that are normally over-fished meant that the fisheries’ recovery went quite quickly. A few years down it was difficult to see any effect on the organisms. The damage the oil did was, to a significant extent, compensated or even overcompensated by the fact that you didn’t have fishing.”

Despite the similarities of the Ixtoc I and Deepwater Horizon spills, there is one major difference: wetlands. Linden said: “We didn’t have the extensive wetland contamination we are talking about now.”

Wetland contamination is difficult to reverse. As wetland plants’ roots suffocate and degrade, the sediments they hold in place wash away, leaving nothing for new growth to anchor in. A few mangrove areas were lost in Ixtoc I.

“The oil hit sandy beaches mostly,” Linden said, “and was therefore easier to clean up, though some of the cleanup in those days was not very carefully done.”

Some oil on beaches was bulldozed under, but long stretches of beach were left alone where the oil weathered to tar and then to asphalt, said Jernelöv.

“Five years later, most of this was covered with sand,” he added. “But where it was exposed, crabs were crawling over it and oysters and mussels were settled on it. The toxicity of it was gone. It looked like asphalt road.”

The spill killed thousands of birds, Jernelöv said. “Maybe up to 10,000, which is a large number if you see them in one spot, but spread over a large distance. It was not like Exxon Valdez.”

Researchers estimated 250,000 seabirds were killed by the Valdez spill.

By August 1979, oil reached the Texas shoreline, said Erich Gundlach, an independent consultant with E-tech International, Inc, who assessed shorelines and clean-up for Ixtoc I. “I never believed it would reach that far, but it did.”

But a tropical storm did much to reduce that damage. “We had a tropical depression come in and raise the water level and it eroded the shore a little bit,” Gundlach said. “It removed 80 percent of the oil that was on the shore of Texas.”

Ixtoc I was was finally closed on March 23, 1980, by pumping mud into two relief wells drilled starting in June and July.

As huge as the Ixtoc I was, it was not the world’s largest oil spill. The biggest one happened in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War when Iraqi forces dumped an estimated 6-8 million barrels of oil from tankers and oil terminals into the Persian Gulf, intending to set it on fire and thwart the U.S. military.

Have an excellent weekend.

Mary F. Gutierrez

Environmental Planner

West Florida Regional Planning Council

P.O. Box 11399 Pensacola, FL 32524-1399

4081 E. Olive Rd, Suite A, Pensacola, FL 32514

Phone: (850) 332-7976 x 226 or 800-226-8914

Fax: (850) 637-1923


“The meaning of earthly existence lies, not as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul” – Solzhenitsyn

“The purpose in life is a life of purpose” – Byrne

NOTICE: E-mail communications to or from West Florida Regional Planning Council employees are considered to be public records.

Public records law requires these communications be made available to the public and media upon request. (Florida Statutes, Chapter 119)

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Tax credit extends into 2011 for some in military

June 23, 2010

Programs assist with homebuying, credit cards, auto loans

By Tom Kelly

Inman News

A new law could provide an attractive housing option for many families near and around many military bases and shipyards.

While the biggest federal incentive for homebuyers expired for most consumers on April 30, members of the military could have an additional year to buy a home and claim the homebuyer tax credit.

The law allows service members another year to buy a home and claim the credit if they served on official extended duty outside of the United States for 90 days or more at any time between Jan. 1, 2009, and May 1, 2010.

Those members have until April 30, 2011, to sign a sales contract, and until June 30, 2011, to settle and close on the home. Both the $8,000 first-time and $6,500 repeat homebuyer tax credits are included in the rule.

“Congress recognized that many service members may have missed out on the homebuyer tax credit due to being posted overseas,” said Bob Jones, chairman of the National Association of Homebuilders. “It is only fitting that they be given another year to take advantage of this opportunity in appreciation of the sacrifices they have made serving our country.”

Typically, homes that are sold or that cease to be used as a principal residence within three years of the initial purchase are subject to recapture of the tax credit. However, qualified service members who sell or move from a tax-credit home within three years of the initial purchase due to official extended duty are exempt from the recapture rule.

“Qualified service member” means a member of the uniformed services of the U.S military, a member of the foreign service of the U.S., or an employee of the intelligence community.

For years, all military personnel on active duty have been eligible for help with their mortgage and other debt under the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA).

The act allows Reserve and National Guard members and other military personnel whose mortgage obligations pre-date the start of their active duty to cap their mortgage rates at 6 percent while they are on active duty. Other benefits of the act include a prohibition on lenders foreclosing against affected military personnel during, and three months after, their tour of active duty.

Since home-loan rates have hovered around 6 percent for several months, one of the most significant provisions of the act includes consumer debt. It limits the amount of interest that may be collected on all debts — not just mortgages — of persons in military service to 6 percent per year during the period of military service.

This provision applies to debts incurred prior to the commencement of active duty and includes interest on credit-card debt, car loans and other debts.

Another key provision under the SSCRA protects dependents from being evicted while service members are serving. If a service member rents a house or apartment that is occupied for dwelling purposes and the rent does not exceed $1,200 per month, the landlord must obtain a court order authorizing eviction.

This provision applies regardless of whether quarters were rented before or after entry into military service.

In cases of eviction from dwelling quarters, courts may grant a stay of up to three months or enter any other “order as may be just” if military service materially affects the service member’s ability to pay the rent.

This provision is not intended to allow military members to avoid paying rent, but rather to protect families when they cannot pay the rent because military service has affected their ability to do so.

Another significant protection under the act relates to civil proceedings. Service members involved in civil litigation can request a delay in proceedings if they can show their military responsibilities preclude their proper representation in court. Service members who are on an extended deployment or stationed overseas most often invoke this provision.

The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness emphasized that the provision applies to pre-service debts, and the interest-rate reduction doesn’t occur automatically — service members must request it.

Tom Kelly’s book “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Rent and Profit from Property South of the Border” was written with Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Houston-based Stewart International. The book is available in retail stores, on Amazon.com and on tomkelly.com.

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6-23 Five Traits of Project Manager

June 23, 2010

Agility The global marketplace has created a business environment that is fast paced and rapidly changing — your project managers must thrive under those conditions.

Look for: Cherry pick service reps who can change direction quickly and without much complaint, as well as those who work well without a map.

Hands-off management. Your ideal project manager leads people, she doesn’t control them. Overly analytical reps who want things done a certain way aren’t the ideal project managers.

Look for: You must promote workers who focus on achieving milestones and completing projects rather than on how workers are doing their individual jobs.

Tech and communication savviness. Your needs are constantly changing, but technology is changing, too. Your company must always be aware of new and upcoming technologies.

Look for: Choose service agents who are comfortable using new technologies and who have experience with multiple communication tools, including email.

Good planning. Project managers spend a good deal of time planning for upcoming campaigns, new product launches, and new training approaches.

Look for: You’ll want someone who is detailed, organized, and can work as a team.

A sense of urgency. Your company doesn’t have all the time in the world to make changes or try new strategies. Waiting too long to switch gears could ruin your bottom line.

Look for: The best person for management is someone who understands the urgency of now and is willing to work hard immediately for big pay offs later.

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The Dell Music Center

June 21, 2010

The City of Philadelphia Department of Recreation announces the opening of The Dell Music Center Box Office on Wednesday June 16, 2010 at 10am. Tickets will be on sale that morning for the Summer Concerts including its Platinum shows. This is the first Concert Series since the Dell closed after its 2007 season. The official line up for the summer is as follows:

July 12t The O’Jays and Eric Roberson
July 19th Heads of State featuring Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, and Johnny Gill
July 26th CeCe Winans, Marvin Sapp, Martha Munizzi
August 2n Dave Koz, Jonathan Butler, and Sheila E.
August 9t War, Urban Guerilla Orchestra, and Latin Jazz Ensemble
August 16t The Whispers, Regina Belle, and Carol Riddick
August 23r Mindi Abair and Inca
August 30t Brian McKnight and Kindred The Family Soul
Platinum Shows:
July 17th George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Dazz Band, The Ohio Players,
ConFunkShun, The Bar-Kays, and Slave.
August 7 Teena Marie and Keith Sweat

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Energy Efficient Homes: Paving Ways for a Carefree and Healthy Living

June 21, 2010

The construction of new homes offers the opportunity to adjoin ecological features that ensure ideal settings for energy effective living. Every individual craves for a healthy living and considers home as the best place of safety. Energy Efficient Homes provide the most favorable healthy surroundings along with great energy savings. Home is the place where a person looks for some relaxation and spends time with family. The right lifestyle is depicted by the secured kind of investments made by a family. The use of attractive yet energy efficient homes provide maximum exposure to electricity savings. There are aspects of life that need to be maintained in order to attain balance in terms of physical, spiritual and mental health. This altogether makes one feel the sense of total wellness.

Energy Efficient Homes have certain advantages as compared to other usual homes. These edifices reduce huge construction costs and wastes. They also reduce callback and warranty problems. Energy efficient homes normally spend approx 20 to 30 percent of total energy expenditure and reduce heat loss by fifty percent in contrast to housings that are not energy efficient. A self sufficient home earns a higher real estate value for itself and also reduces the amount of carbon emissions. A well maintained Energy Efficient Home retains heat adhering to a warmer atmosphere for generations to come.

The most common standards include insulation, programmable thermostats,  solar orientation etc. There is a popular saying in science, “Energy conserved is energy generated”. Solar Panels and other renewable sources of energy are among other sources of conserving energy in Energy Efficient Homes. Limiting the air leakage is a leading factor in conserving heat and hence reducing energy wastage. This in turn helps in controlling air quality and humidity. Water conservation is another big area of Eco-friendly development.

The construction of Energy Efficient homes requires the right combination of a few factors such as the electrification system, the foundation, wall structure, windows, roofing along with the ventilation. Altogether they present the most ecological, economical, energy efficient and healthy dwellings. A correctly planned housing project involves low costs and  orientation decisions.

Aidan Doran is a freelance author who writes about Internet Marketing.For more information about SEO visit his website:


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Why walking away does not pay

June 18, 2010

By Tara-Nicholle Nelson, Thursday, June 10, 2010.

Inman News

Q: My son and I are both on the deed of the house, but only he is on the mortgage. He no longer wants to pay the mortgage payments. I am retired and cannot afford the mortgage. Do I need his permission to sell the house? –Nelly, New York

A: Whoa, Nelly! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) So, you and your son are co-owners of the property, meaning that you are both named on the legal title. However, he’s the only one who is named on and, thus, bound by, the mortgage.

Generally speaking, in these situations the roles are reversed — the person who is not on the mortgage is the one looking to get out of paying, and the person who is named on the mortgage is looking for a more legitimate way out.

That’s because, generally speaking, it’s the owner who is the borrower on the mortgage that actually stands to take a big old credit hit by virtue of defaulting on, or walking away from the home and the loan, not the titleholder who is not involved with the mortgage.

The mortgage company can hold responsible — via credit damage, deficiency judgments and collection actions — only the individual who actually agreed to repay the loan that is secured by the home. This is why we real estate practitioners often caution people against taking a loan on behalf of someone who is not going to be on the mortgage but who is agreeing to pay the mortgage, because if and when that person walks away from their agreement to pay, the mortgage bank will almost never pursue them or hold them liable.

Rather, they’ll be going after the individual who is on the mortgage. (On occasion, when a well-written legal agreement between the borrower/co-owner and the nonborrower/co-owner is broken by the nonborrower, the borrower/co-owner and/or the bank may be able to hold them liable.)

But that’s the opposite of your situation. It sounds like you’re just the type of individual whose modus operandi is to behave responsibly with respect to your commitments, whether it damages your credit or not. I have actually heard stories of a nonborrower/co-owner whose credit was impaired by a foreclosure, improperly, because of an error on the bank’s end.

Even though such folks are often able to get the derogatory credit information removed, that — and foreclosure in general — is an experience to avoid if at all possible.

So back to your question: Can you sell the place unilaterally? My answer? No. If your son is on the title, he’ll have to agree to any transfer of title. If you’re able to sell the property for more than is owed on it, all he’ll need to do is sign some papers. And not even too terribly many papers.

In fact, he could actually sign a single document to give you the power of attorney to sell the place without any further involvement from him, if signing the title papers is too much for him to do. Who knows, he might even get a few dollars out of it.

If, however, you have to pursue a short sale because the mortgage and other lien payoff amounts are greater than the property’s sale price, your son will have to engage quite a bit more in the short-sale application process.

He’ll have to provide a complete set of financial documentation (proof of his income, expenses, assets, bank statements, tax returns, etc.) and a hardship letter explaining to the bank any financial crises underlying his inability to continue meeting the mortgage obligations.

While this is much more work — especially if, as is common, the bank requests repeated submissions of updated information over a number of months — it’s generally in his best interest to make every effort to avoid the credit and possible legal/financial consequences of a foreclosure.

Encourage him to play ball and divest of the property in a responsible way rather than just walking away.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of “The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook” and “Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions.” Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

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