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Updated: Saturday, February 13, 2016

Saving For a Down Payment On a Home In Just 2 Years

In todays market, you usually need up to 10 percent of a homes purchase price for a down payment. This means a 250,000 home could require 25,000 down plus closing costs. If you saved 1,040 a month for the next 24 months, youd achieve that goal. On the surface, that may seem impossiblebut its not. Make some short-term sacrifices now to save for a down payment on a house.

Move to a Smaller Place

Give up that extra bedroom for the short term. If you rent in a premium location, consider moving to a less expensive area. It may take you a little longer to commute, but it wont be for long. Reduce the amount you are paying in rent by 500, and you will be halfway to your monthly goal.

Take a Part-Time Job

Become a barista at your local coffee shop. Become a yoga instructor at your gym maybe you can get the gym membership for free. Offer babysitting or pet-sitting services to friends and neighbors. Scour thrift stores and yard sales for great finds, and then sell the items on eBay. Find something you enjoy doing, and then find a way to earn a little money doing it in your spare time.

Cut Expenses

If you dont have a budget, now is the time to create one. Examine each line item and ask yourself, What can I do to reduce this amount?

  • Insurance. Speak with your insurance agent and ask for a quote with several different deductibles. Raising your deductible on your car insurance can lower your premiums.
  • Cable and Internet. Survey your cable bill for charges you can eliminate. Most people dont need 148 channels. Internet connection is free at the local library or coffee shop.
  • Cell Phone. Unlimited texting is a luxury, not a need. Reconsider your smartphone.
  • Dining Out. Cook dinner at home and prepare enough for tomorrows lunch. Make your morning coffee at home. Dont eat out as much.
  • Gym Membership. Take up a sport. Running, racquetball, tennis and swimming are aerobic and strength-building activities you can do for free.

Maximize Your Windfalls

Financial windfalls cash gifts, bonuses and tax refunds, for example tend to get lost in the monthly spending shuffle. Deposit these funds directly into your savings account. If you receive regular structured settlement payments, consider selling your future payments for a lump sum of cash now. You could then put the money toward your down payment.

Agree on a Plan

Once you determine which sacrifices you will make, ensure that everyone affected buys in on the plan. Revisit the plan each month to insure you are on track. Dont be afraid to talk about the pitfalls or complain about the sacrifices. This is the time to reassure each other you are in it for the long haul. Before you know it, youll be discussing paint colors for the living room.

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Trend Alert: How To Incorporate Graphic Patterns Into Your Home

When chevron patterns became all the rage a few years back, it looked like the trend that showed up on everything from textiles to tile backsplashes to flooring designs might be a standalone. But graphic patterns are hotter than ever, with an ever-evolving array of shapes showing up to jazz up your home.

"If you are looking for ways to enliven your home, adding graphic designs can help," said Livinator. "Geometric patterns and abstract designs bring an energetic vibe to a space. You can achieve a mixed pattern design by including several different patterns in varying scales and colors or by using the same pattern throughout in the same variety. The key to getting graphic with your interiors is to experiment with what you love."

Heres where - and how - to incorporate this trend into your home.


The backsplash is a great place to use graphic tiles to provide contrast, interest, or give a kitchen a lift. This departure from the seen-everywhere subway tile makes a kitchen feel unique and custom. If you really want to be on trend, go 3D.

"Though decorative backsplashes have been popular for quite some time, the new trend popping up will be geometric three dimensional patterns," said interior designer Shai DeLuca-Tamasi on Amara. "These will most likely be seen with cement and wood. The kitchen is a perfect room for geometric tiles. My design tip would be to let the movement in the tile be the star of the show. Consider using a neutral palette when using 3D tiles so as not to pull the eye away from the true feature."



Wall treatments are one of the most impactful ways to add "a graphic touch" to your home. Patterned walls can create the kind of design layers that make a room feel complete.

"Wallpaper, murals, and even wood panels layered in interesting patterns can give walls dimension and interest. A modern graphic color block wallpaper can spruce up a drab interior," said Livinator. "Bold shapes work great in small spaces such as a powder room. Repeat patterns throughout a room to create balance. Wood panels placed on the diagonal inject interesting dimension."



Graphic patterns are showing up on rugs - an obvious choice to ground a space and give it a bit of oomph without making the effort to hang wallpaper or buy an expensive piece of furniture.


But rugs arent your only options for graphic floors.

"Thanks to the allure of indoor/outdoor living, colorful concrete tilescontinue to move from commercial to home spaces," said Los Angeles designer David John Dick on the Wall Street Journal. "Its a perfect combination of graphic design and interior design."

Granada Tile


A graphic-patterned upholstered piece can become a focal point in a room, like in the case of this custom banquette.



Swap out your boring drapes and replace them with a graphic pattern. Theyll add interest to the space, especially if you bring in a fresh pop of color. These drapes help complete a mid-century look in a stylized living room.


Why stop at one graphic pattern? Dont be afraid to mix and match, layering patterns on top of each other.



If you dont want to make a big investment - in time or money - a few accessories can punch up your space and freshen up the look. These new pillows from Hamp;M bring in the trendsetting look at a minimal expense.


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How To Get a Chic Kitchen Without Going Gray

Gray. Its modern, its chic, and its EVERYWHERE. I mean, have you watched a design show lately? It seems like every kitchen has gray counters, gray cabinets, or both.

And its not just happening on TV or in the kitchen, for that matter, but thats for another time and another post. Seriously, go peek in on your neighbor who is in the middle of a kitchen reno. Gray cabinets with white quartz counters? White cabinets with gray quartz counters? Yup, we thought so.

Thats the problem with a trend. When everyone climbs onboard, everything starts to look the same. So what can you do if you dont want your kitchen to look like every other kitchen out there but you still want it to be updated and stylish? Here are a few options.

Natural wood

If the idea of natural wood cabinets makes you think of a house in the sticks, check out this modern option. Keeping the lines simple and balancing out the space with modern finishes creates a kitchen that is warm, inviting, and sleek at the same time.



For kitchen drama, nothing brings it like black. Go hand-scraped for a French Country look that would make HGTV designer/reno stars Chip amp; Joanna Gaines proud, or go glossy for a glam look and a sophisticated space.

"The key to having black kitchen cabinets as your color choice is in how you blend it with the countertops, floors, walls and lighting to create a bold and unusual statement instead of a dark and depressing dungeon-like tomb," said HGTV.



Slightly less dramatic than black but still statement-making, navy looks great on cabinetry - especially with the right contrast of lighter elements. Natural light is an important component; the light coming from two sides and the glass-fronted cabinets keep this room bright.

Arent amp; Pyke

All white

While this look wont necessarily set you apart - white kitchens have been a top trend for several years - its >

dcor pad

Graphic and custom

Personalizing a space is part of the joy of redoing your kitchen. You could head to Home Depot and sift through their backsplash options, but being limited to what they have in stock just might not be good enough. What to do? Try a custom backsplash instead.

"Imagine creating a custom backsplash in under 60 seconds," said House Beautiful. "With Fireclay Tiles online Color-It tool, select a pattern and palette from more than 100 options and watch as your digital tile fills with vibrant color. Once you order, your design will be delivered within six weeks."

House Beautiful


Integrated appliances are making a resurgence among high-end homes, while appliances are taking on a more streamlined look to provide great function and sleek lines without taking attention away from the design lines of the kitchen. But a growing trend takes that idea a step further.

"It is not uncommon to see fridges, freezers, and dishwashers covered with cabinetry panels to camouflage them," said House Beautiful. "In the Hidden Kitchen, not only are the large appliances concealed but also the microwave, stove top, oven, everyday kitchen appliances, like the coffee maker and toaster, and other kitchen accoutrement, like the knife block. The designers cleverly hid them behind bright white panel doors with decorative molding to emulate a Parisian look."

Click on the link to see how this "hidden kitchen" transforms by opening a few doors.

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Addressing The Rights And Responsibilities Of Canadian Homeowners

People who live in highrise buildings face challenges that didnt exist when much of the current legislation was put in place. The Consumers Council of Canada has drafted a list of rights and responsibilities for them, with the help of a panel of experts.

On March 15, 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy said, "If a consumer is offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitantif the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened and national interest suffers."

Kennedy gave consumers four basic rights that day, which were later expanded into eight globally recognized consumer rights and responsibilities. The Consumers Council of Canada added a ninth element and recently tied these rights and responsibilities to housing issues in a report addressing issues >

"The consumer marketplace for housing has rapidly shifted in major Canadian cities from suburban to urban, from low density to high," says Aubrey LeBlanc, the councils president. As builders have responded with unprecedented levels of highrise construction in Canadas major cities, "not surprisingly some challenges have emerged for consumers, builders and the real estate marketplace," says the council.

It formed a panel of consumers, developers and building experts to discuss the impacts of rising housing densities, resulting in a new report by Marshall Leslie, chair of the councils Housing and Energy Committee. It includes 24 recommendations of actions needed to address concerns for those living in highrise buildings and high density areas. It also outlines how the International Rights and Responsibilities of Consumers >

The first consumer right is for basic needs -- the right to goods and services to ensure survival. Consumers have the responsibility to ensure that these goods and services are used properly. The Consumers Council of Canada says affordable housing, rental options and units appropriate for families are now becoming recognized as basic needs for Canadians.

The right to safety is being protected from goods or services that are hazardous to your health. Its the responsibility of consumers to read instructions and use products as instructed and to teach safety to children. The council says, "Building maintenance and property standards are of real concern in highrise living. Failing utilities or loss of service due to lack of maintenance are unacceptable."

Consumers have the right to be informed and to be protected against misleading advertising and labelling, and they have the responsibility to use available information and keep themselves informed.

"For 10 years, British Columbias Real Estate Development Marketing Act REDMA has set an example for disclosure during construction and prior to closing that doesnt exist in any other province," says the council. In addition, "Tenants and owners would both be able to better evaluate a buildings condition if energy benchmarking were introduced."

Next is the right to choose products and services at competitive prices. Consumers must make responsible choices. The council says there are few three and four bedroom apartment units available for families, and consumers should also have more information about the performance of buildings.

Consumers have the right to express an opinion and the responsibility to make their opinions known. In Ontario, with more investors buying condos and renting them out, it has added "a new level of complexity to the landlord-tenant mix and condominium governance," says the report.

The right to be compensated for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services is next. Consumers must refuse to accept poor products and bad service. The report says in Ontario, consumers should have their voices heard when land-use planning and reviews of the Condominium Act and other legislation are conducted.

People have the right to education to be informed consumers, and the responsibility to take advantage of educational opportunities. In B.C., the Condominium Home Owners Association has a partnership with the government and the private sector to provide educational materials to condo residents.

A healthy environment is the last of the international rights and responsibilities. Both suppliers and consumers must work to reduce waste and choose building materials and systems that will minimize damage to the environment. The report says Ontario has an aging stock of high rise buildings that need retrofitting.

The Consumers Association of Canada has added the right to privacy to the list, as it applies to personal information. Consumers have the responsibility to divulge personal information only when appropriate. In housing, privacy issues are "revealed in simple ways like sound transmission through the walls of a high-rise unit, or in more complicated fashion like the use of confidential personal information in the possession of a condo board or property management company."

The council report recommends that the Ontario government create a new list of condo owner rights and responsibilities.

Marshall writes that during a recent review of Ontarios Condominium Act, "there was a discussion about new rights: safety, security, access to information such as depreciation reports, requirements for insurance coverage, permission to own pets and a smoke-free environment."

The panel recommends that the current list be expanded to "reflect changed realities like expanded reporting requirements, the large number of tenants occupying investor-owned units and the effects of secondary smoke; and the experience of some residents during ice storms and power failures who were left isolated and vulnerable."

It also suggests that Ontario incorporate requirements for information disclosure like those in REMDA, which protects buyers of pre-sale condo projects against changes made by the developers prior to completion.

"The whole purpose of REMDA is to dispel the buyer beware attitude from the purchase process -- made more important because the predominance of condominium pre-sales prevents inspection of the unit and building," says the report. "A seven-day opt-out clause and a disclosure statement are key protections."

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Home Sellers Have Closing Costs Also

We have all heard about the high costs imposed on homebuyers -- ranging from lender points, title insurance and settlement fees. However, if you are selling your house, you should understand you will be hit for some closing costs also.

When a seller signs a listing agreement with a Real Estate Broker, authorizing that person to sell the house, in addition to all the other forms which sellers receive, the seller should be given an estimated settlement statement. This statement will project the bottom line to the seller, based on the listing price. When an offer is later presented to the seller, the settlement statement should be updated, to reflect the actual terms of the proposed contract.

I have analyzed many real estate transactions, and the following charges are generally made to the seller:

Real estate commission: The seller should be informed of the dollar amount to be paid out of settlement for the commission.

Mortgage payoff: Most sellers have at least one mortgage outstanding on the property. Your lender will be able to give you an approximate payoff figure, if you give them a tentative settlement date. Dont forget to add a daily interest charge until the lender receives the full mortgage payout. You should also inquire whether there will be any prepayment penalty. Some older loans still require the borrower in this case the seller to pay a percentage of the loan if it is paid off in full prior to the full expiration of the mortgage term. In some instances, the prepayment penalty can be avoided, or waived by the lender, and you should inquire as to the policy of the particular lending institution.

Points: This is perhaps one of the least understood areas of real estate financing. Sellers often question why they have to pay points to enable the buyer to get their loan. A point is equal to one percent of the loan.

Some loans, such an FHA or VA, put limitations on the amount which the buyer can pay for closing costs. Many buyers who will be obtaining conventional financing also want the seller to pick up some of these settlement charges -- including points paid to the lender.

Seller paid points are still deductible for tax purposes by the buyer. Thus, while sellers want to get the most dollars from their house, there are often negotiation advantages if a seller offers to split points with the buyer. Such an arrangement may be the clue to closing the deal.

Termite: Most buyers require that a termite inspection be performed, at the sellers expense. Normally, the fee for this service runs between 50 to 75. But I have seen too many instances where the seller is "hit" with a sizeable repair bill, due to termites and damage being discovered by the termite company.

If the seller has a current contract with a termite company, that company should be willing to give the required letter for no cost or a nominal charge. Finally, when you make arrangements with the termite company to do their inspection, make sure they understand they will not do any repair work without informing you in advance. Since the seller is paying for these charges, the seller should have the option to shop around for the best price.

Water escrow: In many jurisdictions, water is the only utility that creates a lien on the property. In order for the title attorney to give free and clear title to the buyer, all liens must be paid and satisfied. Thus, it is standard practice for the settlement attorney to escrow some money to cover the final water bill. Usually, the office conducting settlement will make arrangements to obtain a final water reading, pay the bill, and refund the balance of the escrowed funds, if any, to the seller.

>: When the seller obtained mortgage financing, it usually was in the form of a deed of trust. This is similar to a mortgage, but the property is deeded "in trust" to independent trustees who are authorized to sell the property if a default occurs. When the mortgage is paid in full, the trustees are entitled to a nominal "trustees fee" and there is a small governmental charge to record the trustees >

Other government charges: Many jurisdictions impose a tax on the transfer of real estate. Some call it a "Grantors tax", which others call it a "Recordation and Transfer" tax. Unless your state law mandates who is to pay this fee, it is a negotiable item which should be on the bargaining table when seller and potential buyer are hammering out the terms of the purchase and sale.

Settlement charge: Some settlement offices will impose a nominal charge on the seller for "settlement services."

Many sellers are often surprised when they learn, for the first time at the settlement office, that they will not be getting as much from the sale of their house as they had anticipated.

And dont forget to 1 cancel your home insurance policy as soon as you get the sales proceeds, and 2 if you are making automatic mortgage payments, cancel that also. Too many clients have called me over the years telling me they were so excited to sell their house that they forgot to cancel their payments.

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Arbitrators Dont Have To Get It Right

At the risk of revisiting too soon a previous topic, we consider today yet another court decision that reminds us of the fact that, in most cases, an arbitrators ruling will not be reviewed by the courts and will be allowed to stand even if it is based on errors of fact and misinterpretation of the law.

The court decision in the case of SingerLewak, LLP v. Gantman comes to us from Californias Second Appellate District. The underlying case was not a real estate matter; it had to do with a non-compete agreement contained in an accountancy firms partnership provisions.

In 2007, Andrew Gantman, previously an employee, became a partner in the SingerLewak firm. In 2011, Mr. Gantman left the company and subsequently provided services to several parties who had been clients of SingerLewak. The company demanded that Gantman pay the firm 260,000, pursuant to a formula contained in the non-compete provision within the partnership agreement.

The matter went to arbitration. Although California has very strong prohibitions against non-compete agreements Business and Professions Code [Bamp;P Code] 16600 et seq., section 16602 of the Code does contain exceptions that apply to partners and partnerships. Based in good part on Section 16602, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the accountancy firm.

Gantman filed a petition to vacate the arbitrators award. He argued that the partnership non-compete provision was illegal because it constituted an illegal restraint on competition. The partnership provision itself was void, he alleged, because it lacked any geographical limitation, which is specifically required by Section 16602.

The trial court agreed with Gantman and vacated the award. Naturally, the firm appealed.

In reviewing the arbitrators award, the Appellate Court noted that, as one commentator put it, "the arbitrator made an interesting determination: that what was, for all purposes, a non-compete was not a non-compete..." The arbitrator had ruled that "...the provision was not a covenant not to compete, but was instead, a provision allowing competition but imposing a cost on departing partners who service clients of the firm." This would be something like saying that the California Vehicle Code does not prohibit running through stop signs, but rather allows that behavior and imposes a cost for doing so.

Also, the arbitrator ruled that, despite the requirement of a "specified geographic area" in Bamp;P Code 16602, the SingerLewak agreement was not void because it contained an "implicit geographical limitation." That limitation, he reasoned, would necessarily be the areas where the firms clients did business.

The Appellate Court noted that "The arbitrator may have erred in interpreting or applying section 16602." But that didnt matter. The court referred to an earlier California Supreme Court Ruling in Moncharsh v. Heily amp; Blase saying that "an arbitrators decision is not generally reviewable for errors of fact of law, whether or not such error appears on the face of the award and causes substantial injustice to the parties."my emphasis Thus, the court determined that review was inappropriate and the arbitrators award was upheld.

Real estate agents and their clients are often encouraged to make a commitment to arbitration in the event of some future dispute. They should think very carefully about doing so. One can always agree later to arbitrate; but its not at all clear that the "its quicker and cheaper" argument should prevail over the price of giving up your right to appeal when serious errors are made.

Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtors. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way. His email address is .

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Change For The Better In Your HOA

Boards of homeowner associations are often challenged to change the status quo for the better. A common scenario includes a newly elected board that promises to start enforcing rules or architectural policies. Problem is, there are HOA members that like it just fine the way it is and they loudly resist the boards proposed changes. If certain board members are single minded about forcing change, the resulting brouhaha will take center stage, the goals moved to the peanut gallery and little accomplished other than ruffling feathers. Flexibility is the key to success. Consider the following observation:

"What prevents human beings from successfully managing the natural environment and other complex systems? Dietrich Drner, a cognitive psychologist, performed experiments and found out. Using computer simulations of complex environments, he invited intellectuals to improve the situation. They often made it worse. Those who did well gathered information before acting, thought systemically, reviewed progress, and corrected their course often. Those who did badly clung to their theories, acted too quickly, did not correct course, and blamed others when things went wrong. Drner concludes that our failures in managing complex systems do not represent any inherent lack of human capability. Rather they reflect bad habits of thought and lazy procedures." State of Fear by Michael Crichton

These observations point to several courses of action an HOA board might consider when endeavoring to make changes:

1. Do Your Research. If the board wants to change long standing policy, lack thereof or tradition, its important to truly understand why it stood so long. Dont automatically assume that previous boards just failed to do their job. Homeowner associations have the ability to establish norms that vary if the members want it that way. So, failing to enforce rules may be the way most of the members may like it. Your HOA may have too many rules that need to be weeded out instead of enforced. So, rather than charge in to smite the offenders, consider polling the community to see just how important a new "get tough" policy is.

2. Organize Your Plan. Repointing the board takes careful planning since not every issue has the same priority. Even if the board and members are generally agreed on, say, correcting architectural violations, those violations come in large and small size, visible and not so visible. Prioritizing the plan of attack and laying out a time frame that doesnt require the board to deal with everything all at once makes sense.

3. Do Progress Reports. As the board attacks individual issues, some will resolve quickly while others fester. Resolution is great because that reduces the number of issues. Progress reports will allow the board to celebrate its successes and refocus on remaining issues.

4. Rethink Solutions. The board has the authority to make judgment calls. Not all issues are black and white. In the case of an architectural violation, the board can compromise if its in the best interests of the HOA. For example, if an owner has illegally expanded a deck into the common area, the boards order would normally be to remove it. However, if the owner has spent considerable money and a previous board granted permission even though it had no authority to do so, the owner might mount a legal defense and be willing to go to court over the matter.

The board could expend thousands of dollars of HOA funds in legal costs and possibly lose the case or compromise by getting the owner to agree to remove the deck upon sale of the property. The compromise allows the owner to save face, the HOA to save money and ultimately get the deck removed...it just will take a bit longer than anticipated. The lesson is to not get too entrenched in one solution. Circumstances may warrant creative thinking and the board has the authority to be creative.

The board usually steers the HOA ship across calm seas with business per usual. But from time to time squalls and shallow rocks dictate a change of course. While governing documents and state laws point a direction that often works, be prepared to deviate when circumstances dictate.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to www.Regenesis.net

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Committee Commitments In Your HOA

The strength of a homeowner association lies in the effective volunteer efforts of its members. While the heavy lifting often falls on the board of directors, committees can help lighten the load by focusing on specific tasks assigned by the board.

There are two types of committees, standing and ad hoc. Standing committees exist indefinitely or until the board decides their purpose is no longer needed. Examples include Landscape Committee, Social Committee and Pool Committee. Standing committees have ongoing and often repetitive tasks to accomplish. Ad hoc committees are formed for a specific purpose which, once accomplished, terminates the need for the committee. Examples include the Budget Committee and the Christmas Party Committee.

The beauty of committees is that they can draw on specific member expertise, like a CPA that serves on the Budget Committee or an architect that serves on the Architectural Design Committee. Ad hoc committees do the same thing with the added attraction that the commitment time is limited.

Committees are training ground for future board members. Since committees are called on to participate in board meetings to give reports, participation acquaints committee members with the board process. Proven and effective committee members are candidates groomed for board service.

Whether a committee is standing or ad hoc, both should have a similar framework including:

Purpose. The purpose of a committee is to assist and advise the board in a given area of responsibility.

Structure. A committee should consist of three or more members which may include a board member as a board liaison. The board president typically appoints the committee chairman. The chairman is the spokesperson for that committee.

Committee Authority. Each committee should be provided a clear job description by the board that outlines expectations. A committee must obtain specific authority from the board to deal with any matter outside its job description. A committee cannot make policies or rules. Only the board is granted that authority. A committee may recommend a policy or rule to the board. If the board agrees with the recommendation and formally enacts it, the committee may or may not be given authority by the board to enforce the policy or rule. Enforcement authority is also under the discretion of the board.

Recommendations. A committee should provide recommendations to the board at regularly scheduled board meetings so all directors can participate. Recommendations should be in writing and supported by credible research so that the board can make informed decisions.

Meetings. Committees meet monthly or as appropriate to their assignment. The meetings take place at a time, place and discretion of the committee. A designated person on the committee should take minutes so that the committee has a record of what was accomplished to date or planned for the future. Committee meetings do not need to be announced to or open to the members.

Vendor amp; Contractor Authority. Unless otherwise directed to by the board, committees should not give direction to or request bids from any HOA vendor or contractor. This process is handled through the board or management.

Concerning Property Management. Unless given specific authority by the board, no committee should give direction to or make requests of the management.

Expenditures. Committees are sometimes given a budget which should carefully be accounted for. All committee expenditures that fall outside the committee budget must be authorized by the board. All reimbursement requests should be accompanied by receipts.

Reporting. Committee reports should be prepared and delivered to the board at least one week prior to the board meeting. Committees should prepare their own reports unless the board has approved the management doing so. Each board meeting agenda should provide time for committee reports.

The board is elected to oversee HOA operations, not to do all the work. Committees offer the opportunity to spread the work around and to involve more members in the homeowner association operations. Cultivate committee opportunities when you can and harvest the rewards.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to www.Regenesis.net.

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CES 2016: Smart Locks Maturing To Meet More Needs

Smart front door locks that use Bluetooth, NFC or Wi-Fi to unlock via touch, your smartphone or a key are not yet even two years old. But entrepreneurs, startups and established smart lock makers are beginning to figure out exactly what we want to make it easier to technologically keep our castle more secure.

Perhaps the most startling development at last weeks Consumer Electronics Show CES in Las Vegas is not so much a "what" but a huge "who." Yale, the 800-pound gorilla of the regular lock business, showed off its first smart locks at the Z-Wave Alliance booth.

Yales entry-level Linus lock available later this year is Wi-Fi powered, "Works with Nest" incorporates a touchpad on the lock face, and offers remote lock and unlock capabilities. You can create and send entry codes to trusted visitors when youre not home, and you can program the Linus to auto-lock behind you after a customizable period of time.

The Assure Lock available this spring includes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which means it can be unlocked either via the touchscreen keypad and locked or unlocked remotely by twisting your phone as you would turn a key near the Assure, or via a Samsung Gear S2 smart watch app. Like the Linus, you can transmit temporary or permanent "keys" to other occupants or visitors, so they can open the door with their smartphone.

Yale also exhibited its Look Door Viewer. Essentially a TV peephole with a doorbell, the 4.3 inch display lets you see whos on the other side of door whether youre home or not. When someone pushes the doorbell, your smartphone will alert you, even if youre not home.

Smart Locks, Second Generation

Several startup smart lock companies at CES unveiled their second generation smart locks.

For instance, Kwiksets Kevo, the first-ever smart lock, demonstrated its currently unnamed new model. To make installation and setup easier than the original, theres an in-app interactive installation experience to eliminate user-initiated calibration. To enhance security, Kwiksets patented SmartKey resists torque attacks, lock-picking standards and bumping, and is compatible with Android Wear, Nest, Ring video doorbells, Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostats and Moto 360 smart watches.

August, another early smart entry pioneer, exhibited three new products: its next-gen Apple HomeKit-enabled model, a Smart Keypad to let visitors unlock your door with a PIN code, and a Doorbell Cam, all of which were announced in mid-October and will be shipping in the next couple of months.

Danalock claims that its Danalock V2 is the smartest and cheapest smart lock extant. At CES, the company presented two new products: the Danapad keypad and the Danafob keychain, eliminating the need for a smartphone to unlock the door. Both are currently available for preorder.

Smart Locks for Apartment Dwellers

Among the newer smart lock vendors at CES was French company IKILOCKformerly known by its how-do-you-pronounce-it corporate name, GEMECODwhich demonstrated an elegant wood-tone, three-unit home security system, which will fascinate city dwellers.

The IKICENTER, plugged into any AC outlet, is the systems hub, enabling you to lock and unlock doors from anywhere with a connected smartphone.

IKILOCK replaces your existing lock inside, but remains normal-looking on the outside. You can still use a regular key, but the lock can also be opened via your smartphone, locally or remotely.

Most intriguing is IKIPLUG, a smart "remote doorman" for apartment and condo dwellers. IKIPLUG sticks to the wall inside your apartment or condo, near your intercom. When a remote-opening order is sent through the IKILOCK smartphone app, IKIPLUG triggers the intercom to open the outer building door.

This may just be the smartest of all the new smart lock ideas seen at CES.

About the Author

Stewart Wolpin is a freelance journalist and longtime CES veteran. Stewart writes about consumer technology for eBay, where you can find all the latest electronic gadgets for your home.

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Solving Southern Ontarios Growing Pains

Citing the need for Torontos housing industry to "stop working in silos" and start working together to address the areas shelter needs, the Toronto Real Estate Board has launched an initiative involving all stakeholders in government, the private sector and not-for-profit organizations.

The first results were on display recently when TREB >

The report also has 32 submissions about what the area known as the Greater Golden Horseshoe GGH -- which includes a large piece of Southern Ontario from Niagara to Orillia to Peterborough -- needs to do to address housing needs now and in the future. Not surprisingly, aging infrastructure, a need for improved public transit and affordable housing solutions were at the top of almost everyones list.

The GGH is home to about nine million people, or one in four Canadians.

The area is in the midst of a housing and real estate boom that has lasted for more than a decade, taking just a brief breather during the 2008 recession. The real estate board had a record 101,299 transactions in 2015 and prices rose by 9.8 per cent compared to 2014. The lack of single detached home listings pushed the average price of a detached home in the City of Toronto to more than 1 million.

Economist Benjamin Tal of CIBC World Markets told the gathering that during a recent trip to Boston, he found "people in the United States are convinced that we are the poster children for a housing bubble."

Tal said the No. 1 threat to Torontos real estate market is perception, saying that a housing crash could become reality if the industry doesnt fight back and explain to the public how economic fundamentals are continuing to support the market.

"Everyone knows we have a high debt-to-income ratio, but that number doesnt tell you much," says Tal. "Nobody is asking you to pay off your mortgage in one year."

He says that comparing Torontos current real estate situation to what happened in the U.S. prior to that countrys housing crash "is not only wrong, its irresponsible."

TREB is forecasting that 2016 could see even stronger sales than 2015, but will at least check in as the second-strongest year ever for sales. Recent moves by the federal government to tighten the qualification rules for insured mortgages will have little impact on the Toronto market, says the board.

Bryan Tuckey, CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association BILD, said the GGH is expected to grow by more than 100,000 people annually, to 13.5 million by 2014. He said that means 36,000 new homes must be built every year.

Provincial policies passed 10 years to mandate intensification have created a structural shift in the market. "A decade ago, low-rise types of homes, including detached and semi-detached houses and townhouses, accounted for the majority of new home construction. In 2015, the picture was vastly different, with units in high-rise developments comprising more than 80 per cent of new housing stock," says BILD in the report. It has also increased the percentage of high-rise condominium sales in the resale market, from 37 per cent in 2006 to 47 per cent in 2015.

"The new home industrys adaptation to these provincial policies has resulted in the region growing up and not out. Yet, in both the new home and resale markets, demand has remained strong for low-rise homes. The market is challenged by unmet demand because consumers can only buy what exists and what is available for purchase at pre-construction," says BILD.

This has driven up the prices. The price gap between low-rise and high-rise homes is now about 350,000 and growing.

George Carras, founder of RealNet Canada, told the TREB event that while prices for new low-rise homes have more than doubled in the last 10 years, condo builders have been able keep prices lower by building smaller units. Carras says the average condo in the Toronto area is now 140 square feet smaller than it was a decade ago. Thats a 10 X 14-foot room.

Tuckey said the builders challenges include dealing with long delays to get building plans approved and outdated zoning bylaws that are sometimes at odds with other government policies. One of the report submissions, by the Residential Construction Council of Ontario, says there are 45 different government entities that have a direct role in the process of getting a new home constructed.

Tuckey said that taxes and fees account for an average of one-fifth of the cost of a new home.

Dealing with people in local neighbourhoods who are opposed to development of any kind is also a major hurtle. He says the provincial government should be supporting its policies with education and promotion.

John DiMichele, TREB CEO, says, "There are a lot of smart people who responded to our call for stakeholder submissions or who contributed to the sections of this report and it would be great to get them in one room where they could discuss these issues collectively. We need to realize that we all have a stake in the outcome and its time for us to work together to ensure todays opportunity becomes tomorrows reality."

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Open House Sign Rules Are Frequently Disobeyed

Because open houses are an important part of the real estate business, it follows that open house directional signs are an important part of the real estate business. Yet, while open houses are not particularly controversial, a great deal of controversy centers around open house signs. For purposes of this discussion open house signs refers to off-site open house directional signs.

It may come as a surprise to many real estate agents -- especially new ones -- that many people do not like open house signs. They especially do not like forests of open house signs. The second surprise in this regard is that real estate agents do not have a God-given and/or constitutional right to place as many open house signs as they want, wherever they want.

Real estate signs do enjoy certain constitutional free-speech albeit "commercial speech" protections. But -- just as with other forms of protected speech -- cities, counties, and other jurisdictional bodies have a right to regulate such signs. In the words of a legal memorandum from the California Association of REALTORSCAR, "They may impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of displaying signs regardless of whether it is on privately or publicly-owned property."

Throughout the country, many communities have adopted ordinances regulating open house signs. Such ordinances vary widely in their particulars. For example, my local association Orange County [California] Association of REALTORS maintains on its web site a section devoted to open house sign regulations in the approximately 30 communities within its service area. A brief perusal of the section suggests that no two sets of rules are exactly the same.

Some communities prohibit open house signs on public property. Others allow them on some parts of public property e.g. tree wells, but not others street medians. Many communities limit the time period during which such signs can be placed. Typically, 8 AM -- 6 PM.

Quite a few communities limit the number of open house signs that can be displayed for each open house. In some areas there is a fixed limit maybe 5 or 6; while for others it is variable for example, "one sign per change of direction".

The enforcement of open house sign rules varies considerably from community to community. Some are hyper vigilant; others are lax. In some jurisdictions local police may enforce sign codes; in others it is the job of non-sworn code enforcement personnel. Other communities may only periodically assign enforcement responsibility to particular staff members, usually when complaints are on the rise. One thing is for sure: Realtor associations and MLS committees have no right and no business enforcing these or any other municipal codes.

Not surprisingly, a general lack of consistent and diligent enforcement efforts often leads to widespread violations. In particular there are those scoff-law agents who dont care what the rules are. As long as they are not caught and punished, everything is OK. They will put up 10, 12, 14 signs in violation of a numerical limit. They will fly balloons, even though a local code prohibits them. They will place signs in public right of way where signs may be prohibited. Etc. etc. Regrettably, then, some other agents will follow suit, not wanting to be at a perceived competitive disadvantage.

Not only does such behavior reveal an ethically-challenged character, but also it ultimately works to the disadvantage of the entire real estate community. Here is what happens:

The open house sign ordinances of many jurisdictions are frequently the result of compromises worked out between the real estate community and local officials. First, there is community pressure to stop the proliferation of open house signs. Harsh ordinances are proposed. Then, involved REALTORS hash things out with elected officials and city staff. A compromise is reached that everyone can live with. But then, the rules are violated by those real estate agents who feel entitled to disregard them. Others follow.

After a while there is another outbreak of excessive and, often, misplaced signs. There is another groundswell of community protest. Once again, harsh ordinances are proposed. Only, this time, the real estate community is not invited to participate in discussions. Why? Because it has been demonstrated that they wont live up to their end of the bargain.

Open house signs are an important part of the business. They are valuable tools. Real estate agents who value their usefulness should be sensitive to local regulations that govern their use.

Also See:

  • Real Estate For Sale Signs Have Legal Protections

Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtors. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way. His email address is .

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Updated: Saturday, February 13, 2016

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