November 2010 Archives

November 28, 2010

School Closures Create Opportunities for Sex Offenders to Move In?

A real estate professional recently told me a sad tale of her childhood neighborhood, where financial difficulties led to the closure of the elementary and other schools -- which, in turn, led to an influx of sex offenders buying homes there.

Is that possible? Megan's Law, a federal law administered state by state, does indeed allow states to prohibit registered sex offenders from living within a certain distance of a school or day care center. For example, 2,000 feet is the required radius in California and Oklahoma, and 1,000 feet in Arizona, New Jersey, and New York.

Allegations have been made that such laws lead to homelessness among sex offenders, given the difficulty of finding a place to live that fits the criteria. (It's hard enough to find a place to live to begin with!) So, the disturbing truth of the matter is that it's not hard to imagine someone with a sex-offense conviction being relieved to hear of a local school closure, and starting to house-hunt there.

Before starting to panic, however, let's remember that not all sex offenses involved harm to others (though some states' laws apply the school restrictions only to the most high-risk offenders) and that we have no idea whether other released or undiscovered convicts -- murderers, burglars, or con artists -- are living right next door. (Hmm, that was comforting, wasn't it?) But there's nothing new about the fact that we all learn to live with the possibility of crime in our society, usually by keeping our eyes open and teaching our children how to respond to unwelcome advances. Also, the person to whom I spoke hadn't heard any reports of increased crime in the neighborhood that had supposedly become Sex Offender Central.

But there's one truth that can't be gotten around: If a neighborhood acquires the reputation of being an enclave of registered sex offenders, its property values will go down. And that's just one of the many good reasons to fight to keep local schools open.  
November 20, 2010

Moving With Pets? Here's a Laugh (and Some Useful Warnings)

This blog artist at has created some seriously funny and insightful drawings and anecdotes of her two dogs as they suffered -- and I do mean suffered -- through a move. Here's the actual entry, called "Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving."

And be sure to pack a squeaky toy.
November 17, 2010

Builder Concept Home 2010: It's Cute!

Check out this year's "Builder Concept Home," the National Association of Home Builder's annual model of what Americans want and need today. It's compact! It's got rooms that look like normal squares, instead of giant foyers and open areas with staircases meant for Scarlett O'Hara! They're calling it a "New Home for the New Economy."

Personally, I think it's a good idea. I've been a houseguest in some of the McMansions of the past, and they're usually drafty (hard to heat), full of vast areas that no one uses, and no doubt take forever to vacuum. And according to Carla Fried of MoneyWatch, I'm not the only one to think smaller is better -- here's her article, "Is the McMansion Era Gone for Good?"
November 8, 2010

Homeowner Tip: Prune Trees Now, When No Birds Are Nesting

I know someone who left the tree pruning business because of his horror, one day, at watching a nest of baby birds fall from a tree after he'd unwittingly cut the branch. Birds are clever at hiding their nests, so even though he and other arborists are watchful, tree pruning done during the nesting months, particularly spring, summer, and in some areas early autumn, is risky.

eggs, elliptical.jpg

Late fall and winter, when trees are dormant, is the safest time to prune trees and large shrubs -- in many cases, for the tree's sake as well as the birds'. Then you can enjoy watching bird families make use of your trees next spring!

November 1, 2010

Buying Foreclosure Homes: Unexpected Risks

Back when the foreclosure crisis was fairly new, we thought we knew the basic risks: the frequent requirement that the home be purchased "as-is" without an inspection; poor home conditions; processing delays; and the risk that the homeowner would, within a legal time period, pay off the debt and reclaim the house.

Turns out those were just the basics. Check out these two excellent articles by Ron Lieber of The New York Times: "Avoid Foreclosure Market Until the Dust Settles,"  and  "What It Takes to Buy a Home in Foreclosure;" for accounts of other crazy situations faced by buyers of foreclosure homes. Battles to keep out squatters, sabotage by the departing angry owner (with home inspectors are having to learn to look for cleverly hidden damage like concrete down the toilet), and unhappy discoveries of other, major debts against the property are just a few of the highlights. Not a task for the faint of heart.