Meet the Military Families of Foreclosure

Meet the Military Families of Foreclosure

By: Donna Sapolin
Published: October 7, 2010

It’s a sad irony that so many of those in uniform who help keep us safe in our homes are in serious danger of losing theirs.

The same economic problems that afflict civilians also have hit military families. Adding to their burden, veterans often face physical and psychological problems as a result of combat service; and their families must manage the home front without them.

As the following profiles show, the combination is often tragic.

A perfect storm is what Jennifer Robinson, director of assistance at USA Cares, a nonprofit that offers financial assistance to post 9/11 veterans and active-duty military personnel, calls the foreclosure crisis. In fact, she says, there are specific problems that can put military families at greater risk for foreclosure than civilian families:

  • Reserves called to active service often find themselves earning far less money in the military than they did at their civilian jobs.
  • Spouses often have to cut back on working hours to take care of children, since they have no one to share childcare duties with.
  • Service members may find jobs gone when they return—the factory they worked for is now padlocked.
  • Service members may have injuries that prevent them from returning to the same jobs they had, and various disability programs don’t make up the difference. Meanwhile, spouses have to take care of them.
  • Service members’ homes have lost significant value, making refinancing difficult.

Data from RealtyTrac on foreclosures in 163 Zip codes with a high proportion of military families tells a grim story: Between February 2009 and February 2010, these foreclosures were up 10.93% while the national rate was up 6.22%.

Groups like the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Regional Loan Centers and private organizations like USA Cares are helping. But, the problems many veterans face remain acute.

Read on to meet several veterans deservedly helped by USA Cares. And please join our cause: Support HouseLogic’s Operation Home Relief Campaign via Facebook.

Pamela Harris: Fighting at Home While Her Husband is Fighting Abroad

During the last year, the words of Pamela Harris’ aunt would frequently echo in her head. “She always said that ‘if you want something out of life, you better fight for it,’” says Pamela, a 36-year-old Army wife and mother of six.

That inspirational advice along with some heartfelt prayers were the only things that kept her going when her husband, Army Sergeant First Class Corey Harris, 43, was deployed to Afghanistan in August 2009 and a series of financial blows jeopardized their ownership of their 2,800-square-foot home in Vinegrove, Ky., near Fort Knox.

They love their home, which they bought in 2007, “but then it all started slipping away. Suddenly I was alone, in charge of everything, and wondering if my husband would ever come back,” Pamela recalls.

Job loss and bureaucratic problems

She quickly realized she wouldn’t be able to manage her full-time job as a hotel laundry attendant while also tending to her disabled 16-year-old son and the other kids, who ranged in age from 2 to 19. “I was constantly having to shuttle back-and-forth to occupational therapy, speech therapy, medical appointments, daycare, sports practices, and other school programs, plus manage the household in every other way,” she says. “I was totally overwhelmed.”

Given her burdens, Pamela and her employer agreed that she should take a leave of absence, and though she was guaranteed a job when Corey returned, she wouldn’t be earning a salary in the interim. They would have to get by on his military salary alone.

Accounting snafus exacerbated the problem: If military personnel use their housing allowance for on-base housing, it isn’t regarded as income, but if it’s used for off-based housing, as in the Harrises’ case, it is considered income.

With the housing allowance considered as income, the family was now essentially classified as too rich to merit the Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income they had been receiving for their son’s disability. The Social Security Administration didn’t notice this for months, and when it did, it not only discontinued future benefits, but asked the family to reimburse $3,700–eight months worth of payments.

“It was their error and they said I had to pay them back even though it wasn’t my fault,” Pamela says. “I no longer had a job, our insurance wouldn’t cover everything our son needed, and Corey’s pay couldn’t make up the difference.”

Pamela consulted with a financial adviser on the post and began investigating various sources of help while also cutting back her expenses as much as possible. But despite her best efforts, she couldn’t keep the mortgage payments current and started receiving foreclosure notices from her bank.

A forbearance plan she hoped would help fell apart. “I was an absolute wreck,” she says. “I’d have $140 left over after making the mortgage payment,” plus some essential utility bills. The $140 was all she had for food, gas, and other essentials for two weeks. Their credit score took a beating and she felt completely hopeless.

Nonprofit to the rescue

Then, an Army advocate told her about USA Cares, a nonprofit that helps post-9/11 veterans and active-duty military personnel. “I filled out an application around Christmas time and got a call from a rep just after the holidays,” says Pamela. “She was incredibly supportive and sympathetic.” USA Cares spoke with their bank and got the family’s mortgage up to date.

Corey came home from Afghanistan in August 2010, and is once again stationed at Fort Knox. Pamela started a new job at her former company a month later. Things are now looking up for the family, and she is determined to stay strong and find a way to pay for the services their disabled son requires.

“I’m gonna keep pushing, just like my aunt told me to,” she says. “USA Cares came through for us–there’s always a way.”

Richard Rosario: Injury Threatens Vet’s Sanctuary

Master Sergeant Richard Rosario’s 1,600-square-foot home in Beaumont, Texas, is far more than a shelter. “It’s our sanctuary–a center of learning about the spiritual values my wife Ana and I try to pass on to our four children,” he says. “And it’s also a joyful place to compose and play music,” a hobby the whole family shares–including Rosario’s musician parents, who live with them.

But a military-related injury threatened all that.

Unable to work

In July 2009, Rosario, a 23-year member of the military with four years of service in the regular Army and 19 years in the National Guard, tripped on a rock while training for a tour of duty in Iraq. His injury not only prevented him from working at his civilian job as a Federal Bureau of Prisons budget analyst but also caused extreme disruption in his military pay. He was placed in an incapacitation program, and according to Rosario, “every time they put someone in that program, they have to be approved for every paycheck.”

The approval process was delayed, he claims, because the approvers weren’t familiar with his case, only met on certain days, and relied on paperwork that often couldn’t reach them in time for their meetings.

Four months went by before Rosario received another paycheck, which caused him to fall behind on his utility and other payments and led to foreclosure notices. “My mortgage was three months overdue and there were late charges on top of that,” he says. Gas, electricity, and Internet and TV services were shut off, and his wife was getting sick from all the stress.

Ana Rosario’s salary as a supervisor of church custodians could barely cover the family groceries. Although some military checks eventually started coming again, the family still hadn’t collected any monies for June, July, August, and September of 2010. Only the generosity of Rosario’s church and USA Cares, a nonprofit that helps post-9/11 veterans and active-duty military personnel with financial counseling and aid, kept the Rosario family home from slipping away.

A helping hand over the rough patch

“The sergeant dealing with my case put me in touch with USA Cares and they were very helpful, very quickly,” says Richard. “I’m incredibly grateful to them. They covered the mortgage payments for August and September and my church covered June and July. USA Cares also got the late charges removed.”

In mid-September, Richard was abruptly released from the military incapacitation program and instructed to return to his civilian job. “My knee isn’t really strong enough for the prison job,” he says.

“In that environment, you have to be able to defend yourself against inmates. But I have to bring in money until things get resolved with the military. I’ll be earning $3,000 less a month than I was when I had the National Guard pay but at least I don’t worry about losing my home anymore. That’s huge!”

James McCormick: Burdens of Civilian Life

Captain James McCormick, 42, isn’t one to shy away from hardship. He served for 16 years in the Army, another six in the National Guard, and led a combat unit in Iraq where he suffered gunshot wounds to his legs, hand, and chest. But even for a recipient of three Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, and an Army Commendation for valor, the burdens of civilian life can prove intractable.

“My command was taken away, my 22-year military career terminated, and then I lost my civilian job as an occupational safety and health manager in a company-wide layoff,” says McCormick, the father of a blended family of seven kids. “I was completely demoralized and didn’t feel capable of doing much of anything.”

‘You’re too old…you gotta go’

The trajectory of loss and financial burden started when McCormick volunteered for active duty in Afghanistan in the summer of 2008 and a routine medical exam revealed a previously undiagnosed brain trauma resulting from roadside bomb incidents and loss of manual dexterity.

McCormick recalls the harsh response of his National Guard Battalion Commander, which struck him almost as hard as the IEDs: “You’re broken and you’re no good to me,” he said. “You’re too old to be a captain and you gotta go.”

McCormick proceeded to endure a year of medical evaluation for retirement, requiring an expensive weekly four-and-a-half-hour drive from his home in New Haven, W.Va., to Fort Knox, Ky., as well as the cost of hotel accommodations.

He says that during that period, the battalion didn’t cover the expenses, pay him, or transfer him to a Warrior Transition Unit, where he would have been considered on active duty. “Every time I made the trip, I’d lose two days’ pay from my civilian job,” says McCormick. “I was in an awful limbo and felt desperate. My income sunk to about half of what it had been.”

The small home in which the family of nine had resided since 2006 was already in need of repair. A basement flood led to a hefty repair bill.

Then, in June 2009, two months before his medical retirement was finally granted, his youngest son, Preston, was born with severe medical problems and had to spend 14 days in the hospital neonatal unit.

“I’d rather have been shot again than see Preston go through what he went through,” says McCormick.

The family quickly exhausted their savings and in a final blow, the bank sent a foreclosure notice.

A new hope

Then everything turned around. He started getting his retirement pay and an Army Wounded Warriors rep, Clay Rankin, made some phone calls on his behalf to help.

Within two days, McCormick was in touch with USA Cares, a nonprofit that helps post-9/11 veterans and active-duty personnel. The organization helped analyze his debts, provided him with financial counseling, and covered three months of house payments as well as outstanding car, water, and electric bills. “The $6,500 they gave me kept me from going over the edge,” he says.

McCormick then applied for a position as a Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist and got the job.

“I absolutely love it,” he says. “I’ve helped many people as a church pastor, but here I’m supporting people who’ve experienced the sorts of things I’ve gone through and getting a nice salary on top of my Army retirement pay. I’m feeling really hopeful now. My family’s learned how to make do on less and we’re fixing the house ourselves, one piece of trim at a time.”

Stefan Walker: Pain on the Homefront

It wasn’t that long ago that Army First Sergeant Stefan Walker, 50, sat down on the couch in his small house outside of Fort Knox, Ky., swallowed his pride, and waited for his neighbors to bring over a bucket of water and some gas money.

In a 30-year career with the Army and Army Reserves, Walker was no stranger to working in difficult conditions, but none of his past experiences equipped him for the situation in which he found himself in March 2009.

His water and electrical service had been shut off, his house was about to go into foreclosure, and the disabling back injury he had sustained while instructing troops was preventing him from being able to do anything about the downward spiral that had gripped his life.

Unable to keep up the house

It was especially painful for Walker, who had been so involved in working on his house, from building a family room downstairs to laying hardwood floors and lining the front porch, steps, and sidewalk with red brick pavers. “It was hard enough knowing that I wouldn’t be able to work on it anymore but to have it slip away from me was killing me.”

He had been taken off active duty but didn’t qualify for medical disability. He was in so much pain, however, he couldn’t work at a civilian job.

Subsequent medical evaluations uncovered spinal disc impairment and permanent disability, but it took him months to get back pay and ongoing incapacitation pay. Without those monies coming in, he fell behind on all his bills.

“I couldn’t work,” Walker says, “And my wife only earns $9.50 an hour, which isn’t enough to cover our expenses, but it’s all we had coming in.”

An angel to watch over me

In the summer of 2010, Walker finally received support from a unit administrator who went online and filled out an application on his behalf with USA Cares, a nonprofit that provides financial counseling and aid to post-9/11 veterans and active-duty personnel. The organization pledged to help him cover the mortgage payments he owed until he could catch up.

“The woman who helped me at USA Cares is named Angela,” says Walker. “I can’t imagine a more perfect name for her. I felt watched over.”

He credits others’ generosity, his wife’s love, and his faith with sustaining him through this difficult period.  “Sheila works a full-time job and takes care of everything in the house—from the cooking and cleaning to the mowing,” he says.

“I just want it to be easier for her and to have a stable place for my teenaged daughter from my first marriage. She was born with leukemia and has had a rough time of it. But she went into remission and lived. I’ve seen that prayers can be answered and I just know everything’s going to be OK.”

Andrea Berta:  The Last Straw

Andrea Berta, 34, piles her three children, aged 2, 5, and 9, into her car and shuttles off to her eldest’s piano lesson. Her husband, First Lieutenant Martin Berta, 34, served in the Marines for 11 years and is presently serving with the Utah National Guard in Afghanistan. She hopes to welcome Martin home to their Eagle Mountain, Utah, home someday—but she almost wasn’t able to.

Deployed with the 118 Sapper Company two months ago, Martin is responsible for clearing road bombs. “I’m worried sick,” Andrea says. “He calls me every morning, but I haven’t heard from him today. It’s hard. I’m trying to just take it a day at a time. Fortunately, my home and small town help me do that; they’re so peaceful and safe.”

Erroneous debt

A year and a half ago, Andrea discovered a line item on one of Martin’s paychecks that indicated a debt of $5,500. Upon investigation, Andrea learned they were being asked to return monies the military had mistakenly paid out for Martin’s weekend training sessions.

Martin worked out a payment plan of $500 per month but the paperwork got held up and two $1,700 deductions were taken out of his paycheck in a single month, leaving them short of funds to cover their mortgage. Although they had minimal debt and had never been late before, Andrea says their bank wouldn’t work with them.

Andrea couldn’t pay the mortgage for two months and the resultant late charges set them even further behind. They planned to use their 2009 income tax refund to catch up on payments, but had to use it instead to rent an apartment in Missouri—on top of house payments—while Martin trained for his deployment to Afghanistan.

Even worse, the resulting bad credit rating could have affected Martin’s security clearance, limiting the jobs he could get.

“There are no words to describe the kind of pain and terror that gripped us at that point. This wasn’t our fault and no one would help. A relatively small amount of debt was going to make us lose our house right when my husband was heading to Afghanistan. I was afraid to come back home from Missouri for fear of finding a foreclosure sign in the front yard.”

Reveling in the home that’s still theirs

The couple began a frantic search online for any possible options for financial counseling and aid to post-9/11 veterans and active-duty military personnel.

“We filled out the application and they called us two days later,” says Andrea. The process took just a month and a half, and they covered the two months of missing mortgage payments plus about $4,200 in late fees. “When I found out, I called Martin to tell him the news and we both started crying on the phone.”

For now, Andrea is basking in the newfound sense of stability. “I have the best neighbors,” she says. “One just put in a sprinkler system for me at no charge—he said that it’s the least he can do since Martin is fighting for our freedom.”

A number of others came over on the anniversary of 9/11 to show their support and hang out in the back yard. “Today, new grass seed is being put in,” says Andrea. “I hope it grows quickly; it has to keep up with my family—I just learned I’m expecting again.”

Memorial Day – A Day of Rememberance

Memorial Day – A Day of Remembrance

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.

Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).

It is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363). This helped ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays, though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19th in Texas; April 26th in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10th in South Carolina; and June 3rd (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

Red Poppies

In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.”

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms. Michael. When she returned to France she made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help.

Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.

National Moment of Remembrance

The “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.”

Open House Timeline: Countdown to a Successful Sale

Open House Timeline: Countdown to a Successful Sale

By: Dona DeZube

An inviting open house can put your home on buyers’ short lists.

Get ready for your open house — stress-free — by starting early and breaking down your to-do list into manageable chunks. Use this timeline of 35 tips and your house will stand out from the competition on open house day.

Four weeks before the open house

  • Ask your parents to babysit the kids the weekend of the open house. Then book a reservation for your pet with the dog sitter or at the kennel. Having everyone out of the house on the day of will help you keep your home tidy and smelling fresh. Plus, no dogs and no kids equal more time for last-minute prep.
  • Line up a contractor to take care of maintenance issues your real estate agent has asked you to fix, like leaking faucets, sagging gutters, or dings in the walls.
  • De-clutter every room (even if you already de-cluttered once before). Don’t hide your stuff in the closet—buyers will open doors to size up closet space. Store your off-season clothes, sports equipment, and toys somewhere else.
  • Book carpet cleaners for a few days before the open house and a house cleaning service for the day before. Otherwise, make sure to leave time to do these things yourself a couple of days before.

Three weeks before the open house

  • Buy fluffy white towels to create a spa-like feel in the bathrooms.
  • Buy a front door mat to give a good first impression.
  • Designate a shoebox for each bathroom to stow away personal items the day of the open house.

Two weeks before the open house

  • Clean the light fixtures, ceiling fans, light switches, and around door knobs. A spic-and-span house makes buyers feel like they can move right in.
  • Power-wash the house, deck, sidewalk, and driveway.

One week before the open house

  • Make sure potential buyers can get up close and personal with your furnace, air-conditioning unit, and appliances. They’ll want to read any maintenance and manufacturer’s stickers to see how old everything is.
  • Clean the inside of appliances and de-clutter kitchen cabinets and drawers and the pantry. Buyers will open cabinet doors and drawers. If yours are stuffed to the gills, buyers will think your kitchen lacks enough storage space.
  • Put out the new door mat to break it in. It’ll look nice, but not too obviously new for the open house.

Week of the open house

  • Buy ready-made cookie dough and disposable aluminum cookie sheets so you don’t have to take time for clean up after baking (you can recycle the pans after use). Nothing says “home” like the smell of freshly baked cookies.
  • Buy a bag of apples or lemons to display in a pretty bowl.
  • Let your real estate agent know if you’re running low on sales brochures explaining the features of your house.
  • Clean the windows to let in the most light possible.
  • Mow the lawn two days before the open house. Mowing the morning of the open house can peeve house hunters with allergies.

Day before the open house

  • Make sure your real estate agent puts up plenty of open-house signs pointing in the right direction and located where drivers will see them. If she can’t get to it on the Friday before a Sunday open house, offer to do it yourself.
  • Put away yard clutter like hoses, toys, or pet water bowls.
  • Lay fresh logs in the fireplace.

Day of the open house

  • Put checkbooks, kids’ piggybanks, jewelry, prescription drugs, bank statements, and other valuables in the trunk of your car, at a neighbor’s house, or in your safe. It’s rare, but thefts do happen at open houses.
  • Set the dining room table for a special-occasion dinner. In the backyard, uncover the barbeque and set the patio table for a picnic to show buyers how elegantly and simply they can entertain once they move in.
  • Check any play equipment for spider webs or insect invasions. A kid screaming about spiders won’t endear buyers to your home.
  • Clean the fingerprints off the storm door. First impressions count.
  • Put up Post-It notes around the house to highlight great features like tilt-in windows or a recently updated appliance.
  • Remove shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, and other personal items from the bathtub, shower, and sinks in all the bathrooms. Store them in a shoebox under the sink. Removing personal items makes it easier for buyers to see themselves living in your house.
  • Stow away all kitchen countertop appliances.

One hour before the open house

  • Bake the ready-to-bake cookies you bought earlier this week. Put them on a nice platter for your open house guests to eat with a note that says: “Help yourself!”
  • Hang the new towels in the bathrooms.
  • Put your bowl of apples or lemons on the kitchen table or bar counter.
  • Pick up and put away any throw rugs, like the bath mats. They’re a trip hazard.

15 minutes before the open house

  • Open all the curtains and blinds and turn on the lights in the house. Buyers like bright homes.
  • Light fireplace logs (if it’s winter).
  • Didn’t get those cookies baked? Brew a pot of coffee to make the house smell inviting.

During the open house

Get out of the house and let the REALTOR® sell it! Potential buyers will be uncomfortable discussing your home if you’re loitering during the open house. Take advantage of your child- and pet-free hours by treating yourself to something you enjoy — a few extra hours at the gym, a trip to the bookstore, or a manicure.

Quick Ways to Make Some Shade

Quick Ways to Make Some Shade, But Don’t Forget: Trees Are Best

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

If you prefer a drier cool, as opposed to the misters we mentioned yesterday, read on to find some quick ways to make some shade. Plus, get some tips on getting shade with some quick-growing trees.

Immediate relief

Umbrellas, awnings, and quick-assembly patio tents are quick, although sometimes costly, methods of creating shade instantly.

The ubiquitous patio umbrella—found even in grocery stores for $30—can either stand alone upright or offset, or slip into a hole in your patio table.

Choose an umbrella that tilts, so you can block the sun at any angle. Or get one that’s fabulous, like Frontgate’s Rimbou Lotus Shade, which looks like a giant palm frond. (Cost: $1,795.)

Retractable awnings, a permanent feature of older southern homes, are traditional shade makers for outdoor areas up to 12 feet from your house. Motorized awnings take the fuss out of opening and closing. Depending on size and what kind of bells and whistles they come with, awnings typically cost from $400 to $3,000.

Portable awnings are my favorite, because they make shade wherever, not just areas close to the house. SunSetter’s Large Oasis Freestanding Awning, measuring 16 ft. by 10 ft., can provide 160 sq. ft. of shade. (Cost: $1,549 manual; $2,099 motorized.)

A cloth gazebo (aka patio tent or canopy) is another option that’s great for entertaining. You can go simple and inexpensive ($50 for Target’s Outdoor Patio Pariesienne Gazebo Canopy, though online reviews indicate you get what you pay for). Or you can step it up with the Garden Oasis Lighted Gazebo, complete with lights and netting for $700 at Sears.

Long-term re-leaf

Growing shade trees is the greenest—and slowest—way to block the sun on patios and decks. There’s nothing as cool as sitting under the shade of an old oak tree.

If you can’t wait 20 years for a little shade, plant a quick-growing variety which, in tree language, means it grows a couple of feet or more each year. You can rush the process by paying more and buying big trees, and you’ll see a return on your investment. Here are some species to consider.

  • American Elm: (Zones 2-9) Grows rapidly up to 100 feet tall and 120 feet wide. Adapts to varied climates and soil conditions.
  • October Glory Red Maple: (Zones 4-9) Provides a 35-foot spread and grows to 40 feet high.
  • Sawtooth Oak: (Zones 4-9) Dark green summer foliage turns yellow to brown in fall. Wildlife will love its acorns.
  • Chinese Pistache: (Zones 6-9) Wonderful wide canopy and grows in all but the coldest zones.
  • Natchez Crape Myrtle: (Zones 7-10) Lots of long-blooming white flowers and cinnamon-colored bark.

The Porch – An American Tradition

Back PorchWelcome to the porch where you can wave hello to the neighbors, sit and read a good book, hang a flag to show your patriotism, chat with your family and friends while reminiscing memories , listen to the birds sing as they sooth your soul, relax and share a smile, sip some summertime lemonade, enjoy the weather and watch the sun set.

A Little Porch History

By Sharon Ferraro

Porches emerged beginning in the middle of the 19th century, as cities grew larger and families began living in individual homes. People viewed their yard and garden from inside the house and planned for the vistas viewed through windows. Gradually the point of view shifted from inside to how the house looked from the street, and the front porch emerged as a place to see and be seen — to be outside but still sheltered by the home.

While a back porch may have allowed the family more privacy, around the beginning of the 20th century the backyard included things that the family wanted to get away from when they spent time outdoors — the vegetable garden, trash heap, and especially the outhouse. Indeed, the growth of municipal sanitary sewers lead to a decline of both outhouses and front porches.

The heyday of the front porch lasted from the early 1880s to the middle 1920s. Families added front porches to their homes or built new houses with elaborate porches. The porch became the comfortable spot for a summer evening where the whole family could relax after dinner. Neighbors taking an evening stroll could engage in conversation or be invited up.

A typical porch would be at least five feet wide, with a wooden ceiling, often covered with beadboard. Rails surrounded the porch — usually built to match the rest of the house, whether it was lacy gingerbread or sturdy stucco kneewalls. The floor would be tongue-and-grooved planks laid with a slight pitch to help water drain away from the house.

Furniture on the porch could be utilitarian, such as leftover straight chairs from inside. Or families might purchase furniture especially for the porch made from wicker or bamboo, with and without cushions. Rocking chairs proved to be especially popular for whiling away summer evenings. But the ultimate accessory was a porch swing, suspended on chains at one end of the porch, the perfect place to rock a child to sleep or to get to know a high school sweetheart.

Technology erased the front porch by the 1950s, when radios and later televisions in the living room, and automobiles in the driveway came to whisk us away for other entertainments. The front porch disappeared from house plans, to be replaced by patios and decks in the privacy of the backyard. According to home magazines of the 1930s and 40s, the best way to modernize your home was to tear off the old-fashioned porch and add a simple, modern stoop.

Today the pendulum is sweeping back in the other direction, and front porches are being added to existing homes and once again appearing on new house plans. The porch has regained popularity today as a gathering place for family and friends whenever the weather allows.
Screened In Back PorchIsn’t it time for you to get back to the basics of life, where you actually take time to enjoy the simple things of life?

Summer is here,  take some time to put some of that American tradition back into your family.

Let Sheryl Powell, Your Happy Realtor, help find that perfect back porch for you.  Sheryl Powell represents Buyers and Sellers in and around Northeast Houston including Humble,Kingwood, Atascocita, Crosby, Huffman,Porter and New Caney. Sheryl loves the opportunity to find dream homes for her clients.

Back PatioFor more information on this stunning home in Huffman’s Indian Shores or other homes in the area, contact Sheryl Powell today at 281-753-0425.


Understanding Real Estate Representation

Understanding Real Estate Representation

By: G. M. Filisko
Published: March 29, 2010

Whether you’re buying or selling, it’s important to choose representation that meets your needs in the transaction.

You have choices when selecting representation in a real estate transaction. Here are five tips for understanding which type of legal relationship with a real estate professional, called an agency relationship, will best protect you when you buy or sell a home.

1. Buyer’s agency

When you’re buying a home, you can hire an agent who represents only you, called an exclusive buyer’s representative or agent. A buyer’s agent works in your best interest and owes you a fiduciary duty. You can pay your buyer’s agent yourself, or ask the seller, or the seller’s agent, to pay your agent a share of their sales commission.

If you’re selling your home and hiring an agent to list it exclusively, you’ve hired a selling representative–an agent who owes fiduciary duties to you. Typically, you pay a selling agent a commission at closing. Selling agents usually offer or agree to pay a portion of their sales commission to the buyer’s agent. If your seller’s agent brings in a buyer, your agent keeps the entire commission.

2. Subagency

When you purchase a home, the agent you can opt to work with may not be your agent at all, but instead may be a subagent of the seller. In general, a subagent represents and acts in the best interest of the sellers and sellers’ agent.

If your agent is acting as a subagent, you can expect to be treated honestly, but the subagent owes loyalty to the sellers and their agent and can’t put your interests above those of the sellers. In a few states, agents aren’t permitted to act as subagents.

Never tell a subagent anything you don’t want the sellers to know. Maybe you offered $150,000 for a home but are willing to go up to $160,000. That’s the type of information subagents would be required to pass on to their clients, the sellers.

3. Disclosed dual agency

In many states, agents and companies can represent both parties in a home sale as long as that relationship is fully disclosed. It’s called disclosed dual agency. Because dual agents represent both parties, they can’t be protective of and loyal to only you. Dual agents don’t owe all the traditional fiduciary duties to clients. Instead, they owe limited fiduciary duties to each party.

Why would you agree to dual agency? Suppose you want to buy a house that’s listed for sale by the same real estate brokerage where your buyer’s agent works. In that case, the real estate brokerage would be representing both you and the seller and you’d both have to agree to that.

Because there’s a potential for conflicts of interest with dual agency, all parties must give their informed consent. In many states, that consent must be in writing.

4. Designated agency

A form of disclosed dual agency, “designated agency” allows two different agents within a single firm to represent the buyer and seller in the same transaction. To avoid conflicts that can arise with dual agency, some managing brokers designate or appoint agents in their company to represent only sellers, or only buyers. But that isn’t required for designated agency. A designated, or appointed, agent will give you full representation and represent your best interests.

5. Nonagency relationship

In some states, you can choose not to be represented by an agent. That’s referred to as nonagency or working with a transaction broker or facilitator. In general, in nonagency representation, the real estate professional you work with owes you fewer duties than a traditional agency relationship. And those duties vary from state to state. Ask the person you’re working with to explain what he or she will and won’t do for you.

5 Easy DIY Weekend Projects Under $300

5 Easy DIY Weekend Projects Under $300

By: John Riha

Just another weekend? Not if you take advantage with one or more of these 5 great projects you can easily pull off for under $300.

Most of the cost of these DIY weekend projects is in the materials. The labor — that’s you — is free. All you need now are the hours. But, hey, you’ve got two full days — plenty of time to be a superhero weekend warrior and grab some R&R.

Project #1: Add a Garden Arbor Entry

The setup: Install an eye-catching portal to your garden with a freestanding arbor. It’ll look great at the end of a garden path or framing a grassy area between planting beds.

Specs and cost: Garden arbors can be priced up to thousands of dollars, but you can find nice-looking kits in redwood, cedar, and vinyl at your local home improvement or garden center for $200 to $300. Typical sizes are about 7 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide. You’ll have to assemble the kit yourself.

Screwdriver; cordless drill/driver; hammer; tape measure. Kits come pre-cut and pre-drilled for easy assembly, and usually include screws. If fasteners aren’t included, check the materials list before you leave the store.

Time: 3 to 5 hours

Project #2: Install a Window Awning

The setup: Summer is super, but too much sunlight from south- and west-facing windows can heat up your interiors and make your AC work overtime. Beat that heat and save energy by using an awning to stop harsh sunlight before it enters your house.

Specs and cost: Residential awnings come in many sizes and colors. Some are plastic or aluminum, but most are made with weatherproof fabrics. They’re engineered for wind resistance, and some are retractable. A 4-foot-wide awning with a 2.5-foot projection is $150 to $250.

Tools: Cordless drill/driver; adjustable wrench; tape measure; level. You can install an awning on any siding surface, but you’ll need a hammer drill to drill holes in brick. To prevent leaks, fill any drilled holes with silicone sealant before you install screws and bolts.

: 3 to 4 hours

Project #3: Screen Off Your Air Conditioner from View

The setup: Air conditioning is great, but air conditioner condensers are ugly. Up your curb appeal quotient by hiding your AC condenser or heat pump unit with a simple screen.

Specs and costs: An AC screen is typically three-sided, about 40 inches high, and freestanding — you’ll want to be able to move it easily when it comes time to service your HVAC. For about $100, you can make a screen yourself using weather-resistant cedar or pressure-treated wood to build three frames, and filling each frame with plastic or pressure-treated lattice.

Or, buy pre-made fencing panels. A 38-inch-by-38-inch plastic fencing panel is about $50.

Tools: Hammer; saw; cordless drill/driver; measuring tape; galvanized wood screws.

Time: Build it yourself in four to six hours. Install pre-made fencing in one to two hours.

Project #4: Add Garage Storage

The setup: Shopping for garage storage solutions is definitely a kid-in-the-candy-store experience. There are so many cool shelves, hooks, and hangers available that you’ll need to prioritize your needs. Take stock of long-handled landscape tools, bikes, paint supplies, ladders, and odd ducks, such as that kayak. Measure your available space so you’ll have a rough idea of where everything goes.

Specs and cost: Set your under-$300 budget, grab a cart, and get shopping. Many storage systems are made to be hung on drywall, but hooks and heavy items should be fastened directly to studs. Use a stud finder ($20) to locate solid framing.

If your garage is unfinished, add strips of wood horizontally across studs so you’ll have something to fasten your storage goodies to. An 8-foot-long 2-by-4 is about $2.50.

Tools: Cordless drill/driver; hammer; level; measuring tape; screws and nails.

Time: This is a simple project, but not a fast one. Figure six to 10 hours to get everything where you want it, plus shopping. But, oh the fun in putting everything in its place!

Project #5: Edging Your Garden

The setup: Edging is a great way to define your planting beds, corral garden mulch, and to separate your lawn from your garden or patio.

Specs and cost: Wood and metal edging looks like tiny fencing; they’re 4 to 6 inches high. Some include spikes that hold the edging in position; other types must be partially buried. Cost is $1 to $5 per foot.

Plastic edging can be molded and colored to mimic brick, wood, and stone. About $20 for 10 feet.

Concrete edging blocks are smooth, or textured to resemble stone. $15 to $25 for 10 feet.

Real stone edging is installed flush with the surrounding grade in a shallow trench on a bed of sand, so digging is required. Stone is sold by the ton and prices vary by region. You’ll need about one-third of a ton of flagstone to make an 8-inch-wide edging 50 feet long, costing $150 to $200.

Tools: Shovel; wheelbarrow; tin snips (for cutting plastic edging); work gloves.

Time: Pre-made edging will take two to three hours for 50 feet; stone will take six to 10 hours.