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Sanborn – Love it or list it

As of December 1, 2013, there were 987 single family residential homes on the market in the twelve communities covered in this Lakes Region real estate market report. The average asking price was $495,189 and the median price point stood at $249,995. Last December there were 1,023 homes on the market with an average asking price of $498,763. The current inventory level represents an 11.5 month supply of homes on the market.

There are dozens of home improvement and real estate shows on TV these days and many of them are generally pretty informative and entertaining. You can learn how to do everything from the common household repair, to totally renovating a home, to making a fortune flipping houses... well, maybe breaking even flipping houses. One of my favorites lately is Love It or List It on HGTV. It is a pretty neat concept where homeowners that have outgrown their current residence have the opportunity to get their home remodeled to meet their needs while also shopping for a new home that might work better for them. The show is set up as a competition between the designer in charge of the remodel and the real estate agent charged with finding the homeowners some new and better digs. But rarely does anything go smoothly and there are a couple of flaws in the show that are a little misleading and always make me chuckle.

It doesn't take long for you to realize that the show is not based in the United States. It's actually a little north of here, in Toronto and that's not bad as the Canadian housing market is pretty strong. The Canadian accent is clearly the main tip off along with the architectural style of the homes which is slightly different than down here. The high prices of the homes might be another giveaway. It seems that most of the homes are in the $750,000 to $1.5 million for something not all that terribly grand.

There doesn't seem to be a shortage of people that have out grown their homes in Toronto. Seems like storage is always a big issue as stuff is always piled high and rooms are cluttered. There never seems to be enough bedrooms for the kids or bathrooms to go around. Enter Hilary Farr, the designer, and David Visentin, the agent. They get a list of the homeowners' must-haves for the renovation as well as what they would need in order to be enticed to move to a new home. They also get a budget for the renovations and for the new home. That's the easy part. Things generally unravel quickly from there.

Hilary comes up with a renovation plan for the homeowner to approve and sets to work ripping, tearing, and rebuilding. Now Hilary is good at what she does, very good. But I always wonder why she gets herself into the same mess show after show. It seems like in every renovation she does, there are hidden issues that cost more to correct than was budgeted. This leads to her trying to get more money from the unhappy home owner or more likely cutting back on the project which doesn't go over well either. Could the lack of proper budgeting be just a ploy to cause television discourse and increase ratings?

Agent David doesn't have it easy, either. They say he is one of the best real estate agents in Toronto and I believe it. From what I can see he is very personable, works extremely hard, listens to his clients, and does everything to make them happy. I'd hire him in a minute if he could just say "about" instead of "aboot." His problems usually stem from the fact that only one of the spouses wants to move, neither can agree on a new location, and both have different wish lists (That's no different down here south of the border.) So he shows his clients two or three great homes. Just to make the plot thicker, there's always one home they really love, but it is way over their budget (it is Canadian money, so it doesn't seem real anyway.)

Once the renovation work is done everyone meets back at the ranch and the homeowners get to see their newly remodeled home. It is always a stunning makeover and the owners are amazed and thrilled even though she didn't get that first floor powder room or he didn't get that office space he so desperately needs.
The homeowners then have to decide whether they are going to "Love" their home "or List It," but before they do David shows them one more listing; what their own home is worth now that it has been remodeled. Amazingly, their home's value always seems to increase about $30,000 more than the cost of the renovations! In the real world you just don't get over 100% ROI on remodeling your home! I really think there should be a disclaimer on the show; "Do not try this at home!" Some viewers have blogged that the homeowners don't pay for the labor costs of the renovations and that could be true, but I'd like to know for sure. I do know that if they "Love" the remodel that's the end of the story. But, what happens if they "List It?" Can they actually "Sell It" for David's quoted new value? And will the dream home that they want to buy still be there if they do? That, I am betting, might even be a better show...
Please feel free to visit www.lakesregionhome.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. Data was compiled using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System as of 12/1/13. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 December 2013 10:53

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Susan Estrich - All things that can go wrong

You may remember hearing about the Montana judge who sentenced a former high school teacher who admitted to raping a 14-year-old student to 30 days in prison. As if that wasn't bad enough, he blamed the victim, who committed suicide before the case could go to trial.

In the latest chapter of this unusually ugly story, Judge G. Todd Baugh has now admitted to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission that he should not have said that the teenager appeared older than 14 and was "probably as much in control of the situation" as the rapist. In response to a complaint against him filed by the state chapter of the National Organization for Women (which released his response), the judge apologized for those comments, writing that he was "sorry I made those remarks. They focused on the victim when that aspect of the case should have been focused on the defendant."

Actually, the whole case should have focused on the defendant. Blaming the victim, much less a dead 14-year-old victim, is inexcusable at any stage. The teacher, 54-year-old Stacey Dean Rambold, pleaded guilty. How do you get from there to 30 days?

"I believe this sentence to be fair, imposed impartially, and without bias or prejudice," Baugh wrote in response to the complaint. "I did not impose this sentence without weighing the relevant factors, and did not impose this sentence based on some misguided attempt to blame the victim."

The bias or prejudice part was a response to the NOW complaint that the judge had acted as he did because the victim was female and Hispanic. The judge's answer presumably means that he would treat the rape of a young white teenage boy equally cavalierly — although his record on cases involving young male victims is actually much tougher.

I've long defended giving judges discretion in sentencing so that the punishment can fit both the crime and the criminal. Discretion in the criminal justice system, it has been noted by many over the years, is like toothpaste in a tube: Squeeze at one point, and it just shows up somewhere else.
When legislatures pass mandatory sentences or embrace three strikes or two strikes or other politically appealing slogans that should not be enacted into law, they just transfer the discretion from the judge at the sentencing stage to police and prosecutors who decide what to charge and what plea to accept. I prefer that judges make those decisions, not only because they tend to be more experienced than prosecutors, but also because their decisions are more transparent. Sentences are imposed in open court, subject to scrutiny. At least there is that.

What happened in this case illustrates all of the things that can go wrong. The rape took place in 2007. The teacher was charged in 2008 with three counts of rape. In 2010, the victim committed suicide, and the prosecution, apparently concerned that the case would be hard to prove without her testimony (even though she was 14 at the time and the age of consent in Montana is 16), allowed the teacher rapist to enter a sex treatment program and agreed to dismiss the case if he completed treatment.

Am I the only one who thinks that is exactly what's wrong with prosecutorial discretion?

He didn't complete the treatment, and so they reinstated the charge, and he pleaded guilty last April to a single count of rape. The prosecution asked for 20 years with half suspended. The judge decided that was too much (this is what is wrong with judicial discretion) and sentenced him instead to 15 years in prison, and then suspended all but 31 days of the sentence and gave him credit for the one day — one day — he had already served.

But here's the kicker. The sentencing took place back in August. The outcry began in September. But it took the attorney general of Montana until last week to ask the Supreme Court of Montana to overturn the sentence because it is woefully too short.

I wish I could believe it is just a coincidence that the criminal justice system shows itself at its worst in a rape case with a 14-year-old female victim. I don't.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 December 2013 10:05

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Jim Hightower — Watering the weeds & pulling the flowers

December is a time of many holiday feasts — which makes it a good time to remember family farmers and the tremendous contributions they make to our country, culture, taste buds and tummies. But not all farmers contribute equally, which is why I'm sending out this special holiday sentiment to one group of unique agriculturalists: Thbbllllttttt!

That raspberry goes out to 50 billionaires who've been farming the U.S. farm subsidy program for years, harvesting a cornucopia of taxpayer cash for themselves or their corporate empires. They include top executives or owners of such diverse entities as Chase Manhattan Bank, Chick-fil-A, DISH Network, Fiji Water, Hyatt Hotels, Microsoft and Victoria's Secret. The diligent watchdogs of the Environmental Working Group matched the "Forbes 400" list of richest Americans with a farm subsidy database to unmask these Gucci-wearing Old MacDonalds. E-I-E-I-O, what a rip-off!

Among the richest of these faux-farmers are three Walmart heirs, whose personal wealth totals $100 billion. Then there's investment huckster Charles Schwab, sitting on a $5 billion wad of wealth, yet pumping half-a-million dollars worth of rice subsidies into his California duck hunting resort. Also, corporate take-over artist Henry Kravis, who has amassed some $5 billion in wealth, took more than a million dollars from us to subsidize safflower, sunflower and other crops raised on two of his ranches.

Especially jarring is the presence of such multibillionaire right-wingers such as oil and entertainment tycoon Philip Anschutz and nuclear waste mogul Harold Simmons. They've expressed disdain for government spending on poor people and other "takers," yet they've gladly taken more than $500,000 each in farm payments.

Actually, the Working Group's tally understates the total haul by these mega-rich tillers of our public treasury, for many also harvest crop insurance subsidies from the Department of Agriculture. But Congress did them the favor of outlawing any disclosure of this list of names to the public, even though it's our money they receive. In fact, the most valuable ag asset that these billionaires have are the Congress critters who pull their legislative plows and carry this farm abundance to them.
Congress is a very poor gardener, for it keeps watering the weeds and pulling the flowers. A conference committee is presently meeting in Washington to hash out a new, five-year farm bill — and what a hash they're making of it!

For some 40 years, one of the most beneficial flowers in the farm-bill garden has been the food stamp program, a symbiotic benefit for poor people who need the food and farmers who need the income they derive from sales generated by the program. Since 2008, when Wall Street crashed our economy, this flower has been especially worthy, keeping millions of knocked-down families from plunging into full-tilt poverty. Yet, with joblessness still raging unabated and poverty increasing, Congress cut $5 billion from food stamp benefits on Nov. 1, and the House now wants to yank an additional $40 billion from it during the next 10 years. Also, in a nasty, gratuitous slap at these hard-hit families, house leaders want to force them to submit to drug testing to receive food.

Meanwhile, the same gardeners are watering the farm program's noxious weeds. Specifically, they're expanding the $14 billion-a-year crop insurance subsidy, turning it into a guaranteed farm income. And guess who'll get the bulk of the benefits? While the House intends to make food stamp recipients prove that their incomes are low enough to qualify for those meager payments, the crop insurance handout requires no means testing and has no limits on how much recipients can get. This means that billionaires, who're only incidental "farmers," will be among the biggest beneficiaries.

You shouldn't be punished for being poor, and you shouldn't be subsidized if you're a billionaire. To help plant some seeds of common sense in American farm policy, contact the Environmental Working Group: ewg.org

(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 December 2013 09:07

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Michelle Malkin - Thank you Hobby Lobby

Religious liberty was front and center on the nation's Thanksgiving table. Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. The family-owned craft store company is intrepidly challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare's abortion coverage mandate. Hobby Lobby's faithful owners deserve our thanks and praise as they defend freedom of conscience for all Americans.

The privately held retail chain's story is the quintessential American Dream. Founder David Green started out making mini picture frames in his Oklahoma garage in 1970. He recruited his two sons, Mart and Steve, to pitch in at an early age. The family's first establishment took up a tiny 300-square-feet of retail space. Hobby Lobby now runs nearly 600 stores across the country, employs 13,000 people and topped $2 billion in sales in 2009.

The Greens' Christian faith is at the heart of how they do business. They are dedicated to integrity and service for their customers and their employees. The debt-free company commits to "honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles," as well as "serving our employees and their families by establishing a work environment and company policies that build character, strengthen individuals and nurture families."

The company donates more than 10 percent of its income every year to charity. All stores are closed on Sundays to allow employees more family and worship time. It's the company's dedication to biblical principles that led Hobby Lobby in April to raise full-time employees' starting minimum wage to $14 an hour at a time when many other firms have been forced to slash both wages and benefits.

"We believe that it is by God's grace that Hobby Lobby has endured, and he has blessed us and our employees," CEO David Green pointed out. "We've not only added jobs in a weak economy; we've raised wages for the past four years in a row. Our full-time employees start at 80 percent above minimum wage."

Many of Hobby Lobby's employees are single moms working two jobs. Green doesn't need federal mandates to tell him how to treat and retain good employees. He does it because it is the "right thing to do." While countless businesses have been forced to drop health insurance for their shrinking workforces during the Age of Obama, Hobby Lobby headquarters opened an onsite comprehensive health care and wellness clinic in 2010 with no co-pays.

Hobby Lobby employees are covered under the company's self-insured health plan, which brings us back to the company's legal case. Last September, Hobby Lobby sued the feds over Obamacare's "preventive services" mandate, which forces the Christian-owned-and-operated business to provide, without co-pay, abortion-inducing drugs including the "morning after pill" and "week after pill" in their health insurance plan. The company risked fines up to $1.3 million per day for defying the government's coercive abridgement of their First Amendment rights.

As Lori Windham, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby in its court battles, said at the time: "Washington politicians cannot force families to abandon their faith just to earn a living. Every American, including family business owners like the Greens, should be free to live and do business according to their religious beliefs." Amen.

This summer, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals exempted Hobby Lobby from the abortion mandate and allowed the business to avoid those crippling fines while pursuing its case. Now, the Supreme Court will decide whether Democratic Party pandering trumps bedrock constitutional principles.

Planned Parenthood femme-a-gogues, Senate Democratic leaders, Christian-bashing celebs and atheist bullies immediately attacked Hobby Lobby for "denying women access to birth control." The lies and religious persecution, especially near the date of America's national holiday commemorating the pilgrims' escape thereof, are unconscionable. Hobby Lobby's company health insurance plan covers 16 of the 20 FDA-approved contraceptives required under the Obamacare mandate — at no additional costs to employees. What Hobby Lobby refuses to do is to be forced to cover abortifacients that violate the owners' faith and conscience.

Every employee is aware of the founders' history, devout work ethic and faith. No one is forced to work at Hobby Lobby. If workers want birth control, they can pay for it themselves. (And unlike so many other service workers, they have more take-home pay to spend on the "preventive services" of their choice.)

The intolerant control freaks at the White House took to Twitter right after the Supreme Court announcement to pile on the pander to the Sandra Fluke/Lena Dunham wing of the Democratic Party. "Birth control should be a woman's decision, not her boss's," Team Obama tweeted. That's precisely the argument against federally mandated health care benefits enforced by government in violation of religious liberty and subsidized by employers and taxpayers against their will. Let's pray the Supreme Court sees the light.

(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Sean Sullivan - Invest Laconia TIF funds for maximum impact

The Belknap Economic Development Council (Belknap EDC) recently passed a resolution in support of the City of Laconia's use of the downtown tax increment financing district (TIF) to finance infrastructure projects that support business growth.
We specifically support use of the TIF to finance projects that will funnel local consumers and visitors to downtown Laconia, make it easier for pedestrians to circulate around downtown, and provide an activity in and around downtown that makes it a more attractive place for people to spend time and money. Projects in the October 2013 proposal by the Downtown TIF Advisory Board that would address these needs include Phase 2 of the WOW Trail, the new segments of the Riverwalk, and corresponding signage and wayfinding.
We already know that upwards of 41,000 people use Phase 1 of the WOW Trail each year. Connecting these folks to downtown via an expanded Riverwalk and WOW Trail will certainly make Laconia a more walkable city, which enhances everyone's quality of life. It will also make downtown Laconia a more desirable location for business development. Belknap EDC's economic impact analysis of the WOW Trail estimates that after completion, the entire nine-mile trail will attract over 150,000 trail users a year, with 38,000 of those users visiting from outside of the region and generating $1.8 million in new visitor spending each year. By completing more of the Riverwalk and connecting it to the WOW Trail, the city is positioning downtown Laconia to capture its fair share of this new visitor spending.
Tax increment financing is commonly used nationwide to revitalize downtowns and build infrastructure that is needed to attract private investment. Laconia's downtown TIF account currently has a balance of over $300,000 with projected revenue of $174,000 in 2014. As taxable values increase in the TIF, the incremental tax revenue (the amount generated by taxable value above the total taxable value in the TIF district when it was established) is used to pay the debt service on infrastructure improvements financed by the TIF. The projected TIF revenue over the next 20 years is at least $4.2 million.
In other words, the city can borrow, without risk, against the annual tax revenue generated by the TIF district. As future private investment is made, more revenue will be generated for further improvements. As TIF money is leveraged to make significant enhancements in the downtown area, the downtown area becomes more attractive and poised for new development.
Belknap EDC is encouraged by the forward thinking of the Downtown TIF Advisory Board as well as the interest and support expressed by the City Council. We encourage City Council to work cooperatively with the TIF Advisory Board to come to a consensus on TIF funding priorities soon, and then move forward and bond the recommended projects. The downtown TIF district was created by the City Council in 2004 with the purpose of financing public improvements that encourage economic expansion. Let's do just that.

(Sean Sullivan is chair of the Belknap Economic Development Council.)

Last Updated on Monday, 02 December 2013 09:36

Hits: 340

 
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