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Kiddie craze

From toddlers to teens, our roundup will give you ideas for some of the hottest toys and games this year

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Editor’s note: This is the third of a five-part series on holiday gift-giving ideas. We’ll explore gift ideas in several categories. Up next week: home decor.

Kinect

Probably the most highly anticipated gift of the holiday season, the Kinect for Xbox 360 is the new controller-free, motion and voice sensing system that promises to get the whole family off the sofa and dancing, racing cars and playing sports. Forget what your mom said about no playing ball in the house. ($149.99 at Best Buy)

Call of Duty

If the game lover in your family didn’t buy it as soon as it was released, it’s about time to get them Call of Duty: Black Ops, the newest in the incredibly successful series of warfare games. It’s a must have this year for any console or PC. ($54.96 from Amazon)

Toy Story 3 DVD

Some of Disney and Pixar’s most memorable characters are back in a new adventure that had audiences in tears and uproarious laughter. For a good-hearted good time, pick up a copy of Toy Story 3, available in Blu-ray and DVD. ($19.99 from Amazon)

Taylor Swift CD

Chances are the tween in your family has already bought a copy of country superstar Taylor Swift’s third studio album, “Speak Now” (Big Machine Records) but do they have the Target Deluxe Edition featuring additional tracks, remixes and 30 minutes of video? (Only at Target for $16.99)

Leapster Explorer

For the little ones, about ages 4 to 9, consider the Leapster Explorer from Leapfrog. This hand-held, touch screen game system is a great way to get them learning and having fun at the same time and includes online activities. The educational games teach everything from spelling to math and parents, you can track your child’s progress online. ($69.99 from Toys R Us)

Crayola Beginnings Color Me A Song

The budding artiste in the family will appreciate the Crayola Beginnings Color Me A Song. This new toy lets your child control create music as they color, the faster they color, the faster the tune. They can even change the instrument and style of music, from country to rock, salsa and swing. ($17.99 from Crayola)

Bop It Bounce

Say goodbye to the paddle with a ball attached by a string, and say hello to Bop It Bounce. This new toy challenges kids through six levels of ball bouncing, and if it continues in true Bop It tradition, should keep determined kids entertained for hours. ($19.99 Toys R Us)

Scrabble Flash Cubes

Finally, Hasbro has reinvented its classic Scrabble game into an electronic and portable version that seems just fast paced enough to entertain today’s kids. With Scrabble Flash Cubes, players aged 8 and up must rearrange the lettered cubes to form words. It’s classic educational fun with a modern twist. ($20 on Amazon)

“Just Dance 2” for Wii

Just Dance 2 for Nintendo Wii is making a splash with kids of all ages. This installment contains better movement recognition than its predecessor and more than 40 songs, including many contemporary hits, for kids to get up and groove to. ($39.99 from GameStop)

“Assassin’s Creed”

“Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” is the third installment of the critically and player-acclaimed series of games for PS3 and Xbox 360. Suited for older teenage gamers, this chapter includes more weapons, multiplayer modes and interaction with real historical characters like Leonardo Da Vinci. ($59.99 from GameStop)

“Glee” CDs

With nine CDs to choose from, you should have no trouble finding a suitable gift for your favorite Gleek. The catchy covers from the incredibly popular show are captured on albums, such as “Glee: Best of Season One,” which includes a bonus karaoke CD. Look for this one online, though, as it’s only available in the UK. ($24.29 on Amazon)

Harry Potter box set

They’ve seen all the movies at midnight premiers dressed as their favorite characters, but have your kids read the books that started the phenomenon? Those who need to catch up and hardcore fans will love the Harry Potter Hardcover Boxed Set that includes all seven  books. Make sure they finish before the final movie comes out. ($114.07 from Barnes & Noble)

“Diary of a Whimpy Kid”

Currently the bestselling children’s book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth (the fifth book in the popular series) is the perfect gift for your 8-12 year old book lover. Kids will relate to the main character as he settles a fight with his best friend and contemplates his upcoming puberty. After they’ve read all the books, check out the movie that was released earlier this year. ($7.67 from Barnes & Noble)

HRC store clothes

Help support Human Rights Campaign’s fight for LGBT equality by visiting their store at 1633 Connecticut Avenue and browse their selection of kids clothing promoting equality. They’ve got something for kids of all ages, including this adorable baby romper. ($14 from HRC Store)

Items from Pulp

If you want to support local gay-owned shops, check out Pulp at 1803 14th Street in Washington for “I Love My Dads” onesies — perfect for Pride — or kid-friendly gay books such as “King and King.”

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Real Estate

Real estate agents work hard for that commission

Despite recent headlines, buyers and sellers benefit from our expertise

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Realtors work hard for that rare six percent commission.

With there being a lot of noise in the media lately as I am sure you have read and heard headlines like “Gone are the days of the 6% commission” and “End of the good days of Realtors,” etc., I wanted to re-run a very short article of the long laundry list of things that well versed real estate agents bring to the table to earn that seldom 6% commission. It’s typically split in half and it has always been negotiable).

As a real estate professional you will go on listing appointments and buyer meetings to not only attempt to gain business but in doing so you also educate the general public on what it is that we as real estate professionals do. I know what you’re thinking – and if you’ve seen my photo before you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that I am cast in “Selling DC” as the lead villain. I am just waiting for that phone call! But in all seriousness, when I sit down to come up with a list of things to prove to prospective clients the value in working with me as their real estate professional, I am pretty blown away at the items and qualities that a trusted professional representing you in a real estate transaction is responsible for managing a myriad of tasks, including but not limiting to the following:

• Have a pulse on the marketplace to truly understand exactly what is happening from a buying and selling standpoint while also understanding the economic side of things – not just looking at interest rates. Why are rates where they are? What employers are laying off and could cause an influx of inventory? What are the trends for individuals moving IN or OUT of an area looking like? Forecasting the marketplace of all things that truly affect real estate is vital.

• Soft Skills – these are the skills often considered as customer service skills. The ability to be approachable by all types of people and ensure that you are open to receive information. Also – when telling you bad news – it’s important to ensure that it is done in a manner in which you, the receiver, will be pleasantly receptive.

• Pre-market vendors – not only are real estate professionals expected to market your home for sale or locate a home for you to purchase, we are also expected to have a list of pre-market vendors to which you can use for your lending needs, home inspection, title work, any fluffing and buffing needed pre market for the sale of your home such as a contractor, painter, landscaper etc. We have a book of extremely well vetted vendors that either I personally have used or past clients have used that can assist with your needs. This beats Googling for hours and accidentally choosing the wrong contractor. Section A of the pre-market vendor list includes those in which we real estate professionals use for marketing materials for your property – we will use the best photographers, have floor plans drawn for your property, video, staging, catering for brokers opens and the list goes on. Again – this is a well vetted list that we have worked on for years and done all of the heavy lifting and had those uncomfortable conversations when things are not properly executed – so you don’t have to.

• On Market Tasks – these are the tasks that most clients are unaware that we do. Oftentimes when a listing is on market – folks think that I am just cruising around in my convertible buying nice things. However I am in fact going around checking each listing on market to ensure that they are clean, the booties are replaced, marketing materials are stocked, light bulbs are all working, staging looks crisp and the list truly goes on. That of course, doesn’t include the tasks we do to properly market the property such as weekly email blasts, reaching out several times to follow up with showing agents to get their feedback, check the market to see what our competition looks like, what’s under contract and why, and again…..I could go on. Needless to say the most important and time consuming tasks are those that are done when the property is on market.

• “Contract to close” management – the term contract to close is pretty much what it sounds like – it’s what happens from the time we go under contract until we reach the closing finish line and you have those keys. Once a trusted real estate professional has fiercely negotiated on your behalf as a buyer, the fun starts. Again pops up this vendor list – helping guide you though selection of a home inspector, termite inspector, etc. for the inspections. A title attorney is needed (depending on your jurisdiction) and any other vendors for quotes like renovations, etc., that you might want done to the property. Once the inspection is completed and we go through possible re-negotiations then we must ensure that the lender has the documents needed from you completed in order to have the appraisal done to prove the value of the home you are under contract for. Now we are getting into the weeds – but once we are on the other side of things and the appraisal comes back at value and the loan is clear to close then we are at the finish line to your new home.

A similar story can be told if you are selling your home. The appraisal is a very important part of the checklist as that is the value in which your home is worth. The appraiser is a third party that neither the buyer, seller, lender or myself have any allegiance to. I do, however, have the duty to educate said appraiser on why I chose the listing price and how I came up with that value. 

• Post-market vendors. As mentioned before, a real estate professional should have a book of well vetted vendors from which to choose. Looking at the list of vendors now that we are on the other side of the table – I can provide a cleaning person, HVAC contractor, someone to repair the sprinkler system, a dog walker, the best caterers and bakery in town. Further down the road I am able to provide a wonderful wealth manager who can tell you what to do with that piece of real estate you purchased some time ago and we could go on for days.

While you are fully entitled to not use a real estate agent during your real estate transaction, I do believe that it is well within the realm of possibilities to say that without one there would be loose ends not completely tied up, things mismanaged and possible delays that could cost real cash. All of that aside, it is also such a truly wonderful experience to work alongside a trusted professional that at the end of the transaction becomes a new friend and family member. Real estate professionals love what they do, they love real estate and people and sheepherding you through the home buying or selling process is what it’s all about to us.

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s international Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243,  [email protected] or BurnsandNoble.com.

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Real Estate

Do you need title insurance?

Facilitating smoother and more efficient real estate transactions

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A title search is an important part of the home buying process.

A title search is an examination of public records to determine the legal ownership of a property and identify any claims or liens against it. This comprehensive investigation delves into deeds, mortgages, court records, tax records, and other documents related to the property’s history. The objective is to verify that the seller has the legal right to transfer ownership of the property and that there are no undisclosed issues that could cloud the title.

I would surmise that most buyers have never read their title report or policy and I confess that I was one of them until 2005, when I bought a house in San Diego. While I was “in escrow,” my agent presented me with a title report. My first reaction was, “What do I do with this?” He replied, “review it and sign indicating that it is acceptable.” I had no idea what to look for, since I had always had title companies to rely on for interpreting the results. Thankfully, it was a clean report with no liens on it other than the mortgage the seller would be paying off at settlement. 

Here, only if anything is amiss will the title attorney notify the agents and advise what the parties need to do to satisfy any conditions that could prevent them from closing. Otherwise, you won’t see the report up front.

Why are title searches important?

  • They verify the seller’s legal right to transfer ownership of the property, providing assurance to the buyer that they are purchasing a legitimate asset. 
  • They identify any outstanding liens, mortgages, or other encumbrances that could affect the property’s value or the buyer’s ability to obtain financing. 
  • A title insurance policy provides coverage for losses arising from title defects such as disputes, undisclosed easements, forgery, or fraud, offering peace of mind to both buyers and lenders.

The process starts with the retrieval of documents from various sources, including county clerk offices, tax assessor’s offices, and court records. 

The records are then inspected to trace the chain of ownership and identify any potential issues. The title examiner verifies the accuracy of legal descriptions, checks for inconsistencies or errors, and identifies any red flags that may indicate title defects.

If found, resolution of issues or discrepancies, such as unpaid taxes, outstanding liens, or boundary disputes must be addressed before the transaction can proceed. This may involve negotiating with creditors to satisfy outstanding debts, requesting more information from sellers, and resolving legal disputes.

Once complete, the firm will issue a title report on which to base a title policy. The buyers will receive a copy at settlement. The report provides a detailed summary of the property’s ownership history, any encumbrances or defects found during the search, and recommendations for mitigating risks.

Title insurance for the lender is required, but buyers often ask whether they need owner’s title insurance coverage too. I always recommend buying an owner’s policy. If a buyer chooses not to, then only the lender is protected from any claims revealed after the issuance of the title report. For a one-time fee, an owner’s policy protects your interest in the property and that of any heirs from future claims until the house is ultimately sold. 

For example, I attended a settlement with a buyer who was purchasing a rowhouse. A woman who had power of attorney to sign for the seller was also there and, because he was overseas, the actual seller was on speaker phone to address his concerns or ask any questions. 

The closing agent began reading the settlement statement aloud to indicate what was being deducted from the seller’s proceeds. The seller was fine with the amount shown for the remainder of his first mortgage, but when she read out the amount of the second mortgage, the seller, now agitated, asked, “What second mortgage?”

It then became clear that the woman, the owner’s former fiancée, had used her power of attorney to obtain a second mortgage after the title search had been done. Thanks to the title companies’ involvement, the seller was able to post a bond for the missing funds to allow settlement to proceed while he took on a legal battle with his former fiancée. Don’t try this at home, kids.

By uncovering potential issues early in the process, title searches help facilitate smoother and more efficient real estate transactions by resolving issues upfront, ensuring a seamless transfer of property ownership. But nobody knows when great Uncle Bob or your former tenant may show up with a claim to the house. You’ll need your owner’s title policy to have someone on your side.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate / @properties. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Real Estate

How to deal with rodents in D.C.

Key takeaways for owners and tenants

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Rodents such as mice can stealthily invade your home, causing damage and carrying diseases. And let’s be frank, it can just feel truly creepy knowing four-footed creatures are rummaging in your pantry and walls. To effectively deal with them, you need to adopt a detective mindset, understanding where they hide, what they eat (and drink!), and how to eliminate them. Here are some key takeaways for both homeowners and tenants when addressing rodent issues.

You might not even realize you have mice. Mice are secretive, and they can inhabit your home for months without detection. They move along walls to avoid being seen and can cover several feet per second. However, there is no need to react like the stereotypical frightened person standing on a stool and waiting for someone else to help. Step down and take action. If they can be active, so can you. First, equip yourself with some simple knowledge that will save you days and weeks of frustration. Below, you’ll find a straightforward guide to follow, making it easy for you to take action today on what you might prefer to postpone until tomorrow.

Know your rodent

D.C. residents should be aware that while both mice and rats can cause property damage and carry diseases, rats are more destructive and aggressive than mice. Proper identification is crucial for effective pest control measures and for accurately communicating the type of problem you are facing. You can observe physical characteristics and rodent behavior to distinguish between the two species, or you can seek assistance from professional pest control services for proper identification.

In the District of Columbia, both mice and rats can be common pests found in homes and neighborhoods. House mice (Mus musculus) and Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) are the most prevalent species encountered. House mice are typically smaller, ranging from 5 to 8 inches in length, with pointed snouts and long, hairless tails. They are generally light brown or gray in color. Norway rats, on the other hand, are larger, often measuring between 7 to 9 inches in length, with blunt snouts and shorter, scaly tails. They typically have brown or grayish-brown fur. 

Do you have a mouse infestation?

• Scratching or rustling sounds in walls or ceilings, especially at night.

• Mouse droppings in corners and under appliances. These resemble dark grains of rice and are telltale signs of mouse activity.

• Food packaging that has been chewed through.

• Unusual ammonia-like odors.

• If pets are focused on a specific area, there may be a mouse nearby.

How to keep mice out

• Install a door sweep or weatherstrip exterior doors if you can see daylight underneath.

• Seal any openings in your home, especially near ground level, using materials like stainless steel, copper mesh, or caulk.

• Keep your home clean and free of crumbs.

• Store food in airtight containers.

• Store pet food in sealed containers and never leave it out between feedings.

Setting and baiting mouse traps

• Determine trap placement by following mouse droppings and greasy trails on walls.

• Place traps near activity areas, not just on the floor.

• Use the same food that attracted the mouse as bait.

• Avoid over-baiting, as it can hinder trap effectiveness.

When to call a professional

If your traps don’t yield results after a week or more, consider professional help. Significant amounts of droppings may indicate a severe infestation requiring expert assistance.

Dealing with mice in your D.C. home requires vigilance and a proactive approach. Remember, it’s not you! You didn’t attract the mice, and neither did your landlord. Mice are quite simply sneaky, inventive creatures who are attracted to what we humans leave out for them or make available to them. 

In the District of Columbia, grappling with a pervasive rat infestation has become an unfortunate reality for many of us residents. However, despite the severity of the situation, it’s important to recognize that this issue isn’t solely the fault of property owners; rather, it is fundamentally linked to how we collectively manage our food waste and control rodents’ access to water sources. As such, D.C. residents play a crucial role in mitigating the impact of these unwelcome visitors around their homes.

One of the primary strategies residents like you can employ is to adopt and talk with your neighbors about ensuring rigorous sanitation practices near your home. Those practices include:

• Properly storing and disposing of food waste in secure containers that rats cannot easily access. 

• Ensuring that garbage bins have tightly sealed lids.

• Emptying out any containers that collect water after rain and snow. 

Beyond food waste management, residents should also focus on minimizing access points that rats could exploit to enter their homes. Conducting a thorough inspection of the property exterior to identify and seal off any gaps or cracks in walls, doors, windows, and foundations helps to prevent rats from finding their way indoors. Installing door sweeps and mesh screens on vents and openings can further fortify the defenses against rodent intrusion.

In addition to proactive measures within individual households, community-wide efforts are also essential for addressing the rat infestation comprehensively in the District. Engaging with local authorities and advocacy groups to advocate for improved waste management infrastructure and rat control measures can also contribute to long-term solutions for the entire community.

Ultimately, education plays a pivotal role in empowering residents to take meaningful action against these pests. Utilizing the District’s resources can empower residents to effectively address the issue in their homes and neighborhoods. 

Several citywide services are available to assist residents with rat abatement and control efforts. These services are primarily provided by the District of Columbia Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), with additional support from various local government agencies and community organizations. Here are some of the key services available:

Rodent Control Program: The District of Columbia Department of Health operates a comprehensive Rodent Control Program aimed at reducing rat populations and minimizing their impact on public health and safety. This program includes proactive inspections, rodent abatement efforts, enforcement of rodent control regulations, and public education initiatives. Residents can call (202) 535-1954 for information, outreach, educational materials, and enforcement.

Rodent Complaints: The DOH encourages any resident to report rat sightings, infestations, or other rodent-related concerns by dialing 311. Upon receiving a complaint, the DOH may conduct inspections, provide guidance on rodent control measures, and coordinate with other agencies to address the issue effectively.

Rodent Prevention and Control Resources: The DOH and DOEE offer various resources and guidance materials to help residents prevent and control rat infestations. These resources may include educational materials, fact sheets, and tips on sanitation practices, rodent-proofing techniques, and effective pest control methods.

While the neighborhood-by-neighborhood rat infestation in the District of Columbia poses significant challenges, proactive measures at the individual, community, and systemic levels can help mitigate its impact. By adopting better sanitation practices, fortifying property defenses, fostering community collaboration, and promoting education and advocacy, D.C. residents like you can play a vital role in reducing the prevalence of Norwegian rats.

Scott Bloom is owner and Senior Property Manager at Columbia Property Management. For more information and resources, visit ColumbiaPM.com.

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