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Sails, skis and snowboards

Several gay and lesbian winter trips and parties planned in major cities

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Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas goes gay this weekend. (Photo courtesy Fifteen Minutes PR)

From gay ski weeks to gay rodeos, some of the most popular LGBT events happen during the winter. Whether your tastes lean toward the more laid back affair, such as a romantic dinner for two, or if you are a social butterfly looking to be surrounded by thousands of gay counterparts, here are some must-do events that are happening throughout the remaining winter season:

Elevation Utah 2012

Rated as the No. 1 ski destination by Ski Magazine, Park City, Utah, presents its second annual Gay Ski Week Feb. 23-26. According to founder Tom Whitman, “Unlike some of the other ski weeks, the Elevation events are geared to be friendly and open and fun, not really geared toward VIP velvet ropes.” Although these events are described as laid-back, the DJ line-up is quite impressive. World-class DJs such as Roland Belmares, Josh Peace and Pornstar will spin. “Daytime activities are usually taken up by skiing and snowboarding, while the official events happen at après-ski time,” Whitman says. The welcome event is held Feb. 23, and culminates in a series of evening parties at venues such as Downstairs, Sidecar, and Jam Salt Lake City. Purchase tickets and get discounted hotel rates at utahgayski.com.

Telluride Gay Ski Week

Can’t get enough of Elevation Utah? Hop over to its neighboring state Colorado where the city of Telluride presents its own Gay Ski Week, Feb. 25 through March 3. This weeklong event is produced by StraightOut Media & Marketing and supports the Telluride AIDS Benefit. Activities include Nuclia’s Get Wasted Party, the annual White Night party, and the first ever “Wig Run,” where everyone from locals to gay skiers can celebrate the week by skiing in their best wig creation. The guest list will be jumping, as three “A-Listers” from Logo TV will be in attendance, including Reichen Lehmkuhl, Chase Hutchison and Levi Crocker. To top the week off, the resort will be celebrating the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by allowing active members of the military to party for free the entire week and receive military discounts from lift tickets to rentals all over town. Purchase tickets and weekly passes at telluridegayskiweek.com.

Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas

Set sail with the world’s largest cruise ship and surround yourself with 5,400 like-minded gay travelers. Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Sea departs Sunday and cruises to the Mexican cities of Cozumel, Costa Maya and Hispanolia and returns after an indulgent seven days on Feb. 5. The LGBT vacation company Atlantis Events, Inc. brings you attractions such as five architectural dance floors, 13 restaurants and cafes, a plethora of theaters presenting performances such as “Chicago” and Dixie Longate’s “Tupperware” show, and adventuresome activities such as rock climbing, zip lining and ice skating. At the western Caribbean ports, you can take part in island excursions such as diving, snorkeling, exploring Mayan ruins or kicking back on the powder-white sand beaches. Broadway diva Idina Menzel and gay comedian Bruce Vilanch will appear. Go to atlantisevents.com for details.

Arizona Gay Rodeo

Looking for something low-key with warm weather, surrounded by dozens of gay cowboys? Visit the Rawhide at WildHorse Pass during Presidents Day weekend (Feb. 17-19) located in Chandler, Ariz. This is the kick-off Rodeo of 2012 hosted by the 25-year-old Arizona Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA). Experience events such as bull riding, roping challenges, speed events on horseback and the Wild Drag Race. Located only 17 miles from the city of Phoenix, you can end your day at one of the popular gay pubs in the capitol, such as Charlie’s Phoenix, Kobalt or Apollo’s Lounge, which offer specials during rodeo weekend. Visit agra-phx.com to purchase tickets and to obtain a discount code at the Radisson Hotel Phoenix-Chandler. For an affordable $25 weekend pass to all Rodeo events, gay cowboy heaven is only a Stetson away.

LGBT Winter Weekend in NYC

Taking a trip to New York City is always a blast, but now various Travel Alternatives Group (TAG) approved hotels offer an even greater incentive for a weekend trip to the city. Visit the Danfords Hotel & Marina Feb. 24 through March 31 and purchase the “Romance” package for two, starting at $429, which includes a one-night accommodation, Champagne and strawberries upon arrival, a 50-minute side-by-side couples massage at Blue Sapphire Spa and $100 credit toward the Wave Seafood Kitchen. The Garden City Hotel, also located in Long Island, is offering the “All for Love” couple’s retreat ($399). Included are overnight deluxe accommodations, chocolate-covered strawberries and a three-course Valentine’s dinner for two in the private dining room of the hotel’s signature restaurant, Rein. Prefer to stay on the island of Manhattan? Enter the promo code, GLBT11 for up to 20 percent off the best available rate at the Hilton New York (newyork.hilton.com).

Winter Party Miami

Surround yourself with miles of white sandy beaches, thousands of men in Speedos and the bumping base of music spun by legendary DJs such as DJ Joe Gauthreaux. The expected attendance of 10,000 LGBT partiers will benefit the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force through each event and ticket purchased at the Winter Party. Heavily anticipated events include the Under One Sun Pool Party, Boiling Point (Sunday night dance party at Cameo nightclub), and Heaven & Hell at the Pool. Women can experience girls-only events at The Tudor House, which will host the Sunday Brunch party March 4, as well as dance parties at The Stage and Trio on the Bay. The Surfcomber Miami is the official hotel for the Winter Party and will host the welcome event Spark on Feb. 29 as well as being the location of the two pool parties. Tickets and weekly passes to the events can be purchased at winterparty.com.

Vallarta Girl

A chance to experience a five-day lesbian party in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is worth the last minute splurge. The “Vallarta Girl” event is in its second year and takes place Feb. 16-20. Daily events include lesbian cruises, jungle excursions and night parties with world-class DJs. Celebrities such as Rose and Whitney from “The Real L World” will be in attendance as well as well-known artists, DJ Lezlee and DJ Saratonin. A popular gay-friendly destination, Puerto Vallarta offers a selection of women-only bars, such as CC, The Palms and Mañana. Purchase tickets and receive a discount fare from Alaska Airlines at vallartagirl.com.

Gay Mardi Gras, New Orleans

Famous for its huge Carnival celebrations, rowdy Bourbon Street crowds and inspirations from the French, Spanish and Native American cultures, Mardi Gras is one of the most anticipated annual celebrations in America. Thankfully, the “Fat Tuesday” festival offers a variety of LGBT events to celebrate our own Gay Mardi Gras. For example, The Mardi Gras Bourbon Awards has been an annual costume event for more than 40 years, where contestants can win awards in categories such as Best Drag, Best Leather, or Best of Show. This event will be held on Feb. 21. Other events include the Krewe Balls and Mardi Gras Bead Toss. Check out these after-party gay bars: Bourbon Pub, Café Lafitte, and Le Roundup.

Whistler Winter Pride

Not just another winter ski trip, Whistler presents an entire week of activities much like the summer Prides that take place across the U.S. From Feb. 5-12, Whistler Ski Resort in British Columbia, Canada organizes daily activities, ski trips and après-ski parties to keep you busy. For example, daytime activities include ski and snowboard lessons, snowmobile tours, inner tubing in the Coca-Cola Tube Park, dog sledding, zip lining and skeleton sliding. Evening activities include captivating events such as the Gender Bender Drag Ball at Garfinkles nightclub, a Ho Down at the Echo Valley Ranch & Spa, and a comedy night hosted by Vancouver’s Drag Diva, Symone Says. Women don’t get left behind, as there are special events just for the girls, such as the Burlesque show, starring Burgundy Brixx and the closing party, Shred Betties Bash. Tickets can be purchased for all events at gaywhistler.com/events.

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Real Estate

Boosting your rental property’s curb appeal

Affordable upgrades to attract and keep tenants happy

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Spruce up your curb appeal with new plants and trees.

In the District of Columbia, the rental market tends to open up significantly during the springtime for several reasons. First, spring brings about a sense of renewal and change, prompting many individuals and families to seek new living arrangements or embark on relocations. Additionally, the warmer weather and longer daylight hours make it more conducive for people to explore housing options, attend viewings, and make decisions about moving. Furthermore, spring often coincides with the end of academic terms, leading to an influx of students and young professionals entering the rental market. 

Landlords and property managers also tend to schedule lease renewals or list new vacancies during this time, capitalizing on the increased demand and ensuring a steady turnover of tenants. In the competitive world of rental properties, attracting and retaining quality tenants can be challenging. However, with some strategic upgrades, property owners can significantly enhance their units’ appeal without breaking the bank. From enhancing curb appeal to interior upgrades, here are some practical and cost-effective ideas to make your rental property stand out in the market.

Curb appeal

First impressions matter, and curb appeal plays a crucial role in attracting potential tenants. Simple enhancements like freshening up the exterior paint, adding potted plants or flowers, and ensuring a well-maintained lawn can instantly elevate the property’s appearance. Installing outdoor lighting not only adds charm but also enhances safety and security.

Interior upgrades

Upgrade the kitchen and bathroom fixtures to modern, energy-efficient options. Consider replacing outdated appliances with newer models, which not only appeal to tenants but also contribute to energy savings. Fresh paint and updated flooring can transform the look of a space without a hefty investment. Additionally, replacing worn-out carpets with hardwood or laminate flooring can make the unit more attractive and easier to maintain.

Enhance storage

Maximize storage options by installing built-in shelves, cabinets, or closet organizers. Tenants appreciate ample storage space to keep their belongings organized, contributing to a clutter-free living environment.

Improve lighting

Brighten up the interiors by adding more lighting fixtures or replacing old bulbs with energy-efficient LED lights. Well-lit spaces appear more inviting and spacious, enhancing the overall ambiance of the rental unit.

Upgrade window treatments

Replace outdated curtains or blinds with modern window treatments that allow natural light to filter in while offering privacy. Opt for neutral colors and versatile styles that appeal to a wide range of tastes.

Focus on security

Invest in security features such as deadbolts, window locks, and a reliable alarm system to ensure the safety of your tenants. Feeling secure in their home is a top priority for renters, and these upgrades can provide meaningful, genuine peace of mind.

Enhance outdoor spaces

If your rental property includes outdoor areas like a patio or balcony, consider sprucing them up with comfortable seating, outdoor rugs, and potted plants. Creating inviting outdoor spaces expands the living area and adds value to the rental property.

As landlords, investing in the enhancement of your rental properties is not merely about improving aesthetics; it’s about investing in the satisfaction and well-being of your tenants, and ultimately, in the success of your investment. By implementing these practical and affordable upgrades, you’re not only increasing the desirability of your units but also demonstrating your commitment to providing a high-quality living experience. 

These efforts translate into higher tenant retention rates, reduced vacancy periods, and ultimately, a healthier bottom line. Moreover, by prioritizing the comfort, safety, and happiness of your tenants, you’re fostering a sense of community and trust that can lead to long-term relationships and positive referrals. So, let’s embark on this journey of transformation together, turning rental properties into cherished homes and landlords into valued partners in creating exceptional living spaces.

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

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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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