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Greener grass and other falsehoods

The perils of living on a septic system

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septic system, gay news, Washington Blade
My water view came at a steep cost when the septic system failed.

The late Erma Bombeck was a nationally syndicated humor columnist writing “At Wits End” beginning in the mid-1960s. In 1976, she wrote a book entitled “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.” It followed a young couple who left the city for what they thought would be an easy life in the suburbs, and the comical problems they faced. This is where my story begins.

In May 2018, I put my beach house, Chez Soleil, on the market. I am under contract by July 25 and during the home inspection, I learn that my septic tank has failed. Now, I’m a city girl with a little bit of the suburbs in me, just like the book, so I have no idea what to do about it. 

Thankfully, my colleagues, Anh Boesch and Marilyn Emery, tell me about the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund under the jurisdiction of the Maryland Departments of Health (MDH) and the Environment (MDE). Under certain conditions, they will finance the replacement of my septic system with a grant. 

7/30/18 – I contact MDH and learn that grant money is available. My house is in the critical area and gets first crack at the funds. I submit forms to start the process and they send me a list of 78 local contractors who do septic work.

8/13/18 – By now, eight installers have viewed the premises and declined the job. The lot is too small, the road is too narrow, the retaining wall prohibits use of their excavation equipment. Little things like that.

8/22/18 – Stephen Hayden of Paul Hayden Plumbing agrees to do the job and meets with the sanitarian from MDH. The job will require holding tanks instead of a septic system. MDH says tanks are not covered by the grant. I must remove the retaining wall I built three months earlier. My beautiful deck overlooking the water must come down.

Stephen finds a mason for the retaining wall and verifies that I can get the grant because of the size of my yard (hooray!).  After three false starts, Stephen locates a contractor and asks him to verify that county code will allow the deck to be reinstalled. Contractor doesn’t know but accepts the challenge.

10/25/18 – With both contractors finally hired, MDH sends me a list of requirements to secure the grant. No, I can’t just hire Stephen, who has been working on this with me since August. I need three bids to install the holding tanks, which I can’t get until I received the specifications from MDE.  

11/7/18 – Specifications arrive. Christmas comes and goes before I can get other bidders even remotely interested in the job. Several don’t answer the phone or call me back. One will bid but is unavailable for six months. Another needs permission to bring his equipment across the neighbor’s front yard. Five voicemails to the neighbor yield no results. 

1/3/19 – Happy New Year! I am finally able to submit three bids to MDH, which approves them six days later. I select Stephen Hayden again.

1/25/19 – Construction permit arrives, and I learn that I have been approved for a $20,000 grant, which will pay for about 60 percent of the job. Work must be completed within 45 days. Stephen has four customers ahead of me. Building inspector says we must have a structural engineer approve the deck plans.

3/20/19 – The deck contractor sends plans with the engineer’s approval to me. Steps to the deck are drawn in the wrong place. He says it won’t matter because “everybody just draws plans by hand and permits are fast-tracked on Wednesdays.”  Then he goes on vacation.

3/22/19 – Holding tanks arrive with faulty lids and must be reordered. MDH approves an extension of time for completion of the job. Extraordinarily patient buyers cancel the contract and I pour myself a Scotch and water.

4/22/19 – After two weeks of rain delays the job begins, and tank installation is complete four days later. The mason reinstalls the retaining wall the following week. Where’s the deck guy?

5/6/19 – Mr. Deck sheepishly tells me that we will need a full set of architectural plans drawn after all, and we must run everything by MDE for approval. No fast-tracking for this gal.

5/24/19 – Still waiting. Still drinking. Whatever happens, the next buyer will get a fully renovated, water view cottage, with a new septic system, retaining wall, and deck. 

And I will never buy a house on a septic system again, no matter how much greener the grass is.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland and Virginia and Director of Education & Mentorship at RLAH Real Estate. Reach her at 202-246-8602, DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Real Estate

A look at down payment assistance programs

Pride in ourselves, Pride in homeownership

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(Photo by GaJaS/Bigstock)

One of the most popular questions at our home buyer seminars is “What are the down payment assistance or first-time homebuyer programs available where I live?”  There are various programs sponsored by multiple jurisdictions with the help of local banks, federal grants and loans as well. Knowledgeable lenders in the area will direct their eligible borrowers to these programs when a home purchase is being considered. Some of the programs are frequently mentioned in the local news: HPAP, EAHP, and DC Open Doors. There are also other options such as:

• FHLB grant for down payment assistance and/or closing costs

• Bank portfolio loans such as the Sandy Spring Bank loan, which can be 3% of the home purchase price – paired with a 97% first trust loan which is 100% financing at market rates

• Citibank Home Run

• Bank of America Down Payment Grant or Home Grant

• Chase Dream Maker Grant

• DC Open Doors – (DC Purchases only)

• HPAP/EAHP (for DC purchases only, when funds are available.)

All of these programs, grants, and loans come with guidelines and regulations, which may include income limits, household size limitations, geographic boundaries, homebuyer education classes, occupying the home as a primary residence, and funds availability. Some are easier to use and implement than others. Others may be available but can take 60 or more days to close on a home purchase, where another buyer may offer a seller a 30-day close. Some of these options may be stacked together to help build the buyer’s purchasing power.  

In many cases they are worth exploring, and “seeing if the shoe fits.” A knowledgeable lender will be able to help a prospective home buyer to “try on these shoes” and see if there is a good fit. The best local Realtors and lenders will help a buyer understand which can be used at the time of purchase, and what types of documentation are necessary for each instance.  

In our experience, the programs are there for those who need it, and in many cases make the difference between what a buyer has available to bring to the table, and what they need to get the “Sold” sign put out on the lawn, and the keys in their hand. Some buyers may decide to investigate these options and go without the program or the available funds anyway.  Perhaps the interest rate is higher when using a program as opposed to going without it, meaning the monthly payment will be more when you use these programs.  Each buyer has their own criteria of what makes a good fit for them.  As with anything, “Mama said you gotta shop around.”  It’s worth considering the various down payment & first time homebuyer assistance options available when looking to purchase and deciding which option(s) provide the best fit.  

Don’t hesitate to reach out for more information.

Joseph Hudson is a referral agent with Metro Referrals. Reach him at [email protected] or 703-587-0597. Tina Del Casale is a mortgage banker at Sandy Spring Bank. Reach her at 301-850-1326.

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Real Estate

Totally radical home buying

We should celebrate advancement of homeownership rights

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The phrase “totally radical” came of age in the 1980s and was defined as cool, wonderful, or awesome. Its synonym, wicked, can be found in nearly all Ben Affleck movies and a cry of “Excellent!” will bring back memories of an adventure had by Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) in 1989.

Although some people are not ready for cocooning yet, homeownership is still a cornerstone of financial strength and wealth building. For LGBTQ individuals, owning a home can provide a sense of economic security and a sanctuary where they can express their personalities freely and without fear of discrimination or harassment. 

Whether house, condominium, or cooperative apartment, owning a place to chill allows you to build a legacy and provide for future generations. It offers the stability needed to plan for the future, whether that involves raising a family, supporting aging parents, or ensuring a spouse’s or partner’s financial security.

Homeowners are also more likely to invest in their communities, fostering strong, inclusive, bitchin’ neighborhoods. For many LGBTQ people, a home is “In the District,” which prides itself on diversity. Homeownership allows individuals to create personal spaces that reflect their identities and values, contribute to the city’s rich cultural tapestry, support local businesses, and participate in community events and governance.

The journey toward homeownership for gay individuals has evolved over the years, reflecting broader societal changes and the struggle for LGBTQ rights. The stark contrast between the ’80s and now highlights the progress made, the challenges that still exist, and future uncertainties brought forth by the space cadets in our political system. 

In the 1980s, homeownership for gay people was bogus. The decade was marked by lame, pervasive discrimination and limited legal protections. The HIV/AIDS epidemic further stigmatized the gay community, intensifying societal prejudices. This climate of fear and hostility permeated various aspects of life, including the housing market.

Gay individuals faced overt discrimination from landlords, real estate agents, and mortgage lenders, even in the rental market. It was not uncommon for same-sex couples to be denied housing simply because of their sexual orientation. Even in the late ’90s I had clients looking for homes in Prince William County, Va., who had to hightail it out of an open house when told to take a hike. I kid you not!

Financial institutions were often unwilling to grant mortgages to same-sex couples or openly gay individuals. When they did, the terms were often less favorable than those offered to heterosexual couples. This made the dream of homeownership significantly harder to achieve, even though DINKs (dual income, no kids) tended to have more household income than so-called “traditional” families.

Additionally, the lack of legal recognition for same-sex relationships posed harsh challenges. Without the ability to marry, same-sex couples faced difficulties in co-owning property and ensuring that their partner had legal rights to the home. Estate planning was complicated, as inheritance laws did not recognize same-sex partners, potentially leading to the loss of a home upon a partner’s death.

The landmark Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, was a fantabulous moment. This ruling provided same-sex couples with the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, including the ability to jointly own property and inherit without complication.

Anti-discrimination laws have also evolved. The definition of sex under the Federal Fair Housing Act has been expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity, as have protected classes in Maryland and Virginia. The District has taken that a step further; our protected classes also include gender expression and personal appearance. 

Organizations like the DC Center for the LGBT Community and the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) offer resources and advocacy for LGBTQ+ homebuyers. These organizations provide educational workshops, networking opportunities, and support to navigate the housing market.

The advancement of homeownership rights for gay people is a testament to the righteous resilience and determination of the LGBTQ+ community. As society continues to strive for equality, it is essential to address the remaining challenges to ensure that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can achieve the goal of homeownership.

In 2024, the only limitations on owning a home are finding one and being able to afford it. Pride weekend is a great time to go to open houses. You’ll probably be walking right by several. 

But if you’re not ready yet and just feel like getting your ’80s jams on, grab your disco balls and check out the Totally Tubular Festival at The Anthem at The Wharf on July 14.I’ll be Desperately Seeking Susan and will, as they used to say in the ’70s, catch you on the flip flop.

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Real Estate

Decorating tips for Pride in D.C.

Perfect time to add a dash of creativity to your living space

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Hang your Pride flag and other LGBTQ-themed décor this Pride month. (Washington Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

As the vibrant LGBTQ community in Washington, D.C., gears up for the much-anticipated Pride celebrations on June 8 and June 9, it’s the perfect time to add a splash of color and a dash of creativity to your living space. Normally, I know you’re used to reading more educational and serious articles in this space. In the spirit of D.C. Pride this year, I thought a bit of levity would be welcomed.

Whether you’re in a cozy condo, a spacious home, or a rental apartment, here are some fabulous ways to zhuzh up your indoors and outdoors with Pride-themed décor. 

Indoors: Celebrate with Style

1. Colorful Accents Everywhere

Transform your living area into a festive space by incorporating the colors of the rainbow. Here’s how:

• Throw Pillows and Blankets: Swap out your regular throw pillows and blankets for those in bright, rainbow colors. This simple change can make your space instantly feel more festive.

• Pride Flags: Hang LGBTQ Pride flags on your walls or in your windows. The traditional rainbow flag is a staple, but also consider including other flags like the bisexual, transgender, or pansexual flags to celebrate the diversity of our community.

• Art and Posters: Display Pride-themed art or inspirational quotes from LGBTQ+ icons. Local artists often have prints and posters that reflect the spirit of Pride.

2. Light It Up. Lighting can set the mood for any celebration:

• Fairy Lights: Drape rainbow-colored fairy lights around your living room or bedroom for a magical touch.

• LED Candles: Use multi-colored LED candles to safely add a warm glow to your space.

3. Tabletop Décor. Celebrate at every meal with:

• Tablecloths and Runners: A vibrant rainbow tablecloth or runner can turn every dining experience into a celebration.

• Centerpieces: Create centerpieces with flowers in hues of the rainbow, or use colorful glass bottles as vases.

4. DIY Pride Crafts. Get creative with DIY decorations:

• Rainbow Paper Chains: Make paper chains in rainbow colors and hang them across your rooms.

• Pride Mason Jars: Paint mason jars in rainbow stripes and use them to hold utensils or flowers.

Outdoors: A Festive Façade

1. Balcony or Patio Pride. If you have outdoor space, make it a part of the celebration:

• Rainbow Banners and Streamers: Decorate your balcony or patio railings with rainbow banners and streamers.

• Outdoor Flags: Fly a large Pride flag from your balcony or in your garden.

2. Welcoming Door Décor. Your front door can be a bold statement of support:

• Pride Wreath: Create or buy a wreath featuring rainbow colors or themed around different LGBTQ+ flags.

• Welcome Mats: Greet visitors with Pride-themed welcome mats.

3. Garden and Window Dressings. Let your garden or exterior windows echo your Pride:

• Window Decals: Use removable rainbow decals to decorate windows facing the street.

• Garden Flags: Place small rainbow or other LGBTQ+ flags throughout your garden or in plant pots on your porch.

4. Lighting the Night. Make your outdoor space shine:

• Solar Rainbow Lights: Use solar-powered lights in Pride colors to illuminate pathways or garden borders.

• Projection Lights: Project rainbow patterns or Pride flags onto your home’s exterior.

Community Engagement

1. Share the Spirit. Decorate your shared spaces if you’re in an apartment building:

• Bulletin Boards: Put up colorful notices or flyers announcing local Pride events.

• Community Areas: If possible, decorate communal areas with small flags or posters.

2. Local Pride. Support local LGBTQ businesses by buying decorations or craft supplies from them. This not only helps the community but also promotes local artists and crafters.

Safety and Considerations

• Check with your landlord or HOA: Before hanging decorations outside or in shared areas, make sure to check if there are any restrictions.

• Be Mindful of Neighbors: While celebrating Pride, ensure your decorations are respectful and mindful of your neighbors.

By decorating your home for Pride in Washington, D.C., you’re not just brightening up your living space; you’re showing your support and solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Let your Pride shine brightly, and make this year’s celebrations unforgettable!

Scott Bloom is owner and senior property manager, Columbia Property Management. For more information and resources, visit ColumbiaPM.com.

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