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Proper pandemic estate planning

Get a trust, will and healthcare directive in place

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estate planning, gay news, Washington Blade

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Although you should seek out comedy and other things for self-care this is here because it is time to talk about estate planning. Get an estate plan in place. Now. While you are either at home from work because of COVID-19 or forced to work during the public health crisis. Without a plan, you will end up in Probate Court. The probate process is time consuming and expensive and with the projected COVID-19 deaths those court dockets are about to become even more crowded. More importantly, your wishes will not be followed unless you have them written in a properly executed estate plan.

LGBTQ people especially need an estate plan. The law is set up in a heteronormative way. So, the default rules of who gets your stuff if you die are stacked toward people who may or may not have been supportive of you during your life. Thanks to marriage equality, it would go to your spouse if you chose to get married. Otherwise, it goes to your family of origin. First, any kids. If no kids, then parents. If no living parents, then siblings and then grandparents and so on. So for us LGBTQ people it could go to people who never accepted us for who we are. While imagining a homophobic father receiving his son’s drag wigs and vibrators in the mail is funny, it is not necessarily the process we want to see play out except in a show or movie.

In some ways, you’re dead so who cares, right? Also, it is just material possessions so who cares? I cannot argue the second question but you want those to whom you were closest to be the ones you leave with things to remember you by and so get a lawyer and write it down in a plan. Why should your homophobic family get what you earned (even if you have a supportive family there may be some charity or friend who you’d rather see get the benefit).

Nobody likes to talk about death. It’s the great unknown, but it is coming anyway. As with all things it is easier to grieve if there is a plan. If you have a plan around your possessions in place then friends and family can just be there (although these days more likely on Zoom) to mourn and tell funny stories or remember you in different ways. They do not also have to mobilize to figure out what forms to file in court and what to do with the your possessions. Not to mention, where are those possessions? With whom did the deceased person bank? Did they rent storage units? Did they have time shares?

Having an estate plan is like doing laundry. Not the most fun task, but once it is done and put away you really feel like you’ve accomplished something. So contact an estate planning attorney today.

If the sentiments above are not enough, here’s the cash incentive to get a plan in place. Attorney’s fees in Probate Court on a $1,000,000 estate (which is low if you own a home) are $23,000. Everything is based on the gross value of the estate, meaning regardless of mortgages. Estate plans vary from a couple hundred dollars online to a couple thousand dollars with a private law firm.

The online ones seem fine, but if something is done incorrectly during the estate planning process you end up back in Probate Court wasting time and money. Those $600 online did not get you what you wanted. This happens all the time (you see it everyday in Probate Court). As I like to say “when Tim writes your will, you get your way.” There are many great estate planning attorneys out there who serve our community. Each of us wants your wishes followed. Call or email and get this process going today. You are quarantined at home; you have no excuses left.

Tim Lyons is an estate planning and probate attorney who has been practicing law for nine years. He lives as a plus one as a faculty in residence at UCLA with his husband Mike.

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Real Estate

A guide to mortgage pre-approval for potential homeowners

Review your credit report to ensure there are no errors

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There are seven key steps to follow when seeking a mortgage.

For many potential homebuyers, the mortgage pre-approval process can be a daunting and confusing experience. However, obtaining a mortgage pre-approval is an essential step in the home buying process, as it demonstrates your financial readiness and helps you stand out as a serious buyer in a competitive market.

In this article, we will outline the exact steps for getting pre-approved for a new mortgage loan, so you can confidently embark on your home buying journey.

Step 1: Research potential lenders. There are various mortgage lenders to choose from, including banks, credit unions, and non-bank lenders. Take the time to research and compare interest rates, fees, and customer reviews to find a lender that best suits your needs. Referrals are always great, and the real estate professionals at GayRealEstate.com can refer you to LGBTQ mortgage lenders they trust and have a relationship with.

Step 2: Review your credit report and score. Before starting the preapproval process, it’s essential to review your credit report and score to ensure there are no errors or discrepancies. Your credit score plays a significant role in determining your eligibility for a mortgage and the interest rate you’ll receive. If necessary, take steps to improve your credit by paying down debts, disputing errors, and making timely payments.

Step 3: Gather necessary financial documents. Lenders will require a variety of financial documents to assess your creditworthiness and ability to repay the loan. Some of the essential documents you’ll need include:

Recent pay stubs

W-2 forms or 1099s from the past two years

Federal tax returns from the past two years

Bank statements from the past few months

Asset statements (e.g., retirement accounts, investments)

Proof of any additional income sources

Step 4: Determine your budget.  Before seeking pre-approval, it’s crucial to determine how much you can afford. Your GayRealEstate.com Realtor will help you to crunch the numbers. Together, you’ll consider your monthly expenses, debt-to-income ratio, and desired down payment to establish a budget for your new home. Be realistic and remember to factor in additional costs such as property taxes, homeowners’ insurance, and maintenance expenses.

Step 5: Submit your mortgage pre-approval application. Once you have chosen a lender, complete their mortgage pre-approval application. This will typically involve providing your financial documents, Social Security number, and permission for the lender to perform a credit check. Be prepared to answer questions about your income, employment, and financial history.

Step 6: Await the lender’s decision. After submitting your application, the lender will review your financial information and credit history to determine your eligibility for a mortgage. This process is pretty quick and often happens the same day. If approved, the lender will issue a pre-approval letter, which outlines the maximum loan amount, loan type, and interest rate you qualify for.

Step 7: Keep your pre-approval up-to-date. A mortgage pre-approval is typically valid for 60-90 days. If you don’t find a home within that time frame, you may need to update your pre-approval with your lender. Be sure to maintain your financial stability during the home search process, as any significant changes in your credit, income, or debt could affect your pre-approval status. (Don’t make any new large purchases like furniture, cars, boats, etc.)

By following these steps and obtaining a mortgage pre-approval, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the competitive real estate market and confidently make an offer on your dream home.

(Jeff Hammerberg is a distinguished entrepreneur and broker, and the founder of GayRealEstate.com. For more than 25 years, he has been a prolific writer, coach, and author who has been instrumental in advancing the cause of fair, honest, and equitable representation for all members of the LGBTQ community in real estate matters. GayRealEstate.com, which he established, is the largest and longest-running gay real estate agent referral service in the nation, boasting more than 3,500 LGBTQ Realtors who operate in cities across the United States. His commitment to promoting inclusivity and accessibility in real estate has earned him a reputation as a passionate advocate for the LGBTQ community.)

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or [email protected].

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Real Estate

Rental housing discrimination and you

There are many ways landlords can disadvantage LGBTQ renters

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Housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression is illegal in the District of Columbia. This means that housing providers cannot refuse to rent to someone or treat them differently in their housing-related decisions because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. 

But what might housing discrimination against LGBTQ home seekers look like?

Discriminatory treatment can occur at a number of stages in the home rental or purchase process, including when scheduling rental (or sales) showings, during a tour of the property, or during the application or post-application process. 

But discrimination may also occur while you are living in a rental home. Today’s discrimination may not be as blatant as an outright rejection or a snide remark about a protected category. There have been incidents of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression discrimination cited in rental housing disputes and lawsuits.

Some of these include landlords refusing to rent or renew leases to LGBTQ tenants; harassment of LGBTQ tenants by landlords or from other tenants; imposing different rental terms and conditions; failing to provide necessary repairs or maintenance to a rental unit where LGBTQ individuals reside (while other non-LGBTQ tenants receive prompt service); as well as failing to take action against other parties who engage in discriminatory behavior toward the LGBTQ tenants.

But there is good news.

Housing industry leaders are actively working to eliminate these instances of discrimination in housing. Both at the national level through the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and at the local level through the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (GCAAR) association leaders are working with real estate professionals such as licensed sales agents, brokers, and property managers to improve understanding and sensitivity. Their overall promotion of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) includes a substantial component surrounding sexual orientation and gender expression.

Christine Barnhart, Vice President of Strategic Communications at GCAAR told us, “We are doing our part to identify opportunities for diversity and inclusion conversation and education, and to promote the practice of inclusion and equity among our leadership, members, staff and within the industry.” GCAAR seeks to drive a larger conversation around DEI In addition to their “DEI Champions” program, providing a summary of their larger DEI initiatives can be found on their website.  

That education of the key industry players is being delivered through a variety of initiatives and updates to codes and policies. Barnhart points out that the programmatic elements of the training being done keep their members up to date, GCCAR’s ‘DEI Champions’ program features three key diversity training elements:

  1. “Completion of the six-hour ‘At Home With Diversity’ (AHWD) certification course
  2. “The National Association of Realtors (NAR) ‘Fairhaven fair housing simulation,’ and
  3. NAR’s Bias Override: Overcoming Barriers to Fair Housing video.”

I took this certification course and found it very helpful. My original inspiration to become a GCAAR DEI Champion was to augment my service to the community. Now having been through the course, I’m better enabled to “put myself into others’ shoes.” I gained a stronger awareness of how each of us possesses inherent biases. And the program made me more authentically aware of the impact of my comments, my decisions, and my actions on others.

Similarly, the District of Columbia provides ethical codes and regulations for housing providers here in the city to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression. For example, D.C.’s Office of Human Rights (OHR) has implemented guidelines and training programs for landlords and property owners to ensure they are aware of their obligations under anti-discrimination laws.

These regulations, industry guidelines, ethic codes, and best practices all help to make the D.C. rental housing market more inclusive and welcoming than other jurisdictions for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender expression,. However, if you feel that you have been a victim of discrimination, there are many agencies to turn to.

  1. Equal Rights Center – a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations in Greater Washington, D.C. and nationwide.
  2. D.C. Office of Human Rights – The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights enforces local and federal human rights laws, including the D.C. Human Rights Act, by providing a legal process to those who believe they have been discriminated against.
  3. Whitman-Walker Health – A non-profit organization that provides legal services, including assistance with housing discrimination cases, to the LGBTQ community in D.C.
  4. National Center for Transgender Equality – A national advocacy organization that works to advance the rights of transgender people, including those experiencing discrimination in housing.
  5. The DC Trans Coalition – A community-based organization that works to advance the rights and well-being of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in the District of Columbia.
  6. Pride Center of the Capitol Region– A community center that offers a variety of resources and support for the LGBTQ+ community in D.C., including assistance with housing discrimination cases.

As a gay-owned business and long-term member of the Equality Chamber of Commerce, it is important to me that all who interact with me and my companies feel welcomed and taken care of, particularly the LGBTQ community.  Building on the foundation of the DEI courses, our firm will work to educate our staff and reinforce a culture of understanding and acceptance.  How about yours?

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

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Real Estate

The art beneath your feet

Select rugs that reflect your personal style

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Let the art under your feet reflect your personality and style, and enjoy it for years to come.

Buying art for your new home can be both fun and an investment for the future. You can scour local galleries, visit antique stores, or buy paintings and posters online. Sometimes, you’ll even find local artisans displaying their work on the walls of real estate offices.

When it comes to a budget for art, the sky’s the limit. From original oil or acrylic paintings to clay or marble sculpture, to lighting of Chihuly glass, there is much to choose from. Even street art and painted murals can bring joy to accent walls.

Personally, I have a fondness for contemporary lithographs in primary colors and Blenko glass, but no matter what your taste, you may find art you love right beneath your feet in carpets and rugs that enhance your décor. Before you choose a rug to anchor your furnishings, determine what it’s made of and how it will work in your space.

Near the top of your budget, you’ll find pure wool rugs. They stand up well to high-traffic areas like living rooms and feel cozy beneath your feet. Good at repelling water and dirt, they can be hand-knotted or loomed and may have fringed edges.

Natural fiber rugs made of jute, seagrass, and sisal work well on their own or as an underlayment for other rugs. While inexpensive, you may find that they shed fibers, so using a rug pad under them will keep those fibers from scratching your floor.

An animal hide rug often serves as a statement piece, with each being as unique as the animal from which it came. Thankfully, you can now obtain the same look with synthetic hides with natural coloring or even dyed in bright hues.

Cotton rugs, braided or hooked, provide a more casual look for less. Many are machine washable, but they fade easily, especially if used in areas of direct sunlight or high traffic. They are also slippery when used on hard floors, so be sure to place a rug pad beneath them.

Most wall-to-wall carpet and bound area rugs today are made of synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon. Since these machine-woven beauties often mimic real wool and there are plenty to choose from, they are generally the most affordable.

Silk rugs are best in low traffic areas where there is little chance of pet accidents or spills. You may also see them hung on walls in lieu of paintings. These rugs will require professional cleaning and are among the most expensive offerings. In addition to the Persian and Oriental styles, you can now find more modern designs made of silk.

Another thing to consider is whether you want an eco-friendly or non-toxic rug. Determining which is which can sometimes be confusing. While eco-friendly refers to a product that is healthy for the environment, a non-toxic rug made without potentially harmful chemicals focuses on the health of people.

Always read the label of a rug that you are considering purchasing. Rugs made of olefin, polyester and nylon are created through chemical processes. Flame retardant and water repellant coatings can be toxic. Natural materials may have been sprayed with pesticides. Even dyes and rubber backings may contribute to an unhealthy home.

Several rug manufacturers advertise their products as non-toxic, including FLOR, Safavieh, Lorena Canals, and Hook & Loom. If you can’t find a non-toxic rug you like, you can minimize the effect of chemical treatments and odors by allowing your rug to off-gas outside or by leaving a light coating of baking soda on it overnight before vacuuming.

Next, think about the size and shape of your new rug. Will there be at least 3 inches of rug behind the front legs of your furniture as suggested by Martha Stewart? Do you have an apartment or condominium that requires a certain percentage of hard flooring be covered? Do you want to soften the edges of a room by using a round or oval rug or will you need a runner for hall or stairs?

The style, pattern, and texture of your rug will determine whether it simply muffles noise or becomes a favorite piece of art. Try a modern shag or an antique dhurrie. Layer several silk rugs on top of each other. Select a bold chevron, an Ikat pattern, or a mid-century Mondrian vibe.

Embrace color with an abstract Bohemian or choose a floral, stripe, or sculptured, tone-on-tone rug. You can also let your creative juices flow by designing a custom piece.
Whatever you choose, let the art under your feet reflect your personality and style, and enjoy it for years to come.

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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