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Lesbian entrepreneur uses crime scene TikTok to educate

‘You can change people’s lives by returning things to pre-incident condition’



Laura Spaulding (center) is founder and CEO of Spaulding Decon. (Photo courtesy Spaulding Decon)

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a multi-part summer series of stories taking a closer look at how a group of diverse LGBTQ entrepreneurs survived and thrived during the pandemic. The series is sponsored by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.)

Spaulding Decon’s 4.2 million followers probably tune into the company’s popular crime scene cleaning TikTok to watch technicians scrub away blood or dismantle drug labs, but sometimes Founder and CEO Laura Spaulding slips in a little more.

“Today we’re going to be talking about the affordable housing crisis,” Spaulding, a former Kansas City police officer, tells viewers in an April teaser; later a young woman shares how difficult it has been surviving outside the benefits threshold.

Spaulding founded her multimillion-dollar business specializing in biohazard clean up in 2005, and in 2016 it became the first nationally franchised decontamination service.

However, the onset of the global pandemic threatened to derail the success of this lesbian entrepreneur.

When states were going into lockdowns in 2020, in a desperate effort to slow the pandemic’s death toll and contain the spread of the disease, many businesses struggled. According to Commerce Department data, real GDP across industry sectors fell sharply in the second quarter of 2020 as the world plunged into an economic recession.

Spaulding said surviving the crisis meant being able to navigate quickly in a new environment. Her business survived, in part, by reaching out via social media to the millions who unexpectedly found themselves locked down.

“We actually grew our business during the pandemic,” Spaulding told the Blade. “Other brands possibly didn’t do that because they were in crisis mode. But we showed viewers an insight into what disinfecting for COVID looks like. We gained a ton of followers because of that.”

In 2021, Spaulding Decon made the Inc. Magazine list of the 5,000 fastest growing private companies, an honor that gave Under Armor, Patagonia and Microsoft their first national recognition.

Inc. noted the “unprecedented challenges” this group of honorees faced in 2020, to not only survive but thrive with an average median three-year growth rate of 543 percent and combined median revenue nearing $11 million.

This was an achievement Spaulding said she never dreamed was possible. When she started her company, she did so with little outside investment and sheer determination.

“I’m just a regular person trying to build a business,” Spaulding said about her challenges. “[Being a lesbian business owner] hasn’t hindered me or benefitted me either. I’ve never gotten a contract because of it. But it will only hinder you if you let it.”

And she said the struggle for labor is real. Turnover among technicians is high.

Working long hours in protective equipment can be physically demanding, and cleaning up after violent deaths can take an emotional toll, but Spaulding enjoys working alongside those who tough it out with her.

“The people that I work with are amazing,” she said. “Since COVID, we’re operating with fewer staff members than we’ve ever had, but I enjoy being with them, side-by-side. We’re mission based.”

‘You can change people’s lives’

Today, Spaulding lives with her partner of four years and co-parents a 4-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a rescue dog named Sammy, a retriever mix. But back in 2005, she was a police officer facing a distraught homicide victim’s mom who wanted to know when they were returning to clean up the crime scene.

Spaulding told the Story Exchange in February she felt bad for the mother who had just been through so much, but the only answer she had for her was “We don’t do that.”

So, Spaulding left police work and went into the crime scene cleaning business. The work has been challenging, but years later she has no regrets.

“You can change people’s lives by returning things to pre-incident condition,” she told the Blade. “Especially the suicide clean ups because they don’t have to see it. You can’t get rid of the memory of [seeing the person like that], but we can put that room back together.”

Even before the pandemic created a captive audience, there was interest from the media in Spaulding Decon’s work due to the inherent drama involved.

“We were getting approached with reality show producers. But they could never get it sold because they thought it would be too graphic,” Spaulding explained.

“So, I was like let’s do it ourselves and post it to YouTube, and that’s how the social media series was born.”

Currently, Spaulding Decon’s Crime Scene Cleaning YouTube channel has more than 800,000 subscribers, and while much of the content can be graphic, some can be off-beat and unexpected, such as the 1980s E.T. Atari game unearthed during a hoarding clean up.

As the pandemic moves into its long-term and less acute stage, Spaulding Decon’s social media presence and popularity continue to hold strong. Its Crime Scene Cleaning series now has a spin-off focusing on in-depth interviews with people dealing with a variety of subjects.

“We get DMs [direct messages] on our social channels about how do I clean this particular thing?” Spaulding explained. “And we’ll do videos on that to make sure people are educated.”

This desire to educate pushed Spaulding to grow her franchise in a new direction.

“We have a spin off called ‘Talking Decon,’” she said. “Where we do more investigative-type interviews. The last one was with a victim of human trafficking.”

This new series provides a chance for the former cop to engage the community in a meaningful way.

“We take an educational approach to social media. So we have a cult-like following,” Spaulding said. “And we stay in communication with followers and fans.”

NGLCC: It’s a ‘community thing’

Spaulding has worked hard to make her business a success and she credits her staff and technicians for working just as hard in their “labor of love.”

However, her biggest tip for new entrepreneurs and LGBTQ business owners is to find a mentor to learn from early on.

“You will get to where you need to be faster than by learning from your mistakes,” she added.

Spaulding also pointed out the support she found as a member of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). She found it nice to be able to bounce ideas off “our own people” in a safe and comfortable environment.

“It was more of a community thing,” she said. “And it’s important for all minorities to stay at the top of your game – it’s not an even playing field. It’s constant education. It’s constantly finding things that you can do better to overcome the competition.”

Economics professor M.V. Lee Badgett, a distinguished scholar at UCLA’s Williams Institute, has researched the benefits of LGBTQ equality on the economy. Her books have debunked the myth of gay affluence and instead highlight the economic challenges LGBTQ people face due to discrimination.

“The bottom line,” Badgett told the Blade. “Is that for an economy to perform as well as it could, it needs everyone to contribute as much as they have to offer.”

Justin Nelson, the NGLCC co-founder and president, also explained that resilience and community are important.

“Our community is sustained by our resilience and commitment to helping one another through the good times and the challenging ones,” Nelson said. “It has never been easier to go online or check with your local affiliate LGBT Chamber of Commerce to make sure you support the brands that have our community’s back.”

And Spaulding is committed to continuing to grow her company. An avid reader, she just finished Dan Sullivan’s “Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork” and enjoyed its insights.

“You can’t do everything alone,” she said. “I came up thinking I had to do everything and pay for everything myself, but sometimes you need to find the ‘who’ – that person who can help you do something, instead of just figuring out how to do it yourself.”

Her new goal is to grow her business from 56 locations to 100.

“I think it’s challenging,” she said. “But doable.”


Real Estate

Boosting your rental property’s curb appeal

Affordable upgrades to attract and keep tenants happy



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

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Real Estate

Real estate agents work hard for that commission

Despite recent headlines, buyers and sellers benefit from our expertise



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

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Real Estate

Do you need title insurance?

Facilitating smoother and more efficient real estate transactions



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, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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