Do You Really Want to Know Whether Someone Died in the Home You’re Buying?

deathbedGuess what? You can now find out whether a death took place on a particular property, thanks to a website called DiedinHouse.com. (With thanks also to Amy Swinderman of Inman News for pointing this website out.)

The service is not free, however. Obtaining this little tidbit of knowledge will cost you $11.99 for a single search, with discounts for multiple searches (most likely to be used by real estate agents).

This raises the question: How badly do you want the information?

First off, in some states, a prospective home buyer has other ways of obtaining information about deaths on a property. Home sellers in California, for example, must by law disclose in writing any deaths that occurred on the property within the last three years.

And even in states without such a legal requirement, you can, as a prospective buyer always ask the seller whether anyone has died in the house. Sellers might not be legally required to answer this particular question, but they can’t lie, either. (Outright lies are considered fraud in every state, providing grounds for a lawsuit.) Then again, sellers might not know about deaths that took place before they bought the house.

How about a Google (or similar) search using the property address or the owners’ names? This won’t bring up every death, but it will bring up the ones you’re probably most worried about–violent or especially tragic deaths. It might even bring up reports of hauntings!

These may be significant when assessing the home as an investment. A property where a notorious death has taken place might be “stigmatized,” and therefore hard to sell when you’re ready for your next move.

Before going too far down the rabbit hole of online and other searches, however, consider that before World War I, most deaths took place at home. If you’re buying a historical house in America, you should simply expect that someone has died there at some point–and perhaps think of it as the natural completion of a life cycle rather than as a manifestation of the macabre.

California Becomes a “Right to Dry” State!

photo (7)Good news for Californians who want to save energy by hanging their laundry outdoors on a clothesline or a drying rack: Governor Jerry Brown recently signed AB-1448, a law prohibiting both homeowners’ associations and landlords from placing unreasonable restrictions on hanging clothes out to dry.

“I didn’t even know hanging laundry was illegal before!” is a comment I’ve heard from some in response to this new law. Well, it wasn’t. And if no one has ever stopped you from hanging laundry, then the bill won’t likely change your life. (Unless you someday move, or downsize to a condo . . . .)

Two groups of people are greatly affected, however. These include:

  1. People who live in condominiums, townhouses, or homes built in common-interest developments and under the governance of a property association or homeowners’ association (HOA). Members of such communities are routinely covered by rules and restrictions (often contained in a document called Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions or CC&Rs). In some cases, these rules are part of the appeal of living in a planned community. They make sure that one’s neighbors can’t leave trash in the yard or paint their house in camouflage or rainbow tones. But if you wanted to hang laundry in your back yard, and were in a community where the rules said, “No go,” you were forced to run your dryer. (If you don’t have a back yard, however, the new law might not help you. You still can’t hang your clothes in a common area if the rules forbid it.)
  2. Tenants whose landlords forbid hanging laundry. They can now use a clothesline or drying rack, if approved by the landlord and placed within the tenant’s private area, and so long as the line or rack doesn’t interfere with property maintenance.

The new law doesn’t create a laundry-hanging free-for-all. Homeowners’ associations as well as landlords may still set reasonable restrictions, including on the time and location of hanging laundry.

But it’s an important start, especially given that, as the bill drafters noted, the California Energy Commission has found that “Clothes dryers can be one of the most expensive home appliances to operate, using approximately 6 percent of a home’s total electricity usage.”

Frankly, I’m not sure what all the fuss was about in the first place. As California author/illustrator Constance Anderson has noticed, a line full laundry swaying in the breeze can be beautiful. The image above is borrowed from her children’s book about people hanging laundry around the world, Smelling Sunshine

Constance further explains that in preparing the book, she drew upon her childhood experience of hanging laundry in southern California with a busy mother. “When we hung laundry together, we slowed down to take in the sights and smells and sounds of the world around us, which brought us closer. Then, at the end of the day, I would pull up the covers and that wonderful smell of the outdoors and its memories, what I call the smell of sunshine, was in the sheets.”

Millennial Homebuying Trends

desmoinesDon’t be put off by the apparent regional focus of NPR’s October 13, 2015 news story, “Why Are Millennials Buying So Many Houses In Des Moines?” It’s packed full of interesting information about the home-buying  habits of young-ish people (born between 1982 and 2004) nationwide.

Much of the information is provided by Elora Raymond, researcher for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, and Rachel Flint, Vice President of Suburban-Des Moines-based Hubbell Realty. These guests point out, for example, that:

  • The youngest first-time homebuyers tend to have the strongest credit rating, despite carrying a lot of student loan debt.
  • One thing that helps millennials’ credit rating is that they avoid credit card loans.
  • Another thing that helps their credit rating is that they avoid car debt; in fact, they aren’t big on car-buying at all, favoring homes in walkable areas, about a mile closer to city center than is typical for other buyers.
  • Some save up to buy a house while living in their parents’ basements.

My favorite point from the report, however, was the trend-bucking comment of recent homebuyer Dani Ausen, who says that the bold interior paint colors (orange, red and dark turquoise) “kind of sold the house to me . . . Seeing it not, like, painted all white or beige was very helpful.” So, mea culpa, I’ve repeated the industry wisdom of painting one’s home in neutral paint colors many a time.  And it’s still good advice . . . except when it isn’t!

California Passes New Equal Pay Law

The gengavel over money istockder gap is alive and well in California. According to a 2014 study by the National Women’s Law Center, a woman working full time in California still earns only 84 cents for every dollar that a man makes. For women of color, the gap is even more significant. For example, a Latina woman earns only 44 cents for every dollar that a white man makes.

On October 6, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Fair Pay Act into law. The new law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2016, expands on California’s Equal Pay Act of 1949 and makes it easier for women to challenge discriminatory pay practices.

California employers have long been required pay to men and women equally. However, in the past, this rule applied only when the man and woman performed “equal work” in the same location. The new law relaxes this requirement, requiring equal pay for “substantially similar” work, even if the employees work in different offices or locations. The new law also encourages an open discourse about wages: Employers are not allowed to prohibit employees from discussing their wages or retaliate against them for doing so.

Another significant change is that the law shifts the burden of proof to the employer. Once an employee challenges an unequal pay practice, the employer must prove that the difference in pay is due to a legitimate factor other than gender—such as seniority, qualifications, or the quantity or quality of work. If the employer isn’t able to meet its burden, the employee can recover the difference in wages plus interest, an equal amount in liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees and cost.

Will Your Nonprofit’s Crowdfunding Campaign Actually Attract a Crowd?

social-mediaOnce considered a marginal activity used mostly by individuals struggling to fund their short film or medical care, crowdfunding (setting up short-term giving campaigns on sites like Kickstarter or Indigogo) has become a necessary and normal part of any nonprofit’s fundraising activities. Devin Thorpe, author of Crowdfunding for Social Good, has been widely quoted as saying, “While crowdfunding does not constitute a complete development plan, no development plan is complete without crowdfunding.”

But the secret to this method is not, as one might imagine, in attracting a crowd of strangers from near and far. One of  the 10 Crowdfunding Tips From The 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference posted by  was that, “Contrary to what you may assume, the majority of donations for crowdfunding first come from people that you know.”

Makes sense, when you think about it. With the world getting a bit, well, crowded with crowdfunding campaigns, the odds of someone pitching in on your nonprofit’s effort when they’re busy reading solicitations for people and causes much closer to home seem small.

That’s not to say a nonprofit shouldn’t try to attract a crowd. The campaign itself can be a way to raise visibility, as friends forward the links to friends. It may give viewers a window into your group’s immediate needs, whether they end up giving or not. And to maximize the campaign’s effectiveness, you can find many free crowdfunding resources online.

There’s one more thing to think about if your nonprofit does succeed in attracting supporters from far away, however: state registration requirements. As attorney Gene Takagi notes, crowdfunding “potentially exposes the organization to the jurisdiction of every state where it is deemed to engage in charitable solicitation based on its crowdfunding efforts.” And according to Nolo author Stephen Fishman, most states “require nonprofits that solicit contributions from state residents to register with a state agency.”

This registration process can be a pain—which is why Nolo teamed up with National Corporate Research, Ltd. (NCR) to produce Nonprofit Fundraising Registration: Nolo’s 50-State Digital Guide, coauthored by NCR’s Ronald J. Barrett and Nolo’s Stephen Fishman. It’s available for just $124.99 annually and will be updated quarterly with new links, changed forms, and the latest information on registration rules and requirements.