How to Protect Yourself From a Mechanics Lien

Every homeowner who’s considering hiring a contractor to do some work in or around their house should make sure they’re familiar with their state’s mechanics lien laws before making a decision. Never heard of a mechanics lien? You’re not alone. Let’s uncover what it is and why you should protect yourself from it.

Think Twice About Not Paying

If you wind up having a beef with the contractor you employ for builds or repairs – poor workmanship, perhaps, or maybe they walked off the job before it was completed or failed to finish the work in a timely manner as promised – and you decide not to pay, that contractor can respond by attaching your house to a legal claim for unpaid work until some kind of settlement is reached.
That could turn into a waiting game if you are not considering selling your home. But, if you intend to put your home on the market in the near future, that lien could stop you in your tracks.
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What EXACTLY is a Mechanics Lien?

Sometimes known as a materialmans lien, every state has a a mechanics lien law granting tradespeople a way to protect themselves from those who fail to pay them for services and time rendered.
Here’s how Rusty Adams, a research attorney for the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University, described it in a recent edition of Terra Grande, the Center’s monthly magazine:
“It is an equitable interest that gives its holder the right to have satisfaction out of the property to secure payment on a debt. It is not title to the property, and a lien holder does not have ownership rights. Rather, it is an equitable interest that gives the lien holder the right to have satisfaction out of the property to secure the payment of a debt.”
In other words, it is an encumbrance the property owner must deal with, one way or another. Otherwise, it could result in a foreclosure and forced sale of your house.

How Mechanics Liens Work

None of what follows should be considered legal advice. Rather, it is intended only as a brief, mile-high overview.
A mechanics lien can be filed by anyone with a claim against the property. This concept isn’t new; for example, Uncle Sam can place a lien if you fail to pay your taxes, as can your state. Your homeowners association can do the same if you don’t pay your dues or a special assessment.
In the case of work done to your house, the contractor can file if you fail to pay, even if you feel you’re justified in withholding. The company from which he or she gets their supplies – roof shingles, for instance – can also file against your house if the contractor doesn’t pay them. And if the contractor uses subcontractors, they, too, can go against the house if the contractor doesn’t pay them.
The “very broad” law in Maryland “covers almost everything,” attorney Harvey Jacobs says. For example, if the developer doesn’t pay the paving company hired to cover your cul-de-sac, the company can file a mechanics lien against every house that touches that street. Ditto for the outfit hired to landscape, sod and plant shrubs.
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How to Protect Against Mechanics Liens

Fortunately, lien laws afford owners some protections. In some places, the amount owed must be of at least a certain amount. They also must be filed within a certain number of days from when the work was completed, and may require the property owner to be notified within a specified time that a lien has been filed.
The rules, which also apply to subs and suppliers, can be somewhat tricky for an owner to decipher. But the absolute best way to protect yourself is to require the contractor to provide lien releases before you pay anything more than your down payment. In other words, no draws or final payment until he or she certifies that everyone in the chain has been paid.
Often, says Texas attorney Adams, a notice of intent to file or the actual filing is enough to resolve the debt attached to the property without going through the process itself.
Once payment has been received, a contractor has a duty to remove the notice or the lien itself from public records. Failure to do so allows the property owner to file a lawsuit against the contractor to compel the lien’s removal. But to avoid that, Adams suggests making sure the release has been recorded.

(READ MORE: The Difference Between a Handyman and a Contractor)

Some Important Distinctions

A lien release is not the same as a lien waiver. Nor is it the same as a lis pendens. While a release removes an existing lien, a waiver is an agreement that prohibits a contractor or supplier from placing a lien on the property. But some states don’t permit waivers at all.
A lis pendens, which is Latin for “suit pending,” is a written notice that a lawsuit has been filed in the county land records office involving either the title to the property or a claimed ownership interest in it. The notice alerts a potential purchaser or lender that the property’s title is in question, making it less attractive, if only because the buyer or lender is subject to the suit’s ultimate outcome.
Beyond this, it is crucial for a homeowner to ensure the contractor, subcontractor or supplier has followed the rules of the road.  In Texas, said Adams, the claimant must give the appropriate preliminary notices, make the proper filing and give filing notice to the property owner.
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In Maryland, the unpaid amount must be at least 15% of the property’s assessed value. So if the house is assessed at $100,000, the lien must be for $15,000 or more. “Small jobs don’t count,” Jacobs said. Contractors must also file a lien within 180 days of performing the work in Maryland, but subs must file within 120 days.
In neighboring D.C., though, there is no minimum to file, and the contractor, supplier or sub has only 90 days to file.
(Note: In the case of mechanics liens, property value is an evidentiary question. Courts often use assessed value in deciding whether a lien can be brought.)
In Texas, though, contractors aren’t required to provide a preliminary notice, but they are required to present a list of all subs and suppliers before starting work. But subs and suppliers who have a contract with the original contractor must send notices to both the contractor and the homeowner by the 15th day of the second month.
As you can see, once you get into the tall grass with mechanics liens, it becomes fairly complicated. It’s at this point that it may be time to consult legal counsel.


Lew Sichelman

Syndicated newspaper columnist, Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market and all it entails for more than 50 years. He is an award-winning journalist who worked at two major Washington, D.C. newspapers and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Source: homes.com

5 Ways to Show Your Home Some Love

Don’t leave your home out of the Valentine’s Day fun — send it a love note or two with these quick tips.

When February rolls around, we’re often thinking of little ways to show our loved ones how special they are to us. Why not take the opportunity to do the same for your home?

While you can’t send your home a box of chocolates or a card, there are plenty of things you can do to show it a little love this Valentine’s Day.

Make easy DIY updates

Even if you’re not planning on selling your home anytime soon, it’s always good to make small improvements to increase your home’s value. Plan a quick weekend project, like one of the following:

  • Install a no-touch faucet on the kitchen sink
  • Swap those brass drawer pulls from the ’90s with a more modern design
  • Replace the old fluorescent light fixtures in the bathroom
  • Upgrade the frameless builder-grade mirror to a more stylish one
  • Paint the front door and shutters a vibrant color you love

These simple changes can make a huge difference in how you see and enjoy your home — and make it easier to sell when the time comes.

Buy it something pretty

Just like buying a new ensemble usually lifts your spirits, purchasing something you love for your home will instantly put you in a great mood.

Buy that gorgeous vintage door you’ve been eyeing online (after carefully measuring, of course). Upgrade the curtains the previous owner left behind, buy something colorful and cheery to change the room’s look, or take the plunge and finally purchase that department store rug.

Cultivating great style in your home doesn’t usually happen overnight, but occasionally purchasing items that that make you happy will eventually result in a space you love.

Make happy memories in it

When you first looked at your home, you might have said something like, “This would be a great space for entertaining.” Since moving in, however, have you actually entertained in your home?

If you haven’t (or if it’s been awhile), consider hosting a potluck or a casual dinner with friends and family.

But don’t think you have to scrub the floors for three days and prepare a feast. There’s no need to get too fancy when you host — all you really need is great friends, lively conversation, and good food. Make a menu, choose the music, and hang some string lights or light some candles to create a festive atmosphere.

Save money on it

If mortgage rates are down and you’re interested in lowering your monthly payments, you might want to consider refinancing your home.

Though saving money on your mortgage is the most obvious reason to refinance, many homeowners choose to refinance so they can change from an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) to a fixed-rate mortgage. This can make payments more predictable and less dependent on how the market is doing.

Knowing that you are making the best financial decisions when it comes to your home will ultimately make you happier to be there.

Make sure it’s protected

Reviewing your home insurance policy may not be the most exciting way to spend an evening, but it’s a good way to make sure there aren’t any obvious gaps in your coverage.

Read your policy carefully. Are you overly insured? Or are you overpaying for the amount of coverage you’re getting? Remember that standard coverage often doesn’t often pay for flood or earthquake damage, so check your policy and understand what’s covered in the rare case of a disaster.

If you find areas for improvement, shop around for a new insurance company or work with your existing provider to create a plan that makes you feel more prepared and secure. Understanding the ins and outs of your insurance policy is the best way to look after your pocketbook — and it will likely help you sleep better at night, too.

A home is more than just a roof over your head — it’s a place that’s meant to be loved and enjoyed. Try some of these quick tips this weekend, and you’re sure to fall in love with your home even more.

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Source: zillow.com

What Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Contractors

When you’re building or renovating a home, having the right team on your side makes all the difference.

Building or renovating a home is a complex project with plenty of moving parts. Even if you’re planning to take a DIY approach, it’s likely you’ll need some help from contractors along the way. Here’s a guide to the types of contractors you might enlist to help you complete your dream home.

General contractors

If you think of a general contractor like a general in the military, you have the basic idea of what a general contractor does. Like a general leading a military campaign, a general contractor organizes the strategy of a building or remodeling project. The general contractor decides when to bring in the plumbers, electricians, and roofers; makes sure they do their jobs correctly; and checks details, like ensuring that the carpenters install the porch handrails according to code.

Especially if there is no architect involved, the general contractor ensures that the building permits are in order and that the project is legal — meaning that it is being done to city or country building codes. (If it isn’t, your city’s building inspectors will make you redo it. Ouch!) Like a military general who is ultimately responsible for the success of a campaign, the general contractor is responsible for the outcome of remodeling project.

Subcontractors

Subcontractors are specialists who work under the direction of the general contractor. Subcontractors include plumbers, electricians, tile setters, carpenters, framers, roofers, painters and cabinetmakers, among others.

Ideally, they show up at your construction or remodeling project when they are needed. If the subcontractors are reliable and efficient, the pace of your project continues to move steadily along, and it is finished when it is supposed to be. If all that happens, it is usually because a good general contractor has been overseeing their work.

Owner as general contractor

Homeowners who are skilled at organizing multimillion-dollar sales campaigns at their office or at running three local volunteer organizations in their spare time sometimes like to act as their own general contractors. There is no law that says you can’t. As a rule of thumb, general contractors charge about 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of the job, so acting as your own general contractor can save money.

But before you leap into the general contractor role, consider whether you really have the time, expertise, and patience to run a remodeling project, especially a complicated one. How much time can you spend on site? Can you take phone calls at unexpected times of the day?

The one thing you can count on with any remodel is that something will go wrong at some point. It may not be a big deal, but it will mean making new arrangements, often on short notice, and rearranging schedules for subcontractors and suppliers.

This could mean dozens of phone calls in a single afternoon. It could mean running around hunting down some piece of hardware or building material that is needed on site right now. If this sounds like fun, you may have what it takes to act as your own general contractor.

Design/build firms

An alternative to hiring a general contractor or acting as your own is to hire a design/build firm. Design/build firms are companies that offer start-to-finish building and remodeling services. They employ architects or designers as well as the skilled builders.

A design/build firm essentially offers the services of architect, general contractor, and subcontractors. The obvious advantage to using these firms is that the entire project should be a fairly smooth operation, since the firm takes responsibility for everything.

While general contractors, subs, and independent architects can, in the worst scenarios, blame each other for mishaps and toss the responsibility for correcting the mishaps back and forth, design/build firms know the buck stops with them. They have to make it right.

Carpenters

If your home improvement project really is as straightforward as installing a wall of built-in bookshelves in your living room, your best bet is probably to find a good carpenter or cabinetmaker.

People who bill themselves as handymen may be fine at installing new light switches or doing minor carpentry, but, as always, ask to see some of their work. If you want your new bookshelves to look like elegant additions to your living room, find an expert in cabinetry.

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Source: zillow.com

Keeping Pets Safe Around Plants

Many plants represent a threat to Fido and Fluffy. Protect them with these tips from our gardening expert.

Gardens are wonderful places for pets. They provide entertainment, room to exercise and cool shade in the afternoon. However, many of the most common and seemingly innocuous garden plants are also poisonous to your furry friends.

The apples and oranges we humans enjoy, almost all flowering bulbs and some of the most popular houseplants all share one thing in common: They are dangerously toxic to cats and dogs.

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Irises, bottlebrush and daylilies all pose a threat to pets.

Plants ranked ninth on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA’s) list of top pet toxins in 2017. Roughly 5 percent of calls made to the organization’s Animal Poison Control Center involved landscaping plants, houseplants and bouquets.

Before we even cover the poisonous plants, let’s focus on the biggest dangers. Insecticides ranked seventh on the ASPCA list, and lawn and garden products came in 10th. Keep all chemicals out of reach, and if you’re getting your lawn sprayed, allow at least a day before letting your pet on the grass.

Problem plants for pets

Many plants are poisonous or otherwise dangerous to pets, but luckily there are many more that are completely safe. Here are some toxic plants to avoid, followed by safe alternatives. This list is just an introduction and is by no means exhaustive, so refer to the ASPCA website to search for the plant in question.

Plant type Toxic Nontoxic
Bulbs Caladium, calla lily, tulip, daffodil, iris, narcissus, crinum, amaryllis,  dahlia, lily of  the valley, crocus Canna, muscari, Scarborough lily, ginger
 Annuals and
perennials
Arum, elephant ear, begonia, sweet pea, coleus, bird of paradise, cyclamen,  hellebore, hosta, lantana, chrysanthemum, morning glory, asparagus fern, geranium. Lilies and daylilies are toxic to cats but nontoxic to dogs. Aster, fern, marigold, gerber daisy, snapdragon, hollyhock, ornamental grasses, nasturtium, nerve plant, petunia, sunflower
 Trees
and shrubs
Holly, rhododendron, azalea, oleander, sago palm, citrus (lemons, oranges, etc.), apple, apricot, peach, cherry, yucca, black walnut, yew, gardenia, nandina, wisteria Crepe myrtle, bottlebrush, aralia, hawthorn, pittosporum, mulberry, magnolia, mahonia, rose, hickory, bamboo, banana
 Vegetables Tomato, garlic, leek, onion, shallot, grape Cucumber, squash, melon, okra, zucchini
 Houseplants Dieffenbachia, Swiss cheese plant, Chinese evergreen, dracaena, pothos, ficus, anthurium, aloe, desert rose, kalanchoe, snake plant, euphorbia, asparagus fern, schefflera Calathea, areca palm, cast iron plant, Christmas cactus, spider plant, episcia, false aralia, orchid, bromeliad, peperomia, echeveria, haworthia, sempervivum, gynura, plectranthus

If you’re unsure of the toxicity of a certain plant in your garden, refer to the ASPCA website to find out.

Bromeliads and echeveria are safe plants to have around your four-legged friends.
Bromeliads and echeveria are safe plants to have around your four-legged friends.

Safety steps

While you needn’t tear apart your garden to keep poisonous plants off your dog’s menu, you should definitely educate yourself so you can make your own informed decisions.

Remove risky plants, transplant them to pet-free areas of the garden or, if the plant is too big (or special) to easily remove, make it inaccessible to your pet with fencing.

Just remember that even fallen leaves or seedpods are also often poisonous, so acquaint yourself with the symptoms your pet might experience following ingestion so you know what to tell the vet.

You might not need to go out and remove a foundation planting of azaleas tomorrow, but it isn’t that big of a deal to replace your toxic aloe plant with a nontoxic (and more attractive) haworthia.

If your pet shows any worrying symptoms, don’t waste time looking at lists like these. Call your vet or visit the ASPCA poison control hotline website immediately.

Top photo from Offset.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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Originally published June 25, 2015.

Source: zillow.com