CityMelt Blog Data beyond just cities.

March 25, 2010

Block Island

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — steve @ 11:13 PM

I need to travel here this year or next .   This is why I moved back to the East coast!  There are so many interesting places I can easily visit from Bucks County, PA.

February 15, 2010

Pennsylvania New Homeowners Beware

Filed under: Home Buyers — steve @ 8:51 PM

Legal disclaimer: Please understand that I’m not an attorney and am not offering legal advice. I am only stating what I have learned about mechanic’s liens and title insurance. My information may be totally wrong, so please conduct your own research to verify what I say below. Furthermore, you may want to consult with an attorney before proceeding with the purchase of a new home.

You found the perfect home and are already dreaming of how you will decorate. The inspections go well and you have closed the deal paying for your house in full. A few days pass, then out of the blue you discover there is something called a “mechanic lien” posted on your front door. A mechanics lien allows a subcontractor who does work for the builder of your home to put a lien, or security interest, on your house until they are paid for their work.

How dare a subcontractor threaten you with a lien on your home! You get all worked up and contact the subcontractors.  You hastily tell them that the law will be on your side because it’s only right that you should only pay once. You dutifully paid the builder and were honest so the law should protect you right? Wrong. You hire an attorney and at your first meeting tell her to destroy the subcontractor’s liens. Then the attorney delicately tells you about Pennsylvania’s poorly conceived mechanic’s lien law. In short, when a builder does not pay the subcontractors who helped build your home then the home must be used to pay the subcontractors. If you refuse to pay the subcontractors they can force the sale of the home to repay the builder’s debts. So, you are out of luck because you did not get a release of liens from the subcontractors before you closed on your new home.

You would be correct in thinking that title insurance protects you from liens that are placed on your home before you buy it. However, a subcontractor has up to six months to file a mechanic’s lien on your new home and title insurance will not protect you from this gap in coverage. For example, if a subcontractor starts work two months before close and it takes the subcontractor one month to finish the job, then the subcontractor should be paid by the builder upon completion of work.  The builder may ignore his demands for payment for one month and then twenty days after close the subcontractor may become fed up and file a lien to protect his right to payment. Unfortunately, if the builder refuses to pay the subcontractor this will not show up on your title search because there is not yet a recorded lien. The subcontractor has plenty of time, up to six months, to file a mechanic’s lien against your newly acquired property for which you honestly paid. When the builder does not repay debt, the subcontractor will place a lien against the property that he worked on to recover his rightful money.

Luckily, I found out about mechanic’s liens when reading the title insurance policy I was about to purchase. In schedule B of the policy it stated that they were not responsible for mechanic’s liens. There is such a thing as mechanic’s lien insurance but it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain these days. As mandated by law, title insurance companies cannot charge higher than state regulated rates for title policy endorsements such as mechanic’s lien insurance. The procedures that title insurance companies must go through to protect themselves would be too burdensome and cost ineffective to offer mechanic’s lien endorsements to their policies. What must they do to protect themselves from having to payout on a mechanic’s lien claim? They must do exactly what new owners must do to protect themselves in the absence of mechanic’s lien insurance.

To protect against possible future liens you should first ask the builder for an indemnification letter which states that the builder will stand in front of you and pay for any liens. You should also obtain a “Waiver of Liens” from all subcontractors before they start work on the house. Why would anybody waive their right against a lien is beyond me but perhaps they really need the work and will take a chance. Subcontractors waive their right against liens for residential houses under a million all of the time. For houses over one million they are not allowed to waive this right. A less messy and easier way to structure your deal is to get a “Release of Liens” from all of the subcontractors before you close on the house. You could build a clause into your purchase contract to protect your home from future liens. The wording in the contract would state that you refuse to close on the house unless all of the builders subcontractors working on the house for the past six months grant you a release of liens. When the contractor is paid they sign the release of liens statement at the same time. A potential problem would be getting a list of subcontractors from the builder which is honestly compiled and complete.

The way the present mechanic’s lien law was written is absolutely crazy. This is a gigantic hole in the law that prevented me from obtaining my dream home. The builder I was dealing with refused to get a release of liens from his subcontractors. The purchase contract was already signed and I spent $1,000 on inspections before I discovered this home buying pitfall. Although, I’m thankful that I discovered the problem before close and was able to get my deposit money back. This hole in the law does not change my level of frustration with the Pennsylvania state legislature. Why is there still no law protecting the new home buyer in Pennsylvania?  I’m happy to see subcontractors have a way to collect their money through mechanic’s liens but to make a new home buyer liable is quite unfair.

State legislature member Don Walko introduced House Bill No. 1822 on July 2, 2009 with 28 other members and the bill was referred to the Committee on Labor Relations. Unfortunately, the bill has not seen the light of day since being introduced last July. Don Walko left office in December of 2009 to become a judge so the original champion of this bill is now gone. What is holding back the other supporters of the bill and why is the labor relations committee dragging their feet?  The mechanic’s lien problem can be easily remedied by my state representatives.  Why do they not care about this issue enough to finish the job?  What else are our legislators doing? Let me guess. Playing golf and attending worthless conventions learning about how to be better legislators.

Legal disclaimer: Please understand that I’m not an attorney and am not offering legal advice. I am only stating what I have learned about mechanic’s liens and title insurance. My information may be totally wrong, so please conduct your own research to verify what I say above. Furthermore, you may want to consult with an attorney before proceeding with the purchase of a new home.

– Steve

January 17, 2010

Southern California Paradise

Filed under: Places Steve Visited — steve @ 12:58 AM


Why anyone chooses to live in Southern California is beyond me.  The state is almost bankrupt, overdeveloped, backed up with traffic jams, home lots are small, and year round warm weather is mundane.  Northern California along the coast is a totally dissimilar place to be discussed in a future blog entry.

I moved to Southern California in 1993 and disliked this part of the state from day one.   I have lived in Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego.  I did not remain in Southern California for 15 years by choice but because my business was so intertwined with the state that I had to remain.  I moved out of the state in 2008 with boundless joy and tranquility.

Unfortunately, California is falling into a financial abyss as a result of reckless spending.  Now debt is starting to smother the life out of California.  The politicians in Sacramento chase out businesses and individuals with ridiculously high tax rates.  High income tax rates is one of the reasons why I left California.  As a final kick in the pants, upon selling my business the state enjoyed 10% of sale proceeds that I earned through hard labor.

Most of Southern California is covered in concrete and pavement.  Endless strip malls and over crowded residential neighborhoods make it hard to breathe.  Yes, smog is still a problem too.  Unless you’re among the super wealthy and can afford a 3 million dollar house, you can forget about any sort of significant yard with trees and grass.  Of course, you could go out towards the desert and buy a good sized yard, minus the trees, but then the weather is too hot.  If you do not need a job to sustain your family, then living in the mountains could be your answer; otherwise, the commute would be lengthy.  Traffic is absolutely ridiculous.  To go anywhere, and be on time, you need to leave far in advance.  The traffic most days is slow for no good reason. Sometimes traffic will surprise you and move rapidly, but if you left too early you will also arrive too early at your destination.

Southern California weather is monotonous and warm year round.  Most residents love California’s warm weather.  These same residents happily over pay for the privilege to live in overcrowded housing developments.  The threat of wild fires and earthquakes do not make one bit of difference to these warm weather fanatics.  I just do not understand this thought process.  In my opinion, anyone who cannot take 3 months of cold weather is a wimp.  As  an approximation, most Northern states receive cold winter weather in December, January, and February.  March, April and May is Spring.  June, July, and August is Summer.  September, October and November is Fall.   I enjoy the change of seasons because it’s quite pleasant to experience the smells, sounds and change of scenery four times a year.  Living in a place that has warm weather year round is absolutely mind numbing.

If you appreciate old style architecture you will be disappointed; although, there is something to be said about California’s Spanish influenced building design.  To be fair, many of the restaurants are excellent.  The culture around the beaches is quite unique and interesting.  I highly recommend visiting Laguna Beach.  If you enjoy quality hamburgers and fries made with the best ingredients be sure to visit In & Out.   When you get up on Sunday watch an episode of “California’s Gold” with Huell Howser.  Balboa Park in San Diego is a beautiful place to visit.

Most people that I’ve met love California; although, many of these people have not lived elsewhere.  I am lucky to have also lived in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.  Living in these other states has colored my perspective with visions of large open parks, beautiful windy roads, and reasonable housing with large yards. I know there are a lot of people who will disagree with my views on Southern California.  Neither of us is correct and neither of us is wrong in our viewpoints.  Every individual and family has a different perspective on where is the best place to live.  We are lucky to live in such a diverse and large country.  We must consider what our own values are and then make a choice.  Throughout this country, there are different climate types, a variety of cultures, and varying population densities. Before deciding on where to live, you may want to consider your own dreams of the place to live out the remainder of your life.  Be honest with yourself and then make the leap you deserve without fear.  I tried for years to break away from California and found the ultimate place to live.  Until my children turn 18 that ultimate place is Bucks County, PA.  I will write about my dream fulfilled in a soon to be released blog entry.

– Steve

October 6, 2009

Death Valley

Filed under: Places Steve Visited — admin @ 11:15 PM
Salt Flats

Salt Flats

My picture of badwater


Five months after arriving in California I landed a great job and was ready to take a weekend trip to relax. I did not know anyone, except for a few relatives, so I decided to take the trip alone. I chose to visit the ominous sounding place named Death Valley. Back in 1993 the commercial Internet was in it’s infancy so I was not able to research this place in much detail before embarking on my trip. I did find some limited information online that indicated Death Valley was in a super desolate geographical region and extremely hot.   Several warnings were given stating that temperatures can become extreme and if your car breaks down you had better be prepared for the worst.

I’m trying to remember exactly when I visited but I think it was in early Fall. The exact time is hard to recall because in Southern California the weather is almost always the same year round. The seasons do not vary much as compared to other regions with more defined seasons. Most people seem to relish the mild year round weather but I am not a fan of Southern California’s boring weather. In fact, I am not a fan of Southern California in general for reasons I’ll leave to future blog entries.

I packed up my car with the usual stuff as well as extra food and water in case my car became inoperable out in the middle of nowhere. I drove through Victorville, CA which was my first of many times visiting Victorville. As I left this small outpost of Southern California I felt like I was finally starting my adventure into the desert. I remember driving by windmills and huge solar panels in the middle of the desert. I kept driving for a few hours and noticed that the desert was getting more and more lonely and the cars sharing my road were becoming scarce. Finally there was just me, the road and the desert.   I felt like I was the only person on a barren landscape within miles, so I stopped my car on the side of the road and there was no sound or wind.  Where I stopped offered just dead silence and the ringing sound one gets within their mind when no other sound exists. I was alone!

Being alone out here was a dream for me because I like super desolate places. I’m one of those guys who gets excited when I hear about expeditions to Antarctica or when I see pictures of Mars and the Moon.  I’m taking a story detour for a minute…my wife thought I was crazy in 2008,  when I stopped and turned off our car 20 miles out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I then left the car and pleaded with her to experience what I thought was an amazing moment. She finally relented and we both stopped talking so that we could listen to the sound of nothing. She still thought I was crazy after the moment passed.  For you desolate freaks like me I’ll add the video I took in a future blog entry.

The sunset must have been beautiful in the desert but I do not remember this moment. Although, one moment is solidly imprinted in my mind that will last a lifetime. The darkness of night crept up on me as I was happily driving with my windows down letting in the warm desert air. I looked up through my windshield and noticed the amazing site of bright stars in the sky. Once again, I stopped my car on the side of the road and then lie on the warm hood of my trusty Nissan Sentra. There were absolutely no cars, trucks, or people. All that existed was nothing – pure quiet!  Stars were everywhere! The milky way was crisp and clear like I was watching high definition television. The view of the stars on a perfectly clear night were one of the most spectacular sights my eyes have ever seen.  People living near major cities are robbed of this gift from nature because city lights block out this amazing treat. I recommend everyone on plant Earth try to get out of town – way out of town at least once in their lives on a clear night to see what I was able to see. You will not believe how many stars there are in the sky and how small you will feel. I would have stayed there all night but being all alone out in the middle of nowhere in a place where I had never been before with thoughts racing through my mind of some crazy desert creatures is too much adrenaline for this former 24 year old.

Next I drove to a motel for the night. No reservations were made ahead of time. I was extremely lucky because I booked the last room for the night. Two guys who arrived after me were not so lucky and had to sleep in their car. There are no alternatives anywhere in Death Valley except for the Furnace Creek Resort which I believe is in the park itself.  The resort is super pricey but looks quite plush like an oasis. I just finished a little bit of research and it looks like I took route 190 North East and then South down through the park on the 178 to the 127 and over to the 15 home back to the LA area.  I’m trying to figure out at which motel I stayed that night. I remember the motel was small with a nice bar area but I was tired and did not look around much. I do remember quite well this fine mist of water they had spraying outside the motel all over. The fine spray was absolutely refreshing offering a soothing sound that blended well with the quietness of the desert. I’ll try to track down the motel someday and update this entry.

I awoke the next morning and drove into the Death Valley National Park. There are several parts of the park to visit that have varying geographical features. One part is dried out soil saturated with salt, another part is the traditional desert sand everyone thinks of when they think of deserts. I was able to tour a few ancient Indian ruins and my favorite area was a place called “Badwater” which is the lowest point in North America – 282 feet below sea level.   Pictures tell a thousand words so I’ll post a bunch.  I met numerous European tourists in the national park (that’s how I was able to get my picture taken) and did not meet even one American tourist which I found interesting. A few years ago I saw a documentary in California that showed a small lake in Death Valley.  Apparently, there was a big flood in the area and it created a temporary lake.  Follow this link to see a wonderful photo of the rare Death Valley flood.  Also, once a year wildflowers bloom in certain areas of the park which is quite beautiful from the video I once viewed.

Desert Sand


Due to my lack of good solid information on the area I did not visit Scotty’s Castle.  I saw the sign but I was growing tired of driving and actually skipped this landmark because it was in the North end of the park. What was I thinking! Scotty is just like me because he built an amazing structure in the middle of nowhere! I really regret my decision and will someday return to this national treasure. I do not have copious amounts of stories to share about Death Valley National Park because the destination I was aiming for was not my true objective.  I wanted to visit to see what Death Valley looked like while enjoying my time driving the back roads of California.

– Steve

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