Contract Outlaw & Construction Liens

What happens if the subcontractors do not get paid?  The statute says that if the homeowner paid the contractor and the contractor does not pay the subs, that is a felony…and the homeowner may find a lien on his house.   To help avoid a contract outlaw and a lien on your house, ask for these documents: Notice of Commencement – A statutory form that notes the intent to begin improvements, the location of the property, and description of the work and the amount of bond (if any) filed before the start of construction or remodeling.  The Notice of Commencement is recorded and a copy is posted at the construction site. Written list of all subcontractors and suppliers who have a contract with the contractor to provide services or materials to your property.  Request this from your contractor via certified or registered mail. Release of Lien – Written statement that removes the homeowner’s property from the threat of lien – get this from the suppliers and subcontractors before you make any payment.  If the contract calls for partial payments before the work is completed, get a Partial Release of Lien that covers services and supplies used up to that point. We […] Read More

Almost You is NOT You – Social Security

Had your Social Security number exposed in a data breach?  Here is a checklist of what to do, provided by the Federal Trade Commission: IdentityTheftFTCgov   Note that in some cases the Social Security administration may issue a new Social Security number, but that can create new problems as follows: The credit bureaus may combine the credit records from your old Social Security number with records from your new Social Security number. A new Social Security number may give you a blank credit history, making it difficult for you to get credit.  While a new number may erase the bad credit an identity thief gave you, it may also erase the good credit you had. Just because you have a new Social Security number does not mean it is immune from theft.  The new number can be stolen, just as the old one was. Despite the problem of bad credit on your old Social Security number, you may be better off to keep it rather than to request a new number, depending on the circumstances. Your credit may be compromised in a data breach if an ID thief gets your personal and/or financial information.  Protect your credit by addressing any […] Read More

Workshop for Savvy Seniors

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is putting on a free workshop for older residents and their families and/or caregivers to help raise awareness and avoidance of financial exploitation that is targeted towards Florida’s seniors.  As part of CFO Atwater’s On Guard for Seniors initiative, this workshop is on tour throughout the State, making its stop in St. Augustine on October 8 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. at River House (179 Marine Street, St. Augustine).  Topics covered will include the following: The Psychology of a Scam How to Spot Fraudulent Behavior Common Scams that Target Seniors How to Fight Identity Theft Resources to Keep You Safe To learn more and to register for this workshop, go to   Read More

Hide & Seek with a Free Offer

As a consumer, you are “it.”  Close your eyes, count to ten, and then go shopping for goods and services.  But as a consumer, you are also the one being sought by companies offering goods and services.  You may find a free trial offer—delightful!  You can sample a product or service on a limited basis without obligation, allowing you to decide on the merit of the product or service firsthand instead of relying on the basis of advertising.  Is the game really in your favor? Some free trial offers come with the caveat that the offer is only free for a specified time, after which, if you fail to cancel the promotion, you could be obligated to pay.  That is not necessarily bad because it makes it convenient for you to continue receiving the product or service, but that might not be what you want.  Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission to help you avoid costs hiding in free trial offers: Research the Company – Google the company name and see if your screen fills with complaints from other customers who have already discovered “catches” in this offer, or if there are other complaints about the company. […] Read More

Almost You Is Not You – Data Breach Drill

Not feeling like yourself today?  Or feeling a little less ‘flush’ than normal?  If you have been the victim of Identity Theft, the Federal Trade Commission has a data breach drill.  This online resource gives you a streamlined plan to address the problem. It is a one-stop online checklist that you can customize to your problem, depending on what information was lost or exposed—Social Security number, online login or password, debit or credit card number, bank account information, driver’s license information, children’s personal information.  Their idea is that recovering from identity theft is easier if you have a plan. The free online checklist is available at   Read More

Legal Description is More Than a Street Address or Tax Reference

The Legal Description of your home is more than where you live, it sets apart the location of that geographical spot—be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.  A home address can change—even if the house does not move—reassigned by the Postal Service.  A property appraisal is for appraisal purposes and does not typically describe the property as unlike any other place.  A Legal Description describes the location of your home as unique from all other places on Earth. I am OCD about certain things, ZIP codes is one of them (I have to add the four digits) and Legal Descriptions of land is another.  I have to run out the metes and bounds. The Legal Description of a property is one of the bones of a real estate contract (along with the names of the buyers and sellers, terms, and signature of the party to be charged by the contract).  That is why I do not accept the Legal Description as written; I have to go look it up as part of the due diligence of a real estate deal.  I have seen errors, and errors make a difference. When it comes to a Legal Description, if […] Read More

Welcome to the Jungle – New Home Loan Closing Disclosure

The new home loan closing disclosure scheduled to go into effect in August has been delayed until October 3, and could delay the home lending process a lot longer than that. Dodd-Frank has come up with a new four-letter word:  “CFPB” which stands for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The idea is to help the average consumer understand their financial product when purchasing a home loan.  “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help.”  The CFPB will generate more paper that nobody is going to read. With the new home disclosure, the consumer is going to have three days to review it.  The problems with this may include the following: How is the lender going to comply with this?  Time will be of the lender’s essence.  I do not see lenders getting loan approval too far in advance. It only protects the buyer.  What about the seller? Slows down closings. It will force people to pay certain closing items up front or outside of closing. What is a consumer loan?  There are other definitions that matter.  The private investor who does more than five loans could be affected, but then they could become an LLC and get around it. Too […] Read More

Building Bad Credit Habits?

You’re never too old to learn something stupid. Sure, do not pay your bills on time…or at all.  Take on new debt as often as you can.  Bad habits can pile up like bills…and lead to bad credit. Your credit determines your purchasing power to buy items like a car, a student loan, and maybe even a house.  Credit also may affect your ability to get or keep a job.  Your credit history gives lenders and employers something to look at when they are deciding whether or not to give you a loan (and at what interest rate) and whether or not to hire you or give you a promotion. On the other if you can talk, text, and chew gum, you can improve your credit score with these basics: Pay your bills on time every time No new credit – do not open new credit accounts or take out new loans Pay down large balances Make a budget and stick to it – you can use the free online budget provided by the Federal Trade Commission at Be a credit to yourself!   Read More

Social Security Reminder

Your Social Security benefits were not meant to be used to pay off a credit card debt in Small Claims Court.  If you are living off Social Security, you may be able to claim those benefits as exempt from a debt collection judgment.  The key to that exemption is that you have to claim it.  Just because you are eligible does not mean you automatically get it. August 15, 1953 is the anniversary of when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law, providing financial assistance for the elderly, the blind, the disabled, and the unemployed.  While everyone should pay their bills, people have to be able to stay in their homes, feed themselves, and put gas in their cars.  Therefore, do not promise Social Security income to cover a collection judgment; claim an exemption instead. Seek competent legal advice to learn more about exemptions from judgment.  You can learn more at St. Johns County Legal Aid at 222 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine (no appointment necessary to pick up a free pamphlet about collection exemptions and how to claim them).  Even if you do not qualify for Legal Aid, they have a lot of pamphlets […] Read More

NBD & Contract Law

Last summer the band I am in OE-2-KB (“Old Enough-2-Know Better”) played an outdoor venue on the St. Johns River.  We were worried about rain, but that was not the problem.  We just happened to be there the one night a million blind mosquitoes hatched.  It was no big deal—or in text-speak “NBD”—except we could not continue playing.  The blind mosquitoes did not bite, but I had a page of my music stuck together with dead bug bodies.  We had bugs in our music, in our mouths, and in our instruments.  Similarly, in an agreement between friends, what seems like NBD, can become a bigger deal than expected. It is no big deal…until it is.   You do not go into business with someone you think you are going to have to sue, but misunderstanding is a quick remedy to friendship, especially with a spoken contract.  If you are doing business with someone, go ahead and write it down.  Then you both have a record to refer back to, and specified remedies if there is a breach of contract. Contracts take the mystery out of a situation.  They specify an action for every event.  In other words, they are made to […] Read More