May 30, 2008


My fouth child and only son is graduating from high school today.  I have had a darkened cloud hanging over my head the past few weeks knowing this was coming.  Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for him and proud of him for his accomplishments but I am also a mother that has watched as 3 other birds have left the nest.  I am excited for them as they go out into the world to make their own way but I have to admit that it does tug on the heart strings. 

My daughter from the University of Iowa surprised us with a visit over Memorial weekend.  That means that I was blessed to have all my children (including our newest husband additons) here for most of the weekend.  We had a great time enjoying each other’s company, and catching up.  Those are the best moments in time, being together with the ones we love the most.  I was in heaven.

Anyway, my son officially becomes an adult today at 4:00.  He has done good job with his life so far.  He is graduating in the top 5% of his class and is ranked 11th.  I am proud of him and am excited for him as he goes off to the University of Utah next year,  (a little sad too, as all mothers know).  I have been through this before and I know it is going to be all right, but being through it before, I know that there is going to be yet another piece of me missing when he moves out.   

Filed under: Blogroll,Personal — Susan @ 11:07 am

Apartments and Zoning


I have been attending the agent tour sponsored by the Utah County Association of REALTORS® the last few weeks.  One of the tours sparked my recent post on “Legal Accessory Apartments”
As I continue to attend week after week, I hear the same story.   There seem to be homes on tour each week that have mother-in-law apartments.  It is becoming apparent to me that the sellers of some of these homes are illegally renting out their mother-in-law apartments to non-related tenants. 

Anyway, the thing that amuses me the most about this situation is the agents that list them.  I have overheard some, not all, but some agents discussing the best way to advertise these listings.   They actually seem to be looking for a way to get the word out that a buyer can purchase this listing and benefit from this illegal use if desired, without saying so… since that would be illegal.  

There is no legal way to advertise that you can legally do something illegal.   


I jumped into one conversation and defined the different types of apartments and discussed the zoning laws of our area.  I was surprised to find that these agents did not understand this already.  I got the sense that they were not purposely trying to be unlawful, they just did not have an adequate understanding of the  complexities of some our zoning laws.  That excuse will not, however, prevent them from getting sued or from finding themselves in legal trouble.  

On these tours, we gather in one place and discuss the homes we are about to see.  I heard one agent say of his listing,  “This home has an apartment that rents for $XXX amount.” 

Another agent then asked, “Oh, is it a legal duplex or a legal accessory apartment?” 

The first agent answered, “It is a non-conforming apartment.” 

No!!!  It was a mother-in-law apartment that was illegally being rented out to non-related tenants.  Maybe the homeowner is not conforming to the laws but that is not the definition of a “Non-Conforming Apartment”.  I think that people need to learn the zoning laws and definitions of their area.  I especially think that agents need to make it a point to understand these things.  Ignorance of the law will not prevent homeowners from being prosecuted and will not prevent an agent from losing his/her license. 


     The occupation and use of a property in a way which is contrary to the zoning regulations for
     that property. A Legal Non-conforming Use is one where the non-conforming use pre-dates a
     current change in zoning law for the area.  As long as the non-conforming use is continued,
     it is legal.  (example:  A home was converted into a legal duplex in 1960 but in 1990, the city
     zoned the area as a single family dwelling area only.  The duplex can remain a legal duplex as
     long as it continues as such without more than a 6 month (in most cases) break of that use. 
     It is  considered a Legal, Non-Conforming duplex meaning that is is legal even though it does
     not conform with current surrounding zoning laws. 

Filed under: Buying,Community,Real Estate,Renting,Selling — Susan @ 10:45 am

May 17, 2008

Sharks Don’t Like the Way We Taste, Yeah, Right!!


I like to watch shows on tv about the ocean.  I love the ocean and all the wild life beneath it’s surface.  It is a whole new world under there and I take every opportunity that comes my way to scuba dive so I can experience and explore it. 

I am always fascinated with “Shark Week” on tv.  A whole week of tv about sharks.  As I have watched these episodes, it always amuses me when the “save the sharks” attitude creeps in on some of the shows and brings the “spin” that sharks do not know what they are doing when they attack people.  There is a whole campaign geared toward convincing people that when a person is attacked intially, it is only a “taste” and the shark almost always swims away after being disgusted with the taste of his attackee.   They do not like humans so we should not be afraid and thus we should not hate sharks.  Well, sharks often swim away after attacking larger non-human prey also as they like to slink off and wait for their attackee to bleed to death and avoid a fight.

Ok, I do not agree with senseless killing of sharks based solely on the fear they instill in us.  But! Let’s not get carried away and start telling lies to trick people into not fearing these massive, killing, eating machines.  Sharks will attack (EAT)anything, anytime and anywhere.  They are creatures with an instinct to survive and they eat to survive.  People should be afraid of sharks.  They are not human, nor do they have human intelligence which gives them the ability to reason and determine “right from wrong”.  I may be wrong but I do not buy that sharks even have tastebuds. 

Sharks have been found with almost everything you can imagine in their stomachs from license plates, human garbage, turtles, sea lions, whales, dead fish, live fish, and even human remains. 

I don’t care what some of these experts say, SHARKS ARE NOT PICKY EATERS!

Filed under: Community,Humor,Personal,Real Estate — Susan @ 4:53 am

May 14, 2008

Apartment Definitions

Mother-in-law Apartment:   Usually when a home has a 2nd kitchen in the basement, people will call it a “mother-in-law” apartment.   You must live in the home and you must only allow people to live in it if they are related to you.  You may collect rent but again, they must be related to you. 

Legal Accessory Apartment:  To be a home with a legal accessory apartment, the city must approve it.  It must be zoned as a legal accessory apartment.  You may rent to anyone, not just relatives.  You must live in the home.  Typically, the homeowner will live upstairs and have renters in the basement. 

Duplex:  A duplex is one building with 2 living spaces in it.  It can be a side-by-side duplex or an up-and-down duplex, meaning that there is an apartment in the basement.  In our area, up-and-down duplexes are most common.  You may rent to anyone and you do not have to live in the home to rent out both units. 

Legal Non-Conforming:  Legal non-conforming means the property’s use does not conform with the current zoning law for it’s area.  It is legal, however, because the use pre-dated the change in zoning.  It remains legal as long as there is not a substantial break in that use.  (typically 6 months).

Non-Conforming:  This means that the property is not being used in accordance to the laws for the area.  It may be punishable if discovered by the proper authorities. 

 There is a lot of confusion on these definitions.  People do not understand that just because there is a second kitchen and a separate entrance you cannot legally rent it out.  There are laws concerning this matter.  If you desire to buy a home with a second kitchen and plan to rent it out, you should call the city in question and find out what your options are.  Too many people do not and eventually find themselves in legal trouble because they disregarded the law.   If you somehow beat the odds and do not get caught, it is still just as illegal and it does not speak highly of your integrity. 

I once listed a home that had a second kitchen and all the components that one might consider an apartment.  I called the city to verify the zoning (required to disclose zoning in Provo) and I was told that the kitchen had been built without proper permits so I as the REALTOR®, could not advertise this home as anything other than a home with a second kitchen.  Not even a “mother-in-law”.  So you see, it is important to understand these definitions so you do not find yourself unknowingly breaking the law. 

Filed under: Blogroll,Buying,Community,Real Estate,Renting,Selling — Susan @ 4:36 am

May 10, 2008

Legal Accessory Apartments

I have a listing in Provo right now that has been an investment property for a long time.  It has traditionally been rented out to 6 single males.  To those not familiar with “BYU approved housing”, it may seem strange that a home is zoned by who it can be rented to.   Welcome to Utah County, specifically, Provo.   Since I have been in this business, it sometimes seems that there is a constant battle between the Provo City Zoning Commission and the Utah County Association of REALTORS® along with the Utah Association of REALTORS®.  Occasionally it feels like the Provo Zoning Commission (and sometimes the BYU Housing Dept. ) are doing their best to take away as many rights of the property owners in Provo as they can. 

One illustration of this is that there is a neighborhood where the homes are older and smaller so most homeowners have elected to convert the single car garage into a third bedroom or family room.  Provo City passed an ordinance stating that people in this neighborhood could not park their cars in the driveway or within 6 blocks of their home.  I do not know how this ordinance came about but now, even though it is not actually enforced, almost every homeowner in that area is in violation of the City ordinance.   

Anyway, I have had a lot of calls on this home in Provo.  Everyone wants to know if it is a legal duplex.  It is not so the next question is,  “Can it be converted into a duplex?” 
This is hard for me because when I answer correctly, “no,”  I get an argument every time.   Everyone seems to think that if you buy a home, you should have the right to convert it into a duplex.    Well, maybe we have an innate sense that this should be a right we possess but somehow our elected officials do not agree and being elected, we have somehow missed the boat when we cast our votes.  Few cities, at least in Utah County, allow you, even though you own the home, to convert it into a duplex. 

I know in Orem, the city, a few years ago, gave homeowners a time frame in which to register their homes with existing apartments to be legal or to add an apartment in their home.   Once that time frame expired, it is my impression that no one can legally add an apartment.  You can verify with your particular city’s zoning department to see if I am right or wrong and you definitely should check if you plan to add an apartment. 

Many people add an apartment anyway for many reasons.  If you do convert your home to have a space which could be used as a separate living space, the person living in that space must be related to you.  It is generally called a “mother-in-law apt.”  Even this is illegal if you did not convert the space with proper building permits etc.  Many people elect to disregard the law and rent their mother-in-law apartments to non-related people.  This is a risk as you are breaking the law.  Belief that a law is stupid is not a very good defense in court. 

So, concerning my listing in Provo, it is not a legal duplex.  Yes, structurally, I believe it could be converted into a duplex or a mother-in-law apartment but good luck convincing Provo City that you have the right to do so legally. 

Filed under: Blogroll,Buying,Community,Personal,Real Estate,Renting,Selling — Susan @ 3:01 pm

May 8, 2008

Lock Boxes

        I find it interesting that I am about to write on this subject.  The REALTORS® in Utah County have undergone some changes recently in the lock box system that we use.  The first changes to the current Risco Lock Box itself was not a bad transition, an expensive one, but pretty smooth overall.  Next, and most recently, they changed the key reader for the boxes and there has been some frustration felt among my peers at the new system’s user “unfriendliness”.  I myself have experienced some of the frustration with the new key reader system but I think I have finally worked out a system that I can live with. 

        I believe that the frustration with the new key readers and the high expense of using the Risco Lock Box system is causing many REALTORS® to forego joining the rest of us even though it is the recommended system for our local association, the Utah County Association of REALTORS®.   In the most recent months, I have been showing a lot of homes to buyers.  I would estimate that approximately half of the listing agents are not using the Risco system, but instead, are using “contractors” lock boxes as I have heard them called.   These are lock boxes that anyone can buy at stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot.  They are basically a combination lock with a storage compartment for a key.   

        Lock boxes have become an important tool in selling a listed home.  The easier it is to show your home, the more likely you will find a buyer.  If a buyer cannot see your home, they are going to make an offer on a home they did see, not yours.  So, if a buyer breezes through town and calls his/her agent and desparately wants to see your home in the next hour before his/her flight home, but you are not home, an agent can still access your home, increasing the odds that your home will be the one that this buyer will want to make an offer on. 

        While some sellers are apprehensive about this ease of access to their homes, it really is the best way to expose your home to the most buyers, increasing the odds of your home selling over the competition.  The Risco Lock Box system is designed to alleviate some of the apprehension of making your home so accessible.  These lock boxes are computerized so they store a record of everyone that opens them to remove the key.  The key reader that the agent uses to open the lock box must be plugged into a computer at least every 7 days.  Each time it is plugged in, it automatically downloads information to a centralized system alerting the listing agent that their listing was accessed for a showing.  In rare cases where something has gone wrong in a home that is listed, REALTORS® that use this recommended system have a defense and can most often find the person that may have caused the problem.   

        Complaints such as “an item has gone missing,” or “someone locked the dog in the bedroom,” have been resolved by accessing the lock box information and determining who last entered the home.  The Risco Lock Box system we use locally is probably the safest method of making your home accessible to buyers at this time and the point of this post is to warn sellers to CHOOSE AN AGENT THAT SUBSCRIBES TO THIS SYSTEM

        When you are determining which agent to hire to list your home, ask them what lock box system they use.   If they do not use the recommended Risco System, you are putting your home safety at risk.  Agents that use the “contractors” lock box have no record of who is removing the key.  The codes for these boxes are often published on the MLS, reducing risk management, and once someone has the code, they can access the home again and again without calling the agent first.    They do not know how many agents have shown the home while you were out, they will not have any way of knowing who showed your home last if there is a problem.  I am sure there are more reasons but this post is running long.  These agents are choosing not to subscribe to the Risco system either because of the frustration caused by the recent key reader issues,  or  because they are too cheap to invest in the equipment.  I understand the frustration with the reader key as I have experienced it first hand.  It does require a little extra effort on my part.   However, I have made a choice to put my client’s home safety first. 

Filed under: Blogroll,Buying,Community,Real Estate,Selling — Susan @ 6:58 am