Sara Benson

The hunt is on.  After scrimping and saving to buy that perfect home housing consumers have been dreaming of, it is time to start looking.  How long will it take to find that one perfect house?  Will they know it the minute they walk in?  Will they fall in love with the view from living room window or will the smell of brownies baking in the oven convince them they have found the home of their dreams? 

Wait a minute.  Not so fast.  Do they have any idea what they are buying? If that dream home is in a mandatory membership residential association, what they see, is not necessarily what they are getting.  In fact they are buying a lot more than the eye can see.  

Sara Benson joins us On The Commons this week.  Sara, a 32 year Real Estate broker in Chicago, knows all the pitfalls of buying a house that is part of a residential association.  She is the founder of Association Evaluation, a company that digs beneath the surface of the “unit” that is being bought to uncover not only any structural defects with that dream home, but all the buried problems lurking in the shadows of the association.  With a long list of potential problem areas to inspect, questions to ask and documents to read, housing consumers who buy the service will end up with a comprehensive evaluation of the entire neighborhood that will also become their financial responsibility should they choose to seal the deal on that house.  Sara opens our eyes to the problems owners have encountered, the staggering additional dues that can be levied and the reasons for these unimagined liabilities that are part and parcel of being a modern day homeowner. 

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Martha Boneta

Few of us know what we want to be when we grow up.  As we grow and our world opens us up to all sorts of new and exciting possibilities, we start to explore our options and change our minds.  But imagine knowing, from a very young age, exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life and still wanting the same thing when you grow up?  And imagine working hard to realize that dream?

Martha Boneta joins us On The Commons this week.  With a love for the land and a passion for growing plants and animals,  Martha always knew she wanted to be a farmer.  Her dream came true when she and her family bought Liberty Farms in Paris, Virginia.  That is also when her problems began.  Liberty Farms came with a conservation easement that was overseen by the Piedmont Environmental Council.  The PEC is a tax funded 501C3 organization with the power to enforce the easement but. predictably,  with no checks and balances, no oversight and with the ability to operate under cover of darkness. It will come as no surprise then that the PEC went a little over the top by bullying Martha and her family and violating her individual and property rights. Watch a video of one of these inspections.

Despite the abuse and the harassment, Martha was always smiling, upbeat and cheerful.  She is the perfect role model for a property rights advocate.  She stood her ground and never wavered from what she believed was right and because of the way she presented herself and the problems, Richmond listened to her and enacted legislation to protect family farms.  She has stolen the hearts of farmers and rights advocates across the country.  Martha has a web page in the making where you will find contact information for her. Tune in, you will be inspired by this amazing lady.

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Bill Davis and John Cowherd

Most people aspire to own they own homes.  What homes look like may have changed over the years.   They might be a log cabin, a single family detached home with a garden, an attached townhouse or even an apartment in a high rise building, but what remains a constant is the sense of “home”, the pride of having achieved a certain level of success.   A sense of having control over your home and being able to make it personal.   The knowledge that it will always be there.  

Or will it?  

As the  desire for homeownership increases, the risks also increase. The headlines of late have been screaming about mortgage foreclosures.  In some of the smaller text, foreclosures by HOAs to collect past due assessments, fines and the never-ending legal fees that seem to spiral out of control have also made headlines.  Scams to defraud homeowners of their property and money abound.

Bill Davis and John Cowherd join us On The Commons this week.  My two guests are pioneers in a way.   They are among a very small handful of attorneys across the country who focus their respective practices on representing homeowners against their residential associations.   Bill is in Texas and John in Northern Virginia.  They talk about the many ways property owners lose their homes and explain how “condo terminations” work, what happens to property values and why some owners can force the sale of a condo even when the owner wants to stay and how the process also robs the reluctant sellers much of the equity they have built up.  

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Bonner Cohen

Gone are the days when being a property owner meant having dominion over your property.  With the imposition of mandatory membership residential associations and the restrictive covenants that are attached to the deed, homeowners have lost some of the most basic and fundamental rights of the use and enjoyment of their homes. Those restrictions range from something as basic and mundane as a choice of plants, to the approved shade of white for the interior window blinds to something a little more serious like having a fence to keep children and pets safe and even to having children and pets at all.  

Are restrictive covenants and neighborhood Nazis the only threat to a property owner’s right to ownership?

Dr. Bonner Cohen joins us On The Commons this week.  Dr. Cohen is a Senior Fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a position he has had since 2002.  He is also a Senior Policy Analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow;  and the author of The Green Wave.  Dr. Cohen takes us on a trip down memory lane and reminds us of the advantages and opportunities we enjoyed in the past and compares them to the way we live today. He explains how and why, slowly, very slowly, rights,  education, health, wealth and the way we live have been adversely affected.  He very clearly helps us follow the laws, regulations and policies that have stripped us of things we once enjoyed and took for granted.  The changes were gradual, the results were by design and we never noticed them until they were here.  Is it too late or can we wrest control of our world back from the special interests?

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Donna Fossum

Residential America has changed dramatically over the last 50 years.  Gone are the days when housing consumers bought a house or a plot of land and were lords of their mansions, kings or queens of their castles, where their word was law – within the confines of their property, of course.  Increasingly living in residential America is more complicated, more restrictive and more expensive.  Do American homeowners know and understand how and why their lives and homes have changed?

Donna Fossum joins us On The Commons this week.  Donna is an attorney, a long time resident and condo owner in the City of Alexandria, Virginia.  She was a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, a former member of the Alexandria Planning Commission and a one time candidate for City Council.  Donna, with her analytical background, has written the most comprehensive and complete report on the changing residential communities. After a lot of research, Donna discovers what is essentially two cities in one, divided more or less equally by the east side and the west side of the City of Alexandria. She explains how this shift resulted in double taxation for approximately half of the homeowners in Alexandria.  But probably one of the most eye opening discoveries she made was the differences in the political process and participation by the citizens of the two different halves of the city.  Tune in and hear her talk about all the issues that significantly affect the way we live in America today and read her report, Fossum Files .  While her research and analysis centered on Alexandria, the same issues and resulting problems exist across the country.

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