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AOL Real Estate - Blog

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    Purcell Okla house fire
    KWTV News 9


    Criminal charges are being sought against a landlord in Oklahoma after three young girls were hospitalized with burns in a fire at one of his rental homes, which authorities say lacked a working smoke alarm. Agent Judah Sheppard with the Oklahoma Fire Marshal's office told an Oklahoma City TV station this week, "We believe based on statistics, the smoke detector would have given them an earlier warning and possibly gotten them all out without any injuries." It's the first time that Sheppard has sought such charges against a landlord in seven years on the job, reports KWTV News 9.

    The girls were airlifted to Oklahoma City, then Dallas, for treatment of their injuries in the Nov. 20 fire in Purcell, Okla., according to police. Their mother, Jennifer Epperson, was also reported to have suffered burns in trying to help the girls escape. A neighbor told KWTV that Epperson credited their escape to a neighbor who noticed the flames as he passed by at about 2 a.m. and knocked on their door to alert them.

    Although the fire was ruled accidental, Agent Sheppard says that the Eppersons' landlord, Neil McElderry, owns other properties which, tenants have told him, also lack working smoke alarms. McElderry is hardly the exception, Sheppard said. "This is a huge problem across the state of Oklahoma that landlords are not putting this in for people." If charged, Epperson would face a fine.

    If the allegations are true in McElderry's case, you might expect him to know better. Though Sheppard said that the landlord owns at least 200 rentals in the Purcell area, that's not McElderry's only business. He's also, says KWTV, the owner of an insurance agency. [See the station's report in the video below.]

    Although Oklahoma is far from alone in requiring landlords to keep smoke detectors working, fire safety experts advise renters to check to make sure detectors are present and operating when they move in and, if not, that they ask landlords install and maintain them. (Many local fire departments even offer programs to install them.) It's also recommended that renters themselves test the detectors monthly.



    More about landlords accused of putting renters at risk:
    Landlord Faces Prison for Serial Arsons
    When a Landlord Puts Your Life in Danger
    Landlord on "Worst" List Faces 30 Housing Code Violations

    More from AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.

    Find homes for rent.

    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    Houston landlord Steve Moore
    KTRK-TV

    Maybe it's about protecting an investment, or maybe it's about doing the right thing, or maybe it's a bit of both, but a millionaire landlord in Houston says that he's on a mission to make the crime-plagued neighborhood where he owns apartments a much safer place to live. And for starters, he's reportedly living on-site, spending millions on security, and instituting extraordinary rules for his tenants that include a curfew and dress code. He's also said to have evicted several residents.

    "He's very bold," one of Steve Moore's tenants, Jenny Fouteaux, told KTRK-TV in Houston. "He do things I wouldn't do around here." That's included a 10 p.m. curfew and prohibitions against too much clothing (such as baggy, loose-fitting jeans) or too little (as in too revealing). And while tenants such as Fouteaux say that they have have welcomed the change, there's been strong resistance too. "I got a death threat," Moore (shown at left in the above photo) told the TV station," 'cause I figured out who was dealing drugs and gave them an eviction notice." [See its video profile of him below.]

    Among the most recent to be evicted, says KTRK, is the family of a 16-year-old who was shot in a domestic disturbance at another apartment complex that Moore and his fellow investors own.

    While Moore's decision to live on-site appears extraordinary, in Texas and some other states a landlord can be held liable for illegal activities on their properties even if they are unaware of it, and in some cases can have their properties closed. In most states landlords are expected to at least promote a secure and crime-free environment or run the risk of prosecution or a lawsuit, with Nolo.com pointing out that they're "especially likely to be held liable when a crime occurs on property where a similar assault or other crime occurred in the past."






    More about landlords and tenants:
    Ways for Landlords to Deal With Deadbeat Tenants

    Evicted Tenant Allegedly Trashes House To Make It Uninhabitable
    Former Tenant's Critical Yelp Review Might Be Libelous

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find homes for rent.
    Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.


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    If three is a trend, let's hope the practice of serving the elderly with eviction notices on their birthdays stops now. Last year it was a 98-year-old woman in Connecticut who was served with eviction papers by her son. Then over the weekend it was reported that a tenant of a New York apartment building got the notice on her 100th birthday, though her case appears at least to be less personal. According to New York's Daily News, Concetta Passione was told by the New York City Housing Authority that she must leave the public housing apartment that she says has been her address for about half of her century on this earth.

    Concetta & Sebastian Passione
    PIX 11/AOL On
    The agency terminated her lease at Rutgers Houses in the belief that it's her 73-year-old son, Sebastian Passione, who actually occupies the apartment on the Lower East Side and that his mother's primary residence is in Italy. (Son and mother are pictured at right.) Concetta Passione doesn't dispute that she visits Italy yearly, and Sebastian Passione also admits that he lives in the $219-a-month apartment, having moved in years ago to take his brother Paul's place in caring for his mother after he left the apartment. But as seen in the video above, they and their lawyer maintain that they've nothing to hide and that the fault actually lies with the management, which failed to properly process the paperwork submitted when Sebastian Passione moved in.

    More about evictions:
    Tenants' Rights in Eviction: When Do Landlords Go Too Far?
    92-Year-Old's Offer to Buy Back Home Denied, Eviction Looms
    Homeowner Facing Eviction Finds $4.85 Million Lottery Ticket

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find homes for rent.
    Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.


    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    Almost as reliable a tradition at this time of year as reading "The Night Before Christmas" and watching "It's a Wonderful Life" is -- at least among public safety officials -- issuing warnings about the household hazards that come with celebrating the holidays. And that's likely to continue as the number of people in the U.S. who are injured at their homes from holiday-related accidents continues to grow dramatically. As the above video describes, the number who've ended up going to hospital emergency rooms has increased from 12,000 in 2009 to 15,000 in 2012. So it's risen to about 250 per day, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

    The causes in 2012, uh, broke down to things like falling from ladders; leaving candles unattended; carelessly selecting and maintaining Christmas trees; and decorating under the influence of alcohol. If you've watched "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" you've already seen a kind of slapstick version of the CPSC's list, but ER personnel would likely agree that the following list is a classic that bears another reading, and needs to be taken more seriously than ever:

    LADDERS
    1. Heed the warning labels on ladders. Read CPSC's OnSafety blog, "Ladder Safety 101," for tips to prevent ladder falls this season.

    TREES AND DECORATIONS
    1. Buying a live tree? Check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, its needles are hard to pull from branches, and the needles do not break when bent between your fingers. The bottom of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
    2. Setting up a tree at home? Place it away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, vents, and radiators. Because heated rooms rapidly dry out live trees, be sure to monitor water levels daily, and keep the tree stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of foot traffic, and do not block doorways with the tree.
    3. Buying an artificial tree? Look for the label: "Fire Resistant." Although this label does not mean that the tree will not catch fire, the label does indicate that the tree is more resistant to catching fire.
    4. Decorating a tree in a home with small children? Take special care to avoid sharp, weighted, or breakable decorations. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children, who could swallow or inhale small pieces. Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to reach for and swallow them.

    holiday candle display
    GeoBeats/AOL On
    CANDLES
    1. Keep burning candles within sight. Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room, or leave the house.
    2. Keep candles on a stable, heat-resistant surface. Place candles where kids and pets cannot reach them or knock them over. Lighted candles should be placed away from items that can catch fire, such as trees, other evergreens, decorations, curtains and furniture.

    LIGHTS
    1. Use lights that have been tested. Select lights tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Lights for both indoor and outdoor use must meet strict requirements that testing laboratories are able to verify. On decorative lights available in stores, UL's red holographic label signifies that the product meets safety requirements for indoor and outdoor use. UL's green holographic label signifies that the product meets requirements for indoor use only.
    2. Check each set of lights. Examine new and old lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets, and do not use electric lights on a metallic tree.
    3. Check each extension cord. Make sure each extension cord is rated for the intended use and is in good condition. Do not use cords with cuts or signs of fraying.
    4. Check outdoor lights for labels. Look for labels indicating that the lights have been certified for outdoor use, and only plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)-protected receptacle or a portable GFCI.

    FIREPLACES
    1. Use care with "fire salts." Fire salts produce colored flames when thrown onto wood fires. Fire salts contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting, if swallowed. Keep fire salts away from children.
    2. Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result from burning wrapping papers because wrappings can ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

    More about homes at the holidays:
    Today's Homes Burn Faster Than Ever
    Green Christmas: 3 Ways to Help the Environment This Holiday Season
    Black Ice: Are You Responsible for Keeping It Off Your Property?

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.
    Find homes for rent in your area.

    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    When it comes to holiday displays, this one at a house in Newton, Mass., is far from the flashiest out there. The house lacks animatronic characters or light sequences synchronized to "Gangnam Style." And though it's apparently been a bright spot in that city's village of Newton Corner for decades of Christmases, it's not like there are crowds lined up to see it. So a letter protesting the homey setup at the Hunter family's house -- and signed simply "your neighbors" -- might seem all the more surprising, if not more mean-spirited.

    letter protesting Christmas display at Newton Corner home
    WCVB/AOL On
    As seen in the video above from Boston TV station WCVB, the objections from the anonymous letter writer or writers include complaints that the family's decorations are a "flagrant display" of Christian beliefs "which are in direct contradiction to those of others," and are a "terrible eye-sore" and "beyond tasteless" besides. The letter has left the Hunter family shocked, they say, since the seasonal display that was begun in the 1960s by former firefighter William Hunter -- and is now done by his widow and three daughters -- usually brings compliments from passers-by.

    The TV station acknowledges that the letter might just be a prank, but whatever the motivation behind it might be, the community has planned a show of support for the Hunters on Dec. 21 -- in the form of Christmas caroling at the house.

    From a past AOL Real Estate article on Christmas-light etiquette comes this summary of tips for both those who like to illuminate their homes for the holidays -- and for their neighbors.

    1. Don't leave your lights on or up year-round. That's not so much festive as lazy or inconsiderate. The recommended period to display them: from right after Thanksgiving to Jan. 3.
    2. Keep bright Christmas lights away from your neighbors' bedroom windows. And try setting a timer to turn off the lights at 10 p.m.
    3. Lights with sound effects can be really annoying. Avoid them.
    4. Show tolerance toward those who like to go all out with holiday decor. Unless the lights are unsafe or rob you of sleep, this is part of being a good neighbor.
    5. Be diplomatic. If the lights are causing a problem, politely suggest a way to compromise.
    6. Try not to pass judgment. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and these displays bring many people joy. In other words, lighten up!

    More about holiday decor:
    Household Hazards, Holiday-Style
    Today's Homes Burn Faster Than Ever
    Green Christmas: 3 Ways to Help the Environment This Holiday Season

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.
    Find homes for rent in your area.

    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    Thinking about building a home on Mars, but having trouble finding a contractor? That might no longer be such a problem, thanks to a new technology that one day could make it much faster to build one there than it takes us now on Earth. A professor at the University of Southern California has designed an automated 3D printer that, he says, would make it "possible to build an entire home within a day." "You press a button and it will be built," says Behrokh Khoshnevis, who teaches industrial and systems engineering at USC.

    contour crafting robot lays concrete
    AOL On
    The process, called "Contour Crafting," was conceived as a way to quickly construct emergency housing on this planet out of concrete. But NASA sees other applications for Khoshnevis' homebuilding innovation -- for starters, projects such as an airport on the moon. "Behrokh's work is one of the most creative and far reaching concepts I've seen," said Jason Derleth, the program manager for NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, in a news release this past summer. "He really has a chance to change the world by robotically printing buildings here, and he may even change the next human world by doing the same on the moon and Mars."

    "We will build small little habitats, then little towns, and eventually cities on Mars," says space architect John Spencer, "the same way we did in the United States...." Though, realistically, that could take hundreds of years, Spencer adds.

    But with the cost of taking just two pounds of material to Mars estimated at $100,000, how could you even get enough concrete to the Red Planet to make the Contour Crafting process (pictured above) practical? Khoshnevis has an answer for that, too, as the video above shows. And according to those working on the project, it's a method that might soon have practical applications on Earth in places such as Hawaii, where concrete has to be imported.

    More about futuristic home design:
    Solar Decathlon's Latest Designs for Affordable, Efficient Homes
    'Transformer' Home Adapts to Its Natural Surroundings
    Naomi Campbell's Futuristic Russian Home: Like Something From 'Battlestar Galactica'

    More from AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.

    Find homes for rent.

    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    A young couple's casual stroll through their Cincinnati neighborhood turned into a home-remodeling odyssey when they came across a historic house that started giving them "ideas." Brad Kihnke and Allison Erwin lived only a couple of blocks away from a row house built in 1829 and Kihnke's first look inside, in the company of a real estate agent, made the couple (pictured below) wonder if the house had been condemned, since it was in such rough shape.

    home renovators Allison Erwin, Brad Kihnke
    AOL On
    "I only saw the first floor," Kihnke said. "And just a peek at the second floor, because we were afraid to go to the third floor.: But even though Kihnke found the house to be "really kind of bare" and needing "a lot of work," he decided to buy it because, he said, he could see "the potential behind all of the chaos that was going on."

    "The history of the house has revealed itself to us over time," said Erwin, and among the most interesting finds were what the couple describe as "ghost doors" -- bricked-up entries to the adjoining home, a modification to the original structure that they believe dates to the late 1800s.

    But turning the house into a livable dwelling wasn't the only challenge. "Brad and I did struggle a little bit with: How do we balance the age of the house with some of the modern amenities?" said Erwin. View their solutions in the video above.

    EXPERTS' TOP HOME IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS FOR NEW OWNERS AND SELLERS:

    More about home improvement projects:
    Top 5 Home Improvement Projects With Winter in Mind
    Don't Move -- Improve: How to Rethink Space in Your Home
    Home Improvements That Get Your House Sold

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.

    Find homes to rent in your area.

    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    sea lions at La Jolla Cove, San Diego, California (20)
    Ken Lund/Flickr

    The San Diego enclave of La Jolla has a poop problem, and like many things in this affluent seaside neighborhood, it's hardly average. According to La Jolla Patch, those in the new gated community of La Jolla Shores have been complaining that protected marine life -- such as sea lions, seals and sea birds -- gather in such numbers on its ocean bluffs that their droppings have created a smell so noxious that it's sickening residents and driving away customers from local businesses.

    Last month, business owners in La Jolla -- a place that recently saw controversy over Mitt Romney's proposed oceanfront mansion -- filed a lawsuit against San Diego demanding that the city find a solution to the stink. The suit, according to the Los Angeles Times, includes the claim that boxing champ Floyd Mayweather had booked two villas and six rooms at a local hotel, but the odor left by the animals prompted him to leave with his entourage only 15 minutes after arriving, at a cost to the inn of "$5,000 in one day's rooms revenue." (Pictured above: sea lions on La Jolla's bluffs.)

    The city of San Diego might have caused the problem to begin with, some believe, by erecting a fence years ago along La Jolla's bluffs that barred humans from encroaching on marine life and from risking injury on unstable ground. But as Patch reported, this week La Jolla's newest gated community got another gate -- one that gives humans access to bluffs -- in the hope that "people scampering on the rocks will discourage large marine mammals from lounging there."

    Read more about the issue at La Jolla Patch.

    More recent articles about odors:
    Meth-Lab Cleanups Becoming a Cottage Industry
    Residents at Apartment Complex Complain About Stench of Death
    Hell's Kitchen Steaming Over Sewage Stench

    More from AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.

    Find homes for rent.

    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.
    Sea Lion Found Lounging at Luxury La Jolla Hotel

     

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    Ordering a home from a catalog was at one time as normal as ordering a book on Amazon. Take for example the home in the video above, built in 1928 from a design sold by Sears. Known as "The Martha Washington," the model (pictured below) could be had for $3,727 -- with some assembly required.

    sears catalog home
    ulive/AOL On
    Here's how it worked: After choosing from among the many home styles (eventually numbering 447) that Sears featured in its Modern Home department, the home would be shipped in precut, numbered pieces by train or truck to the address where it was be constructed. The kits could fill as many as two railroad boxcars and included blueprints, instructions and all the necessary materials -- lumber, drywall, plumbing, shingles -- right down to the nails. They were also designed in such a way that they could be easily customized, and be erected by only one person.

    Sears estimates that it sold as many as 75,000 of the homes through mail order from 1909 to 1940, and it's believed that similar "kit" homes from its competitors brought the number constructed to about half a million in the U.S. And not only did Sears' kit houses make homes more affordable by reducing the cost of construction, financing could also be part of the package.

    Though Sears' Modern Homes haven't been available for nearly 75 years, the concept persists and ready-to-build kit homes can still be purchased. See more about classic kit homes in the slideshow below.


    THE APPEAL OF KIT HOMES:


    More about easily assembled homes:
    SEE: Hamptons Eco-Home Built From Shipping Containers
    Why Your Next Home Should Be Prefab
    Tiny Prefab Living

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.
    Find homes for rent in your area.

    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    smoking marijuana in colorado
    KUSA
    Coloradans who think that the state's recent legalization of marijuana now makes it OK to fire up a joint at home might be in for a shock. If they're renting, they might be subject to a crackdown by landlords and protests from fellow tenants. Denver station KUSA already reports a flurry of contacts from renters in that state who are irritated by their neighbors smoking pot and, as seen in the video below, quotes an attorney from the Apartment Association of Colorado as saying that he's been fielding calls from landlords as well.

    Attorney Vic Sulzer told the TV station that Colorado's Amendment 64 -- legalizing the possession and use of a limited amount of marijuana -- is "not going to change anything" as far as landlords' rights are concerned: It's up to them if they want to allow their tenants to smoke marijuana on their property. "A landlord's lease has a provision that prohibits whatever landlord wants to prohibit," Sulzer told KUSA. As AOL previously reported, that includes growing marijuana too.

    In states such as California where marijuana use is permitted for medical reasons, landlords can prohibit the use of the drug for that purpose on their property. And despite what states may sanction, marijuana is still classified as an illegal substance under federal law, and is also subject to the same kind of local ordinances that now apply to smoking tobacco.




    More about landlord-tenant disputes:
    Landlords Can Get Tougher on Tenants Under New Law
    Ways for Landlords to Deal With Deadbeat Tenants
    Gun Owner Says Landlord Is Evicting Him Over Firearms

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find homes for rent.
    Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.


    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    When it comes to audacity, is Robert Tribble the Bernie Madoff of Craigslist rental scammers? Tribble stands accused of making millions in rent and deposits by trolling Florida's Broward, Palm Beach, and Martin counties for foreclosed and vacant properties, then forging documents on those properties so that he could rent and lease them out on the classified-ads website, claiming them as his own. Tribble, 50, of Jupiter, Fla., purportedly bilked scores of renters and homebuyers in the bold scheme, according to Florida authorities.

    Robert Tribble, alleged craigslist scammer
    WPBF/AOL On
    Like Madoff, the Wall Street financier and former chairman of NASDAQ who for decades ran a staggeringly successful Ponzi scheme involving billions of dollars, Tribble is said to have lured those who thought that they had done their due diligence -- examining documents, checking public records and consulting with lawyers. As seen in the video above, alleged victim Wes Bubeck says that he "spoke to all the references, met with his attorney ... who vouched for him" before giving Tribble a $15,000 deposit on a house. Then when Bubeck questioned Tribble about information that suggested that Tribble, in fact, didn't own the home, Tribble "threatened to have me arrested, he threatened to sue me," Bubeck says.

    Also like Madoff, whose targets included charities and hospitals, Tribble is alleged to have preyed on victims who included the elderly and disabled. Some had already spent thousands of dollars on improvements to the homes that Tribble put them in, authorities say, before they were confronted by the properties' actual owners about why they were occupying the dwellings illegally. The case involves at least 50 known victims and 35 properties.

    Tribble and his alleged accomplice, Mary Revoller-Chavez, 45, were arrested this week on charges including organized scheme to defraud, criminal use of personal identification and money laundering, reported The Palm Beach Post. Each was held on bail amounting to several millions, said WPEC-TV of West Palm Beach.

    More about rental scams:
    Homeless Man Allegedly Rents Out Vacant, Foreclosed Home
    5 Tip-Offs To A Rental Scam
    Renters Beware: Fraudsters Still Lurking on Craigslist

    More on AOL Real Estate:
    Find homes for rent.
    Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.


    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.






     

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    appraiser's lessons in legos, nasty neighbors
    Sacramento Appraisal Blog
    We've always thought that the ideal home appraiser would be someone with the X-ray vision of Superman, the wisdom of Yoda, the calculating mind of Iron Man, and the keen eye for value of Indiana Jones. Maybe that's why we found one California appraiser's use of Lego sets and action figures to be especially appealing in the way it crafts object lessons as to why a home might be languishing on the housing market.

    What are the reasons that the Lego-constructed home in the slideshow below been blocked from selling? Appraiser Ryan Lundquist lays it all out at his Sacramento Appraisal Blog -- with, he admits, a little help from his two sons. (The captions set into the images are Lundquist's; those below them are by AOL Real Estate.)


    See a few more reasons why the house above has been difficult to sell, at Lundquist's blog.

    More about home appraisals:
    Home Appraisal Lower Than the Price? What to Do
    Showing Your Home's Best Side for an Appraisal
    Home Appraisal for Sellers

    More from AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to
    calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.
    Find homes for rent in your area.

    Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.

     

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    chart of home value by race
    Zillow
    [UPDATE, 2 p.m. EST: The live stream event has ended but video of the town hall is viewable below.] Join today's town hall meeting here with the Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan as he addresses -- via live stream viewable below -- the issues surrounding minority access to housing. The 1 p.m. EST (10 a.m. PST) meeting at Zillow headquarters in Seattle follows the release Jan. 16 of the real estate media company's report on trends in housing among the races in the U.S.

    The research by the AOL Real Estate partner found differences ranging from access to financing to (as seen in the chart at right) the depreciation of home values. Questions for the town hall meeting that Zillow is co-hosting with the National Urban League can be submitted at Zillow's Facebook page or by tweeting to @Zillow using the hashtag #BuildingEquality.


    Live streaming video by Ustream

     

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    view from 1 Madison penthouse
    Related Companies via CNBC

    With the news out of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, being that the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as half of the rest of us, here's a timely glimpse at where some among the top percentile live these days. Or at least a look at the perspective from those lofty heights.

    As part of its "Secret Lives of the Super Rich," CNBC offers its picks of "The Most Expensive Views in America." When it comes these properties, a prime location is just for starters. "To command an eye-popping price tag," says CNBC, "a property had better have eye-popping scenery."

    'THE MOST EXPENSIVE VIEWS IN AMERICA':

    More about wealth from CNBC:
    10 Richest States in America
    Ridiculously Expensive Supercars
    10 Poorest States in America

    More from AOL Real Estate:
    Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
    Find
    homes for sale in your area.
    Find
    foreclosures in your area.

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    bob backo house icy pavement
    WTAE/AOL On
    While it's common for extreme temperatures to cause water mains to break. Much less common is for that kind of problem to be left to linger. The strain on public utilities from freezing temperatures in much of the U.S. could explain why a fractured pipe was left to gush water for several hours in a Pittsburgh neighborhood this week, reportedly leaving a family's home sealed in ice.

    Homeowner Bob Backo told Pittsburgh TV station WTAE that when he first called the water company on Wednesday, and was assured that workers there would "check it out." Then he called another dozen times as water continued to fill the street above his house overnight and flood his property, he said, before eventually freezing into a thick layer of ice (pictured above) that trapped some family members inside and left his pickup truck stuck.

    When the TV station contacted Pennsylvania-American Water Co. about its response to the water main break in Backo's neighborhood of Knoxville -- which wasn't repaired until Thursday -- it was told by a spokesperson that the break "wasn't classified as an emergency" because the outflow of water didn't appear to be causing damage. But as described in the video above, Backo maintains that not only was his yard and driveway affected, but the water from the break entered his house and dripped down a wall.

    More about damage caused by ice:
    Black Ice Poses More Than One Risk to Homeowners
    See How to Protect Your Home in Extreme Cold
    For Renters: The 411 on Frozen Pipes

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    shneka johnson home icicles
    WBND
    As if the cold outside isn't bad enough this winter, a family in northern Indiana has had to endure freezing temperatures inside as a door at their rented home has continually been forced open by the harsh weather. But the response from the landlord about fixing the problem has been chilly so far, reports a South Bend TV station.

    A major problem at the house in South Bend says WBND, is that one of its entry doors won't close because its poorly insulated frame is jammed with ice. "About a week ago I woke up about 4:30 and it was extremely cold in the house so I got up and I walked back toward the kitchen and the back door was open," tenant Shneka Johnson, who shares the dwelling with her two young children, told the station. And the door has continued to be a problem since then, said her attorney.

    Johnson told WBND that the landlord refused her plea for a remedy, and when the TV station called the number on Johnson's rental agreement, it reportedly was told that it was the wrong number. As seen in the station's video below, even though building code enforcement officers have inspected the property twice, any action by the landlord to fix the problem could be far off.


    More about coping with extreme cold:
    Adding Home Insulation to Your Rental
    Tips on Protecting Your Home in Extreme Cold [Video]
    Energy Efficient Homes for Winter Cost Savings

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    Dana Schmieg at luge run in Cologne, MN backyard
    AOL On
    Looking for a cool backyard project this weekend, or for several weekends? If you've got some snow (and who in the Midwest and Northeast doesn't?) and the space, you could do worse than follow the example of a dad in south-central Minnesota. Dana Schmieg got in the Olympic spirit by building a luge run for his children. As these kind of projects often do, the sledding hill constructed by Schmieg in the small town of Cologne started out to be something else -- a barrier to protect a garden. But as Schmieg says in the above video, "it just snowballed from there, literally."

    Maybe just the thing to keep the kids from getting bored on those snow days?

    But if your thoughts already have turned to spring, or you just want a more permanent playspace, you might follow the lead of another Minnesota dad, who constructed a home-made batting cage that the youths in his Minnetonka neighborhood have been using on their way to winning athletic scholarships. And his son, even ended up setting a state record for hits in a high school career.

    As Rick DesLauriers told a local TV station last year, "I've had a lot of crazy ideas; this one worked out well."

    And as if those 10,000 lakes weren't enough, Minnesota now seems to be making a strong play to be home to the coolest, most ambitious fathers.

    More about unusual DIY projects:
    WATCH: How Indiana Man's Roller Coaster Project Grew
    Building 'God's Treehouse'
    Digging a Memorial to Mining

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    landlord larry curtis, clarendon ark
    KATV
    A TV station in Arkansas has been reporting on how laws there give the advantage to landlords over tenants, but for some landlords, operating within the law doesn't seem enough. As seen in the video below, even a 10-day eviction notice appears to be far too long for landlord Larry Curtis of Clarendon, Ark., a town of about 2,000 residents in the eastern part of the state. "I don't do that," Curtis, who is also the town's barber, tells a KATV reporter. "I give 'em 30 minutes, son."

    And a video taken by one of his renters, Christine Clark, apparently shows that in one case he enforced that rule with a two-by-four -- smashing a television and then appearing to strike his soon-to-be-ex-tenant with the lumber when, Clark says, she attempted to rescue some of her family's possessions from a pile of them that Curtis was about to burn. (That's Curtis above, in a screen grab from Clark's video.)

    Curtis disputes that account, telling KATV: "She told the judge I hit her in the head with a two-by-four and gave her a concussion. But she didn't have no medical records to show it."

    While so many of the reports that you see in the news about landlord-tenant disputes stem from neglect of the property by the landlord or the tenant, the conflict between Curtis and the Clarks is purportedly very personal. Christine Clark alleges that the landlord's grievance with them is about more than having lingered for two days at their rental after getting an eviction notice -- that it was actually about Curtis' interest in raising the Clarks' 9-year-old daughter.

    See the TV station's full story, including what happened when the case went before a judge, by clicking on the video below.



    More about landlord-tenant disputes:
    SEE: Tenants' Door Won't Close in Extreme Cold
    Evicted Tenant Allegedly Trashes House To Make It Uninhabitable
    Former Tenant's Critical Yelp Review Might Be Libelous

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    Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
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    mill junction shipping container housing
    GeoBeats/AOL On
    Converting shipping containers into homes is something that's been done successfully and stylishly for several years now, but a developer in South Africa is taking the process to another level with a student-housing project in Johannesburg. The just-completed project involves stacks of the shipping containers that have been hoisted and attached to another reclaimed industrial structure -- a complex of grain silos. As seen in the video above, the 11-story project called Mill Junction includes 375 apartments -- some with balconies -- along with lounges, computer rooms, libraries and game rooms.

    The developer, Citiq, says on its website that the firm has opted for the reclamation of abandoned structures in urban centers as a way to combat the "urban sprawl" that results from most new residential projects and which leads to "people becoming increasingly marginalized." It also quotes its CEO, Paul Lapham, as saying that "reusing these structures often provides for an artistic and eclectic look and feel, which appeals to people wanting to establish their own individuality."

    As part of the shipping-container project, Citiq also invited architecture students to contribute concepts for the Mill Junction conversion, with the aim of designing a "space that will not only redefine student life, but also student lifestyle." Judging of the design competition is scheduled to take place Feb. 14, with cash prizes to be awarded for the top three designs.

    More about alternative architecture:
    SEE: Hamptons Eco-Home Was Made Using 6 Shipping Containers
    Green Real Estate: Homes Made Mostly From Recycled Materials
    Is Off-the-Grid Living the Future of Housing?

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    Trevor Thornton says that as a kid he always dreamed of having a tree house but missed his chance. He didn't want the same to happen to his children, so when he finally got the opportunity to build one, it was an elaborate structure that most children can only dream about. But the scene of Nerf Gun battles is now the setting for a fight with City Hall as Thornton has been ordered to tear down the tree house, reports a Los Angeles TV station.

    trevor thornton tree house LA
    KTLA/AOL On
    As seen in the video above from KTLA, not only do Thornton's children love it, but their friends in their Sherman Oaks neighborhood do too. And to hear Thornton tell it, they're not the only ones.

    "They all think it's fantastic," Thornton (right) says of his neighbors' reaction to the structure. "Well, all apart from one." That neighbor being the person who called the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, which Thornton says informed him that his family's tree house violates a code that requires that structures have more than a tree for support.

    There might be some hope, though, that Thornton can keep the dream alive. As KTLA further reports, Thornton is in discussion with city officials about a possible compromise to keep the tree house standing.

    If you have a large play structure, or are planning to build one, note that building codes can vary across the U.S., so homeowners and renters are wise to contact local authorities before making modifications to their yards or dwellings. For instance, structures such as playhouses might in some locales be classified as utility buildings, and might require a permit. They might also be subject to fire code, depending on their location to other structures. And as AOL Real Estate has reported on many times, some communities and homeowners associations might have restrictions that go beyond issues of safety to matters of aesthetics, such as acceptable paint colors or exterior displays.

    More about play structures:
    Backyard Batting Cage Project Grew Into a League of Its Own
    Minnesota Man's Backyard Project Soars to Olympic Heights [Video]
    Indiana Man Turns Backyard Into Mini-Roller Coaster Park

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