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Real Estate News - Everything you wanted to know about real estate in one place

A Visit to the National Capitol Trolley Museum

March 31st, 2017


This DC Transit streetcar dates from before World War II. Many of these older cars were still in service when they close down the streetcar lines in 1962

This DC Transit streetcar dates from before World War II and is one of the show pieces at the National Capitol Trolley Museum

I am a bit ashamed to say that I have lived in Montgomery County almost all of my life and never had visited the National Capitol Trolley Museum.  Even though the museum has been around for decades, and I have driven by its  entrance on Bonifant Road hundreds of times, I just never got around to it. This past Saturday I made up for lost time and took my brother with me for a long overdue visit.

Belgium built trolley at the National Capitol Trolley Museum

This trolley was built in Belgium during the first decade of the 20th century and is the oldest streetcar in the collection of the National Capitol Trolley Museum.

The National Capitol Trolley Museum is located at 1313 Bonifant Rd in Coleville, MD. The present location dates back to 1966 when they split off from the parent organization which is located in Baltimore In the winter of 2009 the National Capitol Trolley Museum moved into its new buildings which consists of a visitor’s center, a display building and a maintenance and storage facility. One of the prime reasons for the new buildings was that the new Inter county Connector required the museum to shift it location a bit. Some of you might remember that in 2003 the old museum suffered a catastrophic fire in which they lost over half of their existing collection of trolleys.  It has been a long road back but the museum has rebuilt it collection and now owns about 16 trolley cars from both the US and around the world. About half have been restored and are in operation.

Vintage trolley at the National Capitol Trolley Museum

The trolley operator on our ride is a 20 year volunteer veteran at the museum.

The National Capitol Trolley museum is open year round on weekends. There are some Thursday and Friday dates to accommodate schools and special groups. Check their website for times and dates. Our trip last Saturday worked out great as it was a warm spring day and we got there early  enough that there was no crowd. The museum features a one mile track and the admission fee allows you unlimited trolley rides for the day. Admission is only seven bucks for adults and five for seniors and juniors. On our visit there were two trolleys for us to ride on. They rotate the trolleys in service and most days feature at least two out on the tracks. We got to ride the both the newest trolley in their collection and the oldest.

National Capitol Trolley Museum Dutch streetcar

All aboard a Dutch streetcar dating back to the 1970’s. This is the museums newest streetcar.

The staff at the museum consists mostly of loyal volunteers. Our conductor and train operator for the day were both 20 year veterans at the museum and they along with our display docent were more than willing to chat and answer our many questions. As the day moved along the crowd got bigger but really never got to be a problem. It is nice to know that the museum does have a steady flow of visitors as most of the money to operate the museum comes  from admission fees. We found the trolley museum to be fun and interesting. It is a great place for kids as it is not too large and won’t bore them to death.

I am glad I finally made it to the National Capitol Trolley Museum.  It was well worth it. If you have  not visited or it is has been a while, then it is time for a visit.

Radon Law in Montgomery County has Changed

December 2nd, 2016


new montgomery county radon law

Radon is a radioactive gas that is found naturally in the soil. It seeps into a home through cracks and holes in the foundation. On October 1st, 2016 Montgomery County has a new radon law.

On October 1st, 2016 a new radon law in Montgomery County went into effect and it is important that homeowners are aware of the implications of this law. As of that date a single family home or townhouse (with some exceptions) that is under contract cannot go to settlement until there is a radon test done on the home. It has always been possible for  purchaser to do the radon test by including a radon test addendum in their offer. However, now if the purchaser does not have a test done then it is the seller’s responsibility to provide the test before closing.

new montgomery county radon law

One of the simplest and most accurate tests for radon is an alpha track, long term test. These kits can be found in any hardware store.

Maryland is considered to be a “high” radon state and Montgomery County is listed as a zone 1 threat on the state’s radon map. Zone 1 includes the counties that have the highest risk of radon.  Radon is an odorless gas found everywhere in our atmosphere. In an outdoor environment the gas disperses quickly and is not consider to be a threat to humans. However, in the closed confines of a typical home there can be higher levels of radon that pose a serious health threat to the occupants. It is estimated the the second most common cause of lung cancer in the US is due to the presence of radon in residential dwellings. Where high levels of radon is present in the soil, the gas can seep into homes through cracks and holes in the foundation floor and walls.

new radon law in montgomery county

Montgomery County is located in Zone 1 (highest risk). Marked on this chart in dark red.

In the eyes of many the new radon law is poorly written and confusing in its present form. There is hope that it will be modified for clarity in the coming year. However the law is now a fact and we must deal with what we  have when conducting a real estate transaction.  It is not uncommon for a home purchase contract to have a radon test addendum attached. That addendum follows the lines of the standard home inspection addendum where is spells out in clear language what steps can be taken if radon is found to be in a home at levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard. If this addendum is used then the seller need not worry about testing (it is done at the buyer’s expense) and the buyer is protected. However, it the buyer does not submit this addendum with the offer, this is when the problems can occur. The seller then has to provide a test that has been done within the past year. The problem is that without a radon addendum in the contract the seller is under no obligation to mitigate any radon issue and the buyer has no recourse and can not void the contract if the seller refuses. In fact if the seller has a negative radon test they can simply wait until right before settlement to present it to the buyer.

The other issue with the new law is that without an addendum in the contract the seller has a lot of leeway in how the testing can be done. There is no requirement in the new radon law that a certified testing company be used. The seller can do the testing as long as they use one of the many certified methods. This can potentially lead to some quality control issues if not outright fraud. It also places real estate agents in a more exposed position.

new radon law in montgomery county

Fixing a radon problem is usually fairly easy and cost somewhere in the range of $1,000.

It is my policy that any buyer client of mine should now always use a radon inspection contingency in any offer in Montgomery County. This not only protects the buyers but may also in the long run protect the seller and the agents involved in the transaction. Many buyers opt to wave all inspection contingencies in a competitive bidding situation. This is OK but it is the real estate agent’s responsibility to fully educate the buyer about the new radon law before they opt to do this. I also now urge my seller clients to have the test done before the house is put on the market. The test is not very expensive and it will make the sale go smoother. However, if there is a failed test then the seller and the seller’s agent are required to make it known to any potential buyers. In most cases it is then wise for sellers to mitigate before the home goes on the market.  The good news is that in almost all cases where high levels of radon are found in a home, remediation is not overly expensive. Usually a home can be made safe from radon for around $1,000 dollars or less.  It is not a disastrous expense but can be a serious problems for purchasers who are buying a home and do not have a large reserve of cash.

The Fleet is in! Maryland Fleet Week in Baltimore

October 14th, 2016
Maryland Fleet Week

The Yard Patrol Craft YP 707 is dressed up in her finery for Maryland Fleet Week

A friend and I drove up to Baltimore to take in the festivities of Maryland Fleet Week. This celebration of Maryland’s maritime heritage has been running this week and will go on until this coming Sunday. Although you can go Monday and watch the ships depart it is best to get up there by Sunday. Fleet week takes place in Baltimore, mostly around the Inner Harbor and Fort McHenry, and offers up a host of events, including air shows, free ship visitations, a marathon, and live music. Those of you who follow this blog know that although I am a Washington area resident, I consider Baltimore my second city and love to get up there as much as I can. Yesterday was a glorious fall day and the presence of the US and Canadian Navy along with Coast Guard and NOAA vessels just enhanced the showcase that Baltimore’s gem of a harbor has become.

Maryland Fleet Week

The Pride of Baltimore coming into dock at Sunset

I primarily go to Maryland Fleet Week because I love ships and getting to see them. I was not disappointed as there were many on display; in fact more than we could get to in one day. All of the ships are open to visitors at no cost (check the hours on the website). The larger ships generally have guided tours but the smaller boats usually just let  you wander about. Security on American vessels was fairly light with the usual metal detectors but we did not find it bothersome. The two Canadian vessels in the harbor really stood out for their hospitality and the friendly attitude, but all of the crews (American and Canadian) were very welcoming. The usual tour included the above deck locations with a chance to see the bridge and some interior space. The lower spaces and engine rooms were usually not included. However some of the smaller craft did allow a visit below.

Maryland Fleet Week

Yes,even the US Army has vessels. Generally there was no waiting to get on the smaller craft.

Maryland Fleet Week

Hospitality on the Canadian ships was exceptional

Although crowds at Maryland Fleet Week are large, the wait to get on the bigger ships was not bad. I expect that Saturday and Sunday will see larger crowds and longer waiting periods. Parking was not too hard (paid parking). Due to the fine weather we choose to amble around the port on the water taxis that will take you to all the main points in the harbor.  If you don’t have your own boat there is no better way to see Baltimore’s harbor than from the taxis. However, be warned that they are not fast so don’t plan on rushing through a tight schedule on them. Give yourself plenty of time and plan on enjoying the ride. If it was not enough to get to visit some great ships we were entertained all afternoon by the aerobatics of the Navy’s Blue Angles overhead. To see them doing their brilliant close order maneuvers over the harbor and city is alone well worth the cost of admission. Oh wait, admission is free. I almost forgot that.

Maryland Fleet Week

The US Navy Blue Angels soar above the Port of Baltimore.

Most exciting thing for me was a visit to the USNS Carson City. This newly commissioned Spearhead class fast naval transport ship just totally blew us away. Not only is it a big fast catamaran type ship (50 mph) but the vessel is constructed entirely of aluminum and is not painted. This is an innovative weight saving design which allows the ship to have a minimum draft and very high speed. The USNS Carson City is operated by the Military Sealift Command. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that her unlicensed civilian crew was made up of members of my former union -the Seafarers International Union.

Maryland Fleet Week

The all aluminum Carson City is one of the fastest ships afloat.

Of special note is that the first ship of the new Zumwalt Class destroyer is present for this Fleet Week (docked at Locust Point near Fort McHenry), and open for the public to visit. Security is a bit tighter for this ship but it is well worth seeing as it is unlike any ship you have ever seen before. Your chances of seeing this highly sensitive vessel up close will be limited in the future. The USS Zumwalt captained by Captain James Kirk (seriously folks, I can’t make this up) is scheduled to be commissioned  this coming Sunday as one of the culminating events of Maryland Fleet Week. Unfortunately, there are no long ticket available for this but you can go on Friday or Saturday to see her.

Baltimore Fleet Week

The ultra modern USS Zumwalt awaits christening near Baltimore’s Fort McHenry -Photo from the Baltimore Sun

Maryland Fleet Week is an annual event. If you are thinking about a visit to Baltimore in the future, I highly recommend you plan your trip around this event. October is a great time of year to be in Maryland as far as weather goes and Fleet Week is when the City of Baltimore and her wonderful harbor are on their best display.

Wheaton High School-a visit to my old/new school

August 26th, 2016
Wheaton High School, Silver Spring, MD

The Wheaton High School Logo is new. Note that the old knight on a horse has been replaced.

It is with a bit of sadness that my fellow alumni and I watched while the old Wheaton High School went under the wrecking ball this past month. The building is now pretty much demolished and all that remains is for them to haul the debris away. My high school years form a pretty good memory for me-both for the friends that I made and the profound changes that I underwent while a student at Wheaton. I graduated almost 45 years ago but there are events, teachers and people that I knew in that era who are still imprinted in my memory and heart. In compensation for my sadness I can say that it has been a pleasure to have seen the new Wheaton High School go up near Randolph Rd. in the past year.  While driving by the now completed school I got a notion that it would be fun to go and see the new school and report back to my readers. So, I sent an email to the school’s principal, Dr. Debra Mugge, (pronounced “muggy”) and was delighted to receive an invitation from her to come for a visit and  guided tour sometime in August before the fall session started.

Wheaton High School Main Office

I was lucky enough to get a personal tour from Wheaton’s principal Dr. Debra Mugge-pictured here in the main office.

Last Tuesday I showed up for my tour with my trusty camera in tow. Dr. Mugge was very kind to give me a personal tour. She has to be very busy at this time of year preparing for the new school year so I am very grateful to her for her time. She has been the principal of Wheaton High School for just over two years and was there for the very complicated transfer of students and staff from the old building to the new. It was apparent to me that she takes a lot of pride in her school and after my visit it is not hard for me to see why.

Wheaton High School, interior feature

Located near the dining area is this bank of steps. An ideal spot for students to hang out and recharge devices.

Where to start? I have not been back to WHS since I graduated and have hardly been in any county high school in the last two decades. It is pretty apparent that there has been a lot of change in the intervening  years. My first impression of the new school is that it is clear how important technology has become in modern education. The new building is wired from top to bottom and many classrooms feature banks of computer screens. Many of the open spaces feature prominent outlets that allow students the opportunity to hook up and recharge their devices.  In consideration of the demands of a high tech society where unique skills are needed, the school offers an array of course options that a student from the pre-computer era would not recognize. Dr. Mugge was patient in her descriptions but the The Academy of Engineering, The Bio-Science Academy, The Institute for Global and Cultural Studies,  and The Academy of Information Technology sounded out of place to me and more in line with my experiences in college.

Wheaton High School Cafeteria

The dining area is designed to accommodate every student in one sitting. There is also outside seating for nice days.

The building itself is lovely both inside and out. Some things never change such as the row upon row of lockers with their combination locks, and it does not look as if they have figured out a new sort of material other than the good old cinder block. But these are small matters as the three level building looks great and features spacious open hallways and modern decor. The visual effect is actually relaxing and the school environment seems to encourage learning.  I could see that a lot of thought went into the design of the building and my impression was that I was seeing “state of the art” all through my visit.  The cafeteria is centrally located and massive. Dr. Mugge told me that it is designed to accommodate all  students in one lunch period rather than requiring staggered lunch hours.  Adjoining the cafeteria (is this word outdated?)  there is a very nice outdoor eating area that the students can use when the weather permits. The gym looked oddly familiar but is larger than the old one and much more modern.

Wheaton High School Gym

Dr. Mugge stuck to her guns and made them put in dark natural wood for the “paint” part of the basketball court.

In my opinion the showpiece of the new Wheaton High School is the auditorium. Dr. Mugge said that it has been referred as a “Strathmore in miniature” and I completely agree. Not only is the auditorium a technical marvel but it is also just plain lovely.  A lot of thought went into the standard classrooms as well. Missing are the old one-piece desks that we all knew and hated. The new desks look fairly similar but are now a little larger and have separate chairs. Dr. Mugge explained that modern students have become so much taller and bigger so the one size fits all concept just no longer works.  In one classroom that featured banks of computer terminals, the computers actually faced away from the lectern so that students would have to turn away from the terminals to hear instruction. Both to prevent the distraction of the computers during lecture and provide work space for the students to write and take notes. Very clever.

Wheaton High School Auditorium

This photo does not do justice to the new auditorium which is simply stunning.

Instead of the old nurse’s office the school features a wellness center complex. It is apparent that a lot more thought goes into the heath issues facing students these days and the facility has changed to meet the challenge. They even have a pediatrician who holds office hours on campus a few days a week. Pretty impressive.  The Media Center (old timers would call it a library) still offers tons of books. It is an impressive, well-appointed space. Most noticeable is the absence of computer monitors in the Media Center. Dr. Mugge told me that this was a conscious decision to downplay the monitors in the main area of the center. Not to say that there are not plenty of computer resources available to the students elsewhere.

Wheaton High School Media Center

The media center (library to you old timers) is very appealing. Still a lot of books to be found there.

There is so much more to describe but I just can’t fit it all in the space of this blog. Needless to say, I walked away feeling pretty good about my old school and the direction it is taken. As it is now the new Wheaton High School probably rivals any high school in the county or nation in quality and amenities. I am glad to see it. The kids who live in the Wheaton area deserve a school of this caliber. The Wheaton neighborhood that I grew up in was a blue collar neighborhood and can still be described in those terms. We were not especially wealthy back then and that fact probably has not changed for most of the students attending today. I firmly believe that I got a first class education out of Wheaton High School that has served me well over my many years. The old Wheaton was a great school. From the looks of it, it still is. I am confident that students going to Wheaton High School today are getting as much out of it as I did and perhaps a little more.

Wheaton High School Mosaic

This mosaic, at the junction of two hallways on the main level, is the work of a recent graduate.

Wheaton High School Interior

The layout of the school is open and very modern.

Wheaton High School Classroom

Some projects underway. The classrooms have so much to offer students to prepare them for today’s needs.

Wheaton High School Classroom

Note the computer monitors face away from the front of the class.

Wheaton High School Exterior

The community now has a state of the art school to serve the community well for years to come.

The Wheaton News Stand-where Chum Gum was king.

July 27th, 2016
Wheaton Maryland

The Wheaton News Stand was located on University Boulevard.

Anyone remember the Wheaton News Stand? It was located on University Blvd. in downtown Wheaton Maryland just a couple of blocks down from Georgia Avenue as you headed to Four Corners. Back in the mid 1960’s when we lived near Glenmont Elementary School our dad would give us $1.50 with instructions to walk to the Wheaton Barber Shop for a haircut. The barber shop is still there located close to where the old Baskin Robbins store was on Georgia Avenue. Enzo the barber was our man and he usually gave us our “regular boys” cut. A regular boy’s cut in the sixties consisted of removing the bulk of the hair from a kid’s head while leaving a tuft of hair in the front that could be flipped up and held in place with a little Vitalis Hair Tonic. We liked  for  Enzo to cut our hair, not because he was an especially talented stylist but simply because we thought he had a seriously fine and to us hilarious name. My brother Kinne who was always working a scam (usually to mixed results) one day discovered that there was  a barber school located in the bottom floor of the office building at the corner of Georgia and Blueridge Avenue. Granted that using a student barber pretty much assured that we were not going to get the best haircut in the world but at that age who actually cared much about how our hair looked? After all, was there really much noticeable difference between a bad regular boy’s cut and a good one?  Here is where my brother’s genius came into play. The barber school only cost sixty cents and the resulting ninety cents left over to us was a serious amount of disposable income for a nine year old to have back in the day.  If you consider that your average box of Lemon Heads or Red Hots cost a nickle then ninety cents gave you 18 units of pure candy pleasure. Candy being the only real economic unit that we kids understood back then.  Now you might think that “good kids” would have been considerate and returned the extra money to their hard working dad but I doubt that notion ever came into either my brother’s or my mind.

Wheaton Barber Shop.

A little dab of Vitalis Hair Tonic would dry your flip rock solid and you were good to go.

The Wheaton News Stand was conveniently only a block away from the barber school. There was a front entrance but we liked to enter from the rear door which faced the parking lot located behind the strip of stores where the news stand was  located.  Aside from carrying a ton of reading material the news stand had a large and eclectic array of candy and toys that easily tested the buying power of our new found wealth. There was a lot more candy than you would find at the supermarket or say at Peoples Drug, and the stand carried a lot of stuff that you would never see in the chain stores. Aside from candy, you could get small toys such as water rockets and sling shots. A box of “Loads”  was one of  the best things you could hope to purchase. Loads were tiny explosive devices that came in a small metal tin. You could insert one into a friend’s cigarette as a practical joke-assuming that you actually had a friend who smoked and could  afford to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Loads explosive cigarettes

A tin of loads cost about a quarter and held about about a dozen small explosive devices.

However, the best possible deal at the Wheaton News Stand was a two piece package of Chum Gum for only one cent. Yes, you heard right. For just a penny you actually got two pieces of gum. Even in the mid 1960’s two sticks of gum for that price was an amazing deal. And it was the best tasting gum as far as we were concerned. Although it came in stick form Chum Gum was actually bubble gum. It had a great sugary fruit taste that seemed to linger a lot longer that other types of gum. For a dime you could pretty much set yourself up in gum for the next couple of days.  We also liked Clark’s Teaberry Gum (remember the Teaberry shuffle) which much to my regret was discontinued just recently. It had an unusual flavor and was one of the few chewing gums that still actually used refined sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. You can still buy Clark’s Teaberry on Ebay but somehow the thought of chewing two year old gum just no longer gets me excited.  My younger brother Eric being the slave to Sunday morning cartoon advertising that he was, preferred Beechnut Fruit Stripe Gum.  He could not resist the appeal of the colorful fruit stripes but to Kinne and I the taste of the gum just did not hold water.

Wheaton News Stand Wheaton Maryland

You got two sticks of Chum Gum in this wrapper.

The other amazing thing about the Wheaton News Stand was that it was the only place that we knew of in our limited world that sold adult magazines. The owners would never let a kid touch one of them but as long you were spending money in the store you could linger a bit and peep at the suggestive allure of the front covers. However, we really were just two young to give the magazines much more than a second thought and it was the candy that makes the Wheaton News Stand linger in mind to this day.  Changing times and the Internet have pretty much killed the storefront news stand in the US. It is a bit sad to see them gone. But of all of them that I have been into in my long life, none stands out so fondly in my memory as the Wheaton News Stand. Come to think of it, the Wheaton Barber Shop is still there in it’s original location. I wonder if Enzo still works there?

Burnt Mills Dam has a long history in Montgomery County

June 16th, 2016
Burnt Mills Maryland

The Burnt Mills Dam located in Silver Spring, Maryland has a long history

Lately I have been taking my dogs swimming in the Northwest Branch just above the old Burnt Mills Dam. It is a nice spot for a dog to swim on a summer’s day. I have hiked the trails above and below the dam for years now as I live fairly close to it. For those of you who do not know about it the Burnt Mills Dam is located on the Northwest Branch near where the creek goes under Route 29 (Colesville  Rd.). The dam is located on the north side of the road. I have known about the dam all my life-passing by it many times in my youth, and have gotten to know it better since buying my home in the area 25 years ago.  Lately I got to thinking about the dam and it’s origins. I always knew about the dam but have grown curious over the years about how it came to Burnt Mills and why.

Burnt Mills Dam

Drawing of the falls at Burnt Mills by Jake Muirhead. Image from the Frederick Post

The Burnt Mills Dam has a long history and the reason for that is the ideal nature of the creek and surrounding terrain for the purpose of milling. If you have never been to the south of the dam then you owe it to yourself to take a hike back there. There is a trail but it is not easy walking but you will find that there is a fine gorge and series of water falls located there. It was this sort of location that proved a perfect site for a mill as the rapid drop off of the the gorge and suitable area for the dam and holding pond above it  provided ample water power to drive a mill wheel. The record is not clear  when the first mill went into the area but it is known that an existing mill burned down there in 1788. (Thus the name Burnt Mills.)  Shortly after a  new mill was built and modified quite a few times over the years as milling technology improved. It is not know what the original dam was constructed of but eventually a concrete dam was built in the dam’s present location (the original dam is not the current dam) with a mill race that delivered water under Colesville Rd. (Old Columbia Pike) to the mill building located on the south side. The mill passed through numerous owners over the years and stayed in continuous use until about 1920.  The mill produced both flour and ground corn meal. After the mill closed the surrounding land was purchased and then donated to the Boys Scouts of America where they established a camp named for President Woodrow Wilson. For a time the boy scouts used the old mill building located there as a meeting hall.

Burnt Mills, Maryland

Original drawings of the plant from the Library of Congress Archives

The current Burnt Mills Dam came about as the demand for sources of fresh water to meet the needs of the growing region arose. The Boy Scouts donated part of their land to the WSSC and a water filtration plant was installed at the site as early as 1924. This temporary plant was eventually replaced by the new “state of the art” Robert B. Morse Filtration Plant  and that is when the dam that currently sits on the site was built. Construction started on the dam and plant in 1930 and it was completed in 1936. The filtration plant supplied fresh drinking water to the area until the early 1950s when growing  demand for more water led to the construction of larger water filtration plants elsewhere. However the plant was not completely shut down until the early 1960s. The dam is an Ambursen type dam named for it’s inventor and builder. I was very much surprised to discover that the dam is actually a hollow structure. A person can gain entry via the pump house but unfortunately the interior of the dam is not open to the public.

Burnt Mills Maryland

The dam is actually hollow. From the Library of Congress archives

The Burnt Mills Dam and the two Georgian Revival pump houses located on both sides of Colesville Rd. were acquired by the The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission  between 1996 and 2000 and are now on the Historic Register.  The Burnt Mills Dam today is a popular starting point for hikers of the Northwest Branch Trail. If you have not explored the dam and the the surrounding trails then it is time to do so. There is public parking on both sides of Route 29 behind the pumping stations. You are going to need some sturdy shoes if you head south as the hiking around the gorge is difficult. If you have small kids and dogs, it is better to park on the north side where the dam is located and take the easier hike to the north. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.


How not to sell your home. Mistakes home sellers make.

June 7th, 2016
Common home seller mistakes

The overgrown cedar trees in front of this home not only kill the curb appeal of the home but their roots can damage the foundation. Image from

I recently  held an open house Silver Spring, Maryland and found that the home was a perfect candidate for an article on mistakes home sellers make.  The problem was that although the  home was very lovely with a new upgraded kitchen, baths and a fantastic addition, the front door was in horrible shape. This immediately caught my eye and  got me to thinking about my past experience showing and staging homes for sale. I came up with a list of five common mistakes home sellers make that I frequently see with homes that are on the market. The issue here is that the mistakes that  sellers make preparing the exterior serve to stop potential buyers in their tracks before they even enter the home. By overlooking these items the sellers had effectively shot themselves in the foot. It makes no difference how cool your home looks inside if the appearance from the street is preventing potentials buyers from getting out of their car.

  1. Make sure the front door and entrance is looking good. A beat up front doors says everything about what to expect inside. It just creates a negative feeling for people entering your home for the first time and is a clue that you are not taking good care of your home. If your front door looks bad replace it, or at least paint it. Make sure the door knob and locks work. You can’t believe how many homes I have shown where the lock is so old that I have to fiddle forever to get the door open. I also really hate to see storm doors on front entrances. Some newer storm doors look OK but for the most part a storm door makes the entrance of the door looks cheap. Remove old storm doors.  You can put them in the basement in case the purchasers want to keep them. If your front entrance area is plain go buy some potted flowers and leave them around the door. A new doorknocker or a decorative wreath is not a bad idea and costs very little.

    Mistakes home sellers make

    Nothing like a crappy front door and storm door to turn a buyer away.

  2. Get that driveway fixed. Nothing is more noticeable from the street than a worn our driveway.  Yes, it costs a fair amount of money to replace an old driveway but it does not take a rocket scientist to know when a driveway is shot, and most buyers are not going to see your driveway right away and opt not to inherit a big ticket expense such as that.

    Mistakes home sellers make.

    If the driveway is shot then any buyer is facing a big ticket repair when they move in.

  3. Cut down big trees and overgrown ornamental shrubs that are too close to the house. Not only do they look bad but a large tree near the house is a potential problem to the structure of the home. One of my biggest dislikes when viewing a potential listing is those little ornamental cedar trees that were planted decades ago and now are larger than the home.  If the buyers miss it, a good agent or home inspector is going to point problem trees.
  4. Get rid of all that weird stuff that you put in the front yard.  One of the most common mistakes that sellers make is to assume that everybody else is going to appreciate your eclectic (strange) tastes in yard art. So, haul out the lawn jocky. concrete statuary, strange art  and other bizarre items that you many have accumulated over the years.  Even if you don’t sell your home, your neighbors will  probably like you better.

    Mistakes home sellers make

    Nothing says weird like a bunch of funky stuff in the front yard.

  5. Paint your home. I just can’t understand why a home seller does not see the value in putting a fresh coat of paint on the exterior of the home. Old and peeling paint send a message to buyers that the home has not been cared for over the years. Make sure you hire a professional. It is better to have no paint job than a bad one. So many sellers try to tell me that they are leaving the old paint like it is so that the new owners can put on the new paint of their choice. The reasoning does not work at all. Buyers want to see a home that looks like the owner has cared for it. Below is a nice series of before and after paint jobs from Davis House Painting, just look at the difference that a new coat of paint makes.

Remember, it is my experience that home buyers purchase homes on emotion and not necessarily reason. To think that you can leave the exterior of the home in poor shape and just offer a reduced price to compensate does not work. You will have fewer visitors and as a result the home will usually sell for much less than you would net by paying to fix it up. I am speaking from three decades of experience here. The biggest problem facing a home seller in this market is getting enough buyers into the home to generate a homes full value. If it looks bad, believe me it is going to sell bad.

Polychrome Homes in Silver Spring MD

May 12th, 2016


silver spring MD art deco home

This polychrome home on route 29 in Silver Spring is my favorite example of John Joseph Early’s work.

Those of you who regularly drive into Silver Spring via route 29 are probably well familiar with John Joseph Early’s famous polychrome homes. There are five of these home located just outside of the Beltway. Three of them are on Route 29 and the other two are on Sutherland Rd just one block away. The one pictured above is a favorite of mine.  I discovered an old photo of this home while under construction in the Art Deco Society of Washington web page.  The five homes which now constitute a historical district were built before World War II  and are the only examples built. Early was attempting to build simple low cost housing. However the idea did not take and the project was commercially a failure and no other homes were built. It is too bad as the polychrome  homes proved to be amazingly durable over the years and the idea of cast concrete siding placed over a wood frame for simplicity and ease of construction was not a bad one.  If he had only began the venture after the war when thousands of veterans were purchasing low cost homes and there was a greater supply of building material.

polychrome home in Silver Spring, MD

Here is the same home as it is being constructed photo from the Art Deco Society of Washington

If you want to see more of Early’s work you need only to go down 16th Street in the district and pay a visit to Meridian Hill Park where Early’s construction techniques were incorporated in the Park’s design. There are many more examples of his work around the DC area. I suggest doing a search under his name in Google images.

Washington DC Parks

The cascading fountain at Meridian Hill Park features cast concrete as pioneered by Early


The USS Constellation stands tall in Baltimore

April 20th, 2016
USS Constellation at twilight

The USS Constellation sits proudly at her berth at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

This past Friday as a guest of the Civil War Trust I got to attend a reception given aboard the USS Constellation located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It is odd that I have not been on the USS Constellation since I was a young teen. My dad took my brothers and I for a visit over 45 years ago and I have been back to Baltimore many times since but have never revisited this fine historical landmark. If I recall correctly the ship was in poor condition and you could only visit the lower gun deck. The rest of the lower decks were closed off.  In addition the ship in the 1960s and 70s was some what of a fraud as she had been jury rigged to look like the frigate USS Constellation built by the Navy in 1797 when in fact she was not that ship.  In 1999 the ship was condemned and taken out it’s berth for a full restoration and now looks like she should as the Civil War era sloop of war USS Constellation.

USS Constellation captain's cabin

The Captain’s quarters are located on the gun deck.


The real identity of the USS Constellation created quite a controversy. Many people including prominent naval figures and historians thought the ship to be a modified and rebuilt version of the original 1797 ship. For many years the city of Baltimore promoted the ship as such to enhance it’s tourist value. However after much detailed historical and forensic work it has been determined that the current USS Constellation is an original design and was constructed in 1853. At that same time the original 1797 frigate was decommissioned and broken up with a lot of material from that ship used to build the new ship. However, the sloop of war USS Constellation is indeed a historical landmark in that she was the last sail-only ship built by the Navy. All ships built afterwards may have had sails but has some sort of mechanical propulsion as well. The Constellation saw long and faithful service to the nation that built her. She was commissioned in 1855 and saw service during the Civil War and after. She spent many years as a training ship and was not taken out of active service until 1933. President Roosevelt then recommissioned her in 1940 as a national symbol.

USS Constellation Chaplin's berth

The ship has been restored to look exactly like she did in 1855.

While I got free admission for a beautiful evening of cocktails and conversation, the USS Constellation is regularly open to the public as part of Historic Ships of Baltimore exhibit at the Inner Harbor. We all had the full run of the ship and these days the public is allowed to view just about every inch of the ship. There is an entry fee but the price of admission grants you access to a number of historical ships located around the Inner Harbor. I don’t have to tell you how nice the Inner Harbor looks these days and I won’t hesitate to recommend a visit to the USS Constellation-especially if you have not done so in a while. All the historical ships located at the Inner Harbor are kid friendly with lots of helpful exhibits and guides. Baltimore is really just a quick drive from this area and has much to offer us. Below is a quick video of the ship returning to her berth after undergoing hull repairs in 2014.

Duckpin Bowling makes it’s last stand in White Oak

April 5th, 2016
Duckpin bowling Maryland

White Oak Duckpin Lanes is one of the last duckpin bowling alleys in Montgomery County

While a seventh grader at Belt Junior High in the lat e 1960s a friend talked me into joining an afternoon duckpin bowling league. We played once a week after school at Tuffy Leemans’ Duckpin Bowling Alley located in the Glenmont Arcade of the Glenmont Shopping Center. Bowling was never considered a high brow sport but I grew to love it and still do to this day. I never was very good at duckpins but I found it to be more interesting than it’s big cousin, tenpin bowling. Duckpin bowling has never been a big draw. I really only know of a handful of bowling lanes that existed in this area. It is a very regional sport with virtually all duckpin bowling alleys  located east of the Mississippi River. Around here there was Tuffy’s establishment in the Arcade and the Triangle Lanes in Wheaton also had duckpin bowling on the upper level. My wife tells me of duckpin bowling in downtown Bethesda when she was young. Bowling as a form of entertainment has been on a slow decline in Maryland over the past two decades. The issue has been both the cost of leasing a space for a bowling business and the general change in consumer tastes over the years. Duckpin bowling has suffered even more so than ten-pin, with only two duckpin bowling alleys that I know of left in all of Montgomery County. My young friends and I loved Tuffy Leemans’ in the Arcade because Tuffy was a legitimate NFL football star. Leemans played for the New York Giants in the era right before World War II and when he retired to Maryland he opened his bowling alley in Glenmont. He passed on in 1979 but his family continued to operate the lanes until forced to close it in 2002.

Tuffy Leemans

Tuffy Leemans’ Duckpin Lanes used to be located in the Glenmont Arcade

Tuffy Leemans New York Giants

Tuffy Leemans in his NY Giants heyday.

There was another place that we used to bowl and it is still in operation. It is the White Oak Duckpin Lanes located under the White Oak Shopping Center on New Hampshire Avenue.  In operation since 1959 the White Oak Duckpin Lanes are a throwback to an older era. Most of the equipment in the lanes is original and although some of it looks a bit tired, there is also a bit of “retro coolness” to the place. It is not a big place with only about 25 lanes in all but it is cozy and the people who operate it are friendly and helpful. I dropped in today to take a few photos and on a whim decided to bowl a couple of games. The fellow behind the counter let me use the shoes for free and with the senior discount my total tab came to just over ten bucks.  With shoe rental, normal humans can expect to spend about $20 to bowl a standard three game set. That is about as cheap a night out as you can get. Surprisingly there are a lot of duckpin fans left and being the only game in town the White Oak Lanes were buzzing at 11:00 AM on a Tuesday morning.  They have a lot of leagues during the week and on weekends so call in advance to see when there are lanes open to the general public.

duckpin bowling at white oak maryland

You are talking “old school” at the White Oak Duckpin Lanes.

There are different theories but it is thought that Duckpin bowling originated in Baltimore around 1900. The game is very similar to tenpin bowling but the ball is much smaller (a little bigger than a softball) and the pins are smaller. It is harder to score than in tenpin as well and the big difference is that you get three bowls a turn over the standard two in tenpins. A very good scoring average in duckpins would be about 120 points a game. I always thought duckpin bowling  was better for kids as it is easier for them to control the ball. My two young nephews always preferred duckpins over tenpins when giving the choice. The other kind of cool thing about the White Oak Duckpin Lanes is that the scoring is pure old school. You have to keep score with a pencil instead of your station doing it for you automatically. It is amazing thing to see but a lot of the fun for kids is learning how to keep score and do the math necessary to keep the score correct. To be honest, I don’t think the duckpin lanes at White Oak are long for this world. Rents keep going up and their current lease expires in 2017.  I hope that is not the case and the lanes are around for future generations to enjoy. Duckpins were an important part of my childhood and should be a part of your children’s. It is just too fun to miss out on.