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Monday, January 30, 2017

The Fenton Winery & Brewery - A Great area Venue for Special Events

One of the greatest benefits of being an Ambassador for the Huron Valley Chamber of Commerce is the opportunity to meet the owners and staffs of area businesses. Recently I got reacquainted with Joe Sirl from Fenton Winery & Brewery, which is located just north of downtown Fenton. Joe does a lot of their community outreach and marketing stuff and he gave me an update on their banquet capabilities. I visited them when they first opened a few years ago and they had great plans for the utilization of the facility that they had just moved into at the time. It was good to hear from Joe that those plans have come to fruition and the property now offers a great venue for special events.

Fenton Winery & Brewery is the place for your event.
Indoor & Outdoor; it’s all here.

Rehearsal Dinners
Birthday Parties
Holiday Parties
Anniversary Parties

Our Banquet & Event building seats up to 280 guests and provides a beautifully rustic
feeling.  Uniquely built, cedar sided, and set back in a wooded setting, this venue will compliment any event.  Included is an outdoor patio area complete with a stone fireplace and an area for seating up to 150 people.  Our guests have the option of true one-stop shopping to actualize their vision for events.  Bridal and Grooms suites, on-site ceremonies, outdoor weddings with an indoor backup plan, in-house catering, and a developed network of partnering vendors for additional décor and entertainment services are among the most valued ease of planning features.  

We offer an acre of park like space outdoors that can be outfitted to hold events up to 300 people during those gorgeous Michigan months.  If you are seeking a smaller, more intimate location, our taproom area is cozy, inviting and has space for up to 35 people.  Our Banquet & Event Coordinators work with each guest individually to plan and execute the perfect event. Our chef has designed complete menus
featuring delicious entrees, tasty appetizers & luncheon or casual foods to fit a wide variety of banquet needs.  Our coordinators will happily arrange & price any specialty items that you desire.

Each year as we celebrate our Anniversary in late January a reflection occurs of what drives the continued growth of Fenton Winery & Brewery.  Events like our Mug & Stem Club Appreciation Dinner highlight the support and advocacy of local individuals which we are incredibly fortunate to have received by the bushel over the last 9 years.  Without our surrounding community believing in our mission, the current set-up of 20,000ft. split between two buildings and nearly 5 acres of total property would not bear our name.  It is a far cry from the 2,000 suite in a strip mall on N. Leroy St that was originally called home.

The passion to continue to create jobs and provide a hub of community is of vital importance and makes the long days profoundly worth it.  We have had the pleasure of working with seemingly countless community organizations and remain dedicated to expanding our scope.  The mutual support with groups such as the Lions Club, area Chambers of Commerce, Adopt-a-Pet, local schools, cancer and other health based organizations, small
business and community development groups is the most rewarding part of Fenton Winery & Brewery.  

It is an absolute honor to be chosen to partake in major life celebrations, like weddings and birthdays, and work with causes that so many dedicate their valuable time to propping up.  Those are the things that allow us to have such an incredible staff, a client base of friends, and insight into the strength of those we are surrounded by in our neighboring towns. -Joe Sirl

Joe provided me with the write-up above and the pictures. If you haven’t checked out the Fenton Winery and Brewery, you owe it to yourself to take the drive to Fenton, Michigan and on through town on N. Leroy Street, which turns into Fenton Rd. About 2-3 miles out of town you’ll hit N. Long Lake Rd and see the Fenton Winery and Brewery. The address is 1370 N Long Lake Rd, Fenton, MI 48430. Call ahead if you aren’t sure that they’ll be open at (810) 373-4194. They are closed on Monday’s but open most other days. Their web site is Check out this great local event venue for your event or just stop in and sample the great craft beers and wines that are made there. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

National Radon Awareness Month

January is National Radon Awareness month. Radon is a big issue in the Milford area and throughout the Huron Valley. Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that naturally percolates up through the soil, especially in areas with heavy gravel and sand content in the soils. Thanks to the glaciers that used to cover much of Michigan or local soil conditions are conducive to Radon getting into basements. Radon bubbles up under the foundation and seeks any crack or hole through the basement floor slab to get into the house.

Why is Radon a big deal. Radon is known to be the third leading cause of deadly lung cancer in America. If you want to scare yourself, go read about it here. Of all of the issues that one can hit in a house that they might buy, Radon is the most serious health risk. It is also the easiest to deal with, so don’t panic if your home inspector reports a higher that acceptable level of radon. Radon remediation systems are relatively easy to install and, once in place, remove the danger forever.

Radon remediation system vary in price, depending upon the size and configuration of the house, but
generally they run between $800 – 1,500. The “system” usually consists of a vacuum pump and piping to exhaust the Radon gas away from the house. The vacuum pump pickup is placed underneath the basement floor slab by either using an existing sump pump well or cutting a new hole through the floor slab. If the sump pump well is used, the top is sealed shut and the sides are broken out to allow the gas to be sucked into the well. While Radon “bubbles-up” through the soil it is heavier than normal air, so it seeks the lowest levels. The sump pump well is usually placed in the lowest level of the basement. 

Most old houses in the Milford area were originally built with Michigan Basements, most of which had dirt basement floors. Many people concreted over the dirt, but many still have some dirt areas. In cases where the basements are not used there is likely no reason to worry about the Radon risk; however, as old homes were updated many were converted from their original steam or hot water radiator heating systems into forced air systems. Now, the Radon that was hovering around in the basement might be picked up by the heating system and blown throughout the house. It’s worth getting the basement checked for Radon if you have one of those old houses and it has been upgraded to forced air heating and cooling. It might be a bit more of a challenge to remediation in an old home that still has some dirt floors.

Many homeowner of more modern homes seem to believe that if they have a walkout basement that will remove the threat of Radon. That is not true. Opening and closing that doorwall or door may help lower the level temporarily, but is does not remove the threat. Radon health risks, like the risks from smoking build up over time and the time that you spend down in a finished basement area, even if it does have a doorwall, will let the Radon accumulate in your longs a little at a time. Eventually it will cause a major health problem..

Home owners can get free (or low cost) Radon test kits from the Oakland County Health Department.
You can also buy test kits at home improvement stores like Lowes or Home Depot. National Radon Awareness Month is as good a time as any, since homes closed up for the winter will give you the most accurate readings of the Radon levels in your home. Getting the basement checked and remediated, if needed is a much safer and less expense things to do, rather than taking that risk.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Real Estate laws and practices that no longer serve a purpose…

As the society evolves around it, the world of real estate has gotten out of sync with current needs and expectation in its laws and practices. That is not unusual. Many things that have been around, basically unchanged for many years, begin to look and feel dated over time.  Some laws and practices that were originally put in place to help may now be actually hurting the businesses or the very people that they were initially trying to protect or help.  That is certainly the case in the world of real estate.

Recently the Michigan Legislature finally abolished the Dower Rights laws that have been embedded in Michigan Law and real estate since the late 1700’s. Those laws were originally put in place to protect the rights of widows against being thrown into poverty due to the death of a spouse or ex-spouse.  Dower Rights established the right of the widow to a 1/3 share of the real property of the marriage, should the husband die first. Later laws dealing with estates broadened and clarified the rights of inheritance of widows, but the old Dower Rights laws remained on the books in Michigan, which was the last state with Dower Rights still in effect. In practice that meant that a man could not sell property without his wife signing off on giving up her Dower Rights to that property.  With society changing to recognize non-traditional marriages, the old law, as written actually may have become unconstitutional, so the Legislature thought the easiest way to deal with the changes was to do away with the Dower Rights  law. See this article from the Michigan Bar for more on this.

Many practices in real estate are not backed up by laws, but rather are just rules or practices that various groups that are involved with the process have enacted over time. Some are defended as being in place to protect the rights or interests of the buyers and sellers of the real estate, but, in reality, many were put into place to protect the interests of the companies involved – to shield them against loss or to add to their bottom-line profit. I recently read a good article by Benny L. Kass, a staff writer for the Realty Times web site, entitled “Escrow Accounts Serve No Purpose” .

In the article, Kass makes a very reasonable case that the escrow accounts that most buyers are forced to establish with lenders is not really needed and may just serve the lender by giving him access to the escrowed funds (one way or another). These escrow accounts are a classic case of the consumer being told that he/she is being protected from themselves for their own good, by “insuring” that they have money set aside for taxes and insurance on the property. Kass makes the logical case that it is in the best interest of the owner to make sure that those obligations are met and so the escrow accounts aren’t really serving anyone but the lenders.

In Michigan the real estate brokers have all found a way to charge just about the same amounts for what they have euphemistically called “Compliance Fees”. The original rationale was that they were collecting these fees to cover the costs imposed by the State laws for record keeping and reporting of the sales. Court cases challenging these fees under RESPA laws (and now under RESPA-TRID) established that were was no such work actually being done; so, now the brokers just call it what it always was – extra commission on the sale – even though many still use euphemisms to try to mask the real nature of this added cost.

While there has been much complaining about the new TRID rules governing the mortgage and closing processes, most of that has come from the people that the rules were enacted to reign in from shady or fraudulent practices. The old practices of lenders that brought about the need for TRID involved not sharing all of the costs and charges with the borrower until it was too late for them to use that information to make decisions. It was not uncommon before TRID for lenders to release the final closing packets the morning of closing and for that final document to be full of surprises for the borrower. Many times the borrower would not even know how much he had to bring to closing until that morning. It was a mess of their own making that required that lenders be brought under tighter government control.

The real estate business itself has been slow to evolve, with many traditional brokers having to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21nd Century. There are many experiments that are ongoing to try to find alternative business models to the traditional broker-centric model that make sense in modern times. Hopefully some of them will succeed, because there is really no reason to maintain the current broker-centric model.  Traditional brokers were very good at lobbying for laws to protect their interests; so, there will be many State laws governing real estate that will need to be repealed or modified. 

The so-called “traditional brokers” will need to accept changes to how the business will be run in the future based upon the changing needs of the customer and agent bases.. Just like the automotive industry is morphing into a mobility industry, the classic real estate brokerage needs to morph into something that better serves both the customers and the people (agents) who are actually out doing the real work. The somewhat feudal-like relationship between the traditional broker and the agents will need to change to reflect the lesser role and lesser values of the brokers in today’s real estate world.

Most of the changes that need to take place and will take place over time will be kicked off by customers and agents asking “Why”. Why do we need this practice? Who does it really serve? What purpose does it really serve? Why am I paying for somethings that doesn’t benefit me? Why are the laws protecting the profits of a few at the expense of the many? There will be much mumbling and perhaps even some loud cries of consternation from those in the real estate industry who have sacred cows that will be gored by these changes. For many it only by that sleight-of-hand and hidden extra fees that they get by these days. Change is in the air and perhaps it will blow away some of the odor left from tired old practices and no longer serve any good purpose. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Michigan Legislature Votes to End Dower Rights in Real Estate

Michigan has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the last state in the Union to have laws in effect that provide for the association of Dower Rights to real property. Most other states repealed any dower rights laws on their books years ago.

So what are Dower Rights?

A very good explanation of dower  and dower rights comes from a paper published by James M. Leby titled LAST ONE STANDING: MICHIGAN’S DOWER LAW . Brief excerpts from that paper below may help explain the concept:

The dower right was originally a common law creation. During feudal times, the common practice was that property passed from the husband to the eldest son, and real estate was the primary source of wealth.  The concept of a Dower provided a method of supporting a man’s wife and children after his death. The Dower gave the widow a life interest (estate) in one third of the real property owned by her husband during the marriage, from which she could support herself. This right attached to more than just the land held by the husband at his death. The wife retained dower rights even in property that the husband disposed of, unless she signed off on the transfer of the property as well.

Statutory forms of dower in Michigan stretch as far back as an ordinance from 1787. The 1787 ordinance actually provided for the widow to receive a life estate in one third of her spouse’s personal property as well as the traditional life estate in a third of his real property. Later statutes once again removed the right to take personal property.  Early forms of dower were justified partly by the fact that women could not own their own property while they were married, and thus could not build up any independent resources.  The state legislature gave women the right to own their own property in the mid-1800s; however, the legislature continued to retain dower as a means of supporting widows.

Ed. – Effectively this meant that a woman in Michigan could buy and sell real estate without her husband’s approval or sign-off; however, a man who married needs the approval and sign-off of his wife to dispose of any real estate that he owns, even if he owned it prior to the marriage, because her dower rights gave her an interest in it.

New laws abolish the Dower –

New laws that the lame duck 2016 Michigan Legislature passed and sent to the Governor for signature will abolish this last vestige of the common law practice of dowers in Michigan. From the Legislative News published on the web site

Dower Repeal (Senate Bills 558, 560 (Jones - R-Grand Ledge) & HB 5520 (Kesto, R-Commerce Township)

The three-bill package eliminates Dower and references to Dower Rights in Michigan. After the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Michigan's Dower Rights statute came under scrutiny by outside groups and the legislature. Specifically, the constitutionality of all gender-based laws came into question.  Since Michigan's Dower is limited to the "wife" and the requirements of Dower created transactional uncertainty and clouds on title, the preferred approach by the legislature and stakeholder groups like Michigan Realtors® was to pursue elimination of Michigan's arguably unconstitutional approach to Dower.

For those unfamiliar with Dower, upon the death of her husband, a wife is entitled to the use – during her lifetime – of 1/3 of all lands owned by her husband during the marriage.  It is important to note that Dower is an expectancy only, meaning that her rights only vest if a wife survives her husband.  As a practical matter, this right is rarely, if ever, exercised upon the death of a husband. Instead, a widow in Michigan has the alternative of electing a share of all of the property of her husband at the time of his death.  It is rarely the case that an interest in the income from one-third of real property he had owned would exceed that.

Ed. - So, what is Michigan left with after the old dower rights are repealed? Just like politicians at the national level, the Republican-led State Legislature in Michigan has repealed an existing law without providing any replacement. It may be argued that none is required due to protections provided to widows and women in general under other, more modern laws governing estates and probate and divorce and such, but only time will tell on that. The same legislature has been reluctant to deal with issues concerning non-traditional marriages, so it remains to be seen whether any new laws to protect the interests of partners in same-sex marriages will be needed or ever enacted, even if they are needed.