User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: I Just Want to Wet My Beak

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I Just Want to Wet My Beak

In Godfather II, when the young Vito Corleone who was getting his family business started with a dress-stealing racket, the local Moustache Pete comes along and tells him that he doesn't want much, all he wants is to wet his beak.  Pay me, or I'll go to the cops and you will be done.  In New Jersey today, thanks to rules set by the state and others, there is a whole lot of beak-wetting going on.  That's one reason why it is so expensive to get anything done here. 
I want to wet my beak in Godfather-speak means that I want my cut.  Sadly, this practice occurs not just in the fictional world of the Mafia film series, but also in everyday New Jersey business life.  That's one reason why it is so expensive for businesses to operate here.

Take real estate for instance.  Here a whole flock of vultures are out to take a drink, ultimately at the home buyer's expense.  First, you have the real estate commission, which is built into the price of the house.  This expense is expected, because after all, the agent is not going to work for free.  Then you have the mortgage application fee, the appraisal fee, the mortgage points, the paperwork processing fee, the fee for your attorney, the title search and title insurance fees, the fee for the termite and radon inspections, the fee for the engineering inspection, the fee for the municipal inspection as well as the fees to the contractors for remedying the problems found by all these inspectors.  After paying all these fees, you can be out as much as $20,000 on a typical house.

Much of what you are paying is required by somebody - the bank, the state, the municipality, etc., and a lot of it is mandated on the premise that you, as the buyer, cannot be trusted to make rational decisions on your own without help from the experts.  After all, if you didn't get the "benefit" of paying all the inspection and appraisal fees, you may just go out and buy a bug infested house complete with deadly radon gas, that is overpriced and has numerous structural defects.  Oh gosh!  That would be terrible!

I remember spending my teenage years in Lawrence Township located to the west from Route 1, near the Lawrence Shopping Center.  As all you geology experts know, Route 1 was built on an old beach, this location was picked for the roadway because it is relatively flat.  It also is the approximate demarcation line between the part of the state that sat under water back in the dinosaur days when temperatures were a lot warmer, and the part of the state that was always above water.

If you go to the west of Route 1, you are standing on what is the remnants of a mountain range, that was created over a billion years ago.  As evidence of this, there is a layer of sandstone located a few feet below the surface.  This is where the sandstone for locally-built brownstone houses came from when they were built in the 19th century.  At that time, there were several quarries operating, including one in Hopewell Township that is now used as the Quarry Swim Club.

By the way, I'm not an expert in all things, I just sound like one.  I have to give credit for this tidbit to my 9th grade earth science teacher who told us about the local geology.  Because he was able to localize what would otherwise be a pretty dry subject for a special-ed kid in junior high, he was able to hold the class's interest.  The fact that I remember the story is proof of it.

Contained below the ground in the formerly mountainous part of New Jersey is some radium ore.  This ore was mined in the past and used to make glassware that glowed in the dark as well as paint for watch dials.  These products went away when it became common knowledge that the radiation from radium can cause cancer which will kill you.  Not only that, but it became common knowledge in the 1980s that radium in the soil breaks down into radon gas, which will fill your house and eventually kill you over time.

It just so happens that the Slackwood section of Lawrence Township is a ground zero for radon exposure.  Apparently, there is radium in the rock under the houses, which seeps into the basements and can potentially cause cancer in the people who occupy homes there.  I grew up in one of those homes in the 1970s and have suffered no ill effects.  My mom, brother and sisters also do not have cancer.  My stepfather died of cancer, but did not have cancer of the lung, so the radon probably did not do him in.

I always thought Slackwood was a fairly good area.  When I moved there from Copperfield Estates in Hamilton Twp. in 1969, I believed I was going to where the rich people lived, and they were indeed better off than the people around Yardville.  So it was a desirable place to live, at least to the discovery of radon. 

I have a real estate license and remember showing a house on Harding Ave. in the early 2000s.  In the basement was a bunch of pipes on the ceiling.  The customer asked "What's the deal?".  I noticed one of the pipes had an arrow on it and writing which said "radon".  I told him the house has radon and was remediated.  That killed the sale.

Never mind people lived in this area for decades when nobody knew about radon and most of them were happy with their experience and never got sick.  Through a twist of fate, somebody discovered a remote health risk of living there and now people don't want to go there.  The government also uses it as an excuse to extort money out of home buyers so they can know of the risk.  (May I ask what is the benefit to anyone except the people who inspect for and remediate radon).  After all you can die from a piece of space junk hitting you on the head when walking down the street, and that is only slightly less likely than dying of radon exposure while living in North Jersey.

I bought a rental property in Trenton in 1985 and did not get the "benefit" of being extorted by the benevolent town and mortgage company.  At the time I was selling real estate on a semi-full-time basis and was a man in the know.  I wanted a cheap place to live because I wanted to buy a home but really couldn't afford one.  So I hooked up with a Mr. Brophy who was a drunk who was getting divorced from his wife.  Mr. Brophy's father left him about a dozen rental homes in Trenton and he needed to sell them right away to settle the divorce.

I got to buy a single-family home on Tyler St.from him for the princely sum of $15,000.  At the time Trenton did not have a city inspection program.  I bought the home with $1,000 down, plus attorney's fees and title insurance.  I took a 5-year mortgage for $14,000 from the owner and did not have to pay points, application fees or any of that jazz.  I also did not have to get the place inspected to satisfy the mortgage company.  Total out of pocket cost $1,800, which I paid from money I saved when I had a paper route in high school.

I still have the house today.  It has returned several times the original purchase price.  I am a happy camper.  Of course the place was trashed when I \bought it.  (It was a slum property, it was supposed to be trashed.)

Sad thing is, today this would not be legally possible.  The mayor wants to "protect" renters from exploitative landlords.  So there is a city inspection program.  When you buy a house it is inspected and violations have to be fixed before you can take possession.  Also, you must get it inspected every time you want to re-rent it.  You have to make repairs each time to satisfy the law.  Here's a bit of common sense.  If you are a tenant and feel your house is a bad deal, try moving or renting somewhere else.  Makes too much sense, doesn't it.

Who does this serve?  You, the home buyer know you are buying a slum property that needs work.  You, the tenant know you plan on moving into a slum property that needs work.  This program only serves to line the pockets of the city which charges for the inspections and the pockets of the contractors who make sham repairs to satisfy the requirements of the inspectors.

The end result is that it is not possible to legally sell or rent many homes in the city because they need too many repairs.   That's why there are so many vacant properties.  That's why many people simply ignore the law.  There are people who advertise that they will buy homes immediately without repairs.  They pay a steep discount from what the building is actually worth.  They then rent the property out, often without doing any work.

That's the way it is in New Jersey, the Extortion State.  Politicians pass stupid laws to protect people from themselves, then help their fellow travelers in the private sector reep huge profits from work they would not have otherwise gotten  if it wasn't all for the "protective" legislation designed to protect people from remote or nonexistant threats.

Let us protect ourselves on our own and save us a bunch of money.  Makes too much sense doesn't it.

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