Real Estate Open Houses Are Business Affairs In 2006

The last couple of years public open houses were cursory in most markets as homes sold before the advertised date. Listing agents used them to prospect for new clients and let curious neighbors and too-little-too-late buyers see what could have been. Not so in 2006. Softening sales and rising inventories of available homes have made public open houses the bread and butter this year in residential real estate marketing.Spring’s arrival kicks off the largest annual exchange of residential real estate in the United States. Open houses are as much a part of this ritual as cherry blossoms, your Saturday or Sunday best and freshly mowed grass.

Who will you expect to see flocking to these business affairs held to market private homes? New real estate agents trying to see inventory or experienced ones with clients or previewing homes for time-starved ones, nosy neighbors, those looking for decorating tips, trends or nightmares and course the proverbial real estate groupies who make an event of seeing how the rest of the world lives. Oh yes, and the occasional real thing; a homebuyer. The real thing are hard to come by at public open houses as less than five percent of all homes are sold at public open houses according to industry sources. Mark Nash author of 1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home offers do’s and don’ts for those planning to attend public open houses in 2006.

Do’s

-Expect to be asked to sign in and show identification. Even with do-not-call realty agents and property owners want to know that they’re safe during open houses. If you don’t want to sign in which can create a relationship where an agent can follow-up from an open house, than be prepared to show identification. There has been a rise in crimes against real estate agents in recent years and safety is a number one priority with them.

-Observe starting and ending times. If you run early wait outside until the designated starting time. From experience I can tell you home sellers are frantic preparing and vacating their home before a public open house. If you arrive at the very end of an open house don’t be surprised if the hosting agent can’t wait an additional fifteen minutes after hours. They most likely have another appointment after and week-end days are their busiest, especially in spring.

-Wipe your shoes before entering a home. Many a homebuyer never made it to the kitchen after walking across freshly cleaned carpet with dirty shoes.

-Do leave wet umbrella, bicycles and helmets outside. These items should be parked outside the front door, not on hardwood floors or entry tables and chairs.

-Be prepared, do wear socks or stockings. No sandals, period. If you are asked to remove your shoes, owners don’t necessarily want your bare feet on their floors.

-Omit questions related to neighborhood safety. Real estate agents under Federal Fair Housing Laws are not allowed to answer these types of questions, as their answer could be construed as discrimination. Call the local police department for statistics.

-Put cigarettes, cigars and pipes out of view. Discard and extinguish appropriately before entering any home.

-Feel free to open cabinets and closets. Homeowners and realty agents expect open house guests to investigate built-in cabinets and closets, built-in being the key word. If your in doubt remember built-in yes, otherwise no. In doubt ask the host or hostess.

-Ask before taking pictures. If you need to take some photos, do, but limit to overview photos and not every detail such as the insides of kitchen cabinets. Pick up the listing sheet for additional information. Ask if there is a virtual tour available on the Internet.

-Respect others property. Don’t sit down, turn the television on and watch the ball game unless your invited. Close up garages if you found them that way. Don’t turn air-conditioning on or off unless asked. If you want to see the amount of natural light ask the host or hostess to turn lights down or off.

Don’ts

-Gossip about the property when you’re in it. Decorating style, property condition and personal photos might prompt you to make unfavorable comments. Save them for later.

-Don’t bring coffee into open houses.Coffee is easily spilled on carpets when walking up stairs or opening closets and cabinets when touring properties. Ditto all beverages.

-Turn cell phones to vibrate. If you need to make or receive a call go to a place where you won’t disturb others at the open house. Never negotiate a home purchase contract on a different property contract while your viewing a home.

-Bring too many people with you. Leave the children, your ten closest friends and your fourth cousins at home. You’ll keep focused on evaluating the property with less distractions and obligatory entertaining.

-No pets. Period. Except seeing-eye dogs. Many people today are allergic and afraid of strange dogs, even if they are the love of your life.

-Don’t ask to use the bathroom unless an emergency. Homeowners don’t want strangers using their bathrooms. Don’t ask to change diapers and don’t arrive with a soiled one to through in some strangers kitchen garbage.

-Arrive intoxicated. Open houses are business events, would you go to the office in that condition?

-Wear high-heel shoes. Spiked heels on shoes can easily dent bamboo and other softer wood floors. Plus if you get into the yard to take a look at the roof you might end up aerating the lawn.

-Present verbal offers. In most states offers to purchase are only enforceable in writing. Besides you might be tipping your hand in front of another interested party.

The Dojo Is Dead

Although typical martial arts programs are a great discipline and sport, some of them are arguably of little benefit in successfully preparing someone to deal with real-life violence. Almost 100% of them do not put Use of Force into an easily understandable legal model for civilians. None of them seem to grasp the big picture of personal safety post 9-11. The Dojo is dead. So are traditional martial arts programs. They just don’t know it yet.

An estimate 20 million American took part in some form of Martial Arts last year. About half are adults. Most of them are between the ages of 18-34 years old with an average household income of 65K, and most likely college educated. The most popular martial arts in the United States are generally considered to be karate, and its many variations, and judo, and its many variations. One of the most popular martial arts in the world, including the United States, is not even considered a martial art by most Americans. It is called Tai Chi. The average price today for martial arts instruction is approximately $125 a month around the country but some schools or instructors charge $300-$400 a month for group lessons and others have been known to generate thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars in a seminar setting. There are many excellent school located throughout the world.

Crime

According to many crime surveys and crime data collection sources, United States residents age 12 or older have approximately an 8% chance of being a victim of any crime in a country of approximately 320 million people. These statistics are probably low, since there is much crime that goes unreported.

• About 77% are property crimes.

• About 22% are crimes of violence, defined as Homicide, Robbery, Assault & Sexual Assault.

• In 24% of the incidents of violent crime, a weapon was present. With a population of approximately 320 million, your chances of being a victim of violent crime are about 1-2%.

Criminals need certain things in order to be successful. If they cannot get those things from you, they will move on to someone else.

Drug Use

Statistically, we know that drug and alcohol use increase the risk of violence. Forty nine percent of all State prison inmates reported that they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol or both at the time they committed the offense for which they were currently sentenced.

The US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Applied Studies, reports:

• Approximately 7-10% of Americans aged 12 or older were current (past month) illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview.

• The estimated number of persons aged 12 or older needing treatment for an illicit drug is about 10 million.

• The estimated number of persons aged 12 or older needing treatment for an alcohol is about 20 million.

Are you aware of the signs of drug use or the con games addicts play in order to take advantage of people?

Prisons and the Criminal Justice System

From a U.S. prison study by the bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons: Within three years of their release, 67% of former prisoners are rearrested and 52% are re-incarcerated. This recidivism rate calls into question the effectiveness of America’s corrections system, which costs taxpayers $60 billion a year. What can we learn from these statistics?

The Criminal Justice System in the United States does not work. It is broken. Presumably, the greatest risk for personal violence comes from those who are candidates for incarceration, and there is close to an even chance they will be under the influence at the time of their offense.

Public Mass Shootings

Public Mass Shootings are increasing, and have been for quite some time. A quick internet search will provide the grisly details of church, school, mall and workplace violence incidents.

There have been a plethora of deranged shootings on religious institutional premises in the last decade. These incidents highlight the need for religious organizations to recognize the realities of the world we live in. Religious organizations are not immune to being sued. The First Amendment will provide limited protection for organizations to believe what they want, but do not give them protection to do, or not do, any action they want. Currently, tort actions against churches generally seek large sums of money, and courts are much more willing to entertain legal actions against the church than they were even a decade ago. A church can be sued for any reason. Lawsuits cause major disruptions, cost a considerable amount to defend, and invite publicity. Every religious institution worldwide is vulnerable to these types of attacks, given the current geopolitical climate. There are strategies available that are able to reduce risk and liability of these organizations, both large and small. There is a certain amount of irony in the theological stand many Faiths take on the sanctity of life, yet are unwilling to dedicate resources to protect their own congregations.

Schools are not immune from liability and have not escaped the madness.

• Physical attacks without a weapon, theft or larceny, and vandalism are much more common in schools than are the more serious incidents. Forty-four percent to forty-nine percent of all schools reported crimes of these types to the authorities.

• Fights or attacks with a weapon are more common in middle schools. 21% of middle school/junior high schools reported these incidents for an estimated 7,576 incidents.

• Students aged twelve through eighteen were victims of more than 2.7 million total crimes at school.

• Youth are far more likely to be victimized by violence than to commit violence.

• Students were two times more likely to be victims of serious violent crime away from school as at school.

• Nearly five percent of students aged twelve through eighteen reported that they had been bullied at school in the last six months. In general, females were as likely as males to report being bullied.

• About fifteen percent of students in grades nine through twelve reported being in a physical fight on school property.

• Almost one in five students reported being threatened with a beating, and again this was a more common experience for middle school students (22%) than for high school students (16%).

• On average, each year there are 133,700 violent crimes against teachers at school and 217,400 thefts from teachers at school, reported by teachers from both public and private schools.

• Seven percent of schools or an estimated 6,451 schools reported at least one incident of physical attack or fight with a weapon to law enforcement personnel during one school year.
Additionally, there are a number of horrific workplace and shopping mall shootings that appear to be increasing in numbers and frequency.

• Half of employers with 1,000 or more employees in the United States had an incident of workplace violence within the 12 months prior to completing a new survey on workplace violence prevention, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in The Survey of Workplace Violence Prevention, released October 27, 2006.

• While 5 percent of all establishments, including state and local governments, had a violent incident, half of the largest establishments (employing 1,000 or more workers) reported an incident. In these largest establishments, the most prevalent type of incident was co-worker (34.1 percent), followed by a customer or client (28.3 percent), domestic violence (24.1 percent), and criminal (17.2 percent).

• More than 28 percent of respondents with 250 to 999 employees said they had an incident of workplace violence in the last year.

• Of all establishments reporting an incident of workplace violence in the previous 12 months, 21 percent reported that the incident affected the fear level of their employees and twenty-one percent indicated that the incident affected their employees’ morale.

• Over 70 percent of United States workplaces have no formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence.

Research into mass shooting reveals a number of interesting traits amongst mass shooters; one of which is – they always have a “tell” (as in a poker game) that is evident before violence erupts. Would you know what to look for?

Agency & Corporate Liability

There are OSHA guidelines regarding Violence in the Workplace that are generally unenforceable. However, when it comes to personal safety any corporate entity can be held liable for not addressing worker safety concerns.

Negligence is defined as a party’s failure to exercise the prudence and care that a reasonable person would exercise in similar circumstances to prevent injury to another party. Generally, the plaintiff is these cases must prove the following in order to be awarded restitution, compensation or reparations for their losses:

• That the defendant had a duty of care;

• That the defendant failed to uphold this duty;

• That this negligence led to the plaintiff’s injury or death;

• The actual damages that were caused by the injury.

Gross negligence is usually understood to involve an act or omission in reckless disregard of the consequences affecting the life or property of another.

Example: Several employees of a company have formally complained to management about being approached by strangers in the parking ramp. Nobody takes any proactive action. Eventually, an employee of the company is sexually assaulted in the parking ramp. Is the company liable?

Terrorism

The National Counterterrorism Center, a U.S. intelligence clearinghouse issued a report in 2010. Among their findings:

• Approximately 11,000 terrorist attacks occurred in 83 countries during 2009, resulting in over 58,000 victims, including nearly 15,000 fatalities. Attacks decreased by about six percent in 2009 and deaths by about 5 percent. This marks the second consecutive year for declines of both attacks and fatalities. Unlike the preceding four years where the Near East witnessed the greatest number of attacks, the largest number of reported terrorist attacks in 2009 occurred in South Asia, which also had, for the second consecutive year, the greatest number of fatalities. Together, South Asia and the Near East were the locations for almost two-thirds of the 234 high-casualty attacks (those that killed 10 or more people) in 2009.

• Most attacks in 2009 were perpetrated by terrorists applying conventional fighting methods such as armed attacks, bombings, and kidnappings. Drawing on the lessons learned from the Mumbai attack in 2008, Sunni extremist elements used suicidal militia style attacks in numerous large scale attacks in 2009. Terrorists continued their practice of coordinated attacks that included secondary attacks on first responders at attack sites; they also continued to reconfigure weapons and other materials to create improvised explosive devices, and used women and children to evade security counter-measures.

• Almost 48,000 individuals worldwide were either killed or injured by terrorist attacks in 2009. Based upon a combination of reporting and demographic analysis of the countries involved, well over 50 percent of the victims were Muslims, and most were victims of Sunni extremist attacks in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

• Open source reporting largely identifies victims as civilians – approximately two-thirds of almost 48,000 killed or injured. As such, the fidelity of victim types is difficult to obtain, but the fragmented reporting on it does yield some insights about the demographics of these victims. Police officers were a favored terrorist target, accounting for 14 percent of the total killed and wounded in 2009. Government officials, employees and contractors killed and wounded from terrorist attacks doubled from 2008 and accounted for five percent of the total victims.

The US homegrown terrorist, defined as someone who is a terrorist operative that is a U.S. person, and is radicalized in the United States – is a growing threat.

It is relatively easy to disrupt major delivery systems of services in major cities through simple acts of sabotage. If that actually happens, there is likely to be a shutdown of transportation routes and delivery of basic services, including communications, food, water and gasoline. How long would it be before there is widespread panic, chaos and public unrest? How would you react to that?

Natural Disasters

The economic and death toll from natural disasters are on the rise. It is arguable as to whether we are experiencing more natural disasters than decades ago. It is more likely whatever increases have been noted are due to more people living in more areas, and better equipment and methods of detection. Between 1975 and 1996, natural disasters worldwide cost 3 million lives and affected at least 800 million others (Noji). In the United States, damage caused by natural hazards costs close to one billion dollars per week.

According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, from 2000 to 2009:

• Nearly 4,000 disasters were recorded.

• More than 780,000 people were killed.

• More than two billion people were affected.

• Economic losses were an estimated USD 960 billion.

Remember the California earthquake in 1989? Public safety officials along with citizens did an outstanding job responding to the destruction. Lives were saved. Contrast that to hurricane Katrina, in which public safety officials and emergency response teams were basically frozen and ineffective.

The Katrina disaster was due to several factors; poor planning throughout the years, the nature of the event, poor coordination between agencies. Katrina serves to reinforce the misguided belief of safety through government.

Now imagine for a moment that there was appropriate emergency planning for New Orleans being under water in the event those levees broke down and flooded for whatever reason. It should have looked something like this:

• If the levees did break, vehicles would be inoperable, and people would be stranded. This leaves boats and helicopters as the rationale alternatives to disseminate emergency supplies and to provide rescue efforts.

• An emergency shelter (the dome) is designated as such, and food and water stockpiles are within quick logistical reach.

• Emergency personnel are given response stations and locations.

• Police, fire and state resources are coordinated with several types of contingency plans using many scenarios.

• Coordination with federal officials is a crap-shoot for any state; take it if you can get it but don’t count on it.

With Katrina everyone is quick to point the finger at the federal government. Granted, the response was terrible, but what had the state and local government done to plan for what seemed to be inevitable? Had individual residents considered taking personal steps to protect their families with something as simple as an inflatable raft along with some extra food and water?

Evil

Human beings will do unbelievable things to each other that can only be explained and described as evil. The nature of evil is such that it pretends to embrace the good notions of negotiation, love, generosity, and passivity. In reality evil takes those things and manipulates them for its own selfish desires.

Evil understands only one thing; an overwhelming amount of power – and that comes through education, preparation and training.

M. Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Traveled: “Having suggested that laziness is the original sin and that laziness in the form of our own sick self might even be the devil, it is relevant to round out the picture by making some remarks about the nature of evil. The problem of evil is perhaps the greatest of all theological problems. Yet, as with so many other “religious” issues, the science of psychology has acted, with a few minor exceptions, as if evil did not exist. First, I have come to conclude that evil is real. It is not some figment of the imagination of a primitive religious mind feebly attempting to explain the unknown. There really are people, and institutions made up of people, who respond with hatred in the presence of goodness and would destroy the good insofar as it is in their power to do so. They do this not with conscious malice but blindly, lacking awareness of their own evil – indeed, seeking to avoid any such awareness. As has been described of the devil in religious literature, they hate the light and instinctively will do anything to avoid it, including attempting to extinguish it. They will destroy the light in their own children and in all other beings subject to their power. Evil people hate light because it reveals their badness; they hate love because it reveals their laziness. They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self-awareness.”

This was written many years ago. Long before sitting Presidents routinely used the word “evil” in describing various actions of governments around the world. Dr. Peck’s description of the underlying theological roots of violence is food for thought.

How does the average person respond to evil?

Summary

The topics presented above are just a sampling of things that can affect your personal safety.

Perception is everything; it is our reality. As long as we think government, law enforcement and public safety officials will keep us safe we will walk through life acting that way. That perception is nowhere near reality, and Americans are experts at denial. Government, law enforcement and public safety professionals have accomplished much good, even as many politicians have. But they are all bureaucracies that are slow to act; like a thudding giant. They are incapable of protecting many people from violence despite their best efforts. It is just too massive a task. Particularly in the face of gangs, criminals and terror organizations that are nimble and quick in their ability to make decisions, change tactics and hide amongst the masses.

Government officials, law enforcement and public safety officials are rarely present when violence strikes. Violence, by its nature, is unexpected and swift. The average duration of a typical violent encounter is less than 2 minutes. In a survey of 63 cities in the United States, conducted by the International City/County Municipal Association, (a professional and educational organization for municipal administrators) the average response time of police was 6 minutes and 15 seconds. You do the math. By the time these well-intended protectors show up the damage is already done.

As you can see from the material presented here, there are a large number of issues that can affect your personal safety. If you are a martial arts student, you already know your Dojo does not address 90% of what you just read here.

And that is the reality of the world we live in today.

Traditionally, someone concerned about these issues might take a self defense course, attend a seminar, scour the Internet for information, buy a topical book, enroll in a martial arts course or contract services with a security firm. None of these options will adequately prepare an individual or organization to fully come to terms with the threats outlined in this article because we live in a different world.

There are numerous programs, seminars and training opportunities dealing with violence that are available to government officials, criminal justice personnel and military professionals. Very few of these programs are available to private citizens and families, private communities and business, or religious and civic organizations. They remain the most vulnerable.

The Solution

It is now possible for vulnerable groups and individuals to be educated, empowered, and prepared with the necessary skills to successfully mitigate unexpected disasters, threats and violence. The information is available, and there are plenty of professionals like myself who are more than willing to share this information with others.

Many countries have required military training and mandatory service for their citizens. For a complete list, please visit this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_service

I do not advocate conscription (the compulsory enrollment of people to some sort of public service), but I do whole-heartedly endorse private regional training centers that offer civilians the opportunity to learn about self preservation, protection and personal safety from a holistic approach. I’m not so sure martial arts skills will help the average person who is trying to figure out how to feed their family after a natural disaster. Will martial arts be valuable when the con-man tries to get you involved in a ponzi-scheme? Will a good side-kick protect you from identity theft? Will a brachial stun help you figure out the legal ramifications of a workplace violence plan?

The Dojo, as we know it, is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet.

Child Pornography and the Internet

In our internet age, more and more often, charges of child pornography are filed stemming from internet downloads form websites and newsgroups. Many of these downloads are unintentional and come in bulk transfers. This often occurs with file share programs like Limewire, MP3 Rocket and other programs of that nature that are freely available for download. A person seeking to download only music files may find themselves with images or videos that they did not anticipate. For example, a search for the rock group “Sex Pistols” generally will recover results that include files of sex related photographs. With the shareware programs, those files cannot be viewed until downloaded. Once they are downloaded, they may be indelibly etched into your computer’s hard drive. That is true even if they are erased. Such downloads, however, do not necessarily support an “intent” to possess child pornography. The same can be said of bulk downloads form newsgroups such as those hosted by Google, MSN and Yahoo. Downloading bulk attachments or zipped files may yield the same result.

At trial, the prosecution will use as evidence temporary internet files which are unintentional saved on computers with names that the prosecution will argue depict underage people in sexual acts. Sites with titles such as “barely legal” or “lolita” will undoubtedly be used as evidence even though those sites may depict completely legal images. As a result, a person accused of such crimes will require a lawyer well versed in the intricacies of the internet and how such temporary files may be unintentionally transferred to computer records.

Under Minnesota Statutes, it is a felony to possess any undeveloped film, photographic negative, photograph, motion picture, videotape, or other recording of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct if all of the following apply:

The person knows that he or she possesses the material;

The person knows the character and content of the sexually explicit conduct in the material.
The person knows or reasonably should know that the child engaged in sexually explicit conduct has not attained the age of 18 years.

In the internet context, often the strongest defense is that the person accused did not have the requisite “intent.” In other words, the person possessing the material did not know that he/she possessed it, did not know the character of the material possessed or did not know that the pornographic material involved minors. This is often the case where multiple images downloaded from web sites come bundled together or where information is automatically downloaded to a computer with computer software from newsgroups or other unscreened public areas.

A person convicted of child pornography or other “serious child sex offenses” may not subsequently engage in any occupation or participate in any volunteer position that requires him or her to work or interact primarily and directly with children under 16 years of age.

Defenses

Do Not Make Statements. Obviously, the best defense begins before a defendant is ever charged. Often, in a misguided attempt to help law enforcement, defendants make statements that are twisted and turned into prosecutorial evidence. It is important to remember not to allow yourself be interviewed government agencies without an attorney present.

Any interview will be sent to the police and the county attorney’s office and can be used against you. An obvious corollary is do not let yourself be interviewed again by the police without your attorney present.

Computerized Evidence. Internet child pornography is a growing offense across the nation. Often files can be downloaded to a computer without the user knowing the content of the download. In such cases the electronic file will often include tell tale electronic evidence about the file, where it came from and its date of download. Using this evidence or challenging law enforcement’s sloppy investigation and acquisition of potentially exculpatory information is the best way for a defense lawyer to prove actual innocence.

Examine Prosecution Expert’s Background. An important part of every case is the ability to counter the reports and testimony of computer professionals, caseworkers and “experts” who examine pornographic evidence. To effectively counter a prosecution expert, the defense attorney must be well educated on the expert’s education, work history, published works and testimony in prior cases.

Use a Polygraph. When it is advantageous to the defense against a sexual assault, defense attorneys should obtain a credible polygraph examination from a respected professionals.

Your Lawyers

Our attorneys defend against sexual assault allegations throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. We have developed a unique understanding of the dynamics of these very serious cases. Our competent, aggressive and thorough representation have made Maury D. Beaulier a leading criminal defense attorney in dealing with sex and pornography related criminal charges.

Defending in these areas is a very specialized area of criminal defense. Unfortunately, the very accusations themselves are often treated as conclusive proof of criminal activity. If we are retained at an early stage in the investigation, we are sometimes able to avoid charges altogether. At a minimum we are often able to avoid the trauma and embarrassment of our client being arrested at home or at the workplace by contacting law enforcement and the court in order to make the necessary arrangements.