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posted: 7/18/2014 12:01 AM

More landlords, tenants take video as a precaution

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Some might find it "creepy," but there's a good reason why a growing number of owners and renters alike take a video recorder or similar device with them while visiting a property a few days before the scheduled move-in date.

Q. I was approved to rent a home, starting in August. I was surprised, though, that my new landlord followed me through the initial "walk-through" with a small video camera. She filmed everything, from the kitchen tiles I walked on to the bedroom where I will sleep. Isn't this sort of creepy?

A. Not really. A small but growing number of landlords are using camcorders or similar devices to document the physical condition of a home shortly before a tenant moves in. This often helps to avoid a lawsuit or other headaches when the tenant eventually moves out but the landlord wants to keep some or all of the initial security deposit to cover any damage that was caused during the tenancy.

Savvy tenants can do the same thing. If you do, take wide shots that show each room in its entirety, then zoom in for close-ups on any defects -- such as a water stain on the ceiling, a cracked tile in the bathroom or an ill-fitting cabinet door in the kitchen. It's best if the images are stamped with the time and date they were taken.

Send a copy of the video or photos you take to your new landlord so you each have documentation of the home's condition when you moved in. It'll lessen the chances of a dispute when you move out and improve your chances of getting most or all of your security deposit back.

Q. My husband and I really like the tips you have been giving over the past several months about when the best sales deals for household items are offered. We saved about $200 by purchasing our new plasma TV after the "Super Bowl specials" were over in February, and another $400 or so by delaying our purchase of a new bedroom mattress until the Memorial Day sales began in May. So, what are the best things to buy in July?

A. First, thank you for your compliment. I'm glad that my advice saved you money.

Furniture is one of your best bets this month, experts at bargain-hunting website Offers.com say, as retailers cut prices to move inventory before new styles arrive in late summer or early fall. As a bonus, some of those retailers are offering up to five years of zero-interest financing for major purchases.

This also is a good time to buy relatively small household tools, such as drills or handheld power saws, in part because stores want to clear out those items that didn't sell even after prices were discounted for Father's Day last month. But larger power tools, like standup circular saws, are cheaper in November, because home-improvement stores don't want to pay for the cost of warehousing them over the winter.

As in June, it's still fairly easy to find discounts of 25 percent or more on outdoor items, including patio furniture and barbecue grills. But again, you'll likely see even deeper price cuts a month or two from now, as retailers try to winnow their stock as the outdoor cooking season comes to an end.

Finally -- though it's not really a real estate issue but can seriously impact your household budget if you have kids -- you'll likely save money if you delay your back-to-school purchases for another month or so. A recent study by money-saving website NerdWallet.com found that 90 percent of pens, paper and even backpacks last year were cheaper in August than in July.

You'll save even more on many items you purchase if you live in one of the 15 states that offer "sales-tax holidays" in August, when no state taxes are levied on various retail purchases. A list of those states and the items that will be offered tax-free can be found at the website operated by the nonprofit Federation of Tax Administrators, www.taxadmin.org.

Q. Is there a difference between a real estate "mediator" and a real estate "arbitrator?"

A. Yes. Though both mediation and arbitration can be a cheaper and timesaving alternative to filing a formal lawsuit over a dispute, there are some major differences between the two.

A mediator usually doesn't have any legal authority to render a binding decision. Instead, he or she works with the two bickering parties in an attempt to cobble together an informal agreement that both find mutually acceptable.

An arbitrator, on the other hand, works more like a judge (many are retired justices). The arbitrator hears both parties' arguments, listens to witnesses who may be involved and reviews any evidence that is presented. The decision he or she renders is legally binding, and the result often is entered into public records.

Real estate trivia: More than $550 billion is spent each year to educate our nation's elementary and high-school students, the nonpartisan Federal Education Budget Project reports, with an average annual per-student cost of $10,658 -- most of it financed by real estate property taxes rather than state agencies or the federal government.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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