Thursday, April 2, 2015

Where We're Moving, Pt. 2

Here are more housing statistics for Western Pennsylvania, with sales and prices broken down by school district:

2014 2013

By School District Sales Avg Value Sales Avg Value Sales Chg Avg Value Chg
Aliquippa 71 $62,361 76 $57,993 -6.6% 7.5%
Allegheny Valley 99 $157,131 89 $122,405 11.2% 28.4%
Ambridge 299 $128,260 311 $154,672 -3.9% -17.1%
Apollo-Ridge 60 $82,341 58 $86,104 3.4% -4.4%
Armstrong 215 $102,622 188 $90,959 14.4% 12.8%
Avonworth 185 $274,449 159 $244,501 16.4% 12.2%
Baldwin-Whitehall 385 $132,011 469 $131,371 -17.9% 0.5%
Bethel Park 413 $171,896 409 $171,224 1.0% 0.4%
Burrell 140 $133,042 111 $127,888 26.1% 4.0%
Butler 452 $147,098 478 $141,891 -5.4% 3.7%
Carlynton 130 $130,022 157 $128,481 -17.2% 1.2%
Chartiers Valley 432 $175,336 410 $172,673 5.4% 1.5%
Clairton 47 $32,329 44 $31,023 6.8% 4.2%
Cornell 76 $82,959 78 $78,924 -2.6% 5.1%
Deer Lakes 175 $172,546 147 $160,545 19.0% 7.5%
Derry Area 113 $116,950 117 $111,175 -3.4% 5.2%
Duquesne City 20 $36,790 29 $20,550 -31.0% 79.0%
Elizabeth Forward 145 $112,841 164 $114,926 -11.6% -1.8%
Fox Chapel 353 $337,468 358 $359,621 -1.4% -6.2%
Franklin Regional 247 $225,375 323 $257,175 -23.5% -12.4%
Freedom Area 89 $155,936 87 $145,322 2.3% 7.3%
Freeport 92 $175,346 99 $195,807 -7.1% -10.4%
Gateway 304 $134,418 295 $132,903 3.1% 1.1%
Greensburg-Salem 243 $116,819 219 $126,081 11.0% -7.3%
Hempfield Area 481 $175,170 476 $159,924 1.1% 9.5%
Highlands 178 $102,822 185 $77,678 -3.8% 32.4%
Jeannette City 76 $82,632 91 $68,374 -16.5% 20.9%
Karns City 51 $130,796 50 $105,357 2.0% 24.1%
Keystone Oaks 235 $126,946 250 $125,768 -6.0% 0.9%
Kiski 242 $124,549 242 $111,447 0.0% 11.8%
Leechburg 52 $80,895 52 $76,018 0.0% 6.4%
Mars Area 363 $370,742 301 $363,451 20.6% 2.0%
McKeesport 200 $63,918 212 $57,880 -5.7% 10.4%
Moniteau 35 $112,127 33 $137,709 6.1% -18.6%
Montour 294 $167,973 327 $161,538 -10.1% 4.0%
Moon Area 379 $220,600 370 $207,125 2.4% 6.5%
Mount Lebanon 465 $257,820 493 $255,794 -5.7% 0.8%
New Kensington/Arnold 171 $73,937 138 $63,072 23.9% 17.2%
North Allegheny 671 $304,155 705 $285,266 -4.8% 6.6%
North Hills 514 $156,365 522 $152,025 -1.5% 2.9%
Northgate 130 $98,866 137 $90,103 -5.1% 9.7%
Norwin 302 $164,309 363 $173,209 -16.8% -5.1%
Penn Hills 479 $82,027 497 $69,581 -3.6% 17.9%
Penn-Trafford 272 $189,119 284 $191,059 -4.2% -1.0%
Pine/Richland 311 $416,038 316 $376,795 -1.6% 10.4%
Pittsburgh City 2750 $182,229 2794 $165,302 -1.6% 10.2%
Quaker Valley 196 $432,721 223 $363,976 -12.1% 18.9%
Riverview 77 $172,333 78 $186,979 -1.3% -7.8%
Seneca Valley 669 $289,968 725 $281,623 -7.7% 3.0%
Shaler 424 $146,300 423 $137,290 0.0% 6.6%
Slippery Rock Area 100 $187,121 110 $170,691 -9.1% 9.6%
South Allegheny 97 $61,051 96 $52,340 1.0% 16.6%
South Butler 144 $211,917 121 $231,459 19.0% -8.4%
South Fayette 216 $199,477 206 $197,734 4.9% 0.9%
Steel Valley 106 $76,337 118 $72,253 -10.2% 5.7%
Sto Rox 76 $48,699 91 $39,492 -16.5% 23.3%
Upper St. Clair 278 $317,789 270 $325,604 3.0% -2.4%
West Allegheny 254 $186,391 256 $184,311 -0.8% 1.1%
West Jefferson Hills 236 $185,328 250 $182,710 -5.6% 1.4%
West Mifflin 211 $85,300 183 $84,896 15.3% 0.5%
Wilkinsburg 82 $88,062 108 $92,909 -24.1% -5.2%
Woodland Hills 460 $121,132 527 $110,673 -12.7% 9.5%
Yough 104 $102,213 105 $100,074 -1.0% 2.1%

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Where We're Moving, Pt. 1

Following is a breakdown of home sales data for Western Pennsylvania in 2014. More to follow:

2014 2013

By County Sales Avg Value Sales Avg Value Sales Chg Avg Value Chg
Allegheny 12898 $185,502 13302 $175,241 -3.0% 5.9%
East Allegheny 3499 $165,180 3742 $151,394 -6.5% 9.1%
North Allegheny 3791 $238,531 3843 $224,525 -1.4% 6.2%
North West Allegheny 1137 $190,093 1169 $179,197 -2.7% 6.1%
South Allegheny 3690 $159,575 3803 $155,475 -3.0% 2.6%
West Allegheny 781 $134,962 745 $135,491 4.8% -0.4%
Armstrong 376 $98,768 337 $91,107 11.6% 8.4%
Beaver 1606 $137,222 1709 $140,608 -6.0% -2.4%
Butler 1862 $249,931 1872 $241,175 -0.1% 3.6%
Washington 1843 $199,655 1822 $202,012 1.2% -1.2%
Westmoreland 3229 $148,988 3274 $153,359 -1.4% -2.9%
Total 21814 $181,743 22316 $175,825 -2.2% 3.4%

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Neighbors Issue

Neighbors. Can't live with 'em  - especially when they tear up the land.

As an agent, I've had my share of issues with both neighbors and water lately, so a recent decision of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court piqued my interest: Lake v. The Hankin Group, et al.

The Court held that if you live adjacent to a housing plan or other neighbor that causes stormwater runoff to damage and pollute your property with sediment due to construction, it is a continuing nuisance if it can't be reasonably predicted.

Beginning in 2003, after multiple breaches of a dammed pond, the homeowner in this case began to notice that with heavy rains, water from the housing plan next door would top the driveway they shared with other neighbors, and bring sediment with it.

The problem became worse; a channel where the water coursed down became choked with sediment, the water became chocolaty brown (I don't even want to think about that) and it tore up asphalt from the shared driveway.

The homeowners contacted the owner of the housing plan and the township following breaches of the Cairns Pond dam where the plan's stormwater collected, without success. It was only after sending Notice of Intent to Sue under the Pa. Clean Streams Law, Storm Water Management Act and federal Clean Water Act that the Department of Environmental Protection approved an action plan.

The housing plan's owners implemented the plan, and in November 2008, they declared the issue resolved.

Or was it?

The work only slowed the stormwater problem. It reduced the number of incidents to two in three years. However, it still required monitoring and shoveling out sediment from the channel. The homeowners could not predict when these incidents would occur. So they sued the current and former owners of the plan and the engineer that designed the plan.

The trial court threw out the complaint as being time-barred. There must have been procedural or discovery issues, because the homeowners filed their original complaint in 2009, and a second amended complaint adding the former owner of the housing plan in 2012.

Regardless, the trial court said the entire complaint was time-barred based on any of the two-, five- or six-year statutes of limitations in the Clean Streams Act because it was a permanent trespass instead of a continuing one.

The Commonwealth Court disagreed and ruled in favor of the homeowners. Judge Covey wrote: "Notwithstanding that there have been sediment deposits and some physical damage to the Driveway has occurred, the Lakes also complain of the ongoing potential safety concerns as well as damage caused by continuing, periodic intrusion of the large amounts of water onto their property, along with the additional sediment deposits."

With a continuing trespass, each new violation sets the clock running again, and the homeowners' lawsuits would have been timely.

The Court also held that the homeowners' neighbors, who owned the driveway in question, and over whose land the sediment-laden water flowed before it reached the driveway, were not "indispensable parties" to the suit and did not have to be included as plaintiffs.

Likewise, the Court ruled that the original owner of the plan and the engineer were proper parties to the suit, even though they had no ownership rights in the plan. The Court reasoned that since these parties dug the pond and built the dam, they were still liable.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Recent Decisions & A Recipe

Zoning Boards Must Make Applicant Aware of Decision Date

Landowners must be made aware of the mailing date of a zoning board's decision and given instructions for appeal, according to a June 7, 2013, decision of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

Schmader v. Cranberry Township Board of Supervisors arose out of a landowner's alleged operation of a business in a residential district. He received zoning enforcement orders, and appealed.

The township Zoning Board of Appeals turned him down on March 30, 2012, following a hearing. The landowner did not receive the decision until April 3, 2012, without any notice of the mailing date or the start of the appeal period.

The landowner filed an appeal to the Butler County Common Pleas Court on May 2, 2012, outside the 30 days set by state law to file an appeal, but timely if one measures that time period by the date of receipt of the decision.

The township and Zoning Board of Appeals filed motions to quash the appeal as untimely under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) and Judicial Code. The court granted the motions and quashed the appeal, stating the landowner failed to argue he suffered "an unconstitutional deprivation of due process," a requirement under Sec. 1002-A(a) of the MPC. This section also sets forth the 30-day appeal period.

The landowner appeal to the Commonwealth Court, arguing that it would be unfair for him to "guess" the mailing date, inasmuch as the notice of decision didn't contain one.

The Commonwealth Court reversed and remanded the case to Common Pleas Court for that very reason, citing a number of other cases where local government officials didn't put the mailing date, or any other date giving the applicant guidance as to appeal, on the letter.

Zoning boards cannot rely on a postmark in these cases, nor can they rely on the "unconstitutional deprivation of due process" language in the MPC. Landowners do not have to argue this before the common pleas court. The failure to provide a date certain is enough.

Veggie Burgers that Hold Together on the Grill!

 OK, here (after much trial and error) is a recipe for veggie burgers that will hold together on the grill:

1 cup dry brown lentils, cooked with veggie stock
8 oz. dry pasta, overcooked
2 cups quick cooking oatmeal
2 eggs
1 cup cheese shreds
1-1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs

Mix the cooked lentils, pasta and quick cooking oatmeal. Let the lentils and pasta cool before adding the eggs and cheese. Mix in breadcrumbs, add salt and pepper to taste. I use garlic salt. This mixture will be extremely sticky, but that is the point. These won't crumble and fall through the grates. Form patties and cook.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Real estate agents are always advised to leave the legal opinions to the lawyers, and with good reason. But as an agent, I often feel the need to explain to real estate clients the need for a title search, or title insurance. Here's why these expenses in the home buying process are necessary:

A 100-year-old deed can and does affect title and land you in court.

In the feeding frenzy over the Marcellus Shale, these old deeds containing archaic "mineral rights" language have been popping up in the chain of title. In Pennsylvania, we have been sticking straws in the ground for over 125 years. The shale traps pockets of gas which drillers have learned to extract by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). But anyone with a few acres of land in Pennsylvania or a copy of Gasland knows this.

The Marcellus Shale and what I'm sure were many thousands of dollars in royalties were at stake recently in an important case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Butler v. Powers Estate. In Butler, the court upheld the "Dunham Rule," which states that a reservation of "mineral rights" in a deed does not include gas or oil.

Agents, if a buyer or seller hands you an old deed to a gaseous property and asks you what it means, do you pass it off to counsel? Yes, but knowing about the Butler decision will at least help you give your client an answer, which might mean the difference between getting the listing or the sale, or not.

Just remember, a reservation of "mineral rights," by itself, does not include oil and/or gas. Look for specific language in a deed specifically reserving (or transferring) "oil" or "gas" rights.

In court, you can rebut the Dunham Rule by evidence that the parties to the original transaction intended to include oil and gas when they said "mineral rights." However, very few no people who owned land in the late 1800s are still alive. It's hard to prove intent, even harder to prove what it was 125 years ago.

The landowners in Butler purchased their 244-acre Susquehanna County farm from a seller who acquired it in 1881 from Charles Powers, who reserved for himself and his heirs the rights to "One-half the minerals and Petroleum Oils ... the buildings, water courses, ways, waters, water courses, rights, liberties, privileges, hereditaments, and appurtenances, ..."

The Butlers filed a quiet title action to lift this cloud on title. After an exhaustive search for heirs of Charles Powers, the trial court found two, named defendants in the case. The trial court ruled in favor of the Butlers, essentially giving them title to all the Marcellus shale gas. The Pa. Superior Court reversed, however, based on a 1983 Pa. Supreme Court decision involving coalbed gas, United States Steel Corp. v. Hoge. Without getting too technical, the Court in Hoge ruled that, since the gas was trapped in the coal, the owner of the coal owned the gas.

Sounds like Marcellus shale to me.

But writing for the Court in Butler, Justice Baer ruled that the Dunham rule still has vitality:

"The Dunham Rule is clear ... that the common, layperson understanding of what is and is not a mineral is the only acceptable construction of a private deed. Notwithstanding different interpretations proffered by other jurisdictions, the rule in Pennsylvania is that natural gas and oil simply are not minerals because they are not of a metallic nature, as the common person would understand minerals."

The Pa. Supreme Court thus reversed the Superior Court and gave the Dunham Rule, based on an 1882 case, new life.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Random Notes

The blogger's best friend, a "random notes" column:

1. I have just started the Game of Thrones series of books, on the recommendation of Mrs. VegLaw. I know -- plot, right? -- but watching a few episodes of the HBO series helps in identifying characters in the early pages of Book the First.

2. Just Listed: 210 Briaridge Drive in Wilkins Twp. $137,900.

3. Taking broker's prep classes at CBHQ. Eligibility for the broker's license in Pa. is on a points system. To take the test, a candidate needs to amass 200 points, 1 point per listing, 5 per sale, and on and on. Candidates are urged to "chart" their sales and listing activity contemporaneously, not extemporaneously.

4. The Pa. Supreme Court (SCOPA) recently ruled that a pulpwood company’s sale of its Delaware land constitutes taxable business income in the state. Glatfelter Pulpwood v. Commonwealth, Board of Finance and Revenue.

To be continued ...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pa. Supreme Court Declines Business Privilege Tax in Shelly Funeral Home

Pa. Supreme Court Declines Business Privilege Tax in Shelly Funeral Home

By Charles McWittig

Pennsylvania local governments looking to tax "big business" to keep out of the red will have to look elsewhere.

The state Supreme Court, in an opinion released a week before Christmas, played Grinch to local pols by declining a business privilege tax in Shelly Funeral Home v. Warrington Township. The $2,600 annual business privilege tax in this case applied to all businesses in the township with gross receipts over $1,000,000, and exempted from liability all businesses with gross receipts of $1,000,000 or less.

The township imposed the tax in 2009 in order to close a $400,000 budget deficit. The feds would have laughed off this amount as a tip in Vegas on a slow Wednesday night, but for local governments that actually provide services, it means something will go undone.

Shelly Funeral Home and 27 other Warrington Township businesses challenged the tax on the basis that it violated violated Section 533(a) of the Local Tax Reform Act, which prohibits political subdivisions from taxes "on gross receipts or part thereof."

The township defended the tax on the basis it was a flat tax, which would have been legal. The township, however, refused to impose a flat tax because it would have impacted smaller businesses disproportionately. The $1 million threshold was not arbitrary, but rather the result of a study by the township prior to enacting the tax.

The court decided that a flat tax based on a threshold amount amounts to a tax "on gross receipts or part thereof," proving once again that these things come down to the tiniest words.

The Court did not address all similar business privilege taxes. Ironically, a business privilege  tax "subject to a very modest gross-earnings threshold predicated on a business’s ability to pay the tax" may have passed the smell test. But since the township went to the trouble of figuring out exactly how much it would need to close its budget deficit, and set the bar at an amount that pinched "big box" retailers and others so called big businesses, it didn't.