The beautiful beach of Fort Lauderdale
A view from our condo building looking onto Mayor Jim Naugle's home and a boat cosily nestled next to the famous gangster Bugsey Segal's previous home.
A typical winter Sunday brunch. The weather temps us to buy a winter home in Florida.
Buying a 'Condo' in Florida can Seriously Damage Your Health
Many of you may be tempted to buy homes abroad. I thought I would give you a word of warning from my experience in what I believed to be a safe place to buy.
I am back from lovely Fort Lauderdale with a not so lovely memory of three months of fighting to save our three bedroom "condo". A condo is similar to a block of apartments, but the main difference is that a condo has a board with total power and no accountability. It isn't governed by the normal law and the board can vote to sign contracts worth millions of dollars and just walk away, leaving the condo owners to pay. A 'rogue' board can turn your life upside down, Dr Joyce Starr, author of the ebook 'Condo Commandos' says. The bookt illustrates perfectly the sort of nightmares that can seriously damage your health with nervous breakdowns and marriage break-ups.
Yes, the problem is new - in fact a new scam. So how can a 'rogue' board lose you your condo?
Two years ago when 'Hurricane Wilmer' hit our area and did a tremendous amount of damage, there was so much work to be done that there was a twelve month waiting list for jobs such as roof and window replacements and repairs.
The roofers and window installers jumped on the bandwagon and became contractors, employing unskilled labour to do this gigantic clean up. The economy was strong and at the same time developers were building high 'sky-rises' everywhere. The beach fronts were completely transformed with Trump and top hotels like the Hilton overshadowing the beach with their imposing and towering buildings. The change in the last few years is extraordinary.
Then just recently things changed as the economy slowed and the real estate market more or less stopped. Prices didn't go down so much but houses and condos just stopped selling. Developers halted their projects, leaving buildings unfinished and the contractors and their work forces were left high and dry.
Then comes the old saying 'necessity is the mother of invention'. A bill had been passed saying that all buildings over 40 years had to be inspected, which let the unscrupulous contractors and engineers to have a field day. The bill itself was not so much the problem, unless of course it is seen as a golden egg.
"If you want to make a quick million
buy a condo and get on the board"
"If you want to make a quick million, buy a condo and get on the board," one distraught condo owner told me. The under- the-table 'kick backs' are huge; it's not unusual for them to be in the region of $40,000, it is runoured. "Just buy a condo, get on the board and talk everyone into huge contracts so you can get a healthy 'kick back,'" the condo owner told me. He had to take a loan out to pay his portion of the balcony restoration ($50,000) which seems to be the latest con. If he couldn't pay it or sell hiscondo, because of the slow down in the property market, the board could put a lien on the condo. After 90 days if he didn't come up with the money he would lose his condo.
So where is the con? As the condo owner rarely knows about construction, the unscrupulous contractors/engineers talk the condo boards into the idea that every building over 40 years old has issues with all their balconies, even if there are no outward signs. They say the damage is going on unseen and then recommend taking all the balconies off or a complete concrete restoration, which of course is when they do find problems.
A $2million contract can then double. How serious is it? VERY. We have just lost £1,000.00 off the value of our property in three months with just talk of these unnecessary contracts. In our building we only have one balcony out of forty eight that needs some serious work doing to it and the rest, bar a handful that need regular repairs, are in excellent condition, but that makes no difference. Just a few massive assessments can bankrupt a building, leaving developers with some easy pickings and the owners without a home. The law may have to be changed as the problem has escalated.
After talking to experts, i realise that the way these unethical contractors and engineers are going about things is completely wrong.They are doing it is just for the money at the expense of people's lives and homes.
So my advice is to be very careful about buying in South Florida - it could damage your health. Think about your lovely condo being like a building site with jack hammers wrecking your balconies (when in many cases there is nothing wrong with them), with dust in everything and constant noise for up to two years. Because of this you can't sell your property; instead you have to fork out £25,000 that year and maybe that's just for starters. The worst of it is that the contractors just don't care about their work and some of the balconies that have had major restoration are only lasting a few years (on purpose, an engineer told me) and then you have to start all over again.
The nation is effectively overdosing on salt
Department of Health.
I wonder if you have noticed on food labels just how hard it is to calculate the amount of salt in food such as bread and soups in the UK. In America they have to show it by law as a percentage of your daily salt intake, which is much easier. However it looks like some UK manufacturers are now starting to put these guidelines on their packs, making calculations much easier.
Heavy salt consumption can cause high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks and that is even if you don't put any extra salt onto your food. Unfortunately the worst offenders amongst the manufacturers of soups and breads are organic, with other, processed, food following closely behind .So don't just blindly buy organic: look at the labels.
The manufacturers use salt to increase the shelf life of food products and, when it is shown on the label as an ingredient, people don't realise that it can actually be a poison to them. Yes, we need some salt but not in the quantities contained in our food nowadays.
It has been shown that if people can reduce their intake of salt by 3 grams a day - one portion of soup can be well over that - then they can reduce the risk of having a stroke or heart attack by a quarter.
Sugar is causing gum disease.
I was talking to a dentist friend and he was saying how sugar is affecting the teeth and gums. Many of his clients are surprised as they don't use sugar. The dentist's advice was to read the labels on the food you are eating, as there is an incredible amount of sugar in supermarket food - not just desserts either. So it's not surprising there is an increase in diabetes. Go for organic fresh fruit - that can be just as sweet bu is good for your teeth. There is still something to be said for the saying 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' (or, in this case, the dentist!).
Pesticides blamed for premature births and a reduction of intelligence.
I have been saying for a while that people seem to have lost their common sense. I joked that it could be because it's in the water. I drink bottled water (from a glass bottle of course). However my joke may not be so far from the truth.
Prof. Paul Wincheter, who has done extensive research into the link between pesticides and premature births, said the number of premature babies born each year in the U.S.A. and the U.K. was consistent until the 80's and then there was a steady rise, caused by more intensive crop spraying. He analysed more than 27 million births in the U.S. over a 6 year period and found that premature births were more likely during the times when pesticides and nitrates are being used on crops. The pesticides and fertilisers get into the drinking water and the chemicals are believed to disrupt the body's hormone system. Pesticides are already known to cause thyroid problems in pregnancy and that is thought to affect the child's intelligence.
Many of the babies who survive often have physical or mental defects from being born so soon and there is also evidence that the damage caused can be passed on in genes by a process known as genetic imprinting, making succeeding generations vulnerable to premature birth and birth defects.
The professor's findings also show a link between crop spraying and the risk of death in the first year of life. So don't forget to eat healthily to save your life and perhaps your offspring's too.
The Cancer Time Bomb
"Beware of the cancer 'time bomb,' obesity," says Dr Greg Martin of World Cancer Research .Eat less - because that fat around your stomach could be fatal. If you think organic food is too expensive, then consider the alternatives but eat sensibly.
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Eds Note: VALERIE AUSTIN is an author of six successful self-help books including SELF HYPNOSIS (Thorsons), journalist and trainer with an international reputation in the field of hypnosis. Her best-selling books and training help people achieve their full potential. She founded the Austin Corporate Stress Management Company focusing on reducing stress and anxiety amongst executives and CEO's. She is also founder of UKRAH (1992) The UK Register of Advanced Hypnotherapy. Valerie has also worked as a consultant in hypnosis at the Priory Hospital, the UK's equivalent to The Betty Ford Clinic, which specialises in food addiction and alcohol abuse. Her work in the film industry (Hollywood) interviewing movers and shakers, producing TV news segments and publishing celebrity magazines in London gave her invaluable experience for her current Harley Street practice.