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Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 1999 /7 Tishrei, 5760

Bruce Williams

Bruce Williams
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Legal strategy can be a pain -- DEAR BRUCE: I had a disagreement with a contractor and took him to small-claims court. He was represented by an attorney and I was not. I prevailed. The judge awarded me $2,500 against the contractor. I thought that was the end of it. It took a great deal out of me, since I am not accustomed to doing these sorts of things. Recently I received a letter from his lawyer, saying that he is appealing it to a higher court. What does that mean, and how do I get my money? -- N.V., Tulsa, Okla.

DEAR N.V.: Appealing a small-claims award to a higher court is a common defense which I believe is legal in all states except Hawaii. Your adversary had an attorney who has had the case moved to a higher court, where the rules of law are more strictly applied. It's doubtful that you can prevail without incurring the cost of an attorney. Depending on which side of the coin you're on, it's either a great defense or a miserable thing to do. This is a fact of life. If you're going to the higher court, I think you will find it necessary to be represented. If you don't show up, you will lose by default and the whole issue becomes moot.

DEAR BRUCE: I know that you are not a television fan, but I am sure that you have seen some of these late-night infomercials for business opportunities. We saw one and were very interested. The host of the program offers to demonstrate that they can teach you to buy real estate at bargain prices and quickly accumulate a very high net worth. Obviously we would like to increase our income, but for whatever reason both my wife and I are skeptical.

However, we don't want to be saying, 10 years from now, "if only we had... " How would you suggest we pursue this, if at all? -- P.P. San Diego

DEAR P.P.: The airwaves are jammed with late-night pitches on everything -- how to sell real estate, how to make money in precious metals, how to get rid of your cellulite. In my view, they all have one thing in common: They don't work. I have said many times that there is little question in my mind that the purveyors have done what they said they have done.

The question is, can they pass this along to someone else and have them be as successful. Buying fixer-uppers may have been a great idea 20 years ago, but how many of them are left? I do know that the key to riches is not going to seminars or buying tapes and books from late-night pitchmen. You should know that many of these guys have gone broke. The question that I have always asked is: If this is a good thing and it is relatively easy, requiring no previous training or skills, why in the world would you share it with anybody?

Why not just have people work for you and grab all that loot for yourself? I think the answer is evident.

DEAR BRUCE: We have owned our home for almost 10 years, with no difficulties -- until we had some wind damage to the roof, a neighbor's child was hurt in our backyard, and I shagged a golf ball and hit a guy on the course, all within a very short period of time. My insurance carrier now refuses to renew our insurance because of the excessive claims activity. I carry insurance so that when I get into a jam, it pays off. For almost a decade, they didn't have to pay a nickel -- and now they are canceling out because of these claims. Do they have the right to do this, and what can I do, if anything? -- E.N. Citrus Park, Fla.

DEAR E.N.: There is not a whole lot you can do. The company has a right to not renew, in contrast to canceling, if they feel that you are no longer a profitable risk. The statistics seem to indicate that claims come in clusters, and while you have relatively modest ones now, there could be a big one on the way. If that sounds almost like superstition, perhaps it is.

Most insurance companies are guided on that principle. One thing that you should remember is that it's the frequency of claims, rather than the severity, that gets everyone's attention, so it's wise to eat the small ones. Yes, you did pay for coverage, and technically, they should pay it. But in today's world, when one has a series of small claims, it is far better to pay them yourself than risk losing insurance when a larger one rolls around.

Send your questions to JWR contributor Bruce Williams by clicking here. (Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.) Interested in buying or selling a house? Let Bruce Williams' "House Smart" be your guide. (Sales of the book help fund JWR).


09/15/99: Teen drivers drive up insurance
09/13/99: Always use an attorney!
09/10/99: Whose taxes are they, anyway?
09/08/99: How do I roll over my 401(k)?
09/03/99: How can I work out my IRS payments?
09/01/99: When your company can't pay you
08/30/99: Beware of shady viatical investments
08/26/99: Landlords vary on security deposits
08/25/99: Educational IRAs must be spent on education
08/23/99: Finding out the value of old stocks
08/20/99: How to get an FHA refund
08/19/99: 100 percent financing is a scam
08/16/99: Will I have to pay a capital gains tax?
08/16/99: Thinking about PMI
08/13/99: Short-term mutual funds a-OK
08/11/99: It's your job to shop around
08/10/99: Sometimes, roots need to be uprooted
08/09/99: 'Pre-approved' doesn't mean a thing
08/06/99: Only you can determine your investments
08/04/99: Bank IRA the lowest-risk option
08/03/99: Reverse mortgages good for the elderly
08/02/99: Get the survey BEFORE you buy the house!
07/28/99: Get a lawyer -- it's worth it!
07/27/99: If it ain't broke...

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