Want to avoid a bureaucratic nightmare? Secure a permit before doing any work on your home or property. If you don't believe me, just talk to the Glendale, Calif., couple who were recently fined $347,000 for improperly pruning their trees. After they created a web site documenting their side of the story, city officials are now admitting the fine was "excessive." But the family still had to hire a lawyer and are facing a fine in the neighborhood of $10,000. The family made the mistake of taking the tree trimmer's word that they didn't need a permit. If I said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Always check with your local town government before doing any work on your property.