The Home Guru with his stash of trash from his hometown’s litter clean-up day, “The Battle of Yorktown.”

The Home Guru with his stash of trash from his hometown’s litter clean-up day, “The Battle of Yorktown.”

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about litter and how it relates to the real estate industry. I was inspired to write on that particular subject because I had just been asked to cancel a showing appointment when a couple had done an advance drive-by of the house and found that it was in a neighborhood where they felt there was an excessive amount of litter left on the streets.

“We wouldn’t want to live in a place where our neighbors could just leave litter in front of their own homes without picking it up,” they told me. They even added for emphasis, “We just wouldn’t want to live among people who could stand to live like that.”

I must confess, I have similar feelings when I’m driving down any road or byway. I don’t know if I’m obsessive, okay, maybe I am, but any foreign object of litter on the road catches my eye like a magnet and sets up that feeling of guilt that I can’t stop my car, get out and pick it up. If I happen to be on my own street, even if it’s not in front of my own house, I do it. Otherwise it’s just impractical. After all, don’t we all get honked at if we linger just a second too long when the light turns green?

Litter does affect the value of our neighborhoods and, unfortunately, at least in my case, it tends to affect our feelings about those among us who are not as conscientious as we are, just as my buyer client expressed when cancelling her appointment. Indeed, what kind of people would throw trash from their car on to the road and just not give a damn about it?

Last Saturday, I had a full six hours to ponder that question as I personally cleaned up a half mile of one of the three roads, the busiest one, that borders my property, on the day we in Yorktown have designated as “The Battle of Yorktown,” our annual litter clean-up day wonderfully sponsored by our town and directed by a master administrator named Kim Angliss-Gage.

I adopted that road some years ago in exchange for a sign promoting my real estate practice and at first I would hire people to do the job for me. But for the last two years, I’ve done the job myself as mental therapy, in part to vent my anger against those who litter and in part, of course, to maintain the appearance of my own neighborhood.

First, I am unhappy to report that despite all the campaigns to discourage littering, we seem to have more, rather than less litter on our roads. My collected volume was probably at least 25 percent more this year than last year. But the type of litter seems to be shifting a bit. The number of empty cigarette packs has diminished (besides the health factor, who can afford them anymore?), but alarmingly, the number of empty liquor bottles has greatly increased as has beer cans.

As I worked, I would quell my anger by visualizing the litterbugs as mostly unhealthy people, judging from the predominance of fast food packaging, as well as plastic containers of those sugary jumbo drinks. Indeed, since litterbugs offend only when no one is looking, all we know about them is the scant information Keep America beautiful tells us: they tend to be men between the ages of 18 and 34 who drive more than 50 miles a day and eat in fast food restaurants at least twice a week.

While I mumbled and grumbled during the course of those hours I spent keeping a watchful eye on how close the cars were driving to me (most drivers were very considerate, slowing down, giving me encouragement, beaming and saying “thank you!”), I totally enjoyed the experience of cleaning up. In fact, these were among the most gratifying hours of my year. While doing something good for myself and the neighborhood, I helped restore a patch of Mother Earth to some semblance of how she should be.

There was only one negative factor involved in the experience. From so much bending and stooping, I found that my muscles were aching the next morning, more so than I remember in the past. Oh, yes, I forgot. I’m another year older. That’s all right. Doing good at least makes me feel younger.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

The Home Guru at his 1929 Baldwin Baby Grand, given to him by a family who was downsizing to a smaller space.

The Home Guru at his 1929 Baldwin Baby Grand, given to him by a family who was downsizing to a smaller space.

Either the piano is about to become as extinct as the dodo bird from American homes or, much like Mark Twain, its untimely death has been greatly exaggerated. It depends on what you read and who you believe.

Within the past few weeks, there’s been good news and bad news about the piano industry and, oddly enough, a report of its connection to the real estate industry.

First I heard an interview on SiriusXM Radio that referenced a New York Times article about a “graveyard” for unwanted pianos in Southhampton, Pa., and that particular graveyard was only one of many.

As a realtor, I frequently am asked by clients selling their homes for advice about how to dispose of their pianos, especially if they are downsizing.

It wasn’t all that long ago that a piano was as integral to a home’s living room as a flat screen TV is today. Sheet music for popular songs was readily available, and families would play music together as its principal mode of entertainment. Even with our wealth of modern diversions, people still love listening to music. Why shouldn’t they still love creating it?

At least some enterprising artists will occasionally make use of the parts. The recent production of “Into the Woods” by the Fiasco Theatre at the Roundabout in New York played within a set constructed from piano harps retrieved from that dump in Pennsylvania.

But, what’s the connection to real estate and is there hope on the horizon for the future of the piano? According to a report in the Chicago Tribune just last week, the tempo for piano sales is picking up and, flying in the face of earlier reports of doom and gloom for the industry, the reason is the improvement in real estate sales.

According to Larry Morton, president of Hal Leonard Corp., an educational music print publisher, the sale of new pianos is directly tied to real estate. “The sales of new pianos have always been driven by people buying new homes,” he said. “It’s part of the experience of having a house, not unlike buying furniture.”

But more importantly, there are distinct benefits to young people associated with the study of piano. To know the full score about that, I spoke to Jonathan Ackerman, a private piano instructor in lower Westchester and Chair of District 4 of the New York State Music Teachers Association (NYSMTA). Here’s the list of benefits he gave me:

Discipline: Piano study requires a daily routine and regiment of warm-ups, music theory study, listening and repertoire development.

Long-term Planning: Learning piano is a series of achieving a continually more complex set of skills and repertoire over many years. To master an advanced piece of music may take many months.

Persistence: Mastering a piece of music takes repeated efforts with many failures along the way to achieve success.

Future Success in School and Work: Studying an instrument is the most corresponding factor to future success in school when compared with any other activity. A recent study found that 75% of Silicon Valley CEOs had instrumental music education as a child.

Brain Development: An MIT study determined that the cerebral cortex of a concert pianist is enlarged by 30% on average compared to people who are considered intellectuals, but who did not have instrumental music education.

Cultural/Artistic Connection: The piano literature contains some of the greatest musical compositions in history. Many great composers began as pianists, and the piano is a great instrument to develop improvisational/composition skills.

Social Connection: A pianist can play solo, in an ensemble, and accompany singers and choirs. Students learn how to work in teams when preparing for a performance.

The best year for new piano sales in the U. S. was 1909 when more than 364,500 were sold. In 2005 that number was down to 95,000, dropping to 33,000 at the depths of the recession in 2009, but encouragingly that number grew 4.3 percent and sold more than 37,200 last year.

Offering such solid benefits to those who study piano, here’s hoping that the improving real estate market will support a movement to reclaim an important part of our cultural history and encourage people to bring the piano back into our homes.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

Brad Goodman, master craftsman, can repair small jobs, such as this broken splat (shown repaired in insert), or build entire kitchens.

Brad Goodman, master craftsman, can repair small jobs, such as this broken splat (shown repaired in insert), or build entire kitchens.

One of the favorite pieces my wife and I retrieved from our antiques shop when we closed it some years ago was a Sheraton-style (but not original) settee that is delicately made with three harp-like splats in the back. We’ve always had it in our central hall as though guests might linger there if they wanted to, but it was mainly for show and rarely ever sat on.

Somewhere along the way, however, one of the splat’s spokes had broken away and because of that, the settee had lost much of its value. However, with a big throw pillow covering its flaw, it was still pretty to look at, but I had no idea or plan of ever getting it repaired. But then I met Brad Goodman, assistant building inspector in my hometown of Yorktown. Lorin in my PR office had told me that he was an extraordinary craftsman and could “build and repair” anything made of wood. I was fascinated. “Can you repair that broken splat so that it doesn’t show?” I asked.

Without missing a beat, he responded, “Yes, I have a workshop where I have all the tools I need to do all of that.” I pressed him further saying, “but HOW do you know how to do those things, tell me.” Shrugging his shoulders, he said modestly, “I just picked it up along the way from the time my mother sent me to a YHMA woodworking class when I was eight years old.”

(Coincidentally, I was sent to a class when I was ten to make something out of wood, a Bible holder to be hung on a wall, which I still possess, and in my case, I somehow feel I committed a religious desecration.)

“Did you see the movie ‘Amadeus’?” Goodman asked me, referring to the story of Mozart and his arch rival Salieri where they were both talented, but Mozart’s work came naturally and Salieri had to work harder to get the same results. “I wouldn’t compare myself to Mozart, but building things all came easily and naturally to me.”

After that first woodworking class, other classes followed that helped cultivate his practice of craftsmanship including art and sculpture, and from that time, he pursued two passions: making furniture and, as a musician (or “bluesician” as he calls himself), the making of guitars.

When he as young as 20, Goodman purchased his first business, an antiques store in Scarsdale, with his mother and younger brother. That evolved into a kitchen sales business and from there, his entrepreneurial pursuits brought him into the tiling, plumbing and electrical businesses until the physical labor aspect of those jobs took their toll on his body. At that point, he transitioned into functioning as a building superintendent for a contractor for some years until taking his current job as a building inspector.

Goodman took my settee for repair and when I received the call that the job was done, I asked if I could visit his shop which is in the lower level of his expanded raised ranch high on a hill in Brewster. There, the large space is filled with all of his automated equipment to which he oriented me: a machinist’s lathe, a jointer, plainer, band saw, a BIG band saw, a pin router, a table saw, and a panel saw. Then he revealed my repaired settee and, for the life of me, I could not determine which spoke of the splat had been broken off. This man should be a restorer in a museum and yet, his talent is available at reasonable cost to any homeowner who needs repair, big or small.

As I explored Goodman’s journey to becoming a true craftsman, I kept asking myself the same question: Would it have been possible if I had applied myself that I too might have become a true craftsman? I really doubt it.

While Goodman modestly quoted Thomas Edison when he said that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, I believe there is definitely something innate, a special knack, a certain “eye” that some of us have and others don’t. Brad Goodman definitely has it, and I definitely don’t. If you would like his brand of genius put to work for your special project, whether a big kitchen or a small repair, he can be reached at 845-480-6840.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

DianeDarbyAbsoluteFlooring

Diane Darby of Absolute Flooring in Yorktown Heights holding the two vinyl tiles selected by The Home Guru and Mrs. Guru for their checkerboard kitchen floor where a “softer, warmer” surface was required for an older floor.

When it was time to replace the surface of our kitchen floor and we had to decide which material to choose, we found that it was as though there had been an explosion of options since the last time we had visited a flooring store more than 15 years ago. The new varieties of materials, both natural and especially manmade, were dizzying.

But from the outset we knew that we wouldn’t be able to use a hard material like stone or ceramic because our kitchen was in an historic home and, with too much “give,” needed the forgiveness of a soft manmade material. The floor had been further challenged twice from leaks, one from the refrigerator and the other from a burst pipe that had somehow frozen under the sink because some animal, of what species, I’m not sure, had eaten away the insulation from the pipes in the crawl space.

We visited Absolute Flooring in Yorktown Heights where store manager Diane Darby helped us narrow down our choices over a period of some weeks, showing infinite patience as we veered wildly from one possibility to another among the endless choices in its expansive showroom. “Yes, you’d be looking at either a vinyl or a linoleum,” she told us. “Linoleum?” I asked naively and in surprise, as though I had heard a naughty word from the past. “Isn’t that the stuff that has all the asbestos that we always have to worry about when we see old flooring tiles that have to be removed from homes?”

“Asbestos was removed from linoleum a long time ago,” Darby assured us. “Now it’s a 100 percent natural product, totally green, made of flax and linseed oil, so there’s no off-gassing. All the colors are plant pigments and go all the way through the product.” So, what’s the difference between linoleum and vinyl, I inquired, knowing that I was totally uninformed.

“While linoleum is all natural and what you see is the product itself, vinyl is a plastic that utilizes a photo process to achieve the look of the material you want. There’s a base layer, and above that, an image layer or what we call a ‘view,’ and, above that is the ‘wear’ layer or clear plastic that covers and protects the image. It’s amazing how realistic the photo images can be of either wood, stone or marble. The difference, however, is that with vinyl or linoleum, the material is softer and warmer than the natural material.

“Also, there is a far greater variety in terms of quality and price,” Darby continued, “the more ‘wear’ layers you have, the more longevity and the better quality you’ll have and, along with that, the higher the price.”

After much consideration, my wife and I had decided we wanted a white and black checkerboard effect and that dictated that we go with vinyl rather than linoleum because we could get a whiter white in that product.

There are other reasons and situations for choosing “fake” over “real” in flooring. For instance, if you want the look of wood flooring in your kitchen or bath, Darby tells us emphatically that “water and wood don’t mix, and a ‘view’ vinyl is definitely more durable for such locations.” And here’s something that was a revelation to me: there are now ceramics in both wood and stone patterns that can be used for flooring in wet areas as well as for outside porches and decks.

Another instance where vinyl flooring, rather than hardwood flooring, is more durable is in high traffic areas such as entranceways.

Price is another factor where man-made product is more favorable. Oak flooring would cost about $6.00 to $7.00 per square foot while a vinyl product would cost between $4.00 and $5.00 per square foot and about the same price to install.

As for me personally, I find myself walking around more in my bare feet inside the house, much like I did as a child living in the South, simply because I find the flooring so comfortable, so warm and soft.

If it’s time to replace flooring in your home and you’re looking for expert advice, you can’t go wrong by talking to Diane Darby at Absolute Flooring, located at 1735 Front Street, Yorktown Heights. Telephone: 914-245-0225. Web: www.absoluteflooring.com.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

Frank Quigley, left, owner of Windows Plus, a construction company, and  Joe Pascarelli, a house painter, are both retired fireman involved with fire safety education for kids and now plan to write a children’s book about it.

Frank Quigley, left, owner of Windows Plus, a construction company, and Joe Pascarelli, a house painter, are both retired fireman involved with fire safety education for kids and now plan to write a children’s book about it.

One of life’s greatest pleasures for me since I assumed the moniker of The Home Guru more than a dozen years ago has been the great talents and personalities I’ve encountered among the suppliers who service our many needs around the house, both inside and out.

As for me, a self-professed klutz with most things that require any amount of skill or technical expertise, knowing these miracle workers has always been essential to running my household and maintaining my property. I can communicate the expertise of others by writing about it, but I can’t do it.

As I have become friends with my suppliers and learned more about their backgrounds, I have encountered much ingenuity, sometimes sheer genius, and many surprises along the way. Sometimes there have been valuable life lessons learned as well.

For instance, some years ago when I needed to have wallpaper removed from some of my rooms and have them painted, Joe Pascarelli came highly recommended to do the job. Little did I know that he would become part of my life, both personally and professionally.

More famously known as “Fireman Joe,” Pascarelli retired as a Mount Vernon Fire Department lieutenant seven years ago. But 14 years before that, he had experienced a trauma where a young child had been lost in a fire he responded to and, as he put it, “I needed to get help to deal with that.”

As part of his recovery process, he decided to educate young children about fire safety and has been doing that annually at the Van Cortlandtville Elementary School in Mohegan Lake for the past 20 years.

Last week, I met him for lunch with another good buddy of his, Frank Quigley, also a retired fireman who had been with the New York City Fire Department in the Bronx and also involved with teaching children about fire safety.

In his case, Quigley would invite them into the firehouse to see the equipment. When he retired nine years ago, Quigley developed his own construction business called Window Plus. Besides windows, his company covers the gamut of projects from roofing, siding and decks to full additions.

The purpose of our meeting was to discuss our writing a brochure together about fire safety in the home for children with illustrations that Pascarelli could distribute  at his school appearances. The intention would be to expand it into a children’s book and a CD.

As a public service to us all, especially to any young children in your own family or to any children you know, please share the basic outline below.

Fireman Joe’s Safety Tips for Kids

If you smell smoke, don’t HIDE, run OUTSIDE;

Make noise! Shout “Fire!”

If you see a man in strange-looking fireman’s gear, DON’T BE AFRAID. He’s a friend;

Have an established place outside for all family members to meet;

If your clothes catch fire, STOP, DROP and ROLL!

NEVER go back into the house for pets or anything else;

Two “toys” NEVER to play with:  matches and lighters;

Have an EDITH plan with your family (Exit Drill in the House);

Change batteries in smoke detectors when you change clocks.

 To my way of thinking, good guys who are concerned for the safety and education of children are the kind of people with whom I want to work.

To reach Joe Pascarelli for wallpaper removal and painting, inside or out, call 914-330-3889. To reach Frank Quigley for any construction project, big or small, from roofing to an addition to your home, call 914-438-0249.

Postscript: While Pascarelli’s good work was born from the tragedy of the loss of a child, a young girl who attended one of his school presentations was able to save her own life and her entire family when fire struck her home in the middle of the night.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

Anthony Viverito, owner of Niles Floors & Blinds in Mohegan Lake, where he waxes enthusiastically about the technology and sexiness of new Hunter Douglas window products.

Anthony Viverito, owner of Niles Floors & Blinds in Mohegan Lake, where he waxes enthusiastically about the technology and sexiness of new Hunter Douglas window products.

You might expect that a column about window shades and blinds would be somewhat ordinary and, honestly, when I set out with the assignment, that’s what I thought I’d deliver to you. But, that’s before I got to know Anthony Viverito, owner of Niles Floors & Blinds in Mohegan Lake, a virtual sunburst of a personality who led me on an adventure of education that went far beyond achieving privacy or blocking light through your windows.

I walked into his store as a recent convert to “naked windows” in my new condo, having spent all my years in historic homes with windows heavily draped with either side panels or swags and jabots or both, and sheers in between.

“I want to breathe free and see forever from my big new windows from my fifth floor perch,” my wife told me, and so far, our windows are completely unadorned. We undress for bed with confidence that no one is driving by looking into our windows that high up, unlike our last home where we had less privacy from the road below.

So a column about the art of window dressing was going to be for “other people,” not me. But once under the spell of Viverito’s tutelage and the influence of some amazing new products from Hunter Douglas, displayed gorgeously as the main focus of Viverito’s showroom, I caved with nary a whimper. I learned in short order that the function of dressing your windows can address such practical matters as better insulating your home, as well as subtle and psychological issues such as filtering your perception of the outside world and even altering your environment to suit or change your mood.

Yes, of course, I thought! If I’m spending effort and money for artificial lighting in my new pad, why don’t I think about the control of natural light as well? For instance, while our bedroom in our former home faced north, there was no problem with the rising sun. Now that our bedroom faces east, the rising winter sun hits us square in the eye, awakening us in our bed. Why deal with that discomfort, I thought?

“Just look at the difference in the mood here!” Viverito beamed as he pressed a button and the blinds to his store window opened fully and the sunlight streamed in; then he adjusted them to different levels, commenting on the subtle difference in light with each setting.

“It’s amazing the technology that Hunter Douglas has put into its products,” he continued as he walked me through his highly styled showroom on Route 6.   “Not only in terms of materials but automation,” he continued. “You mean, I can operate shades and blinds now by just pushing a button like my TV remote?” I asked? “Right,” he said, “Or, from a special App with settings called ‘Good Morning’ or ‘Good Night’ that adjusts your blinds or shades just as you want them without getting out of bed.” Great, I thought, another reason for me to not get off my butt.

Viverito also reminded me that the blinds industry is heading toward cordless technology as a child safety factor. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, chords on blinds are on the commission’s list of the top five “hidden hazards” in the home.

Next we moved on to the wide range of materials and colors now available in window fashions, and the broad selection of opacities that offer varying degrees of privacy and light control. What surprised me most was learning that the sheers and opaques serve a much more important function than just looking pretty: they provide ultraviolet (UV) protection to help counter the harmful effects of sunlight. So, who knew?

He also also pointed out that, with as much as 50 percent of a home’s heating and cooling energy lost through windows, shades can provide varying levels of insulation as well.

Now I ask you, with all the fresh takes, creative ideas and smart solutions for dressing windows that Anthony Viverito puts forth through his line of Hunter Douglas products, who would want to have their windows go naked? Is this me talking? You can consult personally with this encyclopedic source of information at Niles Floors & Blinds, 1821 East Main Street (Route 6), Mohegan Lake. Tel: 914-737-6780. Web: www.NilesFloorsandBlinds.com.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

This morning, I took my first bath in 50 years, and it wasn’t for the purpose of getting myself clean but rather to clean the air tub which hadn’t been used since I purchased my new condo three months ago. I’m one of those people who opted for showers instead of baths in my youth and for a very good reason.

I had arrived in New York with two fellow actors fresh from a stint in summer stock at a time in the early 1960s when, if you can believe it, there was a glut of new construction in the New York City market and landlords were offering concessions of up to three months to sign a lease. My two friends and I took advantage of this opportunity to rent a brand new studio on the 10th floor of a building in the heart of Greenwich Village. What a naïve cluck I was not to consider the consequences of not having enough money to afford an apartment with separate bedrooms when one of my roommates was gay and the other was quite the lothario and – how do I say this in a family newspaper?– they were both very socially active.

We devised a system where, if one of them had a “social engagement” for the evening, there would be a notice on the door to warn me to come back later. As I remember, it was a delivery notice from Macy’s department store that we had received for a dinette set for which we had all pitched in. Within no time at all, that note appeared enough times for us to have enough seating for a Horn & Hardart’s restaurant, and I was not getting enough sleep to get to work in the morning.

Then through an ad, I got another apartment share with my own bedroom, this one with an older gentleman who had a rent-controlled, five-floor walk-up, cold water flat, which meant that, while it was heated, it had no hot water. To cleanse ourselves there was only a tub in the middle of the kitchen with a large wooden board across the top which doubled as the kitchen table. When the board was lifted, we would fill the tub with water and add boiling water heated on the stove. Then we would both take our morning baths, alternating who would go first between us. Then, after the tub was drained, we would lower the board, and use it as a table for our breakfast and dinner meals. Somehow the idea of taking a meal where we had just bathed never set well with me. Can you understand now why, once I could afford my own apartment with a lovely shower, where I didn’t have to lie in my own dirt, much less someone else’s, I never lowered myself into a tub ever again?

Actually, the greater majority of people feel the same way I do. Online poll sites like Yahoo, Glamour and Houzz have shed some light on the matter, indicating that showers are preferred four to six times as often as baths with voters citing convenience and water consumption as the primary motivations for their choice.

On average, a shower lasts ten minutes and requires no filling, draining or general preparation. Their simplistic format makes them ideal for accommodating the time constraints of our daily schedule, while also making more efficient use of water.

Most people use about 30 gallons of water for a bath, according to industry estimates. When filled to capacity, a standard bathtub holds 42 gallons, but some of that water will be displaced when you get into the tub. A low-flow showerhead uses about two gallons a minute, or 20 gallons for a 10-minute shower. A standard showerhead uses 2.5 gallons a minute, or 25 gallons for 10 minutes. Either way, the shower saves water – as long as you don’t go past 10 minutes. Unlike showers which utilize running water, baths are stagnant and often receive the classic ‘sitting in your own filth’ critique. Both slower and more wasteful, the bath is now seen as more of a luxury than a means of cleansing. In fact, most who voted in favor of baths mentioned that they still took a quick shower afterwards to make sure they were clean.

This morning when I took my bath with its massaging air flow, it lasted 45 minutes and I enjoyed it, but it was more a spa experience than one of hygiene and, just to make me feel really silly, my wife threw in some bubble bath. Did I enjoy it? You bet. Would I make the experience a habit? Nah. Who has the time?

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

Left to right, Tom Schassler and Valerie Maziarz of Oxygen Sanitizing Systems, which remediates mold and offers other environmental services with Bill Primavera, The Home Guru.

Left to right, Tom Schassler and Valerie Maziarz of Oxygen Sanitizing Systems, which remediates mold and offers other environmental services with Bill Primavera, The Home Guru.

More than a dozen years ago, Ed McMahon, the famous pitch man and announcer for Johnny Carson, brought to the public’s attention the health problems that can result from living with toxic mold in the home.

After a long legal battle, McMahon was awarded $7.2 million from several companies who were negligent in allowing toxic mold into his home resulting from a broken pipe, sickening him and his wife and killing their dog.

As it happens, I had been aware for some years that I had a mold problem in my home, but not being sensitive to it, I thought it was a minor situation and let it go without remediating it.

Last week, however, I learned that this was a mistake and my health has probably been affected to some degree by my procrastination.

It started on Christmas Eve three years ago, before my living room in my antique house was converted to the office of my public relations business. At that time, my daughter said she could no longer sit in that room because she was having an allergic reaction to something there.

To accommodate her discomfort, we moved our holiday get-together into our family room, but at the end of the evening I checked around and found that, indeed, in a corner in an 18th century glass door-enclosed bookcase-on-chest, there was mold forming on my collection of antique books. I simply closed the doors and let the situation just sit.

A month ago, I was curious about a certain book, wondered whether it was in that that bookcase, opened the doors and was shocked to find that the mold had spread from the books onto the shelves. The smell had become somewhat noxious.

By coincidence that very week, I received a call from Valerie Maziarz of Oxygen Sanitizing Systems, who had read one of my articles, to tell me about her environmental services, which included mold remediation. Wow, I thought, how synchronistic. Come right over, I told her.

In short order she was in my living room-turned-office, opened the cabinet, and just from a visual check and the smell, she was aware that the problem was severe.

“You’ve got a green mold forest growing in there. It’s a regular party!” she proclaimed. It seems that the antique books, with its cellulose in the pages, had provided a perfect growing environment for the mold.

The next Friday evening, when the room would be empty for the weekend, Maziarz arrived with her partner, Tom Schassler, and her equipment in tow to literally replace the air in my office.

Here is how the system works. The room was sealed off and generators with ultraviolet light and electric static discharge, produced converted oxygen in industrial-level concentration and quantities treating all surfaces and permeating all cracks, crevices, killing all microorganisms.

The process is 100 percent green, chemical-free and EPA and FDA approved. Besides mold, it eradicates  odors, allergens, bacteria and viruses, restoring the environment and improving health.

After 24 hours, Maziarz and Schassler returned with commercial grade HEPA equipment specifically designed to remove all remaining particulates from the air and surfaces. Lastly, the office was treated with an antimicrobial surface protectant.

When I returned the following Monday, I could feel that the air was “cleaner” and wasn’t aware that there was a problem until the problem was gone. This process restored my office environment and salvaged my antique book collection dating to the 1880s.

According to tests taken before and after the process, Maziarz showed me that I had four different mold types in my office, one of which, Penicillium Aspergillus, was highly toxic and there in high levels.

“Does this mean that my years of living with toxic mold in the environment could have affected my health without my knowing it?” I asked.

Yes, I was told, it could have affected my health.

Perhaps my experience, scary as it was, can be an alert to someone reading this. If you know of or suspect that you may have a mold problem in your home, please don’t procrastinate as I did only to wonder to what degree it may have affected your health. Take action immediately and have the problem addressed. Your health is the single most important thing to you.

To reach Oxygen Sanitizing Systems, call 877-244-3080 or visit www.newindoorair.com. God speed.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com.  To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

With the purchase of four homes under my belt, I’ve applied for that many traditional mortgages. There have been many more times when I’ve taken mortgages to either lower my interest rate or tackle major renovations or new business ventures.

I’ve lost count of how many times, but never have I been put through the wringer quite like the last time when I bought my new home at Trump Park Residences in  Shrub Oak.

During the first round, I went through the humiliation of being turned down flat because, I am told, I am self-employed and was holding on to my primary residence, which already holds a hefty mortgage. The residence has served throughout my career as a piggy bank to finance one new business venture after another.

The first mortgage lender, recommended by my selling agent, wasn’t as resourceful as he might have been. But the second one, Richie Vicinanza of Homestead Funding Corp., was my lucky charm and got me qualified. Still, the paperwork was astounding. Each time Vicinanza would ask me for more documentation, I would joke with him and eventually asked, “What next, a blood and urine sample?”

But Vicinanza never lost patience with my insolence and saw me through the mortgage commitment and happy purchase of my new home.

What is it that keeps the mortgage industry so distanced from its homebuyers and so difficult to deal with? I asked my two closest buddies in the business to comment about it. Beside Vicinanza, I asked that question of Paul M. Menga, who heads up the mortgage division of the agency where I hang my hat, William Raveis Mortgage.

“I have been in the business for about 10 years now and the only significant differences I have noticed in qualification is with self-employed borrowers,” Menga said. “They tend to have the most difficulty qualifying for a mortgage but it’s still not impossible if you know what you are doing, have the right lenders at your disposal and do your up-front homework to try and address all possible hurdles that you might face down the road.

“There has definitely been an increase in documentation required to secure a mortgage these days, but that is actually a good thing for the industry and helps solidify a safe and stable market for the future. Lack of documentation and due diligence were major contributors to the housing industry collapse.”

Basic qualification standards haven’t changed much over the years, Menga said. Prospective borrowers may mistakenly associate increased paperwork with increased difficulty in qualifying, which is not the case.

Menga said there are still low down payment options available, even 0 percent in some cases, so it remains a great time for first-time homebuyers or people who saw their credit suffer during the housing market collapse.

“Regulation standards for mortgage lenders have changed and will continue to change, especially since the financial crisis of 2008,” Vicinanza said. “The industry has been required to conform to new guidelines brought on by the Dodd-Frank Act, which promotes financial institutions’ accountability and consumer protection.”

The most recent implementation, he said, was the Qualified Mortgage guidelines in January 2014, regulated by the Financial Protection Bureau. As a result, mortgages may have pre-closing audits by outside sources and that can delay closings.

Working with a licensed loan originator who is experienced and a lending institution that knows what the requirements are from the beginning of a home financing search can save time. Loans can still be closed within 30 days.

There is talk throughout the industry about loosening lending standards, but lenders are being cautious, Vicinanza said. Recent changes include Fannie Mae reducing the cash-out refinance limit from 85 percent loan-to-value to 80 percent.  Meanwhile, Fannie Mae has brought back 97 percent conventional mortgage financing for purchase transactions for first-time homebuyers.

“What people really need to know is that mortgage financing is still readily available and that rates are still at all-time lows,”  Vicinanza said. “But we are never sure how long rates will stay at this level. Bottom line: there is no time like the present to purchase a new home or refinance your current mortgage.”

To know more, call either Paul M. Menga of William Raveis at 914-837-9889 or Richie Vicinanza of Homestead Funding Corp. at 914-447-6158.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com.  To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

The gleaming surface of The Home Guru’s nightstand, a satisfying quick and easy one-afternoon refinishing project that opted for a polyurethane finish rather than varnish or shellac because of its quicker drying time.

The gleaming surface of The Home Guru’s nightstand, a satisfying quick and easy one-afternoon refinishing project that opted for a polyurethane finish rather than varnish or shellac because of its quicker drying time.

When I was younger and forced by the lack of money to be a do-it-yourselfer around the house and in the garden, I dreamed of the day when I could employ others to do all that sweat labor to maintain and upgrade everything that needed to be done. That day came a long time ago, and I considered myself lucky that I had more time available to pursue other dreams like a satisfying second career, and even a third career. At an age when many people are retired, I have the opportunity to work long, happy hours every day.

But just last weekend, surprisingly, I found myself with a free Saturday for the first time in several years where I was caught up on all my assignments and just itching for something to do around the house. More than just itching. Starving.

As it happens, my wife and I were in the process of furnishing a new room that was able to make use of a small Shaker-like pine night table that was stored in our attic years ago and forgotten, but it seemed to fit our need perfectly. The only problem was that its surface was badly worn and needed to be refinished.

It had been more than 30 years since I had refinished furniture, and in those days, I was a purist, insisting on the method of refinishing known as French Polish, where the old surface would be stripped with paint remover, and after being sanded, the surface grain would be “filled” with a filler and sanded again with fine sandpaper to make it perfectly smooth. Then, it would be coated with several coats of either shellac or varnish that required a long time to dry, again being sanded with fine sandpaper between each coat to remove imperfections and to create a better bond for the next coat. After three coats, I would finish the surface with two layers of Butcher’s Wax, buffed to perfection. The process took forever to accomplish because of the drying time between each coat and also because of the sanding required to remove the imperfections caused by the brush and dust. Shellac can take up to 36 hours to dry and, if you do the math, a project of refinishing would take forever. Who has that kind of time anymore?

With this method, a small tabletop could take me a couple of weeks of part-time effort to accomplish. I don’t have that kind of time anymore, so my first decision was to think about whether I wanted to make that leap to use polyurethane for a surface. Let me explain the difference. Polyurethane is a thermoplastic that combines the best features of plastic and rubber. It has gained popularity due to its ability to form a thicker and stronger film than coatings like varnish and shellac. It requires less coats, time and effort. Oil based polyurethane typically dries in 24 hours, while water-based only takes six or less. I’ll take the water-based, thank you.

This time around, devoid of any materials needed, I marched myself down to Home Depot and bought my small arsenal of products for an afternoon’s pleasurable pursuit: a pint of paint remover; a half pint of Minwax Wood Finish (in Colonial Maple); a half pint of water based, fast drying polyurethane; two 3M Sandblaster sandpaper blocks, one medium grade and one fine; a cheap two-inch brush to apply the stripper and a good one-and-a-half inch brush to apply the polyurethane, and in one small bag, I was a weekend project warrior.

At home, I spread an old sheet on the floor, and with my cheap brush covered the table top, legs and drawer front with the stripper, let it do its thing for just 15 minutes , then wiped it off with old rags. After sanding with first the medium grade Sandblaster, then the smooth, I stained the wood with Minwax, and let it dry for an hour. Then I simply applied the polyurethane and, after less the four hours, I found that it was completely dry. With the fine Sandblaster, I rubbed down the imperfections which did a pretty good job on all the flat surfaces. For the turns on the legs, I used fine steel wool.

The end product looked so good that I thought I could be ready for the finishing wax coat but, I realized that I had forgotten to buy Butcher’s Wax. However, did I tell you my favorite secret weapon around the house for repairing scratches is also a wonderful final refinishing coat too? That is Kiwi Shoe Polish! I lathered on brown wax in two coats, and the results were deep and luxurious.

Now I have a very sweet, shiny end table with an all but impervious surface, but more than that, I’ve enjoyed an almost Zen-like, lazy afternoon exercise that scratched a long-held itch to do a project around the house once again.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and his blog is: www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.