KimMatt&SydneyCozza

From left, Kim, Matt and Sydney Cozza in front of their 1726 “Home of the Future” in Yorktown Heights, garnering multiple showings and two offers in less than two days on the market. PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Buchanan

When I first met Kim and Matt Cozza and their teenage daughter Sydney, I knew I would enjoy helping them find a home because they said they would consider an historic one and, as a realtor, I had developed a specialty in historic homes, having studied early American architecture at The College of William & Mary in Virginia and having interned at Historic Deerfield, Massachusetts, with the intention of becoming a museum curator. But, somehow that profession and my more gregarious personality didn’t seem to match up, and I ended up in the more “out there” fields of public relations, then real estate, instead.

However, I have enjoyed owning and restoring two historic homes which has greatly enhanced my living experience, and I have been fortunate to be called upon to list and sell a good number of historic homes since I entered the field. Currently I have several such homes on the market, and the one purchased by the Cozzas more than two years ago offers a particularly exciting opportunity for some lucky buyer to visit the future while stepping back into the past because of the vision demonstrated by this couple in the home’s renovation.

While searching for the Cozzas’ home, I had to be on my toes because Kim had been a realtor upstate, working on the commercial side of the business, and Matt was the vice president for development and construction for a major supermarket chain.  Kim would check everything new on the market each day before I got around to it, and I can’t count how many houses we looked at before we came to the wonderful 1726 colonial they decided to buy, coincidentally on the very same road on which my historic home is located in Yorktown Heights.  Kim eyed it up and down and I could see her mind working in terms of the work it needed.

“When buying a house, I think about what it needs in terms of investment and what additional value it will bring to the house when we go to sell it,” she said recently when readying her house for re-sale, necessitated by Matt’s having taken a job in a new location. “We look at the roof, the heating system, the windows, the siding, water heater, the kitchen and bathrooms…the expensive things to deal with…everything else is relatively minor in bringing a house up to where it needs to be.”

In the case of their home in Yorktown Heights, “the exterior had already been done in top quality no- or low-maintenance materials like Azek trim, HardiPlank clapboard siding, and ‘lifetime’ roofing, but the heating system needed to be replaced, along with the kitchen and windows,” Kim said, “and because we intended to stay here for a long time, we decided it was worth it to make this major investment.”

Matt chimed in that, in the case of the heating system, he decided to go whole hog because, in this house, it was such a hodgepodge of steam, hot water and electric. “Home buyers are sometimes hesitant to invest in an old house because they fear such factors as the upkeep, the heating system and the lack of insulation…these are the biggest concerns … so we decided to put our money there,” he said. “We invested in a dual pump system that was expensive as an initial investment (in the case of the Cozzas’ home, it involved a $27,000 cost, to include air conditioning), but it pays for itself over the years of efficient energy use.”  The Cozzas also invested in a new kitchen with top grade surfaces that cost close to $40,000, and all new windows that cost $8,000.

“It’s the dual pump heating system that really makes this a home of the future because we can achieve maximum energy efficiency by switching back and forth from electricity to propane, depending on which is cheaper to use during the course of the season,” Matt volunteered, “and should we get a gas line in, or choose to install solar panels, we could also switch to one of those energy sources if we choose.

“It’s expensive to install but if you’re going to be in the house for a while, it pays for itself, “ Matt concluded. As it happens, relocation for Matt required that the Cozzas place their house on the market long before they planned, but combining the charm of yesteryear with the efficiencies of the future captured the attention of the market. As this column goes to press, the house has been on the market only two days, but it has enjoyed multiple showings and has two offers on the table already.

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.

Hillary Sheperd, "Dirty Jobs" gal.

Hillary Sheperd, “Dirty Jobs” gal.

When the bundle of energy that is Hillary Sheperd bursts into a room, or in this case, into the sidewalk café where our networking meeting was taking place, you can’t help but take notice. I overheard her apologize to friends for her tardiness with snippets about “traffic” and just having had to deal that day with a really “dirty, dirty” job. My ears picked up.

“You mean you do dirty work like Mike Rowe on ‘Dirty Jobs’ on TV?” I asked her as soon as I could grab her attention. “Yes, I’m the female Mike Rowe,” she responded, extending a friendly hand. More questions revealed that Sheperd is co-owner with her husband Forrest, a contractor, of a ServPro franchise serving the mid and lower Westchester area. The company handles fire and water cleanup and restoration, mold removal and remediation and other “dirty, dirty” jobs that “somebody has to do” as Mike Rowe, one of my favorite media personalities, always says and as the ServPro’s tag line states: “Like it never even happened.”

When I confessed to Sheperd that I always have held great admiration for women doing jobs typically associated with men and asked what attracted her to the business, she said, “I had worked with both Homeland Security and FEMA prior to buying this franchise and, especially with FEMA, I had dealt with the effects of disaster with that rash of hurricanes we had, one after another in 2011 and 2012. Many times I heard our ‘old-timers’ there recommend to victims of the storms that they reach out to services ‘like ServPro’ to help them clean up from disaster, rather than resort to the possibility of hooking up with some unscrupulous contractor who might take their money for materials and never come back, and they’d be victimized yet again. I knew that ServPro had a good reputation and it would be a good match for my experience in dealing with immediate response to disaster.”

As a journalist, it was my natural inclination to ask Shepard to tell me about her most “disgusting” job and her most “horrific” job. After she told me, very honestly, I was sorry I asked, especially in the case of the latter, but I feel compelled to report it, to demonstrate the extent to which these valiant service providers must sometimes go to restore living environments for the protection and safety of others.

Shepard reported that the most disgusting job her crew encountered was in a home where the occupant had a hoarding problem, including with her own human waste which she kept in her bathroom, wrapped in toilet paper, completely filling the room over many months until its capacity had been reached. When the problem was discovered, help was sought through ServPro. “My crew had to don Tyvek non-porous protective clothing and respiratory masks, but still it was the most disgusting job they had ever encountered and they have seen it all.”

The most horrific job involved the tragedy of the loss of a human life and a conflagration that resulted from that. “A woman was filling an oil lamp and, without realizing it, she got some of the oil on her clothing that was highly flammable,” Sheperd explained, “and when she lighted the lamp, her clothing caught fire. Thinking fast, her daughter got out the fire extinguisher but, what most people don’t know – and this can be a lesson – is that the type of fire extinguishers which are mostly talcum don’t work with a hot oil or grease fire that should really be smothered with a blanket. The woman fled down a flight of stairs ostensibly to a downstairs bathroom shower destination as she was being immolated before her daughter’s eyes. She became a human fireball through the house filled with electronic equipment that caught fire with a very hot burning blaze that took a long time to extinguish. The melted electronics and the resulting water damage made the job particular difficult for Sheperd to mitigate. It was also difficult for her to share the story and for me to report here.

When asked, Sheperd volunteered that the most frequent request for cleanup is for issues regarding water damage, including sewage. “We have our own code for that,” said Sheperd to lighten the subject, “which is ‘OPP,’ code for ‘Other People’s Poopie.’”

Pricing, according to Sheperd, is pretty much set by the insuring companies, such as State Farm, which have codes for payment for particular kinds of damage and, if it’s a self-pay situation, the cost will depend on the people and time needed to get the job done.

As Sheperd explained her response to disastrous situations and her way of doing business, I took away the conviction that if I were to suffer a loss, I would want her steady hand and mind by my side to pull me through the ordeal.

Hillary Sheperd can be reached at 914-699-5181 or at hsheperd@servprosmv.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), 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.r

When I announced in the office sales meeting at William Raveis that The Home Guru Team was just about to list a great “mother/daughter” house, my office manager Doris Ellias gently advised me that “now it’s suggested that we refer to them as ‘extended family’ houses.”

Oh, no, I exclaimed mentally, now we have yet another widely accepted housing term that is considered either politically incorrect or unacceptable to the Fair Housing Act’s advertising guidelines. I looked for any reference to support Doris’ notation and couldn’t find anything, but I’m sure she’s right. After all, my friend Steve Welles lives in that kind of set-up with his two sons, Shane and Cody and why should his house be called a “mother/daughter” and not a “father/son?”   So, I guess “extended family” can cover a broader swath of new family situations, including all the in-laws, and all the other possibilities we now have with equality in marriage.

But, consider yourself lucky when you set out to sell your home that you’ve hired a professional realtor who’s trained to navigate all the language land mines out there that protect citizens from discrimination in housing. We realtors have one heck of a time making sure that we are in compliance when we create copy for a listing, write a brochure or place ads. We might as well have a lawyer by our sides to make sure we are not in violation of those guidelines. Acceptable terms and phrases may seem arbitrary until they offend someone and spark a complaint to a government agency.

Section 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act prohibits language that would foster discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin and, now, in some states, sexual orientation. Some limitations are allowed, such as “no smoking” and “no pets” but others are not, such as “no children” and may not state a preference for adults, couples or singles but rather can describe the properties, as suggested by the National Association of Realtors.  We all know the obvious phrases that would denote a particular preference or those code words that imply limitations such as “exclusive” or “private.” Also we must be careful not to mention particular school systems or houses of worship that could imply a preference in a buyer or tenant.

And when we set about to describe the house itself, there are difficulties in describing its rooms with all the changes that have come about with modern living and, in some cases, where a name may have one meaning but imply another. For instance, does having a master bedroom imply that slavery is still alive and well, or that only households with males at their head should consider buying the home? And, where would the mistress put down digs?

Scores of other questions come to mind about rooms’ names. Why do we call it a John and not a Jill? And, I don’t even want to venture a guess about the Jack and Jill bathroom.

So many room names have gone totally bye-bye just by virtue of the way we live differently from the way we lived years ago. Does anyone really live in the living room anymore? Hasn’t it been completely replaced by the family room just off the kitchen? Shouldn’t we just dump it from our housing vocabulary and our floor plans as well? And who decided that the great room should be a great room? Is that in contrast to a lousy room?

And have you seen a sitting room or sewing room lately? Or a library? That is, unless you live grandly, as some do. One of my favorite stories is about the time I visited the home of a client, Ella Brennan, matriarch of the family that owns Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, and when she opened the double doors to her grand ballroom, I exclaimed, “Oh, you have a ballroom in your house!” and she replied, “Doesn’t everyone?”

And why do we still call the mud room the mud room? Has there really been any mud in it since we stopped being an agrarian society? Just in the past month I’ve listed two historic houses that have “birthing rooms” just off the kitchen. What in the world should I call them? And, remember the rumpus room when we were kids? All such vestigial rooms have been replaced courtesy of the internet with the home office that people my age never had the luxury of and are now de rigueur in the modern household.

There are so many terms and room descriptions that are being pulled from our housing vocabulary for one reason or another, either because of lifestyles changes or the requirements of the Fair Housing guidelines, that someday we may be reduced to saying simply, “nice house for sale.”

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.

Home improvement “ombudsman” Richard Cirulli stands before the 1861 wing of The Home Guru’s Ebenezer White House to which a modern glass structure will be added. He will mentor the process with contractors.

Home improvement “ombudsman” Richard Cirulli stands before the 1861 wing of The Home Guru’s Ebenezer White House to which a modern glass structure will be added. He will mentor the process with contractors.

It was more than 40 years ago, but I still feel the sting of being swindled by an unscrupulous home improvement contractor.

As a young couple, my wife and I had just managed to qualify for a mortgage and cobble together enough money for a down payment to buy our large historic house that at that time was in fairly poor condition. We didn’t have much money left for needed improvements but it was essential to renovate the mudroom which was literally falling off the house. It was the main entrance from the driveway to the kitchen and needed the works: a cement floor, new framing, roof, new door, insulation, a half bath, and closet.

Our friends Linda and Michael who had moved to Westchester just before us recommended a contractor who gave us a quote of $2,000 for job and told us he required a $500 deposit to pay for materials. Naïve as we were, we went with him, not knowing whether he was licensed or checking other references. He took our check, cashed it quickly, and we never saw him again.

Recently in the White Plains edition of this newspaper, I read about a new service that guards against this kind of thing happening to other homeowners who may be as naïve as I was then and, in many ways, still am. I thought it would be a good idea to share this information with other readers because so often I receive complaints about unsatisfactory home improvement jobs.

Called the Homeowners Ombudsman Program, the service was created by Richard Cirulli of Kymar Limited, a White Plains-based construction management company. Cirulli, who holds a doctorate degree in engineering, has spent over 30 years in facilities and construction management for major companies, and now in his own business, offers himself as an ombudsman, or advocate, to homeowners to protect themselves from making mistakes when renovating their homes.

“I should be the first person homeowners call when planning a home improvement, not a contractor,” Cirulli says. “For a reasonable consulting fee, an ombudsman can prevent a homeowner from the pitfalls so common to the industry. For instance, such an advocate knows enough to ask the contractor which bank would hold the client’s escrow account as required by New York State lien law. And he lets that contractor know that a waiver of liens will be required with each progress payment.”

I’ve been around the real estate and home improvement business for a long time and I’ve never heard of these requirements. Shame on me! Now I am aware and will suggest this mentorship program to all my clients planning to renovate.

In my own case, for many years, I have been dreaming about leaving my mark on my beloved Ebenezer White House, started in 1734, that has not had a change to its exterior appearance since 1861. I’ve delayed that decision year after year, probably because of that first bad experience that I ventured on my own. As I’ve disclosed time and again, the “guru” attached to my byline is only the expertise I channel from the real experts. On my own, I’m only a vessel.

I have already engaged my architect Michael Piccirillo for a novel idea. I’ve taken the shape of that 1861 wing, which is a story and a half structure with a lean-to on the back, making it appear like a saltbox, recreating it, attaching it in reverse and structuring it almost completely in glass, facing our pool and gardens. This will be the “open” floor plan I’ve coveted to complement the traditional proportions of the rest of the house. It should be a stunning modern statement, yet in complete harmony with the home’s heritage.

At our first meeting, Cirulli told me that he will study the plans, create a schedule for the project, spec the materials and estimate the costs. From there, he will set up an escrow fund and handle the employment and financial dealings with the subcontractors, always seeking my approval along the way.

The first step is to plan the re-grading of the lawn area upon which the new wing will sit so that there can be crawl space beneath the structure to accommodate the space needed for a new HVAC system that I plan to install throughout the house. Ebenezer White, with a little expert help, I can’t wait to introduce you to all the new technologies of the 21st century!

Ombudsman Richard Cirulli can be emailed at profcirulli@optonline.net or called directly at 845-380-2872

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 historic house was one of the loveliest I had ever listed, but it was on the market for over a year and, while it had many showings, it hadn’t yet gotten a single offer. When it came time to relist it, the owners and I considered what else we might do to make the home more attractive to a broader reach of buyers. Noting that their hardwood floors were somewhat dull and faded, I suggested that they might consider the investment of having them refinished.

I had heard of a floor refinisher named Debbie Gartner, aka “The Flooring Girl,” who had established a reputation in the Hudson Valley region for excellent work at reasonable prices and suggested her to the owners. As Home Guru readers would know, I’m always intrigued when I find a woman supplier who takes on jobs traditionally associated with men.

Shortly after I made the recommendation, I was told that the estimate for refinishing the entire first floor came in reasonably and the project was accepted. When I revisited the house after the job was done, it was a revelation. Bottom line: when the house was relisted, it received an offer in three days. I can’t attest to how much influence beautifully refinished floors had on that rapid a sale, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt. One thing is certain: the experience got me thinking about having the flooring in two rooms and my central hallway in my own home redone.

My main concern however, was the time and effort involved with clearing the deck, literally, for such an all-out job. I had a lot of questions about the process. “Those are exactly the questions all my customers ask me,” Debbie said, and she came well prepared with the answers. Here they are:

Q: How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors from start to finish? That depends on what type of polyurethane is used, oil-based or water-based. Oil tends to take longer, from three to four days plus drying time, and water based tends to dry faster in two days.

Q: Is there a lot of dust when sanding floors? Yes, but the dust goes into a vacuum bag. While no process is 100 percent dustless, it does take care of 90 to 95 percent of the dust.

Q. Can you change the color of the hardwood? Yes, you can go from light to dark, or dark to light or anywhere in between.

Q. What if we have pet stains on the floor? If there are areas that have pet stains or water damage that have turned black, the best thing to do may be to replace those hardwood boards and weave them in.

Q. What if there is damage to the floor or sections where hardwood is missing? This is usually solvable with weaving in additional wood, especially with oak flooring.

Q. Will I need to move my furniture? Some customers prefer to move furniture themselves; others prefer that the floor refinishers do it. It can work either way.

Q. Where do I store my furniture? Most customers use other parts of their home that may have tile or carpet, or move it to a basement or garage. Or a job can be done in two phases to accommodate space for furniture, or a storage container can be used.

Q. When can we walk on the floors? On average, you can walk on the floors about 24 hours after the application of the final coat. It is recommended that for the first 24 to 48 hours you wear socks only, no shoes, no bare feet.

Q. When can we put area rugs back down on the floor? It is recommended that you wait four weeks after the job is complete before putting area rugs back in place. This allows adequate time for the floors to cure.

Q. How long will the new finish last? The lifestyle of the home determines how long the finish will last. With regular maintenance cleaning, it can last between seven and 10 years.

Q. What is a screen and recoat? What is floor buffing? Both are the same. It’s a non-invasive method where the floor is buffed and abraded so that an extra coat of polyurethane can be added. It allows an extra coat of polyurethane to be added for extra sheen and protection.

Before Debbie Gartner bought into the franchise operation of Floor Coverings International and branded herself as “The Flooring Girl,” she was a marketing executive with major companies such as Procter & Gamble and knows the language and strategies for communicating her message to the public. But judging from the work she’s done for my clients, I know that her marketing skills are backed up solidly with the superb service she provides. To know more, visit www.TheFlooringGirl.com or call 914-937-2950.

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.

For more than a dozen years, The Home Guru has been observing and writing about the housing market and home building design, repair and maintenance. I have focused on hundreds of widely varied subjects, sometimes into areas quite unexpected.

Who would expect a home columnist to write a treatise on mattresses or toilets or delve into the ghosties that still live among us? No matter how far flung my pen or keyboard may reach, there are so many thousands of topics that deal with the experience of “home” that this column could last far beyond my earthly years.

Even though it’s not my favorite kind of reporting, I’m reminded from time to time, especially when my editor forwards me the quarterly report from the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors (HGAR) which manages our Multiple Listing Service (MLS), that part of my job is to respond on the most frequently asked question I get from readers and friends: “So how’s the market doing?”

Normally the regional daily paper gets the jump on me with that report, and the headline there would surely seem discouraging to anyone who would have their homes on the market now or in the near future. “Spring Sales Stalled” it announced, but then that didn’t come as any surprise to those of us in the business. We were aware that some of our seller clients were getting anxious about not getting as many showings as they had been hoping for since their listing date, while others were ecstatic about the results they were getting, even with bidding wars getting back into play.

The second quarter, from April 1 through the end of June, was very strange to say the least following a winter that started early and never seemed to end. At least that’s the reason industry pundits are citing for such lackluster results in a recovering market.

In our area, sales dropped 13.5 percent in Westchester and 6.6 percent in Putnam in the recently completed second quarter compared to the same quarter last year, even though the market had shown an uptick the three months before. That would seem to be a stunning statistic but the weather caused one showing cancellation after another. After a while, sellers decided to wait until spring to list and buyers seemed to put house hunting on hold as well.

The good news is that realtors are comparing notes and reporting that pending sales–those in contract–are higher as parents are rushing to close deals on new homes to enroll their children into local schools before September. That augurs well for a stronger third quarter.

What has been odd about the second quarter is the spottiness of hot and cold pockets in Westchester and Putnam, depending on the price points and locations of properties.

For instance, I listed two historic colonials lastquarter, one in the hot market of Bronxville at 447 California Rd., which was priced at $997,500, and received an accepted offer in two days. Another that I listed in Brewster, a really great house and priced wonderfully at $575,000, just five minutes from the train station and an hour from Grand Central, has had only one showing so far. Go figure. But slowly, very slowly, we know from our showing desk that appointment activity is slowly moving north. And that’s encouraging.

Overall, I would say that the second quarter, after weathering a horrific recession and a horrific winter season, is simply shaking out and stabilizing for a more solid fall season.

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.

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Cathleen “Cat” McAuliffe, realtor with William Raveis in Yorktown and Asian scholar, speaks fluent Japanese and offers her services to Japanese home seekers who do not yet speak English.

The conversation started on the 4th of July weekend about a beautifully written essay in The New York Times by a man who had found Leaves of Grass to be a beacon of hope when growing up in the South as an Evangelical harboring the secret that he was gay.

My wife somehow had missed the homoerotic messages of Whitman’s work and was as surprised as when she first learned that Rock Hudson was gay. “But it was a nun who put that book in my hand,” she said.

That comment struck me funny because, when I went to Catholic school in Philadelphia, the only thing I remember a nun putting into my hand was a ruler with a smart whack. When I asked my mother why that nun was so mean to me, she said, “Because she’s Irish and you’re Italian!” Maybe my first grade nun had issues, but obviously my mother did too.

My parent’s generation didn’t yet have the Sharks and the Jets. They had the Irish and Italian factions, the former having arrived a generation earlier because of the potato famine; the latter lagging behind a half century to escape a great Italian depression to build projects in the City of Brotherly Love, and the wars for turf were on. The difference was that my dad’s gang in the 20s and 30s used fists, bricks and bottles, rather than knives and guns.

By the time my dad stopped hanging around with the gang and married my mother, the first home they purchased was next door to the O’Gradys, and I’m told that my grandmother didn’t like the idea that they didn’t buy in a nice, exclusively Italian neighborhood.

By the 1950s because of a post-World War II opportunity for my dad, we would be living in the South before Rosa Parks, where there were designated neighborhoods in which blacks could and could not live. Even we as Italian, Catholic northerners with one parent having an Italian accent were labelled “the foreigners” in our community.

In another 10 years, my widowed mother would be moving to Baltimore to be closer to my married sister, and shockingly enough, to buy a new row home there, she was required to sign a covenant with the developer pledging that she would not someday resell the property to a buyer of “Oriental extraction.”

“How could you sign something like that?” I asked her, having just graduated from college the year Kennedy was elected, and looking back, am astounded that Federal law did not yet protect citizens from such discrimination. “It’s the only way I could get the house,” she responded.”

Fast forward 50 years, and in the course of the past 12 months, I have represented such a diversity of buyers and sellers that they could make up a United Nations in themselves, and that is thrilling to me, having witnessed the long fight for equal opportunity in housing through the years.

Considering my mother’s bout with discrimination against Asians a half century ago, I was delighted to meet Cathleen “Cat” McAuliffe, a new agent at William Raveis Real Estate in Yorktown Heights. She’s new but has been connected with the real estate and construction industries for a very long time through her family. Cat is and looks as Irish as Irish can be, but the surprise is that she is an Asian scholar who speaks fluent Japanese.

Having lived in Japan and taught English there for seven years, she is back to represent all sellers and buyers, but will be a treasure to those who are relocating from Japan and do not yet speak English. “I encourage anyone who knows anyone in that situation to contact me,” Cat advises, “because I can both teach them English and handle their real estate needs at the same time!” That welcoming accommodation is a far cry from the days of shameful prohibitive covenants.

How great is it that we live in a country that protects our right to live where we choose, albeit belatedly and with no small amount of struggle. And, how gratifying it is to work in a profession that guarantees and facilitates that right.

Bill Primavera,“The Home Guru” Realtor,® is 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 Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

When she visited at Christmas, my daughter Emma who is very sensitive to such things alerted me that there must be mold in our living room. She could sense it as soon as she walked into the room, which very honestly is used only for special occasions nowadays. I looked into all the corners of the room along the baseboard and found no evidence of it, but a thought popped into my head and it was a correct assumption.

In one far corner is an early nineteenth century chest with a glass door-enclosed bookcase on top displaying my collection of antique books, mostly for show, about old New York. Sure enough, on the top shelf, a whole section of them, neglected for some time, was covered with a powdery film of bluish, dusty mold.

I closed the doors and thought, oh well, might as well ignore it for a bit longer, as we moved the holiday celebration to the library. Another case of the cobbler without shoes, I’m afraid, at least until another day. But that day came quickly when Mark Jones, President of Certified Inspections, Inc., a home inspection and environmental testing company, came to the William Raveis office to present some important information about mold identification and removal.

After the meeting I met with him privately to learn more, and he identified some common myths about mold as follows:

Myth: You can identify mold by looking at it.

Truth: The only way mold can be identified is by having a sample of it analyzed under a microscope in a lab. In a Today Show exposé, reporters rubbed mascara on a hallway wall and called in a dozen mold companies to look at it. All of them said it was definitely mold and quoted prices to remove it. What else could it be? Discoloration can be caused by carbon, concentrated dust, dirt, and other unidentifiable matter.

Myth: Mold is dangerous.

Truth: Mold is dangerous if it is present in a substantial enough quantity. When samples are analyzed, the report not only tells you what kinds of spores were present, but how many of each were present. A low enough level presents no more danger than what you encounter outside your house. If the levels are high inside, then you run a serious health risk.

Myth: Mold is not dangerous because it is all around the environment.

Truth: The mold levels outside are always changing and some people are affected by the outside mold in the same way some are affected by pollen or pollution. If mold levels are significantly higher inside one’s house, mold can cause severe respiratory damage, headaches, flu-like symptoms, and in severe cases, memory loss and cancer.

Myth: Mold should be cleaned with bleach.

Truth: Bleach should NOT be used. Bleach only kills surface mold and evaporates leaving behind a residue of nitrogen, which is an element of fertilizer. In effect, you are feeding the mold spores that are under the surface or in the air and it can grow back even worse.

Myth: I can test my air for mold with a Home Depot kit.

Truth: Growing a culture on your own tells you nothing about whether you have a mold problem because you are not comparing it to a control sample outside or gauging its growth time via any regulated methodology. The best way to determine if you have a mold problem is to hire a professional company that only does testing and have them take air samples with spore traps and swabs or tape lifts. Knowing how to collect data and how to interpret it is just as important as what equipment one uses to collect it. That’s why professionals are trained in their craft.

Myth: Mold can make you sick if it is inside your walls.

Truth: Mold can only make you sick if you breathe it. If it is concealed inside your walls but not in the air of your house, it cannot affect you. That is why having air testing performed by a professional testing company that does not also do remediation is the only way to find out if the air is safe.

Myth: It is better to have one company do mold testing and mold clean up.

Truth: You should NEVER have the same company do both. If a company does clean up, also known as remediation or abatement, they have a reason to find a problem so they can make much more money doing the clean up like all the companies who said the mascara was mold. An independent testing company with no conflict of interest should first test, and if a problem is found, they should write up an action plan which specs out the scope of work for a remediator to follow so it is done properly. The testing company should then re-test the remediator’s work to make sure the work was safely completed.

More information about Certified Home Inspections can be found at: certifiedinspections.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), 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.

SteveHaggerty

Steve Haggerty, contractor and poet, frees his mind for creativity while he works with his hands.

When you are working on a job around the house or in the garden, are you like me in that your mind wanders to dreams of worlds to be conquered or occasional regrets about paths not taken? I had never thought about what might occupy the minds of others as they tackle home projects until I met Steve Haggerty who makes a living of it as a contractor. In his case, thoughts on the job feed his passion as a poet and writer.

Traveling along a road on the way to a job, he might see a fog settling over a field with a cows and, rather than worry that the mist might slow his arrival at the work site, he makes a mental note of how the scene might fit into his writing later in the day. He observes the will of a blade of grass struggling through a crack in concrete and makes another notation, perhaps this time in a notebook, his constant companion, which shares its observations of nature with needed supplies at the hardware store.

Normally when homeowners contract for a job, they expect a service provider to show up who is good at what he or she does, and would hope for some skill to accompany the assignment at hand. They probably would not look beyond that expectation to an entire realm of artistry.

Early on I learned that real estate is a fascinating field because all of us in the industry have done “something else” and have brought another skill set to our profession. In Haggerty’s case, he was an editor on a trade publication dealing with the building industry. When he was 29, he decided to leave that position to work with his hands so that he could “clear his mind” for the creative process of writing, and he chose to work in the field he had written about.

The result of that decision, his book Cows in the Fog and Other Poems and Stories, is being published as this column goes to press.

Haggerty was surrounded by creative expression growing up. His father Richard Haggerty worked with genius composer Richard Rodgers of musical theatre fame with credits as impressive as Oklahoma! and Carousel on stage and Victory at Sea on television. His neighbors when he vacationed in Vermont were poet Robert Frost and artist Normal Rockwell, not the sort of knock-around friends you would expect from a contractor who would come to paint your house or build an addition.

Leafing through an advance copy of his book, I felt compelled to ask Haggerty about how that thought process translated into the implementation of his work with his hands. “Thinking like a poet has developed in me a sense of rhythm when I work,” he responded. “It’s not necessarily the best way to rush into a job with the goal of just getting it done as quickly as you can. Sometimes it’s best to do some things more steadfastly, to slow down, to get the job done in a better way.” Maybe not all homeowners would like to hear that a job would be done in a certain rhythm that might take longer, but as for me, I’d take that route anytime.

As I consider the projects I have harbored in my mind for my beloved Ebenezer White House – the reconstruction of a front porch that graced my home from the 1830s to the 1950s and will now reappear as enclosed office space; a glass solarium overlooking my garden and pool, with a spa and gym above, along with another bath and a laundry room – I ask Steve, would he be interested in looking at the plans when they finally arrive from my architect and signing on as my contractor?

But I extract a promise from him: At the end of each day, will he share with me the thoughts that pop into his head as he wends his way through the project? Isn’t that part of the creative process, after all?

My plan would be to take his notes, create a small sketch book and keep it along with the architectural plans to leave with the house as the poetry the project inspired. How creative an idea is that?

Steve Haggerty’s book Cows in the Fog and Other Poems and Stories can be found at Amazon.com or at his website: www.sthaggerty.com. For hands-on contract work with a creative twist, Haggerty can be reached directly at 845-319-6213.

Bill Primavera,“The Home Guru”Realtor,® is 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 Team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s some lucky stiff spending eternal life on top of Marilyn Monroe thanks to either his vanity or warped humor, or his wife’s open-mindedness or wealth, or whatever circumstances led to the shelling out of $4.6 million at auction on eBay in 2011 to buy the crypt just above the blonde bombshell’s final resting place at a cemetery in Los Angeles.

When we are alive and kicking, we put so much thought into where we want to live – the community, the neighborhood, the block, the style of house, the amenities – and sometimes, but not always, we put just as much thought into buying that piece of real estate where our remains will stay after our souls have left this earthly plane, whether it’s a plot of land with a headstone, a grand mausoleum, a crypt or an urn for the mantel.

From what I’ve observed among those who have passed among family and friends, we either totally ignore or obsess about that final piece of real estate in which we’ll ever invest. My executive assistant Cara tells me that her grandmother took great pains finding just the right site on a hillside with a beautiful view as the burial site for her husband while he was terminally ill. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my own mother refused to consider that my father might die throughout his final illness and made no plans for a funeral or burial until after the undertaker came for his body.

At that time, my family was living in Virginia for a prolonged job assignment, but my mother wanted my dad’s body returned to their “true home,” to be buried on the outskirts of Philadelphia. When we learned that would involve an overnight layover in Baltimore, my mother said, “No, Al always hated travel, and he’s not going to spend his last trip overnight in a train station.” She decided, perhaps somewhat capriciously, to bury him “here with the ‘hillbillies.’”

So, my Dad remains in Virginia for his eternal rest and I’ve been able to visit him only once in the past 30 years. When my mother died, she was cremated and her urn is buried next to him. Ultimately, a bad commute sealed the fate of my dad’s last real estate investment.

Likewise, most of us will probably wait until the last minute to make burial arrangements for our loved ones and then ask a funeral director to make recommendations. I called my local funeral parlor, Yorktown Funeral Home, and learned that, sure enough, that is frequently the case, where a funeral director must recommend several cemeteries when last minute decisions are made.

Interested as I am in historic properties, I’m very aware of the family plots we find on private properties throughout my region of Westchester and Putnam Counties and, surprisingly, New York State still allows municipalities to make that determination. In an age of track developments, few of us think about on-site burials, but still, some of us with enough acreage might consider it.

When I called the attorney for Yorktown, Jeannette Koster confirmed that it wasn’t so long ago that somebody asked if there could be a burial on private property in town (there can’t be). In New York State, it was all laid out in the Burial Laws Amendment Act of 1880.  It’s kind of creepy to consider that a body comes within the definition of “clinical waste” and as such cannot be disposed of except under the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act of 1974 and the Environment Protection Act of 1990.

As for me, no thanks, I don’t want to be buried in the traditional way in a metal box, six feet under, unless I opt for a “green” burial, where it’s natural in all respects: no embalming fluid, no concrete vault; just a bio-degradable casket, shroud or my favorite fuzzy blanket, where I am reunited with the earth and recycled to new life.

Or better yet, I will choose cremation to hasten the process foretold in Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” I’ve already suggested to my wife that she dump my ashes into the flowing Hudson and, from there, I will be carried out to the great Atlantic and from there to the seven seas, covering the globe. In effect, my last home on earth will be without boundary…and totally tax-free.

And here’s an epilogue to the Marilyn Monroe story. For anyone who thought there wasn’t some darkly humorous or perversely sexual content to the real estate deal on top of Marilyn Monroe’s final resting place, consider that, when the crypt was sold in 2011 for that princely sum, it was disclosed that the occupant who had to relinquish his envied position above her was lying face down. Really, I don’t make this stuff up.

Bill Primavera,“The Home Guru”Realtor,® is 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 Bill and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.