10550318_sWhen I was younger, a feeling of near-euphoria would greet me at the first breath of spring as I would anticipate my first days in the garden. Year after year, I could always be assured that I had at least five or six months ahead of me where, whenever stressed, all I had to do was put on my garden gloves to zone out and unwind.

In ensuing years, however, that enthusiasm dampened somewhat, first by  “gardener’s knee,” then by a schedule that sometimes had me choosing the easy chair and TV for relaxation in any free time rather than anything more strenuous in the open air.

Yet, I still wanted to have my property looking its best, especially now that it’s on the market with an increased schedule of showings. At the same time, I must keep my weekend outdoor maintenance chores to tight time constraints.

Here’s my shorthand to planning a low-maintenance garden that will eventually require only a one-weekend planting schedule, another for clean-up and only occasional touch-ups from spring to fall.

My main objectives in creating an attractive but low-maintenance property were to plan for as much color as possible throughout the spring, summer and fall and to beat the weed and deer-munching problems.

To accomplish the first goal, I spend my first years of ownership in planting foundation flowing trees and shrubs that promised to return year after year, requiring only pruning either in the spring or fall. These include spring blooming apple and cherry trees, lilac, forsythia, azalea, and rhododendron and late summer blooming Rose of Sharon.

I always considered carefully which plants I put into my garden and which I kept out. On the “out” list were roses, which can kill you from the constant attention needed (except for the “Knockout” variety which are more forgiving), and annual flowers for cutting which can be as intense a process from seedlings to the eventual cut as raising a child.

“In” was anything that blooms every year with no attention from me, such as phlox, Shasta daisies and Black-Eyed Susans, which return ever year if properly watered and fertilized, naturally or otherwise.

Accompanying those bursts of color were swaths of daffodil, crocus and hyacinth bulbs planted decades ago in wire cages to keep the squirrels at bay.

For colorful ground cover that spread like wild fire, I planted clumps of periwinkle whose purple blossoms last for weeks.  Another trusty foundation planting of several varieties has been hosta, also blooming in spires of purple and white.

In the spring, just a bit of time is required to trim spring flowering shrubs right after blooming for thicker growth and more blooms next year. And, just as you are tending to the perennial beds, the earliest spring bulbs will be blooming. Afterwards, be sure to deadhead them (remove the remains of the blossoms) but don’t remove the leaves. Let them die back naturally so that they can feed the bulbs for next year.

For time efficiency, the concept of annual flower beds was replaced by a collection of urns in focused areas of the property, filled with non-destruct geraniums that last throughout the season.

Step two of my no-work garden is the easy way to keep weeds, invasive plants and deer at bay. The principal deterrent to weeds is to employ thick mulch doing its triple-duty miracle work of retaining moisture while inhibiting weed growth, plus adding nutrients to the soil as it decays. I have a money-saving trick in achieving a thick mulch look. Regular mulch can be quite expensive, so I ask my friends who cut and prune my trees to drop a full load of really clean chips near my driveway, and I use them in all my garden beds as a first layer. Then, I cover that layer with a mere skin of the more expensive mulch.

My third element for easy gardening is to utilize certain products necessary to keep the invaders of the garden, both plant and animal, at bay. One is the fabulous Preen, those tiny granules keep weeds from germinating. Another is Round-Up, which kills those invaders like grout weed that are not destroyed by Preen (a recent gardening column advised readers that the only way to get rid of grout weed was to move!). I spray the Round-Up directly on the leaves of this garden predator and systemically, they die off.

And the third product, Bobbex, keeps the deer from wishing each other bon appétit over my hosta and geranium flowers (they don’t much like the rest of the plant). While Bobbex must be sprayed at least once a month to continue its effectiveness, it’s a small price to pay to assure that you won’t lose an entire bed of plantings to one evening of deer indulgence. (Also, spray again if there is a tremendous rain storm.)

And, be mindful of what William Shakespeare wrote: “Sweet flowers are slow and weeds make haste.” With the tricks outlined here, you can enjoy the sweetness of the flowers and make haste in banishing the weeds, along with Bambi.

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

Occasionally I share “musings” from past columns that readers have commented on. Sometimes practical, other times absurd, they are observations of home living made along the way. For an index of previously published articles, visit: www.TheHomeGuru.com.

St. Joseph Strikes Again: There is much lore attached to burying a St. Joseph statue on the property of a home seeking a buyer, and sometimes the instructions can be quite specific about how it should be buried. The most favored position for the statue is upside down and facing the house. One laughable story online is about the homeowner who buried the statue facing away from the house only to have the house across the street sell, and it wasn’t even on the market! Another is about the homeowner whose house failed to sell and, frustrated, he threw his statue out with the trash only to learn that the town dump was sold soon after.

Can You Guess the Most Popular Street Name in America? It’s a good trivia question, and no, it’s not Main, Maple or Elm. It’s 2nd Street. Surprised? The reason is that most towns in America started with a simple grid of numbered streets, but many times 1st Street was renamed Main Street, boosting 2nd Street to the lead. So you might say that 2nd is second to none.

I Never Say “It Sucks” Except for My Vacuum, which Doesn’t, Despite manufacturers’ claims, my wife and I have never found a vacuum cleaner that really performs the job as promised. At present we have three different vacuum cleaners in our storage closet and, to coin a phrase, they all suck.

Will We All Return to Dust? Did you know that household dust is composed mostly of our own flaking skin? If we are uneasy when our house is dusty, is that being uncomfortable in our own skin? And did you know that, contrary to popular belief, it’s better for people with allergies to cover their floors with wall-to-wall carpeting, rather than hard wood, to keep allergens contained until they can be vacuumed up?

Confessions of a Weeding Addict: One might judge my mental state at any given time by how well my garden is weeded. When I’m anxious, I’m out there in the yard yanking and pulling. When weeds are more in evidence, my friends and neighbors can assume that I’ve not had much need for any occupational therapy and I’m safe to be around. In the winter time when plants and weeds alike are asleep, it’s riskier to hazard a guess. One way to avoid the issue altogether: buy Preen this spring!

Must We Have Toilet Humor? Two thoughts on that subject: The design of the elongated toilet bowl surely was designed to accommodate the male anatomy. Trading up from a circular bowl to an elongated one is for a guy like going from jockeys to boxer shorts. And recently, when I was told that the Kohler “smart” toilet seat could be programmed to heat to any temperature, I inquired, “but there’s no chance that I could accidentally burn my butt, is there?”

Of Death and Taxes: We’ve all heard the expression that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, and, while we can’t do anything about the inevitability of death, we can try to negotiate property taxes by grieving them. If a tax grievance is in your future, I wish you good luck. And if somehow you manage to negotiate the inevitability of death, write and let me know how you did it.

Two Mattress Tales: My wife tells a cute story about mattresses. When she took her 88-year-old mother to buy a new mattress and the salesman noted that it came with a 20-year guarantee, her mother said, “At my age, I only need a five-year guarantee. Can I get a better price for that?” When I was a bachelor, I preferred firmer mattresses that might allow greater movement, but once married, I preferred softer versions where one tends to sink into a spot and pretty much stay there. I don’t draw any conclusion about that transition but the reader might.

Too Much Shorthand in Real Estate: If you’re buying or selling a house, you’ve certainly encountered such abbreviations as FSBO (for sale by owner), AO (accepted offer), CMA (comparative market analysis), EIK (eat-in kitchen), SLD (sliding glass doors), etc., and sometimes it seems that our whole world, especially with texting, has gone much too far into shorthand degeneration. When making an admittedly low-ball offer on a house and told that the listing agent would “follow up” after speaking with her clients, you can imagine how startled I was with her return email when the subject line was abbreviated simply to “FU!”

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (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 to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

11217674_sSince my marriage, my wife and I have owned three homes and each of them provided for either a two-family or an accessory apartment arrangement, which, especially when we were young, helped keep the wolf from the door. And once moving to Westchester and realizing at a certain point that our taxes had more than doubled since purchasing our home, we could say, well at least the rental income buffered the sticker shock when the tax bill arrived.

Making good use of surplus square footage and deriving added income are the reasons most homeowners consider being landlords, but the challenges and responsibilities of being on call 24-7 are not for everyone. From my own experience I have gathered some advice here for anyone considering the purchase of a property that would offer a rental income opportunity.

The first step to becoming a landlord is to see what the town code allows in your municipality, if allowed at all. In my town, accessory apartments are allowed with a special use permit which remains in effect for a period of three years, then must be renewed. There are certain restrictions about square footage relative to the overall size of the house, depending on the town, and other restrictions as well. I know at least one couple, for example, who was disappointed to learn that their basement could not be converted into a rentable apartment because the ceiling was too low.

In the suburbs, most homeowners with accessory apartments are landlords under the same roof as their renters, while others may own a completely separate property for which they may hire a property management firm to manage it for them.

The ideal is to have the renter’s accommodations under the same roof, yet as private from your own living space as possible, with its own entrance and outdoor recreation space.

The most important aspect of finding the ideal tenants who will be living under the same roof as homeowners is qualifying them for their credit rating, work status and references. The internet has made this easier than when we first started renting and judged prospects mainly on whether they seemed like upstanding citizens. Luckily, our intuitiveness served us well, but today we would recommend much tighter scrutiny of prospective tenants.

Each applicant 18 years or older should be provided a pre-printed form to list his/her name, birth date, social security number, and previous landlord contact information for the past two years.

The form should also include the statement that indicates you will run a credit check. There should also be a signature line when the prospect consents to allowing the credit check. Some homeowners charge the prospect fee for requesting the credit report from the bureaus or credit check websites such as Experian, TransUnion or Equifax. CreditReport.com has an option for landlords to receive all three credit reports at one time.

When reviewing the reports, it’s prudent to remember that past behavior predicts future behavior. Certainly contact the past landlord about past behavior of the prospect and any problems there may have been.

When advertising for tenants, your real estate agent will be sure that the language of the ad is in compliance with all fair housing guidelines. If you are not using a real estate agent, be sure to check with your lawyer as to the proper language.

So what’s it like having someone renting out part of your home? My wife and I have been fortunate with our tenants; they have (almost) all been reliable and pleasant. That said, they have also all been different from each other. Some we only saw when they brought over their rent check. One of our first tenants in our townhouse in Brooklyn Heights, whom we inherited, were pains in the neck, leaving the front door to the building propped open so their friends could get in whenever they wanted. And this was New York City in the 1970s, so believe me, everyone in their right minds wanted their doors locked. We had to threaten eviction to get them to stop.

A few tenants became friends. We even helped name the first baby of one young couple. We would bring in each other’s mail and keep an eye on things when either they or we were away. If this sounds like a warmer relationship than most renters and landlords share, probably that is the case when there is just one rental unit involved, rather than many in an apartment house.

In my next home I will be calling it quits, having chosen a condo where someone else can worry about maintenance for a change of pace, but the experience of being a landlord has been a source of some interest as well as extra income through the years.

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

Jennifer Gurahian handles estate sales to bring discarded items “back to life.”

Jennifer Gurahian handles estate sales to bring discarded items “back to life.”

For many years Jennifer Gurahian has been my recommended source for handling estate sales whenever I’ve had clients who were downsizing. And only now when I am engaging her services myself have I experienced a change of perception about the whole process of getting rid of “stuff” no longer needed.

Counting what my wife and I had stored from a former antiques business as well as from a couple of other enterprises, we might as well have had a warehouse operation going in our 18th century farmhouse, currently on the market. Why were we holding on to so many things? Sentiment? An overrating of our collectibles’ value?

Whatever the reasons, we found that when it was time to let go of many possessions, we had an attic, basement and garage chock full of furniture, collectibles and other things as utilitarian as desks and file cabinets that had to be disposed of.

Correction: Rather than disposing of things, Gurahian has a different take on her job. “I’m in the business of bringing discarded items back to life, giving them new value and bringing new meaning to new people,” she said when she came to our property to assess our needs.

“It can be overwhelming for the average person,” Gurahian said, “It can be a full time job.” I totally agree; otherwise, I would have started on the assignment a long time ago.

Gurahian wasn’t specifically trained to do what she does today – she’s an anthropologist by education – but by any measurement is an expert at it. She started her business as a young single mother with a need for extra cash. “I would pick up discarded furniture on bulk trash pickup day, take it home, refinish it outside whenever the weather would permit and sell it either at flea markets or on consignment at antique shops. “Today, with Craigslist and eBay, the process is quite different,” she said.

To support her experience of learning by doing, she took a course in appraisal at Pratt. “There they taught us how to find the best and highest use for an item in the market you’re in,” she said. “How much can you get for an item within your market. Really, there is no other value.”

The process of re-purposing furniture and other items is fascinating to me and really quite time-intensive. Gurahian comes to the homeowner’s property to explain the process and to survey all the things to be sold. She then makes a proposal which usually involves her earning a percentage of sales. When an agreement is made, a schedule of visits is arranged in which she takes inventory of all items, does all necessary research on them, writing descriptions and taking photographs for the internet. It’s basically a full-service commitment where she communicates with interested buyers, arranges for payment and pick-up or, for items to be mailed, packaging.

And why would anyone want to do all this for a living? “It’s just something I was drawn to when I discovered all the things in my Grandmother’s attic,” Gurahian explained. “I wasn’t trained in this area…I’m just an educated lay person with a good eye.

“Early on, I found that pieces talk to you. Things are made with care and attention,” she said. “And, they have meant something to somebody. When you’re disposing of someone’s pieces, you’re getting someone’s experience with them, so it has meaning.”

Looking at an English tea table I’ve had for many years, Gurahian spies a patch in the veneer and said, “Look at the craftsmanship and care that went into that mending! I think it adds value.”

In terms of attaching the right price to pieces for an estate sale, Gurahian projects that she seeks the law of averages. “You want to get the price right – or at least within 15 percent – 80 percent of the time and the rest, you want lucky high or lucky low,” she said.

“This work has been very fulfilling to me on several levels,” she continued. “Working with furniture is very therapeutic. It speaks to you, yet doesn’t talk back. And, the ability to bring something back to life is a very powerful metaphor.”

Considering that moving is a major stressor in life, having this kind of service available is certainly a godsend, wouldn’t you say? Jennifer Gurahian can be reached at jgurahian@gmail.com.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (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 to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

Having long term relationships with your home suppliers has its advantages, I’ve found. In effect, they become advisors you can trust, almost like members of the family. And when the business itself is an extended family affair, it’s especially nice.

Take the example of Absolute Flooring of Yorktown that re-did my kitchen floor three years ago. My sales consultant Diane Darby was infinitely patient as I went through sample after sample, not knowing the material or color I wanted when starting out. But Diane knew all the right questions to ask. And the end result was a black and white checkerboard pattern of high-quality vinyl that brought a kitchen done in hand-crafted pine cabinetry vibrantly to life.

It was on a recent visit that I found that I could benefit by being a repeat customer this year in that the company is observing its 30th anniversary and to celebrate is offering all returning customers a 10 percent discount. While there, I learned more about the family and its story about growing up as a member of its community.

When owners Peter and Mary Fellbusch opened their store in 1986, Peter came armed with the experience of having worked as an installer, then a contractor, in flooring, and Mary had taken a correspondence course in interior design. They built their business from scratch, earning the trust and friendship of a large percentage of commercial entities in town and two generations of homeowners, primarily in northern Westchester.

Two children were born into the business: son Bryan, 28 and daughter Christine, 26, who literally grew up in the showroom. And when I returned this time around, I found that my original salesperson, Diane, was also a family member, the younger sister of Mary.

But here’s a fact that really intrigued me. From Bryan, I learned that after all these years in business, the Fellbusch files have the measurements of at least 20,000 rooms from homes in the area! Imagine? And in their anniversary year, if a homeowner calls in for a job where measurements have already been taken, whether by that homeowner or a former owner, he or she will receive a 10 percent discount. I’ve never heard of a promotion quite like that.

And with all those rooms that had been serviced, I was even more impressed to find that Mary had total recall of my former job after three years, the material selected and the issues that came with it, even though my salesperson had been sister “Aunt Di.” How had Mary known and how had she remembered?

“Having a good memory, both of the people you meet and the job involved, is a definite asset in any business,” daughter Christine told me. Christine has just returned to the family fold after having spent three years in England, married to a Brit soccer coach. She has now returned with her husband who will coach here while she works in the family business. While abroad, she worked for one of the largest flooring companies in Europe and impressed management with her American sales techniques which she learned from her parents.

“They were amazed that I connected so personally with each customer, remembering their names and the specs of each job. In a very short time, I was the store’s lead salesperson,” she said.

In a discussion with Mary about advantages of long-term supplier relationships, we agreed that the supplier becomes a trusted advisor who is part of the community and wants to provide clients with products that will work best for them in the long run. That’s why they ask the right questions about which rooms are used for which purposes, how much traffic is involved and what product will best stand up to the challenge.

Also, they are the source for information where we lack expertise in such areas as what is trending, what technology is new and what myths need debunking. For instance, I was able to report in a past column on the myth of hardwood as a better flooring surface for people with allergies because Diane had alerted me to this misconception. “This comes up frequently where people have the impression that hardwood floors are better for keeping allergies at bay, but research has shown that a low, dense carpet holds the allergens, rather than having them airborne, until they can be vacuumed away.”

And what’s trending in flooring according to the Fellbusch clan? “Times keep changing, and some things come full circle,” Peter said. “Laminates were a big deal when first introduced, now wood is preferred. “It depends on the room,” adds Mary. Most people still prefer carpeting in the bedroom where they want it to be warmer.”

If you (or your parents!) have been a past customer of Absolute Flooring and want the benefits offered by its 30th Anniversary, catch up with the Fellbusches by calling (914) 245-0225. If you’re new to the area, learn more by visiting www.absoluteflooring.com.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (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 to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

A faux border of swags and jabots painted years ago with stencils and freehand by the Home Guru.

A faux border of swags and jabots painted years ago with stencils and freehand by the Home Guru.

A whole new world was opened to me years ago when the owners of a tasteful antiques shop in Brooklyn Heights invited me to their condo in one of the grand houses in that landmarked neighborhood. When I looked up at the ceiling in their living room, I found that I was looking at a painted sky with clouds that extended the already-high ceilings to infinity.

Technically known as trompe t’oeil or “fool the eye,” this technique is just one of the many ways that faux or “false” painting can be used to transform any room or object into a work of art.

The objective of faux is to have its objects or surfaces look as much like the originals as possible, whether they be marble, wood, grain or suede. With professional faux painters, it’s amazing how realistic their work can be. There have been times when I have seen marbleized columns painted so realistically that I have had to tap on them to see if they weren’t the real thing. And the same can be said for examples of wood graining I’ve seen. With us amateurs, results can vary, but the application is always fun.

While few of us would attempt a sky with bulbous clouds like my friends’ ceiling, faux products provided by paint stores today allow even rank amateurs like me to achieve impressive results. Painting a room or even just one wall or the ceiling with a faux technique is a great way to give your home a dramatic boost. And because no two faux finishes come out the same, whatever effect you’re trying to achieve, it will be uniquely yours!

In my own experience, I started with the easiest of all faux techniques: antiquing, mostly for furniture I picked up on the streets of New York City and re-did with kits providing a base coat and a thin glaze applied over it which could be manipulated with a rag or brush to simulate age.   

The techniques are many, conveyed by their very names: Sponging, rag rolling, crackle; strie (stripes achieved by running a brush through the top glaze), leather wall, crinkle paper, and parchment, to name a few. Also there are specialty products that convey glitter, pearlescent or metallic effects to the surface. I especially like Chalkboard Paint, which is fun for families with young kids who can use their walls for free expression, only to be wiped clean without fuss.

One of my early hobbies was wall stenciling and there were a number of rooms in my first couple of apartments and homes that were graced with garlands of swags and jabots, patterned on 18th century designs, but modernized to my own vision with the addition of leaves and flowers intertwining the drapery effect.

Because many of the walls I painted were solid plaster applied well over 100 years ago and had many defects from multiple cracks and patching, I have frequently utilized faux textures, such as adding a sand mixture to my latex wall paint and swabbed it on with a thick bristled brush, forgiving 1,000 sins in the process.  There are many other textures to choose from today, such as brushed suede, sandstone finish, metallic plaster, and Venetian plaster.

Many of us tend to think of faux painting as a relatively recent phenomenon. I remember that there was a surge of interest in it in the 1980s and 1990s as the popularity of wallpaper began to fade. But historically, faux finishing has been used for millennia, from early cave painting to the tombs of ancient Egypt and the homes of Pompeii.  Faux painting became most popular in classical times in the forms of faux marble, wood and murals. With the current renaissance in faux finishing, there are many new kinds of specialty paints and glazes on the market, as well as many tools and brushes to aid in the finishing process.

As for me, I’ve used mostly sponges and rags to apply the glazes and finishes which I find sometimes create the best effects.

To know more about this fun craft, visit the faux pages of www.benjaminmoore.com, www.sherwinwilliams.com, and/or  www.behr.com. And have fun experimenting with and creating your own unique work of decorating.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (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 to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

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Detail of The Home Guru’s shelving, which combine collectibles with books.

In an age when the wealth of human knowledge and culture can be accessed through a tile-sized tablet, many people would assume that we no longer have any need for a library in the home. This does not necessarily indicate a decline in literacy. In fact, the members of Generation Y are the most avid purchasers of books. Not only should we not judge a book by its cover, we also shouldn’t assume it will be printed on paper.

And yet, the printed book still holds its appeal as an artifact, a memento, or an artistic creation, and those who own these objects will want them displayed safely and attractively. (And if their physical presence inspires children to read more, so much the better.)

If you have seen collections of books in other people’s homes, you may have noticed how they seem to reveal something about the personality of the collector. In fact, you may want to take a look at your own collection and see if it is conveying a message that meets with your approval. Consider the following distinctive home library types, and see if you recognize yourself in any of them.

A space lined with shelves which are in turn crammed with books, maybe two deep, horizontally stacked, and tucked in every which way, suggests an academic type who reads widely and deeply. If these books are old editions, or in different languages, we may imagine the reader is a tenured professor in an arcane subject. If the books are stacked popular paperbacks covering every surface, we expect their owner to be a zealous fiction fan.

A large collection of books on a single subject naturally reveals the occupant’s interest, be it mysteries, gardening, or history. It’s a great first step to getting to know a person better. Be conscious of revealing too much of your own interests, however: my own collection of motivational and self-help books from my earlier stages of personal and professional development would give visitors quite the cross-section of my own preoccupations.

The books themselves may be the items of interest. My wife Margaret’s Aunt Pearl subscribed to a book club that reissued a classic work every month with exquisite artistic production values. These books were left to us and hold a place of honor in the custom-built shelves of our living room. Serious bibliophiles may also seek out important first editions, signed copies of books, or vintage books of other historical interest.

Sometimes books are collected not in their own right, but simply as visual design elements. Many second-hand book shops will advertise their books-by-the-yard rate to interior decorators, who will make their selection based on the size and color of the spines. The next level of books as decoration is when the titles are chosen based on how much they may impress guests, rather than as a reflection of the homeowner’s interests. You may recall a famous scene in The Great Gatsby where a visitor to Gatsby’s library comments knowingly on the scope and quality of the volumes it contains, but also points out that the pages of all the books are uncut; a sign in that age that a book had not yet been read.

To show off your books, first glean them to make sure that the titles you have left are pleasing and useful to you. You may want to group them by category, and then select a different part of your home for each one (cookbooks in the kitchen being a popular example). Store the books either upright or flat, not at an angle or spine-up, and keep them away from bright sunlight and moisture. If you are keeping more than a few books on each shelf, do be certain that the shelf is built for the weight. A too-heavy load can bend the shelf, or even make it collapse completely. The latter happened once at my in-laws’ home, and we were all lucky no one was in the room when it occurred.

A glance online will show you endless varieties of arranging your books, from a ceiling-to-floor wall of shelves with a rolling ladder to access the highest level, to bookshelves built into the structure of a staircase, to bookshelves used as sliding wall dividers. While I am all for saving the trees, I am also very fond of the layer of interest and inspiration that a shelf full of books gives to a home.

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

3249562_sBetween a childhood in South Philadelphia and an early adulthood spent in Boston and Brooklyn Heights, I never had much exposure to birds or birdwatching (unless sharing the sidewalk with flocks of pigeons counts).   But now, after decades of living in a leafy suburb, the birds of our region have become a regular part of my life.

Our life with birds began in a story-book fashion when my wife Margaret developed a friendship with a cardinal who would scrape its beak against our bedroom window screen every morning until she greeted it. The chickadees of the winter would make way for the robins and blue jays of spring, and autumn would not be complete without spotting at least one procession of wild turkeys crossing the road.

I began to ask my family members, some of whom are real ornitho-enthusiasts, especially my mother-in-law, what the average homeowner could do to help out local birds. Their advice is condensed here.

First of all, the birds need food. The big sack of wild bird seed you can get at the supermarket may disappoint you if you are hoping to see a variety of species. House sparrows, a species non-native to this area, are attracted to the millet in most seed mixes, and they will usually crowd out other birds at the feeder to get to it. They are cute in their own right, but if you want to support other types of birds, the millet has got to go. Finches like thistle and nyjer in special vertical feeders, crows and jays enjoy peanuts, and many other birds like striped shell sunflower seeds.

Once your food is laid out, you need to protect it from squirrels. You have to expect the squirrels to come at your birdseed from every conceivable direction. What seems to work best is to put cone-shaped baffles above and below your feeder, and then position it far enough away from any surface from which a squirrel can launch itself laterally. If this doesn’t work, wild bird supply stores sell a hot pepper oil specially designed to be mixed into bird seed, such as Cole’s Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce. The birds can’t taste the spice at all, but squirrels hate it.

A few kind souls even set up special squirrel feeders in the hopes of keeping them well-fed enough to leave the seed alone, but I would fear a squirrel invasion if I encouraged them.

Now that your birds are fed, you can offer them shelter. There are many birdhouse-shaped garden accessories available, but to truly help the birds you will want to research the needs of the species you want to attract. Purple martins, for example, want to live close together, and their birdhouses look like apartment buildings. Bluebirds, on the other hand, prefer a single birdhouse on a pole in a sunny field, preferably with a horizontal slit for an entrance. Once again, house sparrows crowd other species, but you can discourage them by looking for entrance holes no bigger than 1½” in diameter.

For all birds, select houses with at least one ventilation hole to let heat out, another one on the bottom for drainage, and a rough-surfaced interior to help the birds climb out. An overhang over the entrance gives them shelter from rain and sun, but avoid a perch in front of the hole which can help a predator gain access.

If you have cats, keep them indoors. Cat predation causes the deaths of millions of birds a year, and an indoor lifestyle is much safer for the cat as well. Hawks and owls need food, too, but if you don’t want them eating your guests, you can help by keeping your feeders under the shelter of a tree or deck.

Finally, think about protecting birds from flying into your glass windows or doors. One of the less visually obtrusive products I have found are window alert decals and UV liquid window markers. The decals and liquid are nearly transparent to us, but birds can see them clearly with their UV vision. They do have to be replaced every six months.

These tips are barely an introduction to all you can learn when you start noticing birds. Eventually the interest can grow into a most rewarding way to reconnect with nature.

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

30902417_sSometimes I think it’s a good exercise for a Realtor to look at the home search process more from the buyer’s point of view. And from that perspective, choosing a home that is right for us can be more about art than science.

Sure, we may start the search with a list of preferences in hand. The house may need to have at least three bedrooms, a big yard, or a finished basement. Or maybe it has to be in a certain school district, or close to the highway, or in the same town as the rest of your family. But if these external requirements were all that mattered, you could just plug some variables into Zillow and buy the first home on the list.

More often, however, there is an overriding matter of importance in choosing a home. We are looking for a reassurance that the house we buy can someday truly feel like home. So off we go, visiting one house after the other, in the quest to discover the one we can commit to.

Seen from the seller’s perspective, a smart homeowner will do what she can to help prospective buyers imagine how it would feel to live in her home when they come to view it. The process of making a home look inviting to buyers is well known as home staging, and it can make a big difference in how fast a home sells.

Recently the New York Times ran an article about how home staging has evolved in some of the most pricey markets in the city. Buyers now want to see apartments that look as though they have sprung from the pages of a shelter magazine, but any staging tricks that are too familiar – such as a tray with a coffee cup on a bed – irritates them. For these seven-figure domiciles, paying a stager $30,000 or more can be well worth the money.

Fortunately for the rest of us, a professional home staging will cost much less, and there are also a few do-it-yourself tips available to the do-it-yourselfer.

The first error in home staging, according to the pundits of real estate, occurs when the owners have too much of their style or their personal lives on display. To the greatest extent possible, a family should pare down their decorations, knick-knacks and photos when preparing their house for a viewing. I realize this is hard when you are still living in your home, especially with young children, but the effort made usually results in a faster sale.

No matter how interesting it can be to see another’s home, ultimately the buyer wants to feel as though he is visiting what could be his home, rather than trespassing in someone else’s. The worst example of this – the realtor’s nightmare — is when a member of the seller’s family is still physically present in the home, perhaps watching TV or surfing the web. The prospective buyers often will tiptoe around quickly without giving the house the same attention they would have otherwise.

Although it could be hard to not take it personally, sellers also benefit from homogenizing their style of décor. No matter how tasteful, how creative or how expensive your taste, the next owners of your home will have a better reaction if the interior design is streamlined and airy. You will need to make a personal decision whether or not to spend the money to paint over a punchy wall color that you love, or put your sports gear into storage, but at least you will be making that decision consciously.

Needless to say, clutter in any guise must go. If it doesn’t make you happy to look at it, the buyers will feel the same way.

The second common error is the opposite of the first: you don’t want your home to be completely devoid of personality. If a house is empty, buyers will have a more difficult time imagining living in it than if it is furnished. If the owners have already moved out and did not leave any furniture behind, a home stager may rent furniture to make the house seem more welcoming. The fact that furniture makes an otherwise empty room seem bigger is a bonus.

And if you’ve pared down your belongings to the bone in response to my first suggestion, you may want to put just a few accessories back into the mix. While the streamlined style is preferred, visitors don’t want to feel as those they are visiting a hotel chain.

If my local readers would like some professional help navigating this delicate balance, there are two professional stagers who are very active in this area: Susan Atwell of AtWell Staged Home (atwellstagedhome.com or 914-525-0454) and Denise Hoffmann of Cameo Home Staging (cameohomestaging.com or 914-497-0924).

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (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 to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.

3133559_sJust recently a home stager pointed out to me that of all the staging offenses she had witnessed on a listing photograph was a bathroom shot that had caught a toilet with both the lid and seat in the up position, demonstrating the classic argument between male and female members of the household.

I must confess that in my own listings, I frequently don’t post photos of bathrooms at all because, let’s face it, they can be the least attractive rooms in the house. Maybe it’s just that there’s a mental process we must go through to find beauty associated with bodily functions and basic hygiene. Or maybe it’s an evolutionary kind of thing, considering that the bathroom is the very latest room to appear in American households and hasn’t had time to catch up in our consciousness when we think about decorating our homes. It’s probably last in the lineup.

It wasn’t until the 1840s that architects who made pattern books—books that everybody could buy and then build according to the patterns in the book—added a small room that was called a “bath-room” for the first time, which signaled that, eventually, there would be fixed plumbing in that room. But that wasn’t to be until well into the 1920s. Until that time, especially in rural places, people would just move a tin tub into the kitchen on a Saturday night, fill it with warm water, and everybody in the family, one by one, would get into the same water and bathe.

As for me, I’ve always been lucky to have exceptionally large bathrooms because they didn’t start out that way. When my antique homes were built, there was no indoor plumbing, thus no bathrooms. In those days, outdoor privies served for eliminating body waste and indoor bowls, pitchers and washtubs for personal hygiene. With the advent of indoor plumbing, bathrooms were carved out of smaller bedrooms.

That kind of spaciousness gave me the opportunity to play and reach beyond the practicality of bathrooms to make them so much more. In my experience as a Realtor, I’ve found many instances where other homeowners have been playful as well. And in new homes today, master baths are designed so spaciously that any homeowner has the opportunity to make them really interesting to enjoy an experience beyond hygiene while they relax in the Jacuzzi or shave leisurely.

While it might be as simple as installing a television from the ceiling, in my own case, I’ve always treated my large bathrooms as mini art galleries. There was one exception to that rule during a period when I had put on more weight than I ever thought my frame would accommodate. Rather than art, I placed large mirrors on each of the three walls that didn’t have a window so that I couldn’t escape surveying all the damage every morning when I was in the altogether. It worked like a charm and during the course of a year, I whittled that excess weight away and, for good measure, I kept those mirrors there for another couple of years after I had achieved a normal weight, just as a double-check to the bathroom scale.

There was another period when the theme of my master bath was seascape paintings and seashells, started after a trip to the Caribbean. Other themes followed: a collection of paperweights were lined up along our new double sink counter, then there was my collection of large crystals. In our latest master bath, on the inside wall of a condo, there is no window, so we’ve decided to bring the indoors inside. Our Jacuzzi is set cattycorner which leaves a large triangular corner for placing things in the corner and there, we’ve brought outdoor sculptures from our former poolside—a large metal heron perched next to a fern and the fancy stone capital from a Corinthian column.

Creative decorating in bathrooms extends an otherwise perfunctory experience and, further, offers an opportunity to invite guests to the master bath, rather than the powder room, to share your whimsies as they spend time there.

And in that regard, there is one bathroom practice I’ve occasionally seen which I’ve never understood and that is the idea of placing a basket of magazines or even books on the tank or next to the toilet. It seems to me that anyone who has to sit long enough to read a magazine article waiting for that final stage of peristalsis to take place should be thinking about visiting a gastroenterologist.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (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 to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.