20876377_sAs we settle into the year 2016, it’s time for the Home Guru to report on the closing of the fourth quarter of the housing market in 2015 and to take a look into his crystal ball and see how experts say it might behave in the months ahead.

Closing out 2015: Just in are the results of the last three months that show continued heavy residential sales volume in Westchester with strong economic conditions in the region as well as declining affordability in New York City as key motivators of demand.

Listing inventory fell 4.1 percent to 3,814, the lowest fourth quarter total since 2004. The absorption rate, which is the number of months to sell all listing inventory at the current rate of sales was 4.7, 14.5% faster than a year ago and the fastest market pace we’ve seen since 2003.

Days on the market, indicating the number of days from the original listing to contract, fell 11.7% to 98 days, about half the 186 days in the same quarter five years ago. Listing discount, the percentage from the original list price to the sales price, lessened to 3.6% from 4.3% in the year ago quarter. Median sales price for all residential properties was unchanged at $425,000 from the year ago quarter.

Average price per square foot rose 2.6% to $280 from the year ago quarter. Average sales price slipped 3.6% to $548,877 reflecting weaker conditions in the luxury market. Median sales price for single family sales, representing 58.1% of all county sales, was $565,000, down 0.5% from the same period a year ago.

Looking ahead: While no one can make any guarantees about the future, some experts are in general agreement that the following factors will be affecting the real estate market over the next twelve months.

Inventory will remain low: Today, home prices are higher again, following the fallout of the recession, but not quite as high as they were in 2007. The result is that—even though demand has risen a small amount—inventory remains low. It’s a better time to be a seller now, although homes will still have to be priced realistically to generate interest.

Renting vs. buying: The recession, along with the market slowdown that accompanied it, drove up the cost of rent in two ways. First, low inventory meant that many potential home buyers had to settle for renting when they couldn’t find a property to purchase soon enough. Second, the hardships of the recession made renting seem safer than buying for many individuals. This was great news for landlords, who could raise their rents and keep vacancies low in the face of high demand.

However, what goes up must come down, and the demand for rental properties may soon be taking a dip. Should the cost of renting continue to rise, buying a home and building equity may seem like the more affordable option to more and more people.

The economy is improving, except when it’s not: Unemployment is down, you say? Splendid, except wages have remained stagnant. Not so good. Well then, last month the Federal Reserve bumped up short-term interest rates by 0.25 percent, based on its belief that the economy can handle it. Sounds optimistic, but alas, this was followed by the Dow losing 1,437 points in the first two weeks of this year.

What does this mean for home buyers and sellers? Some buyers will be motivated to make their purchases now, before the Federal Reserve makes the next of its projected rate increases, which will affect mortgage interest rates. Some buyers will be encouraged by the overall improvement in some areas of the economy, but then some will be scared off by the wild fluctuations that are still taking place. Sellers are left to decide whether their homes have gained back enough of their value to be worth putting on the market, or if they could wait longer but risk seeing the market ebb again.

Trends would indicate a better market for sellers, but the financial burden faced by younger buyers, paying back student loan debt, combined with continued economic volatility, may somewhat dampen the good news.

Home buyers should be aware that interest rates will probably continue to rise, and competition for available homes will be more lively than in years past. And that means that homeowners who are on the fence about listing their homes at this time can feel more confident about taking the leap. We know for sure that the buyers are out there again, and we realtors are getting really frustrated that we don’t have enough inventory to show!

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.

42620480_sIt makes sense that we would be reminded at the beginning of the year, when we’re all fortified with New Year’s resolutions, to resolve to get around to decluttering. It seems that everywhere I look I’m finding helpful hints of how to do that.

I have only occasionally dipped into the world of decluttering because I have relied on my wife Margaret, a natural neatnik and a supremely organized person, to keep our home in order. Are you old enough to remember when televisions had “rabbit-ear” antennas on top? After Margaret would clean the television room, she would end by clapping the antennae into an upright position with a snap. For years we pantomimed this gesture when we wanted to say, “Yes, everything is in order.” I have also praised her list-making system in these pages and in my book, and through it she has kept our home and activities in order.

Still, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t lend assistance to her, or at least learn how to not get in the way. Over the years, some of the advice to the organizationally-challenged has changed, and some has reappeared in a new form many times over.

In the 1980s, cleaning expert Don Aslett published Clutter’s Last Stand, one of the most popular of his many titles. His claim to fame was to communicate the techniques and tools of a professional cleaner to the average homemaker so that she (or – shocking for the time – he!) could clean faster and more economically. His advice on clutter is to toss it, and his book is filled with inspiration on overcoming the internal resistance to doing so.

In the 1990s, organization expert Julie Morgenstern took a more gentle approach in her book Organizing From the Inside Out. Much of the basic advice is the same, but she advises that – once the clutter-clearing dust has settled – you examine your own life and interests when deciding where the things in your life should go.

Starting as a web forum participant in the early 2000s, Marla Cilley (famous now as FlyLady) grew an immense and loyal internet following through her system of changing habits via “baby steps,” cleaning by zones a little bit each day, and lovingly accepting one’s own organizational imperfections. To her, “clutter cannot be organized,” and she places great importance on tackling even a bit of it regularly each day.

Today’s new organizing guru is Marie Kondo, whose 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, was a world-wide bestseller, and whose new book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, seems to be on the same trajectory.

If you take only a superficial glance at her KonMari Method, it seems to be about folding and arranging clothing and other items into mesmerizingly neat and tiny arrangements. She is featured in many hypnotic YouTube videos demonstrating this aspect of her method, and you will probably learn a tidier way to fold shirts from her, if nothing else.

Her system goes well beyond that, however, ultimately focusing not as much on what to discard, but on choosing what to keep based on how much joy it brings you. It even gets downright mystical. For example, in her second book, to determine whether or not a series of books gives you joy, you may want to arrange them in a stack and hug it to see how it makes you feel! That’s a little far out, even for me, but her passion certainly has had an effect on people.

Among her more pragmatic pieces of advice, she advises the opposite of FlyLady: When decluttering, pick one category, scour your entire home for items in that category, and sort through them all at once. Seeing all twelve of the similar shirt, for example, will make it easier to know which are your favorites, and the lift from completing the task will be a reward in itself.

The reoccurring thread in all this advice seems to be that clutter will not make you happy, and whatever does make you really happy is not clutter. I may not reach my wife’s levels of neatness, but I have certainly felt the pleasant effects of letting go of old things as my life and my interests change. And now, while we are still in the New Year’s mood, is as good a time as any to begin the process again.

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.

The National Association of Realtors has an advisory service called House Logic which dispenses all kinds of useful information. Very cleverly, it kicked off 2016 by issuing the top New Year’s resolutions for the home that normally would be associated with personal resolve. Paraphrased, I share them here.

1. Lose weight (cut energy use)

Surveys show that more than any other New Year’s resolution, people want to lose weight. In terms of our homes, the advice given here is to check your HVAC ductwork which can be a tremendous energy waster, leaking heating and cooling air through holes and loose connections.

According to Energy Start, sealing and insulating a home’s ductwork can improve the efficiency of a heating and cooling system by as much as 20%. While making your home more comfortable, added benefits of a more efficient system includes an extended lifespan for your furnace, air conditioner, or heat pump.

Be sure to use duct sealant, called mastic, to seal the seams, holes and connections.   Sometimes the confusingly named “duct tape” is used, which doesn’t provide a permanent solution.

2. Quit Smoking (purify indoor air)

The Environmental Protection Agency identifies indoor air quality as one of the top environmental health hazards, and it’s the one that we tend to think the least about. Yet, indoor air is full of potential contaminants, such as dust, mold spores, pollen, and viruses.

The problem is at its worst during winter, when windows and doors are shut tight. The best way to deal with this is to change furnace filters regularly.

Interestingly, last year I bought a top of the line Dimplex electric insert fireplace that makes a flame that looks like the genuine item. When I was told it came with an air purification system, it really didn’t influence my decision one way or the other, but reminded of the hazards of indoor air quality, I plan to make use of it regularly this season.

3. Get out of debt (budget for improvements)

Here’s an interesting statistic that this advisory produced: LendingTree.com places average costs of yearly maintenance and upkeep at 1% to 3% of your home’s initial price. That means that the owner of a $500,000 home should budget between $5,000 and $15,000 each year for upkeep and replacements.

4. Learn something new (educate yourself on home finances)

A tip given here is to learn how to improve your insurance score. Letting credit card debt build up is a black mark on credit history and an indicator that an insurance claim is more likely to be filed. The more claims, the higher risk a person is to insurance agencies, lowering insurance scores and raising rates. It’s also important to keep payments on loans current. Delinquent payments also result in a lower insurance score.

5. Get Organized (declutter)

Declutter is probably the word most frequently used in real estate, certainly when it’s time to sell. It’s also not such a bad idea for those of us who are planning to stay put, but just want to live a more organized life.

6. Drink less (curb home water use)

Making a few simple changes can save you hundreds of dollars from your annual water bill. These include installing low-flow showerheads and high-efficiency toilets which use compressed air and electric water pumps to flush with less than 1 gallon of water, while older models required up to 8 gallons.

7. Volunteer (support your community)

My favorite aspect of community life is pitching in around the neighborhood while benefitting the value of my own property at the same time. My pet project is the battle against litter. For some years, I’ve put on my bright orange vest on a specified spring cleanup day to pick up litter. But I don’t limit that chore to that one specific day. Whenever I see litter on my street, I pick it up. It gives me great satisfaction.

8. Spend more time with family (share home improvement projects)

Spending quality time with your family takes quality planning. A really great suggestion is to make a home emergency preparedness kit. It’s a good, non-scary way to teach small children about what to do if there’s an emergency.

9. Get fit (exercise your DIY Skills)

Routine home maintenance and repair is a double win — you’ll burn calories while keeping your house and property in tip-top shape. My workout routine through the years has been gardening which is calculated to burn about 200 calories per hour.

10. Be less stressed (use maintenance free materials)

Recommended here is the installation of low-maintenance materials and products designed for durability and long, trouble-free service. And a revelation to me when I had recessed lighting installed was to choose LED. When I told my electrician that it looked like it would be difficult for me to get to the bulbs, he told me not to worry about it…that the bulbs would outlast me by at least 20 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 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.

573172_sIn the early days of our marriage, my wife and I lived in a small New York City studio apartment, and we had to make the most of what space we had. Some of our neighbors opened up floor space by sleeping on Murphy beds that folded up vertically into the wall. We opted instead to purchase an extra-long convertible sofa, a Lawson style, upholstered in red velvet, and had that as our regular bed. It followed us through many moves, and the daily ritual of folding the sofa up again early in the morning became ingrained in us.

Eventually we settled into our home in the suburbs and acquired a queen-sized bed in its own bedroom. Our old convertible sofa became part of our living room furniture. We imagined that it could still be unfolded for our relatives when they came to visit, but as we already had a separate guest bedroom with its own bed, the sofa was opened up for company only rarely, mainly on Christmas Eve when relatives visiting from a distance stayed over. After many years we finally brought it to the curb and replaced it with a more delicate – but admittedly less adaptable – pink Sheraton-style settee. We felt fortunate to have enough rooms to meet our needs. But now, as we look forward, we see the appeal of having less house to tend to. Eventually we will downsize, yet we will still want to entertain and have family over as before. I decided to investigate convertible furniture to see if it has evolved from my old city days.

There is no doubt that the fold-out sofa is the classic choice for temporary guest bedding, although many of us dread spending a night over that infamous metal bar that runs across the width of the mattress. Fortunately, a little research at sites such as Apartment Therapy or Consumers Digest can give you advice for choosing the newest comfortable brands. One alternative to the fold-out is a day-bed with a slide-out trundle underneath, turning a sofa into two side-by-side twin beds. Another is the ingenious sofa bunk bed, which unfolds upward, revealing easily-positioned ladder rungs and safety rails.

For the more experimental, many manufacturers offer geometric foam pieces that can be rearranged like building blocks into a sofa, a day bed, or a low table with extra blocks on the floor for seating. I’m not sure how much I would enjoy picking myself up off the floor after sleeping on that foam, but the younger or more limber among us may want to try it.

Once you know where your guests will be sleeping, it’s time to find them a place to sit and eat. The most traditional way to expand your dining table is to buy one that accommodates extra panels in the center, and perhaps unfold a card table for the overflow.

But if your space is too small for a dedicated dining table, there are still alternatives. One of my favorites is the fold-down table, where one edge is joined to the wall with hinges. When open, the legs unfold down for support, and when closed, the legs and eating surface lie flat against the wall. Some models, available online for the DIYer, reveal medicine-cabinet sized storage when the table is folded down. Other versions, such as those made by IvyDesign, turn the underside of the table into a framed work of art once it is folded up.

Even small items of furniture can give you more space when you need it. Not only can sets of end tables nest into each other, but with design ingenuity even chairs and coffee tables can be stored in a similar way.

For the ultimate in space efficiency, one can marvel at the highly-engineered components that make up accordion-style apartments, where sliding and pivoting structures transform one room into three or more. The traditional Murphy bed, for example, not only folds up into the wall, but it might pivot to reveal bookcases and a fold-down table on the other side. What looks like a solid wall might easily slide forward, similar to the mobile shelving in museum archives, to create a new mini-room with bunk beds or other storage that unfold from the newly revealed wall.

While I don’t see myself returning to the days of folding my bed away every morning, I can certainly handle stacking a few coffee tables, matryoshka doll-style, after company leaves. Even this long-time suburban homeowner can adapt to using space in a new way.

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

As I observe holiday wreaths dotting the front doors of homes, I am reminded that I’ve written about how important the condition of the front door is when it comes to the sale of a home. I thought about that recently when I opened a couple of doors for showings where the owners might have benefitted from the points I considered.

Basically my reasoning has been that the front door can be the key to a home’s personality, either reflecting the condition of the space within…or contradicting it. A beautiful, sturdy door with quality hardware greets the visitor with a confident hello; a weathered door, perhaps out of alignment, with old or poorly functioning hardware, conveys something quite different, something unappealing.

I suspect that some homeowners are just not as aware of a front door becoming compromised because most people drive into their attached garage and walk directly into the mud room or kitchen. However, visitors normally come only to the front door.

While the functional purposes of a front door are to withstand the elements, help toward energy efficiency, and provide protection for the home, visitors view it as an aesthetic statement, even a psychological one. If the door is attractive and in good shape, that perception extends to the entire household.

Look at your front door and determine whether it needs a simple sprucing up or a total replacement. Some door problems can be repaired and others cannot. If the door is improperly hung, has trouble closing or latching, is only slightly warped or is just sticking, these problems are worth fixing. But if it has rot or is outrageously outdated in style, consider the options for replacement.

Whether you use a contractor or a handyman for door replacement, you’ll get different opinions about which kind of new door to choose. Some would suggest that the top quality material is still considered to be wood. Steel or aluminum may be recommended as the most sturdy and secure, but according to most remodeling contractors, the best choice today is the new and high quality fiberglass door. The insulation quality of the latter is better than that of a wooden door, and it will not warp or crack.

The feature I like best about a quality fiberglass door is that the manufacturers have managed to develop an incredibly realistic grain that matches real wood. Also there is a virtually unlimited number of door styles and beveled glass options available. Fiberglass can be stained or painted, and fancy hardware can be applied to them, just as you would a wood door.

And that brings us to the subject of the door hardware which, in aesthetic terms, can make a door “pop,” but if it’s worn, that pop can be a dull thud. The polished look is one factor, but a lock and handle’s functionality is the primary thing to consider. Basically locksets fall into two different categories, mortise or cylindrical. While I don’t fully understand the mechanical workings of these two types of locks, my trusted locksmith tells me that mortise locksets, which are installed into a rectangular dugout in the door, offer the ultimate in security, design, and ruggedness.

Highly polished solid brass knobs, backplates, thumblatches are desirable but, fair warning, they can be quite expensive.

When it comes to selecting a color for the front door, it is a situation of relating to, or contrasting with, one of the other tones found in the house or the landscape that surrounds it. But there is one cardinal rule: a front door should never be stark white. The theory here is that the door should relate to the landscape in some way and pure white is rarely found in nature.

For those of you with a bent toward feng shui, you know that the front door is the main source of a houses’ energy. But practically and simply put for both curb appeal and resale value, spruce up the front door, and in a sense, you have a new home.

As a footnote, I once wrote an article based on a feng shui point of view advising that the very best color to paint a front door to energize a house is red and even recommended a personal preference for red: Benjamin Moore Burgundy.

After that article appeared, so many friends told they had taken that step, and it seems to me that I do see many more red doors lately. Or is that just my imagination?

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

During the holiday season when there is more festive activity around the house, there is also more risk of accidents that can cause harm to ourselves and damage to our homes than at any other time of year.

I was reminded of this known fact just the other evening when my wife Margaret and I were decorating our tree. I had already gone through the ritual of attaching the three sections of the artificial tree to the base, strung the electric lights, and together we were hanging the ornaments. Our tree ornaments consist mainly of those we’ve made ourselves through the years, those constructed with Styrofoam balls covered with ribbons and decorated with baubles and beads.

Those we’ve purchased are mainly of blown and pressed glass, some quite large and heavy. My wife, who was barefoot, was hanging one of those, a large green pressed glass piece shaped like a pine cone and seemingly more than a pound in weight, when it dislodged from its hanging device and plummeted down like a torpedo and landed squarely on her toes. She yelled out, and in no time, the little toe on her right foot was black and blue.

The ironic thing is that just before this mishap, my wife had asked me what my column was to be about this week, and I had suggested that it might be a fair warning to readers that more accidents happen in and around the home during holiday season.

An estimated 13,000 injuries result in visits to the emergency room each year around the holidays, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 40 percent of deaths from home fires occur during the brief period between December and February. We also know that Christmas tree fires alone result in $17.5 million of property damage per year.

For our purposes here, let’s focus on accidents that can come about while decorating and observing the holidays.

If you buy a live Christmas tree, test it to make use it is not dried out, which is a fire safety hazard. This is done by hitting the trunk of the tree against the ground. If a lot of needles fall off, keep searching for a healthier tree. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. When you get it home, cut off about two inches from the bottom at an angle. Fill the tree stand with water and keep it full every day

Display the tree away from a heat source, such as a furnace or fireplace, and keep it away from doorways and main traffic areas. Live trees should not be left up longer than two weeks. Be aware that some artificial trees can also burn so check them for flammability and follow safety precautions that come with it upon sale.

To prevent an accidental tree fire, check holiday lights and extension cords for frayed or damaged cords and discard any damaged strings of lighting. Do not attempt to tape or repair the cords. Never link more than 3 strands of lights together, and always plug the lights into an extension cord before plugging into a wall outlet.

Another point of safety I might ask you to consider is the age of your decorations. If you’ve had them for many years, it might be time to invest in a newer, safer set. Before regulations in the late 1970s, items such as tinsel, artificial icicles, glitter and painted figures often contained dangerous levels of lead, chromium and even arsenic. Angel Hair (artificial snow) contained glass filings, and some brands were even comprised of asbestos fibers.

Candles, whether lit for a Hanukkah menorah or just decorative for their romantic glow, can be the cause of house fires, so you might want to think twice about leaving any room where one or more is aflame. During a five year period, the NFPA reported that there were an average of 10, 630 fires in the U.S. started by candles. More than half of them start because candles were left too close to flammable items. They should always be kept at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn. Other causes of candle fires include leaving them unattended in a room or something as simple as someone bumping a table they’re sitting on or pets brushing against them.

There are more candle fires in December and January, with the top three days being Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

And here’s a final note that I hadn’t thought of until last year when I had a close call concerning the disposal of wrapping paper. When unwrapping presents, dispose of wrapping paper in a garbage receptacle. Never throw it in a fireplace. That can result in sparks which can trigger a larger fire within the home.

Have a happy and safe holiday 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). 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.

42356423_sCome holiday time, my wife Margaret and I have always engaged in a practice I suspect many homeowners share: in addition to buying gifts for each other, we also buy gifts “for the home.” Over the course of our marriage, these have ranged from practical choices, such as new appliances, to objet d’art found during our frequent visits to antique stores and auctions. A gift I was considering for this holiday was an antique decorative screen that would have been perfect for covering a central air control panel in our dining room, but Margaret is now more fond of modern décor so I agreed to let it go.

After so many years of gifting our home, we’re hard pressed to think of anything more for it, but thinking back, if I had it do over again, I would have invested more in purchasing gifts that would be not only modern, but technologically advanced enough to turn our abode into a “smart home.” I checked around for what I might recommend to others to accomplish this goal.

First I considered temperature control. Of the many options available, the Nest Learning Thermostat has won over many users by putting its sleek digital appearance in service toward ease of use, even for only moderately wired individuals like myself. After a short time tracking the temperature adjustments you make to the Nest, the device will learn your patterns and begin to anticipate them. What’s more, if it doesn’t sense your presence via a motion detector for several hours, it will assume you are not home and will adjust the climate accordingly to save energy.

All well and fine, although I hope that binge-watching Breaking Bad for an afternoon won’t inadvertently cut the heat off.

Lighting was next on my list of exploration, and the choices grew more complicated. Should the bulbs themselves be smart, linked in small groups via a hub or your wireless device? They are the easiest to install, but I will have to overcome decades of habit and remember to not turn off the switches when I leave the room, which will render the smartest bulb inoperable. Smart switches require more expert installation, but allow for more variety of bulbs and fixtures. No matter which system you choose, there is still a learning period where, as one reporter from Forbes recently discovered, the system may decide to turn on all your lights in the wee hours of the morning.

In the area of security, the August Smart Lock seems promising, allowing you to open and close the deadbolt on your door through your smart phone, or send a visiting guest or service person an invitation allowing them access. It sounds like a lifesaver for parents and homeowners who need to be at work all day, but do be certain to use a strong password that resists hacking. In fact, I would personally hold off on this one until the security standards in the smart home industry develop further.

But in the meantime you might go for the Ring, the smart video doorbell. It sends a video image of your visitor to your phone – even alerting you of their approach before they ring the bell – and allows you to converse with them from inside via a speaker. In fact, you can see and speak with the person at your door even if you are not home, while still giving the impression that you are inside.

Are you ready to make your home a smart home? Well, I suppose it depends on your tolerance for technological systems that don’t yet have all the bugs worked out. For example, if you try to install a new app on your phone and get a message saying it can’t be done, do you quickly hop onto Google to see how others solved the problem, or do you call up the “computer person” in your family for yet another favor, as I do? Maybe you do neither, and instead give up on the app altogether while saying, “This is why I hate computers!”

If you are in the third group, or if you don’t have a resident computer genius in your family, you may want to wait a few years for smart home technology to become more standardized. However, if you find that the benefits and excitement of this technology outweighs the occasional hassle of trouble-shooting, then proceed with appropriate caution.

As for me, I will step back for this year and try to talk my wife into some decidedly non-smart décor for our home, possibly from another century, if I can find the room, that is.

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

22380940_sEvery year, just as wintry weather arrives, I receive a call or email from the first supplier I ever used when moving to Westchester, Dave Goldberg of Dave Goldberg Plumbing and Heating, making sure that I remind readers to prepare for the frigid months ahead. This year, he expanded his email with tips for those snowbirds who were going away for the winter months, and it particularly resonated with me because of a terrible mishap a good friend had last winter.

For the past few years our friend Anne has taken two months off during the winter season for a stay in Florida. There was never a problem because she felt she had the luxury of locking the door of her attached townhouse-style condo, located in Mahopac, and not worrying about any maintenance issues. Her daughter and son-in-law would check in on the unit every week, just to be on the safe side.

But last year, she was not so lucky. One day she received a phone call saying that water from her unit was leaking into the condo next door. When help arrived, it was discovered that a water pipe had burst, on an interior wall at that, and totally flooded the first floor and walk-out basement level of her home, literally destroying everything with it, from flooring to wallboard to all appliances.

“There had never been a problem in past years, but the severity of last winter was the cause of it,” Anne said. “The pipe was in the ceiling of my kitchen, and although it was not on an exterior wall, it shared a wall with my garage which is unheated.”

The clean-up was a major project and basically, the unit had to be stripped to its studs and rebuilt. “You can be sure of one thing,” Anne said, “this year, I’m having my water pipes drained before I leave.”

Dave Goldberg’s list of precautions for those going away includes the following:

For those whose systems are on oil, be sure to get a delivery before leaving. When the oil gets low, the sludge on the bottom of the tank might clog up the filter and cause the boiler to shut down.

If you have hot water heat, it is a good idea to install non-toxic antifreeze in the system. It works just like a car radiator and, of course, because it is a closed system, it does not affect drinking water.

Toilets should be drained and just one or two cups of antifreeze added. The inside of the tank should be drained but don’t put any antifreeze in the tank because it can damage the flapper and gaskets.

The water lines should be blown out with air.

If you don’t have a security system which alerts you of a drop in temperature, Goldberg has a simple non-tech solution: He attaches a thermostat plugged into a lamp with a red light bulb which is positioned at his front window. If the temperature were to drop, the red light would come on and a neighbor could see that there is a problem in the house.

For those who are staying home, Goldberg’s basic tips for winter safety are:

Have your furnace inspected and cleaned annually by a qualified technician.

Caulk doors and windows where needed.

Tape up the boiler switch going to the basement. Many times visitors might mistake the boiler switch for the light switch and turn the system off.

In the attic, louver vents should be blocked off.

If you have two separate units in the house – one for hot water and the other air conditioning -you should close the dampers on the air conditioning because hot air rises and the heat will go up through the vents.

Outside spigots should be drained and left open. The shut off valve inside the house has a bleeder that should be opened. That breaks the vacuum so the water will drain out.

A good trick to prevent pipes freezing under kitchen sinks is to install a light bulb in the cabinet that will create just enough heat to prevent freezing.

Have the phone numbers of the plumber and oil company handy, best kept on a tag on the boiler.

Everyone in the house should know where the shut off valves are for the main water line coming in, or, with well water, know where the electrical switch is.

In the event of a power failure, the least expensive way to install a generator is to buy a small gas generator of about 6000 watts that will take care of the boiler and refrigerator and some outlets. Have an electrician install a transfer switch.

And, finally, keep a multi-purpose fire extinguisher accessible, filled and ready for operation.

Dave Goldberg is now retired, but his son-in-law Doug Maar is running Dave Goldberg Plumbing and Heating out of Somers and can be reached for consultation or emergency help at (914) 962-3498.

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

A collection of necklaces in plain sight make accessibility and coordination easier, while creating wall art of sorts.

A collection of necklaces in plain sight make accessibility and coordination easier, while creating wall art of sorts.

While I wear the mantle of The Home Guru, I get practically all of my ideas and advice from others who are specialists in their fields. But most times, the spark of an idea comes right at home, faced with a chore to be done or some small improvement to make life easier or more enjoyable. And frequently, they are suggested by my wife Margaret.

Just recently, she came up with a clever organization idea for her walk-in closet resulting from her frustration of having to fumble around in a jewelry chest for just the right necklace, among many she has collected, to match her outfit for the day.

To the left of the entrance is a corner with two small stretches of bare wall where she suggested I nail several rows of brass brads from which she could hang her necklaces in plain sight. “See it to use it,” she said. I counted out her necklaces, noted their length, then nailed three rows of the brads in an attractive, even pattern. After my wife had hung the necklaces in their new open environment, we realized we had created a work of art of sorts.

But the practical aspect of the project is its usefulness every time she holds up a garment and can see at a glance which ones coordinate. Since we created this little project, a couple of my wife’s girlfriends have been introduced to the idea and have promised to organize their necklaces in the same way.

From this small project we are inspired to find even more ways to put frequently used objects in plain sight. For instance, I’ve taken to organizing all my home office suppliers in see-through containers, as well as old files, so that additional labelling is not required as with the cardboard boxes I formerly used.

Not everyone will be a fan of keeping items out in the open. I supposed people fall into two camps: one side needs to see everything in its place to feel assured that their home is in order, while the other side wants to keep things out of sight so their environment may function as a blank slate.

Some people may also worry that they will “stop seeing” items if they are always out in the open. Rather than inspiring more frequent use, their various collections may dissolve into so much background noise.

My suggestion is to be judicious about what goes on display. Too much of anything, or too many items loose without an assigned home, will become clutter, and clutter is the enemy of organization. Pick out only what you really use, and use frequently, and take the time to give everything its own place. What may otherwise have become disheveled can instead look enticing.

The kitchen is no doubt the busiest room for most families, and storing items in the open can help boost efficiency. Plates staked on edge in racks, pots and pans hanging from peg boards, and serving utensils arranged in vases have become popular, and a set of open shelves, opposed to closed-up cabinets, can make a kitchen appear larger. If you worry that dust will settle on plates, you can choose cabinets with glass doors.

If you are prone to purchasing small appliances that you don’t use as often as you would like – I am thinking of slow cookers, pasta machines, stand mixers and the like – having them lined up on a dedicated shelf, out of the way but not out of reach, may make inspiration strike more frequently when you are planning which dish to make.

Food itself can suffer from being out of sight and, therefore, out of mind. Think about which foods are easiest to see and reach, and you may get a sense of what foods you are eating most. Follow the nutritionists’ advice instead, and keep fresh fruit in bowls on the counter and sliced crudité on an eye level shelf in the refrigerator. Move leftovers to transparent containers, or at least label them, and you are more likely to eat them before they go bad.

Our hobbies give us much pleasure, so why not indulge in the display of your tools and materials even when you are not using them? You might find wall space to display woodworking tools, multicolored skeins of yarn, or exercise accessories. Seeing your favorite tools and materials may spark a creative impulse in you, even at an odd hour.

If out of sight is out of mind, everything in plain view is more likely to be used and therefore be truly useful.

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

Steps. Some people seek to avoid them in their housing choices, preferring one-level living, while others insist on having sleeping quarters on a second level. And, the reasons for either preference can be quite different.

When I was very young, maybe five or six years old, I had a recurring dream of tumbling down an endless flight of steps, but they were of a rubbery consistency and I just bounced like a ball the entire way. Maybe my subconscious had absorbed the story my mother had told me about how as a toddler I miraculously survived a fall down the steps to a concrete basement floor.

The experience never dampened my enthusiasm for a beautiful staircase, however, from the time I discovered that I could enjoy a bumpy ride down the bare wooden steps on my romp from our second floor.

When we moved from a two-story row home in Philadelphia to a ranch-style home in the south, I remember, even as an eight year old, that it seemed strange that, when it came time to climb to my weary trundle bed, there were no steps to climb. It just didn’t feel right that I was sleeping on the same floor where I ate. From my experience in real estate, I’ve found that many people feel the same way.

Let’s face it, steps are a necessity in most housing situations. While it may be easier to build a one-story house, it makes more sense economically to have two stories rise above one foundation and to be tucked in under one roof. Then, there is the argument for the raised ranch, which is basically a two-story involving a split staircase, and the split-level also involving steps, but not in one long run.

While early in my real estate career, I thought that only senior homebuyers would have a preference for avoiding steps, I found many young buyers with the same avoidance issue because they had young children and were afraid either of their injury falling, or of being too far removed if the master bedroom was on the first floor.

Older buyers may prefer homes without steps, and indeed for many with mobility issues, the need for level floors is inarguable. But assuming one must live with stairs, is there any benefit to having them?

A set of stairs in the middle of the home might be an annoyance for people who aren’t used to them, but I have lived with them for most of my life. There were times in New York City when I have lived in four and five-floor walk-ups and in the country, I’ve lived in a two story home with laundry and storage in the basement. I’ve looked at the stairs as part of my exercise routine. In fact, the workout that comes from regular stair climbing may help to keep us young.

As a case in point, I think of my mother-in-law. My wife was initially relieved when her parents, upon retiring to Hyannis, Mass., selected a single story bungalow to live in. Her relief turned to irritation, however, on the first visit. The house was indeed a single story… with a basement. This dim lower level was deeper than the first story of the house was high, with a steep set of rough-sawn wooden steps leading straight down into it, and my petite mother-in-law flew up and down those stairs several times a day.

With every visit my wife would try to firmly make some suggestion to her mother that she not use the basement so often, but then “Mamytė” would run off again, carrying down laundry, bringing up line-dried linens (she had both outdoor and indoor clotheslines), putting food into storage, or bringing up the good dishes for the many parties she hosted. Occasionally she would even make an extra trip down to use the rowing machine she had set up by the dryer. Well, it drove my wife crazy, but her mother lived to be nearly 92, and she was able to keep using the stairs up until her last few years.

Even without the involuntary exercise stairs give us, they also benefit homeowners in other ways, whether by helping shape the design of a home or patio into a hilly property, offering a means to build up on a smaller parcel of land, or helping keep the bedrooms away from the sounds – and smells – of the first floor.

Yes, steps are here to stay, whether we can make them on not and, lately, as I feel an occasional twinge in one knee or the other, I wonder when my day will come.

There is a song by George Gershwin called “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.” Notice that he didn’t say he’d get there by just strolling across to it or taking an elevator.

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