The Home Guru’s “miracle” moving team from Advantage Moving, led by Dmitry Gogin, far right.

The Home Guru’s “miracle” moving team from Advantage Moving, led by Dmitry Gogin, far right.

After death of a loved one and divorce, moving is the third greatest stress producer in life. Certainly by this age, I should be able to recognize diversionary tactics when applied to myself, but I failed completely on the very morning that our movers were scheduled to arrive, and there I was at my bathroom mirror with a sudden urge to fashion a new hairstyle for myself.

The night before, weary from packing to the point where I was mixing china with a hammer and a canister vacuum cleaner in the same box, I glanced up at the television and noticed a sportscaster with his hair slicked straight back attractively and wondered how that style might look on me.

After shaving, I tried to duplicate that style by wetting my hair and dousing it with baby oil that must have been in the medicine cabinet since my grown daughter was an infant, and slicking my hair back in the same way as the sportscaster. I then sought out my wife Margaret for an opinion, asking if I might not have taken too much a styling risk. “Does it make me look like Bela Legosi when he played ‘Dracula?’” I asked, trying to cut the tension of the situation upon us.

Far from being amused, Margaret upbraided me, astonished that I was fussing with my hair when we were less than 75 percent packed with the movers fast on our heels. I immediately hopped to the task at hand and tore into the boxes, wrapping paper, and bubble wrap that Phil D’Erasmo of Advantage Moving had left for us in copious amounts the week before.

Our situation was particularly challenging for any mover because not all the contents of our home was to be moved. Only about a third was to go to our new home, one third was staying in our current home and business setting, and the remainder was to be set aside for a big tag sale the week after the move. Picking and choosing what goes where would be enough to drive any homeowner nuts, much less the mover having to conduct such a separation of someone else’s treasures and junk.

When the moving crew from Advantage arrived, a team of four led by a young man named Dmitry Gogin, we apologized for not being quite ready for prime time and promised that we would continue packing alongside them. “No problem,” said Dmitry with great assurance and a big smile. To me, a good attitude in the midst of chaos is worth at least double any tip I had planned in advance.

And, indeed, Dmitry and each of his crew had the patience of saints as I careened from normal to neurotic, back and forth, changing my mind countless times about what stayed and what went. These four stalwarts got to work taping boxes, wrapping china, crystal, stemware, and paintings, protecting upholstered furniture and carting everything from the house to their truck from as far up as the attic, down two flights of steps, up again, down again, repeating the cycle again and again from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm, all the while accommodating my requests to add this or that to the items to be packed. Even after the truck was crammed to the brim and I found yet another chair and end table I had forgotten about that needed to go, Dmitry said, “Fine, we’ll fit them in somehow!” and he did.

At the new residence, the delivery was especially intense because there was a time limit on the part of the building management. We absolutely had to be wrapped up by 4:00 pm. It was like “Beat the Clock.”

Thank goodness the Advantage movers were in their 20s and 30s because only younger joints and sinew could sustain that kind of effort. As for me, after running back and forth between the two residences over forgotten items like paper towels and pillows until 1:00 am, I finally peeled off my clothes at the end of the ordeal, glancing in the mirror for the first time since early morning only to realize that, oh my God, I had spent the entire day in a new and most unbecoming hairstyle that might have given anyone the impression I was able to tell them, “I vaant to suck yer blood.”

If there’s a move in your future, for the best and most compassionate service imaginable, you don’t have to look further than Advantage Moving which can be reached at 800-444-0104.

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

DownsizingEventually most homeowners get to that stage in life when, after they’ve raised their families in a large home, full of stuff and memories, they find they have more space and more things than they need and decide it’s time to downsize. It’s finally happened to my wife Margaret and me.

When we moved to Westchester as mere young’uns more than 40 years ago, I was absolutely delighted. Both compulsive collectors at the time (we’ve since recovered), we moved from a duplex in Brooklyn Heights of about only 1500 sq. ft. (I’m only guesstimating because in those days, before I was a realtor, who knew?) to a 3900 sq. ft. farmhouse with a tremendous attic and full basement.

Our intention in buying such a big house, even though we had only one child, was to be at-home entrepreneurs, and we have conducted a number of businesses on site through the years. At the same time, a large home allowed us to have an accessory apartment for rental income and to indulge our passion for collecting things, both big and small.

Now the time of reckoning is here. We’re downsizing to only 1780 sq. ft. of space, less than half of what we currently have. Let me tell you, it’s quite a feat of planning to literally halve ourselves. Margaret is good at that kind of thing, but I am not and where I am normally the bossy one in our relationship, with this assignment at hand, she has morphed into the drill sergeant, and I, her buck private.

“Bring all the breakables to the dining room that we’re taking with us,” she orders. “Put in those boxes what we’re holding for the tag sale,” she commands. “Yes, SIR!” I say, snapping sharply to attention, but sensing I’ve carried the role play a bit too far.

In a couple of days, while the house looked in a shambles, everything seemed to be taking shape for the big move. By mid-afternoon, the day after Thanksgiving, we both had to take a nap. Our bones and will had given out.

Having written a number of times about the mechanics of downsizing, I can tell you that the emotions that go into “letting go” of “stuff” can be unsettling if you don’t prepare yourself for it. I’m such a softie, I guess I wasn’t prepared for some of it, like finding in an old box that I hadn’t opened since I was in college, originally containing gift pears from Florida, an envelope with the inscription in my mother’s handwriting: “From my son William’s first haircut at 2-1/2 years old,” and inside was a shock of auburn curls that perfectly match the color of my daughter’s hair when she was that age.

Thank goodness we have the help of a wonderful mover I discovered named Phil D’Erasmo of Advantage Movers who is giving us very personalized attention. He has personally stopped by the house several times to counsel me, hand deliver boxes and what he calls “contractor bags” to get rid of my tax records for shredding that go back to 1972 (I’m not kidding. Imagine?)

He also brought me three different sizes of boxes and bubble wrap and consulted with us about whether we wanted to pack our own breakables. We decided to have him do that, however.

The most heart wrenching part of our job was to decide what to let go of. That involves going through every item of clothing, every stick of furniture, every file, even every photograph taken before the days of digital photography! The time involved is almost overwhelming.

I won some points in the romance department for having saved some items my wife didn’t know about, like the scrap of paper on which I jotted down her name and home phone number (no cells in those days) when I first met her on the job, and all the love notes I saved when we were going together. “Ahhhh,” she cooed.

Funny, but having moved five times in our first five years of marriage, we vowed when we moved into this beloved house that “they’ll have to carry us out of here in a pine box before we’ll ever move again!” But times and circumstances change and it seems we’ll be moving happily to new wonderful digs with a concierge, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a gorgeous gym that will allay any excuses for my not getting back to my long lost 34 inch waist, and I can throw away that snow shovel. So what’s to complain about?

If there’s a move in your future, be sure to check in first with Phil D’Erasmo at 800-444-0104.

And here’s something else to know about. Once we’re packed and moved, look for our ad for the neatest tag sale we’ll throw here at the Ebenezer White Homestead for all the antiques and bric-a-brac that we’ve decided to let go of. It will be one humdinger of a sale! It will take place about mid-December.

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

caulkingwindowIsn’t it funny how we each perceive situations differently depending on our circumstances?

One of the ways I ease out from a hectic schedule is watching classic movies on TCM or viewing reruns of only a very few favorite television series on Netflix. My absolute favorite is Breaking Bad.

Remember the episode where they “tent” a house, totally sealing it off to presumably fumigate it, while concealing the fact and noxious odor from the neighborhood that they’re cooking crystal meth? As I watched the episode just the other night, I was sitting by my bedroom window in a T-shirt and I was very aware that the late fall wind was kicking up outside, because I was very much feeling the draft inside.

Looking at the tented house on my iPad, and as the owner of an historic, drafty house, all I could think was, “Well, at least no drafts can get in there!”

Like the shoemaker who needs to mend his own shoes, The Home Guru needs to start thinking more seriously about caulking and its practical use on the exterior of my home, especially as the winter approaches.

Applying caulk to seal the cracks and openings in a home’s exterior helps keep the air you pay to heat and cool inside your home and the outside air out — and that can lower your utility bill.

It’s a good thing to take inventory of the condition of your caulking around all windows and doors of your home. Begin with a walk-around inspection of your home’s exterior. Make a list of cracks, gaps or holes – especially where different surfaces meet, or where pipes and vents penetrate the walls and roof.

If the old caulk is cracked or separated from the surrounding surface, these are the areas that are energy sieves. Every last bit of it needs to be removed with a scraper or putty knife. Then, the adjacent surfaces need to be cleaned and sanded smooth. If there are any areas where bare wood is showing, they need to be primed so that the new caulk adheres properly and creates a weather-tight seal.

I have always been confused about which type of caulk to buy because there are several on the shelves. The type people are most familiar with is silicone caulk but it is challenging to apply and needs to be cleaned up using a solvent which can become messy. Latex caulk is becoming more popular and because of its durability can last up to 20 years, and can be better painted over. Also there is a type of hybrid acrylic, latex and silicone caulk which is easier to apply.

I have never had any luck with the application guns. They always seem to get jammed up on me. I tend to go either for the ropes or the plain tubes where I apply a generous bead and then wet my finger with a sponge and run it the full length of the bead, using a slight amount of pressure. By “tooling” the caulk in this way, I ensure it adheres to the surrounding surface and tightly seals the space.

Mind you, it’s been some years since I did this little exercise and I did only my first floor windows and doors. I employed a handyman who was more adventuresome on a ladder than I am to do the second floor windows, and unless you’re more acrobatic than I, I suggest you might consider the same.

An incurable “history of things” buff, I couldn’t resist wanting to know how caulking came about and did a little research. The first use of a substance that can be considered caulk was pitch discovered by Sir Walter Raleigh on the island of Trinidad in 1498. He used it to seal his ships. Then, early Americans were sealing dugout canoes with amber or pitch. Later, in the 1500s, sealing wax was invented mainly to seal letters but was used also for canning.

The DAP Company, which had been producing sealing wax for food canning since the 1860s, starting producing putty and caulk in large quantities in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that caulk was introduced in disposable cartridges like the ones we see today. In 1964, the company developed latex caulk and then acrylic latex caulk. These were the advances that made caulk more pliable to work with and once hardened, easy to paint.

The point is, here is the perfect product to seal you into the comfort of a winter that is predicted to be a particularly cold one. So caulk now and stay warm in the months ahead.

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

Welcome to the 300th article written by The Home Guru for The Examiner over a six-year period. Actually the Guru gestated more than a dozen years ago, first for the former North County News, as a way to promote the start-up business of a fledgling real estate agent. You may find it of interest to reminisce with me about what has transpired for all of us as homeowners during that time and for me as a realtor sharing my observations of the housing industry with you.

It was the tragedy of 9/11 that prompted me to take on a second job as a realtor as an adjunct to my public relations business. As a specialist in restaurant promotion, my business had taken a hit as had fine restaurants at that time. Also, not knowing how safe travel would be after the terrorist attacks, my wife and I made a conscious decision that I should stay home for a while, rather than keep up the coast-to-coast travel schedule that I had maintained for some years.

That decision signaled panic time for me, a stranger in my own town where I spent maybe only 20 percent of my time. As I look back now, after a period of some adjustment, it was the best decision I ever made. For the first time in my married life, I became June Cleaver’s husband, Ward (I had to look up his name. I was never square enough, even as a child, to actually watch the show).

In switching gears to make a living locally I relied on two basic skills I utilized in public relations: salesmanship and writing. I decided to get into real estate because I had always had an interest in it and because I could arrange my time around what odd PR jobs I could pick up regionally. I got my real estate license and, at the same time, to promote my practice, I asked the North County News if I could start writing articles about what I was learning from my real estate courses, which I found no one else was doing.

But, to be candid, most of the stuff I was learning was not exactly Peyton Place in terms of interest, so when it came time to report to my readers, I decided to personalize it more as journaling, to humanize it with personal experience, and the feedback I received was encouraging. Over the years, The Home Guru developed a life of its own.

Last year when I collected an anthology of my columns from this paper into my book, “Musings of the Home Guru: Armchair Observations and Advice about Buying, Selling and Fixing Homes, both Practical and Absurd,” Adam Stone, the Publisher of Examiner Media, flatteringly wrote in his Forward, “When Examiner Media launched The Home Guru column I remember feeling somewhat skeptical that a real estate column could remain vibrant in a community newspaper week after week. Boy was I wrong.”

I had every advantage in keeping my column about homes and real estate vibrant week after week, and I expect to be able to continue to do so for another 300 columns and beyond when one considers that my subject matter involves where we are born, where we grow up, discover our sexuality, fall in love, marry, raise our children, experience great joy and sorrow, grow old and finally die. It is the very setting for our life’s experience, all the while filling one of our basic needs, that of shelter. How can it not be a vibrant component of our lives each and every day?

And, especially during the past dozen years, our life’s major investment has engaged us like never before. If you are old enough like me to have purchased a home, let’s say, 30 or even 40 years ago, you experienced some normal ups and downs in the market and the value of your home, but what you saw in the giddy years of the Great Bubble (2002 to 2007) and the Great Recession (2007 to 2009) gave you a roller-coaster ride that your parents and grandparents had never experienced since the Great Depression. Most of us weathered it through together, and I had the opportunity to report on those years, both exultant and desperate, for you, always writing from my personal perspective.

During these years, I witnessed great joy, great sadness, challenge, opportunity, and yes, even prejudice and discrimination, despite all the federal, state and local laws we have in place to protect us against it.

On the joyful side, I have most enjoyed working in the field with young couples buying their first homes, like Jennifer and Tim Nelson, who found their dream home with me and, when they had their first baby, brought her by my home to introduce her to me. On the sad side, I’ve gone through the deaths of spouses, helping widows and widowers downsize their homes and possessions, trying not to shed tears with them in the process, and not succeeding very well.

And I have touched the lives of people in great trouble as well, such as the woman, reading a column I had written about the dangers of hoarding, who called me anonymously and in desperation, telling me that she was afraid that, eventually, she would not be able to get out of her own house in case of an emergency.   I made some calls, and from what I understand, she is now getting the help she needs.

Time and again, I’ve shared with my readers that I’m no expert as a handyman in providing maintenance tips around that house, but only a communicator of other artisans’ skills, and through my work, I’ve met scores of them who are some of the greatest men and women on the planet, and they’ve become my good friends.

And from an ego satisfying kind of thing, I just love it when I’m in town, in a drugstore or in a restaurant and someone I don’t know approaches me and tells me that they love my columns.

Nicely, both my PR and real estate businesses are keeping me busy nowadays, but my absolutely favorite job is writing this column for you every week. So, thank you, dear readers, for liking me, those who do, and anybody who would like to have my book, which people tell me is funny, can buy it at: www.TheHomeGuru.com.  And, here’s to the next 300 columns!

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

leavesAround this time of year, I start to see large paper bags filled with leaves parked by the roadside and I say to myself, what a waste! I just can’t understand why anyone would part with this rich resource in the life cycle of plant life. I love fallen leaves of red, brown and gold. I love their look, their smell, and the sound, if you listen carefully, as they fall gently from their branches to the ground.

If they are just left there as is, true, they can cause damage to your lawn by blocking light from reaching the grass and inhibiting the evaporation of water, particularly if you have a lot of oak trees whose leaves decompose slowly. They also encourage the growth of mold and/or fungus which isn’t very friendly to grass. If you have walnut trees, that’s another problem in that they have compounds in them that actually poison other plants.

I remember one year, before I had the money to have a lawn service (yes, as a self-employed person for most of my life, I’ve been downright broke many times and sometimes only my own brawn has kept my household going), I just left the leaves, figuring that one year wouldn’t hurt. Well, when the raining season came, the leaves turned into a wet, matted mess that flattened and melted into the grass. And when spring came and the weather dried up, I had dozens of wet, muddy holes in my formerly, fairly decent lawn. I spent the spring getting rid of the thatch and re-seeding. That was the last fall season that I was lazy!

Then for some years, I got into composting which became somewhat of a religion for me, but not a fanatical one. I have enough property where I was able to take a corner of it, not noticeable from either my front or back lawns, and create a pile of alternating grass and leaf layers, along with daily kitchen scraps. I’d just keep the pile growing until it reached about four feet, occasionally mixing it up with a pitch fork and letting it simmer and smoke throughout the year. And by the spring, when I was ready to do all my planting, it was ready to use as the richest compost you might imagine.

In the intervening years, my lifestyle has changed radically concerning my prodigious production of leaves on my property, which at one time, before the super storms Irene and Sandy hit, was mostly shady with huge trees. When I no longer had time to work on a layered compost pile, I started to mulch my leaves in place on the lawn itself with my lawn mower and found that to be a satisfactory solution. I suggest this to any homeowner, rather than bagging, because leaves decompose very quickly when shredded.

Organic Gardening Magazine suggests that the best technique for mulching leaves in place is this way: Your mower should be fitted with a blade that chops leaves and grass into small pieces, but a side-discharge mower works too. Set to shred by setting the mower height to three inches and remove the bag. It works best to shred leaves when you can still see some grass peeking through them, and that means you may need to mow several times during the fall.

Begin mowing on the outside edge of the lawn, shooting the leaves toward the center of the yard. Mowing in this pattern allows you to mow over the leaves more than once. If the leaves are still in large pieces after you pass over them the first time, go back over the lawn at a right angel to the first cut. Finely shredded leaves filter down through the grass and decompose easily by the following spring.

If there is an overabundance of leaves on your lawn and the layer of the shredded leaves seems too thick, you might want to suck up the extra leaves by making more than one pass over the lawn with the mower’s bag attached. You might also mow with the bag on if you want to collect leaves for the compost pile or to use as mulch in the garden beds. It’s best to have no more than a one inch layer of leaf mulch on lawns and a three-to-four-inch layer on garden beds.

Mulched leaves return valuable micronutrients to your lawn and gardens, especially when mixed with grass clippings, and feed the microorganisms and worms that keep your soil – and your grass – healthy.

So why would you want to throw all that good health away by bagging?

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

 

 

 

Like many people at my stage of life, I’m planning projects for not just one house but for two, as I prepare to move from an oversized house to a brand new smaller one, a beautiful new condo with many nice amenities.

I’m organizing what needs to be done with my current historic property, not to sell it as most people would do when they move on (I’m leasing it to my PR business and for a satellite office for my real estate company), and what things my wife and I will do to decorate our new digs.

The double-duty job has my wife and me down to our last nerve, as I used to hear people say in the south as a child, especially “the wife.”

Through the years, I have worked with many clients in the same boat: people of retirement age who are moving on with their living arrangements, even if they’re not fully retiring.

In some cases, it’s a joyous occasion, a time to prepare for enjoyment of the golden years but, depending on circumstances, it can be the most stressful. From personal experience and an article I read earlier this year in The Wall Street Journal, I learned more about how to advise clients to better prepare for retirement when it comes to housing options.

It’s odd, considering that for most people, their house is their biggest asset–and their biggest expense. But when it comes to retirement planning, their house most often falls to the bottom of the list involving changes in later life.

There are many reasons for not wanting to face the music about moving on. Our homes are filled with memories for all of us and emotionally it’s hard to let go of them. Also, let’s face it, moving is a hassle at any age, and downsizing to a smaller home isn’t always the cash cow it’s made out to be. That was the sad case for many who got caught up in the Great Recession.

But experience shows that while most wait until well into retirement before moving to a smaller house or condo, it’s much smarter to downsize sooner rather than later.

The financial benefits may not seem significant at first, but over time they can make a meaningful difference in extending the life of a nest egg. Also, there are lifestyle considerations, such as being in a community with others of similar age. Most importantly, making a move before one spouse dies can ensure that the surviving spouse or the couple’s children won’t have to deal with the stress of emptying and selling a big house.

Some financial planners say that the reluctance stems from the idea that trading a house with a paid-off mortgage for a rental or a condo with maintenance fees will involve higher monthly costs, but that’s a false impression. Actually, a home’s hidden expenses, such as maintenance for a roof, a boiler, heating and landscaping can far exceed condo fees or monthly rental costs.

Also, retirees might have a desire to hold on to a house where their children were raised so that they and their grandchildren can visit, when actually it’s far cheaper to put them up in a hotel room rather than clinging to a four-bedroom home.

Property taxes are also a growing burden, especially in our region. Who needs a good school district and the high taxes it demands when the children are long gone?

The aging process itself makes it harder to move. It is physically and mentally exhausting, even at a young age, and it’s much more daunting for older adults. And once a spouse dies, it’s even harder to move from a home that a wife and husband shared for decades. In such cases, the responsibility for helping take care of a house, and ultimately selling it, often falls to the children.

According to The Wall Street Journal article, downsizing can have a big impact on a retiree’s financial plan. Even with the mortgage paid off, housing often accounts for 30 percent of retirement expenses. For those trying to assess the financial benefit of downsizing, the Boston College Retirement Center has a new online tool. It’s available at squaredaway.bc.edu and can be found by clicking the “Housing” link at the bottom of the page.

It’s about more than just money. I was in New York City last week to attend the Cabaret Convention, and the couple sitting next to me with whom I struck up a conversation had sold a large home in the suburbs to buy a small apartment in the city, specifically to attend cultural and theatrical events in Manhattan.

This is how we wanted to spend our retirement, and we are loving it,” the woman said. “”We’re using our nest egg from the sale of our home, having a doorman and security, enjoying restaurants and a very active cultural life.”

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

Real estate isn’t as sexy as it once was, and it probably won’t be for a long time to come, according to the pros.

Why would I relate real estate to sex, you might ask? Well, you know the game of association, right? I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump lately, someone who’s certainly associated with real estate. I’m about to change my home address to a magnificent structure bearing his name and, somehow, as odd as it may seem, I sometimes recall that infamous comment that Marla Maples made about The Donald that all guys must secretly wish someone had made about them at some point in their lives. Admit it, guys.

But, just this week, the comment about real estate not being very sexy any more was made to me by J. Philip Faranda, president of the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing Service, when I called him to comment on its third quarter report. The report indicated that sales had slowed down somewhat when compared with the same quarter last year.

He was referring to how sexy investing in real estate seemed to be in the early 2000s when the big bubble was yielding double-digit appreciation, multiple offers on overpriced properties and subprime mortgages with zero-down payments. It was a heady time when there seemed to be no ceiling in sight. That is, until the bottom fell out in 2007 and we were all left holding the bag with the worst economic conditions the nation had seen since the Great Depression.

As a realtor, I was wondering for a while whether I had chosen the right parallel career for myself. I had always liked sexy jobs, like the one I enjoy as a public relations practitioner. Suddenly, as I shared with Faranda, real estate wasn’t as sexy to me anymore.

“That’s a good thing,” he responded, “if you’re talking about the absence of the drama of volatility in the market. Anything that behaves like an investment is either going to be high risk, high reward – in other words, a gamble–or it’s going to be more stable, on the conservative side and maybe a little boring.  During the bubble, you had people using discretionary income, gambling in a high-risk way;  they were winning and it was great…until they weren’t winning anymore.

“But when it comes to your home, you don’t want to gamble; you want stability,” Faranda continued. “You want to come home knowing that your roof isn’t leaking and that there’s no padlock on your door. It’s the place where we raise our children. It’s a sweet place, full of memories; it’s not a place for a roller coaster ride with a lot of drama. In short, we just want to know that it will be there. As realtors we have to stop selling homes like a 401(k). As buyers we have to approach it the same way. People have to live within their means and not invest in a house like they’re using discretionary income.

“As David Lerner would say, buying a home should be ‘the solid middle ground’ kind of investment.’”

While Faranda said that stability is good for the real estate market, he concedes that people have a short memory and surely they will forget the lessons learned. “After a cycle of stability, there will come a time, probably in another 10 years, where the cycle we’ve just experienced will repeat itself yet again,” he said. “People just forget, and history repeats itself.”

In this region, while sales decreased by 2.7 percent in Westchester, they increased 3.1 percent in Putnam, although that number is somewhat skewed by very low sales in the same quarter in 2013. The median sales price of a home in Westchester increased by 4.7 percent to $682,500 over 2013. In Putnam County, there was a drop of 3.8 percent in the median price to $320,000.

Inventory is still relatively low, which is troublesome because, as Faranda said, “If you can’t sell a house, you can’t buy a house.” But a factor showing relative stability in the housing market is the low interest rates for a 30-year conventional mortgage, ranging between 4.2 and 4.4 percent during the quarter.

So maybe the sex in real estate isn’t as great as Marla proclaimed for The Donald, but when it comes to having a roof over your head, it’s probably much more satisfying in the long run.

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

When I suggested to my wife that I was interested in writing about the toilet and its history, her response was, “You’re joking, right? Isn’t that a bit indelicate?”

It seems that some essential facts of life are always subsurface, such as the claim I heard recently that some people will buy toilet paper only when no one is looking.

But, the relevance of the toilet in modern life was hammered home to me when I met with a new seller client who told me she totally rebuilt her old cottage-style home from the ground up 20 years ago because she grew tired of using an outhouse in the back yard. Did I hear right? Actually, 30 years ago when I bought my home built in 1734, there was still an outhouse in the backyard that didn’t look that long abandoned.

The removal of human waste from domiciles has been one of the greatest challenges and necessities of tolerable living from ancient civilizations to the Romans, who in their glory days had perfected a sophisticated sewage system. But when Rome fell, so did the technology of the sewer, along with baths, engineered water and basic sanitation.

In fact, by the Dark Ages, bathing and sanitation became uncommon, resulting in more than a quarter of the European population dying from such diseases as cholera and the plague. Until the 18th century, most people just did whatever they had to do, whenever and wherever they needed to do it. Even as recently as the mid-19th century, the contents of chamber pots were commonly dumped from second story windows into the streets.

When the connection was made between disease and waste, sanitation came to the fore once again, especially in cities with dense populations in Europe. In America, most of us relied on outhouses until the development of water supplies, indoor plumbing and a system to accommodate waste removal from the home, either to a septic or sewer.

The development of sewer and septic systems is a fascinating subject for future exploration, but the focus here is that porcelain- coated fixture we relate to most directly when the need arises. To rid our environment of any residual, all we need do, mindlessly at that, is press a handle, which even a cat can be trained to do.

For years, I believed that the toilet was invented in the late 1800s by an Englishman named Thomas Crapper. Seriously. But those old English words preceded Crapper’s flush toilet by some centuries and the connection with his name is purely coincidental.

Three hundred years earlier, another Englishman, Sir John Harington, wrote a treatise of the toilet’s design and peddled its first installation to his godmother, who happened to be Queen Elizabeth I. The flushing mechanism is remarkably similar to what we use today.

Very honestly, I had rarely thought about how a toilet works, leaving any problems with its operation to my plumber. It’s like my car. I just fill the tank with gasoline and it runs. But it’s actually quite a sophisticated piece of equipment, considering its 16th century origins.

Today, a toilet is composed of two main pieces – the tank and the bowl, with the working parts in the tank. When the lever is pushed, it pulls on a chain, which pulls up a flush valve at the bottom of the tank, allowing water to rush out into the toilet bowl. As the water level in the tank goes down, a float ball attached to a rod opens the fill valve and water from the house water pipe begins to flow into the tank. When the tank is almost empty a flapper falls onto the discharge hole and seals it again, and water starts refilling the tank. That sitting water in the tank actually serves as insulation from smells and fumes from the pipes.

The toilet’s significant contribution to the environment was further enhanced in 1992 when Congress passed legislation requiring new toilets to drain just 1.6 gallons per flush instead of the then 3.5 gallons, conserving water resources.

In recent years, the look of the toilet has become more sleek, particularly the tank. The bowl shape had always been round, but newer versions feature an elongated shape, designed perhaps with the male anatomy in mind. For a man, it would seem to me that trading up to an elongated toilet bowl is like switching from jockeys to boxers.

And, of course, there has long been the “up or down” debate between men and women about the lid, as well as the rank humor attached to this serious, essential fixture in our homes. But, an exploration of that latter subject would indeed be indelicate.

A Sears home, assembled from a kit in 1930, located in North White Plains, available for sale from The Home Guru.

A Sears home, assembled from a kit in 1930, located in North White Plains, available for sale from The Home Guru.

When I received a call from a 92-year-old gentleman telling me that he had read every one of my articles since I started writing as The Home Guru, I was quite flattered. And, when he told me that he wouldn’t consider having anyone else sell the house that he had lived in since he was married, I was delighted.

But when he told me it was a Sears-Roebuck house, built from a kit, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to see it.

My enthusiasm dampened a bit when he added, “But I warn you, to reach my home you must climb exactly 50 steps up from the street.”

Okay, I’m game, I thought. If this 92-year-old can cut it, certainly I can, too. When I arrived at the home in the “quarry” neighborhood in North White Plains with my real estate partner Michael Pierce, we ventured the climb to the flat plateau in the sky where the charming home is perched, almost exactly as it was constructed in 1930.

Our host let us into the house and the first room we entered was the kitchen. Having been married to his first wife for more than 60 years, before being left a widower, he had just remarried and was retiring to New England. The home he is leaving behind for another generation of home adventurers is also delightful as a piece of Americana.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. first conceived of selling ready-to-assemble homes by mail order in 1906 in response to a financial dilemma. High inventory costs threatened to close the company’s building supplies department, until a new manager, Frank W. Kushel, had the idea of letting the factories ship supplies directly to buyers in the form of complete home kits.

The trustworthiness of the Sears catalog already helped the public become comfortable with the idea of buying items sight unseen. By the time the first Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans was printed in 1908, customers were ready to trust Sears with what was likely to be the biggest purchase they would ever make.

Kits weighed 25 tons and were shipped by a combination of railroad boxcar and sometimes truck. Similar to Ikea today, the innovations and efficiencies Sears brought to its home kits made homeownership affordable to families who previously could only dream of having a place of their own.

The innovative “balloon style” framing helped reduce the hours needed to assemble a house by 40 percent compared to standard methods of construction. In fact, the process of assembling the homes from kits was simple enough that neighbors sometimes pitched in to do the job themselves, barn-raising style. All the major pieces were numbered, every beam, shingle and clapboard, and there was just the right amount of nails so there would never be any guesswork for the novice builder.

Today that attention to detail helps owners identify their houses as being authentic Sears Modern Homes, as the numbers are still visible on many of the untreated pieces.

Modern Homes incorporated the newest technologies for comfortable living, gradually adding central heating, indoor plumbing and electricity to most of its designs. The newly invented drywall and asphalt shingles, which were lightweight, easy to install and fire resistant, were also utilized.

From 1908 to 1940, about 75,000 homes were sold through the mail-order Modern Homes program. Over 447 different housing styles were available, eventually branching into three distinct lines: Honor Bilt, the most expensive line with the highest grade materials; Standard Built, recommended for warmer climates; and Simplex Sectional, the smallest and simplest designs.

Not only did prospective homeowners have many designs to choose from, but these designs allowed for great customization. Floor plans could be reversed, breakfast nooks and ironing board cabinets added and trim customized. Sears even assembled home kits based on any other home design.

Sears offered mortgage financing for a few years, but the Great Depression caused many loans to go into default, ending that service soon thereafter.

It’s not always easy to identify a Sears home, especially as homeowners were given great freedom in customizing the designs. To determine if a home is from Sears, check to see if it was built between 1908 and 1940 (keeping in mind that a few old kits were sold through 1942). See if there are any shipping labels or the aforementioned printed numbers in the home framework. Another good sign of a Sears Modern Home is a record of a mortgage issued by Sears.

After all these years, Sears homes are still prized by collectors and are known for being of high quality in even their most humble variations.

For more information about this particular home in North White Plains, call The Home Guru at 914-522-2076.

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

ChandelierBuyers and sellers who seem perfectly nice and normal throughout the sales transaction can suddenly lose their cool when the seller asks at the last minute that a modest chandelier over a kitchen table be excluded among the fixtures included in the sale.

“Oh no, you don’t,” the buyer might say, “it wasn’t excluded in the listing!”

And, the fight begins. This very scenario happened to me a short while ago. The seller had forgotten to discuss the chandelier’s exclusion with his listing agent on the listing. It was a very ordinary fixture, surely one not worth fighting about.

“But we bought it early on in our marriage, the seller protested to his agent. “Our family gathered under it every morning at breakfast, every night at dinner,” he was reported to have said, and so it went. But my buyer didn’t relent. I appealed to his better judgment. “That chandelier is an inexpensive Tiffany reproduction,” I argued, “and couldn’t have cost more than $100. I’ll buy one that’s more than twice its quality as a closing gift for you,” I said. “No, I want that one,” he said.

It looked as though it was going to come to a showdown. Just prior to this incident I had heard a story about how the sale of a home was lost because the seller had changed her mind about leaving her washer and dryer with a house because those particular models, with which she had fallen in love, literally, had been discontinued and she didn’t want to risk her emotional health with trying another brand.

Oh, my goodness, I declared, you’re going to risk losing a house over a matter like a cheap kitchen chandelier? See reason here, I admonished the buyer. Sanity finally prevailed and the seller was allowed to keep the fixture to which he was so strongly attached.

Shortly after that experience, I was involved with another dispute, and you guessed it, it also involved lighting fixtures, this time in a gorgeous historic home when the seller had affixed the highest-grade wall sconces and chandeliers you could imagine in every room, all quite appropriate to their 18th century surroundings. My buyers oohed and aahed over every one of them in every room. Only after they decided to make an offer after the first showing did I make the inquiry of the seller (it was one of those hybrid kind of FISBOs where the seller does most of the work, but the listing is on the MLS system) about exclusions and, sure enough, the lighting fixtures were “available for sale.” My buyers were not happy and neither was I.

Give yourself a test. Which of the following items would normally not be included as fixtures in the sale of a home: built-in stereo system, electric garage door opener, wall-to-wall carpet, built-in microwave oven, water heater, dishwasher, built-in stove, drapes, refrigerator, washer and dryer. You are correct if you answered that the last four items are not included. All the other items are automatically included since they are attached and have become fixtures.

The literature on the subject is somewhat simplistic. For instance, lumber sitting by the side of a house is personal property because it is not permanently attached to the structure or the land, and is therefore not included in a home’s sale price; however, when that lumber is nailed or bolted together to become a fence, the wood fence is a fixture attached to the land and is included in the sale.

Oddly, while the examples I gave about chandeliers would identify them as fixtures, their light bulbs are not permanently attached to the structure so they remain personal property. Very few sellers remove their light bulbs from the light fixtures (as they are entitled to do) unless it’s a particularly contentious sale. (Although, when I sold my first home, I ended up hating my buyer so much that I removed every light bulb from the house and every roll of toilet paper from the bathrooms. Hopefully, I’ve matured since those early years.) If a home seller wants to exclude a fixture from the sale, it must be specifically itemized and excluded in the sales contract.

When a dispute arises whether or not an item is included in a home sale, it is accepted practice that courts favor (a) buyer over seller, (b) tenant over landlord and (c) lender over borrower.

Well, I guess we all know where we stand in such battles.

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