36226843 - yellow maple leafAutumn in the garden and yard can be the most gratifying time of year as deciduous trees and perennials start to yawn, preparing for a long winter’s sleep, accompanied by that sweet smell that comes from plants releasing their chemistry and the crisp, clean sound of decaying leaves falling to the ground.

It forecasts the fleeting months of shorter days, much like when the children are asleep. The only outdoor chore that remains is clearing walkways of snow and ice.

While spring is probably everybody’s’ favorite time in the garden, helping its rebirth after being pummeled by winter, the fall signifies the very finiteness of garden chores. When a weed is pulled, it stays pulled and doesn’t replace itself with double the aggression. When perennials are deadheaded, the gardener can take a furlough from assuring that they are properly fed and watered, but will welcome them back in spring after they both have rested.

The very proportions of any garden change as the perennial and annual growth are whacked back, which makes the vistas more open from one bed to the other. Also, it eliminates many of the planning mistakes from one season to the next, as errant plans are abandoned and bulbs and perennial roots are moved to other locations.

More creative joy comes from choosing which mums to feature as the color transitions from fall to winter. While you will see drifts of mum plants on some properties that have every color in the fall palate, I always liked to stick to one color or at the most, two.

For the longest display of mum flowers, it’s best to buy those where most of the plant is still buds. When the mums fade, just leave them where they are; they maintain a nice mound throughout the winter, and you can cut them back in the early spring. If you’re lucky, they may return, but sometimes they don’t, depending on winter conditions.

My most gratifying fall job, as well as a good aerobic/resistance training exercise, has always been building up the mulch beds to make them look well-tended, as well as to keep the perennial roots from heaving. I always asked my tree service provider to send me a truck load of wood chips if they are very clean (no leaves) and processed into smaller chips. Truly, it’s as good as expensive mulch. In fact, I like it better because it offers more texture and somehow looks more natural to me.

Here are other garden tips at this time of year:

  • Harvest any vegetables left on plants. It’s important to pull out all of the crops because debris left over the winter can cause diseases to enter the soil and re-appear the next spring.
  • This is the time when you can add horse manure or compost to the soil, because that allows plenty of time for them to break down.
  • For those who like to bring houseplants inside, they should all be gathered into a shady area for a few days to get them used to low light level conditions. Make certain that they are clean and free from little critters.
  • Perennials that are overcrowded or growing in a large ring with the center portion missing means that it’s time to subdivide. You’ll become popular with your neighbors if you share the excess. Cut back the remaining perennials to a height of three to six inches.
  • Prepare for brilliant displays of daffodils, tulips and crocus in spring by planting bulbs now. Do not plant them in tidy rows but rather “broadcast” them in drifts on the surface, and plant them where they land for a more natural look.
  • For those who have the patience to endure the rigors of rose maintenance, it is time to prune dead branches and cut off any old flowers. Rose bushes should be mounded using topsoil or mulch and the canes should be cut back to six to twelve inches. For even better protection, the bush can be covered with a bushel basket.
  • Also, this is the best time to transplant shrubs or young trees to new locations.

I don’t advise readers here about preparing lawns in the fall for next spring because I must confess that for years I didn’t aerate and thatch the soil, and I didn’t fertilize. Because my property was first cultivated in the early 18th century, I felt that I got a free pass to a very naturalized lawn accepting both crabgrass and dandelions with grace. But then, I engaged a wonderful lawn care service who takes care of all those great chores that I say I was too busy to do. I do hope that it wasn’t because I was too lazy.

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.

48284009_sNot everyone can afford homes costing in the millions located in some of our more affluent communities close to the city, but in this region, a small investment in commuting time – say 15 or 20 minutes – can make all the difference in affording a million dollar lifestyle at less than half the cost.

It’s probably the same around the country as it is in the New York metropolitan area. Here, as you travel north from Manhattan into Westchester and Putnam counties, houses tend to spread out from each other and offer more bang for the buck, trees are more in evidence and there’s more sky to see.

Sometimes it takes someone else to articulate the lifestyle differences we experience that are more in the northern reaches. For the real estate agent, we are told, it also requires a different kind of communications with buyer clients who are moving from the city.

“Remember, you’re not just selling a house, you’re selling a lifestyle, you’re selling the whole community and what it offers,” we were told recently by Jason Wilson, newly appointed Vice President, Regional Director of Operations at William Raveis Real Estate when he visited our office in Yorktown Heights.

“For those who can’t afford the tonier communities within a half hour to the city, an exchange of time in commuting, say 15 or 20 additional minutes, can buy as good a lifestyle, but that requires a different kind of selling by realtors with their buyers,” he said.

“We must share with our clients that, here, we get more home for less money, and at the same time, we get all the facilities and services of the community,” he continued. “Here, there’s a bigger difference in the way we connect with our neighbors. In lower Westchester, it might be more through private clubs, while further north, it’s more through community activities, sports and the schools.

Wilson has lifestyles experience on both sides of what he calls “the big divide,” Route 287, which intersects Westchester midway. Born and raised in Yonkers, he moved to Yorktown Heights in 2002 and has lived there since, but six years ago, he took a real estate management position in Scarsdale while continuing to live in Yorktown.

“So I know the difference with the way people connect in different communities,” he said. “Here, we meet at the school football games and town pools to hang out with friends and family. South of the ‘divide’ it’s a different social setting. Here we have big, special events that bring the community together like in my town of Yorktown, for instance, we have the largest Relay for Life in Westchester, the Firefighter’s Carnival, The San Gennaro Festival, and the Yorktown Chamber of Commerce Fall Festival and Street Fair.

“And don’t forget, we can do apple picking right here, and when I tell people that, they think I live way upstate!” he said amusingly.

Wilson further listed great shopping as an advantage further north, with special stores like Turco’s and nearby, the largest shopping center in Westchester, Cortlandt Town Center. “We also have the convenience of multiple highway and parkway options up here,” he pointed out, “while some communities further south have only one way out of town, we have multiple options. If the Taconic is backed up, you can take 100, or 9 or 684.

“There is also the option of better parking at the train stations for either the Hudson or Harlem lines,” he said, noting that in Croton-Harmon, the waiting list for a parking space is only a year, while further south along the lines, that wait time can be as long as seven years.

Wilson emphasized that by investing some extra time in commuting, home buyers are not letting go of something, but gaining something. “They are getting a better deal on home value, mortgage cost, taxes and quality of life.

“If we go to a school football game and don’t arrive early, we’re not likely to get a seat, but we don’t mind standing because we get to hang out with our neighbors, be part of the community and support the team,” he said. “It’s the same way at the town pools or at the parks.

“And, because of the open space we have, you can truly appreciate the foliage, the snow and experience the seasons, from the leaves coming on and off the trees, to the snow on the ground. And, our snow plowing is the best. When I lived in Yonkers, you could be out of luck because most people park on the street. You would dig your car out and then be plowed back in. Here, it’s easier to get out!”

From Wilson’s point of view, however, it sounds best just to stay.

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.

fallentreeThis article might well be titled “The Joys and Agonies of Being a Tree Lover.”

The subject of planting trees comes to me each year as we enter into early fall because it is the perfect time to plant both deciduous and evergreen trees as they enter into dormancy. And, lord knows, I have done my share of planting trees through the years, even though I bought a property that was more than half wooded.

The idea of planting small, manageable green things and watching them develop over a period of time into sculptures of beauty reaching to the skies in graceful forms, providing shade, has always appealed to me.

When I saw an ad in The New York Times for what turned out to be my dream house in the country, I called the owner and asked if it had privacy, noting that I preferred not seeing any neighbors. He answered, “No matter which window I look out of, all I see is trees.”

How wonderful, I thought, considering that when I looked out of my window in the city, all I saw was one scrawny Gingko that had been hit repeatedly by cars vying for the parking space in front of it. The last time I visited the old neighborhood, I noted that it had finally lost the battle to the cars and hadn’t been replaced.

But my one and a half acre property in upper Westchester was laden with generous thickets of sugar maples, honey locusts, ash, black walnuts, cherries and many other species I never bothered to look up. Besides that, former owners had planted some old dogwood, ornamental flowering trees and a long row of hemlock.

Having grown up in an urban setting with no trees, I just enjoyed looking at them – often reminding myself of Joyce Kilmer’s poetic turn, “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree,” and becoming somewhat of an expert in shade gardening.

It wasn’t long, however, before the reality set in. I learned that trees, especially the big ones, can fall! Or, they get sick and have to be removed.

As recently as this past weekend when I was returning from vacation, I couldn’t turn on to my street because a large maple on the edge of my corner property, which had looked in perfect health, fell across the road, taking with it the telephone, electric and cable wires with it. Thankfully the utilities companies, then my wonderful local highway department, took care of the damage, otherwise my wallet would have been set back quite a bit.

I can’t even calculate the amount of money I’ve spent through the years to have fallen or diseased trees removed from my property. Early in the ‘70s, during a very wet season, my dogwoods were all wiped out by a fungus infection. In the 1980s, my hemlocks fell to woolly adelgid. Then, a number of my largest maples was infested with thrips and slowly withered away. One evening we heard a thunderous noise as a half dead pine fell just inches from our house. Each calamity involved the very expensive proposition of dealing with tree removal. I started to feel cursed.

Having become good friends with my tree service provider, I asked him why it seemed that I had such bad luck with trees. He answered simply, “It’s just because you have so many of them!”

If there’s any moral to this story, I guess it would be to consider the responsibilities that go with a wooded property and, if a property is lacking trees and you want some shade, consider their variety and manageability when planting and their distance from the house.

There are certain trees that have been very popular either for their beauty or fast growing habits that, from experience, I would not recommend. Chief among them are the weeping willow, the Barlett pear and the white pine.

Most people know that the weeping willow’s roots are ready to suck all water out of the soil and don’t like anything else planted near them, so unless you have a wetland area on your property and lots of space, avoid it.

Many homeowners and professional gardeners regard the Bradford pear as desirable for its pyramidal shape and lovely white flowers in spring, but that characteristic shape also makes it very fragile and its branches tend to break during storms or strong winds.

The same goes for the Eastern white pine. I have had bad luck with them in that, while they grow fast, they shouldn’t be planted close to the road because they suffer from salt burn and, further, they suffer damage in winter when their branches become laden with snow and break.

My favorite tree plantings have been the flowering ornamentals – particularly my crabapples and weeping cherries – that are contained in size and offer the joy of flowers in the spring, greenery until late into the fall, and not a lot of clean up to worry about as you put your garden to bed. They offer color, some shade, and no danger of a big fall to cause damage and an expensive take-away. The best of all worlds.

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.

59095809_sThis week I reprise some musings based on both practical and absurd observations made from past columns. For an index of previously published Home Guru articles, visit www.TheHomeGuru.com.

About the common complaint of noise from neighbors: No man is an island, but there were a couple of occasions, especially when I lived in an apartment building that was not well insulated for sound, when I wished I were. Noise is the biggest complaint we have about neighbors. According to a survey by Trulia, 67 percent of us like our neighbors. Should that leave us to assume that the other 33 percent of us don’t like them for some reason?

Why has the great American front porch disappeared? Blame the advent of television and computers that keep people inside. The society that created the need to socialize with neighbors and passersby on the street has vanished. Those who still build front porches are expressing a longing for the way things used to be. Understandable in today’s fast paced world.

But, if you have a front porch, paint the ceiling blue. The theory here is that the insects are fooled into thinking the blue paint is actually the sky where they can’t nest. In the old south, folks believed the sky color warded off evil spirits. In any event, blue is a calming color, so using it to paint a ceiling in any area intended for relaxation makes sense. You can simply enjoy that rocking chair or chaise lounge and not give a second thought to any nasty spirits lurking around.

He’s boiling, she’s freezing: What to do? Men have more insulating muscle than women do, so sometimes people living in the same household have a hard time agreeing on a room temperature. To the rescue are the home heating/air conditioning systems with several zones. But what about in a shared bedroom? An electric blanket with two controls is the answer.

St. Joseph strikes again: I’ve told several stories about the lore and techniques attached to burying a St. Joseph statue on the property of a home seeking a buyer. My favorite is about a home owner who tried several underground locations and positions for the statue, but none worked. Frustrated, he threw the statue in the trash, only to learn a week later that the town dump had been sold.

Will we all return to dust? Did you know that household dust is composed mostly of our own flaking skin? If we are uncomfortable when our house is dusty, is that being uncomfortable in our own skin?

Why is there an elongated toilet? The design of the elongated toilet bowl surely was designed to accommodate the male anatomy. Trading up from a circular bowl to an elongated one is for a guy like going from jockeys to boxer shorts.

Not to belabor the point about the toilet, but… While we would all agree that it’s the gentlemanly thing for guys to return the toilet seat to the down position out of courtesy to the women of the household, most times the practice requires reminders. However, we should all engage in the practice of also lowering the lid before we flush in that it prohibits the spray of bacteria into the air and onto surfaces around the toilet.

A bathroom practice I’ve never understood: I’ve always wondered about the idea of placing a basket of magazines or even books on the tank or next to the toilet. It seems to me that anyone who has to sit long enough to read a magazine article waiting for that final stage of peristalsis to take place should be thinking about visiting a gastroenterologist.

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

A mattress tale: My wife tells a cute story about mattresses. When she took her 88-year-old mother to buy a new mattress and the salesman noted that it came with a 20-year guarantee, her mother said, “At my age, I only need a five-year guarantee. Can I get a better price for that?”

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

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

11840300 - house hunting and searching for real estate homes for sale  that need to be inspected by a home inspector concept as a magnifying glass inspecting a model single home building structure.

It’s happened to many of us in the real estate business. The “engineering” or house inspection prior to a contract signing can kill the sale of a house. I remember the very first time I heard the complaint of a realtor whose engineering resulted in a failed septic system and the bank refused to give a mortgage.

“With a failed septic, it’s considered a non-functioning house!” my colleague told me. It was quite an expensive ordeal to get the house into functioning order and to move the transaction along.

A bad engineering report can either be a negotiating point or can put the kibosh on the purchase of the house, but in the best case scenario, buyers are assured that they are getting their money’s worth and that hopefully there will be no surprises once the deal is done.

The inspector’s job, under the standards of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) is to inspect all readily accessible systems. Inspection includes the foundation and under floor crawl space, the floor structure, walls, ceilings and roof structure.

On the exterior, the inspection is conducted on all exterior wall covering and flashing, all exterior doors, attached decks, balconies, stoops, steps, porches and their associate railings. Also included are the eves, soffits, and fascias. Property inspection also includes vegetation grading, surface drainage and retaining walls when any of these are likely to adversely affect the building, as well as walkways, patios and driveways leading to dwelling entrances.

Systems included in the inspection are: plumbing, vent systems, flues, chimneys, fuel storage and fuel distribution systems, drainage pumps, sump pumps and related piping. Also included are the electrical system, heating, air conditioning systems, insulation and ventilation.

The “biggie” concerns among homebuyers are the “famous five” which are active termite damage, mold, septic, well water and radon. Because most consumers know the least about radon, and because there are such divergent opinions about it, that particular aspect of home inspection warrants further exploration.

If you research radon on the internet, the information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can scare the heck out of you. It cautions that every year, radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States among citizens who don’t smoke. Further, the agency estimates that one out of 15 homes in the United States (as many as 1 of 3 homes in some states) have high radon levels.

However, some critics say that the statistics given by the USEPA are a vast exaggeration. One local home inspector with whom I researched the subject some time ago, who chose to remain anonymous, said that he had serious misgivings about those dire statistics. He explained to me that when he went online to the Center of Disease Control and checked out their statistics on lung cancer and radon, he felt that its statistics suffered from some serious omissions. He said that almost everything the CDC had to say about lung cancer addressed the issue of smoking, stressing that smoking causes most of the preventable deaths.

“The stuff I read made it seem that smoking accounted for 86 to 90 percent of the deaths and radon was accountable for the rest, by default,” he said.

“Frankly, I wonder if most people would not be better off spending their money on something else, because I don’t think it is as cut and dried as the USEPA makes it sound,” he continued.

The engineer’s understanding was that only 10 to 15 percent of the houses in the country have substantially elevated levels of radon and that even in those houses it would take many years of exposure to develop a serious risk of lung cancer.

The average family stays in a house about eleven years. Stretching the issue to the absurd, the inspector concluded: “It seems that what the USEPA is searching for is that one family in the high radon house that will stay there for seventy years and stay indoors eighteen hours a day!”

The first time I heard the term radon, it was when I bought a country home in 1990, and at that time, I had no idea what it was. But I found that the relatively new home had a high level of it on the lower, partly below-grade level and I decided to have a system installed to mitigate it.

When I called the New York State Department of Health, I was told that when a house is sold, the seller must disclose to the buyer if he or she is aware of elevated levels of radon in the structure, but neither the seller nor the buyer is required to install a mitigation system.

Whatever side of the controversy one may be on, most real estate agents suggest to their buyers that they consider including a radon test in the home inspection. While it is only recommended, I always say, better safe than sorry. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember when asbestos was considered the top choice for insulation.

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.

34956197 - noisy neighbors upstairsNo man is an island, nor would he or she wish to exist as one, but there were a couple of occasions, especially when I lived in an apartment building that was not well insulated for sound, when I wished I were. According to a survey by Trulia, 67 percent of people like their neighbors. Should that leave us to assume that the other 33 percent of us don’t like them for some reason?

The nature of neighbor complaints depend on the type of domiciles involved. If we live in apartments or condos, they might be mostly about noise above or through contiguous walls. If we live in single family homes, they are probably more about trash handling or visual blight.

I remember that years ago there was a case considered visual blight on my block that was both controversial and amusing at the same time. There was a very colorful free spirit living midway down the block who was a taxidermist. Somewhere along the way he had acquired a large promotional statue of an Indian chief, close to 20 feet tall that stood majestically at the end of his driveway, one hand outstretched to the sky. It could be seen from a distance as you drove down the street. Some of us considered it a welcome landmark. Others were not amused.

When it came time for the house to be sold across the street, the homeowner was distressed that the outlandish yard embellishment would discourage all prospects. As it happened, a young couple with whom we became friends fell in love with the house and felt welcomed by the Indian chief across the street extending the hand of friendship. To each his own.

My last report on the subject of neighbor complaints was based on a survey taken from the annual log of my hometown code enforcer, listed in order of frequency as follows:

Complaint #1: Trash. Surprised? I was. The complaints deal with how trash is handled, bundled, where it is placed or whether it blows on to other neighbors’ properties.

Complaint #2: Fences. There can be trouble when a fence is constructed with the “ugly” side facing a neighbor, when town codes usually specify that the decorative side must face away from the house. This complaint is so endemic that fence manufacturers have invented the fence where both sides are decorative.

Complaint # 3 and #4. Trees. Part A of the complaint is when a tree on one person’s property is hanging over a neighbor’s yard, casting shade or dropping leaves or limbs. Part B is removing mature trees when they significantly change the landscape. Most towns have tree ordinances to prevent this, but it happens anyway.

Complaint #5: Visual Blight. This is a broad category and can involve anything from excessive numbers of vehicles in driveways to non-repair of a home’s exterior or any pile of stuff that is covered with that horrible shade of blue plastic.

Complaint #6: Noise. This covers several categories. There is noise from loud music, mostly yard parties with amplifiers. Lawnmowers or leaf blowers used after dinner time are particularly challenging to neighbors staying friendly.

Complaint #7: Signs. The ubiquitous “tag sale” signs attached to telephone poles, which is a patently illegal place to place them. The double dip of annoyance is when the offenders fail to come back to remove them after the sale.

Complaint # 8: Dogs. Continuous barking is the main issue with dogs, and some towns have specific allowable time frames considered acceptable to let dogs bark. In my town, a resident can complain after 15 minutes of continuous barking.

Complaint # 9: Water Runoff. When a new construction project creates water runoff on another property, the complaint usually goes first to the code enforcer, but then to the town board and town engineer to try to get something done about it.

Complaint #10: Outdoor Lighting. This is a distant last category. Perhaps because of security measures or safety, there seems to be more outdoor lighting used today, which sometimes is pitched directly at neighbors’ bedroom windows.

For those facing neighbor problems, here are a few suggestions gleaned from various sources of expertise to ward off explosive situations. Basically, sound advice is to talk it out. Call ahead and plan a time “to talk.” Meet in neutral territory, on the sidewalk or property line. Don’t accuse; explain the problem and ask how it might be solved together.

If that doesn’t work, check local noise and disturbance ordinances and write a personal letter to the neighbor, offering a solution. If you have a condo or block association, they can send a standard letter citing a code or by-law. The best resolution is to alleviate the problem through open communications without having to call the local precinct or filing a complaint in court.

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.

SparkleLakeJust recently I had the pleasure of introducing the Hudson River Valley area to a couple who will be relocating here and what a pleasure it was to again remind myself of all the joys my family has enjoyed living here for many years.

In real estate, when we talk about location, normally we are referring to the town, neighborhood, and street address of a property. We should also consider how the natural and cultural resources of our region influence and enhance our lifestyles, not to mention the value of our homes.

This is a somewhat arbitrary, even personally biased, list of attractions and activities which I feel make our region exceptional. It can serve as a starter kit for bragging points about the benefits of living here when we consider marketing our homes, or just as a gratitude list for the simple pleasures we have available to us on a day-to-day basis.

Whenever I’m introducing clients to the region from the city or another part of the country, I like to have them in my car, rather than following me in their cars, so that I can extol the wonders of Westchester and Putnam counties, the areas in which I specialize. In upper Westchester, one of my favorite areas to point out is the Croton Reservoir Bridge on the Taconic. While crossing the bridge, with the great views of water and imposing, wooded mountains, I always say, “Couldn’t you mistake this for Vermont? And here you are, less than an hour from New York City!”

Sure, we have our share of problems projecting the human condition, and a healthy dose of property taxes, but the aesthetic, recreational and cultural opportunities here ameliorate the bitter with the sweet a hundred fold.

We nearly have it all, and anything lacking can be secured readily through our close proximity to the city on one end of the living spectrum and more remote countryside on the other. For business commuting we are situated favorably to the major airports and reliable train lines, as well as beautiful parkways.

Consider our abundance of open space, protected zealously by both Westchester and Putnam through its parks like Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, land on which the legendary 19th century Leatherman traveled, the Rockefeller State Preserve in Tarrytown, of particular interest to birders and anglers, and the rugged 15,000 acres of Fahnestock Park in Putnam.

We are also beneficiaries of the engineering feats of building reservoirs, the Croton Dam and the Aqueduct, all responsible for great water views and additional, undisturbed space.

We have facilities for swimming in the summer and cross-country skiing and skating in the winter. There are many trails for hikers and bikers, crowned by the North County Trailway, constructed on the former route of the old Putnam railroad line and stretching from Eastview up to the Putnam border. Another long stretch of walking and biking is offered by the Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway, with some sections suitable for horseback riding.

Golf enthusiasts tell me that our courses, both public and private, both cheap and very expensive (courtesy of Mr. Trump) are among the best. Speaking of Mr. Trump, while I dislike having to read announcements on larger-than-needed signs on the Taconic, I do appreciate his donation of 436 acres straddling the two counties, formerly planned for development, and hopefully someday will be available as parkland.

Our preserved farmlands, such as Tilly Foster Farm in Brewster and Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown Heights, provide still more open space and offer education about the way our agrarian ancestors toiled for a living.

There are truly unique recreational activities such as that afforded by the Art Deco gem, Playland, in Rye, and, on the other side of Westchester, the Hudson River towns offer many activities from river cruises to historic attractions maintained by Historic Hudson Valley.

For entertainment, we have the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, with productions as good as anything on the Great White Way, the Emelin in Mamaroneck, and truly unique resources like the Jacob Burns Center in Pleasantville, the Paramount in Peekskill, the Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase, and the summer Shakespeare program at Boscobel in Garrison.

What I like best about our region is the diversity of people and housing opportunities in our cities, towns and villages. Distinctive small cottages and sprawling mansions can be found in the same communities as capes, raised ranches and split levels, nicely tucked in together, each vying for its own unique value proposition.

And, if things get a little too tight, we are surrounded by a great wealth of facilities to stretch out, both physically, aesthetically and intellectually.

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.

17850238_sJust about everybody I know seems to be on vacation this month and, just coincidentally, the Insurance Information Institute reports that the majority of home burglaries occur in July and August when many people are enjoying time off. According to that same agency, nine out of 10 home break-ins could be prevented if homeowners would take simple steps to burglar-proof their homes.

Of all the years we lived in our home, we didn’t invest in a sophisticated security system until just a couple of years ago. Less than 20 percent of households nationwide have security systems, and the rest of us must take other precautions to discourage break-ins while we’re away from home.

How well I remember the discomfort combined with the relaxation of every vacation while we were traveling, especially if it were for periods of more than a week. In the early days, I remember that we would call home and feel comforted to hear our answer machine just to know that everything was still “there.” And when returning home, there would always be that anxious moment when we were turning on to our street and my wife and I would turn to each other and ask, “Is the house still standing?”

We had good reason to be nervous Nellies, having sustained two break-ins when we lived in the city, so we developed a whole litany of devices to make our home less appealing to burglars which I list here, combined with other ideas combed from other sources, some of which are really creative. For those who don’t have security systems, consider the following:

Lock all the Doors and Windows! This may seem unnecessary to even mention but 28 percent of all burglaries occur without having to use force to gain entry. Burglars simply find an unlocked window or door, so be sure to double check all the windows and deadbolt all exterior doors. Place a metal or wood dowel in the track of sliding glass doors. And, if you have a spare key hidden outside, make sure it’s brought inside while you’re away

Hire a House Visitor/Sitter: It’s well worth the investment to have someone pick up the newspapers daily (if you haven’t had them temporarily discontinued), water the plants and, if you have them, take care of pets.

Invest in Timers: To make your house look lived in, utilize timers to have the lights go on and off at various times throughout the day.

Unplug and Disconnect: Unplug all electronics and small appliances that don’t need to stay on while you’re away. This will save electricity and reduce the risk of fire. Turn off your garage door opener so thieves can’t open it with a universal remote. If you’ll be away for a week or more, turn your hot water heater down and consider turning off the water to sinks, toilets, dishwasher, and the washing machine to avoid possible flooding.

Don’t Close Blinds: Leave them and curtains open. If something valuable is visible through the window, move it.

Light Up at Night: If you have outdoor lighting, make sure that your timer turns it on while you’re away.

Maintain Your Lawn: If it’s an extended trip and you normally maintain your lawn yourself, arrange to have a service take care of it while you’re away.

Leave Your Car in the Driveway: Or, invite your neighbor to pull in and out of your driveway to keep activity going on there during the week.

Don’t Leave a Voicemail Message: Don’t tell the world you’re away by leaving a message to that effect on your voicemail.

Lock Up Valuables: Expensive jewelry should be secured somewhere other than the bedroom or it should be left in a safety deposit box at the bank. Personal documents should not be left in your home office or desk; burglars know where to look for them. Keep copies of important documents at another location – a relative’s home, for example.

Consider Social Media Blackout: I know that we all like to share our vacation experience with our friends, but think carefully about broadcasting to the world that you’re away from your home for a period of time. Unless you’ve invested in either a sophisticated security system or a house sitter, it is a better decision to wait until you’ve returned to share photos from the sites you’ve visited and the experience you’ve enjoyed, but in the past tense.

Invest in a Security System: Of course, the best way to deter thieves is with a high quality, professional security system. Houses without security systems are three times more likely to be targeted by burglars. An intruder entering a home with a security system will generally exit the home immediately upon hearing the alarm, significantly decreasing the risk of loss or physical danger.

Homeowners with home security systems typically enjoy lower insurance rates due to the reduced risk of burglary and fire, and of course, a home security system can be an added selling point when putting a home on the market.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.56.46 PMIn the early days of our nation, settlers brought to our shores many superstitions by which they lived their home lives, many of which remain with us to this day. You don’t put much store in superstitions nowadays, you say? Well, when was the last time you didn’t avoid passing under a ladder set up against the house to remove leaves from the gutter?

Today, many of those superstitions have become traditions and we don’t think much about their origins. One of those lingering superstitions came to mind recently when I saw a porch ceiling painted a pale blue green and wondered whether the owner hailed originally from the deep South or if it were just a coincidence. Where I grew up in Virginia and further south in places like South Carolina, many porch ceilings are painted what is known as “haint” blue, haint being another word for ghost.

In the founding days of our colonies, that color became associated with the superstition that it protected the homeowner from being “taken” by restless spirits of the dead who, for whatever reason, have not moved on from the physical world. It was thought that the ghostly spirits would think that the color was water, and they would pass over it, rather than settle there. Use of the color became a tradition as it was passed from generation to generation.

There are other superstitions associated with the home beyond ladders and blue ceilings observed through the years. Here are a few of the more interesting to ponder.

Earlier generations believed that when you move out of a house, the broom should be left behind because, along with the dust of the home, old brooms carried the negative aspects of your life. A new broom signified a fresh start.

Along with a new broom, bread and salt were brought along from the old to a new home to keep evil spirits away.

According to a Jewish superstition, it’s bad luck to place shoes on a dresser or table According to my mother’s Italian tradition, the no-no was to place them on a bed, but wasn’t that just a good housekeeping point?

Also, there persists a superstition to never open an umbrella inside. That superstition seems to originate in the belief that since umbrellas are used for protection from the sun, this would be an insult to the sun god.

There is a long held belief that moving into a new home on a Friday, Saturday or rainy day is unlucky. According to Indian superstition, the luckiest moving day is Thursday.

It is said that we should never pound nails after sunset or we’ll wake the tree gods. But practically, won’t we annoy the neighbors?

Mirrors have a multitude of superstitions attached to them. We always say to break one will result in seven years bad luck. But the feng shui principle tells us that, placed at a doorway, a mirror will improve the flow of chi. However, a mirror placed facing a bed is strictly taboo in that the spirit of your sleeping soul can enter into the mirror and you may not be able to return to your body when you wake. Scary stuff. I must confess I thought about that when placing a mirror in my bedroom. And I’m not normally superstitious!

During the first week that I owned a “new” 18th century home in Westchester, a descendent of the original owner, a woman in her early 90s stopped by to introduce herself and fill me in on the history of the house. She pointed to two large outcroppings of gnarled lilac bushes, one near the front door of the house and the other at the back door.

“They were planted by my father on my wedding day, 75 years ago,” she exclaimed. “Oh wow,” I said, “How great that will be in the spring with the aroma of lilac wafting through the house.” “It was not for the fragrance that he planted them,” she said. “My father believed they brought good luck into the house and kept evil away.” I was stunned to hear her say that.

By the way, the superstition about the blue porch ceilings warding off ghosts does have a practical side to it in today’s world. Some people swear that the blue paint also repels insects, theorizing that insects prefer not to nest on blue ceilings because they are “fooled” into thinking the blue paint is actually the sky.

Or, a blue porch ceiling might be considered simply because of the way it makes the space look and feel. Blue is a calming color, so using it to paint an area of the house intended for relaxation makes sense. You can simply enjoy that rocking chair and not give a thought to avoiding any nasty spirits in the vicinity.

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.

3596024 - strong wind storm damage in midwest neighborhoodSome years ago I wrote about a freak accident I experienced at my pool that was really dramatic, and it led to my being more aware of taking precautions to avoid getting hurt when working or playing outside the home. Just this week, another incident prompts me to remind myself and readers of safety tips outside the home.

The incident years ago was exceptionally bizarre. I had been in the deep end of my pool finishing up some exercises to deal with a bad lower back. Emerging from the pool, I was heading toward my back door when suddenly I heard the sound of heavy collapse just behind me, followed by an enormous splash. I turned around to see that a major limb from a dead tree near the pool had fallen directly into the pool exactly where my head had been bobbing less than a minute before! It could have killed me.

That old elm, having avoided Dutch elm disease into maturity, died at least three years prior to that incident, and I know I should have taken it down, but it offered a strange beauty in that it had been totally entwined with old wisteria vines that bloomed abundantly each spring. It was probably the wisteria that killed it, but somehow I thought that it would hold the tree up. Dead trees, especially if they are within falling distance of the house, must be taken down.

This time around, quite simply, I didn’t tie the laces to my work shoes properly, tripped and fell squarely and painfully on one knee. How simple would it have been to avoid that?

While most accidents happen inside the home, a great percentage of them happen outside. I’ve had my fair share of them through the years, from accidentally disturbing a wasps’ nest and sustaining multiple stings, to tripping on a vine traveling along the ground (the darned wisteria again) and wrenching my back when I hit the deck.

According to the National Safety Council, there are as many as 33,000 fatalities each year resulting from accidents outside the home and as many as 230,000 serious accidents that require visits to the hospital emergency rooms.

Statistics also show that most outside accidents happen from using tools improperly and that most accidents are related to lawn mowers.

Here are some safety tips for outdoor activity offered by various manufacturers of lawn mowers and other equipment:

Prepare in advance of mowing by walking around the area to remove any objects like sticks, glass, metal, wire, stones and string that could cause injury or damage to equipment. Nails and wire are the most hazardous items that can be thrown by mowers, capable of killing bystanders.

Children should never be in the yard when mowing the lawn and should never ride on the mower. More than 800 children per year are injured by being run over by riding mowers.

Children must be kept totally away from power equipment because many suffer burns to hands and arms when they touch the hot muffler of running engines.

Be sure to know how to operate the equipment, where the controls are and what they do. Dress appropriately for outside jobs. Proper footwear is most important (when I tripped on that vine I was wearing flip-flops and definitely asking for trouble, which I got). Long pants and long sleeved shirts are preferable (and a deterrent to those nasty deer ticks). Eye protection is frequently needed as are heavy gloves, hearing protection and, for women, removal of jewelry, which can get caught in moving parts.

Never work with electric power tools in wet conditions. For protection against being electrocuted, a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) should be used. There are both plug-in types and those that are part of some extension cords.

Handle gasoline carefully, remembering never to fill gas tanks while machinery is operating or when equipment is still hot, and do not fuel equipment indoors.

Something that few people think about: hoses left just loosely in various parts of the garden are an invitation for an accident. It’s best to have them stored in a hose reel.

To prevent back injuries, it’s advisable to use a wheelbarrow for heavy stones, but I find the use of a sturdy two-wheeled dolly perfect for moving extremely large rocks from one location to another.

And when using ladders, they should be firmly set or held by a garden helper.

One final note that I want to share that’s equally important about protecting yourself outside: Remember to block the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays by using sunscreen.

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.