50101835 - installation on facade of the house panels beige vinyl sidingWhen the opportunity comes to choose the “skin” of a house, the siding, whether for new construction or re-surfacing, you might think that the main factor would be personal preference for its look. But, there are other important matters to consider, namely its cost, energy efficiency, ease of maintenance, and its impact on home resale value.

Whether it’s brick, stone, wood siding, stucco, vinyl, fiber-cement (also known as “Hardie board,” named after its inventor), or a combination of two or more of those possibilities, our approach to new siding demands some study, especially since there are so many options from which to choose.

Our choices today might further be influenced by the region of the country we hail from or, for that matter, the neighborhood of our youth or a certain ideal that sets itself in our minds.

I remember when my family moved from a brick attached row home in Philadelphia to the south, my parents sought a brick home simply because that is what they were used to. When they were told, however, that their new home was merely “brick veneer,” they somehow felt cheated that it was not to be built of solid brick! And having attended college in Colonial Williamsburg, I somehow always envisioned that I’d someday own a colonial with clapboard siding.

If we were all to choose on the basis of aesthetics alone, I suspect that we might select regular wood siding which is the first siding from our nation’s earliest days, but it’s too expensive to maintain. Underneath an additional layer of composition shingle on my 1734 home, I was thrilled to discover those thick original clapboards with remnants of its first paint job in red, probably the combination of milk and oxblood.

Today, for most of us, the main choices for exterior siding are either vinyl or fiber-cement siding, and a comparison of the two options show both benefits and downsides.

Vinyl siding is made primarily from PVC, a rigid plastic material, and is attached to the exterior in a way that allows it to expand and contract with changing temperatures.

Fiber-cement siding is made from a mix of wood pulp and Portland cement that’s formed into long boards or shingles and is attached directly to the structure with nails. It is a popular choice because of its ability to withstand extreme weather conditions and hold paint for extended periods of time. It can be painted or stained, but it can also be ordered pre-painted in a range of colors.

As for maintenance, vinyl siding has advantages over fiber-cement. When fiber-cement is installed, it needs to be caulked and painted (unless you opt for the pre-painted version), unlike vinyl siding, which needs no additional work before or after installation. Long term, fiber-cement needs to be painted periodically and caulking in the joints must be maintained to avoid water intrusion.

Vinyl siding, on the other hand, just needs a power wash periodically, or for DIYers, a spray with a garden hose and some soapy water suffices to retain its vibrant look.

There are some other variables to consider. Some of the lesser quality vinyl products can fade with time, while the color of better quality products is more enduring and virtually impervious to chips and cracks. That’s not the case for fiber cement, which is so rigid that it can crack both during the installation process and after it is attached.

In my own case, I found that after a few years, some areas of my fiber-cement board, which had been behind my downspout and hit repeatedly by rainwater, literally flaked away and needed to be replaced.

As for energy and eco-friendliness efficiency, fiber-cement board has a low R-value (R-O.5) but is more eco-friendly, while vinyl can be purchased with insulation attached.

From a durability and maintenance standpoint, fiber-cement board comes with a 30- to 50-year warranty, and needs to be painted every five to ten years. A positive is that its color can be changed. Vinyl comes with a 25-year warranty but can’t be painted, so the homeowner is stuck with the same color for its lifetime. And, if damaged, vinyl must be replaced.

Considering cost and installation, there is a vast difference between the two products. The installed cost of vinyl siding is, on average, at least a third less expensive than fiber-cement. Fiber-cement is heavy, requiring special cutters and specialists to install.

In addition to saving on the initial cost of purchasing and installing vinyl siding, money is saved over its lifetime because it needs no painting or re-caulking, unlike fiber-cement.

As one would expect, and as confirmed by Mary and Robert Sniffen, proprietors of Miracle Home Improvements in Croton-on-Hudson, vinyl sells twice as much as cement-fiber, “mainly because of the cost factor,” said Mary.

To know more about home siding, Miracle Home Improvements can be reached at (914) 271-9119.

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.

19076056 - man dusting crystal chandelier in homeHave you ever heard of a dust fetish? I reluctantly admit to at least a keen interest in the subject, having alluded to it a couple of times in my column musings. For instance, once I learned that the major component of household dust is our own flaking skin, it gave me license to project that if we’re feeling queasy about not having dusted in a while, we could legitimately claim to be uncomfortable in our own skin.

Just recently I learned about a new study conducted by a group of scientists who had collected dust samples from 1,200 homes across the United States. It revealed that we all cohabitate with a few thousand species of bacteria and about 2,000 species of fungi, most of which originate outdoors and probably come inside via soil particles or as airborne spores. Add to our skin cells other flaky stuff like fabric fibers, dust mite excrement, hair, pet dander, regular dirt, debris and micro particles, and you have a pretty nasty brew that can give people with allergies and breathing problems a real hassle.

For anyone interested in forensic investigation, the study of bacteria and fungi in dust can determine whether a home has dogs or cats as well as the ratio of women to men on the premises.

For those with allergy issues, finding a solution can be a quagmire. While some argue that it’s simply a matter of pulling up carpeting and living with bare hardwood floors to control airborne bacteria and fungi, the authors of this new study, state somewhat extremely that “If you want to change your bacterial exposures, you just may have to change who you live with!” Or better yet, “If you want to change the types of fungi you are exposed to in your home, it may be best to move to a different home (preferably far away).” Well, no wonder we encounter so many people who are sniffling and apologetically tell us, sorry, it’s my allergies acting up!

While dust is inevitable, it horrifies some of us, as though its presence on our furniture and floors tells the world something unflattering about us, not only as housekeepers, but as human beings. And some of us just don’t give a damn.

You are probably familiar with the documentary, HBO movie or Broadway version of “Grey Gardens,” in which Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin, Edie Beale and her daughter, also Edie, are depicted as living in absolute squalor in a neglected ramshackle house, with garbage strewn throughout and a hoard of cats and raccoons relieving themselves on the floor. When Jackie arrives to help remedy the situation and registers her shock at the condition of the property, Edie dismisses the condition of her living environment by saying simply that her daughter “hasn’t been keeping up with the dusting.”

Is inattention to dust the first degenerative step to chaos in the home? Maybe for some, depending on their mental attitude about it, and in turn, how unkempt homes can affect its occupants.

One survey reveals that 83 percent of us are happier in a clean house and the act of cleaning itself gives 57 percent of the population a feeling of satisfaction. Further it shows that 38 percent of women and 24 percent of men experience real stress living in a messy environment.

It would seem that dusting and cleaning can be therapeutic. Psychologists have found that there is a marked difference in mood before and after doing cleaning, just as with a therapy session.

But beyond the psychological and unhealthy effects of dust, it can do real physical damage to most everything it lands on, from furniture surfaces to those things it clogs up like computer keyboards and vents.

There are both fancy and simple ways to get rid of dust. The fancy way is with an air purifier of which there are two types: those with fans that pull air through filters that trap the dust and those called electrostatic precipitators in which an electrical charge is applied to the dust drawn into the device and captured on oppositely charged plates. Both are available as either portable units or as whole-house systems. Prices range from $100 for a portable model to over $1,000 for a whole-house system.

But, among the houses I’ve listed or sold, I was aware of only one couple who had a whole-house air purifier system. So, unless people are plagued by allergies, I suspect that most of us dust with old-fashioned elbow grease, using either regular rags or one of those new magic dusters to which particles cling. Because the latter option can be expensive, a regular rag can be made just as effective if dampened before use and shaken out frequently.

It’s funny how the exploratory process can affect you. As I sit at my computer, I’m very aware that between the keys of the keyboard is a lot of trapped dust. Are the raccoons soon to follow?

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

48430435_sWhen my wife and owned an antiques shop early in our marriage, there was a revival of interest in the Victorian style of décor, and I can’t say that we were an enthusiastic part of it. This style from the second half of the 19th century was known for plush, heavily upholstered furniture on rounded, narrow legs, velvety textures, ornate details, and a crammed abundance of plants, glassware and textiles. We were more into the relative simplicity of earlier periods.

However, in the midst of this opulence, wicker furniture at the time offered a refreshing contrast with its airy lightness. The pieces we had sold well back in that time, and I was secretly pleased to “inherit” a few white-painted chairs and a wheeled baby carriage (which we used as an indoor planter) to keep after we had enough of running the store.

Wicker furniture is made from a variety of materials, although rattan is the most traditional. “Wicker” refers to the technique of weaving wet strips of material, such as rattan, willow, paper rush or synthetic materials, in a distinctive basket-like pattern to create furniture and household items. The method itself is ancient, and some of the earliest evidence of wickerwork comes from the Sumerian culture of 4000 B.C. The popularity of wicker furniture surged when the United States and England began regular trade with China. The rattan used to hold cargo in place during the voyage was often left as refuse on the shore. Enterprising individuals gathered up this material and put it to good use, with the hard inner core of the rattan serving as the frames for furniture, and the outer layer stripped and woven to form the seats and backs. Cyrus Wakefield utilized this former waste material so effectively that his business grew into the Wakefield Rattan Company – at one time the largest rattan furniture manufacturer – and the town of Wakefield, Massachusetts, was named for him.

With all the heaviness of the Victorian fashion, wicker furniture was valued for being a hygienic option. In an era that predates vacuum cleaners and dry cleaning, the breathable and nonporous surface of wicker was easier to clean and air out than thickly stuffed upholstery. For this reason wicker was considered especially appropriate for furniture meant for babies, infants, the elderly and the sick.

Coinciding with the Victorian age was the period of British colonial rule in India. Not only was wicker furniture easier to maintain in warmer, more humid environments, but many citizens of Britain wished to emulate the tropical style of those colonies. Wicker furniture was lightweight, strong and easily to clean, but the flexibility of the rattan core and outer fibers made intricate patterns possible. Eventually, Victorian and British colonial styles faded, but wicker endured as a designers’ choice whenever a flexible material was needed. The basket-like patterns were adapted to cover Art Deco and other modern styles.

Wicker furniture may seem like an obvious choice for outdoor spaces, but unless it is crafted from synthetic materials, it would be a mistake to set your wicker furniture outside and forget about it. The sunlight would fade unpainted rattan, and exposure to rain and humidity would cause the natural fibers to rot. Paper rush is literally made from paper, for example, and would obviously not hold up well in the rain. Wicker furniture made from natural materials should remain under the shelter of a sunroom or enclosed porch if you really want it to last. If you want to use wicker for your outdoor furniture, be certain that it is made from a synthetic material specifically designed to stand up to the elements.

Maintaining indoor wicker items is simple. Vacuuming with a soft bristle attachment should do it. Adding cushions is a good idea, because although wicker is strong, it holds up to stress better when the pressure is not all on one point (don’t stand on it, for example). If your furniture needs to be repaired, I advise going to an expert to get the job done. As John Bausert, a master of the craft and owner of Veteran’s Chair Caning & Repair in New York City, said, “The materials cost next to nothing, but it’s labor-intensive.”

While the Victorian era has passed, the warm-weather feel of wicker furniture is still attractive to decorators and home owners, even as their design tastes change.

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.

43128190_sWhen it comes to technology, I may not be cutting edge, but I try my very best to adapt to what’s new as quickly as I can. What choice does one have in today’s business world, or social whirl, for that matter? From the first cube-like Macintosh in my home office to my current social-media presence for business, I have always been ready for the next thing. But what’s this I’m hearing about the benefits of an occasional unplugging of one’s digital devices at home?

The trend of establishing digital-free zones at home or work is small but growing. The New York Times recently reported that there is really no such thing as effective multi-tasking, and those who think they are good at it are really just distracted.

“Monotasking,” formerly known as “paying attention” or “not procrastinating,” is the new buzzword, and some business leaders are making a point of turning off digital distractions to get their work done faster. Without the constant pinging of emails or texts, according to this theory, your focus will be much greater and productivity will soar.

As a real estate agent who wants to respond quickly to clients, the digital-free movement is not one I am willing to embrace, and I imagine doctors, plumbers and parents – anyone who needs to be “on call,” would agree. But then again, I realize that my colleagues and I already limit our screen time when need be, even if we are available to answer all our calls and texts. For example, when I am showing houses, all my attention will be focused on my buyer client, but between houses, if I am in a separate car, I may take or receive other calls. Likewise, when my wife calls when I am working on the computer, I stop for a moment and listen to her completely, and I abstain from simultaneously responding to emails.

In other lines of work, turning off the smartphone and avoiding Twitter and Facebook for a designated block of time each day can make sense, especially if the task at hand is to write long reports, build something by hand, or balance the books. To that end, the programs getcoldturkey.com or freedom.to can help monotask by temporarily blocking internet or social media access.

Establishing digital-free zones in the home is a different matter. The proponents are usually not as concerned with productivity as with emotional connection and quality time with family. I have read of some households where all or nearly all electronic stimuli are banned. They don’t have televisions, tablets or wi-fi. For many families, and I know for mine, such a drastic lifestyle change would be far too extreme. Other variations however, seem more doable. In fact, you may be doing them already:

  • No devices at the dinner table (or during the family activity of your choice). Many years ago, our family had a “no reading during dinner” rule. Sometimes it was hard to resist temptation, but the end result was that we had more evenings of talking together. Today the rule is updated to “no smartphones,” but I admit that we frequently have the television on. Sure, you may want to socialize online, but studies have found that an overreliance on social media can actually increase feelings of loneliness.
  • Unplug during certain set hours. Maybe you have a no-screen-time rule in the mornings to help everyone get out of the door promptly, or maybe you have adopted the advice to turn off devices an hour before bedtime to help sleep better. If this is already working for you, you might add more unplugged time to your schedule (e.g. “Wednesdays from 3 pm to 5 pm”). Adopters of this habit have reported a rekindling of hobbies and interests that had been left to languish once the distraction of the internet entered the home.
  • Make a physical space free of digital devices. This can be a comfortable room in your house without screens or chargers. Some households even set up a basket by the door where you can put your phone before you walk in. The space could be set aside for crafts, reading (on paper) or entertaining, and you might notice a different feeling when the online world is not competing for attention.

I am quite happy to watch my favorite movies whenever I choose, and I never want to be away from my phone, but I am more than willing to unplug if it brings me closer to my clients, family and friends. Now that I think about it, I haven’t practiced playing the piano in weeks. Surely unplugging for an evening will give me the time.

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

The Home Guru’s longest term home maintenance service provider of over 40 years, plumber Dave Goldberg, here with granddaughter Sarah Marr, who recently arrived at my home within 10 minutes of an emergency call, and he’s allegedly retired!

The Home Guru’s longest term home maintenance service provider of over 40 years, plumber Dave Goldberg, here with granddaughter Sarah Marr, who recently arrived at my home within 10 minutes of an emergency call, and he’s allegedly retired!

According to a survey just released by ServiceMaster, it is reported that a whopping 92 percent of homeowners feel unprepared to address home maintenance needs. How could that be, I wondered? With all the DIY resources we have on television and online, and especially if we’re young homeowners, surely we feel more fortified than that with the tasks of maintenance at hand in owning a home. And if we’re not handy ourselves, what about Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor for professional help?

But ServiceMaster–the company that includes such well-recognized brands as American Home Shield, Merry Maids and Terminix–has released its findings with some confidence, surprising as they may seem.

Conducted among nearly 2,000 adult homeowners and prospective homeowners, the survey indicates that more than half (58 percent) of homeowners and prospective homeowners surveyed say they feel unprepared to address home maintenance needs and 54 percent say they are not very knowledgeable about them.

The survey found that there has been an average of four home maintenance service calls homeowners have made over five years, spending an average total of $2,202.

The survey further shows that most consumers (83 percent) say it would be useful to have one resource to help with multiple home maintenance needs.

As for the most onerous tasks, homeowners feel least prepared to tackle HVAC maintenance, and also unprepared to handle structural repair due to weather damage.

Two-fifths (41 percent) of homeowners and prospective homeowners say they wouldn’t know who to call if they had a home maintenance need in the next three months.

When buying a home, most people think first about the financial responsibility and don’t always calculate the time, labor and expense that maintenance of the home also requires.

It can be overwhelming to think about all the various tasks involved with just one year’s of home maintenance. While much of it can be done on one’s own, which I did when I was younger, it gets to the point where it’s more practical in later years to have the pros come in and do it.

I can understand the prospect of going into panic mode as a first time home buyer. How well I remember my first day in my new, old home when there was a thunderous rainstorm and the roof leaked. My first call was to a roofer and a new roof was my first major expense. That was in the day before the internet and I had to rely on the yellow pages and neighbors’ recommendations in the absence of Google, Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor.

I first learned of the ServiceMaster survey from a blurb in USA Today with the title “It Takes a Village to Maintain a Home,” and I reflected on all of the maintenance providers I’ve collected and relied upon through the years of home ownership, and those that I’ve written about and recommended to readers of this column who have called in.

Below is a list of suppliers I find that I’ve recommended most frequently.

FLOORING: Absolute Flooring of Yorktown, (914) 245-0225, www.absoluteflooring.com, 1735 Front St., Yorktown Heights. When it came time to replace my kitchen floor, owners Mary and son Bryan Fellbusch treated me like family and gave me the best installation job imaginable. Diane Darby in the showroom is terrific for info!

CABINETRY & WOODWORKING: Woodtronics, (914) 962-5205. Jan Efraimsen’s cabinetry work is magnificent.

CONTRACTOR: Franzoso Contracting, (914) 271-4572, whether for windows, siding, roofing or the big contracting jobs, is the home improvement source of distinction.

ELECTRICIAN: P&K Electric, (914) 962-3581. Pete and Ken take good care of me in my offices and at my home. 24-hour emergency service too.

FENCING: Tony Campanella, Campanella Fencing, (845) 628-2200, www.campanellafence.com. The consummate fencer.

INSURANCE: Albert J. Chapman Agency, Inc., Bob Chapman, (914) 962-5778, www.albertjchapman.com. He’s a second generation insurer and the most attentive provider I’ve ever encountered!

LANDSCAPING/LAWN MAINTENANCE: Martino Landscape Contractors, Inc., (914) 962-0757. The Martino family got to know my property and, true to their slogan, take care of it as if it were they own.

LANDSCAPER/SNOW REMOVAL: Fitz’s Landscaping, John Fitzpatrick, (914) 618-1549, www.fitz-landscape.com. Rely on John for total landscaping design as well as lawn maintenance needs.

MOLD REMEDIATION: Oxygen Sanitizing Systems, (877) 224-3080, www.newindoorair.com. When my office library was attacked by mold, owner Valerie Maziarz brought this wonderful service to my rescue.

PAINTER: Joe Pascarelli, (914) 330-3889. “Fireman Joe” not only paints inside and out but can also tell you about fire safety at home and check your smoke detectors!

PLUMBER: Goldberg Plumbing & Heating, (914) 962-3498, www.goldbergplumbing.com. Dave Goldberg may say he’s retired, but he still drives out when there is an emergency! His son-in-law Doug Marr is “The Plumbing Guru” now.

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.

48095785_sIf you find that you have mold in your home and want it removed, you may be in for a surprise by the set of procedures now required to comply with a new law enacted in January by New York State to regulate its remediation.

According to two suppliers in the field interviewed for this report, some aspects of the law seem “a little crazy,” and you may get socked with a bill that is two or three times what it cost in the past.

Recently I attended a continuing education class devoted to the new law known as the Mold Program or Article 32 and overseen by the NYS Department of Labor to establish licensing requirements and minimum work standards for professionals engaged in mold assessment and remediation.

The presenter, Joe Margherita, owner of Fresh Maintenance, a licensed mold remediation company, was most engaging and encyclopedic in his knowledge, but from the outset, it was evident that he had some qualms about the new law and its effects on both the supplier and the consumer.

“In theory, the intentions of the new law are good, but in practice, at least for now…there are some problems that need to be worked out,” he said.

Those intentions as Margherita described them are solid: to protect the public by requiring contractors to obtain appropriate training prior to being licensed to perform mold assessment, remediation or abatement services. It also protects against fraud by prohibiting the performance of both the assessment and remediation on the same property by the same individual; and it requires a post-remediation assessment to make sure the job was done right.

“The law is a little crazy in the respect that, as a remediator, I can’t be the first person on the job,” Margherita said. “In the old days, I would just go there and take care of it. Now a full assessment plan is required before I can do my work, then the assessor must be called back to clear the work. It’s a bit much and that has to get ironed out. Maybe it’s okay for a big job, but for a single family house, it’s not working. Also, there are loopholes that give a lot of room for abuse.”

By the end of the class, I was unhappy about having to advise buyers and sellers of the bad news about mold removal because, except if they own a large apartment building, it looks as though a small remediation job for a single family house could cost them twice if not three times as much as it would have before this law was enacted. The extra cost stems from the separate assessment plan it requires, followed by the post-remediation clearance.

A while back, I had written about a very good experience I had with a mold remediator named Valerie Maziarz of Oxygen Sanitizing Systems who had rid my collection of antique books of a nasty mold problem. Maziarz did not hold back in her criticism of the new law: “It unnecessarily overburdens the consumer,” she said. “In the past, I could walk into an environment, do a report about how to resolve a problem and sanitize it at a reasonable cost. Now the consumer has to involve another party and it’s much more costly.

“This has been an overreaction by the state to a few bad people who took advantage of the situation around Superstorm Sandy,” Maziarz continued. “But that shouldn’t have meant that the world should be turned upside down. I am aware that a few other states have adopted similar laws but are now abandoning them for not working, Texas for example.”

Maziarz estimated that just the first step alone, the assessment plan, would add an addition $500 to $850 minimum to the process, not counting the remediation and the clearance. However, she said that she can still “sanitize” a home and, while she can’t write an official report, she can provide an air sampling following her process that the air is clean. I suppose there are many ways to address the bureaucratic process while it’s trying to find its way.

For instance, I learned from Margherita that as a homeowner the law allows me to simply perform mold removal on my own with a common household detergent. But who would want to risk amateur efforts if members of one’s family were having serious health problems because of it?

My lingering question was, if I wanted to follow the guidelines of the new bill, how would I locate an assessor, as distinguished from a remediator? I googled mold remediation and the first company to appear was ServPro. The representative told me they don’t do inspections but kindly referred me to a helpful assessor, Envirocheck at (866) 244-3254. For more information about remediation, you can talk to the pros Joe Margherita at (866) 543-3257 or Valerie Maziarz at (877) 244-3080.

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.

37360685_sRecently when I wrote a column dedicated to decorating in red, I received a comment from a reader asking whether my personal devotion to the color was politically motivated, but honestly, the thought never entered my mind. However, I thought that it was certainly a creative association.

When it was suggested by that same reader that I should give equal and unbiased time to the color blue, I thought it only fair, considering that some surveys have identified blue as America’s favorite color and at the same time, the latest polls show that a greater number of Americans identify with the political party that has adopted blue as its color.

Interestingly enough, red and blue have not distinguished the two major political parties for as long as we might expect. It wasn’t until the epic, drawn-out 2000 election of Bush V. Gore that color coded maps were standardized to identify Republicans with red and Democrats with blue.

Psychologically, color is credited with influencing our moods, eating habits, sleeping routines, even our romantic inclinations. And, the colors we choose in decorating can have a major impact on day to day living.

I had never thought about a strong color themed décor until, early in our married life, my wife and I met Myrna and Harry, another young couple who lived in the same apartment complex as we. Myrna was an art teacher and her favorite color was blue. In her own artwork, she painted in oil, and every painting was a study in various shades of the color. All of the walls in her apartment were stark white and all of her upholstery and window treatments, while simple, were blue.

It all made a definite statement, but was definitely not for me. I was deeply entrenched in warm colors in my early years, as was my wife, and our surroundings reflected it, from creamy off-whites and yellows for the walls to rich reds and browns for the decor. But according to a survey by House Beautiful, we’re in the minority. In the magazine’s Color Report, 29 percent of 4,000 respondents nationwide chose blue as their overall favorite color. A close second, at 21 percent, was green (my second least favorite color) while red and purple lagged behind, tied at 8 percent (again, weirdo me would choose these as favorite colors).

Giving blue its due for those who love it, it’s all around us in nature from the sky to the water. Known for its peaceful quality, blue is a favored color for bedrooms. Studies have shown that it actually slows down the metabolism, so it would make sense that it could help induce sleep. Blue is also very useful as the principle decorating color in a business setting, particularly meeting rooms designated for negotiation and keeping “cool” heads.

Blue also conveys a certain royalty or being set apart (as in “blue bloods”), as well as authority or confidence (as in “Big Blue”). Blue can be associated with isolation which might explain why someone feeling lonely could be said to have “the blues.” But in the final analysis, it all depends on how we relate to blue individually.

The “power” suit for men has always been a navy blue, while for women have adopted red to convey the same message of authority. But as for the man’s tie, red will always trump (to coin a phrase) blue in claiming the adjective “power.”

When it comes time to decorating, blue actually offers more variety and latitude than red. A little red goes a long way and can easily be overdone and actually overwhelm the occupants of a room with too heavy a hand. In my “red” column I related the story about my disastrous first decorating job as a teenager when I painted my bedroom blood red (make that dried blood red). When the house was put on the market, the first prospects walked into that room and uttered, “wow!” It would be difficult to overdo with blue no matter how extensively used. I once decorated a family room with a wildly busy paisley wallpaper trimmed with a bright blue woodwork and got away with it.

Having just transitioned from a living room that was predominantly pink and red to one that is primarily blue, I suppose it might be a change of life thing. My pace is a little calmer, a little more peaceful and my surroundings are falling in line.

But wait a minute. Here I am, preferring red but choosing blue to decorate. Is it to keep people guessing about my political leanings?

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.

30007712_sIn most homes, it is said that the kitchen is the heart of the house. But I’ve been with buyers who seem to place as much importance if not more on the laundry room.

Personally, I remember how surprised I was when I came across one of my first buyers who was definitely more interested in the laundry setup than any other feature in the homes we visited because, as she related, she washed clothes every single day of the week.

There’s a personal story I’m fond of telling about one of the ways my soon-to-be wife checked me out as a bachelor. She visited my apartment and when she opened a drawer in my bedroom chest and found that my underwear were less than bright white, she asked, “Don’t you use bleach when you wash them?” Very honestly, I was never big on household chores as a single person, especially doing laundry. In fact, I just brought them to a service that did the job for me.

From the time we married, needless to say, my wife never let me do a load of laundry. It isn’t that I’m an Italian prince or that I didn’t assume a lot of other chores around the house, but laundry and cooking were two of the big ones that my wife insisted upon taking on herself. So, I’ve never really cooked or dealt with a washer and dryer. Therefore, a laundry room wasn’t high on my list priorities when we looked for a house. In retrospect, it should have been.

When we found our dream home, a historic home, it featured a very large country kitchen with a washer/dryer alcove. Deciding that the washer/dryer space would better serve as her cookbook library and office, my wife banished the appliances to the dark recesses of the basement and chose for many years to make the two-story trip from the second floor to get her whites whiter than white.

Recently I came across a statistic I find hard to believe: that we as Americans spend more time in the laundry room than in the bathroom! Certainly this would not apply to me, but the findings claim that on average, Americans spend eight hours a week collectively doing some 35 billion loads of laundry a year.

In the past, laundry chores have been most frequently relegated to the basement, as in my family, but today, especially with new construction, the laundry room has evolved into an art of its own as consumers demand that it be as integrated into the life of a home as the kitchen.

It can even be in the bath or kitchen, but most often we find it in the upstairs hallway or doubling as a mudroom. A first-floor laundry room can serve as a command center of sorts near the family room where parents can keep track of kids while washing, drying or folding. On the second floor, stackable, quiet front-loaders can fit neatly into a hall closet, steps from the bedrooms and bath.

Because of its double or even triple duty potential, a laundry room remodel is a good investment in upgrading the value of a home. After the purchase of a washer and dryer, built-ins can be designed to accommodate cleaning suppliers, and shelving can be installed for other purposes.

To facilitate dealing with clothes right away, it’s smart to have a table nearby the dryer for folding, a pull-out drying rack for hanging and a hidden ironing board as well, making the laundry room a one-stop shop where all the laundry chores get done at once.

In smaller homes, utilizing the laundry room for multiple purposes is a great space-saving technique. If it also has a utility sink, it is a great place to feed and bathe pets as well. It also easily transitions into a mudroom on the way to the garage or the outdoors, where there can be storage for extra shoes, sports equipment and winter clothing.

When planning a laundry room from scratch, it’s always more cheerful to take advantage of natural light by converting a room with windows.

As for decoration, rather than all-white which seems to be the easiest no-think choice for most laundry rooms, a more natural “water” theme of light green and pale blue might be considered.

The favorite option I found, if I were to someday design a laundry room, is to incorporate entertainment equipment – radio and television – within the room, mainly as a diversionary, survival mechanism. But why attach a negative spin to it? As I write this on Mother’s Day, I remember fondly that my own mother loved keeping up with her laundry chores and especially liked doing her own ironing that kept her family looking so crisp and cared for.

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.

12124534_sThe next time you go to an Realtor’s open house and are asked to show your photo I.D., or if a Realtor refuses to meet you for the first time at a property you’re interested in, insisting that you meet at a real estate office instead, don’t take it personally. She or he is just following safety precautions given either by an office manager, the National Association of Realtors or the local law enforcement agency to guard against any number of open invitations for the possibility of theft, robbery, assault, even abduction or murder.

Indeed, as reported in a recent episode of Dateline NBC, we learned of the abduction and murder of Little Rock Realtor Beverly Carter who agreed to show a vacant house to a couple with whom she had communicated only by phone and email. She knew the neighborhood well and felt confident because both a wife and husband would be there but in fact, only the male prospect showed up and, as it turned out, he was not who he purported to be. Rather, he was an imposter whose plan was to kidnap and hold her for ransom, but the scheme went terribly wrong and she was killed. When arraigned and asked why this popular and successful person, wife and mother was targeted for the crime, he responded, “because she looked like a rich broker.”

Just last week my William Raveis Real Estate office in Yorktown invited Detective Sean Lewis of our police department to offer safety tips specifically targeted to situations we find ourselves in regularly. He suggested how we might best assure not only our own safety but also how to best advise our sellers about protecting their property and possessions. Actually, most of the precautions we realtors take could be used by any homeowner who wants to safeguard themselves and their property from the crimes of those who would do us harm.

“The single most important point I can make is to know who you’re dealing with,” Detective Lewis said from the start. “Remember the principle of ‘stranger danger.’ Do not meet a new prospect for the first time at a property. Insist that they come into your office and ask for their I.D. Also, always let someone else know where you are at all times. Always have your cell with you. And, trust your instincts,” Lewis said.

Lewis’ safety tips for Realtors included the use of certain code words agents can communicate by phone or text to their office administrator if they feel they are in danger. (At my agency, we had already been educated to ours.) Other suggestions included such basics as showing properties before dark, always having the client go first into a home, as well as into and out of a basement.

Women are advised not to include too much personal information about themselves online, not to glamorize themselves too much or wear expensive jewelry when showing homes.

For homeowners, the time for vigilance is when a property is on the market and their homes are being shown and especially when open houses are scheduled. That is the time when anything of value must be hidden or locked away securely. Realtors will do everything they can to safeguard a homeowner’s property and will advise the homeowner of special precautions to take to help them in that endeavor. Besides the obvious, such as jewelry, sellers should be careful not to leave personal information like mail or bills out in the open where anyone can see it. Also, any other expensive, easy to pocket electronics like iPods should be put away before showings. Special care must be taken when visitors arrive in twos or threes, where one may try to distract the agent while the other rummages through the homeowner’s possessions. This is the reason that there are frequently more than one attendant at open houses.

“We all have life experience to be our guides,” Detective Lewis said. “That instinct has to serve us each day when we are in a high-risk job.” Very honestly, when I was attracted to the field of real estate, I didn’t consider it high-risk, but then, I was educated to be aware.

Interestingly enough, a Raveis real estate agent named Bernice Gottlieb from the company’s Irvington office has published a thriller about violent crimes Realtors are experiencing across the country. Called Havoc-on-Hudson, the book serves as a cautionary tale that Gottleib hopes will raise awareness among her peers to take necessary precautions and will have an impact on house buyers and sellers as well.

“According to the Department of Labor and Statistics,” she said, “there were more rapes, robberies, and homicides of Realtors since 2008, than of police officers killed in the line of duty! It’s a fact that most people are unaware of.”

“You need to know who you’re dealing with at all times,’’ Gottlieb said. “If one Realtor reads it and is more careful about who they let into open houses, the work that went into writing this book will have been worth it.”

To purchase Havoc-on-Hudson by Bernice Gottleib, go online either to Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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