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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A neighbor of The Home Guru has called his corner sign “garish” and “plastic.” What do you think?

A neighbor of The Home Guru has called his corner sign “garish” and “plastic.” What do you think?

When I had the great pleasure of taking on this gig as The Home Guru, I suggested to the publisher that I make my columns personal in their approach. After all, a column devoted to real estate and home maintenance could be quite dry and, very honestly, unless we’re all HGTV addicts, and I happen not to be, exploring such subjects as keeping a shine on kitchen counters and unplugging clogged toilets can be a bit deadly.

Regular readers know that my shtick happens to be more the diary of a realtor and homeowner who writes as a member of my town, my neighborhood and a fraternity of suppliers who know how to do the job of home maintenance much better than I do.

Just this week, I experienced a personal neighborhood issue that involves neighbors’ objections to what other neighbors choose to place on their properties.

Sometimes it’s commercial equipment used for construction, or a recreational vehicle. It might be a large boat or, as was the case on my street for some years, an 18-foot-high statue of an Indian chief (seriously) advertising the home practice of a taxidermist. It can be smaller matters, such as political signs or “for sale” real estate signs that block the line of vision for drivers.

My personal distaste of what I see on other peoples’ properties are those huge tarps in that electric color of blue that cover wood piles and summer furniture during the winter. Why can’t they be manufactured in a more muted tone I wonder?

In my own case, a few members of my community raised some concern about a sign I placed on my property under special circumstances. Last week some editions of this paper ran a column about Westchester County recognizing Primavera Public Relations, my alter ego in business to The Home Guru, for having helped stimulate the economy by doubling the size of its operations with the help of its Hire Westchester program.

I was greatly honored and a week prior to the visit of County executives to my property, I wanted to gussy it up a bit. I decided it was time to replace my business sign that had “disappeared’ from my corner some years ago. How could my business be honored without its sign? I called my buddy Tim Beachak of SignsInk, the best sign maker in the region, to produce a replacement sign for me quickly. Luckily the idea and its design had been on the drafting board for a while.

At the same time, I decided to finally incorporate into that sign a historical marker for my beloved Ebenezer White House, for which I’m scheduled to apply for landmark status with the Historic Preservation Committee in my town.

I ran down to the Building Department of Yorktown like a madman with my application for approval, explaining my predicament of wanting to have my property “look good” for the cameras and asked for special consideration under the circumstances since I had already shown the design to both the Advisory Board on Architecture and Community Appearance and the Landmarks Committee. I did everything right, I thought.

But no sooner was the sign up and ready for its close up when complaints were registered with the town and I got an email from a neighbor down the street, a nice woman actually, from whom I hadn’t heard in years, who asked me a barrage of questions about my right to have it there. I responded respectfully that, actually, I have had permission from the town to have a commercial sign there since 1972 and, to date, there is no code of regulations for historical markers in my town.

The hurtful part of her email, however, was to critique my sign’s aesthetics with such words as “garish” and “plastic.” (If this edition runs a photo of the sign, what do you think?) I responded simply by saying that taste cannot be argued, but could not resist in turn a playful assessment of her own property’s appearance from the street as a “charming touch of Appalachia.” I do hope that we can continue to be friendly neighbors, however.

My bottom line opinion about neighbors who choose to have frightening totem poles at their mailboxes or three gigantic SUVS in their driveways (and I say this as a member of a committee in town that has the words “community appearance” in its title): they own “private” property, and we should allow them the sanctity of privacy. Besides, God gave us eyes with the ability of being averted as we drive by.

If anyone out there should need signage for their business or a historic marker, or to mark the address of their home, contact SignsInk at 914-739-7446 and ask for Tim.

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

The Gary Kleiber Building at Freedom Gardens, a residential complex for mobility-impaired adults in Mohegan Lake.

The Gary Kleiber Building at Freedom Gardens, a residential complex for mobility-impaired adults in Mohegan Lake.

My friend Dave Goldberg, the plumbing and heating supplier in upper Westchester, now retired from his own business, called me last week to tell me that he had joined the board of Freedom Gardens in Mohegan Lake in upper Westchester and asked me if I might visit it.

He didn’t have to tell me what it was because I knew it as a small colony of homes for the disabled that I would drive by regularly during a period that I owned a “country” home in Putnam Valley, just 11 miles away from my regular home in Yorktown Heights.

And just recently, on my town’s architectural review board, I participated in the review of its development of three new homes and club house.

I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to explore housing needs for the disabled which surprisingly enough is a consideration for as much as 20 percent of our population.

Within days, I was in the colony’s club house in the company of Goldberg and some highly dedicated members of its board, including its delightful president, 92-year-old Frank Harris, a WWII hero who had escaped Nazi Germany, became an American citizen to serve in the war, and then returned to the States to build a career in the foodservice industry, which is also my heritage. Within minutes we found that we had good friends and experiences in common from my days as Marketing Director at The Culinary Institute of America.

Harris told me the story of Freedom Gardens, founded in 1958 originally in Yonkers by Lillian Petock Crowley, herself a paraplegic. Harris says that her objective was to fulfill a dream of establishing a “real home,” for the handicapped. And, that is where the name “Freedom” comes from, according to Harris. “Lillian called it that, meaning that she wanted its residents to be ‘free’ from having to live in an institution,” he said.

By 1962, Crowley had accumulated the money she needed to purchase the property located in the hamlet of Mohegan Lake, requesting that her home be regarded as a “residence,” not a nursing home, not unlike a recently argued case in Yorktown with a sober living residence.

There was a raucous public hearing when the application was made, where neighbors complained bitterly for fear that the value of their homes would depreciate, some even shouting, “we don’t want those cripples living here.” According to Harris, there was an impassioned plea where an early advocate for the home upbraided those neighbors for their small mindedness, dramatically espousing that the proposed residents may have had disabilities that were “physical and could be seen, but that their future neighbors had a disability that was mental and could not be seen.” That speech shamed the community into a broader view of acceptance and, in 1958, the first homes were built.

Today, the complex is home on five acres to 15 mobility-impaired adults who are able to live independent and productive lives in reasonably priced, Section 8 housing. In 2013 the new 3,300 square foot one-story building was constructed to accommodate three one-bedroom living facilities as well as an outdoor patio and garden.

Generally speaking, considerations that must be given to homes to accommodate the disabled include:

How many barriers there are from the outside to the inside, such as narrow walkways, uneven pavement, steps, and hills; whether a ramp is required; whether the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room are easily accessible, and do they require additional accommodations such as grab bars; whether sinks and counters are lowered; and if there are grab bars in the bathroom.

As our population ages, it will no doubt require a greater knowledge and sensitivity to the needs of the physically impaired. And, the availability of a complex like Freedom Gardens for those who require public assistance to meet their needs is a wonderful asset to any community.

The new building at Freedom Gardens is dedicated to the memory of a certain Gary Kleiber who served as the organization’s board of directors for many years and spearheaded the construction of the new facility. He passed away suddenly shortly after the $1.2 million facility was completed. Any reader would like to help in caring for the disabled may contribute to the fund set up in his honor by making a tax-deductible donation to: The Gary Kleiber Fund, Freedom Gardens for the Handicapped, Inc., 1680 Strawberry Road, Mohegan Lake, NY 10547.

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

Bill Primavera, The Home Guru, with Jessica Lynn, country singer and songwriter, appearing September 27 at the Paramount in Peekskill. Both their businesses are home-based. The Home Guru is a sponsor of the event. Photo Credit: Primavera Public Relations

Bill Primavera, The Home Guru, with Jessica Lynn, country singer and songwriter, appearing September 27 at the Paramount in Peekskill. Both their businesses are home-based. The Home Guru is a sponsor of the event. Photo Credit: Primavera Public Relations

Would you believe that 52 percent of American companies operate as home businesses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration? My wife and I have occupied that category almost from the day we were married and perhaps, at least on my side of the family, it was ordained.

I was fascinated when as a child my mother told me that my paternal grandfather had been a soda bottler in Philadelphia, and more interestingly, that his bottled sarsaparilla was delivered to and stocked by the corner store owned by the father of the wildly popular singer at the time, Mario Lanza. When I asked where the bottling plant was located, I was astonished to learn that it was based in the basement of my grandfather’s row home, and further, that the returned bottles were hand scrubbed with round brushes by his first wife (“who literally worked herself to death,” my mother said) and all of her 18 children who had survived childbirth and were old enough to work.

My stay-at-home mother, who had a bent toward the dramatic, left me with a horrible impression of an at-home business as dark and dangerous, even draconian, and I was grateful that my family lived simply in a one-story ranch with no industry going on around or beneath us that required my slaving away after school. However, once married and ensconced in my first home in the city which happened to have a ready-made antiques shop on the first floor, I seemed to become obsessed by a demon, perhaps the spirit of my grandfather, to succeed in my own business located within my own home. And when I moved to the country, I intentionally looked for an old historic home that was three times the size I needed to accommodate both a special use permit and a business du jour.

Over the years that space has hosted in succession and sometimes concurrently a failed antiques store, a very successful nursery school, a short-lived weight loss club, a shorter-lived gourmet society, an exhausting New York State packaged foods operation, and from 1980 to the present, the longest running public relations firm in the Hudson Valley, combined in the past six months with the office for The Home Guru Team of William Raveis Real Estate.

Lately there have been rumblings from the distaff side of my wonderful marital relationship. “I’ve lived my home life ‘above the store’ practically since Day One of my marriage,” says my wife Margaret, “and there has always been something going on other than our daily living routine. It would be nice to see how other people live for a while!”

Lately the two businesses I run from my home base have both experienced a significant growth spurt that is literally forcing us out of our home and into new and beautiful quarters with less square footage where, as I understand it, the bylaws do not allow me to set up shop of any kind. At last I’ll know how “other people” live.

But, as stated earlier, I’ll be in the minority, just as with my newest public relations client, Jessica Lynn, the country singing and songwriting star who grew up in a home in Yorktown Heights that was basically a rehearsal hall and recording studio. “From my earliest memory, I was surrounded by music from my mom who was a singer and my dad a bass player. My younger sister, parents and I lived in a three bedroom ranch, but one of the bedrooms was set aside as our recording studio,” she says. “Even though I went to college and received my master’s in math and also studied special ed, there was never any question that I would pursue music. It was just always there and obviously it influenced who I became and what I do.”

As I plan to move, I take comfort knowing that I’ll be living in new, beautiful surroundings and care-free comfort, and that eases the pain a bit. Also, my grandfather could never have telecommuted like I can. But still, there is much reluctance as I say goodbye to living “above the store.” I guess I’m an incurable merchant and just love hearing that cash register ring close by, anytime during the day or night. I await with wonderment discovering what “normal home life” is like.

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