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Cathleen “Cat” McAuliffe, realtor with William Raveis in Yorktown and Asian scholar, speaks fluent Japanese and offers her services to Japanese home seekers who do not yet speak English.

The conversation started on the 4th of July weekend about a beautifully written essay in The New York Times by a man who had found Leaves of Grass to be a beacon of hope when growing up in the South as an Evangelical harboring the secret that he was gay.

My wife somehow had missed the homoerotic messages of Whitman’s work and was as surprised as when she first learned that Rock Hudson was gay. “But it was a nun who put that book in my hand,” she said.

That comment struck me funny because, when I went to Catholic school in Philadelphia, the only thing I remember a nun putting into my hand was a ruler with a smart whack. When I asked my mother why that nun was so mean to me, she said, “Because she’s Irish and you’re Italian!” Maybe my first grade nun had issues, but obviously my mother did too.

My parent’s generation didn’t yet have the Sharks and the Jets. They had the Irish and Italian factions, the former having arrived a generation earlier because of the potato famine; the latter lagging behind a half century to escape a great Italian depression to build projects in the City of Brotherly Love, and the wars for turf were on. The difference was that my dad’s gang in the 20s and 30s used fists, bricks and bottles, rather than knives and guns.

By the time my dad stopped hanging around with the gang and married my mother, the first home they purchased was next door to the O’Gradys, and I’m told that my grandmother didn’t like the idea that they didn’t buy in a nice, exclusively Italian neighborhood.

By the 1950s because of a post-World War II opportunity for my dad, we would be living in the South before Rosa Parks, where there were designated neighborhoods in which blacks could and could not live. Even we as Italian, Catholic northerners with one parent having an Italian accent were labelled “the foreigners” in our community.

In another 10 years, my widowed mother would be moving to Baltimore to be closer to my married sister, and shockingly enough, to buy a new row home there, she was required to sign a covenant with the developer pledging that she would not someday resell the property to a buyer of “Oriental extraction.”

“How could you sign something like that?” I asked her, having just graduated from college the year Kennedy was elected, and looking back, am astounded that Federal law did not yet protect citizens from such discrimination. “It’s the only way I could get the house,” she responded.”

Fast forward 50 years, and in the course of the past 12 months, I have represented such a diversity of buyers and sellers that they could make up a United Nations in themselves, and that is thrilling to me, having witnessed the long fight for equal opportunity in housing through the years.

Considering my mother’s bout with discrimination against Asians a half century ago, I was delighted to meet Cathleen “Cat” McAuliffe, a new agent at William Raveis Real Estate in Yorktown Heights. She’s new but has been connected with the real estate and construction industries for a very long time through her family. Cat is and looks as Irish as Irish can be, but the surprise is that she is an Asian scholar who speaks fluent Japanese.

Having lived in Japan and taught English there for seven years, she is back to represent all sellers and buyers, but will be a treasure to those who are relocating from Japan and do not yet speak English. “I encourage anyone who knows anyone in that situation to contact me,” Cat advises, “because I can both teach them English and handle their real estate needs at the same time!” That welcoming accommodation is a far cry from the days of shameful prohibitive covenants.

How great is it that we live in a country that protects our right to live where we choose, albeit belatedly and with no small amount of struggle. And, how gratifying it is to work in a profession that guarantees and facilitates that right.

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

When she visited at Christmas, my daughter Emma who is very sensitive to such things alerted me that there must be mold in our living room. She could sense it as soon as she walked into the room, which very honestly is used only for special occasions nowadays. I looked into all the corners of the room along the baseboard and found no evidence of it, but a thought popped into my head and it was a correct assumption.

In one far corner is an early nineteenth century chest with a glass door-enclosed bookcase on top displaying my collection of antique books, mostly for show, about old New York. Sure enough, on the top shelf, a whole section of them, neglected for some time, was covered with a powdery film of bluish, dusty mold.

I closed the doors and thought, oh well, might as well ignore it for a bit longer, as we moved the holiday celebration to the library. Another case of the cobbler without shoes, I’m afraid, at least until another day. But that day came quickly when Mark Jones, President of Certified Inspections, Inc., a home inspection and environmental testing company, came to the William Raveis office to present some important information about mold identification and removal.

After the meeting I met with him privately to learn more, and he identified some common myths about mold as follows:

Myth: You can identify mold by looking at it.

Truth: The only way mold can be identified is by having a sample of it analyzed under a microscope in a lab. In a Today Show exposé, reporters rubbed mascara on a hallway wall and called in a dozen mold companies to look at it. All of them said it was definitely mold and quoted prices to remove it. What else could it be? Discoloration can be caused by carbon, concentrated dust, dirt, and other unidentifiable matter.

Myth: Mold is dangerous.

Truth: Mold is dangerous if it is present in a substantial enough quantity. When samples are analyzed, the report not only tells you what kinds of spores were present, but how many of each were present. A low enough level presents no more danger than what you encounter outside your house. If the levels are high inside, then you run a serious health risk.

Myth: Mold is not dangerous because it is all around the environment.

Truth: The mold levels outside are always changing and some people are affected by the outside mold in the same way some are affected by pollen or pollution. If mold levels are significantly higher inside one’s house, mold can cause severe respiratory damage, headaches, flu-like symptoms, and in severe cases, memory loss and cancer.

Myth: Mold should be cleaned with bleach.

Truth: Bleach should NOT be used. Bleach only kills surface mold and evaporates leaving behind a residue of nitrogen, which is an element of fertilizer. In effect, you are feeding the mold spores that are under the surface or in the air and it can grow back even worse.

Myth: I can test my air for mold with a Home Depot kit.

Truth: Growing a culture on your own tells you nothing about whether you have a mold problem because you are not comparing it to a control sample outside or gauging its growth time via any regulated methodology. The best way to determine if you have a mold problem is to hire a professional company that only does testing and have them take air samples with spore traps and swabs or tape lifts. Knowing how to collect data and how to interpret it is just as important as what equipment one uses to collect it. That’s why professionals are trained in their craft.

Myth: Mold can make you sick if it is inside your walls.

Truth: Mold can only make you sick if you breathe it. If it is concealed inside your walls but not in the air of your house, it cannot affect you. That is why having air testing performed by a professional testing company that does not also do remediation is the only way to find out if the air is safe.

Myth: It is better to have one company do mold testing and mold clean up.

Truth: You should NEVER have the same company do both. If a company does clean up, also known as remediation or abatement, they have a reason to find a problem so they can make much more money doing the clean up like all the companies who said the mascara was mold. An independent testing company with no conflict of interest should first test, and if a problem is found, they should write up an action plan which specs out the scope of work for a remediator to follow so it is done properly. The testing company should then re-test the remediator’s work to make sure the work was safely completed.

More information about Certified Home Inspections can be found at:

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 (, specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: and his blog is: To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


Steve Haggerty, contractor and poet, frees his mind for creativity while he works with his hands.

When you are working on a job around the house or in the garden, are you like me in that your mind wanders to dreams of worlds to be conquered or occasional regrets about paths not taken? I had never thought about what might occupy the minds of others as they tackle home projects until I met Steve Haggerty who makes a living of it as a contractor. In his case, thoughts on the job feed his passion as a poet and writer.

Traveling along a road on the way to a job, he might see a fog settling over a field with a cows and, rather than worry that the mist might slow his arrival at the work site, he makes a mental note of how the scene might fit into his writing later in the day. He observes the will of a blade of grass struggling through a crack in concrete and makes another notation, perhaps this time in a notebook, his constant companion, which shares its observations of nature with needed supplies at the hardware store.

Normally when homeowners contract for a job, they expect a service provider to show up who is good at what he or she does, and would hope for some skill to accompany the assignment at hand. They probably would not look beyond that expectation to an entire realm of artistry.

Early on I learned that real estate is a fascinating field because all of us in the industry have done “something else” and have brought another skill set to our profession. In Haggerty’s case, he was an editor on a trade publication dealing with the building industry. When he was 29, he decided to leave that position to work with his hands so that he could “clear his mind” for the creative process of writing, and he chose to work in the field he had written about.

The result of that decision, his book Cows in the Fog and Other Poems and Stories, is being published as this column goes to press.

Haggerty was surrounded by creative expression growing up. His father Richard Haggerty worked with genius composer Richard Rodgers of musical theatre fame with credits as impressive as Oklahoma! and Carousel on stage and Victory at Sea on television. His neighbors when he vacationed in Vermont were poet Robert Frost and artist Normal Rockwell, not the sort of knock-around friends you would expect from a contractor who would come to paint your house or build an addition.

Leafing through an advance copy of his book, I felt compelled to ask Haggerty about how that thought process translated into the implementation of his work with his hands. “Thinking like a poet has developed in me a sense of rhythm when I work,” he responded. “It’s not necessarily the best way to rush into a job with the goal of just getting it done as quickly as you can. Sometimes it’s best to do some things more steadfastly, to slow down, to get the job done in a better way.” Maybe not all homeowners would like to hear that a job would be done in a certain rhythm that might take longer, but as for me, I’d take that route anytime.

As I consider the projects I have harbored in my mind for my beloved Ebenezer White House – the reconstruction of a front porch that graced my home from the 1830s to the 1950s and will now reappear as enclosed office space; a glass solarium overlooking my garden and pool, with a spa and gym above, along with another bath and a laundry room – I ask Steve, would he be interested in looking at the plans when they finally arrive from my architect and signing on as my contractor?

But I extract a promise from him: At the end of each day, will he share with me the thoughts that pop into his head as he wends his way through the project? Isn’t that part of the creative process, after all?

My plan would be to take his notes, create a small sketch book and keep it along with the architectural plans to leave with the house as the poetry the project inspired. How creative an idea is that?

Steve Haggerty’s book Cows in the Fog and Other Poems and Stories can be found at or at his website: For hands-on contract work with a creative twist, Haggerty can be reached directly at 845-319-6213.

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







There’s some lucky stiff spending eternal life on top of Marilyn Monroe thanks to either his vanity or warped humor, or his wife’s open-mindedness or wealth, or whatever circumstances led to the shelling out of $4.6 million at auction on eBay in 2011 to buy the crypt just above the blonde bombshell’s final resting place at a cemetery in Los Angeles.

When we are alive and kicking, we put so much thought into where we want to live – the community, the neighborhood, the block, the style of house, the amenities – and sometimes, but not always, we put just as much thought into buying that piece of real estate where our remains will stay after our souls have left this earthly plane, whether it’s a plot of land with a headstone, a grand mausoleum, a crypt or an urn for the mantel.

From what I’ve observed among those who have passed among family and friends, we either totally ignore or obsess about that final piece of real estate in which we’ll ever invest. My executive assistant Cara tells me that her grandmother took great pains finding just the right site on a hillside with a beautiful view as the burial site for her husband while he was terminally ill. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my own mother refused to consider that my father might die throughout his final illness and made no plans for a funeral or burial until after the undertaker came for his body.

At that time, my family was living in Virginia for a prolonged job assignment, but my mother wanted my dad’s body returned to their “true home,” to be buried on the outskirts of Philadelphia. When we learned that would involve an overnight layover in Baltimore, my mother said, “No, Al always hated travel, and he’s not going to spend his last trip overnight in a train station.” She decided, perhaps somewhat capriciously, to bury him “here with the ‘hillbillies.’”

So, my Dad remains in Virginia for his eternal rest and I’ve been able to visit him only once in the past 30 years. When my mother died, she was cremated and her urn is buried next to him. Ultimately, a bad commute sealed the fate of my dad’s last real estate investment.

Likewise, most of us will probably wait until the last minute to make burial arrangements for our loved ones and then ask a funeral director to make recommendations. I called my local funeral parlor, Yorktown Funeral Home, and learned that, sure enough, that is frequently the case, where a funeral director must recommend several cemeteries when last minute decisions are made.

Interested as I am in historic properties, I’m very aware of the family plots we find on private properties throughout my region of Westchester and Putnam Counties and, surprisingly, New York State still allows municipalities to make that determination. In an age of track developments, few of us think about on-site burials, but still, some of us with enough acreage might consider it.

When I called the attorney for Yorktown, Jeannette Koster confirmed that it wasn’t so long ago that somebody asked if there could be a burial on private property in town (there can’t be). In New York State, it was all laid out in the Burial Laws Amendment Act of 1880.  It’s kind of creepy to consider that a body comes within the definition of “clinical waste” and as such cannot be disposed of except under the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act of 1974 and the Environment Protection Act of 1990.

As for me, no thanks, I don’t want to be buried in the traditional way in a metal box, six feet under, unless I opt for a “green” burial, where it’s natural in all respects: no embalming fluid, no concrete vault; just a bio-degradable casket, shroud or my favorite fuzzy blanket, where I am reunited with the earth and recycled to new life.

Or better yet, I will choose cremation to hasten the process foretold in Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” I’ve already suggested to my wife that she dump my ashes into the flowing Hudson and, from there, I will be carried out to the great Atlantic and from there to the seven seas, covering the globe. In effect, my last home on earth will be without boundary…and totally tax-free.

And here’s an epilogue to the Marilyn Monroe story. For anyone who thought there wasn’t some darkly humorous or perversely sexual content to the real estate deal on top of Marilyn Monroe’s final resting place, consider that, when the crypt was sold in 2011 for that princely sum, it was disclosed that the occupant who had to relinquish his envied position above her was lying face down. Really, I don’t make this stuff up.

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






Poison ivy: a pretty leaf which can result in an itchy reaction on the skin, but it does help in the fight against climate change.

When I was a bachelor living in Manhattan, I had an acquaintance who would occasionally visit friends living in “the country” over the summer weekends. Maybe I was a little jealous about not knowing anybody outside the reaches of the steamy city because I found myself having little patience when he called me one day to complain at some length about having contracted a case of poison ivy in his friends’ garden during his last visit. I just didn’t want to pay much attention to his whining.

The next day he called again and this time he upbraided me for not showing any sympathy about his itchy plight. Instead of apologizing and showing some concern, I made the mistake of marginalizing his condition by saying that I had frequently had poison ivy before moving to the city and that, while I found it uncomfortable for a day or two, I would just address it by taking a cold shower, then treating it with calamine lotion. Was it really that big a deal, I asked?

From there, the tone of the conversation degenerated rapidly when he asked, “Would it make any difference to you to know that I even have it on my [genitals]?” At that point, I couldn’t stifle an urge to laugh, but not before venturing a guess about what kind of activity might have brought that situation about. It was his response to that bit of careless banter that put me on notice that it was time for a very serious apology which I offered with great sincerity.

Not long after that incident many years ago, I married, moved to the country and since that time, have had countless opportunities to suffer the effects of poison ivy myself, regardless of the care I take in recognizing the plant and trying to avoid it.

Living on a property that has been gardened since the early 18th century, I have been aware that it is riddled with poison ivy, but I have never done a thing to discourage its growth. Call me crazy, but I rather like its dark waxy leaves growing on vines in the areas of my property that are not cultivated, and, from what I understand, although I don’t remember from which source, it may have served some useful purpose to bind together the mortar-less stone walls our forefathers built to delineate properties and contain livestock.

About two out of three people are allergic to poison ivy and its relatives, poison oak and poison sumac. For some, the reaction can be severe enough to require hospitalization. Treatment for poison ivy is most effective if addressed immediately after exposure. Invariably I always get it on my wrists and lower arms. When I do, I wash the affected area with strong soap and cold water, and then apply calamine lotion for relief of the itching. Hot water may feel good in the short term, but it ultimately makes things worse by opening up your pores, so stick to cold.

It is also suggested that clothing that has been worn when poison ivy has been contracted be washed separately from other laundry but very honestly, I’ve never found that it has been that finicky an issue. Perhaps that would apply to individuals with extreme sensitivity to the allergens.

Everyone knows how to recognize poison ivy, right? The leaves are three-parted, often drooping, with shiny smooth, toothed or lobed edges. The oily resin is called urushiol and causes the contact dermatitis. This binds with skin proteins, causing an allergic reaction. The rash is characterized by linear streaks which may last several weeks. Treatment depends on the severity of the episodes, but systemic steroids have the most dramatic therapeutic effects. New barrier creams are effective in preventing the dermatitis if applied before contact, especially products like Ivyblock.

As a side note, I looked for anything that could justify God’s plan for placing something so nasty in Earth’s garden, if not in the Garden of Eden, and I found it!

According to a recent report in Weed Science and subsequently reported in the Wall Street Journal, poison ivy has gotten much nastier since the 1950s in leaf size and oil content, but at the same time, it was reported that the plant absorbs much more than its fair share of CO2 in the atmosphere. With CO2 having increased 33 percent in the environment in the past half century, poison ivy has risen to the challenge as Earth’s friend in helping to combat climate change. So, leave it stay, I say. There IS something to love about poison ivy!

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 (, specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: and his blog is: To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076

Susan Atwell

Susan Atwell, home stager, peels back heavy draperies in The Home Guru’s living room, to reveal that window framing alone can serve as a picture frame to the outside.

“Oh, no!” I exclaimed, when I came home from work one evening and witnessed the monstrosity of a commercial sign that had been installed directly across the street from our federal townhouse in Brooklyn Heights: a large glaring light box with the name “G. Marcolini & Sons Wine & Spirits,” so outsized that it actually reached a few feet over to the building next door which the Marcolinis also owned. The sign lit up the entire block.

Like a wild man, I ran across the street into the store and all but accosted old man Marcolini asking how he could perpetrate such an outrage in New York City’s first historic neighborhood. Being no slouch himself, he responded with a few choice Italian expressions which I didn’t fully understand, but got the general gist. We never spoke again.

That sign was in direct alignment with the main rooms of our house: our living room on the first floor and our bedroom and sitting room on the second floor. To deal with the explosion of light in the evening hours, we re-dressed our windows like Fort Knox. On the first level we installed solid wood interior shutters which we closed as soon as the sun went down, and on the second floor we had heavy blackout shades and equally heavy brocade draperies.

Having lived that way for several years, when my wife and I moved on to the greener pastures of Westchester, it was almost an automatic response for us to approach our window treatments in similar fashion. We brought our wooden shutters with us, as well as our heavy draperies and were all set for privacy in the country, even though there is not another house that we can see from our house.

But through at least three hard core home renovations and as many re-decorations, we started to peel back the defense mechanisms. More and more it dawned on us there was no one looking back at us, with the possible exception of deer munching on our sprouting hosta, when we looked out at green lawns, our pool, or the woods.

First the windows in the wing that houses our professional PR offices were stripped of blinds and curtains, then the kitchen curtains went, then our bedroom’s swags and jabots, although the blinds remained for light filtration in the morning.

The big, big step for us comes just this week when our pink brocade curtains in the living room which date back to the time of the Civil War, but have seen better days, will come down and not be replaced.

Soon after we made the decision, I happened to be in the company of the decorator/home stager Susan Atwell of A Well Staged home, with whom I am forming a professional relationship, offering her services to those clients whose homes I list. I asked what she thought about “naked windows.”

“The framing of the window, especially if it is in contrast to the color of the wall, can be considered the frame of a picture,” she responded. “Especially if you are staging a home, it’s the window frame that is going to be staying with the house. If I am working with a house for sale, we just take the window treatments down. Window treatments, just like a light fixture, can date a home.

“I had a home where there was a beautiful picture window looking into the back yard. We painted the walls a deep green with a white trim around the picture window where the eye was drawn, and it looked beautiful,” she continued. “The frame of the window becomes the treatment, and it lets in the light. If you feel some softening is needed, perhaps something sheer, like a panel on each side, can be used, and that doesn’t block light.”

Of course, there are times when blinds, shutters and drapes are indeed required for privacy, but for those windows that enjoy views of nature and not other neighbors, why not invite the outside in?

In response to that nasty sign that faced my former home, when I moved to Westchester, I joined my new community’s architectural review board so that I could have some input into the way signage was developed. I wanted to make sure that we had good codes in place that regulate commercial signs and lighting that didn’t need to be blocked out by all of us having to cover up our windows!
For decorating and staging services, Susan Atwell can be reached at or 914-525-0454.

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 (, specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: and his blog is: To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

According to many traditions and feng shui consultants, front doors are best painted red.

According to many traditions and feng shui consultants, front doors are best painted red.

This week, just when I thought I had finished my checklist of things my clients Diane and Don had to do prior to the listing of their gorgeous home and before the brokers’ open house, Don mentioned that he would paint the front door, which he thought was in need of refreshing. I said, oh yes, embarrassed that it was one item I hadn’t thought was really needed, but then, Don is such a perfectionist.

But, wait, what color would he paint it, I asked? White, he responded, the same color it already was. Then it dawned on me. Why hadn’t I thought of it? Color pundits and feng shui consultants say that a front door should never, ever be painted white. It’s a cardinal rule. The theory is that the door should relate to the landscape in some way, and pure white is rarely found in nature.

Would you consider making a big change with that, I asked?

I suggested a color that I always recommend to my clients: red and a specific red, Benjamin Moore “Burgundy.” I’ve done much research on the psychology and the feng shui of painting a front door red that could take several articles to relate, but let me give you the rundown here in abbreviated form.

The psychology of the color red is that it conveys passion, interest, vitality and welcomeness. There is a long forgotten tradition in early American travel that bears this out. When lodging was sparse in horse and carriage days, families who were willing to welcome traveling families into their homes to spend the night would signify that message by painting their doors red.

In Biblical times, the Hebrew slaves were instructed to smear blood of a lamb on their front doors to protect their first born from the angel of death. And in early Catholic churches, doors were painted red to represent the blood of Christ, passing through the door meant that you were on holy ground.

In Scotland, homeowners paint their front door red to signify that they had paid off their mortgage. And someplace I read that a study revealed that people who live behind a red door are the happiest (Is that skewed in my mind in some way to those who had paid off their mortgage, I wonder?)

Of course, all this reflection about a front door’s color is only academic if the door itself is not in good condition.

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

Just as a person is judged within a few seconds of a first meeting, a house is judged in great part by the condition, functionality and look of its front door. When showing properties to prospective buyers, I’m always surprised to find when owners have upgraded an older home, but have not paid proper attention to the front door and its hardware.

If the door is warped, and if the hardware is tarnished and in poor working order, the entire house can seem outdated, and just slapping a fresh coat of paint on it won’t solve the problem. So consider the door first, then the color. While the front door serves to withstand the elements, help toward energy efficiency, and provide protection for the home, visitors react to it aesthetically, or even psychologically. If the door is attractive and in good shape, that perception extends to the entire household … and to its owner as well.

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

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 (, specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: and his blog is: engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076. 




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Mary Sniffen who with her husband Robert owns Miracle Home Improvements. She’s the one who handles sales with the decision makers: other women.

For several years now, I’ve noticed that my Home Guru column has enjoyed advertising support by Miracle Home Improvements, but I didn’t know anything about the company, so I thought I’d call and introduce myself. When I asked for the owner I was directed to Robert Sniffen.

I thanked him for his company’s support and asked if there was anything that he would consider unique about his services. “I certainly do,” he said. “I have a secret weapon: my wife Mary. She is my sole sales representative and she is very successful at it because women are the decision makers about home improvements and they relate better to another woman.”

In thinking about that, I realized that for the many years I’ve been a homeowner, I have never once encountered a woman to pitch a home improvement job to me. Yet, I have always deferred to my wife to make the final choice about design elements and colors, so it made great sense to me that a woman should work with a woman about such decisions. I wanted to meet Mary and learn more about her as a home improvement consultant and salesperson.

When I arrived at the company’s building on 9A in Croton, I saw that one side of it was a patchwork of different siding materials as was the garage. Once inside, I shook hands with Robert and was about to pet a blond lab when I realized it was a realistic sculpture of the Sniffen’s real life dog Lucy who had grown too old to make it to the job each day as the office dog. When I met Mary, I wasn’t prepared to be pleasantly greeted by a lookalike for the singer Amy Grant, even with the same quality voice.

But any resemblance to an entertainer quickly faded as Mary launched into her tour of the showroom where she demonstrated her expertise of the products and services she represents, the siding, the roofing, the windows, and doors, all incorporated into the showroom space as they would be into a home.

When I admired a greenhouse window , I was surprised to learn that it cost over $2500. “You can buy one at Home Depot for $900” Mary told me honestly, “but it is not of the same quality,” and by the time she had shared with me all the special qualities of this window compared with the cheaper version, I was convinced I’d go with the upgrade should I buy one.

When we finished the tour, I asked if we could sit down and talk about woman to woman sales. I learned that the Sniffens had been in business together since 1999 after having met and worked together for another contractor.

They bought their building after it had served as a meditation center and the aura of tranquility still lingers on in the persona of their business with the walls of their conference room painted like a sunset. “Our business is based on honesty,” Robert said, with Mary chiming in, “and we’re ethical…we care about our customers.”

“We do one job at a time,” Robert continued,” and we say when we can start the job and what it will cost. Then we have Mary who is the only woman in the business who is in the field, actually hands-on, and has more knowledge than most people in the industry. It’s women who make decisions about home improvements and they form a bond with Mary.”

“Yes, it’s true,” Mary concurs. “Ninety percent of the time I deal only with women among our customers and men are not involved at all in the decision making.”  Mary and Robert agree that in home improvement, relationships are built on trust and performance and they last for years.

With permission, the Sniffens give each prospect a list of over 300 customers’ names, addresses and telephone numbers with a description of the jobs they’ve done for them. “We invite them to call any one of them for a reference. That’s how confident we are of our work,” Robert said.

“And our greatest asset is our people who do the actual work who have been with us from 12 to 15 years. We don’t hire off the street,” added Mary.

When asked about how the company was given its name, Mary replied, “It’s based on the miracle that happens when we come in on budget and on time!” If you want a miracle in your own home improvement project, visit, then call 914-271-9119.

Lisa and Alice Kalaydjian and Bill Primavera (1)

Lisa and mother Alice Kalaydjian, proprietors of Kalaydjian Oriental Carpets, Bedford Hills, with Bill Primavera

When I rented my first apartment on my own, without roommates, my first purchase for it, even before I bought a bed, was a rug, a beautiful Karastan with a tree of life pattern in predominantly blue and red. I bought it as a hand-me-down from an eccentric friend who was a window dresser for Saks Fifth Avenue who decorated and re-decorated his apartment frequently, and I was a beneficiary of his discards.

In the many years since that impulsive purchase that ate up a month of my salary, impulsive because I had to sleep on that carpet until I could afford a bed, I’ve purchased many rugs as my digs grew from that first studio in the city to a large home in the suburbs, and I always bought oriental and privately, second-hand, until now when my wife and I wanted all new for an all new home.

When asking around for a good place to buy, I was referred to Kalaydjian Oriental Carpets in Bedford Hills where mother/daughter team Alice and Lisa Kalaydjian hold sway and, I was told, offer the greatest experience and service in oriental rugs.

“Yes my family has been in the business for more than 185 years,” mother Alice of Armenian descent told me, whose father had factories throughout Iran that manufactured fine quality rugs and other facilities that cleaned them. “In those days, the industry there was quite different,” added daughter Lisa, “but since the revolution in the 80s, production has moved to other countries, including China which does a good job in replicating Persian rugs.”

If my shopping experience has anything to do with the home, I always ask questions, and this time around, we talked about current trends in rug buying.  “We used to see hand-made purchases of heirloom quality, works of art that could take five or six years to make,” said Alice, “but today, people are more price oriented toward rugs that may have a certain look but lack durability because buyers feel that in five or 10 years they are going to want to change their décor anyway.”

“A major part of our business has become the restoration, cleaning and repair of fine quality rugs,” Lisa said. Lisa explained that their facility, which had housed her father’s car dealership before they set up shop 17 years ago (“We went from ‘cars’ to ‘car – pets,’” Lisa said with a grin) now accommodates a major operation devoted to rug sales, restoration and cleaning. “As far as I know, we are the only rug dealer in the region that does hand cleaning on our own premises. And, we don’t use any harsh chemicals,” Lisa said.

“Also we have a restorer who does magnificent museum quality restoration work,” Lisa said,  “And if a fine rug has been too badly damaged, we can salvage it for runners or pillows.”

What impressed me most about Kalaydjian was the service offered, which I needed because of my own little quirk that my taste in oriental carpets is contrary to popular preferences which are now trending toward neutral tones, the browns, while I still like the traditional bright reds and blues, a leftover from that first carpet I slept on.

I did find one such carpet in a smaller size among the racks in the store, and Lisa is now on a search to find larger carpets for me from that color palette and in a tree of life pattern.  When she finds it for me, this time around, I won’t be sleeping on it. Then again, because I will be placing it in front of one of those incredible new electric fireplaces which I defy anyone to guess is a fabulous fake, so you never know. I just may stretch out on a plush rug in front of it and doze off.

To experience many generations of rug expertise for either purchase, cleaning or repair, visit Kalaydjian at 761 North Bedford Rd., Bedford Hills. Telephone: 914-666-7571.

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 (, specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. His real estate site is: and his blog is:  To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

photo (1)When I told my wife that I received a cold call from a moving company and agreed to meet with a representative because the caller seemed so nice, she went into panic mode. “Oh, my,” she said, “haven’t you heard all the horror stories about movers?”

Before the end of the day, she had printed out 89, count them, 89 online postings of moving stories from hell, everything from drivers showing up drunk to not showing up at all, to holding truckloads of furniture for ransom until inflated prices were paid to victims of a scam. Even we had experienced a couple of them ourselves. With our last move when the company did the packing for us, hadn’t they unbelievably thrown our hammer into the same box with our signed Tiffany candy dish, shattering the latter to bits?

By the time I had skimmed through all the postings, I was really anxious and was prepared to ask a lot of questions, even though my eventual move is be barely four miles across town.

However, within moments from the time Phil Derasmo of Advantage Moving & Storage Systems arrived, I felt totally at ease. First of all, even though his direct marketing representative, the nice lady on the phone named Felice, had called from someplace in New Jersey, I learned that Phil was the president of the company and a neighbor, hailing from neighboring community, Mahopac. Somehow, even though I do a lot of business with global companies, I like everybody else feel very good about shopping and supporting “local” as well.

When I asked how long he’d been in the business, he said, three generations, and it came with a story with real heart.

“My grandfather Mario started the business in the early 50s by making arrangements with his neighbors in the Bronx to go down to the port in lower Manhattan in his open wagon to pick  up their relatives who were arriving by boat from Italy,” he told me.  “There were a lot of Italian immigrants coming over at that time, and they didn’t come just with suitcases. They came with trunks. With many, maybe 2,000 or more, he was the first person they met when they got off the boat.  He would charge them about $25 to get them up to the Bronx, and it took about two hours because it included an impromptu tour of Manhattan. He then started moving people, a natural progression”

Today, Phil’s company is highly advanced with a contingent of trucks and warehousing and the most technically sophisticated website you can imagine which takes the guesswork out of calculating what the cost of a move is going to be by moving your browser over a map of the country.  “That’s the biggest problem with some companies in the business today,” Phil said, “getting a straight answer about what the bottom line is with cost when you do comparative shopping among several movers. With our company, you just go to our website, and our cost calculator can take you anyplace in the country and you’ll know what the basic cost will be.”  It’s true. Go to and check it out. It’s like a game to play.

But as technically advanced as Advantage may be with its marketing, the personal touch that its president offers, along with just a few other representatives who deal one-on-one with customers, is actually disarming.

I knew I was dealing with an honest, straight shooter when we were going through the rooms of my home and my biggest concern was my paintings. I was trying to calculate what it would cost to package up our paintings and framed prints which we’ve collected over the years. He simply said, “Why go through that expense? I’ll give you a some big boxes with separators, either cardboard or bubble wrap, and package them up, and why not move them yourselves? It will save you a lot of money!”

Phil tells me that 75 percent of his business comes from personal referrals and, indeed, I can understand why. His information kit gives the names and telephone numbers of people in my own community I can call for recommendations.

Be sure to check out Advantage’s really fun website even if you’re not planning a move soon, but if you are, call 1-800-444-0104.

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