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Martha Mullins

Smarter Homes

Martha Mullins real estate insights

Every year the tech market produces the next device for a “smart home.”  Last year the smart “home hub” was all the rage.  A voice-generated command station, the home hub supplies web-generated answers to any questions from the weather to current interest rates to the time in Bora Bora. It can process online orders.  

The greater use of these hubs happens when you link it to your home applications. The hub can set timers for your roast, play music, serve as an alarm clock; manage your home security, recordings on TV, the thermostat, and turn lights on and off. 

All these tasks and more are possible by linking your home hub with online services you already use. The software that drives these devices is currently being installed on tablets.  So, if you’d prefer not to add another device into your home, you may want to wait for one of these services to become available via an app for your device.  Amazon’s Alexa is currently available on its Fire tablets. 


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    Spruce Up For Spring!

    Martha Mullins

    The cool and wet of early spring is the perfect time to tend to the less exciting home repair chores.  While you’re waiting for the spring bulbs to pop and trees to blossom, take the time to evaluate any winter damage. Did you notice a draft in the house over the winter?  Check your windows for repair or replacement. Add storms, weather strip or caulk. Change the filters on your furnace.  

    Have your chimneys cleaned. Clean out air conditioner filters and HVAC systems. Review your insulation to see if more might be needed.  Take a look to make sure your roof didn’t sustain storm damage. Check out your gutters and downspouts to ensure they’re attached properly and are guiding rainwater away from the foundation. 

    When the snow melts, prep your lawn for spring work by ordering mulch for your garden beds and pruning your trees. 


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      The Dishwasher Broke

      Martha Mullins

      There is nothing really more inconvenient than an appliance going kaput in the middle or your daily routine. Hot water heater in the middle of a shower.  The oven after you’ve put in a pork roast. The dishwasher at any given point in the day.  

      It might make life a little less frustrating to take a look at your appliances and assess replacing them before they break. Take a look at the average lifespan of each appliance to see if they’re near the end of their useful life and plan a swap out for the older units, one every 6 months, for example. Air conditioners are an easy start. Current energy ratings will show you the relative electricity savings on your unit. The large hot water heater in your basement recycles hot water around coils, constantly using energy. An on-demand, propane hot water heater could save its cost in heating oil over two years. 

      Cleaning filters on your dishwasher could save you some time, but you may want to check with your local shop to see if it should be replaced.


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        We Should Have Bought Last Summer

        Martha Mullins

        Not everything falls into place at the right time. If you’re searching for a home, you may have watched with dismay as mortgage rates rose recently. Disappointing as that is, there is an option to “buy down” your mortgage that will lower your monthly payments. An additional up-front fee paid at the time you execute your mortgage will lower your mortgage interest rate.  

        The fee is a point system.  Each “point” represents 1% of your mortgage. For a $300,000 mortgage, the point is $3,000. How to know if that math works for you?  Take the difference between the two interest rates, let’s say 4.25% vs. 4.00% with one point paid.  The savings for one year is $750. You just paid $3,000, one point, to lower the rate.  It would take only four years before you’ve recouped that point value and begin to save. 


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          Airbnb and Your Credit

          The Wall Street Journal published an article on banks denying credit to homeowners who rent rooms or apartments from their primary residence. If you advertise a room or portion of your primary residence and have or want a credit line on your house, it might be worth your while to have a chat with your banker.

          It doesn’t really make sense. If a homeowner gains additional income by renting a portion of their property, that homeowner should present a lower risk profile to the bank. Many homeowners who rent may eventually apply for refinancing, a home equity loan, or a mortgage. These days, the mortgage banks are questioning whether the rental income changes the category of the home from a primary residence to an investment property or a commercial business. On this basis many are being turned down on their loan requests.

          If you haven’t yet decided whether to rent out, you may want to check with your banker first.


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            Learning and Service at Indian Mountain School

            The stories my boys brought home about volunteering with the elderly had me in stitches. Their companion didn’t want to do the assigned project, but to tell stories. My sons ended up looking forward to the outrageous stories their older friend wanted to share.

            Volunteering part of the school day to partner with the elderly is just one of the many quiet ways the Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, CT weaves service into the curriculum. These lessons resonate, attaching compassion and personal connection to the idea of volunteering.

            The students walk to combat world hunger and gather food for local food pantries. Upper school students offer to mentor younger students. Students volunteer their spring break for a service trip to help various communities. It is a steady underlying theme that the students absorb during their time on campus. “Life through Service” is the school motto — a lesson well taught.


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              What Sold This Summer?

              There were 11 sales in Salisbury between June 1 and September 1. The highest was a lakefront home that was sold by Best & Cavallaro for $2,325,000; four sold between $350,000-$875,000; five from $150,000-$295,000. One of the village’s townhouses sold for $110,000.

              13 homes sold in Lakeville this summer, including an estate for $3,200,000. Five other high end properties sold for $750,000-$1,405,000; three sales between $420,000-$470,000;  three sold for $190,000-$255,000; and a cottage sold for $165,000.

              16 homes sold in Sharon - the highest for $3,100,000 and the two lowest for $38,000 and $40,000; two higher end homes at $805,000 and $1,300,000; four between $425,000-$545,000; three sold from $305,000-$351,000; four sold for between $155,000-$297,500.

              6 houses sold in the Cornwall area - $875,000 was the highest, $106,050 the lowest, with four between $175,000-$455,000.  

              5 properties sold in Canaan between $55,000-$150,000.  3 sold in Falls Village between $140,000-$480,000.

              19 properties sold in Kent, with the highest at $1,035,000, lowest at $110,000;  5 sold from $110,000-$190,000; 9 from $223,200 -$387,500;  3 from $510,000- $535,000.


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                A Little Green

                I see a lot of homes with fabulous lawns and their lush green perfection makes me envious.

                Despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to achieve the green, smooth, consistent plushness of everyone else’s lawn. It could be the army of chipmunks carving out the complex trails under my upper grass terrace. And there’s the elusive, never-seen mole that creates random tunnel-like holes all over.

                Since I do not intend to excavate the top layer of my lawn to begin from scratch, I decided to make just the visible top layer of grass look better. Consistency, apparently, is the key to the perfect lawn.

                The seeds I purchased for some sparse patches were washed to a puddle during a rain storm and sprouted like lake reeds surrounding the bald patch. I tried fertilizing with a rented spreader; it would help if the distribution level didn’t have variable settings. My lawn looks like a kaleidoscope of different shades of green. And I missed spots completely, so dandelions are randomly popping up like exclamation points.

                They’re saying – time to call a professional!!!



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                  Spruce Up For Less

                  Just like everything else, first impressions have a lasting impact. If you are preparing to sell your home, use spring cleaning as an opportunity to go a bit further to improve the appearance of your home. Here are some cheap fixes that go a long way.

                  • Fertilize your lawn for a fresh, healthy look. All you need is fertilizer, spreader, and a hose.

                  • Stain the deck and touch up peeling paint around your entranceways.

                  • Sweep under overhangs to clear cobwebs.

                  • Fix or upgrade your fence. If it’s in really poor condition, remove it.

                  • Replace the errant rock that fell off the wall last year.

                  • Trim your trees and bushes.

                  • Clean leaves and debris from your yard, and from gutters.

                  • Clean windows inside and out.

                  • Maybe invest in a new mailbox and doormats.

                  • Consider planting a bush or small tree if you have the space.

                  A neatly-kept outward appearance goes a long way in setting the tone of your home to a potential buyer. The added bonus is feeling great when you return home every day!


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                    Dry Summer?

                    Maybe. There is speculation that the relatively mild winter could lead to a dry summer. We’ll know by September, but it does bring to mind water saving tips for the home. Here are some of the larger residential water guzzlers:

                    Toilets use 27%, showers 17%, faucets 16%, and leaks account for 14%. I’m not suggesting we have to spray paint our lawns, but we could cut down. An easy way is to replace older equipment. A new model toilet uses less than 1.6 gallons by law as opposed 3.5 gallons in older models. A new shower head uses 2.5 gallons vs. 6 gallons. Older washers uses 41 gallons, newer models 20.

                    Finding leaks, unless you’re standing in water, isn’t as easy. It may take investigating under and around pipes in cupboards and your basement. A spike in your water bill would be a tip off. If your toilet tank sweats in hot weather, there could be a leak. Best way to find a leak in your toilet is to drop colored dye into the tank. Wait 20 minutes to see if it’s in the toilet bowl to confirm a leak.

                    For more information on water conservation go to epa.gov/watersense



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                      Moving Day Toolbox

                      Every new homeowner should approach moving day with a tool box and a “bit box.” The bit box is for moving out — put every little weird screw, metal hinge and spare wire that you find lying around with no apparent connection to anything inside the bit box. Those “bits” could be important parts of desks, chairs, chests, and beds that you’ll need for reassembly.

                      The toolbox is for moving in. Your exuberance for the new space may have you hanging your family photos before laying the carpets or making the beds. Indulge the impulse by making sure you have a hammer nearby! Cardboard boxes are easier to open with a razor cutter. There are twenty things that immediately need adjusting, tightening or reassembling. How convenient to have your screwdriver on hand. Duct tape, nails, hammer, wrench, and pliers. Whichever tools are your favorites.

                      Plan ahead and put a box together. Just make sure to include a slip of paper with your contractor’s telephone number. Just in case a hammer won’t suffice…


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                        Just Nod

                        I almost drove a poor unsuspecting motorist off West Woods in Sharon one early sleeting winter morning. Big wave “sorry!” and the forgiveness of a two or three finger lift off the steering wheel. Phew.

                        There’s something very human about acknowledging a particularly singular shared space – be it on a deserted dirt road or the doorway of the post office. A slight nod or lift of a finger or two of acknowledgement goes a long way. It’s a small town, odds are you’ll probably see each other again, so it can’t hurt. Maybe you’ll need that person’s assistance at some point. Maybe when you find yourself in a ditch on the side of West Woods Road!

                        Here is where that nod counts the most: walking on a back road, any public doorway, the deli counter at Labonne’s, in line at the bank, and any of the crosswalks. Maybe passing boats on Lakeville Lake...

                        I’m not suggesting you start offering your fellow townspeople full out salutations, but a small gesture to say that you noticed them, say, stopping to allow you to cross the street, is definitely one of the niceties of small town life.



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                          Soup, Glorious Soup!

                          I am kind of disappointed that there isn’t more snow. Waiting for the type of snowy day that calls out for a hearty steamy thick stick to your ribs SOUP. An excuse to nibble a few salty oyster crackers.

                          There is some pleasure in braving icy streets and bracing winds to grab a savory soup for lunch. Somehow homemade soup brought in from home isn’t the same. Maybe the microwaving uncertainty of the reheating time takes some of the fun away. Beep. Beep. BEEP...is it done?!

                          For a well-deserved treat on our next arctic day, here are some of my favorite places for soup. The Woodland has a deft hand with beans and lentils. On the Run always has a hearty homey hot offering, the Country Bistro serves some particularly savory specials. The White Hart creates amazingly delicious offerings. The quickest hottest grab and go is the daily double soup offering at Labonne’s near the deli case.

                          Bundle up and enjoy!



                            1. Holly @ Country Bistro on

                              Thanks Martha! :D

                              Let it Snow!

                              Okay, I hear the groans. Let’s set thoughts of shovel-ing aside for the moment and focus on enjoying our great out doors. Remember that many people travel from afar to vacation here!

                              If you have the right outdoor prep routine, you’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy hiking on our beautiful land trails, skating over our pristine iced lakes, or soaring down our many ski slopes, cross or downhill.

                              Here are my favorite tips:

                              First, moisturizer holds body heat. Glob it on right after shower/bath.

                              Next, make sure you have non-cotton socks and that you don’t walk around in them before booting up. Socks on immediately followed by boot. Keeps your tootsies warm.

                              Make sure your scarf allows your breath to escape or you’ll get chapped cheeks and lips.

                              Layer up and you’re good to go.

                              We live in a gorgeous spot - get out and enjoy it!


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                                Small Towns = Happy Brains?

                                Dr. Edward Hallowell is an adult psychiatrist, best-selling author and the founder of a center for cognitive and emotional health. (Google him for a list of titles.) He summered in Norfolk for years with his family.

                                I remember a talk he delivered one summer evening on the health of the human brain. He emphasized the importance of people connecting to family, friends, work, school, nature and animals as being crucial to brain stimulation and thus to emotional health. Apparently, when we encounter a familiar face, even in passing, our brain fires off a ton of neurons, which is good for the brain and in turn releases internal reactions that make us feel happier. Or at least better. Or maybe not grumpy.

                                Anyway, he claimed that small towns are the healthiest places to reside because we encounter familiar faces on a regular basis. An involved conversation isn’t required, just a simple nod or quick “hi” will suffice. Something to think about on your next trip to the post office, grocery store or coffee shop.


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                                  Around We Might Not Be Going

                                  Driving from Salisbury to Torrington, I wonder as I enter the Goshen roundabout at Routes 4 and 63 whether I'm going to exit intact. Entering traffic appears to be a combination of drivers executing a desperate act of darting into the unknown with fluffed courage or bullying through with a hope and a prayer.

                                  Years ago I was stuck in my first roundabout for what seemed like twenty minutes with a chorus of horns applauding my lack of circle skills. So in the interest of keeping the traffic flowing in Goshen I thought I'd share (inexpert) tips!

                                  When you approach the roundabout, please hesitate slightly as you check to see if there is traffic coming from your left. If the left is clear, enter and exit on your chosen route (using your indicator!) Stop if there is traffic to your immediate left but please do not stop while in the circle to allow the vehicle to your right to go first. They are waiting for you.

                                  Happy (and safe) driving!


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                                    Smart Homes

                                    Alarm systems, thermostats, and leak prevention systems are a few technologies that can enhance the safety and efficiency of your home.

                                    New satellite wireless alarm systems are easy to install yourself and provide a more secure system than older hardwire systems. Alarm systems that rely on hardwire or telephone lines may be cut purposely or rendered useless by downed lines. The wireless alarm will detect & notify your cell phone, iPad, or computer of broken glass, temperature issues and sensor-related activity.

                                    Remote program thermostats are a proactive way to maximize the efficiency of your heat or AC use.

                                    The newer Leak Defense System is a terrific tool for remotely detecting burst pipes. The system is installed on the water intake valve for your home and will report unusual water flow in the event of a broken pipe in the home.

                                    Check with your insurance agent to see if the installation of any of these improvements will reduce your premium. They may even provide a discount on the purchase of the hardware for the new system.


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                                      More Than Books!

                                      When summer events start winding down, there is still plenty to do at your local library!

                                      For example, the Norfolk Library offers a range of events such as concerts, wild life demonstrations, film documentary series, iPad classes, monthly art exhibits, field trips and more. Concerts range from classical Norfolk Chamber Festival performances to folksy Celtic Music to cool groups such as the Lascivious Biddies!

                                      A recent field trip to Manitoga this summer was terrific. Moth Night, a lecture on The Recluse Collector, and an author visit from Marc Tyler Nobelman are examples of special events threaded into the regular calendar. Fireside book groups in the Great Hall are well attended. The kids program on the Science of Super Heros was a blast this summer.

                                      Check out what’s next at their website (norfolklibrary.org) or visit your own town library’s website to discover how today’s libraries are offering far more than books.


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                                        Norfolk is for Music Lovers!

                                        Come enjoy live music at the historic Infinity Music Hall & Bistro in Norfolk, CT. The Hall is uniquely continuing an historic musical tradition that started in the late 1800s. “Village Hall” was built as an opera house, barbershop, and saloon in 1883. The Hall was one of the first community buildings in the country, hosting town meetings, lectures, talent shows, vaudeville and more.

                                        The building fell into disrepair in the mid-1900s, and was then renovated as a theatre in 1999. A second renovation in 2007 restored the building to its original uses as a theatre, bar and restaurant, and community center. 

                                        The hall hosts more than two hundred music and entertainment shows each year, including extra-ordinary, nationally-recognized artists (e.g. Art Garfunkel, Hot Tuna, the Kingston Trio) as well as local favorites. Lunches and dinners are served in the Bistro, and dining is available during concerts on the mezzanine level.

                                        For more information about this remarkable venue, visit their website: infinityhall.com.



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                                          Water, Water Everywhere!

                                          Winter weather created some tricky water problems for homeowners this season. If you were unfortunate enough to have water coming in from the eaves of your roof or not coming in at all due to frozen water lines, you were not alone.

                                          Alas, our water house issues are not yet over as the snow and ice is melting and the resulting water will soon be joined by joyful April showers! 

                                          All that water is going somewhere, so time to take a quick check to make sure the destination is somewhere other than your basement. Don’t wait for spring cleaning - check now to ensure that all the gutters are even against the roof line and the down spout is securely attached to the drain pipe. Pick up the shovel for the last time this season and clear remaining ice and snow away from the basement line. 

                                          You’ll be happy you made the effort when it’s time to check for mold in the summer.


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