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William McGinn

Antique Houses & Historical Societies

William McGinn real estate advice

If you are a new owner of an antique house, you will most definitely want to join one or more of our local historical societies.  

Sharon Historical Society, Salisbury Association, and Northeast Historical Society are but a few of the local ones.  Litchfield Historical Society, Dutchess County Historical Society and Columbia County Historical Society are active groups at the county level.  

The restoration and preservation process naturally requires research into local vernacular architecture.  These historical societies offer a wealth of resources in their libraries and archives.  

I have personally found the staff of each of these organizations to be most helpful and friendly.  For those of you who are really enthusiastic, please consider joining Historic New England. This organization offers a number of resources for its members, including help with research of an historic property.


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    Getting the House Ready to Rent

    Preparing a house to be rented (whether furnished or unfurnished)  requires planning, time, and some hard work. Having recently worked with clients who are both landlords and tenants, here are a few suggestions to make renting a property go more smoothly:

    1.  Ask a realistic rent which reflects current market rates.

    2.  Do a professional cleaning.

    3.  Prepare a list of operating expenses to give to the prospective tenant: heating oil, electric, cable, snow plowing, mowing, cleaning.  They always ask.

    4.  Prepare a list of contact numbers for caretaker, plowing, mowing, propane, plumber, electrician, cleaning person and other services that might be needed on short notice.

    5.  Remove irreplaceable items.

    6.  Buy an inexpensive set of new cutlery, dishes, and pots, if the rental is furnished.

    7.  Provide new sheets and towels, if possible.

    8.  Empty all closets and cabinets of personal effects.

    9.  Clean the basement and outbuildings so that they are usable for tenant storage.

    10.  List the property with a local realtor. 


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      Which Way In?

      I sometimes view properties for which the main entry to the home is either not obvious, awkward, or both. This sad situation transcends all price ranges.

      Often a house is built with very little consideration as to siting, driveways, and walkways. I suspect that many driveways begin as the most direct route from the road to the building site and, because of time or budgetary constraints, remain just that. A good landscape designer can add value to a property by changing the experience of approach to the house and therefore the perception of the entire property.

      Today, I passed a familiar property which has been transformed with a new driveway and guest parking area. Previously a very unspectacular and poorly-conceived dirt driveway, the new, well-planned gravel driveway changes the approach experience dramatically. In this case, the actual “cut-in” from the road was moved and a gentle curve added. The new approach slows down entering vehicles and allows one to fully appreciate the beautiful home. An ample and well-located parking area near the main entry establishes arrival. The difference is remarkable.


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        Live In It Awhile

        Recently, I sold clients a property which is a “dream” location but a “wide awake” house. They initially planned a gut renovation/addition immediately, but wisely decided to hold off and live in it awhile.

        There is nothing like time spent in a house to clarify priorities. In fact, people often say they would have regretted making the changes initially desired. The big and costly addition one thinks absolutely necessary might be avoided by clarifying spatial relationships with the moving of a partition or two.

        Simply cleaning the carpet, and perhaps an overall professional cleaning, can make a place habitable while the new owner ponders her/his needs and wants. Taking the time to get referrals for and interviewing architects, designers, and general contractors is time very well spent. Then there is the planning process itself including drawings and specifications needed before construction can even begin, possibly permits to pull, and long lead time materials to order, all before demolition can begin.

        One hopes to spend many happy years in a new home. Why shortchange the construction process by a few months only to regret the time saving later? Live in it awhile.


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          Tear Down?

          Beautiful building sites in Litchfield County Connecticut towns, such as Salisbury and Sharon, have become more difficult to find. The feasibility of tearing down an existing house and rebuilding is sometimes considered. 

          During the 1970-1980s, when land was available and relatively inexpensive, many unfortunate houses were hastily built, often sitting on nice parcels in good locations. When these homes come on the market, the buyer usually thinks of a renovation. However, the constraints imposed by an awkward layout and poor original construction sometimes make this a dubious option. 

          If one considers the same property as a premium building site because of improvements already in place, there can be some advantages: an existing foundation (if in good condition), driveway/road to the house, operating well, septic system, electric service, mature trees and landscaping. All of these improvements add considerable value to a piece of raw land. 

          If the parcel in question also has attractive qualities that are difficult to quantify, such as the perfect location or a stunning view, then the property may be worth the additional time and cost of demolition and building anew.


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            Broom Clean

            It is customary for most real estate contracts to specify the home to be left “broom clean” by the sellers. There is often confusion about what this means.  

            Broom clean DOES NOT mean that the house has been professionally cleaned, or even cleaned by the seller. It means that the premises have been emptied of all contents except items previously agreed upon and specified in the contract. No visible debris should be left on the floors or other surfaces. The seller should also not assume that left over cans of paint or tools are wanted by the buyer. Ask before leaving them.  

            While every buyer would like to move into a sparkling clean home, this is not the legal responsibility of the seller. The buyer should assume that the house will need a thorough cleaning before occupancy. Having said that, it is a wonderful gesture for the seller to have the house cleaned, and much appreciated by any buyer.

            Locally, we have some wonderful cleaning services that are reliable and thorough. If you are busy and/or not inclined toward cleaning, you may want to engage a regular cleaning service anyway. Ask your agent for a referral.


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              Chef and Farmer Brunch

              On Sunday, July 31, from 11 am - 2 pm, The Hotchkiss School’s Fairfield Farm on Route 41 in Lakeville, CT will host this year’s annual Chef and Farmer Brunch, benefiting the Northeast Community Center (NECC) in Millerton, NY.

              This year, the event will have a special twist, featuring a Challenge Cookoff, complete with celebrity judges. Participants include: Adamah, 52 Main, Berkshire Distillery, Black Rabbit, Chaseholm Farm Creamery, Falls Village Inn, Full Circus Farm, Hathaway Young Catering, Irving Farm, Isabel’s Kitchen, Liz Macaire, McEnroe Organic Farm, Milker’s Basket, Millbrook Winery, Morgan’s Restaurant, Olde Forge Farms, Peony Vodka, Rock Steady Farm, Silo Ridge, Stissing House, Summer Lunch Box Program, The Farmer’s Wife, The White Hart, and When Pigs Fly.

              This event is always lots of fun, and a great place to meet old friends, make new ones, and to entertain out-of-town guests. Most importantly, proceeds benefit NECC, supporting its many fine programs for children, seniors, families, and individuals.

              Visit www.neccmillerton.org for tickets and more information.


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                We have some very nice beaches in our immediate area; some private, some that are restricted to town residents, and some absolutely free. The private beaches include Twin Lakes Beach Club in Salisbury for members and guests only. There is a small, but nice, flat sandy beach, clubhouse, and tennis courts.

                Local town beaches include the Town Grove at Lake Wononscopomuc, in Lakeville, which requires a summer season permit ($50 for town residents, $300 for non-residents) for your vehicle in order to park.

                In Sharon there is the beach at Mudge Pond, which is restricted to town residents; a seasonal permit ($20) is also required to park here. In Norfolk, Tobey Pond is available to residents ($50 seasonal vehicle permit fee).

                In Millerton, there is scenic Rudd Pond at Taconic State Park. Access is open to the public, including non-residents, and it is free during the week and weekends during the off-season. During the summer season, a fee of $7 per car is charged. The beach is particularly nice here, with changing rooms and bathrooms available.



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                  Happy to be Home

                  Last night, we returned from vacation and I was (once again) struck by our unusually high quality of life in the tri-state area: Northern Litchfield, Southern Berkshire, and Northern Dutchess Counties.

                  Starting with our arrival at Bradley Airport, the drive home is easy and scenic. Although the darkness at night is startling, particularly if one is returning from a brightly lighted urban area, I quickly readjust to the country roads. Somehow keeping an eye out for deer is a little easier than watching for tourists darting across busy city streets.

                  We were particularly charmed by the picturesque villages of Norfolk and Salisbury with their village greens, lighted church steeples, and historic homes. We were happy to arrive home to our own Village of Millerton, which sparkles at night. Even though we stayed with family and friends in their beautiful homes, we were glad to step into our quirky old house. Of course, the very best part is climbing into one’s own bed!

                  No matter how much fun the trip was, I am always happy to be home.


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                    De-Cluttering = Asking For Help

                    One of the most formidable tasks in preparing a property for the market is the de-cluttering/cleaning out process. This is very much on my mind as I watch friends in Lakeville, CT and Ancramdale, NY, currently engaged in this process. Obviously the task can seem physically and emotionally daunting. An important fact to remember is that you don't have to do it alone.

                    A bit of a control freak myself, the idea of allowing someone into my process (asking for help), is normally the last thing that I want to do. However, another person can often see the task objectively. Fortunately, there are people to hire who specialize in cleaning out and helping organize for a move. Your real estate agent will normally know of someone reputable whom they can refer. Consider renting a dumpster, small or large. This will expedite the process enormously.

                    If your financial resources are limited, or you just can't bear to allow a stranger in, consider asking a friend or family member for help. You will probably be surprised at how glad people are for a chance to help out. It feels good to be asked!



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                      Preparing for a Showing

                      There are a few things that the seller can do to help the agent make the very best of a showing:

                      Open the Blinds/Curtains
                      There can never be too much daylight in a room.

                      Turn On the Lights
                      It is important for the house to be fully lit when the buyer drives up.

                      Turn Up the Heat
                      Walking into a warm house is key in the winter.

                      The buyer should feel free to open doors and ask questions.

                      Take Your Pet with You
                      If possible, take your dog or cat with you when you vacate for the showing.

                      Take Out the Garbage
                      Clean the Litter Box
                      Wash and Put Away the Dishes
                      Sweep Off the Walk & Doorway
                      Make the Bed

                      Sorry if the foregoing looks like a chore list, but let’s sell that house!


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                        Walk It Off!

                        Like many of you, we occasionally have holiday houseguests. After the pleasure/pain of menus, marketing, cooking and cleaning up, there are still hours in the day that need to be filled by something other than food consumption, preparation and cleanup.

                        A wonderful choice is a walk, or if you are young and/or ambitious, a more challenging hike. I live on one of the most beautiful roads in the Town of Northeast (Millerton) and I often simply forget to walk there.

                        When I go out walking with guests, I appreciate anew the beauty of my natural environment. If you live on such a road, take advantage of it. Perhaps you live on some beautiful land and rarely make time to walk just for pleasure. Just do it!

                        If you and your guests are ready for something more challenging, don’t forget our local public hiking trails such as Lion’s Head or the trails of Taconic State Park (Millerton). There are also less rigorous walking trails at the Sharon Audubon Center, Millerton/Amenia Rail Trail, and Bartholomew’s Cobble. It is amazing what some cold air and exercise will do to restore true holiday cheer!



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                          The Leaves...

                          Yesterday while raking leaves for several hours, I had lots of time to ponder my dysfunction concerning fall cleanup. Every year the unmanageability of my leaves comes as a complete surprise to me. You would think that after 8 years of living in a place, I would have an annual chore like leaf management down to a fine art. But NOOOOOO, it comes as a new and mystifying experience every year. It's simply denial.

                          Because we live just outside the village, there is no leaf pickup. Instead, I have to ask someone to come and get my leaves. That's the crux of the matter: I am embarrassed to ask someone to vacuum up my leaves in the country. It just feels unnatural to me: like getting a dog, and then asking someone else to walk it. Don't get me wrong, I know how to ask for help and happily do so to have mown grass and plowed snow, but vacuumed leaves ... really?



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                            Floor Plans

                            While photographs are essential in describing a property, there is nothing like a floor plan to enable potential buyers to analyze the flow and functionality of a house. Unless you build a house, chances are that you do not have floor plans. Especially for a higher priced property, consider hiring an architect or designer for an hourly fee, to measure the house and draw a floor plan to scale.

                            Having had a previous career as an interior designer, I know firsthand the advantages, even the necessity, of working with a floor plan. The floor plan can help a potential buyer visualize where furniture or even where a potential addition to the existing house might go.

                            The floor plan is a useful tool to share with contractors when having preliminary discussions about proposed changes. Con-tractors are accustomed to working from scaled drawings, which can expedite any required work estimates. If buyers are contemplating changes or an addition, they can share the plan with their own architect, who can use it to more quickly to come up with sketches.


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                              Signs Sell!

                              It is common knowledge that the internet has become the prime medium for advertising and searching for real estate. There is no denying the effectiveness of this tool.

                              However, the real estate search is ultimately personal and local. This leads us back to tried and true methods such as signage. There is an old adage in real estate that “signs sell houses.” I occasionally find that some sellers resist placing “For Sale” signs on their property. In spite of concerns about privacy, I think that signs are very effective. Very often, neighbors or family and friends of neighbors are potential buyers. They know the neighborhood and, in many cases, the property that is for sale. Also, people new to the area often call about a property prompted by a sign.

                              According to the National Board of Realtors, 51% of buyers cite yard signs as a source for their property search. I have personally had such inquiries lead to sales. In this age of virtual experience, it is nice to know that people still drive around in real time, looking at property.


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                                Celebrating Chefs & Farmers

                                It's summer and there's lots to do! One event which you should not miss is the 5th annual Chef and Farmer Brunch at Number 9 in Millerton, NY, benefiting the North East Community Center. Come to the Brunch, then stroll around Millerton, shop, or just take in the sites. (Don't forget the Rail Trail, if you would like to work off your meal!)

                                Scheduled for Sunday, August 9, the Brunch features Farmer's Market inspired dishes, tastings, and beverages provided by twenty chefs from local farm-to-table restaurants, spirits, wine, and beer from local microbreweries and distilleries including: 52 Main, Pine Plains Platter, Hill Rock Distillery, McEnroe's Organics, Harney Tea Shop, Berkshire Mountain Distillery and Number 9, among others.

                                The Chef and Farmer Brunch supports important North East Community Center food and social services programs for children and families. Tickets are $50 per person and can be purchased online at: www.neccmillerton.org.


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                                  Milerton, NY's SPRING FOR SOUND!

                                  Spring for Sound happens this Saturday, June 20, 2015 in Millerton, NY. Celebrating its fifth year, this local music festival has become one of the biggest and coolest events in the Tri-Corner Region. 

                                  Drawing from the surrounding counties (Northern Litchfield, CT, Southern Berkshire, MA, Eastern Dutchess, NY and Southern Columbia, NY), the all day event features various local musicians and bands such as The Kyles and The Nice Ones performing on multiple stages throughout Millerton.

                                  Tickets are $15 per person, with a free stage at the North East Community Center, which is the beneficiary of the event. The North East Community Center serves individuals and families in Millerton and the surrounding towns through programs such as children’s after school and summer lunch programs, Dial-a-Ride, and the Millerton Farmer’s Market, to name just a few.

                                  To purchase tickets and for more information, go to the event website: www.springforsound.com.

                                  Come listen, groove, eat, and drink!


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                                    Antique House Evaluation

                                    When contemplating the purchase of any property, a standard home inspection by a licensed home inspector is always in order. In the case of antique buildings, I also suggest an evaluation done by a contractor and/or architect who specializes in antique structures. I particularly like the feedback of experienced contractors who can offer ballpark figures related to costs.

                                    I think it is important to consult with someone who will not ultimately be bidding on the work. The evaluation should not be colored by a desire to be awarded the contract. Perhaps someone from outside the immediate area is best. I know of a contractor with 40 years experience in old house restoration who will look at a structure and give his professional assessment for an hourly rate of $65.

                                    This preliminary feedback is enormously valuable to the buyer in determining whether or not the subject property is appropriate for their level of financial and emotional resources.


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                                      Antique House Research

                                      We are fortunate to live in a region with so many historic properties. If you are a new owner of an antique house then you are probably interested in learning more about the history of that property. Here are some resources:

                                      1. Real Estate Listing Agent
                                      Listing agents often have information in their files.

                                      2. Previous Owner(s)
                                      Usually willing to share their knowledge.

                                      3. Neighbors of Long Standing
                                      Often have information about the area.

                                      4. Town Historian 
                                      For example, Salisbury, CT has Mrs. Jean McMillen.

                                      5. Historic Societies
                                      For example: the Salisbury Association, Sharon Historical Society, Northeast Historical Society

                                      6. Town & County Clerks
                                      They can provide maps, deeds, etc.

                                      7. Public Libraries
                                      Check out the local history section.


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