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Choosing the Right Countertops

The choices for kitchen and bath-room countertops are extensive. Granite, which has been around for 30+ years is extremely durable and impervious to heat and cold.  However, granite--like any natural stone--requires a sealer and periodic reapplication.

Other natural stones, such as marble and soapstone, have a luxurious look, but are quite porous and require routine maintenance also. Manufactured quartz stone, which used to be limited in selection, is now offered in many different colors and designs.  Quartz can be visually indistinguishable from natural stone, have the same durability and require no maintenance.  Concrete, although still not a mainstream choice, is great for a more rugged or industrial look.  It can be tinted and polished, or left a natural color.  It also needs to be sealed.   

My current favorite is wood tops featuring marine finishes. Made of mahogany, walnut, and other hardwoods, these countertops do not have the durability of stone, but they make up for that shortcoming with a friendly, warm touch. Don’t forget about good old plastic laminate either!

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    Thinking of Buying a House?

    If buying  a house is something you plan to do this year, now is the perfect time to set some resolutions that will help you reach your house hunting or goal.

    Find a good realtor.  Working with a knowledgeable real estate agent should be first on your list. Realtors can help you set your goals in motion — making for a very smooth transaction.

    Save money. Figure out what price house is affordable for you and what price your mortgage lender will approve. Then save based on your current disposable income and how soon you want to buy that house.

    Check your credit score — and work to raise that score if necessary. Your score will affect whether you’re approved for a loan and determine your interest rate. Good mortgage rates are generally offered to those with scores 720 and above.

    Gather your files. When you make an offer, you’re going to need a lot of information: tax returns, income statements, bank statements, credit card information, etc.

    Get pre-approved. You will know just how much you can spend.  While pre-approval is no guarantee of future financing, it tells the seller that you’re most likely qualified.

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      Closing Walk Through

      Closing day can be exciting - and stressful - for homebuyers. The listing agent representing the seller, the buyer’s agent, and the buyer should run down a check list. The utilities (electric, oil, propane) should be swapped to the buyer for the day of the closing.  The buyer’s agent or attorney will request a list of service providers for the buyer to contact prior to closing day.

      At the property, turn on the heat/air conditioning, the washer and dryer, and the dishwasher. Check the lights, turn on the taps, and flush the toilets. Test the garage doors, if appropriate. Make sure that  items that were supposed to remain are there and those that were agreed to be removed are gone. Compare the condition of the home to the inspection report to make sure all agreed upon repairs are complete.

      The home should be broom swept clean and the lawn/yard should be maintained. Bring your contract and inspection report to refer to. Take notes and photos of anything amiss to share with your attorney prior to signing the final closing documents.

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        To Rent Or To Buy...That Is The Question

        Home ownership is one of the keystones of the “American Dream.” The earlier you get in the game the better off you will be in the long run.

        When you rent, your rent can go up annually or at the landlord’s discretion, but your mortgage payment is fixed if you get a fixed rate loan. At today’s still historically low rates, time is of the essence to take advantage of these rates before they rise.

        The best deals are often those that need some cosmetic updates and have been on the market for a long time due to the lack of the WOW factor - have some vision and it will pay off.    

        Homes in Salisbury and Sharon, Connecticut, and the Tri-State area that have been renovated often sell for top dollar so drop by our office or call us at Best & Cavallaro Real Estate and let us help you find a good investment.

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          The World of Tile

          Selecting tile for any project, whether floor, kitchen or bathroom, can be a labyrinth of choices. The seemingly infinite variety of tile increases yearly with fashion and improved technology.

          Currently there is a mainstream trend for porcelain tile that imitates other materials such as marble, limestone, and even wood. The recent American trend for patterned encaustic tile (composed of different colors of clay) follows a 100+ year old European tradition, adding a modernist twist with color and motif.

          Beautiful handmade ceramic tiles with jewel-like glazes make the choices even harder.  Then of course there are stone tiles, in various sizes and formats.

          Here's a link to an online review of tile products written by The Spruce.

          If you have very definite tastes and decide quickly and easily, great. If not, consider engaging an architect or designer to help you navigate the sea of choices and who can refer you to reputable tile dealers and installers.

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            Food Bank Donations

            As the holidays approach, many food banks will see a temporary increase in donations. However, there are items besides food that you might not think about.

            If you travel and are offered those small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and wrapped soap, bring any unused items home with you and donate them to your local food bank/pantry.

            If your dentist sends you home with a new toothbrush (that you don’t really need) and a tube of toothpaste, they would also be appreciated. If you are looking to drop off items that are always needed, consider donating unopened packages of personal hygiene products.

            The most commonly requested food items include pasta and pasta sauce, coffee (ground), sugar, flour, oil, soups, canned meat and tuna, and cereal.

            In Lakeville, the Corner Food Pantry is a not-for-profit, volunteer-run organization supported by donations that provides food to individuals and families in the Tri-State area. For information about making donations to the Corner Pantry, please visit their website: thecornerfoodpantry.org.

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              Airbnb in the Northwest Corner?

              Some homeowners are now renting out their homes and rental properties short term through Airbnb, Home Away and VRBO, to name a few. This somewhat recent phenomenon in the NW Corner and surrounding areas has been ubiquitous in urban centers for years, offering more affordable and unique options to hotels. Considering our limited local hotel rooms, particularly during peak seasons, this option has been a popular and lucrative alternative.      

              A recent search on the Airbnb website found over 300 choices of housing options in the TriCorner, including Southern Columbia, Southern Berkshire, Northern Dutchess, and Northern Litchfield Counties.

              Some of the considerations in running such an operation include one’s ability to deal with inquiries, reservations, pets, preparation for, and cleaning up after guests. Some investors are actually buying homes to rent out on a short-term basis.  It would be wise to check with the local town Planning and Zoning Board to make sure that one is adhering to applicable ordinances.

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                List Now Or Wait Until Spring?

                There are certain properties that  should wait until they show at their best – like an unheated lakefront cottage on Twin Lakes – but for most homes, there are good reasons to list now:

                Less Competition – With fewer comparable homes for sale in winter, your house is more likely to be shown.

                Real Buyers, Not Tirekickers – Anyone who trudges through a snowstorm to see your home is a serious buyer  - not just out to enjoy a weekend in the country.

                Mortgage Rates Are Still Low but people are worried that they will start to rise so buying now might be a good strategy.

                Availability Of Professionals (attorneys, home inspectors and mortgage lenders) may result in a quicker, smoother transaction.

                Houses in Northwest Connecticut sell year round so, even though there may be fewer shoppers, don’t miss out on the serious buyers who are looking in the winter. The best real estate agents are always up to the challenge. Contact us at Best & Cavallaro Real Estate if you’d like to discuss listing your home!

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                  Best Choice for Resale: Tub or Shower?

                  When friends and clients are renovating, they often come to me with this question:  If I don’t have room for a separate tub and walk-in shower, will just going for the large shower hurt my resale value? Most of the time, they say they rarely take a bath and would prefer the more luxurious shower.

                  My advice is that you should have at least one nice bathtub in a house because there will always be those who favor a long soak or parents who need to bathe their young children in a tub.

                  As long as you have covered that, I would feel free to choose a shower over a combination shower/tub. In a guest room, I definitely think it’s fine – and probably preferable – to go with a walk-in shower. 

                  As always, feel free to contact us at Best & Cavallaro in Salisbury if you want to pick our brains!

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                    Preparing for a Cozy Fire

                    When it comes to fireplaces, most of the work is best left to professionals.  Chimney sweeps recommend a professional cleaning every 40-50 fires or after burning 4 cords of wood. Here are some simple steps homeowners can take:

                        -Open the damper. Grab a flashlight and see whether anything is blocking the chimney.

                        -Next, clean the firebox of any ashes, dirt, or debris that might have accumulated during months of nonuse.

                        -During the cold season, make sure the ashes don’t build up to a depth of more than 2”. After the cold season, remove all of the ashes from the fireplace.

                        -Exterior chimney maintenance is a job for professionals, but you can make sure that the chimney cap is in good condition and that it does not become clogged with leaves or other debris. Visually examine the mortar between the bricks to ensure it is in good condition, not cracked or flaking away. Check the flashing where the chimney meets the roof and make sure there is a watertight seal. Call a mason if you note problem areas.

                    Now you’re prepared for a cozy fire on the cool nights to come.

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                      Fall House Maintenance

                      As the leaves turn many new colors here in the beautiful Northwest Corner of Connecticut, it’s a good time to get your house ready for winter.   

                      Here’s a checklist to help get you started:

                      • Chimneys – make sure your chimney is clean and equipped with an animal-proof chimney cap

                      • Clean your gutters – clogged gutters can create ice dams; gutters also channel water away from the house to prevent water damage

                      • Animal-proof your house – caulk small holes and cover with steel mesh to prevent rodents from seeking a cozy spot to winter

                      • Trim trees and shrubs that are too close to the house

                      • HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) should be serviced and cleaned annually and filters changed as recommended for your equipment.

                      And now you can get ready to enjoy skiing, skating, and fireside dinners!

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                        Red Squirrels in Your House?

                          

                        A menacing red squirrel loves our back deck. Sadly, this mini-menace noticed a favorite sweater being aired and proceeded, unnoticed, to destroy the sweater in anticipation of a cozy nest.  This smart little creature intuitively knows about the changing seasons.  Beware of red squirrels and other similar critters looking for a cozy residence in the walls of your home!  A Have-A-Heart trap should be on your shopping list or a call to the Sharon Audubon or other environmental organization for advice.

                        On the subject of animals and other wildlife, the Audubon Society became heirs to two important Sharon properties more than fifty years ago. The Audubon presence has grown by leaps and bounds by enhancing environmental and educational opportunities. It is a place for children to become acquainted with birds and other animal life, for families to explore and observe nature on the hiking trails.  It’s a haven where professional skills are available to care for injured and orphaned animals until they can be released back into their own habitat. And, it’s a fun place!

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                          Salisbury's Fall Festival 2017

                          October 6, 7, and 8 will be the 62nd annual Salisbury Fall Festival. Located in and around Main Street in the village of Salisbury, the Fall Festival is a terrific 3-day event.  There is a blueberry pancake breakfast, scarecrow contest, and lots more to see and do. Best & Cavallaro will be sponsoring a concert by The Joint Chiefs at 1 pm on Saturday in our front yard.

                          Local shops are open for business, including restaurants and inns. The Salisbury Association, dedicated to local history, will be offering exhibits of interest for the curious.

                          In addition to weekend visitors from New York and Boston, residents of the surrounding Litchfield County communities (including  Sharon, Falls Village, Canaan, and Cornwall) come to participate as well as residents of nearby Dutchess, Columbia, and Berkshire Counties.

                          Salisbury welcomes everyone to celebrate the start of fall and what promises to be exceptional fall foliage this year!

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                            Private Mortgage Insurance

                            Martha Mullins, Realtor, Litchfield County, CT

                            If you took advantage of some great mortgage deals buying your home, you most likely also had to purchase Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).

                            Most lenders require PMI if the buyer pays less than 20% of the purchase price at closing.  The purchaser must carry this insurance until 20% of the sale price of the home has been reached.  This could take five to eight years, depending on the terms of the mortgage.

                            Lenders are required to remove PMI when the property reaches 22%. So just keeping an eye on your payments and being proactive about notifying your lender can save you money.

                            If you make significant improvements that alter the value of your property, you may reach the 20% value mark faster than scheduled. An assessment would be necessary, but the savings would justify that cost.

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                              34th Annual Northwest CT CROP Hunger Walk

                              Mary Taylor, Realtor, Litchfield County, CT

                              Sunday, September 24th is the 34th Annual Northwest CT CROP Hunger Walk. Registration and check-in begin at 1:00 pm in the parking lot of Housatonic Valley Regional High School (246 Warren Turnpike, Falls Village, CT). At 1:30 pm, walkers will begin their journey.

                              The Northwest Connecticut online team page can be found at crophungerwalk.org/fallsvillagect/. On that page, you can create your own team or join an existing one, register as an individual walker, sponsor a walker, and make a credit card donation.

                              CROP Hunger Walks support grassroots hunger-fighting efforts around the world. Up to 25% of the funds raised from the NW CT Walk is allocated to hunger-fighting programs in our own local community via the Northwest Connecticut Food Bank. The Food Bank provides food vouchers and gift certificates to area grocery stores for those in need.

                              In the past 30 years, participants have raised more than $732,000 with about $200,000 allocated to our local area.

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                                Celebrating Salisbury's Own

                                Patricia Best, Realtor, Litchfield County, CT

                                The biannual benefit that supports our wonderful Salisbury Family Services (SFS) is coming up on September 23, 2017.   

                                This year, SFS will honor extraordinary photographer Anne Day with an exhibit of her photos and cocktail party at the Tremaine Gallery at the Salisbury School. A post-exhibit dinner will be held at a private home. Information about both events and tickets are available at the SFS website: salisburyfamilyservices.org.    

                                Salisbury Family Services is a not-for-profit, charitable organization that offers support for residents of Salisbury, Connecticut, who are struggling with financial or other difficulties, offering invaluable assistance at critical times.

                                I am honored to chair this event this year. Please come out and support this great organization!

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                                  Conservation Easements

                                  Christine Bates, Realtor, Litchfield County, CT

                                  When considering the purchase of a house with acreage, buyers should ask whether there is a conservation easement on the property itself and also on surrounding land. Conservation easements are permanent, recorded on the deed, and restrictions may prohibit certain uses. Every easement is very specific and is monitored by a local land trust.  If there is an existing easement, the buyer needs to understand the limitations on building and future use. Where can you build? Could you subdivide?

                                  Having an easement on the land will not affect your ownership or necessarily decrease your property taxes, but may reduce future resale value. Being surrounded by other properties, which have been put into conservation, will protect your views and privacy.

                                  Any property owner may consider placing a conservation easement on their land to prevent future development, and also to benefit from what can be substantial federal income tax deductions.  The process can be complicated and expensive. Be sure to consult first with your tax attorney.

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                                    Savoring Summer

                                    Patricia Best, Realtor, Litchfield County, CT

                                    I know - Labor Day is the symbolic end of summer and the start of the school year, but there is plenty of summer left!  Summer doesn’t end until September 21st and I personally plan to savor every moment of it.

                                    It’s actually the best time for tennis, golf, and all of the outdoor sports here in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut. Take a hike up Mount Riga or a bicycle ride along the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. Visit one of our many farmers’ markets or visit a farm, pick your own apples, and enjoy all of the bountiful harvest crops.

                                    By the way, September and October are two of our most active real estate months so please give us a call if you’d like to see some listings!

                                    And as Joan Osofsky of Hammertown says “Love where you live!”

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                                      Life Without Air Conditioning

                                      Litchfield County Realtor Martha Mullins

                                      “Does the house have air conditioning?” A dreaded question and of-ten from a buyer or renter in a constantly controlled climate environment. I try to explain how lovely it can be with cool breezes coming off a lake or from the woods.

                                      When that fails, I plow ahead and outline some tips to cool off without AC. First, keep the sun out of the house during the day. Pull your shades. Put up outdoor awnings over windows and doors. Keep the windows open overnight – open them in the early eve and shut them the next morning when it starts to heat up.

                                      Fans are great – just make sure they’re pushing the air in the right direction. Ceiling fans need to push air down.  Window fans should pull cool air into the home. A long-term fix is a full house fan which involves installing roof venting.

                                      Another permanent fix is plantings. Plant deciduous trees on the side of your home where the sun is strongest. The leaves will provide shade in the winter and after dropping in the fall will allow the heat to return when you need it.

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                                        Grillsdale!

                                        CT Real Estate Agent William McGinn

                                        Back for its second year as one of the most tantalizing evenings of the summer, GRILLSDALE proudly spotlights the bounty of Columbia County, Dutchess County, and the Berkshires—featuring some of the best grilled small plates from top restaurants, chefs, and purveyors from the area.

                                        Set against the hills at Roeliff Jansen Park in Hillsdale, NY, on Saturday, August 26, from 6:30-11:30 pm, watch the sunset while sampling your way through an all-inclusive food and drink menu.

                                        For live music, The Wayside Drifters from Ancram, K Sloan & The Melodics (from Detroit by way of NYC), and Sittin’ Plush from Ancramdale featuring chef Job Yacubian, all performing on the big Herrington’s truck-stage.

                                        If last year is to be any indication, GRILLSDALE will sell out fast, so get your tickets now! For more information or to purchase tickets online, click here.

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