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Northwest Corner and Tourism

On my family getaway this past summer, we visited several small fishing towns on the Maine coast. Each town busier than the last, tourists from all over were sightseeing, shopping, and filling themselves with all the deliciousness Maine oceans have to offer.

I started thinking about home and comparing Maine to our little corner as a getaway for vacationers. We may not have lobster rolls on the menu, but our restaurants can hold their own with any in Maine. And sightseeing? Our NW corner is one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Between the mountains, lakes, and incredible sunsets, it’s a nature enthusiast’s dream come true.

Which brings me to my next point--shopping. You may have heard that online shopping is going to put retail shops out of business, but I don’t think retail shops will become obsolete. Why? Because shopping is America’s favorite pastime. Show your support to our local shops because we have so many talented owners/buyers running them -- and go shopping!

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    Air Conditioning an Older Home

    Many old homes don’t have a convenient space to install ductwork for the traditional central air-conditioning systems found in newer homes.

    Today there are air-conditioning systems that don’t need the bulky ductwork. Mini-split systems use individual cooling units placed room by room requiring only a thin refrigerant and power line connecting them to an outdoor air-conditioning compressor and fan. They offer an economical compromise: You can install cooling units in just 1 or 2 rooms, creating an oasis to retreat to during the dog days of summer. But make sure your installer chooses a compressor that will allow you to expand at a later date.

    Another alternative is high-velocity systems which use 2” tubing to deliver chilled air that can be snaked through existing walls and ceilings in an old home to deliver cool air where needed. The registers are unobtrusive discs placed around the perimeter of the ceiling, or high on the walls.

    A properly sized air-conditioning system is the most important factor for a comfortable home. A professional installer is crucial to comfort; ask to see the sizing calculations for your house.

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      Buying a View

      If you intend to clear undeveloped land to open a vista or just to clear a spot for a house, it’s best to look in autumn after the leaves have fallen to check the views, or better yet, in winter when there aren’t any ticks. It’s the best way to see the view.

      Checking surveys, drone videos, and topographical maps are a critical next step. Before you fix on your future home site and start cutting down trees, check on local regulations about ridgelines, stump and brush removal, etc. and any restrictions if there is a conservation easement on the property.

      Consult an arborist about the age, types, and health of trees, and have a forester assess their value. Some species, like black walnut, are very valuable and can be selectively harvested and sold. And leaving a few specimen trees is preferable to clear-cutting. The mid-range cost of clearing land can range from $4,000-$7,000 an acre and could rise to over $12,000 if all the stumps are removed and the land reseeded.

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        Electricity In The Air

        If you have a lightning strike near your home, it can be a very expensive ordeal. Electricity in the air can randomly strike unprotected electronics in your home.   

        We had a strike near our house that blew the sound card in my laptop, crippled my bluetooth mouse, shut down the Netgear extender (connected to a professional grade surge protector), and blew the fuse to the spring house. Apparently, my lightning defenses needed updating. The first thing we checked was the ground rods and wires. They had corroded, were painted over, and loosened by gardening and mowing.  Make sure to have a professional review your system periodically.   Second is to think about installing a surge protector designed to attach to the breaker box, cable line, and phone line. The last defense is to have surge protectors for individual items, such as computers and TVs.

        For personal safety, FEMA reminds us that, during thunderstorms, we should stay off corded phones, computers, and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths, and faucets, and stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.

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          Enjoy Our Farmers Markets!

          Farmers markets are one of the many special perks of living in in the tri-state area.  They offer products ranging from locally-grown fruits and vegetables to organic meat and poultry to vegan food to fresh baked goods to crafts. If you’ve never been to one, there’s still time this summer to check them out!

          Here is a sampling from our area:

          Salisbury - Saturdays, 10am-1pm, Scoville Memorial Library lawn. scovillelibrary.org

          Millerton - Saturdays, 10am-2pm, Millerton Methodist Church at Dutchess & Main. millertonfarmersmarket.org

          Amenia - Fridays 3-7:30pm, Town Hall parking lot, Rt. 22. ameniafarmersmarket.com

          West Cornwall - Saturdays 10am-1pm, Wish House lawn. cornwallfarmmarket.org

          Cornwall - Saturdays 9am–12:30, Town Green on Pine St. cornwallcoopfarmarket.com

          Norfolk - Saturdays 10am-1pm, 19 Maple Ave., live music.  NorfolkFarmersMarket.org

          Stop by, enjoy the freshest food, and support your friends, neighbors, and local farmers!

          Visit our Farmers Market page for a more complete listing of local Farmers Markets.

           

           

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            Habitat Tag Sale This Weekend!

            This very special, annual event is not to be missed! Incredible deals abound on furniture, home decor, tools, sports equipment, and so much more. Better yet, the proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Connecticut as they promote home ownership by building houses in partnership with residents in need of adequate, affordable housing.

            For 2018, the Habitat Tag Sale is back at The Hotchkiss School’s Mars Athletic Center on Route 112 in Lakeville, CT.  The Preview Sale ($10 donation) takes place on Friday, August 10 from 6-8 pm. There is no admission charge for the Main Sale on Saturday, August 11 from 9 am-3pm or on Sunday, August 12 for the Bag Sale from Noon-3 pm.

            Habitat for Humanity of NW CT has been helping families in our region since 1991. Please help their work continue by supporting this event! For more information, visit habitatnwct.org.

             

             

             

             

             

             

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              Landscaping -- Added Value To Your Home?

              Does a landscaped yard add value to your home? The short answer is, it may… I’ll explain. Done correctly, a properly installed landscape can add up to 15% to your home’s value—some sources claim even more.

              Our local area has an impressive selection of landscape companies whose services range from design to maintenance to installation and everything in between. And just like most home improvement companies, you’re going to get what you pay for.

              Great selling features of a property are sophisticated and mature plantings with an outdoor space to enjoy them. A negative would be a poorly planned design and unnatural appearing garden beds.

              If you want to try your hand at landscape design, I would suggest keeping plantings basic using green shrubs, low maintenance perennials, and simple ground covers. Regardless of whether or not you’re adding value to your home, enjoy the process and the beautiful abundance of nature we live in!

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                Water Softeners and Brine Discharge

                If you have a water softening system that requires salt pellets, you probably have a small hose that discharges a fluid known as “brine” two or three times a week. This fluid contains minerals and other components that remain from the water softening process and needs disposal for the system to work properly.

                Where does this fluid go?  Often, this ends up in your waste lines, and ultimately into the sewer or septic system.  No problem if you’re on town sewer, but if you have a septic system, chemicals in the brine can erode your concrete septic tank and other concrete components of the leaching system.

                The State of CT has never allowed this, but often installers either ignored or weren’t aware of the regulations. Check your system! This is an issue in selling your home, and buyers need to be aware of this concern also.

                CT adopted new rules for brine discharge recently, and if you’re considering a new water softener, make sure it’s installed correctly.

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                  Black Bears Everywhere?

                  According to a report from the CT Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection, from May 2017-June 2018, the black bear population loves suburban areas. The numbers are a bit skewed as a suburbanite is more likely to call in than someone living in the country. Farmington reported 403 sightings, while Avon reported 427.  In contrast, Norfolk reported 77, Sharon 74, Salisbury 71, Cornwall 44, and Falls Village 1! We just don’t report them. I’ve seen too many to count recently. We had a young adult scratching at the office door last week (which we didn’t call in to report). I only reported the one who had the nerve to come into my house!

                  There are helpful tips on the CT DEEP website, e.g. bring bird feeders inside and don’t put sweets in your compost. The tip to get into your car if you encounter a bear while hiking made me smile—as if I am in proximity to my vehicle in the middle of the woods! The suggestion to be aggressive and on the offensive if a bear charges you is counterintuitive to every instinct I have, so I’m glad to know that now. I’m definitely a runner and that’s the wrong thing.

                  For more black bear info, visit CT.gov/DEEP.

                   

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                    Is a Smart Home a Smart Move?

                    There are some wonderful devices available  to make our homes “smarter”—from adaptive thermo-stats, to smart home speakers that use artificial intelligence to provide services and information, to doors that you can unlock and lock from afar with your smart phone.   

                    But what is the cost of this convenience? There are clearly privacy issues. Gadgets can be susceptible to hacking as proven when a British security researcher installed malware on an Amazon Echo turning it into a surveillance device.Sophisticated thieves have been known to hack smart home gadgets leaving no evidence of their break in.

                    In Oregon, an Echo device “thought” it heard the “wake word” to record and send a message to a contact, leading to a disturbing mistake. In real estate, there are reports that some sellers have used their security systems to watch or listen to potential buyers visiting their home. So weigh the pluses and minuses before you go full on high tech!

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                      Are You a Lakefront Buyer?

                      Lakes are sociable places and attract people who like visitors, friends, and family. A house on a lake is much more public than a house in the woods or surrounded by fields. Every lake, like each town, has a personality.

                      Sporty Copake Lake and Twin Lakes allow water skiing and motorboats. Lake Wononscopomuc, aka Lakeville Lake, Connecticut’s deepest natural lake, is quiet, with motorboats restricted to 10 HP or less and no jet skis. Sailing, canoeing, paddle boarding, and kayaking are popular in the summer with skating and cross country skiing in the winter.

                      Each lake has its own special zoning restrictions. Lakefront properties command a high purchase premium, even in less expensive markets like Pine Plains. In Salisbury, lakefront can add up to a million dollars to market value; however, these properties appear to maintain their value even during real estate downturns. Ponds, rivers, and access to a lake do not command the same premium.

                      Just remember that they aren’t making any more lakefront.

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                        Killer Vines

                        There are numerous species of vines which grow on trees and slowly strangle them. Vines on older trees compete with tree roots and rob them of moisture and nutrients. If the vines aren’t removed, there is a good chance the tree will fall.

                        The goal is to kill vines without damaging the tree. To do this, sever the vines around the base of the affected tree. Do not try to pull the vines from the trunk or limbs of the tree—you risk severely damaging or even removing the bark. The vines will wither and die once cut. Tip: Use gloves and protective clothing in order to avoid skin reactions from the vines.

                        Once the vines have been cut, pull the roots up. This is easiest to do when soil is moist from watering or rainfall. Clear out a ring of about two feet around the tree. Mulch this area about two inches thick, keeping it three inches from the tree trunk.

                        If you need help getting vines removed, your local tree professional will be able to assist you in preserving your tree, and eliminating future growth.

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                          Getting Your House Ready To Sell

                          Getting ready to put your house on the market?

                          Here are some tips:

                          First, find a real estate agent who is best suited to your needs. Most agents will have testimonials and biographies on their website or professional platforms. You will be working closely with this person, so choose someone that you feel is a good match to your needs and desired outcomes.

                          Next, declutter your house, removing all personal items, creating a space that is neutral, clean and bright. Consider hiring a home stager if you don’t have a knack for home decorating.

                          Repair anything broken, take care of scuffed paint, and consider updating any faded/outdated colors, keeping colors neutral to allow potential buyers to envision their own decor.

                          To avoid delays when you have an interested buyer, make sure the house is inspection ready.         

                          Make the outside of your home look welcoming—first impressions are everything! Adding a little color with annuals or holiday decor goes a long way. 

                          And did I mention you should clean your house? If this isn’t your strength, call in a professional. It will be worth it in the long run.

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                            Appropriate House Appraisals

                            Mortgage applications almost always require a professional appraisal of value.  The bank needs to ensure they’re processing a loan for the appropriate value of the home.

                            This is where many mortgage applications can encounter difficulties, which may lead to contract cancellations. Buyers often go online to check national mortgage rates and engage a mortgage broker from one of these companies.  The broker then issues the appraisal to an appraiser that might not be from the area. Our area isn’t “standardized” such as a suburb where the homes are very similar, so the appraiser needs a fair idea of what to use to compare the property.

                            It wouldn’t hurt to touch base with a local mortgage broker before making an offer. They may be able to match the national rates, and they will help get the property appraised correctly.

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                              McChesney Fund: Great Resource for Salisbury, CT Residents

                              I’ve covered this topic before, but it is important enough that it bears repeating.  The McChesney Fund is administered through Salisbury Family Services and its mission is to help qualified Salisbury residents to purchase or renovate their primary home.     

                              Funds are most often used to help with a down payment on a home but can also be used to replace a roof or some other necessary repair. There must be a demonstrated need and the funds must be otherwise unavailable. The fund’s purpose is to assist the community to maintain a balance of affordable homes in Salisbury.

                              I am proud to serve on the Advisory Board of this amazing resource. If you think you might qualify, contact Salisbury Family Services at 860-435-5187 and talk to Patrice McGrath, Director of Social Services.

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                                Not So Simple: New York State Agricultural Tax Assessments

                                Facing high taxes, New York State buyers often ask if they can qualify for an agricultural “exemption” to reduce their property taxes.  The so-called “Ag Exemption” is the difference between the property’s market value and the lower agricultural assessment. These laws were passed to protect farming activity and maintain open spaces.

                                The NY parcel must have at least 7 acres devoted to agriculture, producing at least $10,000 in revenues. The revenue requirement can be met by leasing land to a farmer – usually for minimal rent. Exemption values, determined by GIS maps of the Soil and Water Conservation District, are based on the quality of the soil. This information must be provided to local assessors with revenue proof every year. The law also requires that for exempted land converted to non-agricultural use within eight years, the owner will pay a penalty of five times the taxes saved in the most recent year, plus a 6% interest charge.

                                Your accountant can best answer any questions you might have.

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                                  Selling Your Home? Clean Your Windows!

                                  The moment a prospective buyer pulls up to your home, they will notice the windows first—and first impressions matter.

                                  My advice: focus on issues that give the “most bang for your buck.” And the experts agree that clean windows are one of those.

                                  Here are the top 5 reasons:

                                      1) According to 2000 real estate agents surveyed, the number one improvement that generates the best return on investment (ROI) is window cleaning, and the ROI on window cleaning alone was determined by Money Magazine to be 768%.

                                      2) According to the National Association of Appraisers, a good first appearance of a home can add 5-10% to the value of the home.

                                      3) According to the National Association of Realtors, curb appeal sells 49% of all houses.

                                      4) More than 75% of people who first view property on the internet will drive by before contacting an agent.

                                      5) Large, clean windows  allow pure, bright light to flood the living areas in the home, creating a warm atmosphere.

                                   

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                                    My Homes Is "Inventory"??!

                                    I cringe when I see this term applied to residential real estate. It strips sentiment from a situation that is often emotional and personal.

                                    We use this to describe real estate market conditions; if you’re looking for a home and there aren’t many available in your price range, then “inventory” is low; prices tend to rise. If you’re selling your home, and so are many others in the area, then “inventory” is high; prices tend to fall. It’s simple economics, but it’s harsh to hear the word applied to your endeavor, no matter what side of the equation you’re on.

                                    It’s like comparing a home to a can of corn on the grocer’s shelf, but it’s wise to under-stand the local market and respond accordingly. Prices can only rise to a point; many will go elsewhere to find value.  They can only fall so far before the stream of buyers dries up.

                                    To speak with agents who understand and care, please call us at Best & Cavallaro!

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                                      Is Solar Energy Affordable Yet?

                                      The monthly electric bill is a big part of monthly expenses, particularly in the winter. There are several ways to reduce your electricity use, from not overcharging your devices overnight to changing your lightbulbs to energy efficient versions to using the energy efficient options on your washer/dryer, for example. But, the one change that makes the largest impact could be converting to solar panels.

                                      According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar panel installation has grown 59% in the last 10 years.

                                      Although the cost of solar panels has dropped in recent years, installation can cost up to $30,000. To help, there is a 30% federal residential renewable energy tax credit available (visit energy.gov for more information).  For families with limited or fixed incomes, there are programs for no-cost solar panel installation.   

                                      If installation prices continue to drop, solar energy may soon be an affordable option for all. Or perhaps a community-based solar project will be possible. Connecticut passed legislation in June, 2015 authorizing a shared renewable pilot program.

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                                        Rent With an Option to Purchase?

                                        We have been asked by clients about the possibility of renting with an option to purchase.  Sometimes, the potential buyers have an upcoming life event that will allow them to make a purchase in the next few years, but they have found their dream home and want to tie it down and live in it now.   

                                        There are many ways to structure such a transaction but the most common one works like this: The tenant/buyer enters into a contract at a set price and puts down a non-refundable deposit (amounts can vary widely) and a portion of the rent goes towards the purchase price should the tenant/buyer decide to purchase within the set timeframe.

                                        Should the tenant decide not to close within the specified time, they lose their deposit and the transaction is simply a lease. Should they decide to purchase at anytime during the lease term, they have been building up equity in the house and pay the balance due upon closing. This can be a creative way for both  buyer and seller to reach their goals.

                                        We have successfully completed transactions using this structure. Give us a call if you are looking for other creative financing ideas!

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