Christine Bates

Radon Testing - Why Wait?

Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas found in the earth that causes an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths every year in the United States according to the American Cancer Society—only smoking causes more. 

Much of the Northeast is in a radon “hot zone.” It is estimated that 28% of tested homes in Berkshire and Litchfield County, 37% in Columbia County, and 39% in Dutchess County, have over the recommended maximum level of 4.0pCi/L that is considered dangerous to health. 

Radon can affect one house and not the one next door, and there are no warning symptoms of radon poisoning. The American Cancer Society suggests that ALL homes be tested for radon levels. If the reading is over 4.0pCi/L, contact a contractor who can fix the problem; the EPA website lists some. 

When you decide to sell your house, you’ll find out from the buyer’s inspection the amount of radon in your house and whether or not your family has been exposed over the years, so why wait?

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    Get To Know Your Assessor

    Your local town assessor determines the tax assessment on your home. This assessed value is used as the basis for calculating local government property taxes and school taxes you must pay.

    Check the assessor’s office hours and visit or call to understand the public information they have available—both online and in their office files. Here are links to a few assessor offices in the Northwest Corner: Salisbury CT, Sharon CT, Falls Village (Canaan) CT, Canaan (N. Canaan) CT, Cornwall CT, and Millerton (Town of Northeast), NY).

    You should make sure that the assessor has accurate up to date facts on your own property’s features, structures, land, and zoning. You may be overpaying for land or a patio you don’t own.

    If you feel your assessed property value is excessive, discuss adjusting the assessment and avoid going through the annual public grievance process. Assessors can also give you an idea of what is happening in the real estate market and provide you with recent sales figures.

    Most importantly, assessors can advise you on the availability of agricultural, forestry, veterans, seniors, and other exemptions that you might qualify to receive. These exemptions could lower your assessment and your tax bill every year. It’s worth a visit to get to know these experienced professionals.

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      Do Solar Panels Add Value To Your House?

      It’s complicated.  Appraisers will not attribute any value to them whether you are buying or selling. Real estate agents never recommend installing panels to make your house more salable.

      Solar panels are a big investment —average installation costs can range from $15,000 to $26,000 which can be reduced by an assortment of rebates and tax credits, depending on your state.  An installer can estimate the number of years to reach break even, but the answer can range from 8 to 15 years to recoup your investment.

      Solar panels will usually save you money immediately on your electricity costs. Some people have seen their electric bill cut in half and feel great that they are helping the planet. While the economics of solar panels are murky, it would be a good idea to turn your thermostat down in the winter and turn out the lights to save energy before you put your house on the market whether or not you have solar panels. Buyers do look at electricity costs.

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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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          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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            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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              Swimming Pools: A Good Investment?

              Does a swimming pool increase your home’s selling price?

              The simple answer is that most buyers who want pools don’t want to add their full value to the purchase price. Other buyers may not like the pool you have built and many buyers don’t want the expense of maintaining a pool or the potential liability.

              Only add a pool area to your home to enjoy yourself, not to increase your home’s eventual resale value  it is very difficult to recoup the $40,000 to $75,000 cost of a Gunite pool.

              There are exceptions. Buyers for luxury properties often expect a pool and an attractive one can make your house more marketable to the high end market. If you rent your home over the summer potential tenants are often willing to pay double for a home with a pool. The incremental rent could recoup your cost over several years.

              And, if you are thinking of resale value, never add an indoor pool. These can actually be a deterrent to sale because of moisture and humidity, not to mention the chlorine smell.

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                Healthy House

                Contaminated water, high radon levels, lead paint, and faulty electrical outlets can threaten your family’s health and safety now and may complicate the eventual sale of your home. The time to take action is now, before a home inspection may delay the sale of your house and possibly reduce its selling price.

                The buyers’ inspectors will test your well water for bacterial, mineral, and chemical pollutants. Remediation of these problems may involve installing a water filter and an ultraviolet sterilizer and retesting.

                It is estimated that 39% of homes in Dutchess County, have over the recommended maximum radon level of 4.0pCi/L. When you decide to sell your house, the buyer’s inspector will test the level of radon.

                Any building constructed before 1978 may have lead paint issues. If a purchaser has a concern, they have an opportunity to conduct a special risk assessment for lead.

                Electrical wiring in older homes can be potentially dangerous. If you are buying, thinking of selling, or are worried about all those power cords, ask your electrician to evaluate your system and make any required changes.

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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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