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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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                        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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                          Five Mistakes When Re-Doing a Bathroom

                          Nothing is worse than a medicine cabinet that is so packed that things fall out each time you open the door or lighting that doesn’t allow you to check makeup. If you’re planning on a bathroom redo, here are some things to avoid:

                          Neglecting Storage - Explore recessed wall cabinets and shower shelves. When purchasing a vanity, make sure there is plenty of storage for hair dryers and toiletries, and plenty of counter space.

                          Overlooking Lighting - People often forget they need multiple lighting sources and install wall sconces on each side of a vanity. Try to incorporate both decorative and task lighting.

                          Choosing Slippery Tiles - Using cool decorative tiles that are not made for getting wet is a mistake; they are easy to slip on and can lead to injuries. Make sure your tiles are designed for bathroom floors.

                          Not Planning Electrical Components - Planning outlets needs to be done very early in the process.

                          Not Using an Appropriate Fan - We have all walked into a bathroom where the ventilation fan sounds like a plane taking off. For a few dollars more, purchase a quiet alternative.

                          A well-organized bathroom can be truly life changing.

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                            Spring Chores - Ugh!

                            Last month, we set our clocks ahead and everyone changed the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, right?  Good - your life can depend on this.

                            Some other tasks that can save your life or save you a lot of money in repair costs should be done yearly at a minimum; here are a few tasks that are best done in the spring and fall:

                            GFCI outlets. Usually found in baths, kitchens, garages, basements, and outdoors. They have a “test” and a “reset” button. Test first, then reset – if your outlet won’t reset, call an electrician.

                            Dryer vents. Open the vent outside and look for lint; clean out what you can.

                            Hot water heater. Drain the hot water heater and test the pressure relief value (and the one on your boiler if you have one).

                            Furnace. Change your furnace filters if you have forced air heat.

                            It’s also a good time to clean refrigerator coils and their drip pans, re-seal all your grout, and clean the gutters and downspouts.

                            And please call a professional should you need one.

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                              Roof Options

                              A solid roof is worth its weight in shingles when selling a home.  One of the first questions buyers ask about their potential purchase is the age of the roof.  So if you are considering selling soon, you may want to consider upgrading your roof if it is at the end of its natural life.

                              A shingle roof may last 20+ years, depending on whether it was kept clear of debris. Cedar was once the go to standard in roof tile but the older cedar tree stock is depleted and the available younger wood does not last as long. It is not worth the price. There are multiple terrific ‘fake’ cedar and other synthetic roof tiles on the market.  Google it and you’ll find a ton of options. Metal roofs in general are longer lasting than standard roofing tiles, around 50 years.  An added benefit is they are fire resistant and recyclable.

                              There is a combination of tar and gravel that is long lasting, but it is a very heavy option that would require weight bearing studies of your home.

                              Clay, concrete and slate tiles, which are the most expensive option, may last up to 100 years.

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                                Deductibility of Home Equity Loans

                                Last year the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of  2017” was passed and one provision prohibited the deduction of interest on Home Equity loans (also known as HELOCs).

                                However, the IRS has just issued a clarification of this policy. You can still deduct the interest on a Home Equity Loan only if it is used to substantially improve your home and as long as your loans do not exceed the cost of your home. This is an important clarification and enables homeowners to improve their homes for their personal enjoyment or to get a home ready to be put on the market.

                                Our local banks, including Salisbury Bank, National Iron, and Litchfield Bancorp are still offering attractive rates for HELOCs and this can be a great tool for homeowners - as long as you’re not using the funds to pay tuition or other personal expenses. The team at Best & Cavallaro Real Estate is always happy to meet with homeowners and discuss the advisability of home improvements.

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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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                                    March 15-17: THE KING AND I!

                                    The King And I marks the 15th annual musical for the Housatonic Musical Theatre Society at Housatonic Valley Regional High School.

                                    With 90% of the funding for the musical provided through ticket sales, sponsorships, and fundraising events, this year’s show features 40 students onstage, including 16 students from Region One elementary schools, all helping to bring The King And I to life for four performances only, March 15-17, 2018, accompanied by a live, 15-piece orchestra.

                                    Winner of five Tony Awards, when it opened in 1952, and numerous additional awards with each revival, The King And I is a Rodgers & Hammerstein favorite, featuring songs that have become beloved classics: Getting To Know You, I Whistle A Happy Tune, Shall We Dance, and Hello, Young Lovers.

                                    Tickets ($15 for adults, $10 for seniors/students/children) may be purchased at the door, online at HMTS.org, and at the Salisbury, Sharon, and Kent pharmacies.

                                    Best & Cavallaro has been a proud sponsor of the Housatonic Musical Theatre Society since its inception fifteen years ago.

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                                      Renovating Wisely

                                      Spend your dollars wisely when renovating. Replacing a roof, electrical, or plumbing systems  may not add as much value as you’d hope because buyers expect your home’s infrastructure to be in good shape.

                                      Focus on what is important to buyers, and do not over-improve. If houses in your neighborhood have gravel driveways, investing in expensive brick pavers may not be in your best interest.

                                      However, dark and cramped rooms are unappealing, so adding light goes a long way in adding value. If you have small rooms blocking the flow of natural light, consider removing walls to open up space. Combining kitchen, dining, and living areas into a large space can makes a small house feel light and airy. Open rooms create an inviting atmosphere for entertaining and are also good for young families because they allow parents and children to interact while meals are being prepared.

                                      Adding rooms is also a big value booster. Great rooms can add square footage, and vaulted ceilings will make it feel like there’s even more space.

                                      Finally, if you have an unfinished attic, can it be converted to create usable extra space?

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                                        Time To Assess...

                                        Spring is right around the corner in the Berkshires and our Litchfield Hills; it’s the time to plan the steps ahead. Intending to make repairs? Did this winter cause any damage?

                                        Good contractors and service providers are not idle, hoping for your call.  The time for action is here, they have a schedule, and “wait” is not an advisable modus operandi. Know the six “Ps” of homeownership: Proper Planning Positively Prevents Potential Problems.

                                        Costs?

                                        Every situation is different, and as qualified people assess your needs, the more info you will have. The point is to act; delaying repairs will usually cost more money over time.  If budget is the concern, it’s still important to be informed.

                                        Yes, contractors get busy when the weather improves, but procrastination drains your wallet. Take a look - inside and out, top to bottom. Know your building(s) and know your property. And remember that maintenance is less costly than repair.

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