Blog :: 2015

Historic Sites in Our Backyard

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It’s hard to believe we are more than half way through the warm and wonderful days of summer. This week let’s focus on discovering some of life’s pleasures in nature’s realm and historic locales which have contributed to our heritage.

A leisurely drive to East Canaan via Lower Road leads to the Beckley Blast Furnace, the designated Connecticut Industrial Monument, where docents are available every Saturday between ten and two p.m. until Columbus Day weekend. Learn about the era between the 1840s and 1920s during which pig iron was made and how it contributed to the development of our country. A fascinating story for young and old; it is a beautiful site along the Blackberry River.

Another blast furnace to view is in Kent adjacent to the popular Sloane-Stanley Museum. On the adjoining property is the CT Antique Machinery Association and the CT Mining and Mineral Museum...all worthy of your attention.

Our countryside is indeed rich in things to explore!

 

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    Celebrating Chefs & Farmers

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    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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      The Sounds of Summer

      Our Tri-State area offers an abundance of opportunities to hear great music during the summer.

      In Salisbury, CT, at the St. John’s Church, the Northwest Music Association celebrates its 10th season of offering free concerts of Baroque Era chamber music. We at Best & Cavallaro are proud to be sponsors of this unique organization. This summer, they will present four concerts at 5 pm on July 22 & 29 and on August 5 & 12. Don’t miss this increasingly popular event!

      Also, in nearby Falls Village, CT, Music Mountain offers a varied musical program from classical to Broadway, including a swingtime big band coming up on July 25.

      In Norfolk, Infinity Hall continues to impress with its artists and great Bistro. The Norfolk Chamber Music Festival offers an opportunity to be swept away by beautiful music in a magical setting.

      Graham Nash will be performing at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington on August 23 and, of course, Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is a venue that also draws international stars. 

      Enjoy!

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        Flag Waving and Fireworks

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        The Fourth of July holiday weekend celebrations will be in full tilt this weekend. In Salisbury, the annual fireworks, sponsored by The Salisbury Rotary Club, will be booming skyward on Saturday evening, July 4th, in celebration of our independent American heritage. Lime Rock Park is once again generously hosting the event. It is a major event which brings friends and neighbors from nearby towns together and benefits local charities, scholarship funds and numerous other Rotary projects. 

        Historically it is a time to celebrate the “Birth of American Independence”--thus the other title, Independence Day. In Sharon, American flags waving in the breezes along the length of the Green, placed by the American Legion Veterans, is an incredibly patriotic and beautiful sight. A national holiday is a time for all towns to celebrate our heritage in their own special way.

        The wisdom of our forefathers, especially John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and others who drafted the Declaration of Independence should also be celebrated for that remarkable document adopted by all thirteen colonies on July 4, 1776.

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          How To Help Locally

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          According to a recent study, one in seven Americans (46 million people) rely on food pantries and meal programs to feed themselves and their families. In most cases, these are working families whose budgets just cannot stretch enough.

          We are fortunate here in the Tri-State area to have several food pantries in our local communities. Kent, Canaan, and Lakeville all have pantries that offer regularly scheduled hours each week. The New York towns of Millerton, Dover Plains, and Amenia offer programs, and in Massachusetts, Sheffield and Great Barrington do as well.

          Pantries rely on monetary and food donations from individuals, schools, and churches.

          The need is great as summer poses additional challenges:

          • Donations tend to be light in the summer months.
          • Children who qualify for lunch programs during the school year now have to be fed lunch out of the family food allotment.

          So please consider giving a monetary gift or a bag of non-perishable foodstuffs to your local food bank. Information on these organizations can be found on your town website.

          In Salisbury, the organization is The Corner Food Pantry (www.thecornerfoodpantry.org).

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            Milerton, NY's SPRING FOR SOUND!

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            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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              Theatre, Theatre Everywhere!

              We are blessed to have an amazing array of good quality theatrical offerings in the Tri-State area in the summer. Check out My Fair Lady kicking off the Main Stage offerings at the Sharon Playhouse on June 18th in Sharon, CT (sharonplayhouse.org). The Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck, NY is offering some exciting shows, including The Producers, Seussical the Musical, and Rip! The Musical (co-created/music and lyrics by Michael Berkeley of Falls Village, CT). Rip! is not to be missed and runs from 7/17–7/19 (CenterForPerformingArts.org).

              In the southern Berkshires, you will find a myriad of excellent offerings including Man of La Mancha at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, MA from 6/10–6/11 and The Liar Show at The Mount in Lenox, MA on June 12th. The Warner Theater in Torrington, CT is presenting American Idiot from 6/13–6/21, a rock opera based on the Grammy Award-winning album by Green Day.

              Watch our “Best Bets” for more events happening in our area (bestandcavallaro.com). There are far too many to mention here but make sure you check out ruralintelligence.com for all the latest theater, arts and musical events. Enjoy the summer and all it has to offer!

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                Norfolk is for Music Lovers!

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                Come enjoy live music at the historic Infinity Music Hall & Bistro in Norfolk, CT. The Hall is uniquely continuing an historic musical tradition that started in the late 1800s. “Village Hall” was built as an opera house, barbershop, and saloon in 1883. The Hall was one of the first community buildings in the country, hosting town meetings, lectures, talent shows, vaudeville and more.

                The building fell into disrepair in the mid-1900s, and was then renovated as a theatre in 1999. A second renovation in 2007 restored the building to its original uses as a theatre, bar and restaurant, and community center. 

                The hall hosts more than two hundred music and entertainment shows each year, including extra-ordinary, nationally-recognized artists (e.g. Art Garfunkel, Hot Tuna, the Kingston Trio) as well as local favorites. Lunches and dinners are served in the Bistro, and dining is available during concerts on the mezzanine level.

                For more information about this remarkable venue, visit their website: infinityhall.com.

                 

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                  Summer House Tips

                  After what seemed like the snowiest and longest winter in many years, summer is truly here. Today we offer a few tips for getting your house ready:

                  1) Tune up air conditioners – experts recommend having the refrigerant checked yearly and changing filters for units monthly while in use.

                  2) Gutter clean up – this is that time of year to make sure that all your gutters are free of leaves and debris. A twice-yearly clean out will help ensure that your gutters will work properly.

                  3) Ceiling fans – make sure that you switch the direction of your fans so that the air is now pushed down towards you. (In the winter, it’s best to reverse the flow.)

                  4) Dryer vent – be sure to check and clean out your dryer vent to avoid a source of potential fires.

                  5) Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors – if you have not changed the batteries or checked your detectors in awhile, now is the time.

                  6) Pour a tall glass of iced tea, sit back, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us this time of year here in the Northwest Corner!

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                    On Spring and Things

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                    Much conversation this season about the weather reminded me of the diaries of a favorite uncle, a farmer, dating back 40-50 years. What was the weather like then I wondered? Similar to the 2000s? So began my gleanings in a few of his diaries.

                    “May 12, 1969...morning temperature 41 degrees and cloudy with occasional showers.” The following morning, “40 degrees and fair, rather breezy much of the day, considerable sun... Planted two rows of Butter and Sugar sweet corn.”

                    “May 12, 1970, 60 degrees and clear...strawberry beds heavily budded and found two dozen newly emerged pumpkin plants.”

                    “May 12, 1972, 46 degrees and fair. Planted two dozen tomato plants.”

                    “May 12, 1975 after a fine warm day our recurrent thunder shower activity took over 4 to 6:30 pm with lots of noise but little rain.”

                    Scanning a few of the old diaries underscored the obvious fact that weather, warmth and rain have so much to do with gardening and farming, both of which can be an art form. Diaries are the purest glimpse of history. Are you keeping a diary for the next generation to enjoy?

                     

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                      Antique House Evaluation

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                      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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                        Reverse Mortgage News

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                        Up until recently, the only requirements for a reverse mortgage were that the applicant be at least 62 years old and have substantial equity in his or her home. If those requirements were met, and the applicant stated a willingness to pay the taxes and insurance, he or she had a pretty good shot at getting the loan.

                        However, there was no tough scrutiny of the applicant’s financial resources. During the recession, thousands of borrowers defaulted on their tax and insurance payments. In addition, real estate values plummeted, producing huge losses on defaulted and foreclosed properties, forcing the Treasury to bail out the FHA in 2013.

                        As of April 27, 2015, applicants will have to document their employment status, income and financial assets as well as undergo an analysis that examines their monthly expenses and cash flow.

                        This will undoubtedly reduce the volume of reverse mortgages applications, but it will also prevent financially weak borrowers from taking out loans they can’t handle.

                         

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                          Spring Has Sprung!

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                          Can it be true? Spring is really here? If you are like me, I am so happy to see the crocus and snow drops this year!

                          There are few rites of spring that satisfy more than the annual clean. It is a tradition that allows us to freshen up and get a head start on the hectic seasons of spring and summer.


                          Whether you decide to clean top to bottom or inside to out, please remember to ensure fire safety by:

                          • Changing the batteries in your smoke detectors (this should be done twice a year) and make sure the units are free of dust.
                          • Teach everyone in your household how to use a fire extinguisher.

                          • Set and review escape plans. There should be two ways out from each room. Crawl to avoid toxic smoke. Once you are out, stay out. Establish a meeting place in front of the house to let fire fighters know you are out.

                          • Practice the plan!

                          As a community service, I would encourage everyone take a look around your neighborhood. Now is a great time to remove garbage from our beautiful roads before the weeds and poison ivy hide it again.

                           

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                            Spring "To Do" List

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                            Although Spring is late in arriving in our area this year, it's time for all of us to get to work preparing our yard and garden.

                            Here's a brief "to do" list that starts the process:
                            • Clean the garden shed including tools, patio furniture and cushions
                            • Call your local source to have the lawn mower tuned
                            • Remove stones and debris from your lawn and then aerate
                            • Tackle weeds early to save back-breaking work later
                            • Freshen mulch since it compacts and breaks down over the winter
                            • Uncover herbs to let them benefit from sunshine
                            • Gradually begin moving houseplants outdoors
                            • Make certain to cut back perennials
                            • There are a myriad of websites with garden and yard resources -- HGTV.com is one that comes to mind.

                            Spring will come to our area -- hopefully in the week ahead. With these steps, we can all be prepared.

                             

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                              Water, Water Everywhere!

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                              Winter weather created some tricky water problems for homeowners this season. If you were unfortunate enough to have water coming in from the eaves of your roof or not coming in at all due to frozen water lines, you were not alone.

                              Alas, our water house issues are not yet over as the snow and ice is melting and the resulting water will soon be joined by joyful April showers! 

                              All that water is going somewhere, so time to take a quick check to make sure the destination is somewhere other than your basement. Don’t wait for spring cleaning - check now to ensure that all the gutters are even against the roof line and the down spout is securely attached to the drain pipe. Pick up the shovel for the last time this season and clear remaining ice and snow away from the basement line. 

                              You’ll be happy you made the effort when it’s time to check for mold in the summer.

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                                We Suvived!

                                It was a remarkable winter for snow and cold this year. A great year for skiers and catching up on House of Cards and Downton Abbey in front of a cozy fire.

                                But I’m sure we all have had enough of snow shoveling and dressing in four layers to leave the house. SPRING is officially here, albeit a bit muddy for a while. So go get those tennis racquets restrung, watch for the sign-up for a pass to the lake at Mt. Riga if you live in Salisbury (a wonderful, not-so-secret secret place), start planning your garden, get your season passes for TriArts Sharon Playhouse, your tickets for Tanglewood, Music Mountain, Jacob’s Pillow, Shakespeare & Company and all the wonderful musical events here in the Tri-State area.

                                By the way...also a great time to list your house! Before you know it, we will be barbecuing on the patio. As Robin Williams once said, “Spring is Nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s Party!’”

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                                  What Does It Cost to Build a New House?

                                  I’m often asked what it costs per square foot to build a house in the Tri-State area. In spite of having built five homes, there’s not an easy answer because of the many factors involved.

                                  1. What’s included? Is it just the cost of the house or are you including the septic, well, driveway and landscaping?

                                  2. Finishes - Hardwood floors, stone, high-end appliances all add to the cost versus fiberglass showers, vinyl siding, standard appliances, formica counters.

                                  3. Design – This is probably the biggest factor affecting square foot cost. A square 2-story Colonial with a clean, simple design will cost less than a shingle-style house with lots of eaves and dormers.

                                  4. Where is the square footage located? Second floor space is less expensive than adding more to the foundation for a larger first floor.

                                  So, is she going to answer this question or not? Okay, I am not including septic, well and landscaping as those items can vary enormously depending on your building site. Here in the northeast, construction costs do tend to be a bit higher. In our neck of the woods, a house with a simple design and basic finishes can be built for as little as $200 per sq. ft. and can go up to $400+ per sq. ft., depending on the above factors.

                                   

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                                    Mouse Be Gone

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                                    The best way get rid of a mouse problem is to prevent one. Keeping the foundation of your home free of brush and trash, and keeping firewood well away from the house removes hiding places for mice.

                                    • Cover the dryer vent with 1/4-inch hardware cloth. Make sure to seal up any spaces around window or wall-mounted air conditioners.

                                    • Seal entry points, but don’t use steel wool - it rusts. Buy green scrub pads used for cleaning pots and cut to the right size. The pads must be secured to the sides of the hole or the mice will eventually pull them out.

                                    • A natural deterrent is peppermint oil; place drops of the oil on cotton balls and use them for closets and attics. You can make a spray to address these same spots using one tablespoon of peppermint oil and two cups of water. Grow peppermint plants near the entryways. You can use the mint in cooking as well. Mint spreads quickly so grow it in pots around your foundation to send mice scurrying.

                                    • If you are away for extended periods of time place scented dryer sheets on top of bedding to keep mice from nesting there.

                                     

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                                      Wishing Wells & Singing Springs

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                                      Most local homeowners depend on well or spring water. Our area has great water quality and quantity, but that doesn’t mean your spring or well doesn’t change over time.

                                      Most likely your water was tested as part of the home inspection process at the time of purchase. If that was longer than a few years ago, you may want to test again. Ask your plumber for their preferred testing method before deciding.

                                      Fortunately there are options. You can test yourself with a do-it-at-home kit readily available at hardware stores, starting at around $10. There are multiple online testing services to choose from - search for “water testing kits’” and take your pick. Just be careful to do your homework with the online services to make sure you get what you’re buying.

                                      The Torrington Area Health District offers a Potability Test Kit for $135, a VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) Test Kit for $245 and kits for iron, copper, lead, fluoride, and radon ranging from $15 to $40.

                                      Keep your wells and spring a constant source of health by proactive testing.

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                                        Investing Your IRA in Real Estate

                                        I like to invest in things I understand – things I can touch. So part of my IRA is always in some real estate investment.

                                        If you have a SEP IRA you may want to consider investing part of it in real estate. Did you know that your IRA can purchase a property, just as it can purchase a stock or bond, and collect tax deferred rent? According to national statistics, real estate investors are currently averaging over an 8% return in rental income on their investments. Any long term appreciation on the property is frosting on the cake.

                                        Here in the tri-state area, annual rental rates for a 2-3 bedroom home range anywhere from $1,200 to $4,000 per month depending on the quality, size, location and amenities of the property. If you are considering this option, consult with your Realtor about which properties will give you the best yield on your investment.

                                        I have done this myself several times with excellent results. You need to remember that any real estate investment must remain "passive". You cannot use the property yourself or have a family member use it. The IRA must directly purchase the property or be part of partnership that purchases the property and you must pay for all expenses directly out of the IRA. Any rental income must go directly into the IRA. If you want to renovate and flip the property, all renovation costs must be paid out of your IRA.

                                        As always, the old adage “invest in what you know” is good advice. But if you want to diversify your portfolio, investing directly in real estate along with your stocks and bonds may be a good idea for you to explore. Of course, you should consult your tax advisor about your personal situation to see if you should consider taking advantage of this alternative investment.

                                         

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