Blog :: 2016

Organizing Your Garage

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Unused household items always end up in our garage. We spend a weekend annually planning and executing a clean out. Here are some tips we’ve developed over the years:  

Empty the entire garage—broken lamps, fencing, never used tiki lanterns, paint cans and more. Now it’s time for the shop vac—windows with cobwebs and dead insects to floor. Windows get washed. Look for signs of infestation; plug up crevices to prevent returning mice.

We sort the inventory into piles. The transfer station gets a load – other items will be donated to The Bargain Barn in Sharon, Ct., or to Prime Finds in Lakeville, Ct.

Then we organize remaining items. Garden pots, tools, furniture, and other spring items are relegated to one space. Fall items, de-icer, shovels, and rakes are relegated to another.  

Hooks and shelves add real value. Trimming equipment, jumper cables, etc. hang on hooks; shelving holds fluids and sprays in easy sight. A shelf built above the garage door openers holds pool toys and lumber.

Somehow the cleanout lasts but one year...

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    Free Summer Concerts at The Hotchkiss School

    Once again, The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Ct., is offering a season of summer concerts, featuring world class artists, faculty, and student performances. And the best part — the concerts are free and open to the public!  

    Now in its 13th season, the Hotchkiss Summer Portals Concerts are performed in the Katherine M. Elfers Hall, Esther Eastman Music Center. If you have not yet been to the Hall, this stunning venue is worth a visit for the view alone, overlooking Lake Wononscopomuc and the Berkshires. The Hall is air-conditioned and handicapped accessible, and the school grounds are open for picnics before the concerts.

    Guest artists scheduled to perform from July 10-23 are: Boris Berman, Luiz De Moura Castro, Joseph Kalichstein,  Oxana Yablonskaya, The Amernet String Quartet with Fabio and Gisele Witkowski, and Priya Mayadas.

    For details, visit the Hotchkiss website or call the concert hotline: (860) 435-3775.

     Don’t miss this free, unique, local  experience!

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      Celebrating 10 Years!

      This year, Best & Cavallaro  marks our 10th year of operating as an independent real estate brokerage firm. We want to thank all of our clients and friends for your support over the years.  

      Mardee Cavallaro and I feel blessed to work with such  an incredible and professional group of agents in such a beautiful area of the country.  We founded our firm with the belief that a team working together would best serve our clients and we are gratified that this unique approach for a real estate agency has proven successful.

      We value our community and all of us volunteer for and financially support our local non-profits. Best & Cavallaro is pleased to have been able to donate more than $100,000 to our local charities and non-profits since our inception – thanks to your business.     

      We appreciate the trust you have placed in us and hope you will continue to call upon us for your real estate needs.  

       

       

       

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        Spectacular Summer is Here!

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        To paraphrase an old tune…“June is bustin’ out all over!” It is indeed evident as we look around the countryside at the lush and delicious shades of green, beautiful trees, and blossoming shrubs. A kaleidoscope of colorful flowers are evident in our neighbors’ gardens. Truly a spectacular time of year!  

        Such are nature’s gifts here in the Northwest Corner and environs despite the shortness of our “green” season. We have had little rainfall to keep plantings happy so it has become imperative to water, best done in early evening. Even the plants that grace our patios and decks need that special attention on a daily basis.

        Of importance too is keeping the lawn looking well. It is one thing to keep the lawn mowed, but the battle of the weeds, especially crab grass, is a challenge.  In fact, it has become an issue big enough to need professional help...a significant battle of summer! The stuff is tough to defeat and requires a call to professional landscape caretaker/gardeners.  

        Happy Summer!

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          A Little Green

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          I see a lot of homes with fabulous lawns and their lush green perfection makes me envious.

          Despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to achieve the green, smooth, consistent plushness of everyone else’s lawn. It could be the army of chipmunks carving out the complex trails under my upper grass terrace. And there’s the elusive, never-seen mole that creates random tunnel-like holes all over.

          Since I do not intend to excavate the top layer of my lawn to begin from scratch, I decided to make just the visible top layer of grass look better. Consistency, apparently, is the key to the perfect lawn.

          The seeds I purchased for some sparse patches were washed to a puddle during a rain storm and sprouted like lake reeds surrounding the bald patch. I tried fertilizing with a rented spreader; it would help if the distribution level didn’t have variable settings. My lawn looks like a kaleidoscope of different shades of green. And I missed spots completely, so dandelions are randomly popping up like exclamation points.

          They’re saying – time to call a professional!!!

           

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            Zestimates - Forget About It!

            The CEO of Zillow sold his Seattle, WA home in February, 2016 for $1,050,000 which was 40% less than the “Zestimate” of $1,750,000 shown on Zillow the next day.

            Once again, this proves my belief that “Zestimates” are totally unreliable unless you happen to live in a suburb where houses are almost exactly alike. The higher end the property is, the more likely that Zillow will be way off base. This is because their automated valuation model has no ability to judge the nuances of a property such as an amazing view, a unique location or special interior finishes.

            This is particularly true here in Litchfield and Dutchess Counties where no two properties are alike. If you would really like to know what your property is worth, call us at Best & Cavallaro Real Estate (860-435-2888) and we would be happy to give you a free opinion of value.

             

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              Our Pets

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              This “talk” is about pets who become members of our households. It may not tech-nically fit our usual subject matter in some respects. However, a recent article in the news media attracted my attention on the ethics of pet ownership.

              Pet owners have come to think of their dog, cat, rabbit, bird, or other animal creatures as part of the family which begs the question are home/pet owners taking proper care of their pets? Food and comfort elements are important; are the pets given consideration in terms of being alone indoors too long, are they given sufficient outdoor time?

              Think about it. Animals do have feelings…ever notice how responsive dogs and cats can be to the friendly voices of their “family” or how horses respond to commands? When children have a pet, it can become a positive learning experience in kindness and an important lesson in responsibility.

              In terms of houses and pets, always keep cleanliness at the forefront…when it comes to selling a house, certain animal odors cause a negative impact and can be difficult to remedy.

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                Your Home's Front Entrance

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                You get one chance to make a first impression. Applying that to our homes, then the front door should make a statement.

                Adding pizzazz to your front entrance is an easy, low-cost way to up your home’s curb appeal. Try painting your door a pretty shade that coordinates with your home’s color. Make sure there is a contrast between the front door and the facade of the home. An example that works well on a contemporary home is the combination of a striking blue color and soft frosted glass.

                However, you don’t have to paint your door a bold color to achieve a striking effect. Sometimes the color of natural wood or stain can bring out the brilliant artistry behind a beautiful antique door. And hardware adds an additional boost to the power of your front entrance. A noteworthy door-knocker creates a powerful statement of elegance on homes of any age.

                Other ways to beautify your home’s entry are adding appealing house numbers to your entrance and placing a potted plant or two by the front door, framing the door with color.

                 

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                  Beaches

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                  We have some very nice beaches in our immediate area; some private, some that are restricted to town residents, and some absolutely free. The private beaches include Twin Lakes Beach Club in Salisbury for members and guests only. There is a small, but nice, flat sandy beach, clubhouse, and tennis courts.

                  Local town beaches include the Town Grove at Lake Wononscopomuc, in Lakeville, which requires a summer season permit ($50 for town residents, $300 for non-residents) for your vehicle in order to park.

                  In Sharon there is the beach at Mudge Pond, which is restricted to town residents; a seasonal permit ($20) is also required to park here. In Norfolk, Tobey Pond is available to residents ($50 seasonal vehicle permit fee).

                  In Millerton, there is scenic Rudd Pond at Taconic State Park. Access is open to the public, including non-residents, and it is free during the week and weekends during the off-season. During the summer season, a fee of $7 per car is charged. The beach is particularly nice here, with changing rooms and bathrooms available.

                   

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                    Spruce Up For Less

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                    Just like everything else, first impressions have a lasting impact. If you are preparing to sell your home, use spring cleaning as an opportunity to go a bit further to improve the appearance of your home. Here are some cheap fixes that go a long way.

                    • Fertilize your lawn for a fresh, healthy look. All you need is fertilizer, spreader, and a hose.

                    • Stain the deck and touch up peeling paint around your entranceways.

                    • Sweep under overhangs to clear cobwebs.

                    • Fix or upgrade your fence. If it’s in really poor condition, remove it.

                    • Replace the errant rock that fell off the wall last year.

                    • Trim your trees and bushes.

                    • Clean leaves and debris from your yard, and from gutters.

                    • Clean windows inside and out.

                    • Maybe invest in a new mailbox and doormats.

                    • Consider planting a bush or small tree if you have the space.

                    A neatly-kept outward appearance goes a long way in setting the tone of your home to a potential buyer. The added bonus is feeling great when you return home every day!

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                      Dry Summer?

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                      Maybe. There is speculation that the relatively mild winter could lead to a dry summer. We’ll know by September, but it does bring to mind water saving tips for the home. Here are some of the larger residential water guzzlers:

                      Toilets use 27%, showers 17%, faucets 16%, and leaks account for 14%. I’m not suggesting we have to spray paint our lawns, but we could cut down. An easy way is to replace older equipment. A new model toilet uses less than 1.6 gallons by law as opposed 3.5 gallons in older models. A new shower head uses 2.5 gallons vs. 6 gallons. Older washers uses 41 gallons, newer models 20.

                      Finding leaks, unless you’re standing in water, isn’t as easy. It may take investigating under and around pipes in cupboards and your basement. A spike in your water bill would be a tip off. If your toilet tank sweats in hot weather, there could be a leak. Best way to find a leak in your toilet is to drop colored dye into the tank. Wait 20 minutes to see if it’s in the toilet bowl to confirm a leak.

                      For more information on water conservation go to epa.gov/watersense

                       

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                        Protecting Our Environment

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                        April seems like March as I write this, so what will May bring? It is a wait-and-see game with Mother Nature. With spring on the calendar, it is time to begin various building projects.

                        A time to be particularly cognizant of the importance of preservation of our watercourses and the wetland soils. Both are indispensable and irreplaceable but fragile natural resources. Streams, lakes, ponds, swamps, vernal pools are among the areas to be protected and, of course, rivers. There are ample resources available including soil maps, libraries, and environmental agencies. It is incumbent on all of us realtors, builders, and homeowners to focus on where soils and wetlands are present. Our local conservation commissions or wetlands commissions are charged with protecting those vital resources and they too are valuable resources to contact.

                        The Salisbury Association has funded environmental programs at Salisbury Central School for 15 years — an exciting learning experience in nature’s habitat. Thank you, teachers, for providing this important opportunity in environmental education.

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                          Happy to be Home

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                          Last night, we returned from vacation and I was (once again) struck by our unusually high quality of life in the tri-state area: Northern Litchfield, Southern Berkshire, and Northern Dutchess Counties.

                          Starting with our arrival at Bradley Airport, the drive home is easy and scenic. Although the darkness at night is startling, particularly if one is returning from a brightly lighted urban area, I quickly readjust to the country roads. Somehow keeping an eye out for deer is a little easier than watching for tourists darting across busy city streets.

                          We were particularly charmed by the picturesque villages of Norfolk and Salisbury with their village greens, lighted church steeples, and historic homes. We were happy to arrive home to our own Village of Millerton, which sparkles at night. Even though we stayed with family and friends in their beautiful homes, we were glad to step into our quirky old house. Of course, the very best part is climbing into one’s own bed!

                          No matter how much fun the trip was, I am always happy to be home.

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                            A Guide to Renting Your House

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                            Enlist Best & Cavallaro. We will photograph your property, list it on our website, act as a liaison between you and the renters, and provide a rental agreement.

                            Keep your rental current. Vacationers want bright, roomy spaces with clean stylish furniture and good lighting.

                            Hire a cleaning service and let us include a condition of lease that your cleaner be allowed weekly or bi-weekly cleaning.

                            Internet is a must as well as cable, at least, one TV and DVD player.

                            Have a well-stocked kitchen with ample pots, pans, plates, serving and prep bowls and all one needs to prepare wonderful meals.

                            Keep a couple of flashlights in case of unexpected power outage.

                            In bedrooms, offer plenty of storage space, hangers, empty dressers, bedside tables, and lamps. Bedding should look new and clean; have extra pillows and blankets for cooler nights.

                            Provide an informational packet, including hospitals, pharmacies, groceries, farm markets, libraries, museums, attractions, etc, and information regarding garbage collection and recycling. Finally, be sure to include your contact information for questions or problems that might arise.

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                              Curb Appeal Matters

                              If you are thinking about putting your house on the market this spring, aside from calling us at Best & Cavallaro to list it, you should also be thinking about maximizing your curb appeal. Studies show that curb appeal can boost a home’s value by as much as 17%. 

                              The most effective improvements?

                              1) Upgrade your garage doors if they are visible and dated. A nice carriage house style door can do wonders for the look of your home.

                              2) Paint your front door a contrasting fresh color and perhaps get a nice new doorknob.

                              3) Trim your bushes and trees; weed, edge and mulch your gardens, and make sure your grass is well maintained.

                              4) Set the stage. Welcome buyers with rockers on the front porch or some outdoor furniture and pots of flowers on the patio.

                              Here in our beautiful towns of Salisbury, Lakeville, Sharon, Falls Village, Cornwall, and all the surrounding areas of the Tri-State area, we are blessed with stunning natural landscapes. Make your home fit into this beautiful setting.

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                                Moving Day Toolbox

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                                Every new homeowner should approach moving day with a tool box and a “bit box.” The bit box is for moving out — put every little weird screw, metal hinge and spare wire that you find lying around with no apparent connection to anything inside the bit box. Those “bits” could be important parts of desks, chairs, chests, and beds that you’ll need for reassembly.

                                The toolbox is for moving in. Your exuberance for the new space may have you hanging your family photos before laying the carpets or making the beds. Indulge the impulse by making sure you have a hammer nearby! Cardboard boxes are easier to open with a razor cutter. There are twenty things that immediately need adjusting, tightening or reassembling. How convenient to have your screwdriver on hand. Duct tape, nails, hammer, wrench, and pliers. Whichever tools are your favorites.

                                Plan ahead and put a box together. Just make sure to include a slip of paper with your contractor’s telephone number. Just in case a hammer won’t suffice…

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                                  Energy Efficiency & Saving Money

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                                  Energy efficiency and saving money are two subjects most of us view as being important. Have you given consideration to changing the light bulbs in your home to LED bulbs? Their initial cost, depending on size and the manufacturer, is substantial but definitely worthwhile.

                                  Among the many reasons to change over to LEDs, they last far longer and are very energy efficient, reducing cost for electricity and are safer than fragile traditional bulbs. Unlike the traditional bulb, you won’t be burned should you touch the glass of the LED bulb even after it has been on for several hours of use.

                                  The LEDs can create a softer, warmer glow in your home, creating a pleasant atmosphere and can be used with dimmer switches. LEDs do not contain mercury nor do they contain any other toxic substances. There are many estimates on how long a quality LED bulb lasts but it seems certain between 25,000-50,000 hours is superior to a relatively short-lived traditional bulb. Interesting to note, Sharon has changed to LED lighting along Main Street as a cost-cutting experiment.

                                   

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                                    Just Nod

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                                    I almost drove a poor unsuspecting motorist off West Woods in Sharon one early sleeting winter morning. Big wave “sorry!” and the forgiveness of a two or three finger lift off the steering wheel. Phew.

                                    There’s something very human about acknowledging a particularly singular shared space – be it on a deserted dirt road or the doorway of the post office. A slight nod or lift of a finger or two of acknowledgement goes a long way. It’s a small town, odds are you’ll probably see each other again, so it can’t hurt. Maybe you’ll need that person’s assistance at some point. Maybe when you find yourself in a ditch on the side of West Woods Road!

                                    Here is where that nod counts the most: walking on a back road, any public doorway, the deli counter at Labonne’s, in line at the bank, and any of the crosswalks. Maybe passing boats on Lakeville Lake...

                                    I’m not suggesting you start offering your fellow townspeople full out salutations, but a small gesture to say that you noticed them, say, stopping to allow you to cross the street, is definitely one of the niceties of small town life.

                                     

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                                      What Will I Owe the IRS When I Sell My Home?

                                      If you sold a home in 2015 (or plan to sell in 2016), you should be aware of the tax consequences. Start by calculating your “basis” which is your original cost plus any improvements over the years.

                                      To determine your taxable profit, you will deduct this basis amount from your sales price. You will also deduct most closing costs such as real estate commissions, legal fees and conveyance taxes. If you are selling a PRIMARY RESIDENCE that you have owned for more than 2 years, you can then deduct $250,000 per individual or $500,000 per couple from the sales price. If you still have a profit after these deductions, that profit will be taxed at the capital gains rate - which, for most Americans is 15%, depending on your income level. I actually know people who move every 2 years to take advantage of this exclusion - but that requires a very liquid market and a lot of energy!

                                      For most of us, our home is our sanctuary and not just an investment, especially here in our beautiful Salisbury / Sharon area. Still, when the time comes to sell, call your tax consultant and make sure you know the consequences.

                                       

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                                        De-Cluttering = Asking For Help

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                                        One of the most formidable tasks in preparing a property for the market is the de-cluttering/cleaning out process. This is very much on my mind as I watch friends in Lakeville, CT and Ancramdale, NY, currently engaged in this process. Obviously the task can seem physically and emotionally daunting. An important fact to remember is that you don't have to do it alone.

                                        A bit of a control freak myself, the idea of allowing someone into my process (asking for help), is normally the last thing that I want to do. However, another person can often see the task objectively. Fortunately, there are people to hire who specialize in cleaning out and helping organize for a move. Your real estate agent will normally know of someone reputable whom they can refer. Consider renting a dumpster, small or large. This will expedite the process enormously.

                                        If your financial resources are limited, or you just can't bear to allow a stranger in, consider asking a friend or family member for help. You will probably be surprised at how glad people are for a chance to help out. It feels good to be asked!

                                         

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