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“The fellow that owns a home is always just coming out of a hardware store.”

Kin Hubbard


Declutter your home


To make room for the new, one has to get rid of the old. While few denizens of the Hudson Valley have amassed enough junk to qualify as hoarders, most of us could stand to shed some stuff.

According to professional organizer Rosalyn Cherry of New Paltz, it’s not just a matter of keeping things clean. Clutter is bad for the spirit. “It’s sort of like a cleansing,” said Cherry. “And when you go out after you’re decluttered, you feel different and you look at the world differently and you open up to things differently. [If you wake up in the morning and think] ‘Oh, what a slob I am, I’m such an idiot’ and then you go out, where are you starting from that day? Versus when everything’s neat, you know where it is, you’ve got just what you need. That’s just a different way to start the day.”


Here are some of Cherry’s tips for eliminating excess stuff:

Do an inventory. Look at your possessions. For each, ask yourself: does this add to my life? Does it reflect who I am? “If you get rid of all the stuff you never use…then you will know what to do with what’s left,” she said.

Frame it in the positive. Instead of looking at it as a loss, donate it to a local charitable organization like the Salvation Army, Family of Woodstock, or Twice Blessed Thrift Shop in New Paltz. This is especially helpful for the sentimental. “With people like those, I encourage them to know where they’re giving things,” said Cherry. “Because if you know where something is going it helps you let go of it.”

Group like items. If you have a number of perfectly good (but redundant items) or a number of items you’re saving because they remind you of a person, consider paring your collection down.

Zero-sum game. To stay clutter-free, a person has to adopt a zero-sum approach to purchases. If there’s no room for something new, make room by getting rid of something old. If bills and other important papers cover multiple surfaces in the home, create a filing system with labels and stick to it.

Digitize it. For photos and videos, going digital is essential for preservation and saving space. In addition, photograph items of sentimental value before donating to good will.



Selling a home?

Consider staging



In this tough market, it’s vital for sellers to show their house “as if they were expecting company,” says professional home stager Linda Esposito— clean, neat, and well designed, what she refers to as the Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel look, that universal language of good taste. Esposito runs a staging company called HouseSetters out of Hurley and Kingston.

National statistics show that having your house “staged”—a process that ranges from an hour and a half, $200 consultation to monthly rental of accessories to monthly rental of a full set of furnishings for a vacant house—improves its prospects of selling. According to a study conducted in 2000 by Joy Valentine, a California-based broker with Coldwell Banker, staged homes were on the market for 13.9 days versus 30.9 days for homes that hadn’t been staged. The study also showed that staged homes sold for an average of 6.3 percent over the asking price, compared to 1.6 percent more for unstaged homes.

If your house is vacant that’s a huge disadvantage. “When people see houses with furnishings in them, it’s a warmer welcome and they can feel at home,” said Terri Colucci Shand, president of the Ulster County Board of Realtors. She noted that a beautiful old colonial that she fell in love with when she saw it furnished had lost its appeal when she visited it again, after it had been emptied. “All the blemishes showed,” she said. “I’m seeing all the work.”

Professional stagers like Esposito tend to reuse their own furnishings or rent them. Much of the work involves interior decorating, but with a particular purpose: to give the home confidence, as if it were on a “job interview.” Generally, less is more. Clutter is bad. That is, unless you anticipate a question of space. For example, you might put a double-bed in a smallish bedroom to show it can fit.

The final aim is the least tangible, but perhaps most important: what Esposito calls “the wow factor.” Perhaps it can be achieved by throwing a pair of orange pillows onto the gray couch, or arranging three vases of varying height on a dining room table, filled with pussy willows. Instead of a bunch of small pictures, it might be a single large painting or print hung over the sofa—something that “quiets the space” yet adds visual drama. Esposito said the “wow factor” is particularly important because so many people first view a house on-line, and form their impressions from photographs. In a small photo, a room engulfed in lots of tiny details gets lost.



Picking the right contractor



Janet Caffo, director of the county consumer fraud bureau, offers the following tips:

Select contractors based on recommendations of friends and family

Get precise written estimates and a list of local references

Check with your local building department about required permits

Be wary of huge, too good to be true, discounts

Do not fall for high pressure sales which force you into an immediate decision

Be suspicious of door-to-door solicitations

Do not agree to a discount in exchange for allowing the contractor to use your home as a model or sample for your neighborhood


Dishonest contractors may demand a large down payment but then disappear with the homeowner’s money, leaving the work unfinished. Contractors also may use cheap or shoddy material that soon must be replaced. Swindlers also may inflate the amount of damage to a home. Another ruse involves causing more damage to a home, such as enlarging the hole in a roof.

Homeowners can protect against crooked contractors by following seven common-sense steps:

Ask your insurance company for established contractors

Avoid contractors who show up at your doorstep

Consult with your insurer before making repairs

Pay by check or credit, and don’t pay cash

Pay no more than 20 percent upfront

Ensure the contractor is licensed

Have a signed contract before work begins.



Granite countertops add value



Attractive. Unique. Virtually indestructible. These qualities have long made granite a prized stone for kitchen and bathroom countertops. With prices becoming more competitive thanks to advances in fabrication technology in recent years, homeowners looking to improve the appearance and value of their homes are going granite in increasing numbers. Like hardwood floors, granite automatically endows your home with a sense of luxury.

“It definitely does add value to the home,” said Pedro Naeto, owner of the Granite Shop in Newburg. “I think if you ask most real estate brokers they will usually tell you to spruce up your kitchen and bathroom, and one of the best ways to spruce it up is to get a granite countertop.”

The most ubiquitous and affordable “commodity” granite types have names like Uba Tuba, Baltic Brown, Ivory Gold and Santa Cecilia. Though there are many variables to take into account, this level of granite will usually cost about $40/square foot (installation included). Stone with a more exotic birthplace, aesthetically arresting patterns and seamless face can run into the $100s per square foot (and up).

Naeto recommends asking plenty of questions of any would-be fabricator. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and if they don’t sound like they’re giving you straight answers, just shop around.”

Visit the fabricator’s business. Is there a showroom with examples of his work, or is the fabricator operating out of a home office? What sort of equipment is used? It’s possible to make cuts with a wet saw and a hand polisher, but the end result will not be as smooth and precise as cuts made on a computer controlled machine.


Ask if they do templates for all installations, which involves creating a wood mock-up of the counter-top. Do they template right up to the wall? Not all walls are square and it’s important to be precise to ensure uniformity.

Alternatives to granite include plastic laminate (the cheapest) and solid surface (like DuPont’s Corian). They too can be beautiful and are often more uniform, but will not lend value to the home like granite.



Prepare for winter



After last winter, one can be forgiven for believing preventative home maintenance is a thing of the past. Not the case: while last winter was both warm and dry, we can’t plan on that in the future. Actually, global warming will likely raise the temperature slightly and create more precipitation, resulting in greater snow fall.

Cities and homeowners saved money last year on snow removal and damage. Now’s the time to invest in changes to prevent future damage.

One increasingly popular method is to install low-voltage electric cables near the edge of the roof. “You will find them on many newer roofs, certainly the ones we build, but those cables can be retrofitted to any roof, and now they’re made so well that they only turn on when the temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit,” said veteran roofer Ian Horowitz of J&A Roofing in Kingston.

Insulation is another key preventive measure, particularly with older homes. “Insulating your attic will certainly help in two ways,” said Bob Colucci of Ultimate Homes in Gardiner. “It will prevent heat leaking out of the home and melting snow which will then re-freeze and cause ice damming. But in this time of great energy crisis, it will also save homeowners money on heating costs.”

Spray foam is a cheap, effective and affordable type of insulation. “That’s primarily what we’re using today to insulate homes that are not new,” Colucci said. “The heat loss is greatly minimized. and it’s much better than older methods of fiberglass and obviously asbestos insulation and rock wall …. Many older homes do not even have insulation in their attics.”



Seniors use reverse mortgages to stay in place



Reverse mortgages can be a major boon for seniors who can’t afford to stay in their homes. These mortgages are basically loans against the value of your home that you don’t have to pay back until you move or die. They’re growing in popularity among seniors with equity in their homes who would like to remain at their own properties but don’t have enough cash to meet their expenses, including mortgage payments.

Reverse mortgages can be confusing because we’re so used to thinking of a traditional “forward” mortgage, where you borrow money to buy your home and pay it back with interest. In the case of a second mortgage, you borrow against the equity in your home and pay it back with cash.

It’s a bit easier to understand reverse mortgages if you forget about the fact you’re borrowing against your home. Basically, you’re simply taking out a loan with a valuable item as collateral, in this case your house, but it could be a diamond or another valuable item. The money you borrow accrues interest, at an adjustable rate depending on interest rates, and you don’t make any payments until you sell the diamond, house, or die. You can also think of a reverse mortgage simply as a second mortgage that is re-paid out of the equity in your home rather than with cash.



The everyday tool kit



Start with the basics — screwdriver set, hammer, pliers, flashlight, cordless drill (if you don’t this is the place to start). Here’s what to get to go to the next level:

1. Multimeter: Use to determine if a wire is live and, if so, how live. Indispensible for diagnosing automotive, appliance or home electric issues. A good multimeter can be had for under $20.

2. Soldering Iron: Best used to fix problems with a device that just quits one day—coffee-maker, toaster, guitar, headphones wire — that just has a loose wire or a dirty connection.

3. Wire-strippers: Sticking with the electrical theme, this tool completes the trifecta. Try as you might there’s nothing else that efficiently and evenly strips an insulated wire.

4. Durable tape measure: The utility of a tape-measure is obvious. You need it for everything from picking out furniture to building a bookshelf. Get a good one at least 20-foot-long with enough backbone to stand up without buckling when extended 10-feet.

5. Level: Another cheap and essential tool whose uses run the gamut from new construction (building furniture or pitching a drain pipe) to little changes that make a big difference (leveling all wall decor, tables and stoves).

6. Utility knife: A no-brainer, right? Maybe, but too many people don’t keep a durable, sharp utility knife in their toolbox. You’ll need it if you want to produce quality straight-edge cuts on drywall and paneling.

7. Vise-Grip: No must-have tool list would be complete without vise-grips. That goes for stripped-screws, anything that’s rusted together (you can set the pliers then bash them with a hammer), holding together any two items (as when letting glue set), replacing a lever on a lawnmower or dirt bike, securing loose cables and countless other undreamed of applications in which nothing else will work.



Avoiding mold



In community workshops on avoiding mold growth run by the Cornell extensions, the main advice given is to keep your house dry. The experts recommend several ways to achieve this:

Treat any leak as seriously as you would a fire. Get it fixed as soon as you possibly can.

Gutters and downspouts on the outside of the house need to stay connected and directed away from the structure.

If you have a very wet basement, the house itself will probably have a moisture problem. These can be difficult, and expensive, moisture problems to fix, but if they aren’t fixed, these homes will always have mold problems.

Monitor the relatively humidity in the home, which should stay between 30 to 40 percent. If it varies, the risk for condensation, which is enough to grow mold, increases.

Unvented gas fireplaces and kerosene burners create condensation through combustion, so vent them as a first choice or use a dehumidifier.

Mold in a closet against an outside wall may mean that insulation has settled and warm inside air is meeting cold outdoor air and causing condensation.

Hinchey recommends going into your attic and looking toward the floor where the soffits are to see if light shines through. If not, the soffits are covered and the attic is not breathing properly, causes a high potential for mold.

Before attempting to clear a mold problem yourself, consider these Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines:

If the total surface area affected is less than ten square feet, most healthy homeowners who aren’t pregnant can remove the mold themselves, without children around, scrubbing with detergent and rinsing and drying immediately, after the cause of the moisture has been resolved. The personal protective equipment required is minimal: an N-95 respirator, gloves and goggles.

With an affected area between ten and 100 square feet, professional help is recommended due to the potential for exposure and the importance of wearing protective equipment because of the high number of spores that will fill the air.

If the area is greater than 100 square feet, professional help is highly recommended.