Blog :: 2013

Home for the Holidays

Maybe it’s the kid in all of us, but each year when December rolls around, there is palpable anticipation in the air – the feeling that something uplifting is going to happen. It’s an expectation of being home for the holidays.

This pervasive excitement tears through grade schools faster than the chicken pox, but expectations also run high in the group of people known as first-time homebuyers.

Whereas school children’s expectations of presents, family get-togethers and delicious food are realistic, many first-time homebuyers anticipate, rightly or wrongly, that in a buyer’s market properties should have a full range of amenities within their budgets.

But even in today’s market, it’s not easy to find that perfectly-fixed-up or new open concept home with a cathedral ceilinged great room, large master bedroom, spa-like bathroom, walk-in closets, kitchen with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, plus a large fenced-in yard with privacy from the neighbors.

More effectively than a roster of upscale amenities is livable spaces that will bring you and your family together. If you are scouting properties this winter season, here are some things to consider when dreaming of being home for the holidays:

[houzz=http://www.houzz.com/photos/109635/Showhome-2010---2-traditional-kitchen-new-york]

Meals: Holiday happiness often revolves around meals. Do you require a separate dining room for more formal meals or does your family tend to cluster in the family room? Is the kitchen mainly used for cooking or would you prefer to socialize around a kitchen island or breakfast bar?

Recreation: Do members of your family have hobbies or do they congregate around the TV to bond over sports and entertainment programming? Will you need space for a sound system, gaming console or computer? Will the garage need to hold bikes and sports equipment or mainly the car?

Guests: Will your guests need a spare bedroom, or can they use the fold-out couch in the living room? Can a flex space serve as both an office and extra room for visitors? And what about the benefits of having a finished basement for the holidays?

Entertainment: Do you tend to entertain at home or prefer to go out in an area full of restaurants and bars? Do older members of the family enjoy a day of shopping? Do younger ones do better at pools, parks and movie theaters?

We all dream of being home for the holidays and it pays to look at properties with this in mind. Even the most modest starter home can have a special charm of its own when filled with family and friends enjoying the bounty of the season.

"Reprinted with permission from Connecticut Association of REALTORS®, Inc."

The Loss of Innocence & How 10 Minutes Changed Our World

Newtown

It’s another one of those awful days & times we will always remember where we were when we found out. I was sitting in my car on the phone with a paralegal after a successful walk-through at a property that was scheduled to close that afternoon, and she was in Danbury, just a few miles away from the quiet suburban enclave of Sandy Hook, CT. In the middle of our conversation she told me she had to call me right back, and when she did, I learned there was a shooting at a school and the whole area was in lock down.

What we would come to learn is that for 10 agonizing minutes a lone gunman with “significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with othersâ€, who had access to legal firearms, changed lives in a quiet Connecticut community, the nation and the world.

The grief is deep and widespread and as we come upon the one year anniversary the families are encouraging people to perform acts of kindness in remembrance. Light a candle, give your loved ones a hug, perform an anonymous act of kindness – remember “Love Winsâ€!

My thoughts & prayers are with the families of the 26 victims –

Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gray, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, Ana Marquez-Greene, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, Allison Wyatt, Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach and Victoria Leigh Soto.

Hopefully we can find a way to help those with mental illness to avoid more tragedies.

Serious Housing Conversations Happen Over the Holidays

Grandson-Grandpa

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As the holidays approach, families will be gathering all across the country to share meals, exchange gifts, and take part in activities and traditions passed down through the generations.

And while this time of year is typically reserved for celebration and remembrance, it is often a time for serious conversations and decision making for those with elder parents and relatives.
Seniors are a segment of the real estate market that I enjoy working in. I have taken additional classes and earned the designation Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) and have training and resources that may be helpful if you are facing this type of situation. Please don't hesitate to contact me and I would be happy to sit down and chat.

Common Situations:

“My mom always bakes the Holiday pies. Last year she left out the sugar and we all just laughed, but this year she almost burned the house down when she forgot to take them out of the oven. It’s time for her to consider moving, but we don’t really know where to start. We are going to encourage her to go with us to look at assisted living communities while we have time off from work.†- Marcie L.
“This has been a tough year for all of us. Mom died after battling cancer for eight months. Following two minor fender benders, Dad was then diagnosed with macular degeneration leaving him without the ability to drive. My siblings and I know we need to talk with Dad about his ability to live at home alone, but none of us know where to begin when it comes his housing options.†- Jim H.
“While we are in town for Thanksgiving this year, we are going to ask our mother to move in with us. Even though we aren’t sure if that is the best arrangement, we don’t know what else to do since her health is declining and she needs more daily care. Having her closer to us will help since we still have kids and jobs requiring us to better prioritize our time. Selling her home of 52 years and going through all her things feels pretty overwhelming to us so we can only imagine how she will feel.†Joan B.
These are common sentiments shared by baby boomers caring for aging parents and relatives as we move into the winter months and often they don’t know who to call for support. Senior living communities and placement services, such as A Place for Mom, also report an increase in inquiries over the holidays.

We All Know The Story of the First Thanksgiving - Or - Do We?

Geri Main Turkey

Our national holiday stems from the feast held in the autumn of 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag to celebrate the colony's first successful harvest - this is what we were all taught in school. Here is a slightly different point of view...

In September/October 1621, the Pilgrims had just harvested their first crops, and they had a good yield. They “sent four men on fowling,†which comes from the one paragraph account by Pilgrim Edward Winslow, one of only two historical sources of this famous harvest feast. Winslow also stated, “we exercised our arms.†“Most historians believe what happened was Massasoit (the Wampanoag Chief) got word that there was a tremendous amount of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village,†“So he thought they were being attacked and he was going to bear aid.â€

When the Wampanoag showed up, they were invited to join the Pilgrims in their feast, but there was not enough food to feed the chief and his 90 warriors. “He [Massasoit] sends his men out, and they bring back five deer, which they present to the chief of the English town [William Bradford]. So, there is this whole ceremonial gift-giving, as well. When you give it as a gift, it is more than just food,†said Kathleen Wall, a Colonial Foodways Culinarian at Plimoth Plantation.

The harvest feast lasted for three days. What did they eat? Venison, of course.†Was there turkey? “Fowl†is mentioned in Winslow’s account, which puts turkey on Wall’s list of possibilities. She also said there probably would have been a variety of seafood and water fowl along with maize bread, pumpkin and other squashes. “It was nothing at all like a modern Thanksgiving,†she said.

So, this year as we sit down and give thanks for everyone & everything in our lives, remember that cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie are fairly modern takes on the "traditional". Enjoy!!!

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/11/22/wampanoag-side-first-thanksgiving-story-64076

Elmo

Photo Credit: Alissa Smith

Out & About

Looking for something to do this week? Here are some events for you and your family to enjoy!

1. Thurs, November 21st - 6:00 pm at the Wilton Historical Society (224 Danbury Rd, Wilton, CT): JFK - 50 Years Later.

2. Thurs, November 21st - 7:30 pm at the Avon Theater (272 Bedford St. Stamford, CT) - Legends of Rock Live: Garage Bands of the 1960's Rare Clips.

3. Sat, November 23rd - 3:00 -6:00 pm (Summer & Hoyt Streets) -SAC Capital Advisors Giant Balloom Inflation Party. Join us for this backstage look at the parade and watch the giant helium balloons come to life.

4. Sun, November 24th - 12:00pm (Summer to Broad to Atlantic Streets) UBS Parade Spectacular - one of the largest events of its kind in the country!

5. Thurs, 11/28 - 10:00 am (Westhill Football Field) Annual Homecoming Football Game, Westhill vs. Stamford High.

If You Were Selling Today, Would You Have the Home That Buyers Want?

This summary from a recent article in Houselogic really hits the mark when it comes to knowing what appeals to today's homebuyers. Knowing these trends can pay off years from now when you sell your home.

Privacy from neighbors remains at the top of the most-wanted list (important to 86% of buyers), according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS’® “2013 Community Preference Survey.†While it may not be possible to move your neighbors farther away, you can increase your home’s privacy (and therefore its resale value) by planting a livable privacy screen of trees and shrubs or by physically screening off your patio or yard by installing a privacy fence.

Patio set in back yard of house next to tall privacy fence

A privacy fence was a great investment for this homeowner (and any future buyers), considering her safety-minded neighbor loves mounted outdoor cameras.

3 Other Things to Consider the Next Time You Remodel:

1. More and more generations are living together. Another NAR survey, the “2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers,†found 14% of buyers purchased a home suited to a multigenerational household due to children over the age of 18 moving back into the house, cost savings, and the health and caretaking of aging parents.

Even if you’d rather live in a cardboard box than with your mother, you might want to consider the multigenerational living trend when you’re remodeling. For instance, opting for a full bath when finishing the basement could offer more convenience for you now and boost your home’s resale value by making it more appealing to a multigenerational family in the future.

2. On average, homeowners live in their home for nine years. That’s up from six years in 2007. Since you’ll possibly be in your home for quite a long time, it makes sense to remodel to suit your taste but also with long-lasting marketability in mind. After all, you don’t want to have to redo things you've already done. For instance, you can go for classic and trend-defying features, which work with a variety of styles. Just beware against going so far out of the norm might turn off potential buyers even nine years from now.

3. Homebuyers love energy efficiency. Heating and cooling costs were “somewhat†or “very important†to a whopping 85% of buyers. If your home could use an energy-efficiency upgrade, go with projects that have a solid return on investment, like sealing your air leaks, adding attic insulation and window replacement - a huge bonus! You’ll save money on your utility bills now and when you’re ready to sell, your home will appeal to buyers looking for efficiency.

Image: Lee Niata Johnson from Little Bitty Damn Houze blog

Out and About in Stamford - Beer Garden Set to Close

Did you ever go to the Beer Garden? Now that the Beer Garden has been "chopped" will you miss it or are you excited for the new restaurant ALEGRE to open?

Beer Garden Set to Close; Celebrity Chef Aaron Sanchez to Open New Restaurant

AaronSanchez

Things just keep getting better in Stamford’s South End – and next year Harbor Point will get a little spicier with the help of a celebrity Chef!

As reported on CTBites, celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez, restaurateur and co-star of Chopped and Heat Seekers, is bringing his Mexican magic to a new home in Waterfront Square. ALEGRE, a sexy, high end restaurant, cocktail and wine lounge, will occupy the 6,000 square foot glass building that has housed the Beer Garden, which is closing.

Alegre’s is sponsored by the owners of Frankie and Johnnie’s Steakhouses and famed mixologist and competitive sommelier, Olie Berlic, who is to wine and spirits what Sanchez is to Latin food. Aaron’s Stamford outpost should open sometime next Spring or Summer.

Alegre’s concept will be similar to that of the Mexican Melting Pot menu at Mestizo, Aaron’s acclaimed Kansas City restaurant. (In addition to Sanchez’s cookbooks and television appearances in both North and South America, he also sets the culinary vision for Crossroads at the House of Blues nationwide and Tacombi Tacqueria in New York City.)

As for Beer Garden at Harbor Point we are just as sad to see this go as you are! But, next spring, the World of

Beer Garden at Harbor Point 005

Beer will open not to far from here. This national franchise will offer one of the widest selections of brews and spirits in Connecticut, along with some great tavern food fare.

Plans call for the new restaurant to open in the Spring/Summer of 2014. We’ll keep you posted as we hear more! Stay tuned!

New Home Shoppers Want Great Rooms, Spa Baths and More Connectivity

New home buyers are coming back, but they don’t want the same old “McMansion.†They want a house they can use. That means a “great room†where everyone can gather - and a spa-like bathroom to escape from the crowd. But usefulness also extends to lots of storage space for big-box buys. It means “drop-off zones†for recharging smartphones and pet-friendly “puppy showers.†It means a home office actually designed for work and media centers made for play. It means big closets and little nooks. These new homes combine practicality with the way we want to live now. Buyers want to feel connected to their families as well as to their media, In some places, they also want to feel connected to the great outdoors with windows everywhere and patio rooms that look like their indoor counterparts. Buyers are not as formal. They want life to be simplified and are much more budget conscious, a natural consequence of the recession. They demand more value per square foot. They’re not interested in rooms they will rarely use such as a formal dining room. Most of all, home buyers want a house that “works†for them. McMansions put a huge percentage (of square footage) into hallways and formal spaces that are used infrequently, it adds up to a lot of square footage. Homes are about 1,000 less square feet but every room feels bigger because the house isn’t so cut up. Great rooms are the No. 1 requested feature among current new home buyers. Everybody ends up in the kitchen, so why not make room for them? Traditionally, most homes defined circulation zones with a lot of hallways. This gave builders the opportunity to do something totally different. One kitchen/great room combo had space for three dining sets - one adjacent to the kitchen, another for more formal gatherings in the living area and a third near a media wall that could double as a game table. Separating the kitchen from the great room, a 14-foot island served as a buffet and breakfast bar. Every eating area could see the media wall, anchored by a 70-inch flat-screen TV. Meant for entertaining, this great room can hold a crowd. It’s the perfect kind of room for a large family. Dining, cooking, communication; they’re all connected. We used to be more compartmentalized. Now, people want flow. Nationally, the average new house still measures 2,480 square feet. A mid-size home is now considered anything between 2,500 and 3,000 square feet.

Selling Your Home 101...Keep An Open Mind!

Selling your home is an experience that causes even the most stable, calm human being to feel panic, outrage & anxiety. Sometimes these emotions give rise to a handful of seller sayings that seem silly when seen in a sober light. Here they are, along with some insights to help ensure you don’t let them foul up your home selling decisions. But I spent X years or $X on that! Customizing your home is one of the biggest non-financial perks of home ownership. You should make changes to your home that will improve your quality of life while you live there. However, the fact that YOU loved the idea of having a sports court or wine cellar, enough to spend tens of thousands of dollars on it does not necessarily mean that your home’s buyer will place the same value on it – or any value, for that matter. Let it go. Understand that other than the kitchen, bathroom, & some amenity & decor upgrades with broad based appeal, your enjoyment is your return on that investment We just need to find a buyer who understands our tastes! Rethink your position: as the ultimate marketing decision-maker in your home’s sale your job is to maximize your home’s appeal to a broad segment of ready, willing and able buyers (not to find the one needle in a haystack). You’re moving on from the property, so you need to move on emotionally, too. Don’t let your attachment to your home keep your life or your finances stuck. I want to price it high, so I have room to come down. In our current market, pricing your home above market is actually dangerous. You run the risk of causing no one to view your home as a good enough value to see it in the first place. (don’t forget buyers do their preliminary search online). If other sellers are pricing appropriately and your home is priced higher than the market will bear, many buyers won’t even bother trying to negotiate you down. Rather, they’ll go find a home with a more realistic price. Even in a relatively hot market, the aggressively priced homes get the most buyer traffic and, accordingly, get the most & best offers. In turn, these bidding wars drive the eventual sales price up. If you want to sell your home in a buyer’s market, or sell it at top dollar in a seller’s market, overpricing it might actually sabotage your success. That offer is an insult – I won’t even dignify it with a response. Your home might be very personal to you, but once it’s on the market get a thick skin and decide not to take anything personally. There could be many reasons for a low offer, including buyers feeling out your level of motivation and/or your degree of flexibility. You should always respond to an offer made by a qualified buyer. You & your agent will formulate an appropriate plan. You might be surprised at how even a very low offer can come together with a respectful, reality-based counteroffer and a little negotiating. I need $X to get the home I want and take my European vacation – let’s list the place for that. There are lots of respectable strategies for setting a list price, but all of them have their basis in one thing: data – a comparative market analysis including market dynamics, trends in inventory & home values and how similar/dissimilar your home is to recently sold properties. This is where my expertise comes in, by reviewing the information & helping you make an informed pricing decision. My philosophy is that I would be doing you a disservice if I were to price your home by calculating how much cash you want or need from the sale