BUY/SELL

May 6, 2021

It’s almost too cliche to say that buying or selling a home is often one’s biggest financial decision. To be sure, it’s a meaningful, if not critical, transaction – for everyone. Even for those with multiple homes, the infrequency of buying or selling, and vagaries of each house, property and locale, makes every purchase and sale a really big deal for both the departing and the new homeowner. 

Getting out in front of the whole thing is a good idea! Buyers should know when to involve an attorney, what to find out about the house, property and community, and the real costs of foreseeable maintenance and projected improvements. Sellers should prepare by cost-effectively eliminating problems before listing, or so that the problems don’t become deal killers. There’s much more to consider than just the listing and sale price of a home… 

The Transaction

Phil Toohey
LAMPERT, TOOHEY & RUCCI

At its essence, the attorney’s job in each residential sale is to effect the passing of ownership rights in a title or a deed from the seller to the buyer. 

For the buyer, the best advice is to involve an attorney upon identifying the desired property, before signing anything, and in order to quickly ascertain the import of any title or other legal issue. Getting the inside scoop on everything about the property, from an attorney with local knowledge and experience, before signing a contract, can prove critically important. Most buyers don’t learn enough, beforehand, about legal conditions that could impact their property; such as discussed or pending changes to the school system, real property and/or income taxes, environmental and/or municipal laws, zoning or regulations affecting the property, or some big thing happening in the municipality, or area, or State.

For the seller, it’s a real mistake to wait until listing the property for sale to get an attorney involved. Something small that can easily be taken care of, with ample time, in advance of finding a buyer can be a major impediment to getting a sale closed. Sellers can bring the house up to code, including closing any open building permits to get a certificate of occupancy for work done while the Seller was in the home, that will typically be required to close. Also, if there are any issues relating to property line encroachments or easements, changes in ownership since originally taking title, house finances and outstanding mortgages and/or outstanding liens or violations of any kind,

the right time to address these issues is well in advance of when the buyers show up, and probably best before listing. 

For buyer or seller, local experience is the key in picking the right attorney for a smooth and seamless residential sale. Legal expertise and proper handling of all funds should be a given, but an attorney with local knowledge and relationships can mean easing or quickening a town process or requirement or knowing about something that is about to 

impact the property that is not disclosed in the contract of sale. The best and most common source of a good referral is from the Realtor, or from a friend or family member who has had a good experience with the attorney. ‘The firm really knew their way around town hall’ are the magic words in this recommendation.

Radon

Chris Hayes
LANCE DORFI RADON

Wikipedia says that radon is a “radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless invisible gas. It occurs naturally in minute quantities…and [is] easily inhaled, and therefore a health hazard. It is often the single largest contributor to an individual’s background radiation dose, but due to local differences in geology, the level of exposure to radon gas differs from place to place. A common source is uranium-containing minerals in the ground. Due to its density, it can especially accumulate in subterranean areas such as basements. Epidemiological studies have shown a clear link between breathing high concentrations of radon and incidence of lung cancer. Radon is a contaminant that affects indoor air quality worldwide. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking, causing 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked. While radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, it is the number one cause among non-smokers, according to EPA policy-oriented estimates.

What Do My Radon Levels Mean?

Children are more susceptible to radon exposure due to their lung shape and size. Radon is also proven to be harmful to pets.

How Common Is Radon In Homes? 

One out of every three homes in New York State have high levels of radon. 

According to the State of Connecticut, Fairfield County is in a “high-potential radon zone” because of its geology.

How To Address High Radon Levels 

The EPA’s website starts-out on the topic with the declaration: “Radon is a health hazard with a simple solution.” The most effective way to address high radon levels is to have a radon mitigation system installed which lowers radon concentrations in breathing zones or livable spaces. Typically, a pipe is installed through the foundation floor and routed to a fan which is then vented above the roof. This draws the radon from under the house and pushes it back outside. Often, this solution can reduce the radon level by 90%. 

All homeowners should check their radon levels – and their radon mitigation systems, if one is already installed – on an annual or semi-annual basis; but the law requires a focus on radon whenever a home is bought or sold. 

Buyers are entitled to a radon test to reveal the presence of radon. If you’re selling, it’s best to address high radon levels prior to putting your home on the market as the presence of high radon levels can scare off today’s more environmentally-conscious buyers. 

Prospective sellers should get the radon issue out of the way before they list their house for sale. The cost is the cost, and taking care of the problem in advance may be the difference between a transaction closing and not. 

For those with private wells, it’s important that buyers or sellers test for radon in water which is also a health hazard. 

In terms of remediation, it’s a necessity that the job is done by a certified mitigation contractor and that a certified post-mitigation test is conducted to ensure that the radon levels dropped below the EPA action level of 4.0 pCi/L. 

Radon inspection and remediation should be performed by an 

AARST-NRPP (the governing body of radon science) certified licensed tester and mitigator. Remediation should be accomplished by the most experienced, substantial and service-oriented local licensed operator. The clear objective is complete peace of mind.

The clear objective is complete peace of mind.
– Chris Hayes

Insurance

Bill Bergner
STATE FARM INSURANCE

Sellers are, or should be, all set. Although selling is a good time to, quite literally, take stock, and consider how and where artwork, jewelry and valuables will be moved, placed and stored. 

And while every buyer understands that homeowners insurance is a necessity – and a requirement of almost all mortgages – most accept the seller’s cost estimate, and then wait to arrange insurance in the last weeks leading up to closing.

Although buyers don’t need to bring an insurance broker with them shopping for homes, it is ideal to involve an agent before going to contract, and even before making the bid. A broker will confirm that the property is insurable and provide an estimate of the expense that buyer can anticipate. A broker may point out ways to reduce the insurance expense or effectiveness given the particulars of a home or property. And each buyer should consult a broker and put into place at or by closing such comprehensive or ‘umbrella’, valuables, health, and even pet coverage as may be advisable in the circumstances of the new home. 

The proprietary and cost of insurance is not a given. Buyer’s should consider the insurance variable as an early and important part of the contracting process.

Alterations, Additions & Improvements

Mark Mosolino
MOSOLINO DEVELOPMENT

As a step to prepare a house for sale, sellers should consider minor and cost-effective repairs and improvements. Rectifying any condition that may cause a reasonable purchaser to balk, including getting a certificate of occupancy with respect to any prior non-conforming work, replacing rotten roofings, decks or stairs, and fixing any malfunctioning plumbing or electrical systems, all fall in this category. Musty basements are a real turn-off and are often a relatively easy fix to accomplish months in advance of putting the home on the market. For most pre-sale renovation and construction a simple cost/benefit analysis may be appropriate (eg. will I get more than the cost of the repair back when I sell the house), and in most cases the answer will be ‘no’. 

Whatever taste is applied in any pre-sale project of substance, including notably bathrooms and kitchens, can not suit every buyer. And some buyers simply don’t need or want a pool,

an extra room, or a 5-car garage. But projects that eliminate a sore thumb will often work to bring about a quicker sale; if not at a higher price. 

Buyers, on the other hand, who usually do calculate (and deduct from their offer) the cost of the relatively minor kind of repairs the seller should have undertaken, all too often overlook the more substantial work, and even a major renovation, that may yield the perfect result. Of course, every buyer should have professionals assess the HVAC, and the condition of the roofing, siding and windows, and make sure there are no termites, before buying a house and in order to include the cost of necessary and foreseeable expenses in the calculation of total costs for the house. But taking a look at the bigger picture – and contemplating larger repairs and improvements that may make the whole worth much more than the sum of the parts – can be the most cost effective way to purchase. 

Buyers might spend more time considering the lower-priced house in just the right location when the cost of the property plus the cost of building an addition is equal or less to the value of neighboring properties; this adds a universe of homes for consideration and the product is usually closer to the buyers ideal than that found in any alternatively available higher-priced house. 

Further, there are plenty of homes, and particularly from the 50s, 60s and 70s, that sit on properties and in neighborhoods that more than warrant substantial work, a total renovation, and in some circumstances, even a partial or total tear-down. In this upwardly trending market, there’s houses for sale all over town where ‘one plus one’ may equal ‘three or more’. Just look around the ‘right’ neighborhood, consider the ‘wrong’ house for sale that sits on a great lot or that has great bones, and bring in a trusted builder with a reputation for quality work in the area to estimate the cost of the build.

Babyproofing

George Knapp
PB & J BABYPROOFING

Not every buyer, but definitely every buyer who is expecting or has little kids, must babyproof. 

Although the issue of babyproofing is seldom a game changer in the decision to buy a home – absent floating stairs or similar items inside the home or potentially dangerous natural conditions outside – it is still an item that must be included on the parent-buyer’s checklist.

Babyproofing is the most important requirement in and for a new home. It should not be undertaken as ‘handiwork’ or left for the handyman to choose one-size-fits-all products from the nearby hardware store, and should only be trusted to experienced installers. It should be implemented prior to occupancy, even if that means making special arrangements to have modifications implemented prior to closing. And it should be comprehensive, including importantly a reassessment of ingress/egress and pool access and a review of home monitoring and security systems.

George even suggests that he has attractive options for making your house safe…like these custom, clear, retractable gates.

George even suggests that he has attractive options for making your house safe…like these custom, clear, retractable gates.

Power Washing

Carlos Tafur
TAFUR POWER WASHING

Power washing and soft washing restores roofing, siding, patios, decking, fencing and other outdoor features of a home. The effect of power washing on the appearance of a home is dramatic, and it helps to prevent mold, mildew and other growth. 

It’s thee most cost-effective thing a seller can do to get a house ready for sale. And, if the seller wasn’t smart enough to do it, and the buyer could see through the dirt and residue, a rewarding service for the buyer to schedule as soon as possible after closing. 

And if power washing isn’t enough, professional painting and staining of exterior surfaces is a smart part of a regularly scheduled house maintenance program. 

For sellers, power washing or a paint job can make an old house look new and can prove to be a very worthwhile and relatively small investment in selling a home. For buyers, the ‘fresh start’ can mean tons in terms of the look and feel of a new home.

Gates & Security

Beverly Gore
GRAND ENTRANCE GATES

Gates, fencing and perimeter walls will enhance the appearance of any property, and proper design and installation are a critical part of any truly effective, modern security system. In addition, around here, keeping the deer out can mean avoiding lyme disease and keeping the coyotes out can save a pet. 

Patios, arbors and trellises increase enjoyment of any property, and outdoor entertaining spaces have certainly become particularly important in the covid era. 

Buyers should get an estimate for envisioned work to avoid post-closing surprises and consider whether some or all of the anticipated work must be installed before move-in, or even before closing. In certain circumstances the cost of such improvements could 

be included in the buyer’s mortgage financing and in most circumstances the cost of these improvements are added to the buyer’s capital basis in the property.

Lawncare

Kat Mara
TEED & BROWN

Even just the word ‘lawn’ conjures up images of kids playing in sprinklers, games of catch, and lazy summer afternoons – all the kinds of things that are actually central to the joy of home ownership. Yet most don’t recognize how material the lawn’s condition will be in shaping the buyer’s overall impression of the house. For sale ads ought to include a line: “Verdant lawn is regularly and professionally maintained.” 

To be sure, proper lawn care requires long-term maintenance, but it’s never too late for a seller to aerate, seed or treat a lawn and get an immediate benefit. For the buyer, though, the lawn should be a consideration from the get-go. 

Buyers are best advised to ignore the seller’s lawn care estimates and instead bring in a lawn care expert of their own as soon as the property is identified. Before being obligated to purchase, buyers ought to understand what a full lawn care program will involve and how much it will cost. It takes more than just mowing…and even that must be done properly. The expense of maintaining a lawn can not be capitalized, but a luxurious lawn can be a big part of a homeowner’s experience and add substantially to the value of the home.

Outdoor Lighting

Mark Mosello
DESIGN LIGHTING BY MARKS

Outdoor lighting is fundamentally important to the way a home looks…about half the time! So imagine how high on the list of things that require attention when buying a home the sun would be…if the sun had to be installed like outdoor lighting. 

As important, in order to enjoy outdoor space at night, and entertain outside in the evening (as covid now requires), lights are a must, and good lighting is a real game changer. 

Buyers can get an estimate of the cost of installing outdoor lighting as a part of the investigative process, budget to get the job done, and schedule installation for soon after closing. It’s also advisable to check on the sufficiency of the electrical system during the investigative process, and to consider the installation of a stand-by generator along with the lights (and before the first storm leaves the house without power for days or weeks). 

Good outdoor lighting design is the result of lots of expertise and experience, and accomplishes a warm and lustrous look and feel. …It’s not just lights!

Organize!

Jared Shahid & Shannon Krause
TIDY NEST

Organize! It’s a necessity for nearly every prospective seller. Sellers quite simply do not see their own homes the way buyers do. Years of accumulated treasures, even if they are valuable antiques or prized collectibles, look like nothing but years of clutter to the buyer. Kids rooms that are full of memories may be too full for the buyer to see where or how their own kids may fit in. Basements and garages full of junk should be emptied – to the point where the buyer sees big empty spaces and gets to imagine what to put there. And too many family photos and old finger paintings are, well, too much. 

This isn’t staging – which may also be advisable. And it isn’t just throwing things out – which is usually also advisable. But it is more than just doing the ‘clean up’ to prepare

for each showing. Organization is a little bit art form and a little bit science, and there are professional techniques and objective criteria to be applied. Although it’s better to do it yourself than not, the relatively small investment in a qualified professional organizer is sure to pay off many times over. Sellers should hire a member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals and opt for about as much organization as the professional suggests. And, because organizing a home may have such a big impact on the perceived value and saleability of the home, sellers should undertake the project even before inviting prospective selling brokers into the house for price opinions. 

Organization can and will change the buyer’s perspective. It should be the first step in the selling process, and is usually the step that gets the biggest bang for the buck.

Good outdoor lighting design is the result of lots of expertise and experience, and accomplishes a warm and lustrous look and feel. …It’s not just lights!

Home Staffing

Jacco de Bruijn & Mohamed Elzomor
NINES

Ignorance of the law is never a defense and nowhere is this admonition more important than for home sellers and buyers. 

Knowing local rights and regulations is a good starting point. There are entitlements and access to consider including parking, public pools, public tennis courts, golf courses, beach access, boat moorings, all that will require registration and permitting. Connecticut and New York both require prompt registration of your motor vehicle within a limited time of your relocation from out-of State. Then there are local and State regulations. These considerations include dog licensing, and how and under what conditions loud machinery may be operated. Will you be taxed on personal property if you have a local office? What about a permit to carry a firearm? Connecticut and New York have very strict requirements concerning firearm registration. 

Aside from local and State regulations, it’s essential to know who to call when things go wrong with the law rather than desperately searching in a panicked scramble for representation. No one plans for their kid’s arrest or their own police contact over a neighbor dispute, car accident or injury.

When something critical takes place, whether it’s a criminal allegation or a serious civil dispute, the best law firm for the task is one that has substantial experience and focus on your area of potential litigation. This is not a jack-of-all trades situation; it’s a Firm 

dedicated to your mission. The best of the best…are local. Local knowledge and relationships in the local courts, law enforcement agencies and administrations – and with the real people who serve as judges, clerks, officers and prosecutors – that can make all the difference in your outcome. 

Be prepared. Know the go-to attorney. Have the phone number stored – so it’s an easy speed dial in the frantic moment when you might need help.

Moving into Town

Jacco de Bruijn & Mohamed Elzomor
Nines Living

Grand and luxurious houses and properties, like those shown in this Special Homes Issue of Bedford & New Canaan Magazine, do not run themselves! The affluent and discerning buyer of these spectacular residences understands that the house and property, and the pool, court and other facilities, will require upkeep and maintenance, and that living in the house will require a staff. And staff requirements may include everything from a cleaning person, au pere, chauffeur or security, to arranging for a chef, catering, massage or yoga, or any other of the homeowner’s needs or desires. 

It should come as no surprise that the task of vetting, hiring and managing household staff and maintenance personnel is filled with legal vagaries (remember Zoe Baird was denied the position of Attorney General for having had an illegal alien amongst her house staff), and requires a large amount of time, experience and judgement. Checking the status, background and references of each person who will enter the home, and the licensing, credentials and reputation of each contractor…is just a start. Proper onboarding depends on a good fit between the homeowner family and those entrusted to be in the home and interact daily. Elegant living will depend on ongoing, attentive and detailed management of all personnel and each service component.

Nines Living is a first-of-its-kind, one-stop-shop, private membership program, designed to handle every aspect of household operations. Nines can assume the entire burden of assembling, hiring and managing whatever staff and maintenance may be required, and Nines manages the operation of the household on an ongoing basis…so the 

homeowner doesn’t have to! Each member household is assigned an experienced and professional Chief of Staff, who can be a single point of contact for the homeowner. The

homeowner can avoid all the risks and hassles of household staff and maintenance, expect a smooth and efficient operation of the house and property, and be free to enjoy living – which is the reason the house was purchased in the first place.

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