Did you know there is a difference between “flotsam” and “jetsam”? While they are both maritime terms attached to shipwrecks, they have specific legal meanings. Flotsam pertains to goods that are floating up to the surface of the water when a ship sits at the bottom of the sea. Jetsam refers to items intentionally thrown from a sinking ship to lighten the load.

When I was 53, I went through a divorce. A private shipwreck of sorts in which I saw the flotsam and jetsam of my life in vivid detail. In one three-week period in 2013 I sold the family home, finalized the divorce, dropped one child off in college in Texas and a second in Ohio. I put my head down on a pillow in a rented condo feeling physically dizzy at the upheaval I had wrought. While much of the detritus of a quarter century of marriage was jetsam — intentionally tossed to lighten my load; the flotsam is what lingered. All those things which floated to the surface had to be dealt with. One of those was loneliness. Intense loneliness.

I remember watching the Titanic during this period and coming to the realization that if I were on a sinking ship there was no one who would usher me first into the lifeboat. It was not a matter of being loved. I knew I was loved by many people. It was about being un-connected. Even in a bad marriage a spouse is connected to a person with uniquely shared history, memories and, often, children.

I’ve thought of that period often as I sit alone in COVID-19 quarantine. For many this forced isolation is the first time we have had to be alone. And it’s hard. Really hard. Loneliness is a pandemic of its own. It’s been around for centuries and you don’t need a surgical mask to hide it. A “Hello! How are you? “here, a smiling emoji there; a happy hour smile, a group text meme all give the appearance of connection staving off the ever lurking loneliness. Until a Governor’s Shelter in Place order forces us to disconnect and be alone.

In the months after my divorce I met Heather Dugan. Heather was several months ahead of me on her divorce journey. She, too, found herself in a place of having to redefine who she was and acknowledging that no one was going to do it for her. If loneliness was a bull – Heather grabbed it by the horns. She recognized that she was going to face the bull or be plowed down by it. Heather formed a group to intentionally connect women called “Cabernet Coaches.” They meet weekly at local restaurants to check in on each other and be the real friends in a virtual world. “Loneliness is not predictable,” says Heather. “We need to be available to each other the moment someone needs us.”

Heather has since written extensively about loneliness and our need for connection, her most recent book “The Friendship Upgrade.” “We fill our lives with distractions,” says Heather. “When something like a shelter-in-place order happens, we are forced to spend time with ourselves. This is scary and uncomfortable for many of us because we don’t know what we will find.”

Dugan notes that since the Corona Pandemic she has heard from people who are realizing that their social life depends on people they see at work. “Without their coworkers their lives are very empty” she says. What to do? Recognize you’re not alone and be proactive about filling the “people” gap in your lives. Make phone calls. “Texting is a poor substitute,” says Heather, “it doesn’t connect you like the spoken voice does.” Volunteer. A recent look at www.volunteermatch.org found dozens of opportunities to serve your community safely within COVID-19 guidelines.

Some good that may come out of this: “We’re going to be much more appreciative of the people around us,” says Heather. “The more we can lean into this loneliness and make a good outcome, the better we will be for it when we can once again hug our friends.”

This blog is written by Kathy Chiero. The Kathy Chiero Group, Keller Williams Greater Columbus is the proud sponsor of DownSize Columbus and Central Ohio’s top real estate team. Find us at www.OurOhioHome.com.


Heather Dugan’s Book “The Friendship Upgrade” is available on Amazon at the link below:

Did you know that Great Britain’s parliament has a Minister of Loneliness? Well, not really. They have a Minister of Sport and Civil Society. Following the release of report which said that 20% of English citizens feel lonely most or all of the time, British Prime Minister Theresa May added addressing an epidemic of loneliness to the list of the responsibilities of this ministerial branch. Tracey Crouch leads the Ministry of Sport and Civil Society which caused the British Press to dub Crouch “The Minister of Loneliness”.

It may, on the surface, seem frivolous. Why, in light of much more serious health challenges, would a nation devote money and resources to something that seems as “solve-able” as loneliness? I mean…just pick up the phone and call someone, right? First of all, the Brits are very much ahead of all of us. There are very real social and economic costs to loneliness and isolation. Researchers believe that the health impact of loneliness is more lethal than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Lonely people are less productive people. But researchers also admit that when doing surveys of the general public to assess the levels of loneliness that they don’t use the “L” word. Why?

I can admit I’m loud. I can admit I’m overweight. I can admit I’m exhausted, sick, angry, or addicted. Why is it so hard to admit I’m lonely? That’s a very pertinent question — especially in recent weeks where COVID-19 isolation has been mandated. Why don’t we just pick up the phone and call someone? Heather Dugan is the Author of “The Friendship Upgrade” a book born out of her own quest for real connection with others. “Loneliness feels shameful, “ says Heather. “We see being separated from people as judgement on our likability.”

Loneliness unfairly equates to being unloved, unliked, and without social connection. In an age of “every-day-is-a-Disney-day” promotion of our lives on social media, the lonely fear that by admitting they are NOT living in the Magic Kingdom they are also drawing a picture of themselves as unliked, unloved, or unworthy of both. Dugan says that social media gives the illusion of being connected, but we are really not. “It’s one-sided,” says Heather. “We are looking in on the lives of others but there is no connection, and that isolation only exacerbates our loneliness. We are trading real facial expression for emojis.” If we only knew, really knew, the vast numbers of people who are just like us living in bouts of loneliness (yes, even the selfie-Mom with perfect kids who finds time to write the perfect blog) we might feel more comfortable being the first to raise our hands.

It’s also important to realize that human beings haven’t changed. YOU are not “broken” because you are lonely. Our DNA wires us for connection. Past cultures “fed” that wiring with front porches, book clubs, bowling leagues and families who stayed in the same zip code. Cultural changes move kids far away, put us in front of computers by day and Netflix by night. Many times our only “social” interaction is with the coworkers with whom we exchange a few pleasantries.

Next week in House Call I will touch on the “cure”! It takes courage. But you can do it!

This blog is written by Kathy Chiero. The Kathy Chiero Group, Keller Williams Greater Columbus is the proud sponsor of DownSize Columbus and Central Ohio’s top real estate team. Find us at www.OurOhioHome.com.


Heather Dugan’s Book “The Friendship Upgrade” is available on Amazon at the link below:


I’m Kathy Chiero. Usually I’m talking to river listeners about houses. Today given the enormity of the challenge facing our nation, I want to pray.

Father I thank you first that you are God. There is nothing we are facing as a people, a family, or a nation of which you are unaware. With that knowledge I ask that you give divine wisdom, clarity, and direction to our government leaders; I pray that you give strength, patience, and protection to the medical and emergency professionals attending our sick. I pray for physical healing of those afflicted and peace to their families. I pray that you give us the compassion to find the lonely and scared that we can be your arms to reach out to our neighbors. Finally, I pray that this trying time be a reminder of the precious gift that life is, the limitations of our human abilities and the utter dependence we have on you. In Jesus name I pray.


It may seem like an obvious choice.  You no longer use several rooms in your home.  Exterior maintenance of your home is a chore you are either unwilling or unable to do.  You only live in Central Ohio half the year.  It’s time to shop for a condominium.  Maybe.  Maybe not.


Let’s first understand what a condo is.  The word condominium is less a description of a type of housing as it is a legal definition of ownership. The condominium building structure is divided into several units that are each separately owned, surrounded by common areas that are jointly owned.  In simple terms — you own and maintain “walls in,” the interior of your unit; the Condominium Association owns and maintains “walls out,” the exterior of the unit.


There are benefits to this shared ownership: an elected Board guided by homeowner vote hires out the maintenance of these exterior and common areas.  Your lawn is mowed, your mulch is put down, your roof is replaced all on a schedule determined by the Board and paid for by monthly dues.  You can travel to Europe for two weeks or go to Florida for four months without have to worry about the care of your property.  Two inches of snow?  You can enjoy your coffee while snow blowers whir outside your window.  Many communities feature members-only pools, fitness centers and clubhouses.


There are also restrictions to this communal ownership.  Condominiums come with a list of rules called “by-laws” which dictate the “do’s and don’ts” of your jointly owned property and common space.  Want to put an Ohio State Flag out on game day?  It might be allowed ON game day — but must come down by Sunday.   Forget and leave your garage door open when you leave for work?  You may come home to a notice of a fine for breaking the ‘no garage doors open’ rule.   The purpose of these rules is to maintain the value, aesthetics and uniformity of the property but can be stifling to a free spirit or the homeowner accustomed to imminent domain of his/her domain.


Anita Smith is the Principal Broker for EPCON Communities, the #1 condominium developer in Central Ohio since 1986.  The name EPCON is synonymous with condominiums and Anita has watched the development of the condo product for over two decades.  The earliest EPCON condos, says Anita, had “very few bells and whistles.”  They were glorified apartments: two bedrooms, 1.5 baths, 1 car garage, no basement.   “The 1980s condo buyer was simply looking for no maintenance and we offered that for $60,000” says Anita.


My, what two decades has done to the industry!  The condominiums of 2020 are, to use an ad agency phrase, not your Mother’s condo.  And, says Anita, they are no longer just for your mother.  “We are seeing more, and younger people choose condos as a lifestyle, not just the next move for a downsizer,” she says.  Each year EPCON polls their sales representatives with the questions “What were your customers asking for that we don’t offer.  Why didn’t potential buyers buy?”  Through that constant evaluation of customer needs today’s EPCON condominium bears resemblance to their 1980 forebears only in name. “Expectation has changed,” says Anita. “Younger, more affluent and educated Buyers are coming in and saying ‘this is what I have in my 4000 square foot home. I want the same thing in my 2000 square foot condo.’ “Today’s condominiums are free-standing, offer basements, storage, large garages, gourmet kitchens, fenced in courtyards, outdoor living areas, and even pet grass for Fido.   Price?  The $60,000 that bought the 1986 condo is now the down payment on these luxury units that easily run $450,000 and more.


Is it for you?  After over twenty years of selling condos (and living in one herself), Anita says education is the key.  “It’s not a single-family home and it’s not for everybody.”  My own experience as a Realtor emphasizes this: if you know what you’re buying before you buy and that’s why you’re buying it — you’ll be happy.  If you don’t research condo living or you think you’ll buck the bureaucracy — you’ll likely be unhappy.


Next week in House Call we’ll get specific:  how do you decide if condo living is for you?


This blog is written by Kathy Chiero.  The Kathy Chiero Group, Keller Williams Greater Columbus is the proud sponsor of DownSize Columbus and Central Ohio’s top real estate team for the over-55 homeowner.  Find us at www.OurOhioHome.com


It’s a decision that no grandparent wants to make and in past generations did not have to make: do we move to be near the grandkids?  Our American past is one of almost communal generational living: adult kids didn’t move.  A hometown was home and Grandma was the stopover on the way home from school.  Today that stopover is often a flyover — jobs require moves to different states, divorce leaves a single parent needing assistance, the reasons vary but the end result is the grandkids are zip codes away.


It is one of my favorite episodes of “Everyone Loves Raymond.”  In this early episode Raymond and Debra are trying to decide where to buy a house.  Standing in front of an easel Ray has diagramed the exact circle of geographic range: a perfect balance between too close to Mom and Dad (they come over every day) and too far (we have to spend the night when we visit). The reason the episode is funny is that we’ve all been there, and it is, for many, very true.


According to a 2012 AARP study, the vast majority of American Seniors say it’s very important to be near their grandchildren.  However, thinking and doing are very different decisions.  Decades in one town breeds a familiarity that is hard to leave: you have your church, your friends, your favorite deli and your doctors.  Do you really want to start over?  For some, retirement doesn’t start until the grandkids are teens — can you afford to move?  And finally, there are some sage opinions that too close is too much — is it the right thing to do?

Experts say it is far from a simple decision.  Like going on a cruise, the idea is lovely.  For a week. Do you really want to live on the ship?   Things to consider:


  • Cost: The sale of a home, the purchase of another, moving expenses, re-settling expenses, rehiring expenses for those still working: the costs add up. Is it less expensive to plan regular trips to visit the adult kids and grandkids?
  • What do your kids want? Pay particular attention to the opinions of the unrelated spouse. Have they invited you to move closer?  What are the “ground rules” for this new proximity? All need to be frankly discussed.  For some it is a welcome third hand to help with the kids, for others too close for comfort.   The boundaries go both ways:  you don’t step on their private space and they don’t expect you to be the built-in babysitter.
  • Are you good at “re-homing” yourself? At your age can you get out again to make new friends, establish a new yoga group, or find a new church? If not, the danger is that your child’s family becomes the center of your existence putting unwanted pressure on both families.
  • How permanent is your adult kids’ job and location? How many times are you willing to move?
  • Are you somewhat independent by nature? You have never depended on your child for financial or social support. If this is the case, you will likely land on your feet in your new home.  If not, the stress of starting over may strain the relationship with your child.

Facing these issues head on with frank communication is the key to a peaceable and happy move that benefits both parties.

Next week: we talk to a grandparent who packed it all up and moved to be near the grandkids. This Blog is written by Kathy Chiero, Lead Agent for The Kathy Chiero Group.  We can’t make the decisions for you, but we can make the transition smooth!  Visit us a OurOhioHome.com


There is a phenomenon that every Realtor has watched happen: a family with a perfectly respectable home decides they need to sell their house and buy another because the family has grown, and additional children means the need for an additional bedroom.  After all, every child needs their own room, right?   It’s the “American” in the “American Dream”.


I recently posed this question to my Facebook audience.  I’ll be honest.  I, personally, was leaning toward the “Americans are spoiled” reasoning.  There is no need for individual bedrooms, our grandparents raised our parents three-to-a-room, other cultures don’t have the luxury of private space, etc.  Several of my Facebook friends shared that opinion. Cindy said “Oh mercy!  We just stacked ‘em higher! They seem no worse for the experience.” Charlie commented: “5 kids, 2 parents, three bedrooms.  Be happy they have their own bed…”


Several weighed-in on their own experience growing up. Perhaps seen through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, many remembered the experience as overwhelmingly positive.  Some said they continued sharing the bedroom long after additional space made it unnecessary.  Erica said she shared a room with her twin sister until she was 15.  “We had two twin beds” said Erica “we would end up in the same bed.”   Corinna came from a family of nine children.  She shared a bedroom with her sister. “We fought, we schemed, we drew lines down the middle, we shared boyfriend tales, clothes, make up and stories of each other’s worlds. Today, Karen and I have special bond. When we travel together, we still share a room.”


The comments were also enlightening and helped me look at it from another perspective. Agnes grew up in a “Communist style” apartment in Romania.  Her children now have their own bedrooms which Agnes believes helps with their sleep schedules.  Genna says she and her brother were such total opposites in their personalities, she doesn’t know how they could have shared a room.  Scott said he was so different from his brother a shared bedroom was “constant battles” to the point that he often slept in the basement rather than face the fight upstairs.   Needless to say, Dad Scott is a huge proponent for separate bedrooms.


The luxury of individual bedrooms in America did not become widespread until the post-WW2 building boom introduced tract homes, often with individual “compartments” — as the rooms were called at the time.  Even today, individual bedrooms is not the “norm” in most cultures worldwide.  I remember driving a visiting Israeli around the suburbs I lived in.  It was his first visit to the United States. To Americans, the brick two-stories at which he was looking were middle class. They were not starter homes, but certainly not homes of affluence.  He asked if all of the structures were libraries or civic buildings.  “No,” I said, “they are houses.”  “For ONE family?” He asked in astonishment. Yep.  That would be our culture.


Forget the 1930s promise of “a chicken in every pot”, by the twenty-first century the sign of affluence was a bedroom for every child. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of a home has gone from 1400 square feet in 1955 to 2600 square feet in 2018. This increase is partially attributed to the need for more bedrooms.  There are good reasons for having separate bedrooms for each child: privacy, sleep autonomy, creating good study habits, discipline in keeping a room clean — all of these legitimate benefits result from separate bedrooms.  But, says Dr. Joan DiFuria, Author of “Affluence Intelligence,” it also makes parents feel better.  It confirms their image as good providers and allows them to match the standard of their peers.  “No one wants to be the one family who can’t afford a home with bedrooms for each child.  There are subtle and not-so-subtle comparisons made even if they are not spoken”. Ouch.


The answer to the question about the need for separate bedrooms is there is no correct answer.  Dr James Crist, Clinical Psychologist in Woodbridge, Virginia and author of “Siblings: You’re Stuck With Each Other So Stick Together” says that it is a family decision: “there can be great benefits from same-sex children sharing a room not the least of which is a life-long bond which develops in close proximity.”  If a family is able to afford separate bedrooms the benefit is privacy and a child’s control over their own space and things.  However, says Dr. Crist, it shouldn’t be a decision made simply because affluence allows separate bedrooms. There is some baseline agreement: boys and girls should have separate bedrooms when they reach an age where modesty matters. Beyond that, says Dr. Crist, room-sharing has great benefits.  “First of all, it teaches them to share” he says. “This youngest generation is one of always having ‘my own things.’” Kids who share bedrooms tend to be better at negotiating and resolving conflict says Dr. Crist, “as long as Mom and Dad don’t do it for them.”  The important role of the parents becomes setting the age-appropriate boundaries and acting as a “consultant” to guide resolutions of the conflict when disagreements interfere with sleep or harmonious living.


Do you miss the happier days of shared bedrooms and a simpler life?  My guest in next week’s blog did.  And she did something about it.  Join me next week here in House Call.


House Call is a blog by Kathy Chiero, Team Leader of The Kathy Chiero Group at Keller Williams Greater Columbus.  Find Kathy at www.OurOhioHome.com

My husband and I were at dinner a few weeks ago and we ran into a past client of mine. As their Realtor I had helped Dan and his wife, Bridgette, sell their single-family home and buy a condominium. Prior to meeting with me they had not seriously considered condo living and were unaware of what amenities were offered in the newer condominium homes.  Dan looked me in the eye and said, “I want you to know that you changed our lives.”  Quite a statement coming from a simple real estate transaction.  Dan went on to tell me that he and Bridgette loved their condo and the communal lifestyle.  They had made new friends, had joined a Bourbon tasting club, took walks with their neighbors in the evening and were generally loving the retirement lifestyle in a harmonious community of like-minded neighbors.


That’s the good side of condo living.


At this moment I have for sale a very similar condo in a very similar community.  The owners purchased the condominium four years ago and today it sits vacant.  Why?  They didn’t like condo living and have moved back to a single-family home neighborhood.  Craig says he didn’t like the lack of privacy and the seeming arbitrary rules of a power-hungry condo board.  His wife Leslie said they felt the finances of the Association were not being handled responsibly and they wanted out before there were major increases in the monthly dues.


Both of these opinions are legitimate and grounded in reality. This dichotomy is why education and preparation are essential steps to purchasing a condominium.  Anita Smith is the Principal Broker for EPCON condominiums, Central Ohio’s #1 condo builder.   Anita has spent the last 20 years selling condominiums and, more importantly, she lives in one.  “Education” says Anita is the homework that must be done to make this kind of homework.  “I find that the younger condo buyer, the age thirty to 60, has a harder time with accepting the rules.  The Senior buyer, age 60 and up, tends to appreciate the uniformity of expected behavior.”


What should you consider before buying a condo?


  • Read the rules. The “by-laws” of a community are the strictly held “do’s and don’ts.” They are not suggestions.  They are legally binding.  Read them, ask questions, make sure you can abide by them. Have the grandkids weeks in the summer?  Want the option to rent the condo out if you ever move?  Read the fine print.  It’s easier to not buy than to regret the purchase.
  • Weigh the benefit of less maintenance with the monthly cost and loss of autonomy. Are you a DIY-er?  It may frustrate you that the gutter on your unit is leaking but you aren’t allowed to repair it.  You are paying a monthly fee for that repair to be done for you.  It just might not be on your timetable. On the other hand, if you are not accustomed, willing or able to do repairs you may love the quasi-landlord that comes along with the condo fee.
  • Review the financials of the association. Condo Associations are required to open their books to potential Buyers: a line item list of income, outgo, and reserves.
  • Read the minutes of the last three Association meetings. Noisy parties a constant problem? Dogs running loose? Poor management response? The dirt will be in the minutes. Read before you buy.
  • Condo Associations are run by humans. You may not like them. Condo Boards can be highly politicized and run by jerks.  Remember that neighbor who left a note on your mailbox that your grass had gotten 1” too high?  That guy is now President of the Condo Board and has by-laws to back his pettiness.   To be fair, the Accountant who kept the books in line for Cardinal Health is now your association treasurer and tracking every dime. You take the good with the bad — but it’s all a part of condo ownership.
  • Are you ready for less privacy? Shared wall condos can feel like glorified apartments.  You can’t choose your neighbors and you can’t keep them from noise or smells that come into your living space.  Walk the community which you are considering and “feel” yourself living there.  Knock on doors or ask residents who are outside about the quality of life.


In the final analysis, the happiest condo buyer (and there are many, many of them in Central Ohio) is the prepared condo Buyer.  You have earned a life of low maintenance, just make sure that you are not paying for the low maintenance with encroachments on your lifestyle that are untenable.


This blog is written by Kathy Chiero.  The Kathy Chiero Group, Keller Williams Greater Columbus is the proud sponsor of DownSize Columbus and Central Ohio’s top real estate team for the over-55 homeowner.  Find us at www.OurOhioHome.com

I recently posed a question on my Facebook page: “Is it necessary for kids to have their own bedrooms?”  It could be expected that there are a variety of answers.  Adults speak out of their own experience and parents comment on what works for them.  One answer intrigued me.  Jennifer Wernert wrote “I’m 32 and a mom of 4. This year I downsized my family’s home from 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 3400 square feet and a full finished basement to an 1100 square foot ranch with 3 bedrooms, 1 bath and no basement. “Now my boys have one room and my girls have their room.”  Jennifer went on to write that this decision was made purposefully: while her family had normal financial concerns, the mortgage was manageable, and her family enjoyed the large house and a wonderful neighborhood.  Her answer intrigued me. (“Who does that?!) I called to hear the details.  Here is Jennifer’s story:


Jennifer and her husband Dustin have four children ranging in age from 2 to 13.  When this story starts, they had three children, two boys and a one girl, which made workable what Jennifer described as a “very average” house of three bedrooms and two baths. The Wernert’s were halfway through a five-year plan of home improvement.  Like many homeowners they had done renovations to the home so that it was just getting “like we liked it” said Jennifer.   In what can only be described as incredibly impulsive decision Jennifer saw a Facebook ad for a bigger home in a neighboring community.  She called her real estate agent and made arrangements to see it. With 2.5 years left on their five-year plan, Dustin balked, but eventually went along to see the larger house. While they didn’t get that home, they did get “the bug.”  Now it was Dustin intent on moving their family of 5 into a bigger home.


They found another home that Dustin loved, Jennifer liked-not-loved the home. It was, well, big.   The ceilings soared, the rooms were expansive, the walk-out basement finished.  The Wernert’s doubled their square footage and their mortgage.  Within months Jennifer was pregnant and had made a career change to a newly licensed Realtor. A professional change that promised to be ultimately profitable was, in the short term, a struggle.   The mortgage became a burden, the work incessant, and the house that was big was now too big. Because Jennifer wasn’t crazy about the house to begin with “I fell out of love with it” she says.   “I needed to work harder and make more money.  I wasn’t a good Mom.  Instead of being present with my kids I was always telling them to go somewhere in this big house.  Go play.  Go watch TV”. There were arguments with Dustin.  The “feast or famine” nature of a Realtor’s career was a sore spot.  When it was “feast” they spent the money as fast as it was made.  When it was “famine” a not-so-subtle pressure to get a “real” job.


Jennifer began to see the effect on her kids. They rarely saw each other.  “With a house that big there is always space to go off on your own. They would disappear into their bedrooms.  We were losing the closeness we had as a family.”   For a while Dustin and Jennifer tried to fill the space between family members with “stuff.”  “Buy more stuff and throw it at the kids” she said. “I got to the place I was so unhappy with the direction my family was taking I was working more to spend more to work harder to spend more.” The isolation was not the picture of family life that Jennifer wanted. “I couldn’t stand how we lived a life filled with consumerism, excessive screen time and really everyone wishing they could be anywhere but home. The kids spent more time with their grandparents than they did with us, I worked as much as possible, Dustin liked to be in the house but wasn’t really present in the day to day happening of the household. All of us had turned to social media or friends from work/school for conversation.”


Around this time Jennifer began helping her brother renovate a small rental home he owned.  It was 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 1100 square feet and no basement.  The more time she spent in the home the more she began entertaining the possibility of getting off the hamster wheel. “We could do this” she thought.  “We could sell the big house, pay off debt, and move into the small house.”  The option was a “hard no” for Dustin, remembers Jennifer.  The kids need their own bedrooms, we all need the space.  But Jennifer had been pushed to her limit and she was unwilling to compromise what she saw as the detrimental effect on her family. “To me I only had one choice, flip the whole damn ship and shake it. Hard! So, I did.” She said.


While they didn’t sell the large home (today it stands vacant, it’s future undetermined) they did move into the smaller home. The initial response to life in a relative shoebox was predictable and unpleasant. “We left pretty much everything behind” said Jennifer. “The toys, the clothes, the TVs, iPads, all of it. I didn’t even get internet for the first month or so. I worked off the hotspot on my phone and the kids had meltdowns.” However, over time Jennifer began to see a change. “The kids stopped crying and started playing with each other. They made up games, played hide and seek, colored pictures, my boys laid in bed late and talked and laughed, we started playing board games as a family and talking at the dinner table.”


Jennifer finds that it’s much easier to keep clean and organized. “Every space is utilized. Nothing is wasted” she says.  The Wernerts don’t buy, collect, or keep “stuff.” Jennifer notes that the peace of mind is worth the sacrifice.  In reflecting on the decision, Jennifer says “I think what was surprising and yet not really surprising at all was the amount of stuff that we left behind, and no-one seemed to miss. When we moved out all we took were the essentials.” Do they miss the big house? “We miss the neighborhood,” says Jennifer.  The Wernert kids had friends there but they are working to recreate that “village” in their new neighborhood.


While there are sacrifices: the “dance” of one bathroom for six people and no basement for storage are luxuries that are sometimes missed, Jennifer doesn’t regret the decision. “I don’t want to go back to a life of excess.  I don’t want to have to wince when I write the monthly mortgage check.”  Jennifer says that she never wants to get caught up again in the “American Dream.”  Jennifer says she is still living it, albeit redefined. “Living and doing life together is just all around more enjoyable now that we’re focused on each other and not on the stuff. As a society we all know and understand this concept but it’s so easy to drown in materialism before you even know you’re sinking. “

A newer agent in my office recently posed the question: “I am representing a young couple who found a home they love.  The only downside? It reeks of cigarette smoke.  I’m trying to advise them whether or not they should consider this home?”  It should be noted that this question was being asked in Columbus, Ohio where, at the time of the question and this writing, the housing market ranks between #1-5 in the pace of home sales across the nation. In lower price ranges there can be as many as 15 buyers for every available home and homes often sell in hours.   The temptation for a Realtor can be to “just get them a house” and a Buyer may be tempted to accept the leftovers of a 20-year chain smoker as the price one has to pay to get a house.


The easy answer would be to advise a Buyer to move on to another home.  But just like any defect in a house that adversely affects value, the “smelly” home can be a great investment if purchased at the right price and with a clear understanding of the cost and labor one will have to invest to rid the home of the smell.


The offensive smells of a home are many: pets, cooking odors, dirt, mold and cigarettes.  Like an unwanted houseguest, the smell often lingers long after the homeowner has vacated the property.   Realtors have an adage “If I can smell it, I can’t sell it.”  In truth the home can be sold but odors take a toll on the home’s equity.  According to a study by the National Association of Realtors smoking in a home can reduce that property’s resale value by up to 29 percent.  Home buyers who fall for a home that reeks of smoke shouldn’t assume the odor will go away as soon as the smoker moves out.  In fact, removal of most smells can take weeks or months even when extensive measures are taken to mitigate the odor.


Let’s tackle the easier smells first: Pet odors and cooking smells.  These smells are often mitigated by removing all textiles from the home (fabric furniture, carpet and curtains), cleaning and “airing out” a home over a period of weeks.  Pet urine gets into floorboards and drywall making the smell difficult to remove even after removal of carpet and cleaning. These areas should be treated with a commercial primer such as BIN® or KILZ® prior to painting and replacing flooring.


Mitigation of mold is another blog and will not be dealt with here.


Cigarette smoke is a particularly hard challenge and the costliest to remove. Its smelly residue is more than a nuisance, it is a health hazard.  Many people are effectively allergic to the smell of cigarettes experiencing headaches and breathing issues in the presence of first or second-hand smoke.  Researchers are just now documenting the health effects of third-hand smoke. Third-hand smoke is residual nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. People are exposed to these chemicals by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing in the off gassing from these surfaces. According to Dr. J. Taylor Hays of the Rochester, Minnesota based Mayo clinic, this residue is thought to react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix including cancer causing compounds, posing a potential health hazard to nonsmokers — especially children.


I recently represented Dave and Karen Kelly in the purchase of a large (4000+) square feet home in which the previous owner had chain-smoked for a number of years.  The odorous damage was so bad that the cigarette smell was first noticed approaching the home from the outside.  Dave had owned and mitigated the smell in a “cigarette home” before so, if purchased at the right price, the smell was not an immediate “deal killer” for him or his wife. (Note to smokers:  The Kelly’s are the exception to the rule.  In my experience most Buyers will walk away from the smell of smoke without giving the home any consideration.  In fact, I’ve had Buyers unwilling to go in a home if the smell is overpowering.)


Dave and Karen started with the luxury of not needing the home for several months.  They knew that whatever they brought into the “smelly” home would be contaminated.  So, they went to work on the vacant house.  “Everything has to be removed” said Dave.  Not just carpet and curtains, but anything that can be removed must be removed and discarded or cleaned. “Light bulbs, switch covers, vent covers, ceiling lights and fans. Everything had to be taken off, taken apart, and cleaned” said Dave. What couldn’t be removed had to be cleaned with a commercial grade cleaner which cut through the accumulated nicotine film and painted: floors, ceilings, baseboards, walls.  And, says Dave, all of this is wasted if the new owner doesn’t perform “extreme air duct cleaning” using a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter duct cleaning through a licensed HVAC service.  The Kelly’s air duct cleaning took a full day and cost $1200.00.


Dave and Karen bought an ionizer. An ionizer is an air purifying appliance which pulls contaminants out of the air. Ionizers emit ions—charged particles—to help an air purifier’s filters trap contaminants in your indoor environment.  These units can cost thousands of dollars but an adequate model costs under $1000.  Renting a unit for a few days runs in the low-$100’s but the Kelly’s found that they ran theirs for weeks, justifying the price.


In the end, the Kelly’s spent $7000 in paid labor and materials to rid their home of the cigarette smell.  The real cost, however, was in the time spent by Dave and Karen ridding their home of the smell of 20+ years of smoking. “Over 2500-man hours,” says Dave.  That’s almost a year of working 8 hours a day on a home.  Worth it? To the Kelly’s, yes.  They paid substantially below fair market value for a home that today is totally smell free.  “You would never know if you walked in our home today,” says David.


Given the cost of mitigation and the potential health issues posed by third-hand smoke, one would think the Seller would have to disclose the potential for odor-issues in the home. Except for mold, in Ohio, there is no legal requirement to disclose the source of bad smells perhaps because it is an obvious “Buyer Beware” issue: if you can smell it, you know about it.   But a good Buyer’s Agent does have the obligation to educate their Buyer as to the cost of making their dream home a sweet-smelling purchase.


House Call is a blog written by Kathy Chiero, Licensed Realtor and Team Leader of The Kathy Chiero Group of Keller Williams Greater Columbus.  Find Kathy and her team at www.OurOhioHome.com

Did you know that Americans 65 and over are the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? Over 60% say they are on social media on a regular basis – often reporting on or keeping up with their grandkids.   Have you ever thought about what happens to your posts and pictures after you die?  If not, you should. Facebook will delete or alter an account when requested by a family member, but unless you have made your directives clear to Facebook, it’s a more complicated process than had you done it yourself before your death.  It can be disconcerting to many (especially family members) that your posts and personal information are floating in cyber-space without the ability to control access. Having your “life” go on in social media also opens your name and account to fraud and unwanted posts..  Certainly, many will find it comforting to be able to visit your page after you’re gone, but what do you want?

The easiest way to solve this problem is to make sure a loved one or loves ones have the password to your page. (And if you have opted in to two-step authentication, they will need your phone AND your phone password.)  Your trusted loved one can delete or “freeze” your page upon your death.  Or,  Facebook allows you to make the decision today.  Go to the upside down triangle at the far right of the blue header on your page, click on it and drop down to “Settings.”   Go to “Memorialization Settings” and make your decisions. “Memorialization allows friends and family to post remembrances and honor a deceased user’s memory, while protecting the account and respecting the privacy of the deceased,” says Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes* “Also, we do honor requests from close family members to deactivate the account, which removes the profile and associated information from the site.”  In addition, Facebook allows you to choose a “Legacy” contact – a trusted loved one who will take control of your page upon your death and act according to your wishes.  Make sure you tell your legacy contact that they have this responsibility upon your death.  Do this on each of your social media accounts.

Need help with downsizing? The Kathy Chiero Group, Keller Williams Greater Columbus is the proud sponsor of DownSize Columbus and Central Ohio’s top real estate team for the transitioning homeowner.  Find us at www.OurOhioHome.com

  • Quote by Andrew Noyes is excerpted from “16 Things Smart People Do For End of Life Planning” by Kimberly Hiss for Reader’s Digest