Merlino & Gonzalez - February 2023

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REALESTATEPLANNINGLAW.COM 718-698-2200 February 2023



Cheers to Our Paralegal-Turned-Painter MICHELE CELEBRATES 20 YEARS WITH THE FIRM

yet. We grew up together, literally. Emily is almost 24 now, and the firm is much bigger. I was here for all of it: the technological advances, the fresh hires, and the move into our beautiful new office. In retrospect, I think the biggest change over the years has been technology. When I first started at Merlino & Gonzalez, I had to write out all of the checks for every closing by hand. There would often be 10–20 of them, so it took me ages.

When Michele Santacroce stepped through the doors of the Merlino & Gonzalez office more than 20 years ago, she was a young mom without a day of legal experience. (Her background was in the complex world of insurance.) But Ken and I liked her spirit. We took a chance and hired her — and two decades later, she’s now our senior paralegal! Michele is a force to be reckoned with at the office, solving problems, calming nerves, and making our clients feel at ease. It’s hard to even remember what the firm was like before she arrived, but we think this quote sums it up: “I suppose you could have called it living, but we were probably just surviving.” I’m proud to officially introduce her to you this month to celebrate her 20th anniversary with the firm.

It has been a pleasure working at Merlino & Gonzalez for all of these years, but when the real estate

I can still picture the huddle of anxious people hovering around my desk, eagerly waiting as I wrote very precisely in the big checkbook. I’d never let them rush me; if they did, the bank would send the illegible checks right back. Now, we have a program that does all of the dirty work. All I need to do is type in a few words, and it will print out the checks. They’re written, printed, and done in just a few minutes. I’m definitely not nostalgic for those 20-minute check writing sessions or the days before we had dedicated internet service. When I was a young paralegal, our office actually had dial-up connected to the fax machine! We had to sneak online and back off as quickly as bank robbers so that we wouldn’t hold up any faxes. Around that time, we also shared one email address for the entire firm — and it wasn’t even Gmail. We were Hotmail people.

market is hot, it can get a little bit stressful. To fight that stress (and stay busy now that Emily no longer lives at home), I picked up a new hobby: painting. I started out using oil paints, but since then, I’ve dabbled in acrylics and even started using watercolors this year after my husband, Lou, bought me a set for Christmas. My inspiration comes from everywhere, including other painters and nature shows on TV. If you’ve never tried painting, I definitely recommend it as a method to unwind. If my name sounded familiar to you from company emails, I hope this has given you a little window into my world. With 20 years of legal experience on the books as of October 2022, I’m looking forward to many more to come.

Do you know what 20 years of doing your job with quiet dignity gets you? A few paragraphs of space in the company newsletter! Just kidding — I’ve had an incredibly rewarding two decades here at Merlino & Gonzalez, and looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. From day one, the team felt like a family. When Ken and John first hired me, my daughter Emily was 4 years old, John had a 3-year-old and a newborn, and Ken’s youngest wasn’t even born

–Michele Santacroe



Your Intellectual Wellness Matters!


How to Foster and Develop Intellectual Wellness

These days, as taking care of our health becomes more important than ever, we hear a lot about our physical wellness and how to improve it using nutritious foods and exercise.

Intellectual wellness differs from other types of well-being. You need to work hard and challenge yourself to stay intellectually healthy. If you’re looking to improve or nurture your intellectual wellness, here are three ways to do it. 1. Learn a new skill. One of the main components of intellectual wellness is working to acquire more knowledge. This doesn’t need to be physics or engineering but can be something as simple as cooking a new healthy recipe, learning to draw, or attempting a DIY home repair project. The important part is that mastering something new provides an information-based approach to the world around you. 2. Remove subjectivity. We view every situation with a pre-formed opinion or bias. The truth is our brains are wired this way to streamline thinking, but to be intellectually healthy, we must work hard to push past it.

But what about our intellectual wellness?

What is intellectual wellness? The University of New Hampshire defines intellectual wellness as “being open to new ideas, thinking critically, and finding ways to be creative.” Essentially, this means thinking about the world around you with an open mind and putting energy into what you’re thinking, not just allowing your brain to run idly. Signs of healthy intellectual wellness include: • Ability to see an issue from all sides • Purposeful exposure to ideas, beliefs, and people who differ from yourself

Remove subjectivity by learning a different way to perform a task or challenge yourself to understand (or simply read) the ideas of others. Be objective, even when you disagree with them. 3. Improve your critical thinking. Next time you’re engrossed in conversation, try being thoroughly engaged and think about what is being said. Ask questions to yourself and others, and hash out what you agree with and things you don’t. Work to keep your brain active in everything you do by finding a connection to everything around you.

• Awareness of your core values • Capacity to learn new things


6 Pieces of Valentine’s Day Trivia

Mass-produced valentines weren’t a thing until the 1840s. Known as the Mother of the American Valentine, Esther A. Howland commercialized Valentine’s Day cards that were decorated in ribbons and lace (as some are today) in the 1840s. Sweethearts candies were born in the 1860s. Oliver Chase, a Boston pharmacist, created a machine that produced medicinal lozenges (a common way to take medicine back then). With the success of his machine, he decided to use it to make candy as well, and thus Sweethearts were created in the 1860s. Valentine’s Day is an expensive holiday. According to the National Retail Foundation, in 2019, Americans spent more than $20 billion on the holiday to buy gifts that included flowers, chocolates, cards, and jewelry. It’s a popular day of engagement! According to a survey by American Express, millions of couples get engaged on Valentine’s Day. It was also voted as the best day of the year to pop the magical question.

The Hallmark cards have hit the shelves, boyfriends and husbands have all scrambled to plan, and the local restaurants are all swimming in reservations — Valentine’s Day has arrived! On this day, many are left wondering how far back exchanging valentines goes, why we exchange valentines, and where those little heart-shaped candies come from. Look no further, we have answers for you. The first valentine dates back to the 15th century. According to, the oldest record of a valentine was in 1415 when a French medieval duke named Charles wrote a poem to his wife while in prison. One of the lines read, “I am already sick of love … My very gentle Valentine.” Saint Valentine is not the same person. It’s unclear which Saint Valentine the holiday is named after. One was a Roman priest who was sentenced to death after being caught illegally marrying couples during a marriage ban and the other was a man who got caught helping Christians escape into Rome — he later wrote a letter from prison, signing it, “From your Valentine.”


LIVING WITH TIMESHARE REGRET? Try These Strategies to Offload Your Timeshare

Group, put it to U.S. News and World Report, “That’s a giant bucket of cold water on your head. The reality is that in most cases, [your timeshare is] worth nothing.” 2. Ask the ARDA’s Coalition for Responsible Exit for help. ARDA is a timeshare industry trade association, and this branch specializes in handling timeshare problems. According to EFE, “This program assists timeshare owners in finding a safe exit strategy with timeshare developers who have free or low-cost options.” Working with an official group like ARDA will help you avoid timeshare scams. Those are the best ways to get rid of your timeshare, but U.S. News and World Report claims you can also legally gift it, rent it, or resell it (likely at a loss), depending on where your timeshare is located. We don’t recommend more extreme options like refusing to pay your loan payments or maintenance fees in protest. These strategies can damage your credit and make it harder to get a home loan in the future. The best thing you can do is try one of the paths listed here. Good luck!

So, you own a timeshare: You’ve sat through the interminable 2-hour resort meeting, taken advantage of the free Jeep excursion or hefty restaurant gift they bribed you with, and sunk thousands of dollars into a slice of paradise you can use for one week per year. You’re not alone! According to the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), almost 10 million people own timeshares — and many of them probably regret it. If the shine of your purchase has worn off and you’re ready to offload your timeshare, Edelman Financial Engines (EFE) recommends using one of two different strategies. 1. Ask the resort you purchased from whether they’ll take back your timeshare. Policies on this vary from resort to resort, but some developers will let you either give up your timeshare without cost or pay them to take it back. (Yes, you have to pay them — again.) When you call, EFE recommends asking to speak to someone in the “deed-backs” or “surrenders” department.

Neither of these options is fun, but they’re effective ways of ending your timeshare commitment. As Brian Rogers, owner of the Timeshare Users




• 1 tsp garlic powder • 1/2 tsp Greek seasoning • 1/4 tsp black pepper

• 1/4 cup finely chopped cucumber • 1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise BURGERS: • 1/2 cup chopped roasted sweet red pepper

• 1 1/2 lbs lean ground chicken • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese • 6 whole wheat hamburger buns, split and toasted


1. Preheat broiler and mix chopped cucumber and mayonnaise. 2. For the burgers, mix the red pepper, garlic powder, Greek seasoning, and black pepper. Add chicken and cheese; mix lightly but thoroughly (the mixture will be sticky). Shape into 6 patties about 1/2-inch thick. 3. Broil burgers, remembering to cook both sides thoroughly. Serve on buns with cucumber sauce. If desired, top with lettuce and tomato. Enjoy!



394 Manor Road Staten Island, NY 10314



718-698-2200 |


Happy 20th Workiversary, Michele! Page 1

Intellectual Wellness: What It Is and How to Improve Yours Valentine’s Day Fun Facts Page 2

How to Escape the Timeshare Trap Feta Chicken Burgers Page 3

Wanna Stay Warm Outside? Page 4

Is it too cold to spend time outside? Nonsense! While we wait for spring, there’s no better way to get some fresh air than around a warm fire with friends and family. Whether you build a bonfire or purchase an outdoor firepit, a cozy fire is great fun day or night, and you can do plenty of activities to keep you busy. Get started with some campfire classics — roasting marshmallows and cooking hot dogs! Placing food on a skewer and holding it over a fire is a fun activity for everyone, and kids will love the opportunity to prepare their own “meal” — with proper adult supervision, of course. Campfire grill racks will help you make slightly fancier food options. Get Outside Without the Cold WARM UP WITH AN OUTDOOR FIRE

One of the best fire pastimes is taking the time to chat. Invite over folks you haven’t seen in a while and catch up! A fire is also an opportunity to put the phone away and connect on a deeper level. Consider bringing some interesting prompts along, like “What is your favorite childhood memory?” or “What was your worst vacation experience?” They’ll get everyone talking and forgetting all about the cold. Your fire is also the perfect opportunity to tell scary stories. Get a flashlight, head out at night, and do your best to frighten each other! (If you’ve got kids around, make sure the stories are age-appropriate.) Everyone can make up their own stories, retell tales they heard long ago, or do some research online beforehand. Find out who is the best storyteller — and the biggest scaredy-cat. Many typical “indoor” activities can also be brought outside. For example, get out some cards or a board game. Music will also liven up the atmosphere. You can even start a dance party if you keep a safe distance from the flames. Those looking for solo time can also read a book, sketch, or journal. No matter what activity you choose, an outdoor fire will allow you to enjoy the fresh air and get some vitamin D (if during the daytime) without excessive shivering. It might even turn into a favorite cold-weather activity. 4

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