Protecting your life that lives online

By Marilyn Kennedy Melia
CTW Features

 Cyber security is a growing add-on to home insurance policies Cyber security is a growing add-on to home insurance policies If burglars break in, steal valuables and do damage to your home, a homeowner or renter’s insurance policy usually will cover some or all of the loss.

Recently, some of the biggest thefts experienced by homeowners insured by Pure haven’t shown any visible signs of a break-in, says Mark Galante, spokesman for the White Plains, New York-based insurer that specializes in high-end homes.

“We had one homeowner whose computer was hacked. The criminals got into the owner’s emails and were able to imitate his correspondence,” Galante says.

The cyber thieves then sent email to the owner’s personal assistant asking to transfer funds, and a significant amount of money was fraudulently obtained, Galante explains.

Knowing that others could be similarly vulnerable, Pure decided to offer audits of home Internet networks by a third-party firm for an extra fee added on to policy premiums.

Audits to thwart cyber-intrusion aren’t commonly part of policies, says Chris Hackett, director of personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association.

However, companies that insure many upper-bracket homes, often include “identity theft” protection in policies, says Hackett. Typically, such protection can cover expenses like attorneys’ fees or lost income from days spent working with law enforcement, says Hackett. Coverage also typically pays for the cost of certified mailing or notarizing documents disputing fraudulent activity.

In the mainstream, identity theft protection typically is an endorsement, or extra that a client can request added to homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies, typically costing $25 to $50 annually, says Hackett.

“Only the very busy should consider it,” believes Robert Hunter, an insurance expert with the Consumer Federation of America. But anyone who does want the protection should “read the coverage carefully,” he adds, to ensure that the extra premium is worth the protection.

Perhaps the best protection is prevention. The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security offers tips at http://www.dhs.gov/StopThinkConnect.

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Master of the house

By Marilyn Melia Kennedy
CTW Features

 Single-family homes make up a significant portion of the rental market. But before investing in a property, be aware of what awaits in the land of landlords Single-family homes make up a significant portion of the rental market. But before investing in a property, be aware of what awaits in the land of landlords Looking into being a landlord? No longer can homebuyers count on purchasing now and selling for a profit later.

Instead, buyers wanting to wring cash out of a home are eyeing an immediate payoff: rental income. The foreclosure crisis has scared off or prevented thousands of families from owning a home. But the lure of a nice home and yard endures: According to the Urban Institute, there are nearly 15 million units of single family housing units in the U.S., making up about 35 percent of rental housing units.

More folks looking to rent prompts more people to consider becoming landlords. “Investors of all types approached us to ‘teach’ them on how to become a successful real estate investor,” says Jim McClelland, president of MACK Companies in Tinley Park, Ill., which purchases rentals for investors.

“Being a landlord is more like running a small business than it is like investing in stocks,” says G. Scott Haislet, a Lafayette, Calif., an accountant by trade who also owns rental properties. “With a stock, you spend some time before investing doing research, but then you don’t have to do much but watch it.

“Even if you use a management company, you’re going to spend time being a landlord … the management company will call to ask if you want to make certain repairs, for instance,” Haislet says.

Here, the rental basics a potential landlord should know:

It costs more to invest

Don’t dream about collecting rent unless you already have healthy cash reserves. Seeking a mortgage for a property you intend to rent typically requires a 25-percent down payment, explains Brian Siebert, past president of the Michigan Mortgage Professionals Association.

Lenders also may want six months of mortgage payments in reserve when the purchase is closed.

Property insurers view rentals as riskier, so expect to pay about a 25 percent more for coverage than on a traditional homeowner’s policy, says Chris Hackett of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Profitability depends on the property

Selecting the right property isn’t as much a personal decision as a business analysis: What are the comparable rents? How about vacancy rates?

While would-be landlords may be drawn to the many attractively priced single-family homes, a house may not be the best choice, says Robert Boyer of the real estate investment site FinestExpert.com, which scores specific addresses for their investment potential. A duplex might rent each side for $700, while a single-family home of the same square footage of both duplexes could rent for just $1,200, he says. “It’s easier to rent multi-family units because the rent charges are cheaper.”

Don’t forget about taxes

If landlords didn’t realize they were getting into a business, they will when they file their income taxes. You’ll probably be filing Form 1040 Schedule E, Haislet says, whereby you can take a host of deductions to minimize taxable rental income.

Knowing all the possible deductions, such as depreciation on the building structure, and backing them up with records is something that “people who do it themselves get wrong a lot,” Haislet says.

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Home shopping 101

By Marilyn Kennedy Melia
CTW Features

 Buying a home is unlike any other purchase. Here’s how to stay focused while on the house hunt. Buying a home is unlike any other purchase. Here’s how to stay focused while on the house hunt. Home buying ranks as the biggest purchase most people make, not just measured by dollars, but by decisions.

When buyers reach the closing table, it’s the culmination of many carefully weighed choices to select the home that best suits their wants and needs. Or at least, that’s how it should be.

It’s not easy to be sure-footed through every step, especially for first-time buyers. But experts can provide guidance on navigating the twisting path, ending at the right new home for you:

Meet with a lender

This is not the fun part. Most real estate agents insist buyers get “pre-qualified” — meaning lenders estimate the amount of mortgage a buyer is eligible for — before visiting properties.

“There is no sense in looking … if you haven’t validated what price range you should be shopping in,” explains Cara Ameer, a broker-associate with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Even a preliminary discussion of how much your down payment will be, your credit and debt picture and other financing factors involves a host of decisions.

Prioritize preferences

What do really want in a home? Probably lots, like being in a great school district, having a shorter commute to work, or huge closets.

Wish lists differ, with some putting a priority on items others don’t even rank, such as the quality of cell phone service in a condo, notes Jim D’Amico, owner of Century 21 North Shore in Boston.

Analyze your priorities carefully, advises Dr. Seung Hwan Lee, a professor at Colorado State University who has studied buyer’s remorse. If an item you’re ranking highly, for instance, is dependent on other future events, it could be a mistake to choose primarily on that priority. Lee illustrates: “If you buy a home that’s smaller than you want but choose it because of the school district, and then decide to send your son to a private school, you could regret [your choice].”

Scrutinize, scrutinize, scrutinize

In the its 2014 Profile of Buyers and Sellers, the National Association of Realtors noted that 43 percent of buyers said they first looked at properties online, a share that’s been steadily increasing.

When browsing online, buyers typically view a shot of the front exterior first, says Michael Seiler, a professor of real estate and finance at The College of William and Mary. “Only if they like it will they read the property description,” he adds.

But the photos can be misleading, warns Seiler. “Don’t fall in love with a home on the Internet. There’s no substitution for a personal visit.”

When you’re interested, go back at different times of the day, and on a weekend and weekday, advises Ameer. Then leave no door or drawer unturned, checking space in closets and cabinets. Then walk both the inside and outside, noting conditions down to any scuffs on moldings.

Pinpointing ‘the one’

It will be a mix of practical reasons and intangible, emotional factors that come together on a particular property, giving you the sense that a particular property is right for you, says Lee. Beware, though, that sometimes the most “practical” choice is not the best in the long term, warns Ran Kivetz, a Columbia University professor who has studied consumer satisfaction.

While he doesn’t advocate over-spending, Kivetz says that some consumers shy away from appealing features — anything from more square footage to a lavish landscaping — because they feel guilty about the indulgence.

Checking with a financial adviser on the expenditure might provide a clearer view of what’s practical and most appealing, Kivetz concludes.

© CTW Features

Playing the price is right

By Marilyn Kennedy Melia

Who knows a home better than its owner? No one recognizes details, like the subtle “swoosh” the furnace makes firing up, or how the morning sun shines on kitchen counters, than a proud owner.

But there’s one important aspect of their home that owners often can’t grasp: It’s current value.

When they’re selling or refinancing, sellers must “price based on today’s existing marketplace, not what they hope it’s worth,” notes John Pinto, broker-owner, Realty World, San Jose.

In a monthly survey that Quicken Loans has been conducting since 2006, which compares the value that a professional appraiser puts on a home against the owner’s opinion, the appraised value usually is lower.

Indeed, in September 2015, for the eighth month in a row, owners have overestimated their home’s market value.

Luckily, though, the difference is minimal, just 2 percent. That’s a sign that the housing market overall hasn’t seen quick drops or upticks, notes Quicken chief economist Bob Walters.

In the period from 2008 through 2011, owners’ estimates were 10 to 15 percent under appraisal values. That was the immediate aftermath of the housing crisis, when prices were falling rapidly, notes Walters.

“Appraisers are looking at prices everyday,” he explains, and in markets with quick prices rises or falls, appraisers see the trends more clearly. Still, appraisal is “combination of judgment and scientific methods, so it’s entirely possible for two well-qualified appraisers to arrive at different opinions for the same property,” says Lance Coyle, president of the Appraisal Institute.

It’s fairly rare for a purchase to be derailed because buyer is paying above the appraised value, says Walters.

But it’s not uncommon for an owner to think his home’s value has risen so much that he can refinance and get cash-back, Walters adds.

While “homeowners don’t have access to the same data as appraisers,” says Coyle, “visiting open houses in the neighborhood could give a good indication of how similar properties are priced.”

CTW Features

REAL ESTATE BRIEFS

Carlo Siracusa, regional vice president of Weichert, Realtors, announced that sales associate Joann Otteau of the Howell office was recognized for her exceptional industry success during the month of November. Otteau led the region, which is comprised of locations throughout Ocean and Monmouth counties, for resales. She can be reached in Weichert’s Howell office located at 626 Route 9 south, or call 732- 577-0440 for more information.

Carlo Siracusa, regional vice president of Weichert, Realtors, announced that the Marlboro office was recognized for exceptional performance in November. The office led the region, which is comprised of locations throughout Ocean and Monmouth counties, for new home dollar volume. Weichert’s Marlboro office is located at 455 Route 9 south in Manalapan, or call 732-536-4400 for more information.

Jack Waters, regional vice president of Weichert, Realtors, announced that the Old Bridge office was recognized for outstanding performance in November. The office led the region, which is comprised of locations throughout Middlesex County, in new home dollar volume, resale listings, resale revenue units and resale dollar volume. Additionally, sales associates John Horvath and Ranbir Singh of the Old Bridge office were recognized for their exceptional industry success. As top producers in November, Horvath led the region in resale revenue units and resale dollar volume, while Singh was recognized for new home dollar volume. They can be reached at Weichert’s Old Bridge office at 1394 Route 9 south, or call 732-525-1550 for more information.

Jack Waters, regional vice president of Weichert, Realtors, announced that sales associate Donna Warters of the East Brunswick office was recognized for her exceptional success during the month of November. Warters led the region, which is comprised of offices throughout Middlesex County, for resale listings. She can be reached in Weichert’s East Brunswick office at 431 Route 18 south, or call 732- 254-1700 for more information.

A dim view of the road ahead

Today’s automotive car headlamps don’t do an adequate job of illuminating poorly lit nighttime rural roads, which accounts for 40 percent of all miles driven in the United States.

That’s according to research conducted by AAA in Orlando, Fla. The organization found that halogen headlamps, currently included in more than 80 percent of new vehicles, may fail to safely light the way on otherwise unlit roadways at speeds as sedate as 40 mph. Specifically, they don’t allow a driver enough opportunity to detect an object, pedestrian or animal down the road, react and come to a complete stop in time to avoid a collision.

Not as widely available and usually offered at an extra cost, the AAA found LED and high-intensity headlamps to illuminate dark roadways 25 percent better than halogen lights, though they still fall short at speeds over 45 mph. Choosing the high beam setting on these types of headlamps offered significant improvement, however, stretching visibility to as much as 500 feet on otherwise dark roads.

— Jim Gorzelany
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Hopeful buyers’ big question: Help?

 Many potential buyers seek help with down payment. But asking for it can be difficult Many potential buyers seek help with down payment. But asking for it can be difficult How do you ask a question when no one wants to talk about the subject? Often, it’s quite clumsily, without much effort at sparking an honest exchange.

That’s what Dave Hardin, of Hardin Financial Group in Troy, Mich., has observed after working with parents whose adult children have asked for money to assist with a down payment for a home purchase.

“It is so important to be careful when thinking about asking your parents for help,” Hardin says. “Many parents are unable to be honest with their children about their own financial situation … We often see parents spending down their retirement funds.” Money may be a sensitive topic, but necessity has driven many to ask, with firsttime buyers since the recession began circa 2008 twice as likely to receive down payment help from family and friends than those who bought before, according to a report from Zillow’s Aaron Terrazas, a senior economist for the real estate company.

What’s more, high rents, still-tight credit availability and student debt have combined to make down-payment assistance key to struggling buyers, notes Terrazas.

Before asking, hopeful buyers should investigate options, says David Reiss, a real estate professor at The Brooklyn Law School.

“You would want to press your lenders to identify all first-time homebuyer programs you might be eligible for,” Reiss suggests. The Federal Housing Administration offers loans with low down payments, and many state housing finance agencies offer low or no-down loans to eligible buyers, he notes.

In any case, says Reiss, “It would be helpful to know your options when speaking with family members about a gift.

“They might be willing to give a smaller gift for an FHA mortgage, or they might be willing to make a larger gift if they see that it would result in lower monthly payments for you,” Reiss says

“And, the mere fact you did this type of research is evidence that you are a financially responsible adult,” he concludes.

— Marilyn Kennedy Melia
© CTW Features

Supermarket will open in Freehold

By CHRISTINE BARCIA
Staff Writer

FREEHOLD — A building that housed a supermarket for many years will have life once again as a supermarket.

Plans are in place for the Freehold Fresh Market to open before the end of the year in a 26,000-square-foot store on Route 33 (Park Avenue).

The building was previously occupied by Foodtown, which closed on June 29.

The owner of the Freehold Fresh Market, Neftali Medina, said he is working with Freehold Borough officials to obtain final approval for the store, and with food inspectors for licenses and permits. He said he hopes to open the store before Christmas, “if not, then before the new year.”

“I chose the location when I read an article which said (Foodtown) was closing. I fell in love with the store and the beautiful town,” Medina said.

Freehold Fresh Market will be a community store with an owner on premises, according to Medina.

Plans are in place for the store to be open seven days per week from 6 a.m. to midnight. Interviewing and hiring for many store positions is taking place now.

Medina’s son, also named Neftali, will be the co-owner of the store.

The store will feature a deli, a prepared foods buffet, a bakery, a seafood section and a meat department with a butcher.

“We are very excited to have the store reopen. Our residents have missed the store while it has been closed. It is not only a place to shop, but a place to visit with their neighbors and friends, and a source of employment,” Mayor Nolan Higgins said.

The mayor said he is looking forward to having the owners as members of the borough’s business community.

Thinking outside the home

By Lindsey Romain
CTW Features

 A homebuyer doesn’t just buy four walls and roof — they buy into a whole new world. Keep these intangibles in mind as you look into a future home purchase A homebuyer doesn’t just buy four walls and roof — they buy into a whole new world. Keep these intangibles in mind as you look into a future home purchase A first-time homebuyer usually has a big-item checklist: a master bathroom; an open kitchen with no obnoxiously colored tile in the kitchen; plentiful outdoor space, perhaps.

Beyond these quantifiable items, though, there are aspects of choosing a home that take more time and effort to check out. Follow these tips to make sure you find the perfect home for all your wants and needs.

Get an agent

The most important decision a firsttime buyer makes is to choose an agent “who constantly works to meet your expectations,” says Mike Wolf, a San Diegobased real estate agent and author of “The First Time Homebuyer Book” (Dog Ear Publishing, 2010).

A good agent will outline the highlights and the lowlights of a property, never leaving out information that could make a purchaser think twice. Buying a new home is a big deal, so having good help along the journey is essential.

Follow up with a solid foundation

Wolf says to be mindful of four major attributes of a home that you may not immediately notice: the foundation, plumbing, electrical work and roof. Rely on professional home inspector to red flag potential problems.

“Don’t try to pretend like you know what you’re talking about because you read a few articles online,” Wolf says. “Let your real estate agent get you linked to people who deal with these things every single day.”

Double-check the neighborhood

The house may look good, but how is the ’hood? Even safe neighborhoods have fallbacks. Check out the neighborhood more than once and at different times of the day.

Katherine Ross, director of coaching at Corcoran Consulting & Coaching, a real estate consultancy in Swansea, Ill., suggests asking yourself questions like, “Is there garbage on the street?” or “How do the yards look?” She also says to be aware of the amount of street parking, which can indicate the level of commotion, and be on the lookout for future projects like building and construction that might intervene with your move.

“A home’s value is based on location and condition,” says Ross. “You can change the condition, but you cannot change the location.”

Wolf says to make it a mission to meet the neighbors and ask them questions about the neighborhood.

“There are going to be people coming and going, parking their cars, walking their dogs,” he says. Get to know them, find out more about the area and the maintenance of the neighborhood. Is it clean? Is it safe? Are the rates good?

“That gets you the best, most honest answers,” he says.

Can you walk it?

In 2014, the median age of a first-time homebuyer was 31, according to the National Association of Realtors. Many firsttime homebuyers are young, and young couples are more apt to search for a home that supports green and healthy living. That can mean anything from solar panel roofs to energy-efficient lighting and insulation. But the biggest energy saver is one many might not consider: being carless.

Walking instead of driving not only cuts energy usage, but it also saves a homeowner money and contributes to a healthier, active daily routine.

The website WalkScore promotes walkable neighborhoods by ranking cities and towns based on how easy it is to reach amenities and services on foot versus using automotive transportation, among other pedestrian-friendly measures. House hunters can enter an address on WalkScore to determine a neighborhood’s walkability. The higher the WalkScore, the more walkable it is. Scores are determined by the distance between homes in a neighborhood to places of importance: the grocery store, school, work.

Keep amenities in mind

A quick, easily walkable trip to the supermarket is great, but remember that proximity comes with a price.

“The amount of amenities and the proximity of them to a specific house is highly correlated with price,” Wolf says. “You definitely get what you pay for in real estate. If living centrally is important to you, be prepared to pay a premium in order to do so.”

© CTW Features

Nine things to remember when shopping for a home

By Lindsey Romain
CTW Features

 Before you fall in love with that potential new house, do a reality check by keeping these points in mind Before you fall in love with that potential new house, do a reality check by keeping these points in mind It’s easy to get swept away in the romance of a new home — those tall ceilings, that spacious backyard, all the great amenities that are nearby. Eager young buyers are especially vulnerable. The mindful first-time homebuyer will keep an eye on the little practicalities that many first-timers ignore. Here are nine points to keep in mind before buying your first dream home.

1. The home is designed to attract you.

Sellers spruce up a house before putting it on the market, staging it with attractive furniture and accessories, baking cookies and lighting candles to scent the rooms with a pleasant aroma. What seems like a nice detail could be covering up a problem, such as stinky plumbing or musty odors.

“Go back to the house at another time and request that there be no olfactory or auditory enhancements,” says Suzanne Whang, former host of HGTV’s “House Hunters” and author of “Suzanne Whang’s Guide to Happy Home Buying” (HGTV, 2006).

2. Empty rooms only seem bigger.

During a walkthrough, think about your own possessions and how they will fill the space. Ignore the furnishings that are there — or not there.

“If the house is empty, remember that furniture will make each room feel smaller,” Whang says.

3. Track the appliances.

Make sure the contract honors the appliances that will come with the house. And make sure it’s specific. “Do not just say ‘washer and dryer.’” says Diana Brodman Summers, an attorney and author of “How to Buy Your First Home” (Sphinx Publishing, 2005). “Say ‘Maytag Model 800 washer and dryer.’ That way the seller cannot substitute an old washer and dryer for the one in place when the deal was made.”

Brodman Summers advises doing a walk-through of the home the night before closing to ensure that all items in the contract are still there and in the same condition.

4. Face it: You’ll have to fix stuff.

New homes rarely arrive in pristine condition. Be sure to allot some of your budget for repairs, big and small. A prepurchase home inspection will offer insight into what projects might need to be done. Your agent will highlight potential fixes, too.

5. The house will look different throughout the day.

Visit the house and surrounding area at different times during the day and at night.

“You’ll want to experience the levels of sunlight and shade in all of the rooms,” says Whang, who suggests walking around the neighborhood at different times to see how safe you feel.

6. Gauge the neighbors’ happiness.

The best way to know if a neighborhood lives up to the asking price of a property is to get a feel from the folks who live nearby. Chat up neighbors to see if they’re comfortable with the area and have had good experiences. It’s a good idea to meet people in the area or in your building; you’ll want to be sure you’ll be comfortable living next door to them.

7. Good schools come with a price.

Have kids? Want kids? A strong school district might influence a purchasing decision, but be aware that a good school means a higher price tag. What makes a school district “good?”

“A person may want to research the school district online,” suggests Brodman Summers. “See if it has made the news; look at the demographics of the families in that area; look at school board meeting minutes and the graduation rate.”

8. Your monthly expenses may go up.

According to Brodman Summers, the monthly mortgage cost on a home often is higher than a new homeowner expects, due to insurance and taxes, which have the potential to increase. She suggests making a detailed budget and staying conscious of the fact that certain expenses will fluctuate.

9. A little courtesy goes a long way.

“If you really love a house, write a personal letter to the owners,” Whang says. “It could make the difference between your offer and a comparable dollar amount from another buyer.”

Whang notes that many sellers don’t want to sell a family home to buyers who will tear it down or make major renovations, so if your plan is to keep the integrity of the structure, let them know. A little bit of home loving can go a long way to making the best decision.

© CTW Features