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
© CTW Features

Keyport dealership among the first Ford dealers in the nation to sell new F-150

A Monmouth County dealership is among the first Ford dealers in the country to sell a 2016 F-150 truck.

Joe Jarock Jr., an auto body shop employee and street rod enthusiast, purchased a new 2016 F-150 XLT from Tom’s Ford in Keyport. An employee of Al’s Auto Body in South Amboy for nearly four decades, Jarock has driven Fords his whole life. As someone who says he simply “likes driving trucks,” Jarock is a big fan of the new F-150, which replaced his 1999 F-250. Jarock and his wife use the new truck as a daily driver, enjoying the vehicle’s innovative features, particularly the remote start option.

With a range of high-end features, the new F-150 is making waves in the automotive world for its high-strength aluminum alloy body, which shaves 700 pounds off the total weight of truck and makes the truck more fuel efficient. The EPA-estimated ratings of 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined are 5 percent to 29 percent better than previous F-150 models, due in part to the aluminum body.

Serving customers from Sayreville, Matawan, South Amboy, Red Bank, Middletown and beyond, Tom’s Ford has been in business since 1962. With a large inventory of both new and pre-owned vehicles, Tom’s Ford also provides top-quality regular automotive maintenance and commercial and diesel repairs.

Tom’s Ford is located at 200 Route 35 in Keyport. For more information, call 732-264-1600.

BUSINESS BRIEFS

Social Community Activities Network (SCAN), in partnership with the Affordable Housing Alliance, will host a program designed to use interactive technology to help selected applicants connect online and encourage ongoing and positive engagement in life.

This “Successful Aging” program offers seniors digital technology training and is looking for two categories of participants age 60 and older who want to learn how to use tablets to access the Internet and become engaged.

One category is for limited income participants, and the other category has no income eligibility requirements. This program will run from Feb. 4 through April 28 at the YMCA Community Center, 41 Center St., Freehold.

Exact dates and times will be announced at a later date. Interested participants are encouraged to apply now for one of 30 slots that are available for limited income individuals. For more information, call 732- 542-1326 or visit www.scannj.com. SCAN is a New Jersey nonprofit provider of social education for adults.

Russell Brokstein, a Freehold chiropractor, will participate in the Association of New Jersey Chiropractors “Baby It’s Cold Outside” annual food and winter coat drive. From now through Jan. 4, nonperishable food items, coats, hats, gloves and scarves can be dropped off at Hometown Family Wellness Center, 9 Broadway, Freehold. Items will be donated to the Open Door Food Pantry and St. Peter’s Thrift Shop, both in Freehold. Details: 732-780- 0044.

Items for the Business Briefs may be sent via email to cbarcia@gmnews.com.

New changes coming to FHA policies

By Alex Burnham
CTW Features

 Condo policies to become more lenient, increasing potential buying option for more borrowers Condo policies to become more lenient, increasing potential buying option for more borrowers The Federal Housing Administration last month announced that it would make changes to its condominium policies, easing the way for many potential buyers to get into a new home.

The changes, long advocated by the National Association of Realtors, include changes to the FHA’s lengthy, complex recertification process; burdensome owneroccupancy requirements; and limits on the types of property insurance that are considered acceptable coverage under FHA’s rules.

Among NAR’s recommended changes:

 Eliminate the owner-occupancy ratio. Currently, a building requires a 50-percent owner-occupancy for a buyer to qualify for FHA financing, leaving many potential homebuyers to look at properties in locations or communities that don’t meet their needs.

 Increase the concentration of building units insured by the FHA to 100 percent. Currently, only 50 percent of a building can be occupied by FHA-insured loans, which often is the only financing available to likely condo purchasers like first-time homebuyers. Removing the limit could make available more potential units to credit-worthy borrowers.

 Ease the certification requirements. The Department of Housing and Urban Development certification language often requires attorney advice, and many condo boards find the process much too complicated.

 Increase flexibility on past-due homeowner’s association fees. Currently, no more than 15 percent of units can be more than 60 days past due on HOA fees. The NAR wants to increase this time period to 90 days.

Speaking at the Realtors Conference and Expo on Nov. 12, Ed Golding, the FHA’s principal deputy assistant secretary, said changes related to insurance and recertification would take place immediately as part of a Mortgagee Letter that was released the following day. Policy changes related to owner occupancy, commercial space percentage, FHA concentration and spot approvals would be addressed in a future formal rulemaking, he added.

“Condos are often the most affordable option for homebuyers, especially firsttime buyers, and making sure FHA financing is an option is important to supporting homeownership,” Chris Polychron, NAR president, said in a statement.

© CTW Features

BUSINESS BRIEFS

More than one million soldiers will transition out of the military in the next five years. This year, in honor of Veterans Day, Farmers Insurance started a campaign to support transitioning veterans by collecting gently used suits for the men and women of the military.

Farmers Insurance Atlantic Territory States (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and Georgia) is hoping to collect 5,000 suits before the end of the year. The suits will be donated to military installations and organizations across these states.

Each local Farmers Agency owner was asked to serve as a collection site. The Eric Fasano Agency, 80 W. Main St., Freehold, participated in this campaign. Owner Eric Fasano, whose father is a U.S. Navy veteran, saw this campaign as an opportunity to give back. The Eric Fasano Agency enlisted local businesses to assist in the drive and collected more than 130 suits.

Advanced PMR and Dr. Daniel Reizis invite families from the Freehold area and beyond to a toy giveaway for the community. The event will begin at their new office at 348 Route 9 north, Manalapan, from 1:30-2 p.m. Dec. 19. Pizza will be donated by Mezza Luna. The giveaway will continue at the Monmouth County Hall of Records, 1 E. Main St., Freehold, from 2-3 p.m. Santa will hand out presents to all children who attend. This family event is free and open to the public. For more information, call the office of Advanced Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 732-894- 9200, or the office of Downtown Freehold 732-333-0094.

The Turning Point restaurants’ 10th annual “Eat, Drink and Be Caring” fundraiser, held over one weekend in November, raised more than $23,000 to benefit LADACIN Network, a nonprofit agency that provides services and programs to infants, children and adults with cerebral palsy and other multiple physical and developmental disabilities.

The annual fundraiser was conducted at six Turning Point restaurants – Brick Township, Holmdel, Little Silver, Long Branch, Manalapan and Sea Girt – where guests who donated $20 to LADACIN Network received restaurant gift cards for free entrees at any of the 11 Turning Point locations in New Jersey.

With this year’s donation, Turning Point restaurants now have raised more than $120,000 for LADACIN Network through the “Eat, Drink and Be Caring” events over the last 10 years.

Russell Brokstein, a Freehold chiropractor, will participate in the Association of New Jersey Chiropractors “Baby It’s Cold Outside” annual food and winter coat drive. From now through Jan. 4, nonperishable food items, coats, hats, gloves and scarves can be dropped off at Hometown Family Wellness Center, 9 Broadway, Freehold. Items will be donated to the Open Door Food Pantry and St. Peter’s Thrift Shop, both in Freehold. Details: 732-780- 0044.

LeTip of Manalapan meets at 7 a.m. every Thursday at the Battleground Country Club, 1 Covenhoven Road, Manalapan. Several positions for local businesses are still open. Details: Jeff Weiss, 732-536- 8800, or Brian Wong, 908-581-6288.

Items for the Business Briefs may be sent via email to cbarcia@gmnews.com.

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.