Automakers accelerating on auto-braking

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 Your next car could apply the brakes on its own to help avoid a collision Your next car could apply the brakes on its own to help avoid a collision Perhaps as the first step toward driverless cars, expect advanced safety systems that can help drivers avoid, or at least lessen the effects of a crash to become widespread in the not-too-distant future.

Ten automakers recently committed to making the potentially life saving systems standard in all their vehicles sold in the U.S., presumably over the next few model years. They include Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes- Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo. Together, these companies were responsible for 57 percent of U.S. light-duty vehicle sales in 2014.

Other automakers could follow suit, and has been the case with important safety features like antilock brakes and electronic stability control, there’s a possibility frontal crash protection could one day be mandated for use in all cars by the federal government.

Until recently limited to the luxury car segment, frontal crashavoidance systems are fast becoming prevalent among more affordable cars and crossovers, though they’re usually offered only on costlier versions within a given car line, and are often bundled with other features in expensive options packages.

A forward collision warning/prevention system uses radar, cameras or lasers to monitor the distance between a vehicle and the traffic or other obstructions in its path. The same hardware is also used in a vehicle’s adaptive cruise control system that maintains both a set speed and distance from the traffic ahead. Basic systems will engage visual and audible alerts if it determines the car is closing in at a potentially hazardous rate of speed and pre-charge the brakes to maximize their stopping power. A full-blown collision avoidance system will go a step further and automatically apply the brakes at full force if the driver isn’t reacting quickly enough.

Most such systems operate at higher speeds with the intent of saving lives, though a few models, specifically those from Volvo and Mazda, are also selling separate auto-braking systems that operate at slower speeds to avoid fender benders in stop-and-go traffic. A few Infiniti models further offer lowspeed systems that will automatically apply the brakes while backing up to avoid hitting pedestrians and other vehicles.

According to a report conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., autobraking technology can reduce insurance injury claims by as much as 35 percent. “The evidence is mounting that AEB is making a difference,” says IIHS’ president Adrian Lund. “Most crashes involve driver error. This technology can compensate for the mistakes every driver makes because the systems are always on alert, monitoring the road ahead and never getting tired or distracted.”

In order for a vehicle to earn IIHS’s highest Top Safety Pick+ designation, it must offer an automatic braking system in one or more of its versions. Vehicles earning a “superior” rating are able to successfully avoid a crash or substantially reduce a vehicle’s speed in tests conducted at 12 and 25 mph. To garner an “advanced” rating a vehicle must include an autobraking function and be able to avoid a crash or reduce speeds by at least 5 mph in either of the two tests. Forward collision warning systems that meet performance criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and autobrake systems that provide only minimal speed reduction in IIHS tests earn a “basic” rating.

As of this writing, the IIHS has given a record number of models a “superior” rating for forward crash avoidance when properly equipped, including the 2016 Acura ILX, MDX, RDX and RLX; 2016 BMW X3; 2015 Chrysler 300 and its twin, the 2015 Dodge Charger; 2016 Honda Accord Coupe and Sedan, 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, CLA and E-Class; and the 2016 Mazda 6 and CX-5. The 2016 Volkswagen Golf, Golf SportWagen, Jetta and 2015 Volkswagen Touareg are deemed “advanced” for front crash prevention.

© CTW Features

Unequal DUI laws

Q&A with Sharon Peters

Q: My nephew has been picked up for driving impaired at least four times. Very little in the way of punishment ever happens. And still he drives. In my part of the country, he would have lost his license years ago, and probably would have done time. He lives in Pennsylvania. Is that known as a state that does nothing about DUI?

A: You are correct in supposing that law enforcement/ courts can treat such individuals very differently from state to state. Pennsylvania is among the 10 most lenient states (ranking number 49 out of the 50 states and District of Columbia) when it comes to how strictly DUIs are approached, according to WalletHub, which did a recent analysis of DUI enforcement rules across the country. The group examined 15 metrics, including minimum jail sentences to ignition interlock devices (which are regarded by many as a highly effective deterrent to keeping drivers who have driven drunk or stoned in the past from repeating that behavior).

Any number of approaches could be used, of course, to assess how harsh or lenient the laws relating to DUI are written … and, especially, applied. This methodology may or may not lock in on all that contributes to whether a state is a crackdown state or a soft one.

MADD, using different methodology, also put together a list of the 14 most lenient states. Pennsylvania was on that group’s list, too.

All this seems to confirm your suspicions.

Readers comment: Several terrific readers got in touch with me after a recent column in which I answered a question about gas caps not consistently being on the same side of cars, and that can lead to confusion at the pumps when one is driving a rental car or the vehicle of a spouse or someone else. “I agree with all you wrote,” one reader commented, “that it would be easier if you could count on them being on one side or the other. You should have pointed out, though, as I remember you did several months ago, that in most vehicles there is a symbol on the gas gauge that indicates which side the gas cap is on.” Indeed I should have. I always appreciate the reminders!

© CTW Features

What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear about what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving and repairing your vehicle. Email Sharon@ctwfeatures.com.

Real estate investing for beginners

On the heels of a recession that saw home values drop, many would-be investors have shied away from buying investment properties. But real estate has historically remained a sound investment, boasting a long-term appreciation rate that makes it a worthwhile investment for those who can withstand temporary setbacks in housing prices and hold on to their properties over the long haul.

But investors are often nervous as they look for their first properties. Uncertainty about housing prices aside, investing in real estate also is risky, and first-time investors need to be comfortable with such risk in order to make the most of their investments. The following are a few things potential real estate investors should consider as they decide if investing in real estate is right for them.

Personal ability

Real estate investors typically have tenants, and those tenants inevitably have needs. Investors who have experience as contractors may not find it difficult to renovate a property and make it more attractive to tenants, nor are they likely to be inconvenienced when minor issues on the property need to be addressed. Investors with no such experience will need to hire contractors to do the work for them, cutting into potential profits down the road. In addition, investors who don’t have the ability and/or the time to address minor issues like a clogged drain or a drafty window on their own will need to hire a property management firm to tend to such needs. Such firms are effective, but also expensive, further cutting into your profits. Even those investors with contracting experience may have little or no knowledge of how the leasing process works, forcing them to rely on a real estate firm to write up leases and ensure all leases stay current. This, too, can cut into an investor’s profits. Investors who don’t bring any relevant expertise to the table can still make a profit from their real estate investments, but those profits likely won’t be as significant when outside companies must be hired to ensure the property is in good shape and all necessary documents are in order and up-to-date.

Time

Real estate is often a time-consuming investment. Tenants pay good money to live in attractive rental properties, and those tenants will have a host of needs that must be met. Investors must be sure they have the time to address their tenants’ concerns, especially investors with no plans to hire property management firms. Potential investors who already have full plates at work and at home may not be able to devote the time necessary to make the most of their real estate investments, and therefore might be better off finding another way to invest their money.

Time also must be considered when considering profits. Real estate is not the type of investment that turns a profit overnight. Even investors who are looking to invest in an up-and-coming neighborhood must be prepared to hold onto their properties for at least a few years, if not much longer, to maximize their investments. Though real estate is a sound investment, it is not a get rich quick type of investment, so investors looking to make a quick buck should consider alternatives before buying investment properties.

Size

First-time real estate investors might be wise to choose a smaller property for their initial investment. Larger properties can be overwhelming to manage, and investors often rely on property management firms to tend to these properties. Such firms charge more to manage bigger properties, which can eat into investors’ finances. Veteran investors can handle such overhead costs, but first-timers might find themselves caught off guard upon realizing the gravity of their financial commitment. A good rule of thumb for first-time investors is to stick to smaller properties, only moving on to larger buildings once they are fully comfortable with all that comes with investing in real estate.

Costs

The cost of a real estate investment goes beyond the purchase price of the home. In addition to the mortgage on the property, investors must pay the taxes and insurance on the property, as well as any costs associated with maintaining and managing the property. Certain tax breaks are available to real estate investors depending on where they live. For example, in the United States, taxes on the profits when a property is sold may be deferred if those profits are immediately rolled into another property (such a deferment is only available to those investors who arrange this exchange prior to selling the initial property). Potential investors need to consider all of these costs, and might want to hire a real estate lawyer to help them make the most of their investments and any profits they yield. But even hiring an attorney is an additional cost investors must consider before investing.

BUSINESS BRIEFS

Hope Yoga will hold a special yoga workshop, “Yoga and Healthy Aging,” from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at the studio, 220 Forsgate Drive, Suite 2A, Jamesburg.

A donation class will be held in January for the Jamesburg Presbyterian Church food pantry. Those who want to practice may bring non-perishable food and enjoy class for free.

A similar donation class is held one Sunday per month. Toys for Tots and the Hartwyck Center for Brain Injuries have been past recipients.

Check the website for an updated schedule of donation classes.

Owner Hope Fisher offers a variety of yoga and pilates classes and special workshops including Yoga for Cancer, Chair Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Hope Yoga’s Fun Warriors for special needs teens, Yoga for Athletes and warm yoga classes.

For more information, visit www.HopeYogaNJ.com, call 732-605- YOGA (9642) or email Hope@HopeYogaNJ.com.

Items for Business Briefs may be emailed to ebsent@gmnews.com. They also may be faxed to 732-780-4192 or mailed to Sentinel, 198 Route 9 North, Suite 100, Manalapan, NJ 07726.

Paying steady with unsteady income

 Lenders put increased scrutiny on borrowers with fluctuating incomes Lenders put increased scrutiny on borrowers with fluctuating incomes Fifth-grade math skills come in handy when you’re home shopping. Lenders usually don’t want to see a monthly mortgage payment — plus all other regularly occurring debts — exceed more than about 36 to 43 percent of a borrower’s gross monthly income.

No matter how adept they are converting ratios into percentages, however, many mortgage seekers will find this equation difficult because they can’t pin down a monthly income number. A recent study by J.P. Morgan Chase Institute, a nonprofit arm of the banking firm, found that 41 percent of individuals experience monthly income fluctuations of more than 30 percent.

Irregular work schedules and other changes in employment patterns cause pay variability, posing a budget problem.

Indeed, the JPMCI report reads: “Individuals need to appreciate the degree to which income and consumption are volatile, and to prepare for the possibility that they might — unexpectedly or outside of their control — experience a negative swing in income.”

Income swings concern mortgage lenders, who will apply added scrutiny to loan applicants with variable pay stubs.

But “fluctuating income is not usually a problem as long as we can document why it is fluctuating and establish a history that makes sense,” notes Neil Caron, vice president at Freedom Mortgage Corp. in South Windsor, Conn.

An income history helps put monthly fluctuations in context. For instance, a server at a high-end restaurant who’s been on the job five years but whose annual income dropped 10 percent last year may be required to submit a letter of explanation, says Caron. And, if income has declined for two years, the lender will use the lower figure.

A consistent annual pattern of monthly fluctuations gives lenders comfort.

Still, lenders are “looking for borrowers they can trust,” notes Grace Currid, senior vice president, HomeBridge Financial Services in New York. Trust is demonstrated with a good credit score, which comes from paying bills promptly.

— Marilyn Kennedy Melia
© CTW Features

REAL ESTATE BRIEFS

Jack Waters, regional vice president of Weichert, Realtors, announced that the Edison office was recognized for outstanding performance in November. The office led the region, which is comprised of locations throughout Middlesex County, for resales. In addition, sales associate Francis “Frank” Connor of the Edison office was recognized for his exceptional industry success. Connor led the region for resales in the month of November. He can be reached in Weichert’s Edison office at 123 Lincoln Highway, or call 732-494- 6800 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.

Buying resolutions require determination

By Marilyn Kennedy Melia
CTW Features

 Renters want to buy, but new buying challenges are keeping the transition to homeownership a lengthy process Renters want to buy, but new buying challenges are keeping the transition to homeownership a lengthy process It’s the time of year when people start saying, “We’re going to buy a home next year.” But, one study suggests that the majority of renters planning to buy within a year won’t: The Federal Reserve followed a group of renters who in 2013 said they’d be buying, but in a follow-up a year later, two-thirds remained renters. The basic reason why younger adults aren’t buying homes at the same rate as earlier generations is financial, says Nela Richardson, chief economist at real estate brokerage Redfin. “A good credit score is now so important to qualify for a mortgage,” she notes. “And if you don’t have much money for a down payment, you’ll need a very good score.”

Indeed, a survey of active home shoppers aged 25 to 34 by the National Association of Realtors found the most common “trigger” pushing them into buying was an increase in income.

A boost in income can make it easier to save for a down payment, but it still can take months of on-time bill paying to repair credit, notes Richardson. Sometimes, it’s an effort to uncover financing options that help renters buy, says Doug Leever, mortgage sales manager for Tropical Federal Credit. Since 2012, the Florida credit union has quadrupled the number of purchase mortgages it’s made, largely due to counseling borrowers on lowdown payment mortgage plans and how best to pay down debt.

According to the Federal Reserve, some 81 percent of current renters said they’d prefer to buy if they could afford it.

But renters shouldn’t always fixate on buying, notes Christopher Herbert, managing director at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Resolve to buy only if future plans align with that goal. Says Herbert: “Moving costs, including sales commission, are high, and so a rule of thumb is you should be very likely to stay put for at least five to seven years.”

© CTW Features

Most and least driver-friendly states

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 Some states treat its motorists better than others in terms of ownership costs, commute times and other factors Some states treat its motorists better than others in terms of ownership costs, commute times and other factors Though much of America is more or less homogenous, some states are inherently more hospitable to motorists than others. Ownership costs, including gas prices, insurance premiums and repair costs vary from one part of the country to another, and some states manage to register higher or lower fatal crash and car theft rates, put motorists through longer or shorter average commuting times.

According to a just-released report issued by Bankrate.com in New York City, idyllic Idaho is the country’s most amenable state for drivers, boasting cheap gas and insurance costs, short commute times and low theft rates. On the other hand, the worst state in which to own an automobile is otherwise lovely Louisiana, where motorists pay the highest insurance premiums in the country and are statistically more likely than the norm to be involved in fatal crashes.

A lot of this, it seems, has to do with how densely or sparsely populated an area is, especially with regard to insurance costs, traffic fatalities, car thefts and so on that are most associated with large urban areas. “Population density has a big effect on these rankings,” says Chris Kahn, Bankrate.com’s research and statistics analyst. “The best states for drivers have lots of open spaces, whereas the worst states tend to have people and cars — a bad combination for drivers’ wallets.”

Here’s Bankrate.com’s list of the 10 best states for drivers and reasons why they’re so motorist friendly:

1. Idaho: Low gas and insurance expenses, below-average thefts and short commute times.

2. Vermont: Lowest car theft rates in nation, low insurance and repair costs, low fatality rate, short commute times.

3. Wyoming: Lowest repair costs and shortest commute times in nation, lower than average theft rates.

4. Wisconsin: Low repair and insurance costs, low theft and fatal crash rates and short commute times.

5. Minnesota: Low repair, fuel and insurance costs, low theft rates and short commute times.

6. Maine: Low repair and insurance costs, low theft and fatal crash rates.

7. Iowa: Low repair costs and short commute times.

8. Nebraska: Low repair costs and commute times.

9. South Dakota: Low car-theft rates and insurance premiums, short commute.

10. New Hampshire: Low car thefts and fatal crashes, lower than average fuel, insurance and repair costs.

And the 10 worst states for drivers cited in Bankrate.com’s report are: 1. Louisiana: The nation’s highest car insurance costs and an above-average fatal crash rate.

2. California: Highest car-theft rate in the nation, plus high repair costs and long commute times.

3. Texas: High repair, fuel and insurance costs, high theft rates and the highest traffic fatality rate in the nation.

4. Maryland: The longest commutes in the nation, with high insurance rates, fuel and repair costs and high theft rates.

5. New Jersey: High repair costs and insurance rates and long commute times.

6. Delaware: High repair costs and insurance rates and long commute times.

7. Georgia: Long commute times, high theft rates and expensive repair costs.

8. New York: High fuel, insurance and repair costs and long commute times.

9. Hawaii: High fuel costs, car theft rates and insurance premiums.

10. Washington: High car theft rates, and fuel/repair costs.

Repair costs were attributed to CarMD.com, gas spending was calculated with statistics from the Bureau of Transportation and the Oil Price Information Service and insurance costs were compiled from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Theft statistics came from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and fatal crash rates were from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Commute times were determined from the U.S. Census. Bankrate.com analyzed the statistics and built a standardized ranking that gave each category equal weight.

© 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 topquality 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.

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