BUSINESS BRIEFS

Jamesburg Family Eyecare is a new, privately owned optometry practice that is located at 333 Forsgate Drive, Jamesburg.

The business offers comprehensive eye exams, contact lens fittings and designer eyewear. Most insurances are accepted.

There is also free coffee, tea, hot chocolate and snacks for all guests.

The optometry center is female-run, and has the American dream angle as Dr. Magdalena Spiewak moved from Poland in 1993, learned English within the first 12 months of arriving in the U.S. at 10 years old. She then went on to excel at academics, including a full scholarship to St. John’s University in Queens.

Spiewak is bilingual, and welcomes Polish speaking residents

In addition, the eye care center is launching a year-long eyeglasses drive to collect 2,016 used eyeglasses in 2016 to donate to the local Lion’s Club. Residents can stop by the office, even without an appointment, to donate their old glasses.

Jamesburg Family Eyecare is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

For more information, email Jamesburgeye@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/Jamesburgeye or Twitter.com/Jamesburgeye. For a list of grand opening promotions, visit jamesburgeye.com/current-promotions.

The Provident Bank Foundation presented a $7,500 grant to Embrace Kids Foundation, located in Middlesex County, for the Embrace Kids Learning Center and Beyond.

The Embrace Kids Learning Center and Beyond was created in response to the many challenges and concerns faced by children with a chronic or life-threatening condition.

Through the program, Embrace Kids minimizes the impact the illness has on their education and their social lives and improves the outcomes in transitioning to higher education, employment and independent living.

The organization’s priority is keeping patients abreast of their studies and assisting them in reaching their full potential. “Embrace Kids supports the entire family affected by a child suffering from illness, including parents, siblings and grandparents,” said Jane Kurek, executive director, The Provident Bank Foundation.

“These families depend on the services and benefits that the organization provides, and we are humbled to continue funding their extraordinary work.” For more information about The Provident Bank Foundation, visit www.ProvidentNJFoundation.org.

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.

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

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REAL ESTATE BRIEFS

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 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 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.

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 owner-occupancy 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 first-time buyers, and making sure FHA financing is an option is important to supporting homeownership,” Chris Polychron, NAR president, said in a statement.

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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.

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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.

Four presale projects every seller should do

By Alex Burnham
CTW Features

 Follow these pro tips to make your house more attractive to potential buyers Follow these pro tips to make your house more attractive to potential buyers One of the joys of buying and moving into a new home is just that — everything is new, and everything. But if a seller doesn’t have newness to offer but rather a bunch of faulty features, the buyers may be scarce.

“Most people want to move in [to a home] and have the work already done,” says Jann Seal, a sales associate with Exit Realty Premier in Wellington, Fla.

If you’re getting ready to sell, here are four pre-listing preparations to get your house ready for buyers

1. Touch-Ups

The easiest thing a homeowner can do to make his or her property more attractive is to touch up the little things. This includes restructuring anything with a functionality problem. Examples include fixing broken doors or cabinets or replacing failing windows. Replace any broken screens too, if more than the window frame is broken. And don’t forget the outside.

“The most common suggestion we make is for color to be added to the exterior either in the form of flowers or through painting,” says Scott Newman, of Newman Realty in Chicago. You should also depersonalize the property. “Remove all personal photographs. Take the magnets off the refrigerator,” Seal says. “Let the potential buyer imagine himself, his family and his belongings in the house.”

2.

Painting may not be the first thing on a seller’s mind; but it can completely change the look of a home. In addition to outside touch-ups, fresh coats on the interior can transform the way someone feels when walking into a room. Seal says neutral colors are the best. “Latte or dove gray gives the rooms a clean, modern feel,” she says. “Keep the trim white.”

Adds Todd Polinchock, a Realtor in Doylestown, Pa: “Paint is worth its weight in gold.”

3. Carpets and Flooring

Alongside paint, new flooring affords the homeowners the opportunity to change the look and feel of a property.

Both Newman and Polinchock suggest replacing old carpet, noting it’s a “relatively small” investment compared to other home repairs, and since stained or dated carpet can be an eyesore to potential buyers,

The same goes for hardwood flooring. Though it is more expensive per square foot than carpeting — the World Floor Covering Association says carpet can start at just $2 per square foot installed, with wood starting at $6 per square foot installed — a study using data from the National Association of Realtors found that buyers are willing to spend more than $2,000 more on a house with hardwood flooring than a house without. Both routes will make your house look much newer, but if replacement is not an option, try to find a cost-effective professional cleaning method to get flooring looking as fresh as possible

4. Updates

The largest project a seller needs to worry about is updating the house that’s for sale. Ask your agent about what items or systems in your home need to be upgraded to compete with comparable houses. It could be anything from kitchen upgrades (new countertops or appliances) or bathroom updates (new sinks, faucets and showerheads).

“Today’s buyer is increasingly interested in modern, sexy upgrades from a much more expensive home and are the kinds of things their friends will say ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ to when they come over,” Newman says. “People love an eye-catching backsplash in the kitchen and hotel-style bathroom upgrades that look like something out of a five-star spa.”

While pricey updates may make your home attractive to buyers, Seal recommends not going overboard. Though many projects can recoup a significant portion of their cost, rarely do they recoup their full cost, according to Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report.

Instead of a full-on upgrade, Polinchock suggests picking one or two items to replace.

“It’s about making those changes [that] will give you the best chance to sell in the shortest period of time for the best price,” Polinchock says.

© CTW Features

Gloria Zastko, Realtors participates in 2015 Women Aware Holiday Gift Shop

For the fourth consecutive year, Maria Reynolds, broker-associate with Gloria Zastko, Realtors, North Brunswick, spearheaded the collection of gifts from the Zastko staff for the 2015 Women Aware Holiday Gift Shop.

Women Aware, “Moving Beyond Abuse,” is again hosting its annual Holiday Gift Shop. The Holiday Gift Shop is an opportunity for current and former clients of Women Aware to “shop for free.” Moms shop for their children, and children for their mothers — a simple act, but one that has a profound impact.

Women Aware was founded more than 30 years ago and is a designated lead domestic violence agency for Middlesex County. It is committed to a vision of a just society and offers a comprehensive array of services, including an emergency shelter, counseling and community support groups, children’s programs, legal advocacy, community education and support services. All services are free and confidential and a 24-hour hotline is available.

As well as collecting gifts, Reynolds and other Zastko staff members will deliver the gifts to Women Aware.

Gloria Zastko, Realtors is located at 1582 Route 130, North Brunswick. For more information, call 732-297-0600 or visit www.zastko.com.

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 first-time buyer makes is to choose an agent “who constantly works to meet your expectations,” says Mike Wolf, a San Diego-based 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.”

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