What to expect in 2016

By Carley Lintz
CTW Features

 Moderate gains in prices and sales to help drive ‘normal but healthy’ housing market Moderate gains in prices and sales to help drive ‘normal but healthy’ housing market Is buying a new home one of your New Year’s resolutions? Well, you’re not alone. The forecast for the 2016 housing market is one of solid growth and a strong desire to buy, according to two new reports on real estate trends from The National Association of Realtors and Realtor.com, respectively.

Total home sales are expected to reach 6 million, the highest level since 2006, according to Realtor.com’s 2016 housing forecast. New housing construction is a driving force behind this growth, increasing 12 percent year over year and new home sales rising 16 percent. Existing home sales are slower at 3 percent year over year.

“Next year’s moderate gains in existing prices and sales, versus the accelerated growth we’ve seen in previous years, indicate that we are entering a normal but healthy housing market,” Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, said in statement. “The improvements we’ve seen over the last few years have enabled a recovery in the existing home market, but we still need to make up ground in new construction, which we could begin to see in 2016.”

Continued job creation and a 2.5 increase in gross domestic product also point toward a healthier housing market, although only half of the respondents to the NAR’s Housing Opportunities and Market Experience survey said they believed the economy is on the mend. Another 44 percent think it’s actually in a recession. “The promising stretch of job creation in several parts of the country in recent years has the housing market in 2015 on track for its best year of sales since the downturn,” Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement. “However, that only half of surveyed households believe the economy is improving can be attributed to the fact that some areas have been slow to recover and wages have yet to grow in a meaningful way for far too many families.”

Potential homebuyers are mostly tempered by higher mortgage rates and mounting home prices. Fifty-three percent of renters surveyed by the NAR said that they don’t own a home because they can’t afford it.

As mortgage rates are expected to rise to 4.35 percent for a 30-year fixed loan by the end of 2016, it makes sense that about two-thirds of renters think it would be very or somewhat difficult to obtain a mortgage.

Overall, though, the outlook according to both reports is positive.

Realtor.com expects sales to be propelled mainly by three groups: older millennials looking for their first homes, young Gen Xers with families, and retirees looking to downsize.

Renters looking to become homeowners also are expected to boost sales — 83 percent of renters said they want to own a home in the future and 77 percent said that homeownership remains a part of their American dream.

Both current homeowners (82 percent) and renters (68 percent) said they feel positively about the market and that it’s a good time to buy a home. Many current owners (53 percent) also felt strongly that it is a good time to sell your home.

The markets that will see the biggest growth in 2016 have a growing housing formation, a prosperous job market and low unemployment rates as well as large populations of the aforementioned groups likely to buy.

Realtor.com’s Top 10 hottest markets for 2016 are:

1. Providence, R.I., and Warwick, Mass.

2. St. Louis

3. San Diego/Carlsbad, Calif.

4. Sacramento/Roseville/Arden/Arcade, Calif.

5. Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Roswell, Ga.

6. New Orleans/Metairie, La.

7. Memphis, Tenn.

8. Charlotte/Concord/Gastonia, N.C.

9. Virginia Beach/Norfolk/Newport News, Va.

10. Boston/Cambridge/Newton, Mass.

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Firm advice: Consider both agent and brokerage

If you’re thinking of buying or selling, chances are you’ll select your real estate agent based upon a name referred from a friend, neighbor or relative.

Referrals are the No. 1 way both first-time and repeat buyers and sellers settle on an agent, according to surveys from the National Association of Realtors. But when a specific agent is recommended, should the name of the realty firm he’s affiliated with also matter?

Probably, say many agents.

The agent who worked out well for a trusted friend or relative may likely be associated with a new firm now. In a 2015 survey of its members, the NAR found that 30 percent were with their present firm for one year or less, compared to 18 percent in 2014.

Some newly affiliated are brand new to the profession, but doubtless many have switched firms, acknowledges Maggie Kasperski, a spokeswoman for the NAR.

“One thing sellers should ask about is whether the brokerage has a strong web presence so that their home is easy to find,” advises Angie Lotz, of RE/MAX All Pro in Bloomingdale, Ill., noting that many buyers shop the Internet vigorously.

Firms will differ in their offerings of search technology, too. For instance, buyers glued to their smartphone should put a priority on whether an app is available giving “real-time information,” says Cindy Soderstrom of RE/MAX Signature Homes in Hinsdale, Ill. Also, the commission charged a seller can be influenced by a brokerage’s policy, adds Erika Villegas, broker-associate with ERA Mi Casa in Chicago.

Judge independent and national Realty firms equally, advises Marina Krakovsky, author of “The Middleman Economy” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), noting that what’s important is the firm’s local reputation.

— Marilyn Kennedy Melia
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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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.

Hybrid and electric used car bargains

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 Those who still think gas prices are too high can find great deals on the most fuel-frugal used cars Those who still think gas prices are too high can find great deals on the most fuel-frugal used cars Used vehicle sales are soaring these days, and so are their prices. Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, Calif., reports that average used car prices have soared to a record high rate of around $19,000.

But there’s one segment of the used car business that’s actually headed in the opposite direction as far as pricing is concerned.

Electric vehicles and gas/electricpowered hybrids are being battered in the pre-owned market by an unfortunate combination of market forces. According to the recent Electric Vehicle Retention Report Card compiled by NADAguides in Costa Mesa, Calif., trade-in values of some two-year-old electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are dropping like rocks, with some returning just around 20 percent of their original retail prices after three years.

The best deals are among full electric cars, including the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric and the tiny smart fortwo electric drive, which are selling for as little as $10,000 for a 2013 version with around 22,000 miles on the odometer. When they were new, most of these cars carried sticker prices as high as $40,000. According to Kelley Blue Book, a used 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car that gets the equivalent of 112 mpg sells for around $8,000 in the Chicago area. Motorists having modest daily commutes and/or using them for around-town use could find any of these pre-owned electric cars to be real money savers.

As is typically the case, the law of supply and demand largely determines values in the used-car market. With gasoline prices still at least a buck a gallon less than they were a year ago, consumer demand for the most fuel-frugal rides on the road has softened considerably. As it is, electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle values tend to plummet more quickly than normal due to a federal tax credit granted to new-model buyers that runs from $2,500 to $7,500, depending on the model.

And then there’s consumers’ ongoing hesitation toward electrified vehicles in general. “Used EV demand continues to be hampered by range and technology concerns,” according to NADAguide’s report. “Many three-year-old EVs are now nearing or already to the point where they are no longer covered by their respective manufacturer’s basic warranty due to age or mileage accrual, [which is] a potential concern since an extra layer of risk is being added into the mix when used EV buyers are shopping for vehicles.”

Still, hybrid and EV batteries are usually guaranteed for eight years/100,000 miles, which means a three-year-old used model will still have five years of coverage remaining for this key component. Replacement costs for such power cells can run anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000 or more, though prices are expected to drop in the future.

What’s more, with automakers having pushed leasing aggressively in recent years with big discounts and incentives, there’s a slew of two-and three-year old low-mileage models returning to the market. According to the Wall Street Journal, 85 percent of Nissan Leafs were leased last year and the vehicle’s residual values are winding up being thousands of dollars less than originally estimated.

Unfortunately, you won’t be seeing the wildly popular Tesla Model S full electric luxury car selling at cut-rate prices. NADAguides says the Tesla holds tenaciously onto 71 percent of its original cost after two years and is still worth nearly 53 percent of it’s original sticker price after three years.

“The Model S (is) purchased by affluent consumers [and] demand has been predicated on owning a vehicle with cachet and exclusivity,” says NADA’s report. “By comparison, demand for more inexpensive models — such as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf — is driven by more pragmatic factors.”

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Shrewsbury Volkswagen partners with CHOP for holiday toy and gift drive

Shrewsbury Volkswagen, the region’s largest Volkswagen dealer, is continuing its longstanding partnership with The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) by hosting a toy and gift drive to benefit the hospital.

Now through Dec. 20, area residents and businesses are invited to drop off new, unwrapped toys and gifts at Shrewsbury Volkswagen in Tinton Falls. The items will be wrapped and distributed to children at the hospital throughout the holiday season. The toy and gift drive benefits children of all ages — from infant to 17 years of age — and includes toys, games, crafts, books, clothes and all other age-appropriate donations.

While this is the first year that Shrewsbury VW is hosting the gift drive, the dealership has been a long-time supporter of CHOP. Since 2014, Shrewsbury VW has made a donation to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for every vehicle that the dealership sells. This tradition of giving will continue in 2016, and the dealership is excited to add a new level of sharing with this year’s toy and gift drive.

Shrewsbury VW’s association with CHOP is a very personal endeavor for the dealership. In 2013, General Sales Manager Gino Dellomo’s then 2-year-old daughter, Luciana, spent nearly a year at CHOP with an illness. While Luciana has recovered, the care and support that the family received left an indelible impression on both the Dellomo family and the dealership.

“The doctors, nurses and support staff at CHOP helped save my daughter’s life. I knew I wanted to do something to help other people facing the same fears, tears and sleepless nights that my family went through,” Dellomo said. “So we started making a donation to CHOP for every single vehicle the dealership sells, and this year, we’ve added the toy and gift drive to our efforts. We really want to put some big smiles on little kids’ faces.”

Individuals and businesses interested in donating unwrapped toys or gifts can do so by visiting Shrewsbury Volkswagen between now and Dec. 20. The dealership is located at 702 Shrewsbury Ave. in Tinton Falls. For more information, contact Shrewsbury VW at 732-201-5957, or visit the website at www.shrewsburyvw.com.

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.

Gold Medal Service, an award-winning heating, cooling, plumbing, waterproofing and electrical home service company, is adding a second office to accommodate its rapidly growing business.

The new office, which is near the company’s current location on Cotters Lane in East Brunswick, is a 10,000-square-foot building that will enable Gold Medal to separate its service and installation offerings.

Earlier this year, the company was awarded Contractor Magazine’s national Contractor of the Month Award, which recognized its superior ethics code and dedication to going above and beyond the typical call of duty.

For more information, visit goldmedalservice.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 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.”

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