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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Always be (prepared for) closing

By Erik J. Martin
CTW Features

 The closing table is the last stop before you walk into your new home. Here’s how to prep for the process and avoid any last-minute homebuying headaches. The closing table is the last stop before you walk into your new home. Here’s how to prep for the process and avoid any last-minute homebuying headaches. When they announce “closing time” at a bar, it’s a cue to pay your tab and head home safely. Buying a home is no different, only this closing time comes with a lot more paperwork.

Knowing what to expect, though, in that pile of paperwork and how to be prepared can make the process go a lot smoother.

For starters, plan to have all your financial ducks in a row well in advance of your closing date, says Jeremy Gulish, a Realtor with Keller Williams Towne Square Realty, Morristown.

“With the extensive scrutiny that is now part of mortgage underwriting, I recommend that my clients have everything available to show the underwriter, short of their blood work and urinalysis,” Gulish says.

Depending on state and lender requirements, count on bringing the following forms and documents to the closing:

 A driver’s license or state-issued picture ID

 Recent tax returns and pay stubs

 W-2 forms

 The two most recent monthly bank statements of all your financial accounts

 Proof of additional income (alimony, Social Security, rental income, etc.)

 The purchase and sale agreement and any addenda

 A cashier’s check or other “good funds” check for the balance due (the total of which you’ll be notified a day or two prior to closing).

At closing, you’ll be represented by a closer for the lender who will ask you to sign a set of standard federally regulated documents, which you should receive three business days prior to your scheduled closing to review with your attorney.

You’ll also receive a settlement statement showing details of all charges for completing the purchase. Items like property address, loan and payment amounts, dates and names will need to be reviewed carefully. Plan for a long sit-down; most closings last approximately one hour or longer.

“Be prepared to explain any major debits, credit inquiries and financial changes that are reflected in bank accounts,” Gulish says. “It’s also critical that buyers don’t have a career change or major financial debits incurred during the closing process, as their lender may not approve their loan if their financial situation changes.”

The cost of closing

So, what’s included in the closing costs? They usually include:

 A buyer’s home inspection report ($250 to $400)

 Appraisal (up to $500)

 Homeowner’s transfer and doc fees ($400 to $700, if applicable)

 Prorated taxes

 Insurance and mortgage interest (which can vary widely depending on purchase price)

 Escrow (varies by state)

 Title insurance (approximately $500)

 Attorney fee

 Mortgage origination fees, possibly (1 percent of purchase price).

Sellers often pay the agent commissions, netted from the seller’s proceeds, although the closing agent fee is part of the buyer’s total settlement charges. All funds you are required to provide are placed in an escrow account and disbursed to the appropriate parties by the closing agent. Closing costs and prepaid items like escrow accounts for insurance and taxes typically equate to 1 to 2 percent of the purchase price.

While you may not be obligated to have an attorney for the closing, depending on your state, it’s recommended to hire an attorney (expect a fee of a couple hundred dollars) to walk you through the paperwork before signing your signature.

“While most of the paperwork [at closing] is boilerplate documents, it is very important for the buyer’s attorney to make certain all of the terms were previously disclosed to the buyer and were agreed to in advance,” says Scott J. Clifford, an attorney with Epstein, Lipsey and Clifford in Hanover, Mass.

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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.”

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Gloria Zastko, Realtors met its goals and marketshare for November. Leading the team for sales was Mark J. Schmidt, broker associate, and Jayakrishnan (Jay) Maniyil, Realtor-associate. Schmidt let the firm in listings taken in November. He can be reached by calling 732-297-0600, ext 37, or 908-705-5110, email, or visit Maniyil led the firm in sales for November. He can be reached by calling 732-297-0600, ext. 52, or 732-501-8643, email, or visit

Richard Salvatore has joined CW Solutions, a national real estate services firm in East Brunswick, as a right-of-way and land research associate. “We are focused on becoming a leader in the industry, and we need the best possible talent to drive our growth,” said Stacie Curtis, the firm’s president and founder. “Richard brings extensive experience and commitment to solve any right-of-way challenges that our clients may encounter. His skills will enhance our team of qualified and knowledgeable professionals, each of whom is dedicated to saving clients time and money.” Salvatore of North Arlington, comes to CW Solutions with 20 years of experience in the right-of-way and title examination industries. To ensure the success of projects, he will be working with transmission and power companies to secure real estate approvals and right-of-way acquisitions. He holds a New Jersey Title Insurance Producers license and a paralegal/ legal assistant certificate. Curtis and business partner Robert Weible founded CW Solutions in 2002. The firm has grown from a local New Jersey land acquisition company to a nationwide corporation offering a range of services that includes right-of-way, site acquisition, title research, zoning, permitting, regulatory compliance, project management, GIS mapping and landman services. The company’s title professionals provide clients with the research documents required, ranging from ownership reports to full title searches.

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

Where motorists spend the most time in traffic

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 With more cars and trucks on the road, commuters are paying the price with increased travel times. Here’s where to find (or avoid) the worst gridlock while driving. With more cars and trucks on the road, commuters are paying the price with increased travel times. Here’s where to find (or avoid) the worst gridlock while driving. It should come as no surprise to commuters that traffic on our nation’s highways is worse than its ever been, due largely to the increase in cars and trucks on the road spurred by a healthy economy. Unfortunately, what’s good for the nation’s financial fortunes can be bad for both car- and truck-drivers alike, and it’s shocking to see the actual impact — both personal and financial — of the country’s growing gridlock.

According to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard compiled by traffic information and driver services provider INRIX and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, motorists wasted a collective 7 billion extra hours last year sitting in traffic — that’s 42 hours per rush-hour commuter. What’s more, all those vehicles burned more than 3 billion gallons of fuel crawling their way to and from the office.

For many motorists, that amounts to a week’s vacation time and income down drain each year, and that’s not counting the potential productivity wasted just sitting in a car. Add up the numbers and the total value of time and fuel wasted amounts to an annual $160 billion, or $960 per commuter.

Findings from the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard are based on traffic speed data collected by INRIX on 1.3 million miles of urban streets and highways, along with highway performance data provided by the Federal Highway Administration.

By comparison, INRIX reports that back in 1982, when there were fewer vehicles sharing the road, the average traffic delay per consumer was just 18 hours per year with 0.5 billion gallons of fuel burned at a total cost of $42 billion. Though extreme gridlock affected only one out of every in nine commutes in 1982, it caused delays in an average of 25 percent of automotive excursions during 2014.

What’s more, the study found that traffic is getting so onerous in big cities that drivers find they have to allow more than twice as much travel time as they would otherwise require just to account for the unforeseen effects of bad weather, collisions, and construction zones. Drivers traversing America’s most congested roads typically waste 84 hours — that’s 3.5 days a year — sitting in traffic, which is twice the national average.

And the report’s findings indicate that the nation’s clogged arteries are spreading beyond the most populated areas. Though the average travel delay per vehicle is more than double what it was in 1982, it’s gotten four times worse in cities having populations with fewer than 500,000 people. And INRIX predicts commuters will be spending more time behind the wheel in the years ahead. Assuming the nation’s economic fortunes remain strong, by 2020, the annual rush-hour delay per U.S. motorist will swell to 47 hours, with a shared nationwide delay of 8.3 billion hours at a cost of $192 billion.

According to INRIX data, Washington, D.C. is the nation’s most traffic clogged city, where commuters suffered an average of 82 hours of delay last year, with Los Angeles coming in a close second at 80 hours, followed by San Francisco at 78 hours, New York City at 74 hours, San Jose, Calif. at 67 hours, Boston at 64 hours, Seattle at 63 hours and Chicago and Houston tied at 61 hours.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way for the nation to simply build its way out of its traffic woes. “Our growing traffic problem is too massive for any one entity to handle — state and local agencies can’t do it alone,” says Tim Lomax, a report co-author and Regents Fellow at TTI. “Businesses can give their employees more flexibility in where, when and how they work, individual workers can adjust their commuting patterns, and we can have better thinking when it comes to longterm land use planning.”

© CTW Features

Stop and start

Q&A with Sharon Peters

Q: I read or heard there’s a mid-size American car (the U.S. part is important to us) — not a hybrid — that has an automatic cut-off/cut-on function for when you’re at stoplights. I haven’t been able to learn what car that is. Can you help?

A: The 2014 Chevy Malibu got a lot of attention for being the first mainstream midsize sold in the U.S. with what’s termed “stop-start technology” as a standard feature. Fact is, this feature is increasingly available, sometimes standard and sometimes for extra cash.

Here’s how it works: The engine shuts off when the vehicle comes to a complete stop (as when you’re stopped at a stoplight or in a traffic jam). The car turns back on in a fraction of a second once the pressure on the brake pedal is released.

It’s regarded as a fuel-saver (though, of course, that depends on the kind of driving you do — how many stoplights you regularly hit; how much stop-and-go traffic you encounter). Chevrolet reported that its first-year Malibu provided a 14 percent gain in city fuel economy. Most manufacturers say the savings is 5 percent to 10 percent or so.

It’s available from many carmakers, including some models of Chevrolets, Chryslers, Fords, Hondas and BMWs. It’s safe to say it will be offered on an even greater proportion of the 2016 crop of vehicles that’ll be at dealerships soon. Ford, for one, said last year its stop-start technology would be on about half of its models by 2017.

Some who have purchased vehicles with the feature have loved it; others have said it has taken much getting used to (especially when parking). Worse, some hapless buyers have reported that they wound up with this feature without realizing it (poor sales people?) and believed the car was acting up or breaking down within minutes of driving away from the lot.

So, note to all soon-to-be buyers: ask whether this is on the car you’re buying, on the chance that your salesperson might not think to mention it. (The function can be switched off — at least in the vehicles that have offered so far — but you’ve got to be aware of its existence to know it’s possible to make it disappear.)

© 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

Only one quick move-in home remains at The Grande at Howell

Quick move-in homes are an increasingly popular choice and a very attractive option for homebuyers today. These homes are complete, providing a unique opportunity to close rapidly. Quick move-in homes are an ideal opportunity for first-time buyers, for buyers who don’t have an existing home to sell, and for those who have recently sold their old home.

D.R. Horton’s Northeast division currently has a number of quick move-in homes available throughout the Garden State, including one at The Grande at Howell in Monmouth County. Set on a quiet cul-de-sac in Howell Township, this popular new community features an intimate, limited-edition collection of 18 luxurious single-family detached homes. Homebuyers can choose from five floorplans, with elegant homes that range in size from 2,557 to 3,313 square feet of living space.

Like all homes in the community, this final quick move-in home features four bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, and two-car garages. This particular quick move-in home also includes a gourmet kitchen, full basement, and designer features such as hardwood flooring, granite kitchen countertops with island, wood kitchen cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and a fireplace. The home is priced at $529,990.

In addition to featuring large, luxurious homes, The Grande at Howell offers homeowners a prime Monmouth County location that is ideal for families. Howell Township is known for its excellent schools, with the district receiving a GreatSchools rating of 7 out of 10. (For more information, visit

Recreational opportunities abound in and around Howell Township, adding to its family-friendly appeal. It’s an easy trip from the community to the Jersey Shore, with great beaches only about 20 minutes away. Freehold Raceway and Monmouth Park are nearby, as is Six Flags Great Adventure. The Manasquan Reservoir Park provides a variety of nature and exerciserelated activities including fishing, bird watching, jogging, biking and dog walking. The township also offers plenty of biking options, including the Edgar Felix Bikeway, which connects to Manasquan, the beach, and other points of interest. Great shopping options are available in the area, including the Freehold Raceway Mall and Jackson Outlet Village. The area also offers a wide selection of restaurants, golf courses, and places of historic interest, such as Monmouth Battlefield Park.

Commuters will appreciate how accessible The Grande at Howell is to several major roadways, including Routes 9 and 33, the Garden State Parkway, and I-195, assuring direct access to the NJ Turnpike and the Parkway. Also nearby is a New Jersey Transit bus terminal, which provides transportation to the Port Authority in Manhattan.

Visit The Grande at Howell soon, while there is still one quick move-in home available. Take a tour through the community’s beautiful model home to experience the unique design and exquisite features and finishes — and see why this new community has proven to be one of 2015’s most desirable and successful neighborhoods. The Grande at Howell is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Monday from noon to 5 p.m. (closed Thursday). The model home and sales center are located at 23 Christopher Drive, at Aldrich Road and Spruce Road in Howell. For directions or more information, call 732-901-6316, or learn more about the community at

Coldwell Banker reports ranks most expensive, most affordable markets in New Jersey

Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC has released its 2015 Home Listing Report (HLR), which ranks the affordability of 188 real estate markets in New Jersey. The Coldwell Banker HLR named Chatham Township the most expensive market in New Jersey, with an average listing price of $882,260, while Willingboro ranked as the most affordable market in the state, with an average listing price of $134,853.

The annual report is the most extensive home price comparison tool currently available in the United States, ranking the average listing price of four-bedroom, two-bathroom homes in more than 2,700 markets. While other affordability reports provide average or median prices for all homes in a given area, the Coldwell Banker HLR analyzes more than 81,000 four-bedroom, two-bathroom home listings to better address how much a home in one market would cost if the same home were located somewhere else in the country.

“The Coldwell Banker Home Listing Report illustrates the wide variety of housing options available in New Jersey. Whether you want to live on the outskirts of Manhattan, in the scenic Appalachian and Highlands regions, or along the beautiful New Jersey shoreline, this state offers just about any lifestyle you desire. The HLR is an excellent resource for potential home buyers who want to compare home prices in New Jersey and across the United States,” said Hal Maxwell, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New Jersey and Rockland County, N.Y.

The Top 10 Most Expensive Real Estate Markets in N.J. by Average Listing Price

1. Chatham Township, $882,260 2. Madison Borough, $847,494 3. Bernards Township, $816,920

4. Westfield Town/Westfield, $788,976

5. New Providence Borough, $727,242

6. Glen Rock, $725,162

7. Holmdel, $712,088

8. Princeton Junction/West Windsor, $711,442

9. Englewood/Englewood Cliffs, $705,375

10. Ridgewood, $682,495

The Top 10 Most Affordable Real Estate Markets in N.J.

1. Willingboro, $134,853

2. East Orange, $150,107

3. Newark, $159,448

4. Bridgeton, $162,310

5. Roselle, $182,229

6. Atco, $182,369

7. Woodbury/Woodbury Heights, $185,120

8. Paterson, $190,622

9. Clayton, $200,100

10. Millville, $200,865

According to the HLR, half of the top 100 most expensive markets in the United States are in California; Newport Beach topped the list with an average listing price of $2,291,764 for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home. In contrast, Cleveland ranked as the most affordable market in the Unites States for the third consecutive year, with an average listing price of $74,502 for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home. There is a difference of $2.2 million between the nation’s most affordable and most expensive average listing price, according to the HLR.

Full data for the United States, including affordability rankings of local markets in New Jersey, is available on the Coldwell Banker Home Listing Report website at

About the 2015 U.S. Home Listing Report (Methodology):

The Coldwell Banker U.S. Home Listing Report analyzes the average listing price of four-bedroom, two-bathroom real estate properties on between December 2014 and June 2015 for 81,417 listings in 2,722 markets. The Coldwell Banker franchised affiliates, as well as other franchise brands associated with Realogy Holdings Corp, contribute to listings on Markets without at least 10 four-bedroom, twobathroom listings on between December 2014 and June 2015 were excluded from the ranking.

About Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New Jersey and Rockland County, N.Y.:

Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New Jersey and Rockland County, N.Y., a leading residential real estate brokerage company, operates approximately 50 offices with more than 3,100 affiliated sales associates serving all communities from Rockland County, N.Y. to Monmouth County. Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New Jersey and Rockland County, N.Y. is part of NRT LLC, the nation’s largest residential real estate brokerage company. Visit ri-states for more information.


Susan Giacchi, broker/owner of RE/MAX Dreams of Sayreville, announces the addition of Marie (Jaworski) Miller, formerly of RE/MAX In Action. As a fulltime experienced Realtor, she has a team of trusted professionals with whom she has worked with specializing in real estate law, mortgages, inspections and construction. She also formerly worked for years with a building and management company. Miller’s specialties are residential sale and rentals. She can be reached at 732-207-0880 or emailed at

Jack Waters, regional vice president of Weichert, Realtors, announced that sales associates Chhaya “Barkha” Kishnani and Donna Warters of the East Brunswick office were recognized for their exceptional success during the month of October. Kishnani led the region, which is comprised of offices throughout Middlesex County, for new home dollar volume. Warters was the top sales associate in the region for resale revenue units and resale dollar volume. They can be reached in Weichert’s East Brunswick office at 431 Route 18 south, or call 732- 254-1700 for more information.

Jack Waters, regional vice president of Weichert, Realtors, announced that the Old Bridge office was recognized for outstanding performance in October. The office led the region, which is comprised of locations throughout Middlesex County, in resale listings, resales, resale revenue units and resale dollar volume. Additionally, sales associate Julianne Siciliano of the Old Bridge office was recognized for her exceptional industry success. Siciliano led the region in resale listings during the month of October. Siciliano can be reached at Weichert’s Old Bridge office at 1394 Route 9 south, or call 732-525-1550 for more information.