Top flooring choices to keep homes looking merry and bright

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Decorating for the holidays? Don’t forget the floor, says SMART Carpet and Flooring, the tri-state area’s original shop-at-home flooring leader. And to help homeowners choose flooring that performs well and looks great in high-traffic areas this holiday season, SMART Carpet and Flooring has released its short list of flooring choices that are always nice and never naughty.

First up: An endlessly forgiving resilient, or vinyl, tile flooring. Virtually impervious to wear and tear from pets, spills, dropped objects, stains, or just about anything else a houseful of friends and family can throw at it, resilient tile flooring looks vastly different — and much more beautiful — than the vinyl flooring of years past.

For an example of an attractive resilient flooring choice, SMART Carpet and Flooring points to a product like Congoleum’s DuraCeramic. Designed as a luxury alternative to ceramic tile, DuraCeramic has the appearance of a custom tile floor with the ease of vinyl. It even contains Scotchgard Protector for added peace of mind.

Homeowners who prefer the look of stone but want the warmth and durability of vinyl might prefer Armstrong Alterna or Alterna Reserve Luxury Vinyl. Nearly indistinguishable from real stone, Armstrong Alterna and Alterna Reserve feature stain-resistant surfaces and absorb sound to keep the focus on the conversation, not the clatter of the floor — even during lively holiday parties.

Next on the list: A luxury vinyl plank flooring. Luxury vinyl plank flooring looks like real hardwood but offers the same stain resistance, warmth and noise dampening as its resilient tile flooring cousin.

Finally, for homeowners who love the look and feel of carpet, SMART Carpet and Flooring recommends a highly stain-resistant carpet that’s up to the task of hosting holiday dinners, extended family, and anything else the holiday season can throw at it. Homeowners in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York will find a variety of carpet options that fit the bill in every SMART Carpet and Flooring mobile showroom.

“Homeowners typically host more family and friends during the holidays than at any other time of year,” said SMART Carpet and Flooring President Brendan Phillips. “It’s important to be ready for extra wear and tear. SMART Carpet and Flooring’s mobile showrooms stand ready to bring the perfect flooring choices to homeowners in time for the holiday entertaining season.”

To make it even easier for homeowners to spruce up their homes this month, SMART Carpet and Flooring is holding its annual December sales event. From now until Dec. 15, SMART Carpet and Flooring is offering up to 50 percent off typical store prices, plus an offer to take an additional 10 percent off every carpet they sell.

Flooring even makes a thoughtful gift. SMART Carpet and Flooring gift cards give loved ones the gift of choosing from more than 4,000 carpet, vinyl, wood, laminate, and tile flooring choices right in the comfort of their own homes, with the guidance of a flooring expert.

About SMART Carpet and Flooring

SMART Carpet and Flooring eliminates the hassle of buying new carpet and flooring by doing everything at the client’s home, where color and quality selection matter most. Because the company is a mill-direct buying service and not a store, SMART Carpet and Flooring customers can save up to 50 percent off typical store prices. SMART Carpet and Flooring includes everything from measuring and layout to quality padding, installation and financing.

Suburban sprawl slows to a crawl

Housing market improves with proximity to city

By Marilyn Kennedy Melia
CTW Features

What does a driver’s license have to do with home prices? Experts think they might be a clue to a mystery, namely why home prices in outlying suburbs have remained depressed, while values in suburbs closer to city centers have largely rebounded from the steep declines sparked by the financial crisis last decade.

Closer-in locations typically enjoy price recovery first, but outlying suburbs are taking longer than expected. “In my 26 years in the business, the price discount available to someone who is willing to commute has never been greater,” writes John Burns, in an article posted website of his company, John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

Today, only 78 percent of 20- to 24- year-olds drive, compared to 93 percent in 1978. “I think the delay in getting a driver’s license is consistent with many of the trends in delaying other young adult milestones: graduating college, getting a first job, getting married, having a child, buying a home,” explains Chris Porter, chief demographer at John Burns Consulting. Meeting those milestones meant new households started buying homes — and those within their price range were usually in farther flung suburbs. “There is no denying a buyer gets more for their dollar the further out from the city they travel,” agrees Joe Castillo, broker/owner, ERA Mi Casa, Chicago.

But it’s not just procrastination that’s impeding the price recovery. Following the recession, there’s been a shift in lifestyle choice, with more opting to live near cities and job centers, notes Porter.

This trend won’t last, because young adults will reach the milestones, albeit “at a later age than their parents or grandparents,” Porter predicts. Moreover, because outer-ring home prices are so depressed, today’s buyers may enjoy more pronounced price appreciation in the future.

During the housing boom early last decade, builders quipped that buyers could “drive until they qualify.”

Today, home buying bargain hunters may have to get a car and license first.

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Gloria Nilson & Co. opens Toms River office

Gloria Nilson & Co. Real Estate announces it is scheduled to open its newest office in Toms River at 411 Main St. this month. This newest location brings the company’s total number of offices to 24 throughout New Jersey, with two locations in Bucks County, Pa., and more than 700 agents working throughout the region.

“Toms River is an extremely diverse and dynamic downtown environment that continues to be a destination of many throughout the state,” explained Jacqueline Paterno, the broker-associate branch manager who will lead the Toms River office. “With so many of our clients looking to Toms River and surrounding areas for homes, this was the next logical location for our business and our agents. We’re thrilled to be joining the local community.”

In addition to Paterno, 12 additional sales associates from Gloria Nilson & Co.’s Brick, office will join the Toms River office. Plans for an official grand opening celebration in the first quarter of 2016, as well as recruiting for additional experienced and well-trained local sales associates, are also under way.

Sales associates who will work from the Toms River office include: Ramona Bruno, Anna Fimagnari, James Hawkes, Michael Meehan, Sima Parisi, Loretta Parody, Peter Paterno, Tom Rafferty, Sarah Rullo, James Schneider, Roseann Smith and Donald Stout.

“One of the reasons Gloria Nilson & Co. has continued to grow as a successful real estate brokerage is because our expansion is strategic and it focuses on meeting the needs of our buyers and sellers,” said company President Pat Bell. “Toms River gives us another key location in Ocean County as well as further reach into other shore communities where buyers are most interested.”

For more information about Gloria Nilson & Co. and its new Toms River location, visit www.glorianilson.com or call Paterno at 201-218-6388.

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.”

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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 Sharon@ctwfeatures.com.

Business association will provide holiday dinners

PLUMSTED – An organization that supports local businesses is giving back to the community during the holiday season.

The Plumsted Business and Merchants Association (PBMA) has teamed up with other organizations to provide holiday dinners to families in need and to make downtown New Egypt a more festive area for visitors.

For more than a decade, the PBMA has led an effort that collects food and money for families in need. This year the association is estimating that more than 125 food baskets will be provided to area families. Each package will contain canned foods and a ham, among other items.

PBMA President Herb Marinari, who also serves on the Township Committee, said the number of local families in need has grown steadily in recent years.

“The number of food baskets increases every year as the number of needy families increases due to the economy,” he said.

Marinari said the PBMA relies on a collaborative effort with local businesses and organizations each year.

“We have been working with the Plumsted Township School District for more than 10 years to deliver these meals to needy families,” he said.

Marinari said the PBMA works with the New Egypt Marketplace to purchase food at a discounted price. He said local business owners support the effort by donating food and funds.

Residents are also invited to assist the campaign. Donations of non-perishable food will be collected during Plumsted’s tree lighting ceremony at the municipal building at 6 p.m. Dec. 5.

The PBMA is providing snowflake lighting decorations along Main Street in downtown New Egypt. The decorations were purchased three years ago with PBMA funds and have been used ever since.

“The members of the PBMA and I hope [the township’s] holiday season is brightened and uplifted by those beautiful snowflakes,” Marinari said.

Officials said this year’s snowflake decorations were made possible in part by the J.A. Wig Construction & Electric company which installed the lights, and Big Woods Garden Center and Nursery which decorated Main Street with Christmas decorations.

Marinari said the PBMA pays the electric bill associated with the holiday lights. Individuals who would like to assist with that may make a donation to the Plumsted Business and Merchants Association, P.O. Box 38, New Egypt, NJ 08533.

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 GreatSchools.org.)

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 www.drhorton.com/nj.

Weichert of Brick collecting items for local organizations and animal shelters

Frances Graffeo, manager of Weichert, Realtors’ Brick office, has announced that her office will be joining forces with several local organizations and animal shelters to make a difference within the community this holiday season.

The local community is invited to participate by bringing their donations for the following drives to Weichert’s Brick office, located at 740 Brick Blvd., between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily:

 As part of the 37th Annual Weichert Toy Drive, the local community is invited to donate new, unwrapped toys through Dec. 18, to benefit the Brick HeadStart Program.

 The office will be also collecting nonperishable food items through Dec. 15, to benefit the Destiny Community Food Pantry.  Blankets, sheets, towels and comforters, as well as dog food and cat food, are being collected through Dec. 14, and will be donated to a number of local animal shelters.

“This is our way of giving back to the community that has given us so much,” said Graffeo. “The holidays mark a time of year when charitable organizations receive their greatest demand for assistance, and it is our hope that through these drives we will be able to bring joy to many deserving families and animals.”

For more information or to make a donation, contact Weichert’s Brick office at 740 Brick Blvd., or by phone at 732-920- 7900.

Beyond the purchase

By Preeti Upadhyaya
CTW Features

 The homebuying process doesn’t end at closing. Follow these steps to ensure you’re prepared for life as a homeowner. The homebuying process doesn’t end at closing. Follow these steps to ensure you’re prepared for life as a homeowner. Ready to sit back and relax after closing the deal on your new home? Don’t get too comfortable. There are plenty of important projects, both big and small, that new homeowners need to accomplish before getting settled into their new place.

Inspection and repair

If it is an existing home in question, the most important step the homeowners need to take is a thorough home inspection, says Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the National Association of Homebuilders in a Washington, D.C.

An inspection is typically conducted before the contract for the home is fully processed, but Melman suggests that homebuyers take advantage of inspectors as a resource, and ask them to expand their inspection and make recommendations and suggestions for improving the home.

This is a great opportunity for homeowners to learn about “energy-related issues, landscaping issues like ground sloping, etc. Inspectors can tell you how to preserve the house and keep it in good running order,” Melman says.

Cynthia Cohn, a Realtor in Pasadena, Calif., says larger repairs and upgrades include appliance and electrical upgrades, a new hot water heater or fixing any outstanding problems with the structure of the house.

Money management

Another essential tip for new homeowners is to create a budget that takes into account the expenses that come with the new home.

“You may have an idea of how much [your new home] will cost, but the reality is that it often costs more,” Cohn says.

Homeowners should start their budget by calculating their mortgage payment based on the monthly principal, interest, taxes and homeowners’ insurance, or “PITI,” according to Carol Chua, a Coldwell Banker agent in Pasadena, Calif.

Chua reminds condominium and townhome owners to budget for homeowner association fees, which cover maintenance of common community areas.

Don’t forget to check if local tax rates have changed recently, says Carole Weinberg, a CPA and partner at NCA Financial Planners in Cleveland. “You have to factor in real estate taxes, and not necessarily what the current owner is paying. Yours could be different.”

The budget also should include utilities, Weinberg says, which can be higher than expected in large homes that are available at low prices lately. Upkeep is another major expense.

“If you’re buying an older home, you might need to factor in … getting a new roof in the next three years. Or what’s the condition of the water and sewer line?” Weinberg says.

Decorating and remodeling

Besides repairs, structural changes and system updates, aesthetic changes are important for homeowners to truly feel at home.

Chua notes that if the home is a turnkey property, that is, a home that is ready to move into right away, the only changes needed are usually cosmetic.

A new coat of paint and new flooring are common updates that new homeowners take on right away, she says. Drapes, blinds and wallpaper updates also are popular.

Chua offers a few alternatives to expensive remodeling projects if you’re looking for a fresh look in your new home: “If you don’t like the way your kitchen cabinets look, it’s much cheaper to paint them rather than replacing them outright. This is a quick trick that really gives your kitchen a facelift.”

A bare-bones bathroom update would include new flooring, faucets and light fixtures. “It will make a big difference for not a lot of money,” Chua recommends.

© CTW Features

America’s ‘hottest’ cars

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 And by ‘hot’ we mean stolen. Here’s where motorists face the highest car-theft rates and how to best protect your ride no matter where you reside. And by ‘hot’ we mean stolen. Here’s where motorists face the highest car-theft rates and how to best protect your ride no matter where you reside. It seems the Golden State is indeed golden — for auto thieves. Seven out of the 10 U.S. cities suffering the most stolen cars are situated in California, according to the latest “Hot Spots” report issues by the National Insurance Crime Bureau in Des Plaines, Ill.

San Francisco leads all metro areas in the nation in per-capita car thefts, with more than 29,000 vehicles purloined during 2014. The only non-California cities on the NICB’s top-10 list were Odessa, Texas, and the Spokane and Seattle, Wash. regions (see the accompanying box for the full list).

On the plus side, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says car thefts are steadily on the decline, with a 5.7 percent reduction in motor vehicle thefts reported during 2013 and 2014; they’re down by a whopping 42.8 percent since 2003. The National Highway Safety Administration attributes the decrease to a variety of factors including the increased use of standard antitheft devices (especially coded keys, engine immobilizers and vehicle locating systems), parts marking, increased and improved prosecution efforts by law enforcement organizations and heightened public awareness.

As before, older cars are most often valued for the sum of their parts; they’re usually driven away and quickly disassembled at so-called chop shops and sold off piecemeal to shady auto supply stores and mechanics. Meanwhile, newer and flashier stolen cars are more typically sold overseas or offered domestically with altered titles, or are simply taken for what amounts to a joyride.

The latest trend in auto theft involves models being quickly and efficiently dismantled on the spot for top-dollar components, with flashy alloy wheels being increasingly targeted by crooks. “Because it’s harder to steal an entire vehicle these days, thieves are stealing the parts,” says Terri Miller, executive director of the organization Help Eliminate Auto Thefts in Livonia, Mich. “Tires and rims are not marked (for identification) and they are very, very marketable.”

No matter where you live or what you drive, it’s important to take every precaution to protect what is one of a family’s largest expenditures. Aside from the surprisingly often ignored common sense tips like closing the windows and locking the doors, parking in a well-lit area and never leaving the keys in the ignition while the vehicle is unattended, the NICB advises motorists make their vehicles as theftproof as possible.

This includes using an antitheft device, which will often also warrant a discount on your car insurance. Having a simple ignition “kill switch” installed in a hidden location makes it more difficult for a crook to start a car or truck and drive it away.

It’s also a good idea to have your car or truck’s vehicle identification number etched on the windshield and major components to make them more difficult for chop shops to sell as replacement parts.

And especially if you’re driving a costly luxury sedan or sports car, go the extra mile and use a subscription based telematics system like General Motors’ OnStar or similar technology offered by other automakers. Such systems use GPS technology and can help police departments locate cars and trucks if they are stolen. Some cars can even notify their owners if they’re broken into or moved via a connected smartphone app.

© CTW Features

Hot spots’ for stolen cars

1. San Francisco- Oakland-Hayward, Calif.

2. Bakersfield, Calif.

3. Stockton-Lodi, Calif.

4. Odessa, Texas

5. Modesto, Calif.

6. Spokane-Spokane Valley, Wash.

7. Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.

8. Seattle-Tacoma- Bellevue, Wash.

9. Fresno, Calif.

10. San Jose-Sunnyvale- Santa Clara, Calif.

Note: Ranking is relative to population size. Source: National Insurance Crime Bureau.