Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Plot Thickens at Zoning Board

Bloomfield residents react to initial unveiling of plans for 28 Unit apartment complex.

The developers’ presentation for the 28-Unit Apartment House at 1242 Broad Street is scheduled to continue at a special meeting of the Bloomfield Zoning Board this coming Thursday, June 1st, at 7:30 PM in the Town Council chambers. At this meeting Ralph Salerno, the developers’ lawyer, will present his final two witnesses: a traffic expert and a town planner.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Even More Virtual Home Searches

Over 70% of homebuyers use the internet at some point in their search.
The most comprehensive site is still Realtor.com and is new sister site Move.com(formerly Homestore)

There's still the Garden state Multiple Listing public site(GSMLS.com). There's also Zillow.com, and, of course, Century 21.com.

Meanwhile, Trulia.com, a real estate information site is expanding its coverage to a number of key states, including California, New York, New Jersey, Texas and Florida. It plans to go to five other states later this year. Trulia is a simplified real estate search engine, with results placed on Google maps from the beginning rather the end of the search process. It's still in a Beta version with overlapping zip codes and only about 20% of available listings in Bloomfield, for example. But it could be a good starting point for buyers to dip their fingers into the housing market.

Friday, May 26, 2006

“I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend?"

Robert Redford

Downsizing McMansions

From the Star-Ledger:
On Tuesday night, Montclair's council introduced an ordinance that would rein in what many characterize as McMansions, introducing a coverage limit in R-1 and R-2 zones of 25 percent. In R-0, or residential mountain zones, the maxi mum coverage would be 20 percent.

On a 60-foot-by-150 foot lot, for example, simple setback requirements now allow 49 percent coverage, meaning a two-story house could have some 8,800 square feet, not counting any finished attic or basement. A 25 percent coverage would allow for a two-story house with 4,466 square feet; add a half- story -- Montclair's maximum allowable-- and the house would approach 5,600 square feet of living space.

"The net result would be reducing the size of houses," Mayor Ed Remsen said as the council scheduled a June 13 public hearing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Aaah....Presby is Peaking

Montclair's pride and joy iris garden comes int it's own this weekend with acres mof rarely seen varieties on the gentle lower slopes of Mountainside Park(Upper Mountain Ave south of Mt. Hebron) Live music, tours, and a new gift shop. The big day-long celebration is on Satuday, May 27, from 10 to 4.
Live musical entertainment will begin at 1 p.m.
There will be balloons and face painting for kids.
For more information, see the website at http://presbyiris.tripod.com
Rain Date is SUNDAY.
This is the weekend for local festivities. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

In Back of the Bus

It took a lot of people to move that bus in front of the Turner family's new home.

About one hundred anonymous community members, including the Mayor of Irvington, NJ and sent a news article to "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," hoping the design team could help! And now that the smoke has cleared, hundreds of dedicated contractors and workers, local builder Edgewood Properties and Clifton's Century 21 Construction(no connection to Century 21 Real Estate) and volunteers transformed the Turners' burned out house into a dream home in a remarkable seven days.

Roads were closed, celebrities showed up and neighbors gawked at the small army of blue-shirted contractors turning one disadvantaged family's modest house into a well-designed home. They also designed and rebuilt a much needed neighborhood park that will be a major asset to the town.

After finishing the season finalle, the crew moved up to Bergenfield for another Extreme Makeover to be broadcast later this summer.

The Llanes family - includes a blind father, a mother with cancer, a blind grandmother, two daughters who are going blind and a deaf son.

Along with demolishing and rebuilding the home's interior, the companies will pack the home with $100,000 worth of the latest technology designed to help people with vision and hearing problems.

"This house will have every piece of technology in it that we know exists on the planet Earth to help a family with disabilities," said Brian Stolar, president and CEO of developer Pinnacle, which is handling the 24-hour-a-day building effort.

The house will have the latest solar panels from BP Solar and the latest home-control software from Home Automated Living of Maryland. A member of the Llanes family will be able to speak into a phone or microphone and tell the system, for example, to turn out the lights or raise the thermostat.

Victor Llanes, the blind father, will be able to communicate more easily with his deaf son, Zeb, 16, using a software program called iCommunicator, which converts text to sign language.

"It was a house that was disabled," said deaf actress Marlee Matlin, who has met the Llanes family. "They are going to have less stressful lives," the actress said through a sign-language interpreter.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Danger Years for Homeowners

Some Realty Realities courtesy Bryant Nielson,
of 1st Metropolitan Mortgage in Tenafly:

Delinquencies peak the third and fourth years of mortgages.

It is reported that although borrowers are often told that the first year is the hardest, delinquencies have historically reached their highest points during the third and fourth years of mortgages.

There are a few forces at play: After years of strained budgets, borrowers may have little in savings to draw on to handle a crisis; this is also the period when major repairs begin to crop up; finally, many home buyers go through life changes, including starting a family.

The number of Americans affected by the coming danger years could be huge. It is further reported that half of all mortgage loans are three years old or less. Nearly $3 trillion in mortgages originated in 2002, $4 trillion in 2003 and $3 trillion again in 2004. Many were refis, but there were also record totals of new purchases as well.

In addition, many of these transactions involved risky loans, such as interest-only ARMs and no-down payment loans.

A recent report found that the median new home buyer put down just 2 percent in 2005. Forty-three percent put down no money at all. And according to SMR Research, some 25 percent of loans were interest-only, do nothing to reduce the debt on the house.

Lenders used to offer interest-only loans to only the best credit-quality prospects and that is no longer true.

Adjustable rate loans accounted for nearly half, by dollar volume, of loans issued in 2004 and 2005. Because interest rates have risen and are expected to increase further, those loans will adjust upward and monthly payments will be higher.

With a $200,000 loan adjusting upward from 4 percent to 6 percent, the monthly bill would increase to about $1,200 from $955.

Yet most homeowners are safe. 35 percent of all homeowners carry no mortgages at all and another 50 percent have traditional fixed-rate loans, which leaves only 15 percent of all homeowners at risk.

It I also pointed out that some who have opted for nontraditional mortgages are affluent and choose these products to free up cash for more lucrative investments. The risk to these financially savvy individuals is low; most can pay off their mortgages any time.

Furthermore, those who bought a few years ago when real estate was hot, may already be in safe territory, as the value of their homes has grown enough that they now have enough equity to ride out financial storms.

But even if the percentages of borrowers who may go into default remains modest, even an increase of a few percentage points can add up to millions of households.

Big price gains are ending
And housing seems to be headed, if not into a decline, at least into a period of much more stable, slower growth. The median home is predicted to inch up by only a few percent in 2006, according to NAR. In many markets, prices may fall. Home buyers cannot count on increasing home equity to bail them out of tight situations.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Open Garden Time!

Pat Kenschaft has an open garden for all seasons. This picture was from her December Open Garden.
All are invited to see Pat Kenschaft's spring harvest Saturday. Here's an excerpt from her latest newsletter:

Speaking of weeds, there are plenty for me this year too. My yard may not be as tidy this Saturday for my Open Garden (56 Gordonhurst Ave.) as I try to make it when I invite in the public. Grace Grund (3 Dodd Street) and I are looking forward to seeing you Saturday, May 20 from 2-5 PM. Grace will be holding a chicken-raising workshop beginning at 3:00 PM and my front yard will be hosting a variety of interesting tables. It takes little time to raise vegetables, but this business of looking suburban...

On the good side, vegetables are growing well too. My brocolli look
like brocolli, and I may harvest one before Saturday. There is a Sugan Ann
pea that will be ready to show off. I have THREE green tomatoes, one
larger than a pea. My mother said that gardeners need to brag. Please come
help me Saturday, and see the wonders of weeds and other good things!


Thursday, May 18, 2006

BNA Promotes Local Transparency

The Bloomfield Neighborhood Association will be hosting a meeting on Saturday (May 20) regarding transparency in local government. The meeting will be held in the Art Room at the Bloomfield College Library. More info:

On Saturday, May 20, at 10 a.m., in the Art Room of the Bloomfield College Library, the Bloomfield Neighborhood Association will be hosting two guest speakers: Councilwoman Janice Maly(far right in photo), who will be giving a status report on the hiring of a Channel 35 station manager, as well as the overall progress of township’s efforts to televise all public meetings; and Martin O’Shea, a West Milford activist who helped draft a new open government bill currently before both the state senate and assembly (S-1219/A-2762). The Art Room is accessible through the library’s main reading room.
Martin O’Shea is one of the primary drafters of the bill, which is intended to reform the Open Public Meetings Act, which became state law in 1975.

Introduced in January 2006 by State Senators Robert Martin (R-Morris Plains) and Ellen Karcher (D-Freehold), Senate Bill 1219 would compel public bodies, among other things, to hold open meetings of all subcommittees, require them to post relevant public information on a website and require them to record and keep more comprehensive minutes of all meetings. An identical bill was simultaneously introduced to the assembly.

O’Shea has been active for years in the Township of West Milford monitoring meetings of the municipality’s council, board of education and planning board. He has also worked on open government issues with other activists around the state.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Existing-Home Sales Ease in 1st Quarter

Existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, remained historically high in the first quarter but have experienced a downtrend since hitting a record in the third quarter of last year. Even so, 26 states showed increases in sales activity from a year ago, according to the Natioma; Association of Realtors®.

The latest report on total existing-home sales shows that the seasonally adjusted annual rate* was 6.80 million units in the first quarter, down 2.1 percent from the 6.94 million-unit level in the first quarter of 2005.

The biggest increase was in New Mexico, where existing-home sales rose 26.2 percent from the first quarter of 2005. Eight other states recorded double-digit sales increases from a year ago. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia experienced declines.

David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, said rising interest rates have dampened sales. “A steady rise in mortgage interest rates has slowed home sales in higher cost areas, yet job growth in some moderately priced markets is boosting sales in other areas,” he said. “The net effect is a modest decline in home sales for the nation as a whole, but sales remain historically strong and are providing a solid underlying base for the overall economy.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage was 6.24 percent in the first quarter, up from 6.22 percent in the fourth quarter; it was 5.76 percent in the first quarter of 2005.

NAR President Thomas M. Stevens from Vienna, Va., said the sales pattern is expected to level out. “We project home sales may soften a little further before picking up in the fourth quarter, but we’re not looking for any significant changes in the market moving forward,” said Stevens, senior vice president of NRT Inc. “This should provide stability in the market so that buyers and sellers will be on a fairly level playing field in most of the country.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

No More Knocks On This Door!

Clymer, NY, (near Lake Erie)has the distinction of having the home with the ugliest door in America. The door company Therma-Tru is replacing this blue-and-red door with a more appealing entryway valued at $3,000 to $5,000. The owners, for now, prefer to remain anonymous.

The company's message is that an attractive door has more than aesthetic value:
Replacing an old entry door with a new fiberglass entry system increases the perceived value of a home by as much as $24,000 – up to six percent of the home’s value.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Fauna to Awaken that Quiet Backyard

This year's Backyard Habitat Fair was held on perfectly sunny Saturday at St. James Church in the heart of in Upper Montclair. A great opportunity to find out more about backyard habitat, composting, native plants and local environmental projects and how to get your yard certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

The Montclair Backyard Habitat Project is working with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) to promote the creation of habitat friendly to both people and wildlife.If you couldn't make this annual event, you should check out their excellent website

We have a new vision of what a suburban community can be. Moving away from the traditional focus on sterile and even toxic lawns, we seek to preserve and enhance habitat through natural landscaping, using native plants and design techniques that provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other desired wildlife.

The NWF has a program to promote exactly this kind of shift in yard care by encouraging towns to become certified as Community Wildlife Habitats. Our goal is to turn Montclair into a NWF-certified Community Wildlife Habitat by 2010.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

How Old Is Your House in Light Years?

From Joyce Cohen in todays NY Times "Walk Through":

Did you know that May is Electrical Safety Month?

Underwriters Laboratories is publicizing the dangers of electric wiring in older homes. The group says a third of the country’s housing stock has wiring that is 50 years old or older.

The Residential Electrical System Aging Research Project finds that faulty wiring can be a hidden fire hazard. There aren’t always flickering lights, frayed cords or acrid electric-burning smells to let you know something’s wrong. “Bad things can be happening inside walls even without these warning signs,” says UL.

Even such innocent mistakes as “overlamping” a fixture — using a 100-watt bulb when the fixture is made for 60 watts — can wreck the wiring over time, causing a fire.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bear Market

courtesy www.millstreetdesign.com
That bear tracking story is one of the hottest ever over at Baristanet. We've clocked 4 reports in two days with 172 coments.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Bubble Bet

Suppose you're finally ready to buy that home, but you can no longer count on its value appreciating each year as it has in the past decade.
If you have a big mortgage and little equity, you might be feeling a little squeamish about all this talk of soft markets. In this week's New Yorker, James Surowiecki describes some new ways you might be able to protect yourself:

There is one much feared cataclysm, though, against which everyone has so far been defenseless—a housing-price slump. Seemingly every magazine and newspaper in America has now prophesied the imminent bursting of the housing bubble. But even though many Americans have invested all, or almost all, their net worth in their homes, they’ve had no way of insuring themselves against that asset’s value taking a severe tumble.
That’s all changing. At a new online site called HedgeStreet, investors can bet on changes in home prices in certain cities. And later this month the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is going to start trading futures contracts pegged to housing-price indexes in ten major metropolitan areas

As you might do with hog futures, you can sell contracts that will reap you a profit if local prices fall, allowing you to lock in the current value of your home. Alternatively, if you think the housing boom in this area still has a ways to run—or if you’re interested in buying a year from now but are afraid that you’ll be priced out of the market—you can place a bet that will pay off if prices keep going up. Thanks to www.truegotham.com.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Move over Harvest Fest!

Bloomfield's first Health and Wellness Fair, covering much of the Town Green on Saturday, was a natural outlet for a vigorous community spirit in the diverse township. It was a fun family event with lots of healthy exhibits and events to keep the crowd entertained, fed, and informed. A free picnic BBQ, courtesy of Shoprite, a DJ, give aways, and activities for kids of all ages. And then there's a buffet of of alternative medicine demonstrations including Massage Therapy, Reflexology, Healthy Cooking Demonstrations, Home Emergency Preparedness, Hearing Screenings, Yoga Demonstrations, Physical Therapy,Medicare Counseling, HerbalRemedies, Senior Screenings Blood Pressure, and Nutrition Counseling.

The fair was sponsored by: Mountainside Hospital, Brookdale Shoprite, Horizon BCBSNJ, and Sovereign Bank.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

DEP Scraps Condo Plans in Bloomfield

Big news from the Bloomfield Third RiverBank Association:

The five acres of pristine forest along Liongate Drive off of Broad Street, which thelandowners Tilter Realty (Patty Copek and her sister Marie Ruvo), through their developer, DeSimone, dreamed of turning into another chock-full instant neighborhood,received a reprieve from falling under the developer's earthmovers.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection reviewed DeSimone's plans to
build 42 townhomes on a flood plain of Spring Brook and the Third River and denied him approval to build.

We haven't received the formal letter detailing the reasons for the denial. We will pass it along when we get it.

Thanks to the hard work of many (remember those planning board and council meetings) and especially to the persistent efforts of our hired hydrologist Joe Skupien, the NJDEP put the brakes on this project.
Efforts questioning the wisdom of putting families at risk by building on the flood plain began in 2000. The planning board, under the Kane/Bukowski administration, did not give Desimone the approval to build at the site. However, later Desimone/Tilter appealed to the superior court and the planning board's denial was overturned.

We do not know what the landowners will do now. It would, of course be great, if they
would consider offering the property to the town.

We are also pleased that, with Greg Remaud's (NYNJ Baykeeper) help, we were able to secure a grant to help pay Joe Skupien's bill. We would like to recognize and roundly thank both Mary "the Bulldog" Shaughnessy's persistence as she followed up on the project as it wended its way through the NJDEP and Nick Joanow's weekly presence at the council meetings to keep track of any interesting tidbits on that front.

We hope to celebrate this news soon and will keep you posted.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Northern New Jersey Residential Inventory Update

Courtesy the NNJ Real Estate Bubble
This reflects MLS Listings currently on the market:
Single Family Homes, Condo, Coop
(Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union, Warren Counties)
4/26 - 15,648
5/3 - 16,111 (3% Weekly Increase)

Single Family Homes, Condo, Coop
(Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Passaic Counties)
4/26 - 7,622
5/3 - 7,792 (2.2% Weekly Increase)

Single Family Homes, Condo, Coop
(Hudson County)
4/26 - 2,259
5/3 - 2,243 (0.7% Weekly Decrease)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Green Roofs moving East?

In 2008, one of San Francisco’s 10 pilot green building projects, the $429 million California Academy of Sciences will reopen in Golden Gate Park. The 410,000-square-foot natural history museum will sport a sustainable redesign by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano.
The facility will attract visitors with both its aquarium—to hold an estimated 10,000 live animals—and its two-acre “living” roof To see how this works, check out Wal-Mart’s green roof in Chicago(right). Blooming with approximately 1.7 million native plants, the roof is projected to reduce storm water runoff by up to two million gallons of water per year. according to the Chicago Sun Times:
Designed to reduce rainfall runoff, the roof will not need an irrigation system. Expected to be completed with the new store this summer, Wal-Mart's green roof could be the first of many in Chicago. Last Fall, Mayor Daley launched the city’s environmentally-driven Green Roof program, which divvies out $5,000 grants to residential and small commercial business owners. Reportedly, the green roof program could, in conjunction with other green roofs, lower the city’s air temperature.

Are you taking notes New Jersey?

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day

Montclair really knows how to make a month fly by. Beginning with a traditional Maypole festival at Watchung Plaza, virtually every day has a cultural event to anticipate. check out the link's on their May in Montclair web site.