Friday, June 30, 2006


Canal Path Along Delaware River

We checked out Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Truth" the night before being overwhelmed with national news coverage of the latest post-Katrina flooding along the Delaware River and Mid-Atlantic region. Even The White House was in the flood zone. But our President still has no plans to see the film. Maybe he's waiting for the DVD.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Is the Market Finnished?

From comes this Finnish wrinkle on Zillow and other innovative Real Estate marketing tools:

Igglo combines large amounts of real estate information into a customer friendly package that could alter how the housing market operates, by letting potential buyers 'pre-order' houses that aren't yet for sale.

The Finnish company has photographed every building in Helsinki, with more towns to follow, and combines these photographs with satellite images and maps. Every property is listed, not just those that are currently on the market. (Their tagline is: "Your house is already on Igglo.")

Potential buyers can earmark a building, street or neighbourhood they're interested in, and post offers online. This lets potential sellers find out how desirable their property is, even if they weren't actively considering selling. Buyers also receive an alert when a property in their earmarked building or area comes up for sale.

If demand and supply meet, Igglo handles the transaction for a lower fee than is charged by regular real estate agents (less than 2%). Lower fees are made possible by the fact the Igglo agents don't get involved until buyers and sellers have found each other. The company is looking to expand the service to other big cities.

Interesting way of turning the real estate market upside down, letting demand nudge supply in the right direction, and moving the market from push to pull. One to watch!


Monday, June 26, 2006

Bring on the Ice!

Map time again. One with a cool feel to it. Millenia before global warming, there were the Ice Ages. This circa 1900 map from Rutgers' historical Library shows how our last ice Age pushed defined the hills and valleys of North Jersey. Click on the map to enlarge.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

$6000 Homes 7 Hours from NYC

Our family roots are in the Canton Ohio area.
So when we saw Sunday's NY Times headline about the city with what may be the most undervalued homes in the country, we were especially intrigued. Canton is just south of Akron, which is just south of Cleveland. Like many Rustbelt towns, the region suffers from massive job losses in the manufacturing sector. No Bubble here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Totally Tubular Skylights

From Mother Earth News:

If you’d like to light your home naturally and efficiently, consider installing tubular skylights.

With a clear, domelike lens that gathers sunlight and transmits it into a room via a ceiling fixture and a highly reflective piece of tubing, they are ideal for retrofitting bathrooms, hallways or walk-in closets. Some models even come with flexible tubes, so you can snake them around obstructions in your attic. And you don’t have to be Bob Vila to add them to your home — most do-it-yourselfers can install one in a couple of hours using common tools.

Tubular skylights cost about $200 to $500 uninstalled, and are highly efficient: one 21 inch model, for example, produces about 13,900 lumens under the right conditions — the equivalent light output of six 48-inch, 40-watt fluorescent lights.

Even on cloudy days, a tubular skylight can provide at least as much light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb. The natural sunshine tubular skylights provide is also much more attractive than the light of their bulbous brethren.
For locations that require constant illumination, tubular skylights are especially economical: one 10-inch tubular skylight, providing an average of 4,200 lumens of light for eight hours each day, will save you about $70 annually.

To purchase a tubular skylight, or for more information, contact one of the companies listed below:

Bristolite Tubular Skylights
(800) 854-8618

ODL Tubular Skylights
(800) 253-3900

Solatube Skylights
(800) 966-7652

Friday, June 23, 2006

TV Buggers Top Tree Huggers

(Reuters) - Americans are less interested in spending time in natural surroundings like national parks because they are spending more time watching television, playing video games and surfing the Internet, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The study, for The Nature Conservancy, found per-capita visits to national parks have been declining for years.
National park visitation data starting in 1930 peaked in 1987 at 1.2 visits per person per year. But by 2003 it had declined by about 25 percent to 0.9 visits per person per year, said Oliver Pergams, an ecologist at the University of Illinois who analyzed the data for the study.
The data, based on government statistics and other sources, were taken as a proxy for interest in nature in general.
Researchers tested more than two dozen possible explanations for the trend and found that 98 percent of the drop in national park visits was explained by video games, movie rentals, going out to movies, Internet use and rising fuel prices.
Other possible explanations such as family income or the aging population were ruled out.
There was a sufficiently high correlation between declining national park visits and the burgeoning use of electronic media that led Pergams and his associate, Patricia Zaradic, believe the two are linked. "It made us feel fairly certain that there is an association," Pergams told Reuters.
The study, to be published in the Journal of Environmental Management, concludes that the trend has negative implications for environmental stewardship.
"We may be seeing evidence of a fundamental shift away from people's appreciation of nature to 'videophilia' which we here define as the new human tendency to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media," the researchers said.
"Such a shift would not bode well for the future of biodiversity conservation."
Nature Conservancy President Steve McCormick said the study suggests Americans and their children in particular are losing their connection to the natural world.
"When children choose TVs over trees, they lose touch with the physical world outside and the fundamental connection of those places to our daily lives," McCormick said.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Global Warming and NJ Beaches


When scientists consider the effects of global warming, there is a lot they don't know. But one thing's for sure: Sea levels will rise. This rising water will be felt along the artificially maintained beaches of New Jersey, even on the ocean bluffs of California. According to a 2000 report by the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, at least a quarter of houses within 500 feet of the U.S. coast may be lost to rising seas by 2060. There were 350,000 of these houses when the report was written, but today there are far more. "If it is as bad as people are saying, at some point it will be a crisis," said Thomas Tomasello of Tallahassee, Fla., a lawyer for many coastal property owners. "I cannot deal with sea level rise," he said. "That's such a huge issue."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Three Houses And You're Out

For those who think Real Estate is a piece of cake, we offer this commentary without comment from Mortgage News Daily:

You have probably seen an ad in a current series being run on behalf of the Century 21 franchise. The series is promoting how hard their agents work for each and every client and, while a bit sappy in this reporters mind, are probably pretty effective.

The specific ad we are addressing here is one in which a young woman, presumably a single parent, is thanking her agent for "not giving up." While the real estate agent fusses over the clients small child the client talks about her limited budget and how hard the agent worked to find a house she could afford. "You must," she exclaims, "have shown me 20 houses."

The agent ducks her head modestly and says, "Well, it was more like 34."

Well 34 is a lot of houses and if the customer's budget was truly limited, the payoff at the end was probably not a large one. Still, some sales take a long time, some never happen, and sometimes a buyer will walk into an office and buy the first home he or she is shown. Those last kind of customers are called "blue birds," and may heaven bless their hearts and bring them happiness, success, and the burning desire to buy another house from the same agent.

It's called real estate.

No, actually it is the heart and soul of selling anything. Ask any car dealer, retail clerk, door to door salesman, or politician. You will spend a lot of time and energy on people who are "just looking," and even more on people who really want to buy but are incapable of making a decision in less than half a life time.

So it was a little disconcerting to read a column on a national website this past week decrying the message of the Century 21 ad on the basis that, while the ad is advertising that the franchise does not stint on how hard they work to serve their customers, it sends a second message is that they don't "have a clue how to take control of a buyer or how to qualify one."

This particular writer was playing to an audience of real estate agents, urging them to evaluate their selling techniques to reduce the time, energy, and out of pocket expense, especially given the cost of gas, involved in selling or not selling to any given customer. No problem with that. As we have said here several times, real estate agents are occasionally abused and frequently taken advantage of by indecisive, disloyal, or even deceptive customers and need to draw a firm line in the sand or at least in their own minds as to how far they will be pushed.

However, the author of this article goes a little further, quoting a top producer of his acquaintance who "will not show a prospect more than three homes. If they want to see more than that he refers them to a new agent who is willing to 'play taxi'."

Three homes?

This is not the first time I have heard of this approach to real estate sales. Customers have told me about agents who have verbally abused them when they failed to make an offer after looking at a grand total of four or five houses. One customer said that none of the homes bore any resemblance to the specifications they had given the agent. Another said that not a one was in their price range.

The crazy thing was that these agents were all legendary in their local market for their high sales level. So maybe it works, at least for them. I suspect, however, that these are agents that are not particularly interested in working with buyers; that they view themselves primarily as listing agents. However, these agents take on buyers because when they pass their uncooperative, slow or unresponsive buyers off to another agent willing to "play taxi" they will ultimately collect 20 to 25 percent of that willing agent's commission as a referral fee. Talk about a deal!

However, from a customer service level it is a pretty selfish way to do business. First of all, the customer has an investment in the transaction too. The real estate agent may be spending money on gas and spending time setting up appointments, but the buyer has invested time in establishing a relationship with someone they hoped to work with over a period of time. To be told after viewing only a handful of houses that they will be passed on to another agent can be disappointing and will require time and effort to establish a new relationship but it could also kill the desire to continue looking. An insecure buyer, particularly a first timer, may be shaken to the core by such an attitude and made to feel that they do not understand the process or that they are not behaving appropriately.

Real estate agents are forever advised to qualify their customers. Are they seriously interested in buying a house? Can they afford to do so? Is their timetable a reasonable one or might they be still looking long after the agent retires? These are not inappropriate questions and no one disputes that an agent's time is money and that at $3.00 per gallon so is the gas it takes to show properties. But, in light of the article referenced above, buyers need step up their efforts to qualify agents as well.

The old conventional wisdom was to interview an agent to make sure he understood agency, had sufficient experience to guide the buyer through the transaction, and was capable of driving from point A to Point B without killing his passengers. The intangibles that make an agent one you will return to for every transaction will only emerge over time.

However, perhaps it is now necessary to interrogate a potential agent about his or her work ethic. Does he put a time limit (or house limit) on his commitment to a buyer? How does he feel about educating a buyer, particularly a first time buyer? Harder to determine at a first meeting is whether the agent trusts his judgment more than yours. In other words, does the fact the agent views a home as perfect for you outrank your own opinion on the subject?

Don't allow yourself to be courted then jilted. An imperious agent is not working on behalf of the buyer; he is working on behalf of himself. He doesn't want to waste time on a loser. And neither do you.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Greenway Dreams

We love maps. We love maps with Greenways even more. Especially maps that show North Jersey counties from a fresh perspective. Garden State Greenway's website currently offers free downloadable county maps in pdf format. Some of the green shaded paths indicate existing Greenway projects. Many others are long term dreams. With YOUR community involvement the dream can become reality:

In order to provide easy access to the Garden State Greenways vision, maps detailing important hubs and their potential connectors were created for each county. To provide context to the user, these maps contain existing open space, municipal boundaries and roads, as well as information for border areas outside the county.
The maps are in .pdf format at a 1:55,000 scale, making them poster-sized for maximum detail. If your interests are not county-wide, you may zoom in and print portions of the map.
Due to the changing nature of New Jersey’s landscape, discrepancies between mapped information and the real world are inevitable. In addition to discrepancies inherent in digital data, open space information can be variably interpreted.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

TownHouse Plans Hit Wall in Wall

From The New York Times:

AS public opinion has generally turned against sprawl in New Jersey, big-lot residential zoning has mostly fallen out of favor in towns around the state.

Admittedly, there are still exclusive enclaves where one- or two-acre lots are the rule, and semirural areas where a four-acre lot, or even a six-acre lot, is the required minimum for a single house. But the New Urbanism style of building multiple units in clusters on smaller parcels in more densely populated areas is the trend most planners and developers are focusing on these days.

Here in the small town of Wall, there is a project that aims to install a New Urbanist design right in the midst of a six-acre-lot neighborhood.

Cedar Hollow Estates is a development of 11 attached town homes occupying a sliver of land in the midst of horse farm country — with five nearby golf courses and a large park, and prime Jersey beachfronts all reasonably close neighbors as well.

Since most of the land available for development in Wall consists of eight small lots on the periphery, or land that lies within the central part of the community that is zoned for six acres per residential unit, Cedar Hollow's town houses may be a vanishing breed hereabouts.

"We think this is going to be the last one, except for the age-restricted projects that are under way here," said Paul R. DeBellis Jr. of Franklin Development Group, the West Paterson company building Cedar Hollow.

Mr. DeBellis, who is a principal of Franklin Development along with his father, Paul R. DeBellis Sr., said his company had vied to build more such projects on other sites, but found itself stymied by the six-acre-per-unit rule governing the available land in the central part of Wall Township. "We want to preserve the character of that part of town," said the township's planner, John Hoffmann.

Cedar Hollow, just off Route 138 and adjacent to wooded property leased by the town for a police station, is a high-end condominium development. The 11 town homes, with an average price of $950,000, will each have 3,600 square feet of space, with three bedrooms, two and a half baths, two fireplaces, a private in-home elevator, a heated two-car garage and a 435-square-foot deck.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Attack Rabbits Hit Montclair

Our favorite eco-friendly gardener, Pat Kenschaft, sends her latest tale of a growing insurgency from her Homefront near Brookdale Park.:

....while I was sitting reading on an old-fashioned chaise lounge with plastic webbing, I saw a HUGE rabbit at a distance. It was about a foot long, not counting the head. I watched it in amazement, until I thought it was watching me. It's hard to be sure you are having eye contact with a rabbit.

It began coming toward me. Now I was sure we were looking at each other. It walked within a yard of the chair, and I felt a slight fear at this large critter -- a fear that amused me at the time. Then it hopped to maybe ten or fifteen feet away, turned around, and began coming toward me at a startling speed. I was even more amused at my even heightened fear. It bounced under my chair and hit my bottom in an emphatic bounce upward that I could clearly feel through the plastic webbing.

Then it turned around, started to speed toward me again, and this time went under my legs, bouncing upward toward them so that my legs could feel the rabbit "hitting" them. I waited for more, but it turned around briefly tosay goodbyey, and then disappeared into a neighbor's yard.

The (smaller) Easter bunny was back yesterday, looking startlingly normal compared to her small and large relatives. She just sat and looked at me from about six feet away for over ten minutes. I was surprised at how sad I felt when she left me. Rabbits are fun.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Small is Big

Geoff Warner's Wee House is actually 800 Square Feet. Small is definitely the new big, according to the Wall Street Journal. Says the Journal: "Designers say microhome buyers tend to fall into one of two groups: The majority are looking for a secondary space, either a vacation home or a building near or attached to a primary residence. A minority of buyers are hoping to move into a minihouse full-time, motivated by a desire to simplify their lifestyles or by social and environmental concerns about the amount of living space people need.....Living in a tiny home, as opposed to doing yoga in it or using it for vacations, often appeals to people who want simpler lives that leave less of an ecological "footprint."

Monday, June 12, 2006

Sunday, June 11, 2006

We'd All Like Cheaper Housing but...

We found this item on the website of the National Association of Home Builders.
Sounds like the best thing since sliced bread, but it's only part of the bill:

Bipartisan Bill To Improve Federal Storm Water Program Would Boost Housing Affordability

June 9, 2006 - Legislation introduced yesterday by Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) and 17 bipartisan cosponsors would update and improve Environmental Protection Agency storm water permit and enforcement policies that have needlessly harmed housing affordability, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

“Current storm water permitting requirements and regulations are duplicative and burdensome, adding anywhere from $1,400 to $4,500 to the cost of every lot,” said NAHB President David Pressly, a home builder from Statesville, N.C. “The legislation takes into account the differences between residential construction activity and other industries. By taking a more balanced and reasonable approach to storm water management and enforcement, the measure would streamline the permit process, improve compliance and enhance environmental protection.”

H.R. 5558, the “Stormwater Enforcement and Permitting Act,” contains a number of provisions that would protect the environment without needlessly driving up housing costs. The bill would:

- Develop a program to increase awareness among residential construction site operators of their regulatory requirements

- Create a fair and reasonable process by which the Environmental Protection Agency can seek information from residential construction site operators

- Allow builders a one-time chance to correct permit deficiencies that don’t cause environmental harm

- Remove duplicative permit obligations where residential construction site operators discharge into municipal storm sewer systems that are already permitted and regulated

- Allow authorized states to assume the lead enforcement role

- Provide statutory authorization for EPA’s current practice of issuing general permits

At a time when housing affordability is becoming a national issue, and duplicative and burdensome storm water regulations are pushing up the cost of housing and pricing a growing number of families out of the market for homeownership, the time has come to update and improve these requirements, Pressly said. A more consistent and sensible regulatory approach would better protect America’s rivers and streams without unduly increasing housing costs, he added.

More to come....

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Global-Warming on Montclair's Front Burner

Gray Russell gave his own alternative energy presentation recently in Bloomfield (photo)

Thursday's NJ Star Ledger has an interesting follow up to Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" by reporter Phillip Reade:

Gray Russell has seen Al Gore's global-warming flick "An Inconvenient Truth."

The film starring the former vice president has been pulling in record-breaking audiences and filling up seats at Montclair's Claridge Theater... "I think it's the issue of our time, I really do," said Russell, the hybrid Toyota Prius-driving environmental coordinator.

This summer, Rosdaria Matos and others will be going door to door to raise the pressure on Corzine to follow through on NJPIRG's agenda.
The group's solution checklist includes doubling rebates for solar and other renewable energy; building an 80-turbine, 350 megawatt wind-energy pilot project offshore and enacting a gas-guzzler fee on vehicles that get 22 miles per gallon or less, with the revenues used as incentives for fuel efficiency.
Yesterday, Brendan Gilfillan, a spokesman for the governor, pointed to Corzine's record in the U.S. Senate, including his "yea" votes on caps on greenhouse emissions -- which failed -- and his vote against an energy-bill amendment that he said did not go far enough to reduce emissions.

"Despite the lack of leadership on the federal level, Gov. Corzine remains committed to doing what he can in the state to address this global challenge," Gilfillan said.

Last week, in its second weekend, Gore's documentary broke into the Top 10 with $1.33 million in ticket sales, even though it was playing in only 77 theaters. It draws parallels between rising temperatures and their resulting catastrophic hurricanes and cycles of drenching floods and bone-drying drought.

Montclair was chosen, in part, because it is the first New Jersey town to win the Board of Public Utilities' Clean Energy Leadership Award. "We're walking the walk, not just talking the talk," Russell said of Montclair's "green" reputation.

Montclair has traffic lights with LED, or light-emitting diodes, saving $10,000 a year in energy costs; has a small fleet of municipal vehicles powered by compressed natural gas; and is about to build a school with solar panels and a geo- thermal heating and cooling system.

In the autumn, Russell joined an Earthwatch team of scientists on Canada's northern reaches, near the Arctic Circle, to study the permafrost, moisture that lies below the ground and, when fully frozen, deflects the sun's heating rays.

That permafrost, in places, is now forming puddles, and the sun's heat is instead absorbed by the water, speeding up the melting and releasing greenhouse gases in the process.

"The permafrost, for the first time in 10,000 years, is thawing," he said.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Closet Phobia

From Pogue's Posts:

There’s a housing complex in Hong Kong whose 100 rooms are each ten feet square.

Photographer Michael Wolf painstakingly took a photograph in each one, showing its occupant and furniture. The result is a set of 100 bizarre, thought-provoking photos–a theme and variations.

One look, and you’ll never complain about the size of your place again.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


3form is generating buzz in design circles with a very cool material called eco-resin .
Ecoresin is a proprietary translucent, co-polyester sheet material that contains a significant amount of recycled content but also retains its core physical properties. But what is it used for? Ecoresin is used as the building block to produce products such as those pictured above and results in architectural panels that have superior optical, mechanical and fire properties and that promote clean air quality.

We’re not completely sure what all that means, but their website looks really cool. Plus, they are a contributor to the National Building Museum’s The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design - an exhibit investigating new green home ideas, solutions and debates.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Global Warming Reality Bites

From Sunday's Times Week In Review:
While much of the discussion of climate change focuses on the big picture of rising sea levels and increasing global air and ocean temperatures, the Duke finding helps explain the smaller picture. Climate change may be a real nuisance in the backyard.

Poison ivy is only the latest entry on a growing list of pests, both plant and animal, that may be nurtured. Japanese beetles, a voracious eater of turf and trees, live longer under higher levels of carbon dioxide. The ranges of other invasive insects, like fire ants, are expected to increase as the planet warms. Disease-carrying ticks have already been shown to have moved northward in Sweden. Mosquitoes could fly farther, too.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Where to Spend that Summer Weekend?

Or should you just relax and watch your garden grow?
David Carr writes "You Are Where You Tan" from a Montclair perspective in the NY Times:

In our neighborhood, everyone has a version of Someplace Else. The people across the street split for Fire Island. The couple next door have a place in the Hamptons they give over to renters for most of the season, enjoying it on the margins. Our best friends on the block belong to a beach club on a tidy lake in the low-slung mountains of Jersey, and many of the others head out to destinations near and far on the Jersey Shore....There is something terribly existential in all of this: Work all of your life to scratch out a piece of suburban idyll, and then work some more so you can afford to get the hell away from it.

Friday, June 02, 2006


Saturday, June 10, 2006
Sunday, June 11, 2006 - raindate

11:00am - 4:00pm

Laurel Hill County Park, Secaucus

MeadowFest(formerly RiverFest) is the centerpiece eco-tourism event in the region and is a platform to highlight the activities and purpose of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission through community building. MeadowFest's target audience is families, couples and individuals interested in wholesome activity and community fun.

The day-long event will feature educational activities, games, music, food and more. There will also be narrated pontoon boat tours along the Hackensack River that will run throughout the day. Prior to the day's events, the Meadowlands Liberty Convention and Visitors Bureau will host the first Meadowlands Liberty Eco-Triathlon.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Nature Program Cooperative

Nature Program Cooperative is a network of environmental organizations.
NPC member organizations provide opportunities to experience and enjoy our region's natural side. Members of one are welcome at all. (Non-members also welcome.)