Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Is Your Home Freezing Cold in Winter? How to Find and Fix the Problem

As a Realtor, I sometimes walk into homes that are extremely cold in winter, even though the heat is on full crank. A home that is allowing cold air in often becomes uncomfortable, even unsafe for children and babies. And the high heat oftentimes dries them out, causing dry skin and nosebleeds.

Not to mention, leaks can lead to high heating bills. So how can you have a more comfortable temperature at home? Ask different contractors, and you will get a whole range of answers and estimates. Your HVAC needs to be updated. Your windows are poor quality and need to be changed. You need to pump insulation into the walls. You need to weather-strip windows. These fixes range from a few bucks (caulk or weather-stripping) to thousands of dollars.

Rather than guess why your home is cold, and spend the money to fix one issue, why not find out what the problem really is? A $30 thermal leak detector is a great buy, even if you are currently renting. The machine is simple to use, you first point it to an interior wall, then the source of the possible leak. Blue light means cooler that the base temperature and red means warmer. The digital display reads the temperatures as well.

If the light turns blue in the middle of an exterior wall, it could be the insulation has settled or is missing. Have a handyman rent a insulation blower machine from Home Depot and blow some insulation into the wall.

If windows are at fault, always check first if they are properly closed. Then check for visible cracks and gaps and caulk them. Home Depot has an entire seasonal section dedicated to weather strippers, door draft stoppers, and window kits that can make your home much more comfortable. New windows should be your last resort, because they cost $500-$1500 each, so this can be a sizable investment that might take years to recoup in lower energy bills.

Don't forget to check the baseboards. Sometimes there is a large gap between the sheet rock and the floor, and the base molding is still letting the air in. A foam gap/crack filler and caulk can solve that issue. Another common area cold air enters the room is outlets, and you can plug them with child safety caps. If you have a working wood burning fireplace, check that the damper is effective in keeping the chimney closed when the fireplace is not in use.

If the ambient temperature in a particular room is much colder than the others, for example on a particular floor, this could indicate a problem with the HVAC vents, or the furnace itself. However, this is a complicated, albeit rare problem, and should be left to the HVAC experts.

Don’t settle for a cold home or high heating bills because it is too expensive to fix leaks. You might be surprised at how quick and cheap a fix might be.

Dalia Tole
Salesperson, Global Property Specialist
KW City Life

Wall St Journal: How to Get the Best Jumbo Mortgage Rates

Today's Wall St. Journal features a great article on how to get the best jumbo mortgage rates.

In our zip code, jumbo mortgages are often the norm. While buying a home is exciting, applying for a mortgage can be very daunting. However, doing your homework, which includes improving your credit score, can make your dream home that much more affordable.

The article touches on quite a few points that should be intuitive. For example, the higher the down payment, the better the rate. The article does have one mistake: Pre-approval (the more comprehensive method that involves documentation of income and liabilities, as well as a credit check) is the way to go, and it is often required when submitting a bid on a desirable property in this area (or for that matter a desirable suburb).

Most of the banks in our area provide discounts based on banking relationships. For example, Bank of America Preferred Rewards and especially Chase Private Client can offer significant discounts on both the mortgage rates as well as closing credits. To get the most out of a banking relationship, consider consolidating all your accounts, including retirement accounts and stock and mutual fund accounts, to the financial institution where you anticipate taking out your mortgage.

Interested in buying locally? Give me a call and I can help, both as a licensed Realtor and as a 12+ year homeowner. Interested in moving to the suburbs? I can recommend a trusted colleague in top towns in NJ from Montclair and Ridgewood to Summit, Chatham, Milburn and Short Hills. I also have tri-state connections in Manhattan, Queens, Long Island, Stamford, Philly etc. as well as national connections through my 6000+ agent network (need a Hindi speaking Realtor in New Mexico or Arizona... I can help you with that!)

The Federal's outlook on interest rates remains benign, which means a shock to real estate prices is not on the horizon for the foreseeable future. This is a great time to give yourself the gift of home equity.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Which is the Best School in Hoboken or Jersey City?

Just yesterday, someone I met for the first time asked me, "Which one is the best school in Jersey City?" As a Realtor, I am often asked what the best school in Hoboken or Jersey City is. Actually, choosing the right school for your child is a very personal decision. Ask me, or your friends and neighbors, and you will likely receive overwhelmingly positive feedback on their children’s school. In reality, there is no “best school in town,” only one that is the best fit for your child and your family.

Even though the school year starts after Labor Day, Open Houses for various schools start in the previous Fall. Plan to attend an All Schools Open House, such as the ones sponsored by Newport Mommy or Hoboken Family Alliance, which many schools in the area attend. Most schools also have open houses in their campus through late winter or even early spring. While a large number of my clients buy or rent a home first, some families will select a school first, then a home, so it is best to start your homework early.

When you are choosing a school for your child, identifying your priorities will help narrow down the field. So focus on what you really want and what would be a deal-breaker. Keep in mind, many private schools in the Jersey City/Hoboken area have two to three times more applicants than spots, so if you want to go only the private route, you should plan on applying to multiple schools.

• How many hours of school is ideal for your child? School day for the public preschool is six hours long (mandated by DoE). However, some private schools typically have a half day program (about 3 hours) for the younger grades.
• Can you afford private school tuition? Annual tuitions for private schools in the area can be upwards of $7,000-9,000 for half day programs (Montessori schools cost up to $10,000) and $13,000-15,000 for full day programs (close to $20,000 for a Montessori). Some financial aid and scholarships may be available. You should prioritize saving for your own retirement, your children’s college education, etc. above private preschool and elementary school.
• Is proximity to your home important? For example, if you live downtown and take the PATH to work, but the school is uptown, you may add up to 30 minutes to your commute. The public program often cannot guarantee placement in your preferred choice of school.
• How many hours of after school care do you need? Most schools have an after care program (fees vary). An exception is Stevens Cooperative, which does not have after care for 2 and 3 year olds, but free after-care for 4s-8th grade. A few provide after school care till 7 p.m.
• Do you plan to pack lunch for your child? If your child has food allergies, dietary restrictions or other reasons you want to pack a daily lunch, be aware that some programs like HOPES and Miles Square in Hoboken provide meals and don’t allow outside foods.
• Do you have a preference for Montessori, Progressive Education or another special curriculum or philosophy?
• Do you want the school to run through higher grades (e.g. middle school instead of elementary or preschool)?Hoboken Catholic, Mustard Seed, All Saints, Waterfront Montessori and and Stevens Cooperative run through 8th grade.  The Hudson School services grades 5-12.
• How involved do you want to be in your child’s school on a daily basis? A high level of parent participation is required in certain co-operative schools such as Stevens.
• What is the sibling policy? Many schools offer preferential admission to siblings, as well as tuition discounts.
• Will your child make the school age cut-off? Some private schools have a September 1 cutoff, others are as late as November 1.
• What role should religion play in your child’s education? Schools such as OLC, Hoboken Catholic Academy, Mustard Seed and Kaplan Cooperative have stated mission statements that incorporate religion into their curriculum. All Saints does not espouse a particular religious doctrine but instead emphasizes spirituality.
• Do classrooms have computers? Miles Square classrooms do not have computers.
• What is the teacher to student ratio? The maximum class size in most private and public schools is 15-16 students per class, with one teacher and one assistant teacher.  The maximum class in some others can be 20+.
• Does the school offer special education or remedial classes for children who need them? Are the classes and restrooms accessible? Many schools do not have elevators.
• What does the school do to help develop character and citizenship? For example, All Saints actively incorporates philanthropy and even younger students participate in their many service programs.
• Where do graduates pursue their higher studies? Acceptance to reputable high schools and colleges often indicate the educational excellence of the previous schools. Waterfront Montessori, Stevens Cooperative and Mustard Seed, amongst others, publish a list of schools and colleges their graduates have attended.
• How long do you plan to live in Jersey City? Private school contracts become binding in the spring, meaning the entire amount becomes due even if you relocate and decide not to attend. 

In addition, various websites, including the U.S. Department of Education have tips on how to choose the right school for your child.

More about Dalia: http://newportmommy.com/page/recommended-realtor-dalia-bose-tole