Thursday, June 30, 2011

6 Questions to Ask Your Home's Seller Before Moving In and they leave the area

6 Questions to Ask Your Home's Seller Before Moving In
Adapted from a Posting on Trulia 6/28/11 and Amended by Mark Slade on 6/30/11

You’ve negotiated your purchase, read the seller’s disclosure, gotten you mortgage, closed on your new home and then you realize you don’t know how to work the furnace or turn on the lawn sprinklers, what do you do?

Half the fun of house hunting is visualizing the fun you’ll have when the seller moves out, emptying the home of all their personal property and the place is yours to call HOME. But wait one second, once the seller is gone, so is a rich and intimate source of information about your new home.  Most sellers know things about their/your home, and the neighborhood, which could make your life much easier, for years to come.  

To help you tap into that “secret garden” of information, here are 6 questions to ask your home’s seller -- before it’s too late! (Note - it’s not protocol, in most cases, to just knock on the seller’s door or ring them up and start firing away. If you happen to run into them during escrow or inspections, feel free to ask. Otherwise, it’s best to run your questions through your agent, who will collect answers for you or let you know if the sellers - and their agent - are up for a more casual conversation.)

1. What’s the history of the house?  Many state disclosure forms and laws require the sellers to divulge a number of things about the history of the property—in NJ it’s called a Seller’s Disclosure--from how old the roof, furnace and hot water heater are, to how well it’s been maintained, to what systems have/had broken down and when they were repaired and how.  However, you might like to go deeper, finding out such things as whether the property was a rental, whether they recommend a set maintenance schedule (grab the gardener’s number, if you like the lawn, and, while you probably can’t wait to build your first snowman, you might not be so keen on what comes with it, so find out who takes care of snow shoveling/plowing?) for any part of the property, or whether they are aware of any interesting stories about past inhabitants or uses of the property that might provide useful or just plain old interesting information.  When I bought my first home in Maplewood, NJ, I found a treasure trove of pictures and information about my home in the town’s library, believe it or not, as a former realtor had bequeathed all his records to the town.  I had found photos of my home before there was any landscaping done and also found out that my garage and carriage house were additions to the home.  

This also gives you the opportunity to do key things:
a)  find out whether there’s anything that works, but is kind of quirky and needs an extra nudge or a hard turn to get it open/closed/activated - I’ve known many a buyer that called a contractor out post-closing to fix something, only to realize it actually worked, and just needed a jiggle or a little extra love (e.g., the “broken” garage door opener that the seller unplugged when they moved out), and

b) learn about any upgrades or improvements the seller has done to the property, and request everything from names of paint colors—especially if any of the interior or exterior was painted as part of the staging and preparations to sell the home--to warranties, receipts and instruction manuals for appliances that sometimes get inadvertently packed away, moved and tossed away
Get the names of any of Contractors that worked on the house as they already have intimate knowledge of the property in most cases and can help solve any riddles/problems more quickly and you might surprise yourself in that, if you forge a friendly bond with the seller’s, the contractor may have to fix something for free if it was something that had recently been worked on in the home.

2. Where to go and who to know?  Home sellers can be the best source of information that doesn’t seem super important, but can actually take a long time to figure out yourself, like which of the 7 pizza parlors has the best pizza?  Or which dry cleaner has the best service, pricing or does the best alterations?  When is the neighborhood block party if there is one?  Does the block/neighborhood have their own directory? Are there any emergency contact telephone numbers you should have other than 9-1-1?

3. What surprised the Seller’s when they moved into the same home?  Pleasantly or otherwise - moving in is always the occasion for a surprise or two or three..  The Seller’s might have been surprised at how friendly the neighbors were, or weren’t; which of the neighbors has a similar profile to your household so you can quickly forge new friends, or on a completely different note, how much light a particular room gets at a given time of day, how many people could fit around the table in the dining room at Thanksgiving or how noisy/quiet the school across the street is, or if there are any unusual parking laws or conditions you should be aware of for you and for future guests?  If they were surprised, you might be, too - so it’s great to know what shocked them before you move in and also what were the pleasant surprises that they found made living there so special.

4. Where is it and how does it work?  Where do you take the trash out to, and on what day(s) of the week?  If garbage collection is a paid for service, who is/are the service provider options and how do you get a hold of them?  Where are the emergency water and electrical shutoffs, the breaker box and the utility meters?  Where’s the thermostat or the special wrench that turns on the gas fireplace?  How does that work?  Was the home wired by Comcast or Verizon or some other service provider?  Did the home have wireless?  How did it work?  Were there any peculiar dead zones for wireless or cell phone reception? Some of these are things a good home inspector will cover, others NOT, but if yours didn’t or you weren’t able to make the inspection, some kind home sellers will happily brief you on many of these items. 

Then, there are things like appliances, landscape lighting, outdoor electricity outlets, outdoor water faucets, sprinkler operating systems, landscaping drainage issues or remediation apparatus you should know about, the possibility of septic tanks (if you are in a more rural area, especially), basement sump pump(s), pool filters and covers and hot tubs, which general home inspectors might not even look at.  Most home sellers will know how to operate these things - and will gladly share that information with you. (For the most part, if you want these types of speciality systems looked at and evaluated before you remove your contract’s contingencies, you have to hire the sort of contractor who works on these specific things to look at them, i.e. an HVAC contact for the Central Air Conditioning, a slate roof contractor is you have slate, a lawn sprinker system contractor if you have it.) 

Last summer, clients of mine bought a home in Maplewood and happened to move in on one of summer’s hotter days; the doors were open all day long and the central a/c ran at full blast for the duration of the day in an effort to keep the movers and my clients cool.  The next morning, I received a frantic call from my clients that the A/C wasn’t working.  I ran over and found that the piping attached to the A/C unit was frozen over.  We called our Home Inspector in and he was also befuddled but felt it probably needed to thaw out.  Finally, an A/C repair service was called in and they confirmed that nothing was wrong with the unit, by which time the piping was now free and clear of the icing and from that day forward, everything worked perfectly.  So, even when an inspection is done, things can still go wrong and its best to understand how to prevent hardships if at all possible.

I might even suggest you ask if there are any weird phenomenon like using one outlet for a hair dryer commonly breaks a circuit if the air conditioner is on, etc?

5. Is there anything you’d like to leave?  There are really two aspects to this question.  First, you might have your eye on some item of the seller’s personal property—especially if you are moving from a much smaller apartment/home into a larger one--like a perfectly-sized print or perfectly-shaped breakfast booth, that you’d like to buy from them - if so, make an offer!  

And second, the seller might get partway through their move when they realize they want no part of patching up the wall behind the flat-screen or trying to angle that impossibly long couch back out the window they had to bring it in through, so they’d rather just leave it—from the “cheaper to leave her rather than cheaper to keep her and pay to move her (yes, I took the liberty of flipping them).”  I’ve seen sellers offer very nice pieces of furniture and electronics to buyers, gratis or for a price, when offered the opportunity, with the goal of being a win=win for both parties.

6.  What did I forget to ask?  Whether you’re a new homeowner or new to the area, this is where you throw yourself on the seller’s mercy and ask them to tell you anything you might have forgotten to ask. It’s not overkill to exchange phone numbers or email addresses - now, every transaction isn’t this friendly or cordial, but many are or could be—and remember, its more than likely that the seller will still get some mail and/or an occasional package delivery that will need to be forwarded, so it’s to their benefit to exchange contact information.  It’s definitely in your best interests to leave the transaction on good terms with the seller, if possible, for reasons karmic and utilitarian.

Asking this question can get you all sorts of useful information, like:
  • the fact that you get 2 free bulky trash pickups every year, or need to make special arrangements—especially since moving into a home can end up creating a quick accumulation of bulk items (carpet removal is but one such example).
  • advance notice of the block party that’s coming up the weekend after you move in, and
  • a warning that if you let your weeds grow too tall in the spring, the fire department will ticket you.
Okay - that’s just stuff I’ve personally learned as both a home owner and seller as well as a realtor, when asking sellers this catchall question, but I can’t recommend it strongly enough!

Despite the fact that real estate transactions can get adversarial on occasion, especially in more challenging markets, the fact remains that the average home seller wants to be helpful, and wants their home’s buyer to be happy.  When these two wants collide, if you ask the right questions and in the right way, you can save yourself untold amounts of research, time, money and energy!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Maplewood Art Project July 4th: a flag made by kids wearing colored t=shirts!

 What a great way to start off the morning of July 4th and to get your children into the spirit.  The Maplewood Arts Ctr is hosting this event at 10AM and it looks to be loads of fun.

For more about this story, copy and paste this link into your browser:  http://maplewood.patch.com/articles/wave-the-flag-in-maplewood?ncid=M255#photo-6781117

Monday, June 27, 2011

And the Answer to where home prices may be going....is:

KCM Blog

Posted: 27 Jun 2011 04:00 AM PDT
Everyone seems to have an opinion on where home prices are headed. Housing bulls are saying prices may start rebounding as early as later this year. Some housing bears are saying that prices may still drop another 10-15%. What actually is going to happen? No one knows for sure.
However, Macro Markets, a financial technology company, actually surveyed 108 economists, real estate experts, and investment and market strategists for their June 2011 Home Price Expectations Survey. They then averaged all 108 opinions. Here is what the report says about house prices over the next five years:
§ 2011: prices will depreciate 3.52%
§ 2012: prices will appreciate .46%
§ 2013: prices will appreciate 2.18%
§ 2014: prices will appreciate 2.92%
§ 2015: prices will appreciate 3.47%
Accumulative appreciation (including this year’s projected depreciation) will stand at 5.71% in 2015.

Bottom Line

The experts say home prices will begin to see appreciation next year and return to historic levels of annual appreciation by 2015.

Mortgage Tip : Use “Rate Locks” To Get A Lower Mortgage Rate

Mortgage Tip : Use “Rate Locks” To Get A Lower Mortgage Rate

It pays to know The Mortgage Rate Game.

How To Reduce Your Loan Fees

When it comes to shopping for mortgage rates, to paraphrase Doris Day, que sera, sera; whatever will be with mortgage rates will be.
Rates are a function of Wall Street. They're beyond our control. However, there are ways to make sure you're getting the lowest rate possible.
There are 4 of them, in fact.
  1. Get a higher credit score
  2. Make a larger downpayment
  3. Get higher credit score and make a larger downpayment
Or, you can follow Path #4 -- pick a smarter closing date.

Mortgage Rate Locks: A Bank's Gamble

Let's talk about Rate Lock Commitments.
A Rate Lock Commitment is a bank's promise to honor a specific mortgage rate for a specific period of time.  It's a contract, of sorts, in which the lender says: "Provided you close on your loan in the next however-many days, we guarantee your locked mortgage  rate for you.
From a bank's perspective, rate locks are a gamble.
This is because the bank is promising you an interest rate today that won't be delivered for some number of days. The more days there are between the lock date and the delivery date, the greater the chance that the bank "guessed wrong".
For a sports analogy, it's like picking trying to pick a division winner at the start of the season. There's a lot of time between Opening Day and the Day 1 of the playoffs, and a lot of things can go wrong or change.
The longer the season, the less accurate the predictions.
With respect to mortgages, it's why longer rate lock commitments often require with higher interest rates, higher fees, or both. Guessing where mortgage rates will be in the future is a dangerous game so banks hedge against "time risk". And they often pass those costs to you.
Click here to get a mortgage rate quote.

How The Rate Lock Game Is Played

The Rate Lock Game is pretty simple. It starts with the basic concept that rate locks are made in 15-day increments. You can choose from any of the following: 15-day rate lock; 30-day rate lock; 45-day rate lock; 60-day rate lock; et cetera.
Using that concept of "time risk" again, the longer your rate lock is, the higher your mortgage rate will be.
  • 15-day rate lock : 1/8 percent lower than the 30-day rate lock
  • 30-day rate lock : The basis for all other pricing
  • 45-day rate lock : 1/8 percent higher than the 30-day rate lock
  • 60-day rate lock : 1/4 percent higher than the 30-day rate lock
In a Real World Example, if you went to contract this week and set your closing date for August 12, that would be 46 days from now. You would need a 60-day rate lock and your mortgage rate would be raised 1/8 percent.
However, if you just moved your closing date one day sooner -- to August 11 -- you'd get a 45-day lock and a lower mortgage rate. This one-day change will drop $15 off your monthly mortgage payment on a $200,000 home loan.
Click here to get a mortgage rate quote.

Be Smart About Your Closing Date

When you choose a better closing date, you keep your mortgage rates down. So, before you write that contract, consider how "time risk" will change your mortgage bottom line.
The less time you'll need to close, the more money you should expect to save.
To get started on with a rate quote, use my online mortgage rate quote form.

Dan Green

About the Author

Dan Green is an active, multi-state loan officer with Waterstone Mortgage. Email Dan at dan.green@waterstonemortgage.com or call 513-443-2020.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Best of New Jersey: 78 places to eat, shop and spa within 20 minutes of Maplewood/South Orange

Best of New Jersey: Food and Drink
32 Local Eateries/Bakeries/Drinkeries placed in this 2011 Survey and are Hi-Lighted below:
We asked our readers to list their favorite places to eat and drink, and boy-howdy did they ever respond. Read on to find out which places are readers feel are the best in the state.
Posted March 14, 2011with Edits June 22, 2011 by Mark Slade
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Description: Brothers Anthony, left, and Lou Calandra with the bread our readers call Jersey’s best.
Brothers Anthony, left, and Lou Calandra with the bread our readers call Jersey’s best.
Photo by Peter Murphy.

Description: The offerings of Mr. Cupcakes, a.k.a. Johnny Manganiotis, include this Fruity Pebbles number with cream cheese frosting.
The offerings of Mr. Cupcakes, a.k.a. Johnny Manganiotis, include this Fruity Pebbles number with cream cheese frosting.
Photo by Laura Moss.

Description: Our readers say you can count on Bloomfield landmark Holsten’s for Jersey’s best milk shake.
Our readers say you can count on Bloomfield landmark Holsten’s for Jersey’s best milk shake.
Photo by Laura Moss.

With its firm surface and chewy interior, the Bagels-4-U bagel is a member of a vanishing breed—the traditional, hand-rolled, boiled and baked bagel. Reader Duquina Johnson, a Jersey expat, writes, “I come back from Pennsylvania every month and get a bagel from Bagels-4-U.” (11 NJ locations; bagels4u.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Sonny’s Bagels, South Orange; Hot Bagels Abroad, Clifton, Verona; Avalon Coffee Company, 7 NJ locations

“We produce it the Old World, European way, all by hand,” says Anthony Calandra of the loaves from Calandra’s Bakery, founded in 1962 by his father, Luciano Calandra Sr. The bakery uses a high-quality short-patent flour, which Calandra says yields superior taste. “Calandra’s hot bread reminds me of my childhood,” writes reader Camille Tonelli of Belleville. “Sundays my dad would always stop at the bakery after church for hot bread, and we would enjoy it with our lunch of pasta and meatballs. The best part was scraping up the last of the gravy with our bread.” (Newark, Fairfield and Caldwell; calandrasbakery.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Joe Leone’s, Point Pleasant Beach, Sea Girt; Cait & Abby’s, South Orange, Millburn; Panera Bread; And I can't wait to see what I (ncredibly) D. (elicious) Bakery Has to offer in Maplewood.

The Losavio family of John’s Meat Market in Scotch Plains is well-known for dry aging its own prime beef. (If you buy elsewhere, “Don’t be fooled; ask to see where it’s stamped US Prime,” says Vincent, son of John, the 1939 founder.) Keeping up with the times, the family, now in its third generation of meat mavens, has added grass-fed beef and a Facebook page. Like the steaks, the service, too, is prime. (389 Park Ave; 908-322-7126; johnsmarket.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Eden Gourmet, South Orange; Sickles Market, Little Silver; Okie’s Butcher Shop, Surf City
And how can one ignore the line of people waiting inside and out at the Polish Butcher on Springfield Ave?

As with its bread, the key to the popularity of the Calandra’s Bakery cannoli is that it is handmade from the best ingredients. In addition, the shells (hand rolled around wooden cylinders and baked that way) are filled “20 times a day,” says Anthony Calandra. “We never fill it and let it sit.” (Newark, Fairfield and Caldwell; calandrasbakery.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Carlo’s Bake Shop, Hoboken; Rispoli Pastry Shop, Ridgefield; Del Ponte’s Bakery, Bradley Beach; Cipolli Cannoli, Collingswood

Trained in confectionary in Spring Lake and California, Amy Berry-Dunfee opened Red Bank Chocolate Shoppe in 2000. Everything is handmade, from truffles to signature creations like the Riley, a pretzel rod covered in caramel, rolled in marshmallows and Rice Krispies and dipped in milk chocolate. The shop prides itself on custom orders and boxed gift towers. (17 White St; 732-219-0822; redbankchocolateshoppe.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Enjou Chocolat, Morristown; Mrs. Hanna Krause Candy, Paramus, Toms River

At Watermark, overlooking the ocean in Asbury Park, owner Russell Lewis continues to expand “our culinary approach to the cocktail.” Watermark makes its own grenadine and ginger beer, squeezes all juices fresh and makes all its own vodka infusions, including (it’s about time!) a bacon-infused vodka. New this season is a full kitchen with an in-house chef. “Our food is still tapas style,” Lewis says, “but we have a bit more muscle in that department now.” (800 Ocean Ave; 732-455-3447; watermarkap.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Langosta Lounge, Asbury Park; Ninety Acres, Peapack-Gladstone; Martini Bistro & Bar, Millburn; Above, South Orange; Daddy O, Brant Beach  and another honorable mention of Highland Place in West Orange for a drink with a view!

If Mara’s Cafe and Bakery in Denville has a mantra, it’s, “from scratch.” Those two words apply to virtually everything the Magley family serves. The popular cheesecakes (“not from a mix,” says son Ian), the gelatos, the cupcakes (the best-selling dessert), the soups. Even the coffee is roasted on the premises. For their 25th anniversary last year, Mara and Glenn Magley and sons Ian and Devan created an Anniversary Blend of Brazilian, Tanzanian, Kenyan and Guatemalan coffees. “It gives you the kick you need,” says Ian, “but it’s as smooth as it gets.” (25 E Main St; 973-625-0901; marascafeandbakery.com)
RUNNERS-UP: The Fine Grind, Little Falls; Rockn’ Joe, Millburn; America’s Cup, Asbury Park; Grooveground, Collingswood; Starbucks South Orange + Millburn

Getting bounced from the first round of the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars last year “actually worked out great,” says Mr. Cupcakes founder Johnny Manganiotis. “People were coming in just to say I got robbed. They try a cupcake and say those judges don’t know nothing.” Manganiotis recently added a store in Oradell to his store in Hackensack and the original in Clifton. At all three, red velvet and French toast are the best sellers. His aim is to open a store a year, and with three stores in three years, he says he is on track. (mrcupcakes.com)
RUNNERS UP: The Stuffed Cupcake Place, Nutley; Mara’s Cafe and Bakery, Denville; Sugarush, Red Bank; Kati’s Kupcakes, Moorestown  And there is lots of new competition  from Cupcake Corral in Maplewood and Splurge

“We bake our own roast beef, turkey and ham, and we overstuff the sandwich,” says Anthony Calandra of the heroes at Calandra’s Bakery. “But the bottom line to any sandwich is the bread. We don’t use a sub roll, we use a loaf of our real Italian bread. It costs three times as much, but since we make it ourselves, we don’t have to charge a ridiculous price for it.” (Newark, Fairfield and Caldwell; calandrasbakery.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Millburn Deli, Millburn; Joe Leone’s, Point Pleasant Beach, Sea Girt And lest us not give mention to the birthplace of the Sloppy Joe at Town Hall Delicatesson on Valley Street in South Orange

In its 13-year existence, Harold’s New York Deli in Edison has never changed its menu; it just serves more and more of the same, especially of its best-selling, house-made pastrami and corned beef—8,000 pounds of each a week. Roast beef and turkey sandwiches clock in tied for third. “Whenever the economy is slow, we’re busier because we give such good value,” says owner Harold Jaffe. “People walk out of here with doggie bags.” (3050 Woodbridge Ave; 732-661-9100; haroldsfamousdeli.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Eppes Essen, Livingston; Irving’s Delicatessen, Livingston; Kibitz Room, Cherry Hil

Apart from the freshness of all the ingredients, the secret of Ibby’s Falafel rests with Mom. “We use the unique spices created by my mother years ago,” says owner Adnan Kwara, speaking of what goes into the chickpea-based falafel balls themselves. “And that recipe hasn’t leaked out to nobody.” Not a secret is the source of the restaurant’s name. Ibby is the nickname of Kwara’s son Ibrahim, who, like the restaurant, is 16 years old. (Jersey City and Freehold; ibbysfalafel.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Beyond Pita, Montclair; Maoz Vegetarian, New Brunswick; Norma’s Mediterranean Restaurant, Cherry Hill

“All our french fries are made to order,” says Steve Ranuro of Biggie’s Clam Bar. “They’re never just sitting around.” Seasoned on the spot, Biggie’s waffle fries can be anointed with chili, cheese, cheese and gravy (a.k.a. disco fries) or “whatever someone wants,” Ranuro says. (Hoboken, Carlstadt; biggiesclambar.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Curley’s Fries, North Wildwood; The Windmill, 8 NJ locations

The gourmet grocery department of Sickles Market in Little Silver is special to owner Bob Sickles because it dates to when the business was seasonal and open-air, before the family built its 20,000-square-foot store. “It’s still a big part of the business,” he says. “I like to say we specialize in quality, freshness and range of product.” Range of product indeed. “They have such an incredible selection,” writes Oakhurst reader Holly Burtchaell. “I always feel like I am in a culinary playground when I shop there.” (1 Harrison Ave; 732-741-9563; sicklesmarket.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Garden of Eden Gourmet, South Orange; Market Basket, Franklin Lakes; Joe Leone’s, Point Pleasant Beach, Sea Girt

Need a break from summer heat? For our readers, there’s no better lick of love than Hoffman’s Ice Cream, a Point Pleasant Beach oasis since 1976. Hoffman’s listens as well as scoops. Two of last year’s most popular specials—Key lime pie and Cookie Monster (with Oreos and cookie-dough balls)—will return this year due to customer request, says manager Kim Karkovice. (Point Pleasant Beach, Spring Lake, Little Silver; hoffmansicecream.net.)
RUNNERS-UP: Applegate Farm, Montclair; Denville Dairy, Denville

People can be very particular about milk shakes. But whatever flavor or topping you like (chocolate syrup? fresh strawberries?), Holsten’s in Bloomfield understands. “There’s no right or wrong,” says Ron Stark, one of the owners. If peanut butter cups are your thing, you will flip for the new vanilla peanut butter with peanut butter cups shake, which Stark says tastes amazing because the cups blend so well in the mixer. (1063 Broad St; 973-338-7091; holstens.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Bobby’s Burger Palace, Eatontown; Pop Shop, Collingswood

Owner Milan Pavlovic attributes the success of Country Pancake House in Ridgewood to its “huge portions, very good quality—and a lot of variety.” Part of the fun is the names given to the various combinations, like Tropical Awareness (pineapple and coconut) or Halloween Feast (pumpkin, spice, granola, raisins). “The customers know when you’re cheating them,” Pavlovic says, reversely explaining why his place is always packed. (140 Ridgewood Ave; 201-444-8395; countrypancakehouse.net)
RUNNERS-UP: Toast, Montclair; PJ’s Pancake House, Princeton; Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, 8 NJ locations

One way to gauge the quality of pizza in a state blessed with dreamy pies is how far a person is willing to travel to get it. Pete & Elda’s in Neptune City, known for its crackly thin crusts, inspires reader Christine Greer of Hoboken. “I drive an hour for it whenever I have a craving,” she writes. “It’s awesome.” Pete & Elda’s has a tradition—eat an extra-extra-large pie all by yourself, receive a free T-shirt. Drop in to see if you have what it takes. (96 Woodland Ave/Rt 35 S; 732-774-6010; peteandeldas.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Star Tavern, Orange; Mack and Manco, 3 NJ locations; Arturo’s Osteria & Pizzeria, Maplewood; Pizza Fusion

Reasons to pop by Kelly’s Tavern in Neptune City on any given game day: great wings, bar pies, corned beef, pastrami and Reuben sandwiches—and 14 big-screen TVs stationed everywhere you look. Manager Chris Lynch says there is always “some kind of special going on” to tame savage appetites and thirsts. They even have a Reuben pizza for the adventurous. (43 Rt 35 S; 732-775-9517; kellystavernjerseyshore.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Miami Mike’s Sport Zone, East Hanover; PJ Whelihan’s, 8 NJ locations

Sushi Lounge offers delights for the novice and for the sushi sophisticate. Variety isn’t limited to food, either. The list of specialty martinis alone is reason enough to visit (especially for the primo deals of martini night). (Morristown, Hoboken, Totowa; sushilounge.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Taka, Asbury Park; Yumi, Sea Bright; Ikko Japanese Hibachi Steakhouse and Sushi Bar, Brick

Lest anyone think that a place with 50 wines by the glass and 250 by the bottle is a one-trick pony, Joshua Rosenberg, owner of Rosie’s Wine Bar in Garwood, is introducing a martini menu with up to 10 selections. Not slacking off on his strength, he is also launching wine-and-chocolate pairings while “staying on top of trends. Malbec is hot, Prosecco is hot, sauvignon blanc is coming up,” he says. (514 North Ave; 908-518-9463; rosieswinebar.com)
RUNNERS-UP: 16 Prospect, Westfield; Daryl Wine Bar & Restaurant, New Brunswick; Washington Inn, Cape May; Annata Wine Bar, Hammonton; Wine Loft

If the idea of an actual, physical visit to a wine shop seems, well, very 20th century—then consider a virtual visit to the Wine Library of Springfield. From the state-of-the-art website, you can order anything from the store’s vast selection of fine wines with the click of a mouse—and have it delivered by van if you buy five cases or more. The site also features the unique videos of gonzo wine connoisseur-turned-celebrity Gary Vaynerchuk, helping make Wine Library an indispensable resource for wine lovers locally and, indeed, nationwide. (586 Morris Ave; 888-980-WINE; winelibrary.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, Bernardsville, Madison, Wayne; Bottle King, 14 NJ locations; Moore Brothers Wine Company, Pennsauken

Eating wings while watching sports is a sport in itself, which is why Biggie’s Clam Bar opened a third location in Carlstadt last year near New Meadowlands Stadium. “We sell a ton of wings,” says Carlstadt general manager Steve Ranuro, who adds that customers appreciate the choice of three sauces: buffalo, barbecue and teriyaki. (Hoboken, Carlstadt; biggiesclambar.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Chicken or the Egg, Beach Haven; Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza, Red Bank, Oakhurst

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of the southern end of the Jersey Shore or a newbie, I’ve got
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Best of New Jersey: Shopping 2011
35 Local Winners Hi-Lighted below:
We sure do love to shop here in the Garden State. Find out which boutiques, clothing stores, flea markets, and arts and crafts supply stores our readers most enjoy.
Posted March 14, 2011
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Description: Jack Anderson, owner of Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank, our readers’ favorite spot for CDs and good old vinyl LPs.
Jack Anderson, owner of Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank, our readers’ favorite spot for CDs and good old vinyl LPs.
Photo by Marc Steiner/Agency New Jersey.

Description: Chris Nielsen, supervisor at K9 Resorts in Fanwood, with a pack of happy four-legged clients.
Chris Nielsen, supervisor at K9 Resorts in Fanwood, with a pack of happy four-legged clients.
Courtesy of K9 Resorts.

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Whether you come to browse or hunt something specific, the 100-plus dealers at the Antique Center of Red Bank will easily fill a fascinating day. Opened 47 years ago with 12 dealers, this two-building center is open seven days a week and features everything from jewelry and porcelain to furniture, silver and pottery. Hard-to-find services such as antique clock restoration, caning and wicker repairs, are also on site. (195 W Front St, 732-842-3393 and 226 W Front St, 732-842-4336; redbankantiques.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Point Pleasant Antique Emporium, Point Pleasant Beach; Antique Emporium of Asbury Park, Asbury Park; Kanibal Home, Jersey City

Marty Epstein has operated Marty’s Reliable Cycle in Morristown since 1978 and now has two additional stores in Randolph and Hackettstown. As might be expected, Epstein and his staff (including son Jesse) are passionate about two-wheeling. Their motto: “Saving the world with bikes.” Marty’s carries Specialized, Trek and other bicycle brands, and the stores cater to all ages and levels of riders. They also run weekly rides out of all three locations. “We think biking is good for people and good for the environment,” Epstein says. (173 Speedwell, 973-538-7773; martysreliable.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Brielle Cyclery, Brielle; the Peddler, Long Branch; Walters Bicycles, Ship Bottom

A family business since its inception over 60 years ago, Park Avenue Bridals in Verona is a full-service salon, with gowns for the bridal party and mothers of the bride as well as for proms and other special occasions. Gary Burggraf, who runs the establishment with his wife, Andrea, daughter of the owner, features a wide range of designers, including Paloma Blanca, Avalon, Jade by Jasmine and Blush. (341 Pompton Ave; 973-239-7111; parkavebridals.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Mustillo’s Town & Country, Red Bank; Designer Loft West, South Orange; Jay West Bridal, Haddonfield

Little One & Co., opened in 2008, scores with a hip urban atmosphere. The Maplewood store is geared toward parents interested in both style and comfort for their little ones. Merchandise ranges from clothing to gifts and room d├ęcor, and features brands like Deux par Deux and Mudpuppy. The shop offers personal shopping and frequent in-store events. (1 Highland Place; 973-763-7070; littleoneandco.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Kidegories, Shrewsbury; Lulu Rose Children’s Boutique, Little Silver; Charm, Collingswood

Founded in New York City in 1974, Garmany expanded to Brooklyn and Summit before closing those stores and moving to Red Bank in 1989. Six years ago it settled into its current 40,000-square-foot location. “With each move the store has gotten larger,” says Larry Garmany, who owns the store with his son Johnell. “We can dress you from head to toe. People come to us for quality brands, ambience and service.” The boutique carries high-end designers including Canali, Zegna, Gucci and Brioni. Alterations are free. (121 Broad St; 732-576-8500; garmany.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Sams Fine Mens Clothing, Livingston; Farias Surf & Sport, Ship Bottom; Jos. A. Banks

“I’m a neighborhood store, but I’m also a destination,” says Robyn Fields, owner of Robyn Ross Designs in South Orange. She and her staff, including husband and jewelry expert Ross Fields, provide personal attention. “We know everyone by name and we know their families,” says Robyn. Along with clothing, fine jewelry and accessories, the couple last fall added a line of watches and two lines of handbags. (67 South Orange Ave; 973-913-1100; robynrossdesigns.com)
RUNNERS-UP: CoCo Pari, Deal, Red Bank; Kanibal Home, Jersey City; Stella e Luna, Point Pleasant Beach

The Englishtown Flea Market boasts 40 acres of outdoor vendors and five indoor buildings with more than 300 operators. There you will find hardware, produce, clothing, beauty supplies, antiques, electronics and much more. This weekend shopping smorgasbord has been operating in Manalapan since 1929 and is still run by the Sobechko family, who started the business as a trading post for farmers. (90 Wilson Ave; 732-446-9644; englishtownauction.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Meadowlands Flea Market, East Rutherford; Columbus Flea Market, Columbus


Corsages, boutonnieres, table arrangements, wedding bouquets, flowers from local farmers, exotic species from around the world—all that and more make Sickles Market in Little Silver a winner. “Their florists have an eye for making stunning arrangements,” writes Asbury Park reader Jason McManus, “and they always have the best quality product available.” (1 Harrison Ave; 732-741-9563; sicklesmarket.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Lotus Petals Floral Design, Maplewood; Christoffers Flowers, Mountainside; Purple Iris Flower & Gift Shop, Point Pleasant

Jacqueline DiPietro, a former retail buyer and merchandiser, opened Jacqueline Boutique in Livingston four years ago. The shop carries an array of special-occasion dresses handpicked by DiPietro in a range of prices and sizes (from 0 to 26). In-store trunk shows include the latest styles at a discount. Shipping is free. (570 South Livingston Ave; 973-992-3535; jacquelineeveningwear.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Garmany, Red Bank; Mustillo’s Town & Country, Red Bank; Jan’s Boutique, Cherry Hill; Dante Zeller Tuxedo & Men’s Wear

When Bob Sickles’s parents operated a seasonal, open-air market, they realized that customers wanted to grow their own fruits and vegetables, so they started selling edible plants. That idea has grown along with Sickles Market in Little Silver. It is now a large outdoor garden center and greenhouse offering decorative and edible plants, as well as accessories like fountains and wind chimes. “Sickles’s garden center is nothing short of sublime—beautiful, healthy plants and wonderful pottery displayed to their best advantage,” writes Rumson reader Christine Jahnig. (1 Harrison Ave; 732-741-9563; sicklesmarket.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Metropolitan Plant & Flower Exchange, 3 NJ locations; Barlow Flower Farm, Sea Girt

Not your typical gift shop, Sickles Market in Little Silver, in the words of Lisa Karasic, marketing manager for the 20,000-square-foot emporium, is “sort of an eclectic wonderland.” Products range from home decor accents like pillows and chandeliers to pampering treats like exfoliating products and body creams. “Sickles Market has the most beautiful and unique gifts,” writes Tinton Falls reader Ellen Hemhauser. “The staff is always friendly and very helpful. And they have beautiful gift wrap.” (1 Harrison Ave; 732-741-9563; sicklesmarket.com)
RUNNERS-UP: La Placa Pottery Works, Point Pleasant; Perch Home, Maplewood

Another year, another win—plus a move to a new, larger location—for Red Ginger Home in Red Bank, the furniture and gift store that also offers decorating and design services. Owners Rob Amend and Michael Yavorsky opened the original in 2005. “Part of it is that we work to be unique,” Amend says. “We really give our customers new ideas—we create a home within a store.” Reader Carol DeFazio of Little Silver agrees. “The owners are very knowledgeable and friendly,” she writes. “They make you feel at home as soon as you walk in the store.” (48 Broad St; 732-345-1000; redgingerhome.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Perch Home, Maplewood; the Farmhouse Store, Westfield; Seaside Furniture, Tom’s River

Words opened its doors in Maplewood in 2009 to create a broad-based reading community for people of all backgrounds, interests and needs. Words events include author readings and free programs for special-needs children. A well-read and helpful staff, comfy seating and tea and coffee for sale create a welcoming atmosphere. Patrons can download Google e-books on the website. Discounts are offered for book-group purchases. (179 Maplewood Ave; 973-763-9500; wordsmaplewood.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Montclair Book Center, Montclair; Paranormal Books & Curiosities, Asbury Park; Atlantic Books, 8 NJ locations

“Independent records have been the focus of our business from day one,” says Jack Anderson, owner of Jack’s Music Shoppe, serving Red Bank since 1970. While independent record stores are disappearing, Jack’s collection of new and used CDs and vinyl continues to grow. “People walk into our store, which is big, and say, ‘Wow, you just don’t see stores like this anymore,’” he says. (30 Broad St; 732-842-0731; jacksmusicshoppe.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Scotti’s Record Shops, Morristown, Summit; Princeton Record Exchange, Princeton; Tunes CDs, Voorhees, Marlton

From watches (and their repair) to wedding rings, the four locations of Walter Bauman Jewelers offer all that glitters and then some. In addition to sought-after designer lines such as Judith Jack, ESQ and Coast Diamond, the store added two new collections this year—Elle, a brand extension of the fashion magazine, in sterling silver, and Angelique de Paris, pairing sterling with enamel-like colored resin. “The high prices of gold have contributed to the popularity of silver this year,” says director of advertising Margery Bauman. (Union, Short Hills, Clifton, West Orange; walterbauman.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Robyn Ross Designs, South Orange; Braunschweiger Jewelers, 2 NJ Locations; Corbo Jewelers, 7 NJ locations

Ben Salmon’s Kitchen a la Mode melds fun and functional. The South Orange shop is packed with more than 3,500 cooking utensils and entertaining gadgets. “I wanted to expose my customers to new and different items,” he says. “And I’ve found they have a real thirst for it.” Customer service attracts many of Salmon’s clients. “The staff is always friendly and extremely helpful,” writes South Orange reader Peggy Ledesma. “They know how every gadget in the store works and don’t try to sell you the most expensive.” (19 South Orange Ave; 973-821-5145; kitchenalamode.net)
RUNNERS-UP: Chef Central, Paramus; Kitchen Kapers, 4 NJ locations; Williams-Sonoma

With five New Jersey locations (average showroom size: 12,000 square feet), Capitol Lighting is again our readers’ runaway choice for chandeliers, lamps, ceiling fans, bulbs, outdoor lighting and other fixtures, many of them energy efficient. Founded in 1924 by Max Lebersfeld, Capitol is run by the fourth generation of the family, still dedicated to stellar service, hands-on design consultations and competitive pricing. (East Hanover, Paramus, Green Brook, Flemington, Eatontown; 1800lighting.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Domb Lighting & Electrical Supplies, Morristown; Good Friend Electric, 5 NJ locations

Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank has been selling everything from vinyl records to sheet music for four decades. Jack’s rents instruments as well as sells new and used ones. “We send all the band instruments to a professional to make sure they are in playing order before we sell them,” says owner Jack Anderson. (30 Broad St; 732-842-0731; jacksmusicshoppe.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Monmouth Music, Red Bank; Andy’s Family Music Center, Livingston; Manahawkin Music, Manahawkin; Guitar Center

From a well-stocked climbing department to a full-service bike shop, Campmor’s large retail store in Paramus sells equipment for virtually all forms of roughing it. Popular brands include North Face, Columbia Sportswear, Mountain Hardwear and New Balance. (810 Rt 17 N; 201-445-5000; campmor.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Ramsey Outdoor, 3 NJ locations; Efinger Sporting Goods, Bound Brook; The Jersey Paddler, Brick

It’s a great rainy-day backup, but the bustling parking lot at Jersey Shore Premium Outlets in Tinton Falls shows that people don’t wait for precip to drop by. Little wonder: There are 120 designer and name-brand stores, each with convenient outside entrances, including Michael Kors, Gap Factory Store, Swarovski and Nike. Discounts of 25 to 65 percent are offered daily. (1 Premium Outlets Blvd; 732-918-1700; premiumoutlets.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Jersey Gardens Outlet Mall, Elizabeth; Jackson Premium Outlets, Jackson

Don Coltenback’s love of animals prompted him to open Pro Pets in South Orange in 2005. Though stocking a full line of pet supplies, Coltenback, who has a background in nutrition, focuses on holistic pet care and offers nutritional counseling for healthy pets and those with medical conditions. “My goal is to help people keep their pets healthier and happier for longer,” he says. (154 Valley St; 973-761-6121; propetsllc.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Millburn Pet Shop, Millburn; Cutter’s Mill, Cherry Hill, Princeton

Steven and Jason Parker have been pet sitting since their early teens. “Our parents wouldn’t let us have a dog when we were kids, so we opened a business to take care of dogs,” says Steven with a laugh. In 2005 they opened K9 Resorts, a day care and luxury hotel for dogs, in Fanwood. The Parkers strive to care for each dog as if it were their own. “My dogs mean the world to me, so leaving them has long been a source of anxiety for me and my family,” writes Westfield reader Jessica Blume-Jensen. “Now that I’ve found K-9, I enjoy my vacations/travels with peace of mind knowing that my canine babies are safe and sound.” (43 South Ave; 908-490-0808; k9resorts.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Purr’n Pooch, Tinton Falls, Wall; Morris Animal Inn, Morristown; Scissors-n-Suds, Collingswood; PetSmart

Marty’s Shoes, in business in New Jersey since 1974, continues to strut its stuff. “Our customers are educated consumers,” says CEO John Adams. He credits the company’s loyal following to factors including broad selection, ample inventory, and keeping rare sizes in stock. There are 15 New Jersey stores, including the latest, in Ramsey, and six New York stores. (martyshoes.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Footnotes, Deal, Englewood, Millburn; If The Shoes Fits, Red Bank; DSW


With three locations in New Jersey (and two more in Pennsylvania), Pelican Shops claims to be the East Coast’s largest ski and snowboard dealer. Thanks to five big snowstorms, Pelican enjoyed its best winter ever this year, reports Steven Spilatro, whose father, Angelo, launched the original Whitehouse store in 1956. Pelican also has seasonal departments for water sports, spas, pools, patio furniture, grills and game-room equipment. (Whitehouse, New Brunswick, Morris Plains; pelicanshops.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Ski Barn, 4 NJ locations; the Sport Spot, Shrewsbury; Alpine Ski Shop, Egg Harbor Township

“We’ve been here a long time and people have seen it grow,” says Susan Driber, ladies’ manager of Brave New World’s Point Pleasant Beach location. In addition to its three well-stocked and staffed stores, the company has an extensive online store featuring surf videos and informative how-to pages. (Toms River, Point Pleasant Beach, Little Silver; bravesurf.com).
RUNNERS-UP: Spellbinders, Allenhurst; Lightly Salted Surf Mercado, Asbury Park; Ron Jon, Surf City

Tracy Kuchar, owner of Jackrabbit Toys, says her store provides what the Internet can’t—a local, community-based shopping experience. Her store, opened in Sea Girt in December 2004, has since expanded to a second location in Shrewsbury. Selling books and baby clothes as well as toys, Kuchar also offers free gift wrapping, personal shopping and Crafts and Coffee, a free weekly in-store breather when parents enjoy java and socialize while the tots work on a craft project. (jackrabbittoys.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Sparkhouse, South Orange; Scrivener’s Collectibles, Maplewood; Happy Hippo Toys, Haddonfield; Toys “R” Us, 32 NJ locations.

Milk Money, is “a place to come in, hang out, and get a great deal shopping,” says Kimberly Baugh, co-owner of the Maplewood store. Parents can shop for designer finds in clothing, toys, shoes and accessories while their kids play in each store’s playroom. (Maplewood, Princeton, Morristown, Montclair, Cranford; milkmoneylove.com).
RUNNERS-UP: Restyle Renew, Denville; Backward Glances, Red Bank; Frugal Resale, Collingswood
Best of New Jersey: Health and Beauty
11 Local Winners Hi-Lighted below:

New Jersey is replete with day spas, salons, health and beauty shops, exercise studios, fitness clubs, and biking trails. But which ones do our readers favor? You'll find the answers here.
Posted March 14, 2011
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Description: Devotion Yoga in downtown Hoboken is our readers’ pick for best yoga studio. Devotion also has studios in Ship Bottom and uptown Hoboken.
Devotion Yoga in downtown Hoboken is our readers’ pick for best yoga studio. Devotion also has studios in Ship Bottom and uptown Hoboken.
Courtesy of Devotion Yoga.

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Day Spa
At the Urban Muse in Denville, sisters Kristin and Tracy Pamperin provide personalized service and value. “The Urban Muse is warm and inviting, the staff is wonderful,” writes reader Rosemarie Lynch of Boonton. “They offer specials all the time, the gift shop is unique and the massages are fantastic!” (82 Broadway; 973-627-3455; theurbanmuse.com)
Runners-Up: DePasquale Spa, Morris Plains; the Fountain Spa, Hackensack, Ramsey; Milagro Spa, Manasquan, Red Bank; Cape May Day Spa

Fitness Club/Gym
“It’s not so much what we do, but how we do it,” says owner Frank Pucher of the popularity of Fitness 121 in Roseland. Specifically, he and his team, including wife Francesca, know how to make fitness fun. In addition to personal training, they offer Pilates and will introduce a yoga program in the spring. “Movement makes you live a better life,” says Pucher. (5 Becker Farm Rd; 973-535-1177; fitness121online.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Atlantic Club, Manasquan, Red Bank; Workout World, 10 NJ locations; Future Fitness, 4 NJ locations; Lifetime Fitness, Berkeley Heights, Florham Park

Hair Salon
“I have never seen a salon so educated in the new and in-style, with cuts as well as products,” writes reader Kristen Headley of Jackson. Mission accomplished, then, for Salon Pure in Princeton, which co-owner Amy Kaczowski opened four years ago to be cutting edge, no pun intended. In addition to standard hair treatments, Salon Pure offers nail, make-up and epilation services and bridal packages. (31 A Hulfish St; 609-683-8384, salonpureprinceton.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Greg David Salon, Orange; David Michael Hair Studio, Paramus; La Luz, Bay Head; Red Sails Salon, Surf City

Medical Spa
Anara Medspa & Cosmetic Laser Center in Piscataway combines the services of a medical spa, a day spa and a laser center. Emphasizing comfort, attention to detail, personalized service and state-of-the-art equipment, Anara performs comprehensive skin analysis, face and whole-body waxing, chemical peels, laser hair reduction, medical microdermabrasion and Slimdome, a body-slimming treatment. (1140 Stelton Rd, Suite 102; 732-777-9577; anaramedspa.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Cosmetic Laser MD, Livingston; Reflections Center for Skin and Body, Livingston, Bridgewater/Martinsville; Garden State Spine & Pain Institute, Oakhurst; Mecca Integrated Medical Center, Fairfield

Pilates Studio
PRO Physical Therapy in Randolph is half physical-therapy and orthopedic facility and half Pilates center. Amy Hendricks, the Pilates instructor, limits classes to eight people for a more personal experience. Also offered: Chair Pilates, Rockin’ Pilates for teens, and special classes tailored to the needs of skiers and golfers. (2 Emery Ave; 973-895-9925; proptnj.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Core Mind & Body, Maplewood; Six Degrees of Wellness, Denville; Pilates By The Bay, Toms River

Yoga Studio
Liza Bertini wanted to share with others the positive effects yoga had on her life, so in 2003 she opened Devotion Yoga in downtown Hoboken. “I wanted to create a community that would support and inspire others to live conscious, healthy, full and authentic lives,” Bertini says. Four years later she opened a studio in Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island, and in 2009 an uptown Hoboken location. “Devotion Yoga,” writes Hoboken reader Rachel Chibnik, “encourages community and provides endless programs, workshops and events.” (72 Hudson St, Suite LL 103; 201-610-9642; devotionyoga.com)
RUNNERS-UP: Baker Street Yoga, Maplewood; Mia Yoga, Montclair; Satsang, Westfield; Yoga Basin, Asbury Park
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