Corrections or additions?
These articles by Bart Jackson and Michele Alperin were prepared
for the March 14, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Home Buying for Beginners
And I’ll just tack on another $800 for my filling up
the oil tank," sagely nodded the seller of my potential dream
house at the closing.
Blanching only an instant, I shot back: "And which oil company
did you say performed that topping off?" He squirmed and mumbled
a name which I called immediately. Turned out not only was the tank
empty, but he owed the oil company $1,100, which he had planned to
leave on my doorstep. I called him on it, and saved a bundle. Score
one for the purchaser.
Alas, such home buying victories stand rare as free loans. More
the first time home buyer rushes in like a blind man running through
a tool shed and exits unnecessarily bloodied. To help buyers avoid
the sharp edges, real estate broker Margaret Rose speaks at
Mercer County College’s three-session course, "Home Buying For
Beginners," starting Thursday, March 15, at 7:10 p.m. Cost: $48.
Over the last 15 years, from her Hamilton Square desk at Gloria
real estate veteran Rose has seen all the schemes and pitfalls. She
lives where she grew up, in Allentown, New Jersey.
To see her gently nursing a coffee at Teddy’s Cafe in Cranbury, you
might not guess that this casually chatting woman consistently makes
the Million Dollar Club — reserved for those who sell at least
15 properties totaling over $2 million annually.
"Probably the greatest wrong foot a buyer can start off on,"
she says, "is trusting the wrong people. Don’t believe your
Don’t believe the newspapers, or even one banker who claims to speak
for the whole industry. There is no such thing as a no-money down
loan and everyone does not necessarily have to pay points." Rose
sees home buying as a logical process:
go dreaming what you want, best to know what you can afford. The
buyer puts down a 5 to 20 percent down payment. Yet a substantial
group can float a mortgage with a mere 2 3/4 percent on the line.
The old mortgage rule of thumb limiting loans to three times the
income is being stretched beyond recognition. Individuals can now
include 401K reserves as mortgage considerations. "People with
good salaries, outstanding credit, and solid appearance are extended
credit far beyond the three times rule," says Rose. This puts
more of the personal money management on you, however. After buying
your stately mansion, orange crates may be the only furniture you
newly slanted "Buyer’s Agency Agreement," which gives the
buyer his own personal agent. Traditionally real estate sales people
are agents of the home sellers, and represent their interests, not
yours. This agreement changes the allegiance to the buyer.
Some home buyers choose an agent by her own sales figures. Others
opt for the one who most seems to understand their needs and taste.
Using whatever method, interview several agents before choosing, and
don’t enter into too long an agreement. You can always renew.
dream house you would love, like, not care about, or won’t accept.
Be exacting, but sensible. "The amount of living space and
are the most helpful," Rose says, "and of course the price
range." Maybe the schools are not important, but neighbors, noise
level, or a swimming pool are. What are the commuting needs? How much
land do you want? Also, be aware that items such as a fireplace or
a back porch, "vanities," as Rose calls them, can always be
added later. View the list not as a lock, but as an agent’s guide.
says Rose, hold very tough house inspections prior to awarding that
prized Certificate of Occupancy, required by the seller of a new home
before sale. Thus, the odds of your getting a structural lemon are
fairly slim. This gives you the freedom to take advantage of that
fixer upper. Nothing so lowers a house’s price as a shoddy appearance,
yet nothing is as cheaply repaired as a cosmetic flaw. So if you are
handy, or just willing to live with background repairmen, you often
can bargain yourself a real gem in the rough. At the same times, says
Rose, you will naturally want your own engineer to check the house
over structurally, inspect for termites and radon, and have the well,
septic, and furnace all gone over.
fine when you visit the house this Saturday, but what can it become?
Does your quiet country lane become a thoroughfare at rush hour? What
about the land behind you? "The folks over in Georgetown, just
outside of Hightstown, had a lovely development two years ago,"
recalls Rose, "They had a long farmland vista. Today they stare
at a Shop Rite and the Route 33 extension. These structures’ plans
were all on the books, you just had to look before buying."
still fraught with land mines. One of the largest bombs is buried
in the homeowners’ association agreement. The development house is
often the swiftest and easiest abode to pick up for the relocating
couple hastening to move on company bidding. But most of these demand
your signing a contract that binds you to all present and future fiats
of the homeowners’ association. Most associations forbid your old
auto or new trailer be parked in your driveway. You can’t even string
a clothesline. And just try planting one shrub or painting your
blue without the association’s approval.
If you’re buying your house strictly for its resale value, then you
won’t mind the enforced homogeneity. But if you are an
sort, the restrictions may chafe.
And if you are considering a townhome, says Rose, realize that even
townhouses, a type of home that lagged in the market throughout the
1990s, have now soared in cost. So in the end, should you jump in
and grab or even bid up that offering price? Or is the best hunter
the one who waits for the right game? Probably the best answer is
to glean awareness from a professional, then to make your decision
with your heart. After all, you are buying more than a shelter from
taxes, you’re buying your home.
— Bart Jackson
Bet your shirt on it: Whenever Acme Mega-Tentacle merges
with UniHostile Inc., thousands of consulting firms are born. Made
redundant by a large corporation, many strike out on their own,
knowledge acquired over 10 or 20 or 30 years into the basis for a
business. Over 6,500 private consulting companies already exist in
New Jersey. For those seeking to add one more business to that number,
Joel Haness speaks on "Building a Profitable Consulting
Practice" on Friday, March 16, at 8:30 a.m. at Mercer County
College. Cost: $20. Call 609-586-9446.
Haness has probably considered every angle for launching a new venture
that has crossed your mind, and has adopted a fair number of them.
After growing up in Brooklyn and doing a stint in the service, Haness
received a bachelor’s in mathematics from New York University. Turning
his electronics hobby into a trade, he became an engineer with several
New York area firms. But a cornucopia of ideas and an iron
soon led him to form Joel Haness Consulting, which he ran for 20
Today, trying desperately to retire, he heads the Palmyra-based
Group, which supplies clients with creative marketing and financial
"The first advice I give any person starting out on her own is
to visit the Small Business Development Center," says Haness.
This center, which recently moved from Mercer to Rutgers, is part
of the government’s Small Business Administration program and offers
contacts, tax and financial advice, loan opportunities and more.
For the consultant, novice or veteran, Harness says that finding that
exact niche is the prime directive. It’s more than a matter of your
greatest expertise. That expertise must be honed to a marketable
fitting a current need. "There is definitely room for the
he says, "provided he has the renowned name, a PhD, or some
attraction. Otherwise, narrow into a specialty. Peter Drucker,
one of the best consultants in the business, deals strictly with CEOs
and CFOs — that’s his niche."
Flexibility is key, says Haness. He shifted from his private firm
to the October Group to take advantage of the need for financial
With cash flow falling so far behind outstanding invoices, many
particularly hospitals and E-commerce firms, teeter on the brink of
bankruptcy despite black ink. The October Group buys up the invoices
and provides the needed funds so the company can move forward. Haness
says this is a timely and profitable niche.
While setting up your consulting firm may seem fairly simple at first,
it’s a highway littered with an over 90 percent failure rate. Haness
insists on a checklist of absolute mandates to keep your new company
in the running:
the leap into consulting because they have one sure client in the
bag. The problem comes when you work yourself out of that job —
as consultants are ever doing. "Many were the folks, right along
U.S. 1," says Haness, "who remembered Cobol computer language,
made a killing on Y2K, then returned happily to their old jobs."
But if this is going to be a career, you had best be networking and
scrounging contracts long before the end of job number one.
wisdom just are not enough. It may be only a report or a model or
a video, but your client needs something tangible for his dollars.
Also, you will find yourself working better, more punctually, with
a greater focus if you are creating an actual product.
method. Ask yourself how many days you want to work (200 is the
minimum for full time status). Then honestly ask, "How much money
do I want or need annually?" After figuring your expenses, a
simple division gives you a daily rate. Then compare this with your
competition. You may be too low.
offered work that didn’t appeal to him. "I really didn’t want
the job," he says, "so I pulled the old trick of grossly
my price. The client listened, visibly blanched, paused only a second
and responded, `Well, you must have given a lot of good advice to
earn that $2,000 suit.’" The consultant has only his record, his
tongue, and that aura of expertise to land him the job. Dressing
is an absolutely must. Normally this means the best tailoring and
most expensive ensembles available. "Of course," says Haness,
"If you are a landscape consultant, French cuffs and silk cravats
may prove woefully out of place."
a client’s office — no matter how inconsequential, stays there.
"As a consultant, you will be privy to a variety of secrets,"
says Haness. "If you leak one negative comment about a firm, you
are dead meat. You might as well seek another line of work."
seldom hired because the entire corporation stands twiddling its
cluelessly in the face of a problem. More frequently, you will be
hired to make a point on some manager’s political agenda. The CEO
may bring in an outside "unbiased" voice to set forth and
thus display the stupidity of the board’s reorganization plan. Or
he may hire you to push his own refinancing program. "Either
says Haness, "you are viewed as the objective expert, with no
axe to grind, and thus your words carry more weight."
Here is where Haness’ integrity rule becomes an important tool. Remain
private in all your findings, reporting only to the individual manager
who hired you. This affords you the gift of honesty. Even if you’ve
been brought in merely to back up a tenuous plan, your honesty will
prove a saving grace. Give the CEO a report outlining how his plan
falls short of the promised 18 percent increased profitability mark.
Set forth a more realistic estimate, then offer amendments outside
the basic plan that may boost the increase closer to his mark. Your
evaluation, given alone in the quiet of his office, becomes
rather than threatening.
"You’ve just got to toughen your skin. The client may or may not
accept your advice. No matter how much of a raving idiot you may think
her to be, simply smile, give her your product, take the check, and
offer follow-up services. After all, it’s not your business. Your
business is to make money."
— Bart Jackson
Everyone has a pet story about the product liability
laws. The rear view mirror that is required to state "Beware!
Objects seen in this mirror are behind you." McDonald’s
coffee which netted its crotch-scalded customer a cool $20 million.
And the $50,000 fine incurred if you murder an OSHA inspector while
he or she is reporting a flaw in your product.
Now the product liability laws are being explained by the man who
literally wrote the book. William A. Dreier, retired chief judge
of the New Jersey State Appellate Court, speaks on Saturday, March
17, at 9 a.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. The panel
will also include Westwood-based Robert J. McGuirl, Robert
Sachs of Monte Sachs & Borowsky, and Christopher Placitella
of Wilentz Goldman & Spitzer. One of more than 200 seminars presented
annually by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education
(www.njicle.com), this should prove valuable not only to lawyers but
to the manufacturers whom they represent. Cost: $129. Call
A Plainfield native, Dreier went from MIT to Columbia Law School.
In his quarter century on the bench, Dreier faced the full gamut of
litigation, but no one in the New Jersey bar doubts his supremacy
in product liability. His 1,000-page tome "New Jersey Product
Liability and Toxic Tort Laws" (Gann Publications) has been the
mandatory text in most of the nation’s law schools. Having retired
to private practice in 1998, he currently directs the product
arm of the 70-lawyer firm Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus in Somerville.
He also teaches on the subject for ICLE and for the New Jersey Law
"New Jersey," says Dreier, "holds its manufacturers to
stricter liability laws, in many aspects, than any other state in
the union." He feels they are neither unfair nor frivolous, but
rather that the New Jersey manufacturer and its legal representative
must be more aware of them. Pay attention, he says, to the four basic
problems facing any maker of a salable product.
assembly line as designed and is afflicted with, for instance, metal
fatigue. Inspectors do their best, but they can’t catch each flaw
in the thousands of bicycle frames. Frequently, even the best
techniques offer only a partial remedy. Some multi-step inspections
are too costly. Others may entail total product destruction. Sample
testing of one in ten or one in 10,000 might be the best possible
But whatever your system, says Dreier, "with this kind of product
failure, you are strictly liable."
dollar government study sought and found the answer as to why toddlers
were falling off tricycles. Since that study, the old, high-seated
three-wheelers have disappeared from bike shop windows. New, lower
slung designs took their place permanently. And therein lies the
of design defect law, says Dreier. "You can’t just say `this is
a stupid, unsafe design.’ The burden of proof lies on the plaintiff
to come up with an alternative design."
In addition, this new design must be practical, both physically and
financially. "If you made a car like a tank," he says,
passengers would be infinitely safe, but the thing wouldn’t be
A hairbrush might be safer if it were made of titanium, but the cost
would skyrocket to the absurd."
This risk/utility balance becomes the main battleground in design
defect cases. Yet to enter the fray arguing an assumption of an
inherent intelligence may set you on the low ground. "Our
are filled with large presses and punch machines," says Dreier,
"that literally require the non-operating hand to be safely
out of harm’s way."
says the retired judge, "but almost every warning is due to a
court case and every court case due to a real life injury."
it is not the over-cautious judges but freaky nature that leads to
our paranoid assortment of warnings.)
Most of these questions concerning what needs be in the instruction
booklet, how large warning labels need to be, and what should be
"OSHA Orange," are subject to a mound of federal and state
regulations. Prescription drug labels are held to absolutely fixed
FDA specifications, for instance. The question of user sophistication
reappears: That the cockpit of a 747 is occupied by expert personnel
should make exhaustive warnings unnecessary, but any fool can buy
a multi-blade garden tractor.
You are buying into the debts and flaws of the whole family. If you
purchase the Cranbury Beer Company and then use its plant to make
root beer, you are responsible for the defective glass bottles they
made even before your purchase. "In fact, New Jersey is now the
only state which demands due diligence and traces liability back
bankruptcy," warns Dreier. So even if you pick up a Chapter 11
organization, a liability search would stand you in good stead.
Thus, while it is a good idea to arm yourself with a clever attorney
to get you out of such scrapes, better still to hire wise managers
who will avoid them. "Preventative product liability," notes
Dreier, "is a highly underpracticed art in most businesses
— Bart Jackson
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