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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the August 7, 2002 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

House Hunting? Consider Trenton

<d>Ken Verbeyst is getting so many calls from investors

eager to learn about real estate opportunities in Trenton — and

how to cash in on them — that he no longer has time to guide individuals

through the process step by step. Instead, Verbeyst, a real estate

broker with Prudential New Jersey Properties on Nassau Street, has

put together a seminar on the subject.

On Thursday, August 15, at 6 p.m. Verbeyst hosts a seminar on investing

in Trenton real estate at the Urban Word cafe. He gives a brief introduction

before turning over the floor to mortgage bankers and CPAs. While

the seminar is free, Verbeyst says it is by reservation only. He plans

to limit attendance to about 75 people with a real interest not only

in reaping a profit in Trenton, but also in making the city a better

place to live. Call 609-203-0495.

Verbeyst, a Hopewell resident, has purchased a home on Hamilton Avenue

in the Chambersburg section of Trenton. He was attracted by its size

— seven bedrooms, four fireplaces — its high ceilings, and

its details, including "Trenton" tile. "It’s ceramic tile

that was made in Trenton," he says of the latter. "It’s a

mosaic. It’s fabulous. You have to see it."

But as large as the home is, and as lovely its interior, it was something

else that drew him to the property. "It has a garage," he

says. And not just any garage. "It’s an eight-car garage, all

brick, with I-beam construction in the roof," he says with a joy

only known by the formerly garageless.

"I have a property in Princeton," he says. "I know what

a nightmare parking can be." The property is Verbeyst Cleaners,

a family business his grandfather started in Trenton in 1899 and moved

to Princeton in 1903. Verbeyst switched careers three years ago, leaving

the dry cleaning business for real estate. "My former wife (Beth

Verbeyst) runs the business now," he says. Their deal, he says,

is "you run it. I park there."

Verbeyst is restoring his Trenton investment house, and planning to

rent it, ideally to a professional, perhaps an engineer or architect,

who will use the space as a residence as well as an office. Farther

down the line, he plans to retire there. Already the garage space

is rented. While few will find an eight-car garage in Trenton, a city

that, like Princeton, grew up well before anyone could have imagined

the three or four-car family, he advises investors to think about

parking when they look at houses.

"Look for off-street parking," he says. "It’s golden.

You’ll want it." His other advice to those considering investing

in Trenton includes:

Don’t be a slum lord. A Trenton investor himself, Verbeyst

is passionate on this topic. Cramming too many people into a poorly

repaired building is the last thing the city needs, he says, advising

anyone planning to spend $10,000 on a house and another $10,000 on

renovations to stay away from his seminar.

Take a good look at the street. In assessing a house,

be sure to look at its neighbors — all of its neighbors. Nearby

houses undergoing renovation are a good sign, boarded up houses are


Be prepared to open your wallet. In many Trenton neighborhoods

there is virtually nothing for sale, and prices are rising. Fixer-uppers

abound in other neighborhoods, but buyers should be aware that many

need new heating, plumbing, and wiring in addition to cosmetic work.

It will often be necessary to budget as much — or more — for

renovation as for purchase price.

Assess your skills. Some people are good at carpentry,

working with plaster, and replacing wiring. Others, patently, are

not. Be aware of how much of the work you can do yourself, and be

realistic about how long it will take.

Consider partnering. The repair challenged might consider

providing the cash and going in on a purchase with a partner who knows

his way around a table saw. In fact, a number of people might form

a partnership to purchase several properties. In that case, says Verbeyst,

it might be a good idea to consider forming an LLC, a limited liability


Look at these neighborhoods. Verbeyst is of the opinion

that neighborhoods such as South Clinton, the area closest to the

train station, and Chambersburg, which is still within walking distance

of the trains, are good bets for residential investment. He also likes

anything with a river view, including portions of the Island neighborhood,

which is just west of Route 29, and Lamberton Avenue, which runs parallel

to the new tunnel. He doesn’t see South Broad Street, the area surrounding

the new arena and where the Urban Word cafe is located, as prime residential

territory, but thinks it has commercial potential.

Get your money back. Even the smallest apartments in Trenton

are fetching $800 a month, says Verbeyst. Demand for rental housing

throughout central New Jersey is exceptionally tight. Investors should

have no problem renting space in their houses, but appreciation requires

trickier math. Prices in stable Trenton neighborhoods are climbing,

but, he says, some neighborhoods may not come into their own for five


Meanwhile, Verbeyst is enjoying the city, frequently attending

events at the arena, dropping in to the Urban Word, and walking about.

And he is dreaming Trenton dreams. "When I retire," he says,

"I’m going to turn the top of my garage into a roof garden."

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