No Small Matter

Your smart home network is about to get a lot smarter.

Remember when you first heard the term smart home? For many, those words held the promise of a simple, secure and efficient way for a house or apartment to run itself, with minimal human input and maximum human benefit. The reality, as it unfolded, was something a bit different.

Smart-home devices required a certain comfort level and intuitiveness with technology that not all of us possessed (as well as a higher-than-normal exasperation threshold). Also, as smart as smart homes were, they weren’t always secure. Something as simple as a networked light bulb presented an opportunity (theoretically, at least) for hackers to infiltrate the app that enabled you to turn it on and off. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the early smart homes was that it took a low-level genius to remember how to use all of the different apps unless you purchased everything from the same company. Not surprisingly, Smart Homes for Dummies went through several printings. Some consumers just gave up and came to terms with owning a stupid home. Myself included.

The leading companies competing for the smart-home dollar saw this day coming. They banded together a few years back to create a common language (aka “unifying standard”) that would enable people like yours truly to set up and use smart-home products across multiple platforms. They formed the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) with the goal of simplifying the Internet of Things, or IoT. In the case of the smart home, IoT is shorthand for the various physical objects that are part of a network that shares data and information with other physical objects and which, ideally, you control with a voice command or touchscreen. In other realms, say agriculture, farmers could communicate with their crops via environmental sensors to maximize yields.

Last fall, CSA rolled out Matter, a single protocol to connect devices and systems to one another. It makes smart devices from different companies compatible and simplifies the development process for future products. It represents a huge step forward in terms of attracting the tech-adverse to cutting-edge smart technology. It enables internet-connected devices, big and small—from competing manufacturers—to communicate simply and securely.

I have started to notice the three-sided Matter logo (above) on packaging on recent shopping excursions. It tells you that the device or appliance will be able to connect with the other smart products in your home through Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa or some other hub. Set-up is simpler and voice-control of “everything” should be achievable with a minimum of technical expertise. This summer, I plan to give it a whirl—not a small step for me and my spouse, who have spent years operating our various smart devices one at a time and actually disconnected our “Hey Google” assistant.

Our home security system, central air conditioning, dishwasher, washing machine, iPhones and one of our cars are all speaking to one another. More importantly, we are starting to speak to them.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, we occupy an older demographic than the early adopters that embraced that first wave of smart-home products. As we stood on the sidelines, waiting to matter enough for something like Matter to come to market, we often felt like second-rate consumers. It was kind of a head-scratcher. We are not what I would call tech-adverse and, more to the point, we were ready to buy a bunch of new appliances and things like stereos and TVs—but didn’t want to invest in equipment that would have required us to use multiple networks to operate them. We left a lot of money on the table while manufacturers spent countless millions trying to outmaneuver one increasingly less-stupid home. another and capture a lion’s share of the marketplace. Now when we need to replace something (our refrigerator is making odd noises so it will be next) we will be looking for the Matter logo and folding it into our

So who exactly is making our home smarter? A consortium of companies with skin in the electronics game that includes Apple and Amazon. These two support-friendly companies learned a lot from stressed-out customers over the years and are at the forefront of the Matter protocol. If you use Alexa or Siri or another Matter-compliant platform, every smart device you own and plan to own should join the network minus all of the annoying apps and passcodes and registration hassles without (and this is key) compromising your home network’s security. Set-up involves scanning a code or holding your smartphone near a new device or appliance and letting Matter mostly do the rest.

Right now, more than 200 companies are out there developing stuff for the Matter platform. This is encouraging, because there is widespread acceptance of Matter in the electronics industry, which means it is unlikely that a Matter “competitor” will arise to complicate life all over again. As for older smart-home devices, most should offer the opportunity to update their firmware and join the new network through Matter bridges. A few, unfortunately, probably won’t. Among the more recognizable brands among the 200-plus that are making Matter-compliant products are Google, Samsung, GE, Belkin, and Philips, along with the aforementioned Amazon and Apple. As of May 2023, more than 700 different products had been certified by CSA to work on the Matter wireless standard—not bad, considering there were just a handful available last Christmas.

Indoor Outdoor

The pros and cons of creating your place in the sun.

Something kind of wonderful is happening this spring. For the first time in more than three years, if you call a contractor for a major renovation, someone might actually pick up the phone. The pandemic did odd things to the building industry in New Jersey and it finally seems to be sorting itself out. The pandemic also did something odd to the millions who were stuck at home all day—it made us understand the value of letting more light into our lives. Which is a roundabout way of saying that this may be the year that a lot of Garden State homeowners consider brightening things up by adding a sunroom.

Hank Longo, who has built more than 100 sunroom additions over the last 16 years, confirms that business is already booming. The VP of Additions for All Counties Exteriors in Lakewood calls it “Covid Sanctuary Syndrome.” The word sunroom, he adds, is a generic term. It means different things to different people and covers a lot of options from the economical to the extravagant. The common denominator is the promise of bringing more of the outdoors inside.

Sunrooms are often categorized by the type of construction used. Site-Built refers to on-site construction, which requires a firm foundation and utilizes standard tools, materials, supplies and experienced labor. A four-season sunroom usually includes electricity, plumbing, heating and air conditioning. Bump-Outs are less complicated and more budget-conscious than the site-built alternative. Rather than a full-scale addition, they typically are an Glass Houses are at the high end of the expense spectrum. Basically, everything is designed to let in the light, including the roof. This type of sunroom type is often called a conservatory or sun parlor—basically a live-in greenhouse attached to your home. The only non-glass element is the hardscaped floor, which is often made of ceramic tile or stone with built-in drainage to make cleanup easier after waterings. Heating, cooling and humidity control systems are add-on expansion to an existing room. Pre-Fab Kits are exactly what they sound like. They are made of steel or aluminum framing, with a number of options for the type of glass, roofing and insulation. A contractor can assemble a pre-fab sunroom or an adventurous homeowner could even be tempted to make it a DIY project. a must for four-season enjoyment. Back Porch Conversions involve incorporating most of the existing porch or patio structure at the back of a home by replacing old-fashioned open or screened windows with the latest tempered glass products. A sturdy foundation is a must for this type of sunroom project.

In addition to different types and styles of construction, sunrooms also offer several roofing choices. A sunroom roof can complement the style of the existing house or it can be more architecturally distinct while remaining aesthetically pleasing. A Gable Sunroom is a glass structure topped with two roof panels supported by a center beam. A Studio Sunroom has only a single sloped panel. A Garden Sunroom is usually equipped with extra-thick double-paned glass that acts as insulation.

Call it a solarium, call it a conservatory, call it whatever you want. No matter what you call it, a sunroom is the best seat in the house. However, as with any major project, the inevitable question is, How much will it cost?

As most contractors will agree, the first step in any project of this type is deciding on what you want from your sunroom. Is it a peaceful green retreat? An entertainment center? A home office? A yoga or art studio? A noisy gameroom? A cozy breakfast nook? The next step is understanding the factors that affect the price involved in getting everything you want. Let’s begin with fleshing out what you do want. The types of sunrooms and their labels help to conceptualize the final “look and feel” of the finished project. Once you have decided on the type that suits you and your family best, then prioritizing your wish list always helps when it comes to trimming the budget.

For example, factors to be considered should begin with the size of the sunroom, since how big always affects how much. There are other considerations, such as the cost of materials and the cost of labor—which should always be listed separately in any proposal or contract. Other costs include permitting, architectural plans, site prep, new vs. existing foundation, extra cleanup and how local building codes might impact your plans. A sunroom obviously adds to the value of a home, but will you recoup this expenditure if and when you sell? For some, that consideration is immaterial—they want what they want and they have the funds to make it happen. For others, the value added needs to be within range of what they’ll have to spend. Longo has the experience to provide his clients with a realistic idea of the cost, as well as the prospects of clawing some of that back down the road. “I have been in business long enough for me to be honest with each client about their return on investment in a sunroom addition,” he says. “It’s the only way to go.”

In a recent article in Forbes Home magazine, statistics for three-season sunrooms in the metropolitan area ranged from $80 to $230 per square foot, while this escalated to $200 to $400 per square foot for a four-season addition. This translates to average costs of $25,000 to $40,000 and $45,000 to $80,000, respectively. Of course, all this data is based on averages, and your vision for your own sunroom may not be very average. However, there are some interesting final average ranges that relate directly to costs by sunroom types:

  • Pre-fab $5,000 – $30,000 (minimal cost if you are equipped to DIY)
  • Solarium $30,000 – $75,000 (not only are the walls glass, but the roof is, too)
  • Conservatory $50,000 – $150,000 (true garden room, a “greenhouse for people”)
  • Atrium $6,000 – $20,000 (interior room with a glass roof but with existing walls incorporated)

I reached out to some other contractors to get a sense of the Pros and Cons before launching into a sunroom build.

South Amboy – $849,000

Franklin Twp – $639,000

2 Sand Piper Drive

Lighthouse Bay Waterfront Community with spectacular views. Corner lot, relaxing open front porch, private yard with spacious paver patio.

368 Windfall Lane

55+ Gated Community, 3 BR & 3 full baths in this 3,000 sq. ft. home. Minutes from transportation, theater, fine dining, golf & state park trails.


✓ If money matters (and it always does), there are many practical ways to control costs, the biggest being whether you want a three- or four-season sunroom.

✓ If value-added matters, the average return on investment should be at least half of what you spend.

✓ If your mood needs lifting and your immune system needs boosting, then the Vitamin D of natural sunlight brought indoors can be healing both mentally and physically.

✓ If your green thumb aches for more time outdoors, then you can extend your year-round gardening pleasure by moving indoors.

✓ Versatility—whether for family fun or for private meditation and reverie, your sunroom can be designed accordingly.


✓ By adding value, you might be facing not only an increase in property taxes, but there might also be a rate hike in your insurance premiums. Best to check ahead.

✓ Higher utility bills are inevitable, especially when four-season comforts are included.

✓ If lack of privacy is a concern, you may end up installing blinds, drapes or other window treatments.

✓ A three-season sunroom will become uncomfortable when temperatures plummet outside, requiring some type of auxiliary heating in order to keep the sunroom open and comfortable for as long as possible.

✓ You will want to add a duct and vents to your cooling system to keep things comfortable come summer—particularly with a southern exposure.

Finally, a few thoughts on greenhouses. Although a greenhouse technically qualifies as a type of sunroom, it differs from most other types by being a far more practical structural alternative. It is revered by ardent gardeners for the protection it provides for plants, flowers and vegetables whose health (and often survival) depend on it. The focus of a typical greenhouse is on the vegetation it helps to produce, rather than on the creature comforts of the resident gardening enthusiast. Greenhouses extend and improve growing seasons by sheltering against the elements and possible pest invasions. Their primary purpose is to keep heat in, which has popularized the label hot house for any greenhouse that can maintain a temperature of 60 degrees or more throughout the year.

Greenhouses come in many styles: A-Frame, Dome, Gothic (arched), Quonset (designed in 1941 by a team of naval engineers), or Lean-To (against an existing wall of a home or garage as one side). A greenhouse decision involves analyzing pros and cons in the same way as for the grander sunroom candidates above. One benefit unique to greenhouses is keeping everything gardening-related (pots, tools, supplies) under one roof, eliminating the need for a separate storage shed. And greenhouses can deliver plants, cutting flowers and seasonal veggies whenever you want throughout the seasons.

A significant drawback, however, is that any greenhouse requires constant monitoring, maintenance and a healthy dose of TLC. Depending on its style and location, the greenhouse may also detract aesthetically from the rest of the garden. And it can get expensive in the winter if you want to keeping it operating all year round. Perhaps the best way to consider the greenhouse vs. sunroom question is this: Although both are wonderful places to be, a greenhouse is a working space, while a sunroom is a living space.


If These Walls Could Talk

New owners of old homes are learning important lessons about fire prevention.

High demand. Low inventory. Over-ask bidding wars. Soaring prices. Roller-coaster interest rates. Whether you’ve participated in the New Jersey real estate market during the 2020s or just watched from afar, it has been something to see. The traditional home-buying process gave way to an out-and-out frenzy, with many purchasers ending up owning properties they hadn’t remotely considered when they first started out. In many cases, New Jerseyans found themselves moving into century-old (or older) homes without a full understanding of what they were getting into. In some cases, they were attracted by the charm and detail of historic structures. In other cases, newer (or fully updated) construction was financially out of reach. Sometimes, it was all that was available in their target area and in their price range.

Now they are coming to grips with the unique responsibilities involved in owning a vintage home, such as repairs, upgrades and general upkeep. Under-standing the fire-safety picture is one of the most important ones and, distressingly, also one of the most overlooked.

Historic properties are full of surprises, mostly pleasant ones. Among the most significant ones is that, if fire should break out, they actually tend to give occupants much more time to exit safely than newer construction. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but think about it: Their thick plaster walls and (typically) higher-quality materials and construction, can slow the spread of a blaze—or at least take longer to burn. Many newer homes have “safety times” of five minutes or less (sometimes as little as two minutes), which means that is how long you have to safely exit in a fire before your odds of survival begin to plummet. Older homes have safety times of 15 minutes of more, in many cases because they feature natural materials that burn relatively slowly and do not emit toxic fumes when ignited. Also, their ceilings tend to be higher.

“Higher ceilings can help in early smoke detector activation and notification to the resident to evacuate the home,” says Westfield Fire Chief Michael Duelks, CPM. “With higher ceilings it takes longer for smoke to bank down to standing height, which again helps the resident to evacuate early.”

A People Problem

What causes fires in historic homes? For the most part, the same thing that causes fires in brand-new homes: people. Roughly half of the 350,000 annual house fires in the United States have to do with cooking. They start in the kitchen or somewhere else where food is being prepared or served. The next culprit is heating equipment, most notably space heaters, at 13%. Smoking, which used to be a major cause of house fires, now only accounts for 5%—not because smokers have suddenly become more careful, but because there are far fewer of them. Indeed, more than 20% of home fire fatalities occur in blazes started by smoking materials.

Electrical fires make up almost 10% of household fires, and this is where owners of older homes need to be extra vigilant. It’s a catch-all category, of course, but it includes faulty and over-burdened wiring, which needs to be identified and addressed before you plug your entire entertainment system into a power strip—and then plug that power strip into a wall outlet.

An experienced house inspector is usually able to identify points of immediate concern. Some are obvious, like old-school knob and tube wiring (above right)—or another non-grounded system—which was fine for its time but not designed for today’s appliances. This is an item, by the way, that could cause your home insurance premiums to be much higher than expected because, when inadequate wiring is overloaded, it increases the chance that an arc fault will occur, which can create enough heat to start a fire inside a wall.

That charming 1920s bungalow only needed 30 or 40 amps worth of service when the first family moved in. You’ll probably use at least five times that amount. In all likelihood, previous owners upgraded the electrical capacity incrementally. That can be as much of a curse as a blessing. If some of that work was shoddy or is just wearing out, it can be really difficult to catch in an inspection. It becomes incumbent upon the new owner to be aware of some signs that this might be a problem—for instance, if the same circuit breaker keeps clicking off, or your lights are flickering. And, of course, if you detect a strange “burning” smell but can’t quite figure out where it’s coming from, that’s not good. One option for new owners of old homes is to have an electrician install circuit interrupters. Circuit interrupters detect an abnormality in how electricity is moving through your house and interrupt the circuit.

Gray Area

Part of the appeal of buying an old house is the realization that, in some ways, no one truly “owns” a historic structure. You’ll just be taking care of it for the next family who will make memories there. Okay, but what if those sweet old grandparents who handed you the keys at closing haven’t taken care of their home? This is no joke—the National Fire Protection Association actually lists Demographics as one of the Top 5 causes of house fires.

If that sounds like a loaded term, well, it is. A Victorian home owned by a family struggling to make ends meet is far more likely to have deferred maintenance issues than an identical Victorian owned by a wealthy commuter. The same holds true for elderly homeowners, or people who have lived in the same home for more than a generation. They tend to put things off or become “nose-blind” to chronic problems that could have fire-safety implications. The NFPA isn’t judging—they’ve just picked a word and slapped it on a statistic.

What You Can’t See Can Hurt You

Something else you might ask the seller of an older home is whether it was built with balloon framing, which was a popular money-saving decision for builders from the 1860s to the 1930s. “Balloon frame construction is a wood framing method where exterior wall studs are continuous from the sill plate to the roof plate,” Chief Duelks explains. “Floors are attached to ribbon board, with no fire-stopping structure within the walls.”

Instead of sitting on heavy timbers and skillfully crafted connecting joints, floors basically sit on the walls; you’ve probably heard the term “load-bearing” and this is what it means. The outside walls are basically hollow and, in a fire, can act like chimneys, carrying a basement fire to the roof in a matter of minutes.

“Fires can be concealed and travel thru the void channels unnoticed in balloon frame construction,” Duelks adds. “When smoke is visible from the attic, a team should be sent to ensure there is not an active fire in the basement. A fire in the basement can travel all the way to the attic unnoticed thru the void channels.”

Since the 1930s, platform framing has addressed this issue. If you are planning to make an offer on a home with balloon framing, make sure to figure in the cost of blowing foam insulation into the exterior walls, which has the added advantage of preventing the “chimney effect.”

Speaking of chimneys, in older homes a regularly used fireplace can create potentially combustible creosote deposits over time. When they ignite, the resulting chimney fire can be extremely destructive. Also, older flue linings can crack, which can increase the possibility of a fire. A pre-sale chimney inspection has become a common ask from buyers. If you didn’t get one, get one.

In Westfield, where many structures date back to the mid-1800s, Chief Duelks says that it is not unheard of for homes to have secret rooms, tunnels, and passageways that lead to other buildings—adding to the many challenges firefighters encounter when responding to calls at what he terms “historical-built” houses.

Un-Handy Men

An overlooked fire issue in older homes is the renovation work that is sometimes undertaken in the months after purchase. Often, buyers will want to address deferred maintenance or make upgrades before they move in. Historic homes and open flames are not a good combination, which means you’ll want plumbers, roofers and other contractors working with heating elements to have experience in old houses. For example, some roof repairs (flashing for instance) may involve a torch. Is there a layer of tar paper hiding beneath? Torch-down roofing on a flat roof section? It is as dangerous as it sounds in inexperienced hands. What about the plumber who sweats a joint and then packs up for the day? During cold-weather renovations, workers often bring powerful space heaters into old homes. Do they know whether your electrical system can handle those heaters?

If a big renovation is in your plan, in addition to picking a contractor with a track record in similar homes, make sure that the materials the contractor plans to use are the same quality as the rest of the house. “Modern” isn’t always better, even if it saves you a couple of bucks. A wood floor may cost more than vinyl flooring but, in a house fire, a wood floor may give you the few extra minutes that save your family’s life.

Chief Duelks points out that the same fire-safety rules that apply to new owners of historic homes apply to owner of all homes (and vice versa).

“All homes, regardless of the age, should have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors,” he says. “A fire extinguisher should also be within visual site of the kitchen in the event of a kitchen fire. Hire a reputable company to perform a home inspection as well as licensed contractors. Operating smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are extremely important, they save lives. Never hesitate to call the fire department if the alarms activate or if you may have concerns. Finally, have a plan to get out fast, designate a meeting place outside your home for all your family members and practice your safety plan at least once every six months.”

As mentioned earlier, buying a wonderful old home does not increase your chances of experiencing a catastrophic fire. What it does is up the ante on following basic fire-safety and fire-prevention rules everyone should be following anyway.

More from the NFPA

A recent report by the National Fire Protection Agency looked at a period (2015 to 2019) prior to the pandemic and came up with the following numbers:

  • 26% of all reported fires in the US were home structure fires
  • US fire departments responded to an average of 346,800 home structure fires a year
  • 69% of home structure fires occurred in one- or two-family homes, but accounted for 85% of fire deaths
  • The number of home fires and home fire deaths is half what it was in 1980; most of that reduction came between 1980 and 2000


Editor’s Note: Mark Stewart has owned two homes built in the early 1900s, another in the mid-1800s, and recently purchased a property built in 1795. So far, no fires. Special thanks to the Westfield Fire Department and Elizabeth Fire Department for their help with this feature.


What to Expect When You’re Inspecting

War stories from the trenches. And basements. And attics.

The scorching-hot New Jersey real estate market of the past few years has put a ton of pressure on the various people involved in taking a house from original listing to worry-free closing. It might be a stretch to say there have been “unsung heroes” in this process, but if there were, home inspectors would garner a lot of votes. They have one of those rare jobs where, the more detailed their work product is, the more likely it is that one person will be elated and another will be furious. Now that’s pressure.

Photo by Donald Rankin

As cringy as the process can be for the buyer, seller and real estate agents, the objective of a home inspection is undeniably admirable: to make sure the future homeowner is aware of the risks associated with a property in order to avoid any costly surprises. Tell that to the seller, who hopes the inspection report does not dramatically impact the final sale. And then there are the agents, whose livelihoods depend on steering clear of surprises and tamping down any kind of acrimony until all the documents have been signed.

Although not required in New Jersey, a home inspection is almost always recommended since, without one, the buyer inherits responsibility for all pre-sale conditions, no matter how major. Typically, the buyer pays the bill ($300 to $500 in most cases), so the home inspection company is working for them. Occasionally, a seller will order a “preemptive” inspection in order to gain a full understanding of a home’s pros and cons, which can then be listed in the seller’s disclosure that is filled out when a property is listed. Buyers rarely accept a seller’s inspection and usually arrange for an inspection on their own.

Photo by Mack Knight

Whoever is ordering the work, it does not—as any inspector will confirm—mean you are their boss. Donald Rankin, a Certified Home Inspector and Thermographer, counts among his most irritating clients “the buyer who treats me as stereotyped hired help,” as well as the occasional client who stalks him and impedes his progress and, of course, the client “who always knows better than me about everything.”

A typical inspection involves examining a home from top to bottom, starting in the basement and ending with the roof, with a “hit list” of targets in between (e.g., floors, walls, plumbing and electrical systems, the foundation and some optional extra-cost items such as radon testing and oil tank and septic system sweeps). If an inspector is unable to access something (behind a wall, for example) that is usually listed in the report. Should any local building code violations be observed, these too usually merit honorable mention in the final inspection report.

With a record number of first-time homebuyers entering the market in New Jersey over the last couple of years, the job of inspectors has taken on a bit more of an “educational” role. The untrained eye can miss significant flaws that might be obvious to buyers on their third or fourth home.

Jim Stoffers of Mack Knight Home Inspections says even a rookie home shopper can detect potentially serious problems if they know what to look for. For example, he recently inspected a brand-new build and saw a ridgeline issue, which hinted that something wasn’t quite right between the basement and the roof. In some lower-value homes, sometimes you can spot foundation issues before you even get close to the front door. “All houses settle,” he points out. “Some faster than others. However, a five-year-old house shouldn’t be as settled as a 100-year-old house.”

Stoffers adds that it is not unusual for buyers to read his inspection report and say, Wow, we’ve been in here twice and didn’t notice that! “And I completely understand,” he says. “They are looking for the beauty in a home they want, imagining what it will look like with their furniture and their family.”

What should first-time buyers take note of? Among the top-line consensus items are sloping floors, uneven gaps under interior doors, and horizontal cracks in unfinished basements. All could be signs of bigger issues.

Most home inspectors follow a Code of Ethics, such as the one developed by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), which emphasizes integrity, clarity, honesty and, above all, objectivity. As mentioned earlier, home inspectors function much like a dual agency in real estate transactions in that the resulting report is equally significant to both the determined seller and the prudent buyer in closing the sale. And they take this role very seriously. Often the commitment paperwork and contract of sale will include a home inspection contingency—which means a report that accurately identifies a major (unexpected) issue can allow a nervous buyer to wriggle off the hook or initiate an entirely new negotiation on price. Veteran home inspectors always prepare in advance how to handle delivering either good news or bad to their clients. The reactions of the parties involved can run the gamut of human emotions, from pleased to crazed. The good inspector has seen it all.

The great inspector can handle it all.

Photo by Rick Pettit

Rick Pettit of Eastern Home Inspections of New Jersey estimates he has done more than 14,000 inspections during a career that stretches back to the mid-1980s. He enjoys sitting down with his clients and reviewing his report. He keeps his terms simple and makes sure his clients understand what he’s talking about.

“I remind everyone that everything that is wrong can be fixed—at a price,” he says.

Pettit notes that the industry has changed recently, with more people getting into the home inspection business, and is disappointed that licensing requirements, in his view, have become so lax. There are too many new hires who are “overly confident and think they don’t need much training to get a license.” One thing that hasn’t changed is that he loves working with his prospective homeowners, even on those rare occasions where they might be tempted to tell him how to do his job. Like every inspector, though, Pettit has had a nightmare experience or two.

“I did have a buyer who kept asking so many questions that I couldn’t get my job done,” he recalls. “Then she ended up suing me…accusing me of not being thorough enough to answer her questions!”

After reviewing Pettit’s report, the judge dismissed the case. That didn’t stop the woman from confronting him in the parking lot screaming, “There’s no justice! No justice at all!”

Lynn Brancato joined her spouse, John, 17 years ago to form a husband-wife team that goes by JAB Inspections. In serving countless thousands of customers since then, they have learned to give a client the full benefit of their experience and expertise, but also to stop short of offering advice. You don’t want a dentist doing your heart surgery, she likes to joke. Being a woman in a male-dominated industry isn’t always fun and games, however. While many clients are thrilled about hiring a woman, she suspects that some callers hang up when they realize they are not dealing with a man. Brancato tries to be philosophical about it.

“I accept that many men don’t accept me working on the job in the same way that I have had to accept working in their world,” she says, adding that, “like women everywhere, female inspectors still have to take care of people, places and things while trying to do our job.”

Brancato prides herself in being able to “sniff out” potential problems that might easily be missed.

“I have the nose of a Labrador,” she smiles.

Brancato has seen her fair share of amateur renovations, but while looking at a new playroom in one particular house, her instincts told her something wasn’t quite right. After chatting up a neighbor, she discovered that in the 1960’s there had been an in-ground fiberglass pool in the same spot—and that it was never removed. The large “play” room was more of a “pool” room” without a proper foundation.

Brancato’s advice to other women in the field? Don’t be afraid to be who you are and know what you know.

Donald Rankin has no fear of being who he is. A native of Ireland and a gifted storyteller, he loves recounting the ups and downs from a seven-year career that has included around 2,500 home inspections. Home buying is a high-anxiety situation, he points out, and he relishes the challenge of meeting new people and making them smile. What makes Rankin anxious?

“Extreme summer heat just kills me,” he admits. “I warn ahead whenever it’s going to be a ‘two-towel’ day. I really don’t like filthy dirty crawl spaces. I got bitten by a poisonous spider once.”

With apologies to the Boy Scouts, Rankin’s motto is Be prepared…because there’s always going to be a challenge—from the buyer, the seller or even the house itself. Some things, he adds, you can never be totally prepared for. Like the time a client brought his entire family along on the inspection, including an uncle who took the liberty of disassembling the furnace and leaving Rankin to explain to the seller why it was in pieces on the basement floor.

Even so, Rankin maintains that “nothing can rattle me. I’ve seen it all.”

Among the many things our four house inspectors have in common is that they will always find issues. “That’s our job,” Jim Stoffers explains. “It comes down to what you want to negotiate. The rest is out of our control.”

They also agree that buying a house “As Is” can be a very risky proposition, and remind buyers who do that, just because you waive the inspection with the seller, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t bring in an inspector for your own purposes. In fact, many listings that begin “As Is” can be negotiated to carve out a limited inspection, including environmental, structural and safety issues only.

Another area of concurrence is that successful inspectors understand that objectivity, clarity, integrity and honesty is key. Lynn Brancato sums it up well when she says, “My job is to give the client what they need when we know and they don’t.”

Trickle Down Theory

A custom water feature may be just what the doctor ordered.

Atlantis Water Gardens

For countless thousands of New Jersey home buyers, proximity to water is practically a force of nature. It is the non-negotiable must-have—the dream that must be realized, the box that absolutely must be checked—often beyond all budgetary reason. Three years ago, I wrote a post-Sandy, pre-COVID feature for EDGE entitled “Liquid Gold,” which explored the impact of water on property values. It focused on lakefront, riverfront and oceanfront property. With waterfront land a finite resource and financial reach—more so today than back in 2019— I decided to turn my attention toward something significantly more attainable and a bit closer to home: the backyard.

The fact is, for every Garden State home with direct access to water, there are dozens (probably even hundreds) featuring meticulously designed, constructed and maintained gardens that offer the sights and sounds of H2O and all of the good things that go with it. Those good things include everything from basic stress-reduction to all manner of healing powers. Healthy ions found in moving bodies of water have been shown to improve the flow of oxygen to the brain and increase alertness and mental energy. Water features can be found in every conceivable environment, including expansive suburban landscaping projects, rooftops and patios, and even postage-stamp urban oases.

In landscape architecture, a water feature is defined as any of a range of items that introduces a man-made water design element to perform an aesthetic or recreational function. The list is impressive and includes the obvious: fountains, ponds, waterfalls, streams and, technically, swimming pools (which are not part of this story). Water features can be soothing and relaxing or they can add beauty and drama when powered by gravity, technology or, more and more, by solar energy. Water features in a backyard space are limited only by your creativity and budget. Let’s look at some of the basics…

Fountains, Ponds & Waterfalls

Among the more common varieties of fountains are spouting (where water shoots directly into the air) and bubbling (which gently delivers the restful sound of softly gurgling water before being recirculated). Less common are tiered fountains, which are typically larger, more ornate and more expensive. Antique lovers have plenty to work with in all three categories, as old-school cast iron fountains were made to last and can still be found fairly easily. The common denominator for all fountains is that they produce the gratifying acoustics of moving water, often accompanied by a refreshing mist to provide a peaceful, soothing and even healing retreat. Whether very new or very old, all fountains are powered by small, efficient and relatively inexpensive plug-and-play pumps. Your main involvement as a homeowner is cleaning out the filters when necessary.

Like fountains, man-made ponds tend to reflect an owner’s taste and style. They can emulate a totally natural setting (which usually requires less maintenance and expense) or create a design extension of a home, pool or patio. Pond owners quickly discover that there are endless ways to populate these environments with aquatic plants and animals; few excursions are more fun than a visit to a pond store. The most difficult decision they face is fish vs. no fish. While some opt for the serene beauty of water hyacinth and lily varieties—or the drama of towering iris—others find the lure of goldfish and koi irresistible.

While these are resilient animals, they may not survive year ’round in a pond that hasn’t been set up to accommodate their needs. Fish can make it through a winter freeze-over if the pond is deep enough and a heater keeps an unfrozen hole of water open for harmful gasses to escape. To some people, fish become cherished pets—especially if their kids name them! Each fall, they scoop ’em up and move them to an indoor bowl or tank.

Regardless of your level of personal attachment, don’t forget that once you add fish (or other pond animals), the pump and filter will require consistent cleaning. Also, be aware of the bird of prey population in your area and imagine how your pond appears to a hungry raptor. You may want to obscure or shade it in some way, or it will look like a sushi platter to your friendly neighborhood osprey.

Aquatic Art

For those who cannot truly relax without the sound of rushing water, a backyard waterfall is the perfect home improvement. While certain pond and fountain projects can be tackled by DIYers, designing and building a waterfall almost always involves an experienced professional.

Waterfalls are usually integrated into an existing or planned swimming-pool design or installed as a standalone feature that takes advantage of natural elements on your property, such as rock outcroppings or boulders, which are capable of supporting a waterfall as an independent structure. An interesting alternative to a waterfall is a waterwall.

Waterwalls are visually striking structures that generate a continuous curtain of cascading H2O, offering many of the same benefits of a traditional waterfall, particularly if you are constricted by space and/or expense. Along the same lines, water sconces—which have been around for centuries—deliver the soothing trickle in an even smaller space.

What Does it Cost? What is it Worth?

Aquatic Art

Let’s look at the second question first. Does a water feature add enough value to your property to justify the expense? As is the case with a swimming pool, the answer is a firm maybe. Home buyers tend to either want a pool or not. Where fountains, ponds and waterfalls are concerned, they unquestionably add to the esthetic appeal of a home—after all, that’s why they were built in the first place. Of course, someone could “love the house and hate the pond,” but that is a matter of taste and an unwanted water feature can be dismantled or filled in without significant expense, if that’s the way the new owner wants to go. A realtor looking at this question would hope that a beautiful fountain might prove to be the deciding factor between two homes…or that it captures the imagination of an otherwise hesitant buyer enough to make an offer on a listing.

The folks who design, build and install custom water features look at it more organically, as they should. If the project is within your financial wherewithal, measure it not in dollars, but rather in the degree of satisfaction and enjoyment it brings.

For most people the first step toward basic answers is meeting with experienced professional contractors capable of delivering a personalized water feature creation. Two that have demonstrated decades of success in the design and construction of unique aquatic landscapes are Atlantis Water Gardens and Aquatic Art. They are among a dozen or so companies in and around New Jersey whose web sites are filled with dreamy photos of finished projects. “My business is luxury- and leisure-oriented,” says Mark Yonadi, owner of Aquatic Art. “I am creating a lifestyle, not just a water feature. My goal is that the client really uses and enjoys what I create…I design, then I build my designs. I do it because I love it.”

Jaak Harju, owner of Atlantis Water Gardens, echoes this sentiment, adding, “I want my clients to enjoy the garden from multiple vantage points, indoors and out. I want to create a living picture, something that changes with every visit.”

Both agree that a great “water gardenscape” (or water garden escape) is fueled by passion and inspiration. It is what buoyed them through the initial uncertainty of COVID, which exploded at the beginning of their busy season, in late March 2020. By that summer, however, both companies were besieged by requests from cooped-up homeowners who had nowhere to vacation other than their own backyards. “Business was booming again after only a few initial setbacks,” Harju says.

Yonadi says commercial projects tailed off during COVID, but backyard projects of all types and sizes “never experienced any hiccups.” He adds, with pride, that he managed to keep all his employees working and his team safe.

Atlantis Water Gardens

Pricing of high-quality custom water features covers a wide range based on countless variables. After all, that’s why they’re called custom. As a rule, though, figure on a starting price of $5,000 and don’t be surprised if achieving your vision runs into the mid-five figures. If you’ve got seven figures burning a hole in your bank account, that can happen, too. Harju, who was named Water Feature Artist of the Year in 2014, once worked on a commercial project in South America that priced out at $2.7 million. On the plus side, he points out, most of his projects require less time of the homeowner and involve less expense than maintaining a large suburban lawn.

HomeAdvisor recently compiled some pricing data that shouldn’t surprise New Jersey homeowners. The average price of a fountain or waterfall designed and installed is 50% higher here than the national average. This undoubtedly reflects the involvement of plumbers and electricians. By contrast, a pond installation in New Jersey is about the same as the national average.

The fish part of the equation can be exasperating for a novice, especially if they are dying or being eaten by predators. There is no such thing as a “bargain” koi, so you want to get it right as soon as possible. For his part, Yonadi spent years cultivating his aquarium skills—first as a hobby and then as a thriving part of his business. His company will stock your pond and/or aquarium, provide all the necessary equipment to sustain successful ecosystems, and offer follow-up maintenance. One final piece of advice upon which both men agree is that, during an initial consultation, a good water feature company will listen to a prospective client.

But a good client will also listen when they make a recommendation.

“Yes,” Harju smiles. “Sometimes, we know best.”


Charging Into the Future

Are you ready for your first electric vehicle? Is your home?

The recent surge in the price of gasoline and the geopolitical mess that caused it has a lot of New Jersey drivers hitting the accelerator on their decision to purchase an electric vehicle (EV). State and federal policymakers have already set the finish line on internal combustion engine (ICE) automobiles at 2050, less than three decades away. For many of us that day can’t come soon enough. That being said, it’s not as simple as flipping a switch. To meet this lofty goal, energy producers, automakers and consumers must match technology, political policy and current inventory headwinds with financial incentives and seamless customer satisfaction. It’s a tall order.

One of the first questions homeowners (and, for that matter, renters) have when considering an EV purchase is Can I charge up without leaving my driveway? It’s a valid question. At the moment, New Jersey ranks toward the bottom of the “charging stations per resident” chart, although given how road-reliant we are, that is destined to change. If you’re suddenly in EV buying mode, however, promises don’t get you to the nearest charging station.

The average cost of a home charging unit is $750 before professional installation. You will need to determine the most logical space for the unit, thinking about its distance from the main breaker (usually in the garage) and where the charging port is located on the car. A dedicated 220/240 volt breaker is required, and a professional electrician has to install it. Depending on the work and permits needed, that can run upwards of $1,000. Utility companies sometimes offer special rates to homes charging vehicles, based on time of day, day of the week and demand. Homes with solar power may out the various car forums online for tips and tricks from brand owners on what make and model of charger works best in your area of the country, when to charge and how to track your car’s kilowatt usage and regeneration when driving between charges. Most EV owners will tell you, only charge when your battery is close to empty. also benefit from extra discounts. You’ll also want to consult your home insurer to see if you need an additional rider or disclosure when adding a charging unit to your home. In addition, it’s a good idea to check

for EV drivers living in condominium apartments or multi-family dwellings, the lack of charging capabilities is a concern for public utility companies like PSE&G and JCP&L. The redistribution of power to meet real-time charging demand will likely involve building micro-grids. Micro-grids are smaller networks of solar-powered homes and alternative-energy capture sites, which redistribute excess power into the public-private sector closest to high-demand centers. Garden State property owners may find their rooftops are going to increase in value as solar resale becomes a necessity.

If you are a tenant, installing a charging station can be tricky. While some newer apartment complexes offer this amenity, older buildings likely do not. Obviously, tenants need to discuss installing a new 240 charging unit with their landlords. Some may see it as a way to increase rent, or make their apartments more appealing. However, as a rule, most will want tenants to share some of the cost, or perhaps all of it. You can also charge an EV with a standard 120 outlet, but this can be slow going—an overnight plug-in may only get you an hour’s worth of commuting. There’s a reason why this is nicknamed “trickle charging.” On the plus side, a slow charge is much better for battery life.

Tesla, Inc.

Outside of the added expense of installing a charging unit, there are three other major concerns with which newcomers to the EV market must familiarize themselves. Range anxiety is still the number-one obstacle to electric vehicle adoption. Currently the choice of EVs features a range of 50 to 400 miles between charges, with prices from $25,000 to $200,000. A manufacturer’s published range will vary based on driving behavior, outside temperature and vehicle load. Parallel Hybrids run on electric plug-in charging for a limited range and then switch to gas after the charge runs out. The transition is seamless while driving, however automakers are reluctant to keep this EV design because the weight of two drive differentials reduces the capacity for more batteries. Thanks to Tesla, the trend is towards 100% electric long-range batteries. Lithium battery-makers Panasonic and LG are pushing the range, but battery fires remain a concern among many consumers. Lithium-Sodium, Hydrogen and Propane alternatives are still in testing mode.

The second major concern amongst EV shoppers is price. Prices for EV’s run the gamut, from a low of $38,000 for a Hyundai Ioniq to Tesla and Karma, in the $150,000 range. At the start of 2022, automakers experienced a surge in EV orders thanks to rising gas prices, which only increased after the United State imposed sanctions on Russian energy imports. Unfortunately, the lack of dealership inventory pushed consumers into hybrid purchases, which enjoyed record sales. I say unfortunately because, over time these models are not reducing emissions and will eventually be sidelined along with traditional internal combustion cars.

Among those who did find available EV’s, many enjoyed very generous trade-in allowances for their older hybrids and ICE vehicles, as the used car market is still booming. And then there are the tax credits and rebates that are still available. In New Jersey, rebates up to $5,000 are being offered to those who buy or lease a new electric vehicle. There are still federal tax credits of up to $7,500 being offered for EV purchasers, although it’s worth noting that tax credits are not part of the president’s infrastructure bill.

While financial incentives cushion the sticker shock some EV shoppers experience, know also that the revenue lost from gas tax is likely to result in a road usage charge of some kind on EV’s. Last year, Utah charged a flat annual fee of $20.00 for a gas hybrid and $120.00 for an 100% electric model—or the option of paying 1.52 cents per mile. Consider the cost of such fees along with the energy costs when deciding which model is right for you.

The third concern of EV shoppers, addressed earlier in this story, is when, where and how to charge. Right now, 70% of all charging in America is done at home—overnight or during off-peak hours.

Adding a dedicated charging unit to your home will max the capacity of a 100-mile-plus battery to 100% overnight at a 100 kw/h rate. Household chargers can also be designed to run off rooftop solar when tied to a battery storage system or a dedicated circuit in the breaker panel. Direct Current (DC) units—also called Level 3 chargers—are designed for EV models made on or after 2018. A DC charger can replenish about 240 miles in a long-range, 300-mile electric car in less than half an hour. Tesla has converted most of its charging banks to DC units in the hopes of reducing wait times at their popular hubs along major transit routes, tourist destinations, upscale hotels and casinos. Recently added software warns the Tesla owner when the car is fully charged and must be moved quickly. Drivers who leave their vehicle in a charging spot after notification will be charged an additional fee. At the upper end of the market, speed is everything. Leading the charging speed race is Porsche and its Turbo unit, capable of pushing 800 volts at 450 kw/h. The company’s $82,000 Taycan can be recharged to 100% in under 10 minutes. However, the cost of this “super charge” at peak rate can run into the hundreds of dollars.

Upper Case Editorial

Right now, residential charge station suppliers include ChargePoint, Blink, ElectrifyAmerica, TESLA, EVGO and VOLTA. The year, make and model of your vehicle, as well as its charging receptacle, contributes to speed of charging and cost per minute, or kilowatt cost. The average cost when charging off-peak at home is .045 per mile when using .15 per kwh as the basis. Tesla and Lucid vehicles are the least expensive models to charge.

Joan Michelson

When charging away from home, the costs can vary widely. Electric owners use a subscription card or app on their phone to utilize most stations, however there are no regulations on what a station provider can charge, by time, kilowatt hour or both. Some hotels, casinos and retailers have provided the space and power as a customer service, but don’t bet on free charging forever. Only VOLTA does not require a subscription or charge for the power, covering their costs through sponsorship advertising placed on the station.

What’s down the road for new EV owners? Automakers across the globe are revamping their supply-chain sources for EV batteries by partnering or purchasing manufacturing capability. Even so, Joan Michelson (right) points out, “deciding which EV to buy is going to be complicated.” Michelson, the former head of Communications and co-head of sales and marketing at Chrysler’s Global Electric Motorcars, says buyers should be prepared to consider all kinds of variables: “Your lifestyle, your transportation needs, whether you have access to charging—I don’t, in a condo building, for example—where you drive regularly, whether it’s your only car or a second car, as well as overall cost of ownership.” She has watched the evolution of electric vehicles for two decades and speaks to all things electric in her Electric Ladies podcast.

Just back from the 26th UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Michelson offers some innovative ideas on the future of EV ownership and the new automakers behind them. “As the issues of lithium battery warranty, repair, disposal and sustainability become greater, there could be an

Joan Michelson OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) option for an EV lease subscription plan that balances the higher cost of an EV with the concern surrounding technology changes. Tax credits from the federal and state governments will also help consumers and manufacturers ease into the investment of an EV.”

Another appealing aspect of switching to an electric vehicle is the “dealer disruption” ushered in by Tesla. EV makers you’d never heard of a couple of years ago are bringing new technology and unique styling to the market—without dealership sales tactics or service centers. Rivian, Lucid and Lordstown Motors have made news with long-range trucks and luxury cars, and are now taking orders for delivery in 2022–2023.

Michelson is especially interested in what’s happening at Piech Automotive—founded by Porsche family heir Anton Piech—which is creating a unique car company that has broken with traditional manufacturing theory. Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, is an investor and several “A-list car guys” from Porsche/VW Group, BMW, and TESLA have joined the company. Piech is offering short-term leasing of EVs; it will be interesting to see if this leads people to buy more EVs as a result of driving them for a few months—as well as the impact on dealerships, since they are leasing directly to consumers and not going through dealerships.


The Piech brand is built on the concept of modular vehicle components, long-range batteries and ultra-fast charging. Their sedan, SUV and sportscar designs use mix-and-match compatibility for plug-in, traditional ICE and hydrogen batteries capable of 80% charge in under five minutes—with simpler parts and software upgrades.

Taking a cue from Tesla, Ford, Toyota and other brands are testing the direct-to-consumer order process, eliminating the dealer haggling in order to compete with online showrooms and vendors such as Carvana and Vroom. Manufacturers are actually urging their dealer networks to revamp the old-time sales/service model to embrace EV charging as a revenue stream. AUDI is all-in on this idea, having built its first Charging Lounge back in December as a hub for business and social meet-ups in a café-type environment while your car is charging.

It’s in Germany, so don’t get excited yet. However, whether you are a current owner or still just window-shopping, you can get excited about the myriad ways that traditional automotive brands and dealerships will define themselves as part of the EV revolution.


Editor’s Note: Sarah Marks is a car concierge and automotive consumer advocate for all things car-related. Sarah lives in Henderson, Nevada with her husband, Norman. You can ask her car questions at her website:


Flat-Out Phenomenal

The backyard sports court has joined a growing list of value-added home improvements.

Almost every person with older siblings remembers the first time they beat them in a game of backyard basketball. In those moments, the trees become spotlights, the chattering birds are transformed into thousands of roaring fans, and your Dorito-stained tee-shirt morphs into the jersey of your favorite sports team. Your backyard is no longer a backyard. It’s a colosseum of greatness and you are the superstar gladiator. What better way to gift your children that shot at glory than to build a sports facility right there in your backyard? It serves as a haven for family bonding, youthful development and boundless joy—with the added advantage that you control important elements of security and supervision. It’s also a great way to unglue your children’s faces from their screens and get them moving outside.

TD Sports West, Inc.

The traditional backboard-in-the-driveway set-up is still a popular choice, but you know kids these days. It may take something a little cooler (and pricier) to grab their attention and secure their buy-in. There is also another consideration: You may want to use it, too. So, depending on your budget, the size of your property and the interests of you and your children, everything is on the table, from batting cages and field hockey goals to basketball and tennis courts. Fortunately, you may not have to pick one and live with it forever. There is something called a “combo court,” which enables you to play up to 15 different sports using different equipment and markings. For instance, the same physical space can accommodate tennis, basketball, pickleball, badminton, volleyball, tetherball and handball.

Most people start with a single sport in mind and either go to their local sporting goods dealer for suggestions on builders, talk to a friend or neighbor who has installed a good-looking court, or poke around the Internet for ideas. All three have their pluses and minuses, but regardless of the path you choose, it’s a good strategy to begin with a checklist because this is an investment that, ideally, you’re only going to make once.

The Rule of 9

I checked in with TD Sports West, the go-to supplier of the Sport Court, a patented modular game court that is popular in the western United States. Marty Levy, the owner, has been at this awhile and helped me come up with the following decision-matrix “to-do” list:

1 Think about the sports your family plays. Take into account the age of your children, what they’re currently into, what they might be into in the future, and what athletic endeavors you yourself enjoy.
2 Think about how much space you have, and what percentage of that space you’re willing to devote to this project. Modular surfaces come in all different shapes and sizes. However, at the minimum, you’re looking at a 25’ x 30’ space for a usable basketball halfcourt. A tennis court-sized surface needs to be at least 60’ x 120’.
3 Check to see if your town requires you to get a permit to build the court you want. Be aware that most municipalities will not allow you to build a court in close proximity to any wetlands or over a septic system.
4 Take note of large trees on your property. Over time, their roots could damage the surface.
5 Consider where access to the construction site is likely to be. You may have to remove a fence or wall, sacrifice some landscaping, and vacate your driveway when the trucks and heavy equipment show up.
6 Pick the appropriate surface. Options include concrete, asphalt, synthetic turf, tile and modular surfaces. More on this later.
7 When it comes to equipment, triple-check to see that you’re dealing with a high-quality, reputable manufacturer. If something seems like it’s too good of a deal, it probably it.
8 Check to see if the surface you choose comes with a warranty (many do). Read that warranty carefully and ask questions in case any future troubles arise.
9 Even if you are a skilled do-it-yourselfer, don’t do it yourself. Hire a professional who’s done it before.

Before signing on the dotted line, there are some other considerations you need to be aware of. Local zoning ordinances are your responsibility to understand, not your builder’s—no matter what your builder says. If you need to submit plans to the town or adhere to rules governing “accessory structures” (such as ramps or fences), by all means do so. Also be aware that your town may have regulations about the height, purpose, or proximity to neighboring properties even when your neighbors have given you a friendly thumbs-up.

Finally, give your insurance agent a call to see if your new addition will trigger any policy complications. Most backyard sports complexes don’t pose any issues, save for trampolines and skateboarding ramps, due to their high injury liability, but also check if you are covered should a neighborhood kid take a spill and end up in the ER.

Cost vs. Benefit

If this is sounding more complicated than it should, well, what isn’t these days? Is it worth the expense and hassle? I spoke with Marty—not the TD Sports guy, a different Marty—a father of two I remembered from my old neighborhood. Back in 2003, he built a nice basketball halfcourt for his children. He has never regretted that decision: “I would just say that the best part of the court was my kids thinking that they were playing at the Staples Center and dunking the ball like Kobe Bryant. I think those are priceless things for families to cherish and a motivation for people to build something like that. When you’ve got a family, do you want to create the place where all the kids hang out? I definitely wanted to do that. Things like having a Slurpee machine, and always having snacks and water, and being the place that was comfortable for all the kids was really important to me.”
Now to the $64,000 question: expense. First of all, can a backyard sports court actually cost $64,000? Oh, yes. Should is cost that much? Let’s take a look at some common backyard sports options and their costs.

Where basketball courts are concerned, the first decision to make is whether you want a full court or a halfcourt. A full-length, NBA-sized basketball court is 50’ x 94’ (4,700 square feet). One step smaller is a high-school basketball court, which is 50’ x 86’ (4,300 square feet). You can go with something smaller, of course, with hoops on each end. If you’re like most people and you just don’t have the space for end-to-end action, be aware that halfcourts come in all different shapes and sizes. Halfcourts range in size from the 25’ x 30’ for a “mini” halfcourt (750 square feet), to a “regulation” halfcourt, which is 50’ x 45’ (2,250 square feet).

The price of an outdoor basketball court depends on the surface you select. In general, your options are cement, asphalt, tile or a modular surface. Every cost has gone up during the pandemic, but assuming things get back to normal during the upcoming building season, a concrete court will cost you between $1.25 to $1.75 per square foot for the concrete itself, and $2.50 to $8 per square foot for its installation. Let me do the math for you: A full-sized concrete court will cost you between $15,000 -$45,000, while the larger halfcourt will cost you $8,500 to $22,000. A mini halfcourt will land somewhere in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Asphalt costs around $4 per square foot, so you’re paying around $19,000 for a full-sized court, $17,000 for a high school full court, $9,000 for the large halfcourt, and $3,000 for an asphalt mini court. Keep in mind that while asphalt may be cheaper, it’s more likely to cause injuries due to its naturally uneven and abrasive surface. My knees are still marked up from my blacktop basketball days. Snap-together tile surfaces cost anywhere from $3.50 to $4.50 a foot, so their prices are pretty similar to asphalt. What’s nice is that they often come pre-painted and they’re relatively simple to install. Lastly, modular courts are made of an advanced interlocking polymer web providing a cushioned surface that is both easy on the body and easy to install. The material is more expensive upfront but cheaper to work with. A lighting system to keep the games going after dark can be installed for under $2,000.

Tennis courts are easier to price out because they tend to be the same size. A tennis court’s dimensions, as previously noted, are 60’ x 120’ and you can’t really skimp on that number. The key decision is your surface option. Clay courts are typically the cheapest surface but require the most maintenance. You’re looking at a price range from $30,000 to $80,000 for a clay court depending on the type of product you use and the difficulty of site preparation. Clay courts are easier on the knees and the budget, but require up to $2,000 a year in basic maintenance and have to be “closed” for the winter and “opened” for the spring by a professional service. Most people in New Jersey opt for a hard court, which involves a concrete base and an acrylic surface. This type of court will cost you $60,000 to $120,000 but requires minimal maintenance. The only foreseeable upkeep is repainting worn court markings and occasional re-surfacing of the acrylic if any cracks appear, which can get expensive if you are especially picky about the playability of your court.

TD Sports West, Inc.

There are still some people crazy enough to install grass courts, which range from $50,000 to $150,000 but require a fat wallet and a skilled greenskeeper to maintain. The folks who are in this business are a dying breed but they are still around. The next best thing to grass, synthetic turf courts, run $75,000 to $100,000 to install, and are obviously much easier to maintain. However, they don’t offer anything like the feel of playing on a real grass court. Regardless of your surface selection, you will need fencing for your tennis court, which typically adds between $5,000 and $15,000. For lighting, if your neighbors and your town allow it, you can double that cost. Finally, set aside at least $3,000 to cover the cost of leveling your property and another $4,000 for creating some kind of drainage system, regardless of the court you plan to install.

Combo Courts

The combo court is a relatively new player in the sports-court game and it makes me wonder why these things haven’t been around longer. Time is an unstoppable force and, one day, your little ones will have grown up and flown out of your home nest. Existential crises aside, you are now faced with a colossal concern: What am I going to do with my outdoor sports court now that the kids are out of the house? The most obvious answer is to use the court yourself.

Which is why more and more homeowners are looking at combo courts, which, as mentioned earlier, can accommodate several different sports as tastes and interests and ages change. And so what if your above-the-rim days may be over, or your knees can’t tolerate more than the occasional game of tennis? Think of the other ways you can put a large, flat flexible space to work. Backyard parties and events—perhaps for a local school or favorite charity—are a great reason to keep them in play. My old neighbor, Marty, is already thinking about repurposing his basketball court (and Slurpee machine) in ways that have zero to do with basketball.

And why not? The time, money and energy you put into creating an awesome backyard sports court does not have to be about short-term payback. With thoughtful planning, it can pay dividends for the rest of your life.



Above the Fray

In New Jersey, over-the-top gardening is no longer flying under the radar.

As forest and farmland have yielded to suburban sprawl, cities large and small across the country are reclaiming the urban landscape and becoming greener. Much of this green revolution is taking root high above street level, in the form of mini-parks and farms sprouting from the unlikeliest of places. Fueled by increased sustainability concerns and the burgeoning locavore movement, rooftop gardens are everywhere—out of sight but, increasingly, top of mind. Take our nation’s capital, for example. In 2012, Washington DC added 1.3 million square feet of rooftop garden space. From ancient times, when Nebuchadnezzar hung world-wonder gardens from the terraces of his Babylonian palace, rooftop gardens have captured our imaginations.

Even on a micro scale, what apartment dweller hasn’t tended herbs and potted tomatoes on a patio or fire escape? Well, now “agri-tecture” has become big business. In Brooklyn, rooftop farms are practically commonplace— beehives hum, chickens lay eggs, and organic vegetables begin their farm-to-table journey. The benefits of these Edenic aeries are manifold. Besides creating natural spaces and gardens, and optimizing space, the greening of roofs increase sustainability by reducing and reusing storm water, countering carbon dioxide, improving quality of life and the health of building occupants. To some, a green roof is a purpose; to others it is a passion. One extreme example is the Pasona, a human resource conglomerate in Tokyo. It’s headquarters is green inside and out with, a roof sprouting sweet potatoes, green interior and exterior walls, and a hydroponic rice-paddy foyer, which is harvested several times a year. The rooftop movement differs from country to country, and region to region, but make no mistake— it has definitely taken root here in New Jersey.

77 Hudson Jersey City Installed by Let It Grow, of River Edge, NJ   Four years ago, this rooftop garden was installed in Jersey City on an 11-story paring building structure between a KHovnanian condo high rise and an Equity Residential rental tower. This was a huge engineering feat, as much of the parkland material was installed by crane. Built on Styrofoam and two feet of fill on nearly an acre, it includes a pool, hot tub, dog run, African fire pit, children’s play area and even a landscaped hill. Undeterred when Hurricane Sandy struck and wind-stripped the soil (leaving roots exposed), the building replaced the landscape with heavier soils, planted more densely and installed a glass windshield. According to Randy Brosseau, KHovnanian Area President, it’s all worth it: “The garden adds a lot of value to our residents’ lives, whether using the facilities, enjoying the parkland or enjoying the view of the plantings. The green roof to many is a good reason to buy at 77 Hudson.”

NJIT Cafeteria Garden Newark Installed in 2010 by “My Local Gardener” with Peter Fischbach and Julie Aiello  You can’t get fresher or healthier food than the vegetables that are served at NJIT’s cafeteria. For three years, NJIT students and faculty have enjoyed farm-to-table vegetables harvested from an elevated 220 sq. ft. organic roof garden outside the student pub. On an existing “green” roof—which already had a faucet—the design team installed 10 recycled flower boxes and filled them with a light soil that wouldn’t weigh down the roof. According to NJIT chef Peter Fischbach (right), who envisioned the project with Julie Aiello, Director of Marketing and Sustainability for Gourmet Dining Services (GDS), the campus food purveyor, they plant rotating crops of healthy vegetables four to five times a growing season, including lettuce, beets, tomatoes, squash, broccoli, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, peppers and peas. They also grow a large selection of herbs, which are used to season the food. Meanwhile, the garden has germinated other campus organic gardens. According to Fischbach, “The project has been so successful that it has inspired other colleges serviced by GDS—Seton Hall, Manhattan College, Kean University, FDU in Madison. And we are preparing to put in a garden at Bloomfield College.”

Revel Atlantic City Installed by Cagley & Tanner of Las Vegas Last summer, Revel, the upscale resort in Atlantic City, opened a two-acre Sky Garden to recall the beauty and ambiance of the great Atlantic seaside resorts of the past—following the practice of situating a resort in a garden that descends to the beach. While the hotel’s architecture is 21st century, the designers sought to enhance the vista with a mix of nostalgia and modern ingenuity. This homage to the lawns that swept down to the ocean begins, in fact, at 114 feet above sea level, and is landscaped for seasonal interest—with 20,000 plants ranging from native sea grasses to Japanese Black Pines that create a Pine Grove surrounding an outdoor fireplace. (Planting the large pines required creating a deep recessed area under the roof surface to allow for root growth.) Their hard work paid off, as the garden successfully weathered the forces of Sandy.

Extra Space Storage North Bergen Extra Space Storage, with its landscaped roof, definitely wins the “good neighbor award.” While only the on-site manager has access to Extra Space Storage’s rooftop garden, the company installed the nearly half-acre landscaping to “ensure an aesthetically pleasing view for all for the high-rise condo properties that surround our building,” explains Clint Halverson, Vice President for Corporate Communications and Investor Relations. The mechanics of creating a rooftop garden involve a number of variables: structural support, irrigation, installation stories above ground level, wind buffers and— not the least of concerns—waterproofing, root barriers and drainage. However, the rewards also are significant. Gardens insulate, reducing heating and cooling costs up to 30%. And they shield a building from urban noise. In the end, though, the greatest selling point of a rooftop garden is its aesthetic and recreational appeal. In a world of concrete, glass and steel, we welcome anything that speaks so eloquently to our senses and spirit.

Editors Note: Sarah Rossbach is the author of Feng Shui: The Art of Chinese Placement, which was described by The New York Times as the “bible of the practice.”

The Big Build Up

The Big Build Up

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Is there a second story in your future?

Moving up doesn’t have to mean moving out. More and more, owners of one-story dwellings in the Garden State have been addressing their space issues by adding a second floor. Yes, it’s expensive. And yes, it’s messy. But in many cases, “building up” makes more sense than shopping for a new home. There are any number of reasons to add a second story to your current home but, needless to say, they are all related to space. The big question is Why go through the time and trouble to do so if you could just buy something that suits your needs? Well, for starters, that would mean having to put your own (presumably undersized) house on the market for sale, or as a rental property. So there’s a major hassle factor. Also, you may be locked into a great mortgage rate in your current abode, or for some reason be unable to qualify for a favorable rate on a new property.

The most common answer to Why build up? is that you love your home, your neighborhood and your neighbors, and are willing to put up with the inconvenience in order to stay put. From an architect’s perspective, the primary challenges of designing a new home involve understanding a wide range of variables, and then reconciling them with the desires of the homeowner. The most cost-effective solution almost always involves using the existing foundation and exterior walls. A talented architect, working in concert with a structural engineer, should be able to check off most of the items on your list. For older homes—or homes that were constructed cheaply to begin with—there are going to be structural issues. However, rarely are they insurmountable. Hopefully, the solutions won’t bust your budget. Consulting with that structural engineer is a must. Understanding local building codes is obviously important, too. You’d be surprised to see what’s on the books in your town when it comes to staircases, ceiling heights, and room dimensions. The engineer should also be able to tell you with absolute certainty whether you can get the job done without tearing out your first-floor ceilings. This greatly reduces the mess and expense. From a builder’s perspective, adding a second story isn’t all that different than building from the ground up.

In most cases, the addition fits neatly atop the current first floor, and uses the existing exterior walls as the primary support. In some cases, a modular addition can be employed, which offers significant savings. It’s partially assembled on the ground and then lifted into place with a new roof, or under your existing one. The interior finishing work is not all that different than any other home remodel job. From a realtor’s perspective, it usually makes sense to find something with more space in the same neighborhood. Especially in depressed markets, finding more space is cheaper than creating it. Of course, that generates a couple of potential commissions, but the facts do bear out this position. The addition of a second story rarely recoups the investment when it’s done. On average, in suburban areas, at least, the number seems to be around two-thirds. In other words, a $150,000 second-story addition may only increase your home’s value by $100,000. This is math you may be willing to live with, but it’s math you should do (with a competent and trusted realtor) before going all-in. Among the classic mistakes homeowners make is assuming their current attic construction will support a second floor. It almost certainly won’t.

Attics are not built to handle second-story traffic. There is no cost savings to be had here—it’s not as simple as simply raising the roof and converting gloomy storage space into a bright and airy second story. Also, that attic staircase you’d planned on repurposing is unlikely to pass muster with local building codes when it connects the two new living spaces. If you do not currently have a staircase in your home, keep in mind that it will have to go somewhere on your first floor—and that you may lose a room. Speaking of which, the plumbing, electric, heating and air conditioning systems that serve your first floor will need a lot more space on the first floor to make it up to the second floor. Some homeowners end up opting for an entirely new and separate set of systems for the addition. Keep in mind that part of the expense of adding a second story almost includes a new furnace, AC unit and water heater. Another consideration is what you’ll need to do to the exterior of your home to make it come together. That re-siding project you’ve putting off the last few years? Now’s the time to squeeze the trigger.

You should also think about pulling together the interior. Indeed, a less common but still-critical mistake homeowners make is failing to really think through how the new second story will relate to the “new” first story in terms of how the entire home is used. Moving bedrooms to the second floor opens up all sorts of possibilities on the main level. If you determine how you might be using the first-floor space in the future, you can leave yourself a lot of options, especially if a new kitchen is part of the long-term plan. When it’s all said and done, a basic second-story addition will eat up a half-year of your life and cost you at least $125 to $150 per square foot, soup-to-nuts, plus professional fees. Depending on your desired finishes and a handful of other variables, the price tag of a 1,000-foot addition is likely to be in the neighborhood of $150,000. Does that make sense in your neighborhood? Ultimately, that’s a call you’ll have to make.


No Place Like Home

‘Politics as Usual’ is anything but in the Garden State

I’m betting you missed this news item last spring: The Center for Public Integrity issued a report ranking the 50 states in terms of their level of corruption. Not surprisingly, New Jersey ranked #1. But wait. This list went from least-corrupt to most-corrupt. Could it be that the Garden State has suddenly gone from down-and-dirty to squeaky-clean? Well, based on the criteria used by CPI to measure corruption, the answer is Yes. New Jersey earned perfect scores in categories such as Lobbying Disclosure and Internal Auditing. The report did point out that many states that had historically struggled with sleazy politics surged to the top of the list because past problems had led to strict enforcement measures. These measures created better transparency and accountability, and kept politicians on the up-and-up. In just a few years, the state of politics in the Garden State has gone from cesspool status to a point where it now boasts some of the toughest ethics and anti-corruption laws in the nation. How did New Jersey politics get so bad in the first place? You have to go back more than a century to start answering that question. Beginning in the 1890s, New Jersey went what can best described as “borough-crazy.”

The result was a collection of more than 500 municipalities, each of which controlled millions of dollars in contracts. This money was budgeted and spent by people who typically lacked the expertise to do so. In other words, there was a lot of money around and not a lot of sophistication. It didn’t take long for unscrupulous politicians to start manipulating this situation to their benefit. Bid-rigging, nepotism, conflicts of interest, bribery, extortion, out-and-out theft—you name it, some New Jersey politician probably tried it. A few were nabbed, but most were not. And even when they were caught, almost no one beyond a certain geographical radius was likely to hear about it. The major media markets of New York and Philadelphia didn’t have much interest in New Jersey politics. That made for an illinformed voting population and arrogant local politicians who felt as if they were operating in a vacuum. And, for the most part, they were. Some would argue that, in many cases, they still are. Is there an actual culture of political corruption in New Jersey? Although shows like Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos are constructed on this premise, the honest answer is No. The vast majority of public officials are basically trustworthy, mostly competent and, in a few cases, possibly altruistic.

The problem has always been— and may still be—that New Jersey voters don’t really harbor a sense of outrage when they get swindled. When we see or hear about politicians gone bad, we feel that somehow it’s just politics as usual. We shrug our shoulders and just move on. Shame on us. So how did we get to where we are today? It’s a long story of good, bad and ugly. To appreciate the sweep of history—and to get a feel for the politicians who have made headlines for all the right and wrong reasons—we present a brief Timeline of New Jersey Political History. For an “extended” version, log onto

The EDGE Timeline of New Jersey Political History

1665—The proprietors of the New Jersey Colony introduce the Concession of Agreement. It guarantees freedom of religion.

1674—The colony is divided into West Jersey and East Jersey. Burlington is named the capital of West Jersey and Elizabeth is named the capital of East Jersey. Perth Amboy will replace Elizabeth as the provincial capital of East Jersey in 1686.

1776—Five New Jerseyans affix their signatures to the Declaration of Independence: Abraham Clark, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Richard Stockton and John Witherspoon.

1776—The first state constitution is drafted and passed in a span of one week to prevent the colony from descending into anarchy after George Washington’s army is routed in New York by the British. It gave unmarried women and African-American men the vote, so long as they owned property, and gave all adults “who are worth fifty pounds proclamation money” the right to vote. William Livingston—a vital leader during the American Revolution—is New Jersey’s hastily elected governor.

1783—Mutinous troops in Philadelphia prevent the Continental Congress from convening, so the nation’s capital is temporarily moved to Trenton. Trenton becomes the state capital six years later.

1789—Congressman Elias Boudinot of Elizabeth delivers a speech suggesting a national Thanksgiving Day.

1838—New Jersey gets its first official black eye for dirty politics, when ballot-tampering helps five Whigs win election to the U.S. House of Representatives. After an investigation, their Democratic opponents are given the seats.

1844—New Jersey adopts a new constitution, this one enabling the people (instead of the legislature) to choose a governor, and separates the branches of power into legislative, executive and judicial. Unfortunately, the new constitution also restricts voting to white males.

1848—New Jersey Congressman (and future Governor) William Newell establishes the U.S. Lifesaving Service.

1860—New Jerseyans cast more votes for Stephen Douglas than Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election. Former Governor Rodman Price urges New Jerseyans to join the Confederacy.

1864—Lincoln loses New Jersey again, this time to Jersey-born George McClellan. It is the only free state to reject Lincoln twice.

1870—African-American men are allowed to vote again, thanks to the 15th Amendment. Thomas Peterson of Perth Amboy is the first to cast a ballot, voting in a local election. Townspeople award him with a gold medal to commemorate the occasion.

1875—The state constitution is amended so that New Jersey can provide a free public school system.

1881—President James Garfield convenes his cabinet and runs the government by telegraph from Elberon while his wife recovers from malaria. He returns to Elberon in September to recover from an assassin’s bullet. Garfield passes away on September 19th.

1893—In a ceremony at the Navesink Light Station in Highlands, the Pledge of Allegiance is given as the official national oath of loyalty for the first time.

1899—U.S. Vice-President Garret Hobart, a New Jersey native, dies in office of heart disease. President William McKinley replaces Hobart with Spanish-American War hero Theodore Roosevelt.

1905McClure’s magazine publishes a two-part story by muckraker Lincoln Steffens on corruption entitled New Jersey: The Traitor State.

1910—Aiming to curb the influence of Hudson County machine boss Little Bob Davis, Woodrow Wilson leaves his job as president of Princeton University, runs for governor and wins election. During Wilson’s term, the state is introduced to worker’s compensation and primary elections.  

1911—After being charged extra to attend a motion picture in Paterson, Minerva Miller, an African-American woman, sues the theater and challenges the state to uphold an 1884 law that promises all persons full and equal enjoyment of public places, including theaters. The law is upheld and the theater is fined $500.

1916—Walter Evans Edge tabs Atlantic City political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson to run his campaign for governor. With help from rising Jersey City power broker Frank Hague, Edge wins election in 1917. As a thank you, he immediately initiates plans to connect Jersey City to Manhattan (Holland Tunnel) and Atlantic City to Philadelphia (Ben Franklin Bridge).

1919—New Jersey is the first state to ratify Prohibition.

1920Frank Hague, now Jersey City mayor, passes an ordinance that requires anyone making a public speech in his town to first get clearance from the Police Department, which he controls. Without public opposition, Hague serves as mayor for 30 years (1917– 1947).

1937—Jersey City reports it has 160,050 registered voters for that year’s election. The actual number of residents of voting age in Jersey City is just 147,000.

1947—A new state constitution is adopted. It spells out new rules and procedures in virtually every part of state law aimed at plugging old loopholes and cleaning up past abuses. The effort is spearheaded by Governor Alfred Driscoll, and is aimed squarely at Frank Hague, who quickly resigns from office.

1953—With the creation of the Waterfront Commission, Governor Driscoll predicts that it would “drive the gangsters and the hoodlums off the waterfront.”

1954—Former governor Harold Hoffman admits in a letter opened after his death that he had embezzled more than $250,000 and was also being blackmailed for $150,000.

1960—After vast support for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, New Jersey voters give a slight edge to John Kennedy in the presidential election, helping him defeat sitting Vice- President Richard Nixon.

1962—Hugh Addonizio is elected mayor of Newark. Following his eight years in charge, a federal judge characterized his administration as “literally delivering the city into the hands of organized crime.”

1964—The Democratic National Convention is held in Atlantic City. Robert Kennedy receives a 12-minute standing ovation before urging the party to fulfill his brother’s vision. Nominee Lyndon Johnson goes on to win the election, and pushes through the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

1970—Kenneth Gibson becomes the first African American to be elected mayor of a major northeastern city. He serves four terms.

1971—A group of 28 Catholic anti-war activists are arrested after breaking into a Camden draft board. More than half are acquitted despite admitting their crime in what came to be viewed as a turning point in the anti- Vietnam War movement.

1974—New Jersey Congressman Peter Rodino chairs the Watergate hearings as head of the House Judiciary Subcommittee.

1976—The State Supreme Court shuts down public schools for eight days until the legislature passes a tax bill to support school systems in impoverished areas. It is New Jersey’s first state income tax.

1977—Governor Brendan Byrne signs a bill legalizing casinos in Atlantic City. “I’ve said it before, and I will repeat it to organized crime,” he says. “Keep your filthy hands off Atlantic City. Keep the hell out of our state.”

1982—The Senate Committee on Ethics recommends that Senator Harrison Williams be expelled because of his “ethically repugnant” conduct in the ABSCAM sting—an FBI operation aimed at ferreting out corruption in congress. He later becomes the first Senator in 80 years to go to jail.

1985—After a narrow victory over Jim Florio four years earlier, Thomas Kean is re-elected, winning by the widest margin in New Jersey history.

1993—Christine Todd Whitman ekes out a one-point win over Jim Florio to become the state’s first female governor. She is also the first Republican woman to unseat a sitting governor in a general election.

2002—Former Governor Thomas Kean is picked to chair the 9/11 Commission.

2007—Governor Jon Corzine is critically injured when his vehicle crashes at over 90 mph on the Garden State Parkway. Corzine, who is not wearing a seatbelt, breaks more than 15 bones.

2008—Five-term Newark Mayor Sharpe James is sentenced to 27 months in federal prison after being found guilty on five counts of fraud.

2012—Babs Siperstein (formerly Barry) of Edison becomes the first elected transgender member of the Democratic National Committee.   

Historical images courtesy of Upper Case Editorial Services  

Editor’s Note: Mark Stewart has written six books about the history and culture of the Garden State. He has a degree in History from Duke University, but mostly learned about New Jersey politics during his 14 years as a Hudson County resident.

60 Over Sixty

Life may not begin at 60, but if these folks are any indication, it doesn’t get any less interesting…


Rod Hirsch • Dunellen

Community Leader

A hero supporting our overseas heroes, Hirsch founded “Operation Shoebox” in 2005. It’s a volunteer-based organization dedicated to shipping care packages filled with all sorts of necessities to our military men and women far away from home.


Cathi Rendfrey • Delran

Community Leader

Rendfrey is vigorously involved in women’s rights, directing the Women’s Opportunity Center at the YMCA of Burlington County, which helps displaced homemakers gain economic knowledge through education, networking, outreach and job preparations.



Eric Maskin • Princeton


Maskin won a Nobel Prize in 2007 for his contributions to mechanism design theory, a branch of economics that describes how institutions function in the midst of inefficient markets. Maskin lives with his family in Albert Einstein’s former residence.


Cynthia Meryl • Westfield

Theatre Director

Meryl founded the New Jersey Youth Theatre in Westfield, serving as its Artistic Director and Master Teacher for more than two decades. NJYT offers high-quality theatre arts education at little or no cost to young people with the talent and ambition to make it to Broadway.


Jane Hanson • Montclair

Community Leader

As co-founder of Partners for Women and Justice, Hanson has helped thousands of women and children involved in domestic violence and abuse. The organization offers free legal services from many volunteer lawyers as well as a fulltime staff.


JoJo Starbuck • Madison


A four-time U.S. figure skating champion, Starbuck devotes herself to tutoring the newest generation of ice princesses at the Essex Skating Club.


Max Weinberg • Atlantic Highlands


The E Street Band veteran became a breakout star after teaming with Conan O’Brien. His new group, The Max Weinberg Big Band, plays the hits of the 30s, 40s & 50s.



Gloria Gaynor • Green Brook


Gaynor was the original disco diva, and she holds on to that title by continuing to deliver knockout concerts all over the world. I Will Survive has become an anthem for personal strength and self-discovery.


Bruce Springsteen • Rumson


Springsteen ranks among the most influential songwriters and performers in the history of rock. More important, you never know when he’ll pop on stage at a Jersey Shore club for a surprise set.


Zygi Wilf • Springfield

NFL Owner

A Fairleigh Dickinson grad, Wilf built malls and apartment complexes throughout New Jersey. He headed a group that purchased the Minnesota Vikings in 2005.


Stevie Wonder • Alpine


The master performer continues to churn out new music and electrify audiences after five decades in front of the microphone.



Bruce Springsteen • Rumson


Springsteen ranks among the most influential songwriters and performers in the history of rock. More important, you never know when he’ll pop on stage at a Jersey Shore club for a surprise set.


Zygi Wilf • Springfield

NFL Owner

A Fairleigh Dickinson grad, Wilf built malls and apartment complexes throughout New Jersey. He headed a group that purchased the Minnesota Vikings in 2005.


Stevie Wonder • Alpine


The master performer continues to churn out new music and electrify audiences after five decades in front of the microphone.


Nelson Johnson • Hammonton


While conducting legal research in Atlantic County, he pieced together the seamy history of AC and wrote a book. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Boardwalk Empire.


Southside Johnny Lyon • Ocean Grove


The originator of Jersey Shore Rock, Lyon inspired countless young musicians, including Jon Bon Jovi. His band recently returned from a European Tour to play an east Coast swing that included—where else?—The Stone Pony in Asbury Park.



Steve Forbes • Bedminster


Taking after his father and grandfather, Forbes published his first magazine while an undergrad at Princeton. As CEO of the publication that bears his family name, he is one of the country’s most influential conservative forces.



Sol Barer • Mendham

Organic Chemist

Barer is leading the research into therapies that turn incurable blood cancers into manageable diseases. A Rutgers Ph.D., he ranks among New Jersey’s most acclaimed and honored scientific minds.


Connie Chung • Middletown


The second woman to ever co-anchor a major network’s national news broadcast, Chung has worked for ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC. Did hubby Maury make this list? Read on…


Bob Hurley • Jersey City


Coach Hurley has led St. Anthony’s High in Jersey City to 26 state championships (and counting). He was just the third high school basketball coach to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.


Woody Johnson • Bedminster


Leader/Philanthropist The great-grandson of J&J co-founder Robert Wood Johnson, Woody serves as Chairman and CEO of the company and also owns the NFL Jets. He is an avid supporter of charitable organizations, fundraising for lupus, diabetes and more.



Bettye LaVette • West Orange


 LaVette has been pumping out jaw-dropping blues, jazz, rock and R&B performances for a half-century. Since moving to NJ a decade ago, the Great Lady of Soul has scored a couple of Grammy nominations and performed at the Kennedy Center.


Roy Pedersen • Lambertville

Art Historian

A noted gallery owner, Pederson has been working for a decade on a landmark book about the Impressionist painters of New Jersey. It’ll stir up a hornet’s nest in the art world when it’s published in 2013. Trust us on this one.



Danny DeVito • Interlaken


Whether playing Louie on Taxi or Frank on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, DeVito has a way of making the most loathsome characters utterly charming.


Deborah Harry • Red Bank


As the front woman for Blondie, Harry was the New Wave diva of the 1970s. She graduated from Hawthorne High and Centenary College, so she’s NJ all the way.



Mel Karmazin • Mantoloking

Entertainment Executive

The co-founder of Infinity Broadcasting in the 1980s, Karmazin pushed sports talk into the cultural stratosphere with WFAN, and later brought Howard Stern to millions of listeners as CEO of Sirius XM Radio.



George Benson • Englewood


 A jazz guitar prodigy in the 60s, Benson launched an epic solo career in the mid-70s with Breezin’. The album went triple-platinum, selling more than three million copies. In 2009, Benson was recognized as a Jazz Master—the National Endowment of the Arts’ highest honor.


Leon Cooperman • Short Hills

Business Leader/Philanthropist

The billionaire head of Omega Advisors devotes a huge percentage of his attention and wealth to charity and education. Cooperman has followed the lead of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in signing The Giving Pledge.


Peter Kellogg • Short Hills

Business Leader/Philanthropist

Kellogg took over his father’s specialty brokerage at age 30 and transformed it into a Wall Street market-maker. Since selling the company for $6.5 billion in 2000, Kellogg has been a generous supporter of countless causes, from his old high school to the U.S. Ski Team.


Joe Pesci • Lavallette


The quintessential pugnacious Garden Stater, Pesci was a successful child actor on Broadway and TV in the 1950s. He was running a restaurant in the Bronx in the late-70s when he got a call from Robert De Niro to audition for a co-starring role in Raging Bull. The rest, as they say, is history.



Muhammad Ali • Cherry Hill


Ali was the first sports star to use his fame to draw attention to social injustice—and paid a heavy price. All these years later, the three-time heavyweight champ is still revered as both an athlete and activist.


Bonnie McCay • Bridgewater


The Rutgers professor is known for her extensive research focusing on sustainable marine fishery conditions and ecosystems around the world, while stressing the significance of the adaptation of institutions, such as science, law and property.



Daniel Murnick • Bernardsville

Physicist Another Rutgers professor, Murnick pioneered the development of the Laser Assisted Ratio Analyzer—a breath test that detects stomach/intestinal ulcers, which replaces invasive surgery.



Roger Ailes • Cresskill


Say what you will about his politics or his TV network, but long before joining FOX, Ailes was already a legend as a conservative media consultant. He worked for the likes of Nixon, Reagan and Bush I, and engineered Rudy Giuliani’s first mayoral campaign in 1989.



Carolyn Clark • Long Valley

Ballet Director

The American Ballet Theatre performer used her knowledge and love of the dance world to fashion a highly acclaimed company and school in Livingston. It’s been flourishing under her direction since the 1960s.


Ben E. King • Teaneck Musician

King’s recording of Stand By Me had the unique distinction of being a Top 10 single 25 years apart, in 1961 and again in 1986. His nonprofit, The Stand by Me Foundation, reaches out to young people in Bergen County.


Maury Povich • Middletown

TV Personality

The father of tabloid infotainment is married to Connie Chung. They met in the early 80s when both were working in a Washington D.C. newsroom. His self-titled talk show has been pulling huge ratings for more than two decades.   



Pete Dawkins • Rumson

Athlete/Military Leader

Dawkins turned down a scholarship to Yale to attend West Point in the 1950s. Good decision. He won the Heisman Trophy for Army in 1958 and retired with the rank of Brigadier General 25 years later. In between, he attended Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and while there taught the Brits an overhand rugby throw dubbed the Yankee Torpedo.


Joyce Carol Oates • Princeton


Oates began writing at age 14 and has been on a straight path of success and determination ever since. Them, one of her first remarkable novels, has been followed by over 50 published works. She has been a creative writing professor at Princeton since 1978.


C.K. Williams • Princeton


 The Newark-born poet won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for Repair, his volume regarding forgiveness. Like Oates, Williams teaches creative writing at Princeton.



Alan Alda • Leonia


 During his years as the star of M*A*S*H*, Alda commuted from New Jersey to Hollywood so as not to uproot his family. Six Emmys later, his star continues to burn brightly, with unforgettable turns on series such as The West Wing, 30 Rock and The Big C. Alda also starred in the Broadway revival of Glengarry Glen Ross and the 2011 film Tower Heist.


Bob Lucky • Fair Haven


Engineer Lucky won the coveted Marconi Prize for developing the adaptive equalizer that quadrupled data transmission rates for modems and telephone lines. An expert on the relationship between technology and society, Lucky chairs the group appointed by Gov. Christie to oversee the redevelopment of Ft. Monmouth.


Robert Wilson • Holmdel


Along with Bell Labs co-worker Arno Allan Penzias, Wilson discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation that proved the Big Bang theory, in 1964. They received a Nobel Prize in physics 14 years later.



Thomas Kean • Bedminster Township


Our 48th Governor (1982 to 1990)—as well as the Chairman of the “9-11 Commission”—Kean served as President of Drew University for 15 years. Kean University also bears his family name.


The Amazing Kreskin • North Caldwell


Born George Kresge in Montclair, Kreskin was inspired by comic book hero Mandrake the Magician. Not a psychic or an illusionist, Kreskin nonetheless has an uncanny talent for predicting the future. (He knew you’d be reading this article.)



Michael Graves • Princeton


Renowned for his interior design and commercial and residential buildings, Graves also produced sleek, functional domestic items for Target. He taught for nearly four decades at Princeton and is the director of the firm Michael Graves & Associates.



Danny Aiello • Saddle River


Few actors can play ugly and violent, and also gentle and sensitive, as well as Aiello. Stop and think of the big-time films he’s been in—Moonstruck, Bang the Drum Slowly, Do the Right Thing, Broadway Danny Rose, Pret-a-Porter, The Godfather. Simply amazing.



Wally Broecker • Closter


The man who coined the term Global Warming in the 1970s has authored more than 450 papers and 10 books, including The Great Ocean Conveyor in 2010. It was Broecker who convinced Land’s End billionaire Gary Comer to devote much of his fortune to raising awareness about climate change.


Jim Bunning • Cherry Hill


The author of a perfect game against the Mets in 1964, Bunning followed a Hall of Fame baseball career with more than two decades of service in the U.S. Senate (R Kentucky). Bunning returned to South Jersey after leaving Washington in 2011.


Herwig Kogelnik • Rumson

Electrical Engineer

Among Kogelnik’s influential contributions during 40 years at Bell Labs were distributed feedback lasers, holographic data storage and multichannel optical networks. That last one is what makes the Internet work—take that Al Gore!


James P. “Doc” McGlone • Boonton


The beloved theater director staged more than 250 productions during his tenure at Seton Hall. He established an enduring Theater-in-the-Round tradition on the South Orange campus before retiring in 2011.


Bob McGrath • Teaneck


Known to generations of kids as Bob on Sesame Street, McGrath stands as one of the most beloved and trusted people in the history of children’s television.



Dick Kazmaier • Rumson

Athlete/Business Leader

Kazmaier appeared on the cover of Time in 1951 during a season that saw him win the Heisman Trophy for the Princeton football team. He turned down a chance to play in the NFL, choosing instead to attend Harvard Business School. Kazmaier went on to become one of the most respected figures in the sports marketing and finance industry.


John McPhee • Princeton


McPhee’s first book, A Sense of Where You Are, profiled fellow Princetonian Bill Bradley. Since then his work has garnered countless accolades and awards, including a 1999 Pulitzer for Annals of the Former World. McPhee’s roommate in school was Dick Kazmaier.



Mary Higgins Clark • Saddle River


The Queen of Suspense has pumped out 42 best-sellers. She has been the President of the Mystery Writers of America and served as Chairman of the International Crime Congress.


John Nash • Princeton Junction


The subject of the film A Beautiful Mind, Nash broke new ground on game theory while struggling with paranoid schizophrenia. His mathematical theories have a wide range of applications, from economics to artificial intelligence, and provide an intriguing prism through which to view chance and events.



Bill Jersey • Lambertville

Filmmaker/Artist See

Judith Trojan’s profile of Bill on the facing page.


Clark Paradise • Toms River

Community Leader

Clark and his wife, Jean (81), stand out among the thousands of selfless community volunteers around the state. The Paradises created Your Grandmother’s Cupboard to collect and distribute desperately needed personal-care items (plus food and clothing) to impoverished families in temporary housing.



Bucky Pizzarelli • Saddle River


 Pizzarelli was a guitar virtuoso long before it went electric, earning a seat in Vaughn Monroe’s big band as a teenager in the 1940s. He was voted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame last year.



Yogi Berra • Montclair


One of baseball’s great pressure players—and the author of countless off-kilter quotes—Yogi is a regular institution in his adopted hometown of Montclair.



Frank Lautenberg • Cliffside Park


The oldest member of the U.S. Senate, Lautenberg initially retired but returned to Washington after Bob Torricelli got into hot water. Before entering politics, Lautenberg ran ADP in Roseland.   



Melva Radcliffe • Wall


Yes, you read that right. Radcliffe was born in Paterson in 1901 and is closing in on the state longevity record of 112. She has survived colon cancer and two broken hips. Both of her sisters also reached triple-digits.


Editor’s Note: Is there an extraordinary 60+ New Jerseyan you think should have made this list? Tell us why on our Facebook page – EDGE Magazine (NJ).

Brush with Greatness

An award-winning documentarian is leaving his mark on the Lambertville art scene

Bill Jersey

How do you segue from a gig as Art Director of the 1958 sci-fi potboiler, The Blob, to become one of the pioneers of the cinema vérité movement? If your name is Bill Jersey, you grab your camera, prop it on your shoulder and never look back. The legendary documentary filmmaker—now a robust 85 and a fixture in Lambertville arts circles—laughs that his Fundamentalist upbringing on Long Island hardly predicted his future stature as a cinematic trailblazer. In fact, Jersey never saw a film until he ran off to join the Navy. He was 17. “The first film I saw was on the USS Arkansas, a battleship that I went on to the South Pacific,” recalls Jersey from his home office along the banks of the Delaware River. “I enlisted in the Navy to get away from home. It was my escape.” The G.I. Bill helped bankroll his undergraduate studies in art. “Studying art in college was the only thing I could do that was acceptable to my parents,” he says. “I couldn’t go to the movies, dance, drink, smoke, swear or play cards.”

After graduation, he put his paint box in mothballs and tested the waters at Good News Productions, a religious film company in Valley Forge, PA. “I told them I didn’t know anything about film,” says Jersey. “They hired me anyway, and I learned how to be an art director. I also realized how little I knew.” So he headed West to graduate film school at the University of Southern California. Graduating in 1956, he dipped his toe in the B-movie drama pool as Art Director of The Blob, Manhunt in the Jungle and 4D Man. But he was primed for documentaries. “There was something about wanting to connect to people in the real world and finding them much more interesting than working with actors with a script,” he says. “If you really care about people, they will know it, and they will open themselves up to you. And that’s what makes a good documentary.”

In 1960, Jersey launched Quest Productions and began attaching his own vision to a slate of industrial films for corporate giants Western Electric, Exxon and Johnson & Johnson. He won his first Emmy Award in 1963 for directing Manhattan Battleground for NBC-TV’s DuPont Show of the Week. Ever the maverick, Jersey never felt compelled to toe the company line. “I don’t do ‘promotional’ films,” he emphasizes. “I found you have to really try to understand the company better than they do. I try to give them what they need, even though frequently they would not describe their needs that way. The only way is by taking the big risk, the hero’s journey, to look at things honestly.” Jersey got a chance to kick-start that journey when he filmed A Time for Burning in 1965. Commissioned by Lutheran Film Associates, the cinema vérité Civil Rights documentary records the failed mission of young Lutheran Pastor Bill Youngdahl to integrate a large, all white church in Omaha.

A Time for Burning tracks the crises of conscience and faith that arose when the minister encouraged his white congregation to engage with black congregants from a neighboring Lutheran church. Despite his gentle, faith-based approach, Pastor Youngdahl’s impact on Omaha’s Lutheran community proved to be, as Jersey predicted, incendiary. “The Lutherans wanted a film about the church and race,” he recalls. “So I found a minister who had an integrated church in New Jersey and was being called to a big al lwhite church in Omaha. I knew he’d want to integrate it, and that there could be some tension. I met with the minister, who said, ‘You can do a film here, there’s no problem.’ And I thought, ‘Well, that’s what you think.’ “Look,” adds Jersey, “the church didn’t need a film about a minister getting kicked out of his church.

They needed a film about how wonderful the church was, and how Jesus was going to be loving to everybody.” Unencumbered by a script, narrator, captions, timelines or media stars and filmed with a minimal crew, A Time for Burning became a benchmark Civil Rights documentary that subsequently received critical acclaim, an airing on most PBS stations nationwide, and an Oscar nomination. It thrust Jersey to the forefront of the cinema vérité movement where he has remained for almost 50 years, producing and directing independent documentaries on such hot button issues as racism, criminal justice, gang violence, AIDS, Communism and integration. “For me, cinema vérité means letting the truth drive the story,” explains Jersey. “I don’t set out to prove anything— as many documentarians do. The difference between me and others is that I believe in being a participant observer. I explore options with my participants in the belief that our encounters will open them up to seeing more of themselves—not to see themselves as I see them. It’s a tricky business; but in my view, it’s an essential part of being a documentarian.”

A Time for Burning continues to be a staple in film schools where Jersey is a sought-after guest lecturer. In 2004, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the prestigious National Film Registry. Despite his résumé of more than 100 films, Jersey—with typical self-effacement—claims to have lost count of the awards and honors he’s received. In the mix are names like Emmy, Oscar, Peabody, DuPont Columbia, Christopher, Gabriel, Cindy and Cine Golden Eagle. Jersey continued in the winners’ circle this spring, garnering a Peabody Award for Eames: The Architect and the Painter. The documentary profile of visionaries Charles and Ray Eames had a healthy theatrical release in late 2011 prior to debuting on PBS as part of the American Masters series. It should come as no surprise that Bill Jersey—father of five and grandfather of five—has no intention of winding down. “On the contrary, I’m winding up!” he says with relish, as he now juggles two careers instead of one.

With a new two-hour documentary in the works—The Failed Revolution—about the history of the Communist Party in the U.S., Jersey has also enthusiastically returned to painting. He takes full advantage of the lush natural landscapes in and around his home, a charming 19thcentury boat builder’s cottage in Lambertville on the canal bordering the Delaware River. “We love it here!” he enthuses. “And since my passion is painting, this is a great community to be a part of.” A fan of painter Edward Hopper—“his use of light”— Jersey brings his filmmaker’s eye to his painting: “One of the reasons I like landscapes so much is I like being out in the country where the light is changing. If you’re painting a river, you’re painting something in motion. The light does not sit there for you. That lovely shadow from the rooftop that you love will be gone in 15 minutes. It’s a very alive process.”

Sharp and witty with energy to burn, Jersey spent his 85th birthday with his wife, Shirley Kessler, painting in Italy and enjoying his favorite sport—fine dining. He’s quick with a quip when asked if “80 is the new 60”. “Not in the knees,” he laughs, “but in terms of intellect and one’s capacity to engage in meaningful interaction with the world. That’s what keeps me young. Every day I read The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times because those are two perspectives I need to understand the world.” “Life is good!” admits Jersey, the eternal optimist. “With all my aches and pains, I am grateful—that’s the magic word—for every minute of every day!” There are Jersey tomatoes, Jersey Boys and Jersey Devils, but there’s only one Bill Jersey.

All photos courtesy of Bill Jersey

 Editor’s Note: Bill Jersey’s paintings will be on exhibit at a one-man show at the Bank of Princeton Gallery in Lambertville, NJ, November 15 through December 15, 2012. A Time for Burning and Eames: The Architect and the Painter are available on DVD. Judith Trojan has written and edited more than 1,000 film and television reviews and celebrity profiles for books, magazines and newsletters. Her interviews have run the gamut from best-selling authors Mary Higgins Clark, Ann Rule and Frank McCourt to cultural touchstones Ken Burns, Carroll O’Connor, Judy Collins and Caroll Spinney (aka Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch). Follow Judith’s media commentary in her FrontRowCenter blog at   


Out of Characters

My 30-day affair with Twitter 

I am a cyber shut-in. I’m all about stamps and dial tones. I am an analog anomaly, the subject of eye rolls and exasperated sighs from techie teens, two of whom live under my roof. I am part of the generation whose fingers did the walking across yellow pages decades before they touched a keypad. To me, Twitter “tweets” seemed like 21st century postcards—an old idea shrouded in new technology. Go to any antique store (or to eBay if it’s easier) and read the flipsides of those ancient souvenirs. Same number of characters, same depth of thought and feeling. Am I the only one who sees this?

Apparently I am. Nevertheless, one day my inner narrator whispered, “Look how much fun everyone is having as they fast-track through the ether world. Don’t you want to have fun, too?” So with deep skepticism and almost no eknow-how, I decided that I was going to give myself one month to figure out what Twitter was all about. My first hurdle was setting up my Twitter account. I felt an overwhelming surge of prickly heat before I even found the Twitter home page. Forget it. Too complicated. I listen to my body and it was telling me in every way that this was a stupid idea. Three days later I was enjoying a meal at the home of a friend who spends a good portion of his day inside the virtual world.

Normally I don’t have much to contribute when dinner conversation requires a degree in cyber-speak. Which is why everyone was surprised when I turned the topic to my brief and unsuccessful dalliance with Twitter. A Twitter account? Really? My host chuckled and said it takes about two minutes to set up. He’d do it after dinner. And that is how I had the Senior Chairman of the Visual Effects Society, the founder of the Visual Effects Awards— the special effects supervisor of countless big-budget movies—usher me into the world of Twitter. He even wrote my first tweet: Hi – I’m here. Sadly, it was probably my best.

My next step, I was told, was choosing people to follow. By the time we said our goodbyes, I had my own account, six people to follow, one tweet (or is it Tweet, upper case?) and had already absorbed a quirky story about New Jersey’s own Danny DeVito. If you didn’t know, Danny likes to tweet. Whenever he goes someplace new, he likes to take a picture of his bare foot and post it on Twitter. When asked why he does this, Mr. DeVito replied with a shrug, “People seem to like my feet.” I verified this story (with a couple of phone calls) and it’s true; Twitter @DannyDeVito and you can see photos of his foot. With a bounce in my step and a song in my heart, I announced to my teenage sons that I had a Twitter account. Silence.

Then, in concert, “No one will follow you, Mom. You don’t have any friends.” Yes, I do. “Are they on Twitter?” No, I don’t think so. “So, who’s going to follow you?” I slumped away. Before turning in for the night, I returned to the Twitter web site and discovered the How To Promote Your Profile option. I clicked on it, started reading, and promptly fell asleep. This is not how I learn. I needed to dive right in and get my hands dirty. I posted my first solo tweet: Writing this article for Edge magazine. How to tweet? The next day I had two followers. I felt great. I was liked! So, I tried another tweet to get more people: What happened with Katy Perry and Russell Brand? Is anyone surprised? I now hang my head in shame. What an awful tweet. Asking questions? Really? I later learned this was an efaux pas. Or a faux epas.

Apparently, another breach of etiquette is tweeting a response to a dinner invitation. You text that. Texting is conversational and more intimate; tweets are statements. I learned this from watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, my guilty pleasure. Still, I had two followers, which is two more than I’d had 24 hours earlier. They looked young in their pictures, and sounded young in their tweets. I decided I should try to pull in more young adults, because they seemed to really like me. Then it hit me. Is Twitter a popularity contest? This was just the kind of garbage that went on in high school, and I was right back in it.

The only difference was that the entire world could witness my fumbling, not just a contained environment like a school. Whatever unfiltered idiocy that spilled out of my brain and onto a page would not only be broadcast for the entire world to see, but stored for eternity in some cyber-warehouse. I know that people find this kind of “immortality” appealing. I don’t. What did I have to say that was worth saying at all, much less saying in 140 characters? The question is almost metaphysical, isn’t it? So naturally I turned to my older son, age 17, for sage advice. “Write what you’re feeling, or doing,” he said. “Write something people would appreciate.” Then he turned his back on me and resumed doing his homework. The meeting was over, but I wouldn’t leave. He mumbled something about status update. “What’s that?” I asked. Now, he spun back around and glared at me. “Why are you even on Twitter?” “Because I have to,” I answered. “I’m writing a story. Can I follow you?” “No!” Other people tweet with confidence. I’m not talking about the Oprahs and Kelly Ripas of the world, celebrities who use Twitter as a tool to promote their talk shows. Or Conan O’Brian, who broadcasts mildly amusing quips. Or George Clooney’s tweet about going to a baseball game and then saying goodbye because he has to change his user name. (By the way, did you know that Lady Gaga has more Twitter followers than the Pope, the President, and Katy Perry—combined?)

No, I’m talking about average folks, like my very first follower, who sometimes tweeted three or four times a day! She followed me because she wanted me to follow her, and I did; sometimes in horror, other times in awe. My follower “friend” tweeted that her mother called her an ugly weed so that she was never aware of anything until she was older. I wasn’t t sure exactly what she meant, but it sounded so sad. My very next tweet was from Barack Obama. It said In America we don’t give up, we get up. Yes, I thought, even ugly weeds can become flowers with a “can-do” attitude. Then the President tweeted that he was going to sign the payroll tax cut extension into law. My follower tweeted I’ve been out of work so long that I’ve forgotten how to hate people. Funny, but weird! The pressure to write something great was compounding by the hour.

I was riddled with performance anxiety. I would never have the guts to say something like “Color is an intense experience on its own,” and send it off into the universe unprotected. As a rule, if I am going to say something moronic, I want to be able to see how it lands on my listener’s face (because that’s half the fun in uttering banalities) or, at the very least, be able to defend myself. Tweeting, I was coming to understand, is like the speed-dating version of a blind cocktail party. Everyone is trying to impress everyone else, with nothing to back it up. However, it wasn’t until my younger son, age 13, began looking closely at my coterie of Twitter pals that total disillusionment set in. The young and attractive blonde woman who tweeted about all the racy things she wanted to do to other people, to herself, to me was not the flirtatious scamp I imagined her to be. Nor was my other follower all she seemed to be. I had wondered why she was always telling me about all the cool free stuff she was scoring—Playstation 3, Guess jeans, gift cards from Ikea and Best Buy, and CA$H—just by clicking onto a particular website or email. “Stop!” my son bellowed. “Mom, stop!” He demanded to see my Twitter account. I handed him my phone and after a few seconds he informed me that my friends were fake. “Definitely the blonde one is fake because all she talks about is sex and it’s an advertisement.” It is? He raised his eyebrows and nodded his head. “It’s hacked,” he said. “If you see a person post a link asking you to visit it, don’t do it!”

He repeated this warning to reinforce its seriousness. He refused to tell me what would happen if I did click onto these other links. Instead, he looked me in the eye, shook his head and murmured, “It’s bad, very bad. Don’t go there.” “Okay,” I said obediently, “I won’t.” But was he absolutely sure my friends are fake? Yes. Even the first one? The nice chatty one? Noting the disappointment in my voice, he tried to soften the blow. “Well, I’m not 100 percent sure about her.” But I knew he was right. She was a fake, too. Then, to add insult to injury, follower number one dropped me while my son was holding the phone. “Snap, crackle, pop,” he smiled, “you’ve been dropped!” Of course I was dropped.

If you have nothing to bring to the table, who is going to invite you to dinner? Alas, in my month on Twitter, the most followers I had at one time was three. And near as I could tell, only one was real: ABC News. I am still waiting for the dinner invite to ABC’s house, and will text my RSVP. The fact that I even cared about the number of followers I had ticked me off. It really did stir up all those 10th grade emotions and insecurities. Three decades after completing my secondary education, I not only had slipped back into the worst part of high school, but had discovered the worst part of Twitter.

I actually felt lonelier when I was on Twitter than I did when I was off-line. As my month on Twitter drew to a close, I decided the two things I liked most about it were the news feeds and traffic updates. But, what’s the catch phrase? Oh yeah, there are Apps for that. So is there a need for Twitter? Socially, there is a place for it, but a need? I don’t think so. As a promotional tool for celebrities and event planners? Maybe. My read is that this is a moment that is happening, and people are lapping it up. It’s an easy way to be heard even if you have nothing important to say. It is freedom of speech if you can crush your thoughts into 140 characters. Perhaps, deep down, what appeals to people most about Twitter is that it is evidence that you exist.

Hi – I’m here. See, proof that I’ve lived. I tweeted a total of six times. Technically, I suppose the number was four. I did not write the first tweet, nor did I author the last one. My oldest son wrote my final tweet, and although it is something I would never say, I posted it because he finally came around and tried to help me explore this cyber world that seemed so vast and so alien to me. With that in mind I give you my final tweet exactly how my son wrote it: – omg i think i might be obsessed with this new thing called #internet shopping. “There’s a pound sign in front of internet,” I pointed out, ever the editor. “Mom, that’s a hashtag.” “What’s a hashtag?”

Editor’s Note: J.M. Stewart lives and works in Southern California. She interviewed Joe and Gia Mantegna for the Hot Stuff issue of EDGE and is working on an EQ vs. IQ feature for the upcoming Gray Matter issue.

All Photos credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock


For the Birds

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

That suburban sea of emerald lawn may make your neighbors green with envy. But birds will give your yard the cold shoulder.

  • Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Birds will do more than fill your yard with their songs. Their skills at hunting less-desirable insects and cross-pollinating plants make them the kind of neighbors you really want. Given that New Jersey is a stopping-off point for dozens of migrating species—not to mention our year-round feathered friends—transforming your backyard into an avian Welcome mat is well worth the trouble. Open lawns are rather barren and sterile for wildlife. So says Scott Barnes, the Programs Director for the Central Region of New Jersey Audubon. “The more trees, shrubs, and perennials you can plant in their place, the more likely you are to attract birds.” According to the experts, attracting your favorite songbirds requires little more than some patience and planning.

  • Plant the right things. If you want to attract birds, you need to cut into that swath of green lawn—most bird experts recommend transforming at least 25 percent of your grass coverage into lush gardens to attract birds. The key, according to landscape designer Jose German, is to appeal to a bird’s palate. “Planting bushes and trees that produce berries is the first step, especially if you want to feed them naturally,” he says. “That’s the easiest way to provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts that many species of wildlife require to survive.” He recommends shrubs and bushes such as serviceberry, elderberry, winterberry, viburnum, blueberries and raspberries, to provide plenty of food and a place to perch. Flowers and plants also attract birds, but the key to appealing to the local bird population is selecting plants that are native to New Jersey. Consult the experts at your local garden center if you want to ensure that the plants you choose are common to your area. “The key element for anyone trying to increase and benefit birds in their yard is planting native vegetation,” Barnes says. “Native plants with flowers or berries provide important food for many species of wildlife, including birds.”
  • Provide water. “Water features are magnets for wildlife,” says Barnes. Birds need fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing—whether you go with a simple birdbath or a more elaborate pond or other water feature. You should change the water in your birdbath every two to four days—or as needed to keep the water replenished and fresh. Keep in mind that smaller water features will be more likely to attract the smaller birds, and a more elaborate pond with waterfalls and multiple pools will be more likely to attract a wider variety of birds.
  • Give them shelter. Birds need a place to call home— and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a prefab birdhouse from the local home improvement store. “Wildlife require places to hide in order to feel safe from people, predators and inclement weather,” German says. “You can convert your yard into a heaven for birds if plant bushes and shrubs that will feed and protect them from predators.” If you do want to invest in a birdhouse, choose one that suits the kind of bird you’d like to attract. There’s a big difference between what the robins want (a simple, covered shelf where they can build a mud nest) and purple martins (a grander, multi-roomed shelter).
  • Share a snack. While many birds can thrive on insects and fruit, others are looking for a different kind of feast— and an appropriate feeder can help you attract the birds you want, and avoid the pesky squirrels you don’t. “Selecting the right seed and the right feeder is important,” says German. “For example, nyger seed is high in calories and oil content seed, loved by finches and other wild birds. It is really small, so squirrels and big birds are not attracted to it.” The Audubon Society recommends using a variety of targeted feeders and feed mixes—such as a special hummingbird feeder stocked with one part sugar to three parts water—to attract the greatest variety of birds to your door.
  • Keep it au naturel. While chemical fertilizers and weed killers may make your lawn look golf-course perfect, they can damage the environment and the birds that live there. But fortunately, there are techniques for keeping your lawn lush without harming the environment. “You can have a beautiful lawn without all of the chemicals,” German says. Step one is having your soil tested to determine its composition, so you can develop a specific plan of action to amend the soil for a healthier lawn. Aeration is also key, especially if your lawn is heavily traf

    Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

    ficked. “Organic fertilizers are highly recommended at the beginning and the end of the landscaping season—it should be rich in organic material, like compost or compost tea,” German recommends. And to help control weeds, German suggests overseeding the lawn. “A thicker lawn reduces the opportunities for the weeds to grow.”

  • Go a little wild. Letting parts of your backyard become a bit overgrown and not-so-manicured—including allowing a few weeds into the mix—can help support a larger and more varied bird population. Long native grasses offer seeds and shelter for various birds, and other weeds can attract certain species. “A weedy garden with plant stalks and seed heads to search for insects in will help attract hummingbirds,” Barnes says. Leaving some dead leaves and twigs can help foster nest building for birds—or provide homes for insects. “A decayed trunk is good because it will host caterpillars and insects,” German says. Consider it a smorgasbord for your favorite feathered friends.

    Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

    Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

RARE BIRDS Beyond creating a safe and inviting habitat for birds, perhaps the biggest reward for the backyard birder is spotting a rare or exotic species from the back porch or kitchen window. Some are year-’round residents of the Garden State, but many more are merely visiting on their way north or south. It is an absolute certainty that, at some point, you will spot species you’ve never seen before and want to know more about them. So expect to familiarize yourself with the local Audubon web site, and buy a couple of field guides. Your largest additional investment is likely to be a new pair of binoculars. A lot of “backyard birders” keep them hanging by the kitchen sink or living room picture window. In recent years, optical companies have produced an overwhelming number of binoculars aimed at the bird watching market. Once you’ve completed your backyard project, it’s time to go shopping for a new pair. What are the rules for sorting through so many choices? Stick to these pointers for your first pair and you should be in good shape:

  • Pick a magnification. Unless you have a multi-acre property, 7X should do just fine.
  • Read online reviews. Pay particular attention to comments about the quality, brightness and sharpness of each model. This is what you’re paying for, right?
  • Do you wear glasses? If so, some designs are friendlier than others. Rubber eyecups typically don’t work as well as turn-and-lock eyecups. Glasses-wearers also tend to find compact models problematic.
  • Pick a price point that suits your family budget. If you need a new refrigerator, don’t spend $1,200 on binoculars. Price is determined largely be quality. The “mid price” for good binocs is around $300. If you want to test the waters with a cheaper pair, that’s okay—there are some decent ones available on sale for $50 to $100. Just know that you may be making another investment in a year or two. In terms of brands, you can’t go wrong with Bushnell or Nikon—and at the higher end of the spectrum Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski—but do 10 minutes of research before pushing the BUY button.

Better yet, instead of buying online, find a store that carries the models you’ve pinpointed as possibilities and try them in person. There is no right and wrong way to hold binoculars—everyone handles them differently. Feel the shape and weight in your hands, sense how they fit your face, and trust your instincts. This is especially true if you wear glasses.

The Lease You Can Do

The laws of gravity and unintended consequences have collided in the New Jersey real estate market. The result is a warming trend in rental properties.

Photo credit: AVE/Kormanv

Throughout the United States, our jobs, our investments, our savings, our confidence, even our very homes are at risk. In New Jersey, the decline in home values since 2006 has changed the very complexion of the real estate market. And many professional predictions for 2012 forecast a continued downward trend. One of the consequences has been a rental boom, with some statistics indicating that vacancy rates in the third quarter of 2011 dropped sharply to 5.6%— the lowest level since 2006. Unfortunately, this has also led to a decrease in rental inventory and an accompanying increase in rents, which reached a median last year in the Garden State of about $1,500 for a one-bedroom. For any homeowner contemplating a move in the near future, the dilemma remains unchanged: Is it better to sell or stay? For everyone else, however, the question becomes: Does renting make more sense? The answer may surprise you.

Photo credit: AVE/Kormanv

A Different Animal In the gold-plated days before the economy tanked, the vast majority of renters in New Jersey were people who couldn’t (or chose not to) cough up enough cash for a down payment on a house or condo. Since many mortgage companies were offering loans with no or low down payment and a cursory credit check, almost everyone with a pulse could own a home. Today’s renter is a slightly different animal. One of the biggest barriers to home ownership is building a nest egg big enough to buy the nest. Among renters canvassed in a recent survey conducted by Trulia, an online real estate search engine, 51% confirmed insufficient down payments as the reason they had become renters rather than buyers.

Recently federal regulators have been suggesting that buyers must put down as much as 20% and sometimes even more. Right now, New Jersey has the highest average down payment rate in the country at 13.71% according to LendingTree. Some 36% blamed their inability to qualify for a mortgage as the reason they rent. Either their income was too low or their credit was sketchy. My, how things have changed. Job insecurity is another characteristic of the average renter’s profile.

An uncertain future makes relatively short-term rental and lease arrangements a preferable alternative to long-term home ownership. While owning over renting had long been the Holy Grail of real estate investing, the analysts who crunch these numbers now generally agree that purchasing a home in the current environment is the right move only if the property will be held for at least several years (the longer the better). For example, a buyer paying $400,000 for a home with 3% down and a mortgage under 5% will only start to come out ahead of a renter paying $2,000 per month after four years! This gives the “let’s wait-and-see” renter solid footing to continue leasing, even in a buyer’s real estate market. Of course, some people by nature are simply not cut out to be home owners. These individuals prefer to leave clogged drains and leaky roofs to the super or the landlord. Add to that our state’s high real estate taxes, and you have another reason why renting trumps owning for those who can afford to be choosy.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The Foreclosure Factor So where are we in the home-buying market, at least pricewise? According to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index released mid last year, home prices in Northern and Central New Jersey were down 24.2% from their 2006 highs, and down a more modest 3.4% from 2010 to 2011. Some experts believe that we could see the beginning of a rebound in 2012, or perhaps in 2013. More, however, are inclined to think that the market hasn’t bottomed yet. They cite an anticipated influx of foreclosures expected in 2012. The foreclosure factor is likely to have an impact on the rent vs. own decision, although which way it breaks is anyone’s guess.

The normal flow of foreclosures was impeded for a couple of years after it was discovered that some major banks were “robo-signing” key documents. It has taken a long time to go back and untangle the paperwork problems, resulting in tens of thousands of people being allowed to stay in their homes. Soon they will be hitting the street en masse—presumably as renters—while their homes will be vacant and available for sale or rent. What kind of numbers are we looking at? According to Michael Bonner, Founder and CEO of PropertyPilot, a real estate data and analytics company, there are over 150,000 properties in some state of foreclosure throughout New Jersey that will hit the market soon. This could put more downward pressure on home prices for the next year or two, making uncertain buyers much more uncertain. Many will undoubtedly opt to become (or remain) short-term renters.

Photo credit: AVE/Korman

Upscale Options With more people in New Jersey renting and new construction slowed to a crawl, the supply of apartments is dwindling. Which means that prices are likely to rise. Vacancy rates are tightening, with projections they will fall to 2.4% by the end of 2012. That means that for every 40 occupied units, there is only one empty and available. As a result, some developers are actually converting their for-sale condos into high-end apartments for lease. That should ease some of the supply-and-demand pressure. More important, it creates a new and appealing product for the shifting tastes and elevated expectations of the New Jersey renter. AVE, a division of Korman Communities (a pioneer in corporate housing), specializes in the suburban midrise residential rental market. Amy Barricelli, AVE’s Vice President of Marketing, confirms that the rental sector is on the upswing and describes New Jersey apartment-seekers as a “growing, savvy and discriminating” clientele. AVE’s hybrid business plan offers both furnished and unfurnished apartment units.

The former are available on a daily-rate basis for relocations and professionals in between homes. The latter are distinctive, yet reasonably high-end with an average monthly rent of $2,000 for a one-bedroom. For that price, residents enjoy a friendly home-like environment filled with healthy and high-tech amenities and social activities. As to AVE’s typical renter profiles, Barricelli says that among the company’s three New Jersey communities, their current resident population includes some newly married, some recently divorced, some corporate types, some Gen-Xers and some boomers. All are looking for the bells, whistles and extra creature comforts that can be difficult to find in a typical rental property. Barricelli adds that Korman views New Jersey as fertile ground for future growth and development of this type of rental option.

A Home-Buying Comeback? As long as home ownership is part of the American Dream, it would be unwise to bet against a comeback. The coming wave of foreclosures may create a new surge of renters, however it will also reset prices in the housing market, and ultimately help to stabilize it. It will be interesting to see whether the homes snapped up in foreclosure end up in the hands of those American Dreamers, or whether savvy investors buy them and convert into rental homes. Who knows? There could be a rental bubble awaiting us. How ironic would that be? It is not as far-fetched as it seems. For now, the rental market seems to be flexing its muscle, although Standard & Poors has suggested that the current gap between buying and renting is narrowing. This could mean the only sure winners in real estate in 2012 will be the landlords, the smart investors, and the property managers. The one unalterable fact is that people need a place to live. And since home is where the heart is, these days it makes little difference whether it’s owned or rented.


Act of Faith

Transforming an imperfect space into something usable and new is easier than you think. Just pray you pick the right architect. 

Opening page: The historic Chapel at Ft. Hancock on Sandy Hook. It was poorly illuminated; the beautiful trusses and ceiling boards were hidden in shadows. I upgraded the lighting and electrical, converted side rooms into bathrooms, reopenend the boarded-up balcony, and now it can accommodate weddings and other large functions.

The scenario is a painfully familiar one. House-hunters pass on what they think is a train wreck, only to discover a year or two later that someone else scooped it up for a song and transformed it into a showplace. Old homes are full of exciting potential, but can also be petrifying. Whether you are renovating before you move in, or tackling them on a project-by-project basis after you’ve taken up residence, it’s hard not to think about Tom Hanks’s excruciating slide into The Money Pit. Right actor. Wrong film.

In Sleepless in Seattle, Hanks actually provided the correct blueprint for a major home renovation. His architect, Sam, had the ideal relationship with the homeowner. That job was going to turn out beautifully. I should know. As an architect who specializes in repurposing historic spaces, I’ve lived both movies. In Sleepless, architect and client had an ongoing dialogue, which also included the contractor (played by Rob Reiner). Issues were openly discussed and strong decisions were made. This is the type of situation that inspires a positive relationship, with the kind of mutual respect that delivers the confidence needed to move forward and make the transformation happen. Which is a roundabout way of saying that, before you trust your instincts and make a potentially life-altering financial decision about a great old space, you need to talk to an architect. We are in touch with the pulse of trends and issues that affect every aspect of a renovation. When brought on board early, we can help clarify the challenges, discuss different options, or even assist in the actual selection of a property.

When weighing a decision, particularly with higher values at stake—such as the purchase of a home to be remodeled versus remodeling your own residence—including an experienced architect in the conversation not only gives the process an exciting kick-start, it will probably pay for itself many times over. So, how does one start? Select a few architects to interview. Ask to see examples of their work and possibly go visit one or two. Have a prepared list of questions that represent your main concerns. Try to engage them in the kind of dialogue that is important to you. After all, you may be entrusting them with the very space where your children will grow up, or that you may retire in. The closer the relationship and bond you develop, the more in-tune your architect will be to your values and beliefs. These all eventually translate into the solution, the look and—most importantly—the feel of the renovation.

Open A Window One good piece of advice I can offer is once you’ve made your choice, gather all the information you’ve been thinking about to share with your architect. I encourage my clients to begin collecting images, articles, books and even physical materials they find appealing. Even if these items involve structures and spaces that are seemingly unrelated, they are extremely helpful. They are the window into your thoughts. The architect’s job is to interpret them. Using these as a starting point, we can develop a vocabulary that relates to, and works with, the existing property—but which might also reference your collection for inspiration to an entirely new and different direction. An early mentor of mine taught me how to engage and enjoy the process, as well as the reward of the product itself. We too often miss this by focusing solely on the budget, schedule and layers of tasks to accomplish. Taking the time to work closely with your architect helps to bring the importance of the function, aesthetic and space itself into view. Have faith in the process. Embrace it with confidence and trust rather than fear. You never know. Your success story could become the plot for the next Tom Hanks movie.

Editor’s Note: Bob Kellner specializes in adaptive reuse and sustainable design. As an architect, his portfolio runs the gamut from large-scale work (including the master plan for Bank of America’s Corporate Headquarters and for Ft. Hancock on Sandy Hook) to major renovations in iconic properties (among them the Waldorf-Astoria and Plaza hotels) to the diversity of more modest commercial interiors. Bob enjoys residential work as a balance to larger-scale projects for the opportunities they present to focus on details, materials and concepts that are more personal. He is the recipient of numerous design awards.

Need to Know

The easy questions are often the hardest to answer.

We asked a group of area experts & celebrities to weigh in on the really important ones… Am I good enough to sing professionally?

Anthony Laciura: In a sense, it would be simpler to answer the question Am I good enough to be a doctor or a lawyer? Often someone has a voice, but it’s not as endearing to the listener as they think. To determine whether someone has a sound special enough to build a career around, it takes a minimum of a year with at least one voice lesson a week. Professional singers have to learn how the body works and how to rely on their senses, how to keep an even pressure of breath so that the vocal chords vibrate at exactly the same rate. Remember, you’re dealing with a part of the anatomy that’s the size of a dime. It takes great patience on the part of student and teacher. I’ve been involved with singers who had really ugly voices when they began, yet through sheer will and study built good, long careers. Is it ever too late to start a professional singing career? There’s always an exception, but my gut reaction would be that if you’ve hit 50 and haven’t done anything yet, you might not possess the physical strength and stamina to launch a singing career. Anthony Laciura has performed as a tenor with the Metropolitan Opera for more than 25 years. His talent for playing character roles has won him an entirely new audience as a cast member of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Anthony plays Eddie Kessler, right-hand man to power broker Nucky Thompson.

Why am I always stuck in traffic? Bernie Wagenblast: The short answer is “because you live in New Jersey.” There are over five and a half million licensed drivers in our state and sometimes it seems as if all of them are trying to get to the same place you are! When you consider there have been few new highways added since the 1970s it’s probably no surprise traffic often is jammed. While you can’t totally avoid traffic, there are some simple steps you can take to minimize the delays. First, and most important, collect as much info as you can before you leave on trips of over an hour and, if possible, continue to do so while you’re traveling. Some of the better GPS units will warn you about congestion. There are a number of websites you can check before you go that will alert you to accidents, construction and even how fast traffic is moving. On some you can even look at traffic cameras to see for yourself how crowded the roads are. You can also dial 511 for traffic updates—not just in Jersey, but in New York and Pennsylvania. Second, most people know only one way to get where they’re going. Regardless of the length of your trip, always have alternate routes in your mind. Google Maps is one of the sites that offers alternative routes—pick the one you like, but print out the others in case you have to divert. If you hit a wall of traffic, you can switch to Plan B or Plan C without getting angry or panicking and getting lost.

Bernie Wagenblast specializes in transportation communications. He began as one of the original reporters for Shadow Traffic in 1979, and today you can hear Bernie’s voice on the trams at Newark and JFK Airports, and throughout the New York City subway system.

What should I order for dinner? David Burke: Always ask to hear about the specials. Are they seasonal? Do the match the weather? Are they really special? I was at an Italian place one night and they had 15 specials. To me that’s not special. There are certain things I find irresistible. Peking Duck. When I see that on a menu I automatically order it, even if I’m not in a Chinese restaurant. Stone crab with mustard sauce. Paella, but only at a really good place. I love Florentine ravioli with the spinach and the poached egg. In terms of seasonal items, you can’t go wrong with Copper River salmon or shad roe in the spring, and pheasant and venison around the holidays. And truffles when they first hit the season. If you are less adventurous and looking for reliable, a good restaurant should always do the simple things well—Caesar salad, roasted chicken, crab cakes, omelets, bread. Chef David Burke knows his way around a menu. He owns Fromagerie in Rumson, Primehouse in Chicago, Prime in Connecticut, and Fishtail, David Burke Townhouse and David Burke Kitchen at the James Hotel in Manhattan.

Katie or Matt? Terry Schaefer: As a Today Show producer I marveled at Katie’s capacity to wing it, ever so intelligently, like the girl in school who borrows your notes and then gets a better grade on the test. But Matt’s style was more my own. He comes to the studio every morning precisely at 5 a.m., ensuring two full hours to prepare for the show. He walks onto the set impeccably dressed just before 7, carrying carefully edited notes and questions for each of his segments, clipped together in perfect order, from hard-news interviews to cooking segments. Katie would arrive later, sometimes much later, and often read producers’ notes and questions at the last minute. She’d scrawl her own notes next to theirs, borrowing a pen to write, ingesting and processing information with lightning speed. Frequently she challenged the structure of the show, calling the executive producer in the control room with very last-minute suggestions, then she’d slide into the anchor chair with seconds to spare. But when the cameras rolled, there they were, side-by-side, each ready in their own way to deliver the news of the day, on America’s number-one morning show. Their easy chemistry and mutual respect was real. They valued their differences, even relied on them to get the job done. Each was a genuine pleasure to work with. Terry Schaefer worked at NBC News for 26 years, 17 of those as a producer for the Today Show.

 What is the difference between a $1,500 watch and a $15,000 watch? Samuel Friedmann: Design, materials, innovation and quality. The biggest cost of building a great watch comes before it is built. It’s in the blueprint. It takes two years and countless trips back to the drawing board to design a breathtaking timepiece. It takes 12 separate factories to make the components. Then they must be assembled into a work of art—a work of art that works. The finishing is done by hand, because a machine can’t “feel” when each tiny piece fits just right. When the watchmaker looks inside, he sees things like a solid-gold rotor, things that tell him this is a wonderful machine. When the consumer sees this watch that embraces the body, the beauty of the timepiece is obvious to the eye. Think of it as the difference between a house built by a good architect and a great one. Both look nice when they’re brand new. Only 10 years later will you know which architect was great. Samuel Friedmann is President of Gevril Group. The Gevril name has been associated with museum-quality timepieces dating back to the 16th century.

Do actors love to play wise guys as much as we love to watch them? Vincent Pastore: Absolutely. And not everybody can play a wise guy. You must do your research, know the character. Do you think Ron Howard or Henry Winkler could play the role? Chazz Palminteri, Pacino, DeNiro—they are true wise guys. Personally, I prefer no Dons in my organized crime movies. I like the lowlifes. In Donnie Brasco, Pacino played the lowlife role to a tee. I loved the last scene when he knew he was gonna get whacked. He put his jewelry, wallet, everything in the drawer. He told Johnny Depp, “I put my neck out for you, Donnie.” That was real loyalty. Omertà. The code of silence. I think the chivalry is what attracts the actors to those old wise guys that embrace Omertà. John Gotti might have been the last of the real wise guys. As a member of The Sopranos cast, Vincent Pastore created one of the most enduring wise guy characters in television history: Salvatore Bonpensiero, aka Big Pussy.

Why am I not making my own pasta? Teresa Giudice: Given that gourmet pasta can run $7 a pound and more—and that it’s so simple to do— I don’t know why. There’s something magical about making it yourself. It does take a little more time and effort, but the reward is so, so worth it. When it comes to making pasta from scratch, you need to buy a decent machine (there are good ones for $30 and great ones for under $100) and use the same basic recipe with only two ingredients: flour and eggs. What determines the final product is how you cut it. For most pasta shapes, the dough should be as thick as a nickel. For ravioli, which overlaps at the edges, the pasta should be as thick as a dime. Two things to remember after you’re done: add salt to the water after it boils but before the pasta goes in…and make sure your sauce is done by the time the water comes to a boil. Fresh pasta cooks quickly! Teresa Giudice became a reality TV icon on Real Housewives of New Jersey…and is now an accomplished author. Her second cookbook—Fabulicious!—made the New York Times Best-Seller List.

I’m 44. I’m single. What now? Norah Marler: Get comfortable with yourself; it’s okay to be single and at this time of your life it’s okay to be a little selfish. Enjoy some “me time” by doing all the things you haven’t been able to get to because you’ve been too busy giving your time to others. Perhaps you’ve been longing to go back to school or take dancing lessons, learn to ski or become a world traveler. Whatever your desires are, now is the time start living them. Then commit to the best interests of the person you love: You. Analyze your past, present and hoped-for future and develop a program for achieving that future. Make a list of what you want and what you need. Create a life plan that will fulfill your needs. It’s your life—create it as you wish, but you must follow a Think-It…Plan-It…Built-It blueprint. Norah Marler is 44 and has been single for many years. She is a passionate advocate for women’s health, safety and wellness, the author of No More Dating Pigs and the mind behind the web site.


Pied à Terre

Before grabbing that little place in the city, there are a few things you need to know.     

For many New Jersey residents, “having it all” means something more than a blissful suburban existence. It also includes having a small Manhattan apartment. In the chaos of our current economy, some Garden Staters—through skillful investing or trading down their now-empty nests to smaller houses—have turned this longstanding dream into a reality. The process is complicated, but it can be simplified by breaking it down into four decisions: finances, type of transaction, size, and location (probably in that order). And, of course, finding professionals who can help you to make each decision a realistic one. We’ll leave the money issues to you and your accountant. Just keep in mind that, in any real-estate transaction, you can expect to spend more than you planned to—and in Manhattan, you can depend on it. You’ll also want to investigate any tax advantages that might accrue to you as the owner of a condominium or co-op.

CO-OP VS. CONDO VS. RENTAL It’s worth mentioning here that, contrary to the situation in most American cities, co-ops are much more common than condos in Manhattan. One real estate broker, a specialist in co-op and condo sales, made a point of explaining that, all things being equal, condos provide a wider choice to the out-of-town owner, since many co-op boards will decline to approve buyers who want a pied-à-terre. Most board members will favor full-time residents, who are less likely to turn their keys over to a parade of friends who want to spend a weekend in the city. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the price range you’ve established, you may want to explore a rental apartment instead. It often involves a lower total monthly outlay than a condo, but keep in mind that you’re not building any kind of equity as a tenant, and that Manhattan is rumored to have been an Algonquian name meaning “Island of Soaring Rents, Major Capital Improvements, and Two-Year (sometimes one-year) Leases.” If you or your spouse works in the city, there may be a way to write off part of the monthly rent as a business expense, but as a rule the tax advantages of renting are not as attractive as owning.

SIZE, LOCATION & FEATURES These are the “fun” decisions, less fraught with legal and financial issues and easier to figure out. The price of an apartment is determined by a combination of the square footage, location and amenities. The more you know about the value of each in the constantly shifting sands of New York City’s co-op, condo and rental market, the more bang you’ll get for your buck. The bells and whistles that drive up the price include having a doorman, a terrace, a non-closetsized kitchen and a good view. But you knew that already. Not everything, however, is intuitive to the out-of-towner. For example, discrepancies in prices between one-bedrooms and studios may not be overwhelming. Neighborhoods that seem on-the-fringe when you’re visiting the city may actually be on the cusp. And that Upper East Side neighborhood that used to be out of reach when you were twentysomething and just out of college? Well, there’s good news on that front, too. Manhattan has changed dramatically (Gothamites like to do everything dramatically) in the last 20 years. Areas like Tribeca, the Flatiron district, the Lower East Side, and the Meatpacking district—where most apartments were once cheap, but often of dubious quality and lacking in amenities—have become the hottest residential neighborhoods in town. Consequently, the Upper East Side, once the magnet for people of means looking for apartments, has become relatively reasonable. It’s one of six neighborhoods in the city that offers good deals, interesting features or a little of both: Wall Street: Numerous palatial old office buildings in the Financial District, abandoned by brokerage firms, have been converted to apartments.

They feature high ceilings, great detailing, and virtually bomb-proof construction. Many have extraordinary harbor views. The neighborhood is safe, because there’s almost no activity down there after the offices close up in the evenings and on weekends. Great transportation, good values, peace and quiet—but you’ll be trekking to Chinatown for groceries. Battery Park City: Safe, serene, secluded and new—the oldest buildings only date to the mid-’80s. Self-contained, with stores, restaurants, doctors, and a movie theatre. There’s a yacht basin, should you choose to navigate back and forth across the Hudson. The negatives: getting anywhere else in Manhattan can be a chore, and, somehow, the grit and energy of Manhattan are muted, almost mallified (if not mollified). Chelsea: Between 14th and 23rd Streets, west of Sixth Avenue. Restaurants by the score, endless nightlife, lots of culture (music, dance, theatre, and one of the city’s biggest gallery scenes). The far western reaches are a bit isolated, and most of the bargains are gone, but you’re in walking distance of most of what makes it worthwhile to put up with the city. The Garment District/Flower District: Roughly, Sixth to Eighth Avenues, 23rd Street to 42nd Street. Until recently, a desolate stretch of loft buildings, factories, storefronts, and tenements. Largely rebuilt, including an eye-popping stretch of towers on almost every block of Sixth Avenue from 23rd to 34th Streets. Variable values, and the area retains distinct traces of funky, unsanitized, pre-war New York, but there’s easy access to the Flatiron, boasting one of the biggest groupings of topflight restaurants in the city, and the bright lights and theatres of Times Square. Tudor City: A little-known enclave overlooking the United Nations. Very safe, lovely parks, river views from some apartments. Walking distance to midtown, frequent buses to the Theatre District. A word from a broker who has done many deals here: caveat emptor—the apartments tend to be smaller than in other areas, and this is an older development—some of the units will need work. Nonetheless, the values are excellent and there is a distinctly Old World flavor that many find enchanting. The Upper East Side: Overbuilding, and the preference of many young singles for more exotic neighborhoods from Williamsburg to Harlem, has left a lot of empty apartments here. There’s no fire sale; prices have held steady, as landlords anticipate the economy’s resurrection, but you can negotiate a good deal if you do your homework. This is the famous Silk Stocking district, ancestral home to the rich and famous. Proximity to some of the world’s greatest museums, such as the Metropolitan, MOMA and the Guggenheim (although the Whitney is moving to the Meatpacking district), world-class restaurants, Central Park and, depending on how far east you go, river views.

DOLLARS & SENSE All well and good, but you’re still asking, “How much?” There’s no easy answer. However, speaking with various knowledgeable brokers, and checking the Real Estate section of The New York Times and the listings in Trulia you can come up with some ballpark figures. There is a large stock of condos—particularly studios and smaller one-bedroom—in areas that are neither too pricey nor too unappealing, that are listed for anywhere from $200,000 to $600,000. You can, of course, pay multiples of those prices for apartments with particular features, but that’s the range for the typical pied-à-terre in a fun and convenient neighborhood. Rents in the same neighborhoods for something decent start at around $2500 a month and skyrocket from there. To get a feel for the city, which seems to change overnight, link to blogs like Curbed NY, New York Condo or, for the statistically literate, UrbanDigs. But in the end, the best way to find your dream pied à terre is to put on some comfortable shoes and start walking. New York has always been a town for strolling, and that’s how you’ll find the true, and often not immediately evident, nature of its neighborhoods.

The Home Run

Photo courtesy of Frank IsoldiIt’s that time of year again. For Sale signs are popping up everywhere you look. And once again, it’s a buyer’s market this summer. House hunters can afford to be picky, and they should be. Holding out for something extraordinary—price wise, property-wise or both—is half the fun of the hunt! When’s the best time to make your move? When the stars align and you walk into a home with some feature that blows away everything else you’ve seen. A charming front porch. A killer kitchen. The master bath of your dreams. A suburban oasis in the backyard. There are a lot of names for the house that speaks to you in that deep, intimate way. We call it the Home Run.



RECIPE FOR SUCCESS • Westfield The owners of this 1880s bungalow pulled off the impossible—a thoroughly m

Photo courtesy of Shari Holtzman

odern kitchen while maintaining the home’s Arts & Crafts charm and functionality.

VISION IN WHITE • Westfield “Heavenly” isn’t a word one uses to describe a bathroom, but in this case it’s totally appropriate. That claw-foot tub is an updated take on a Victorian classic.

Photo courtesy of Frank Isoldi

FRONT AND CENTER • Westfield Colonial Revival architecture can be kind of a yawnfest, but the curb appeal of this unusual 1920s eye-opener carries through all 12 rooms.

Photo courtesy of Irene Katz

RULE THE POOL • Scotch Plains Every homebuyer needs a tipping point. After touring the interior of this suburban contemporary, it’s the pool that says “Jump right in!”

Photo courtesy of Joan Kylish

CLOCK WATCHER • North Plainfield Technically, it would be incorrect to call this magnificent 1911 converted gatehouse a “timeless beauty.” No winding required.

BEAM ME UP • Westfield Vaulted ceilings, leaded glass, original wood planking, stone fireplaces—we surrender! It’s another gatehouse, this one constructed in Wychwood circa 1928.

Photo courtesy of Sherrie Natko

Editor’s Note: Each of these properties was on the market as of May 15, 2011. For more information contact the listing brokers. All have 908 area codes: Shari Holtzman 233–5555 ext. 210; Frank Isoldi 233–5555 ext. 202; Irene Katz 301–2892; Joan Kylish 301–2043; Sherrie Natko 233–3014.

Driving Ambition

Mike and Suzanne are what some would call the classic suburban power couple. They are generous, good-natured and successful. Both are fit, focused and—when it comes to sports— fearsome competitors. Naturally, their teenage sons have followed in their parental footsteps. Michael (15) is a member of a state championship swim team. George (17) is nationally ranked at two miles and a member of the winning 4 x 800 prep relay team at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden. Along with their growing collection of ribbons and trophies, the boys have also acquired the less than- charming adolescent swagger that comes with the realization that they can now best Mom and Dad in almost any sport they choose. One notable exception? Operating an automobile. Neither yet has the means (nor the license) to prove what, to them, is a foregone conclusion: that they are “better drivers” than their mother. This is the same woman, lest they forget, who has chauffeured them flawlessly to and from more practices and meets than they can, or she cares to, remember. Water under the bridge, Mom. It’s all about what you can do, not what you’ve done. And so it was with considerable enthusiasm that Suzanne accepted the opportunity to put her two backseat drivers in the front seat for a Family Race one Thursday evening in March at Pole Position Raceway, the indoor karting venue located near the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. She admits she was itching to teach Michael and George a lesson as all three pulled on their helmets and strapped themselves into their karts (which—because of Michael’s age—were limited to a still-speedy 30 mph). Suzanne also admits to underestimating the fact that her sons work together like Velociraptors. With their three vehicles lined up one behind the other to start, the boys insisted she have the honor of taking the lead kart. In almost any race, both teens knew, you want your adversary ahead of you so you can choose the time and place of their ultimate defeat. In other words, she was dead meat before they started their engines. The flag dropped and the three roared into the first turn. Moments later, Suzanne found herself in third place. A nudge from George and then a stronger bump from Michael sent her into the black-and-yellow padded barrier. By the time she got back up to speed, she was playing catch-up. She never did close the gap on her sons, who showed her no mercy and gave her no daylight. They were too busy fighting for fraternal supremacy. George edged Michael at the finish line, with Suzanne a few heartbeats behind. “I should have realized they would never let me win,” she says bemusedly. “Even though I’m their mother, they will still win at any cost. The mistake I made was that I never should have started in front of them.” In the days that followed, as Suzanne returned to chauffer duties, mother and sons had something new to discuss: the fact that they were now officially, indisputably and undeniably “better drivers” than she—against a wealth of evidence still to the contrary. Suzanne reminded Michael and George that she had nearly caught up to them after they sent her into the wall. They corrected their mother, informing her that she had actually fallen a full lap behind! Shifting gears quickly, Suzanne pointed out that handling a kart at 30 mph takes considerably less skill and experience than zig-zagging through Turnpike traffic at 75 (although for the record she has never done that). Blank stares. Exasperated, Suzanne said that intentionally running your materfamilias off the road doesn’t make you a “better driver”—it makes you a dangerous one. Michael and George refused to dignify their mother’s accusations of collusion and dirty driving. Both maintain that Suzanne was the unfortunate victim of an unlucky accident. Looking back, Suzanne says the only humiliation she actually suffered that evening was being photographed on the victory stand with her boys (now both six-footers) towering over her. Otherwise, it was a tremendous experience. “It was very entertaining,” she says. “We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It’s a great place. We hung out for an hour after the race. The people there couldn’t be nicer.” Okay, down to brass tacks. In a return engagement, does Suzanne think she would avenge her defeat? “I do,” she says with a competitive smirk. And just how? “No way I’m divulging my strategy! Let’s just say that Mom’s still got a few tricks up her sleeve.” EDGE

Editor’s Note: Pole Position ( is located off Exit 14B of the New Jersey Turnpike and is open seven days a week. Family Races are run Monday thru Thursday. Direct: