How the CARES Act is giving you Time to get a Fresh Start

By: Max L. Rosenberg
Bankruptcy Attorney
Rosenberg, Whewell, and Hite, LLC

To many, the extension of the unemployment benefits associated with the CARES Act was a breath of fresh air. Additional funds can go a long way to putting food on the table, keeping the lights on, and putting your mind at ease.

During this devastating time of crisis in our country, we should take stock of our own situations and look f or ways to improve our mental health, physical health, and our financial health. Personally, I took up acrylic painting. My family has filled our walls with YouTube Artist tutorial inspired color and technique. It has been one of the greatest outlets for us to mentally unwind at the end of a stressful day filled with uncertainties. We have kept ourselves safe from COVID by disconnecting from the outside world and staying socially distant from friends and family. It has been challenging, lonely, and it feels like a real sacrifice.

Financial health is trickier. Like many, my family has had to evaluate our choices and shift accordingly. It’s not easy to admit or face that business is hard right now. Not only for us, but for many of you out there who own a business that depends on customers physically being in your store or providing a service for people in person.

Money is tight. Incomes have decreased. Many are facing the difficult task of choosing between spending funds on food, medicine, or electricity. While utility companies, like UI, Eversource, and Southern CT Gas, are not shutting homeowners down yet, that day will come.

Landlords are not evicting but back rent is building. The foreclosure moratoriums are extended, but the balance due is rising. These are cold hard facts of life. They are unpleasant to think about and they are hard to face. The stress of the pandemic, a work or school from home “new normal”, and the myriad of life restrictions is hard enough without facing a crushing ever growing mountain of debt.

Why am I pointing all of this out to you? My dear reader, it’s time to evaluate your situation.
Are you taking this time to pay down your debt by keeping up with interest payments or minimum
payments due? It’s important to see where that money is going and how it is serving you. The answer
to the latter is that it is not serving you at all, but it is paying the credit card companies their salaries.

Did you know that credit card companies make most of their money from interest and fees? That’s
right. Your CARES Act Stimulus payment or Unemployment payment you have been provided from
the federal government to help keep you afloat, that you used to pay the minimum balance or interest
only payment to your credit card minimum balance due of $35 just helped pay for the CEO’s cup of
coffee. Nice!

COVID Cares Act does NOT stop credit card companies and debt collectors from going after you for
debt owed to them. Most companies are now offering deferments or accommodations for paying
back the debt, but you have to be very careful about the fine print. They may still be charging
you interest during that time. While you were very careful to buy the clothes, groceries, or other
necessities on sale, your interest rate on your card you used may erase any savings you may have had.

Is that fair? Maybe, who’s to say what fair really is these days. It’s the truth of the matter, which is
what affects you and your financial health. Carrying credit card debt and other debts is a burden. This
is especially painful if you got into unmanageable debt through no fault of your own. Pandemic
restrictions and other life factors affect us all at inopportune times. As is usually the case in life, we
all have to find our own way out of this mess.

The debt you owe and may be on hold for now, during the national emergency, is not going away.
When the fog of the pandemic is lifted, and we start to open the doors to business as ‘usual’ again,
how will your finances look?

Can you see how you will get out of debt before that happens? If you have over $10,000 in credit
card debt, Medical debt, mortgage arrearage, and other financial obligations, and no foreseeable way
out, it’s time to listen up. There is a way out!

Debt relief is around the corner and waiting for you to knock on the door. Bankruptcy can be your
ticket. I know, I know I said the bad “B” word that makes some people feel like they have failed in
adulting life. Stop that! You have not failed. You have not ruined your future. Bankruptcy has saved
countless futures, helped countless families, and has made it possible for so many to start fresh and
open path to success.

Imagine now, if you are collecting unemployment or receiving other relief from the CARES Act, that
you no longer have to use any portion of that relief to pay your fees and interest only payments on
credit cards or medical bills and not face consequences debt collectors calling you.
Imagine that you can actually stop paying a mortgage that you cannot afford. Imagine your UI bill
that has been on hold for 10 months suddenly reset. Imagine the debt collectors stop calling you and
you don’t have to screen your calls anymore. Imagine waking up and not being on the hook for
crushing medical debt.

No more debt means you can make choices that will help you and your family. Stop struggling to
keep above water and sit on the boat of debt free life. Use the stimulus checks to help your family get
food on the table. Use your boosted unemployment to help you get the tools you need for a new and
better job. You have the power to take control of your financial situation. It’s just a phone call away.

Call an experienced bankruptcy attorney. I will help you find the freedom in your financial situation.
It is never too late to get your fresh start.

Back to my original title question, “How the CARES Act is giving you time to get a fresh start”, it
is giving you a foreclosure moratorium, no evictions, no shut down of utility services, a stimulus
payment, and unemployment boosts. These are all intended to give you timeto act, decide, and
adjust. Call today to take a step that will help your family for years to come. Become debt free and
take control of your financial life again.

Tea for Two (or more)

Open Door Tea

By Sally Head
Correspondent

Open Door Tea, located at 3552 Main Street, Stratford, is a quaint, little tea shop that serves tea, coffee, fresh juices and delightful delicacies- with gluten-free and vegan options.

Open Door Tea, literally opened its door in 2016 and has been serving tea and homemade food ever since. The owner, Kasia Lindeberg, who has her Masters in Human Nutrition, had a passion of merging her knowledge of the healthful benefits of herbs and teas to bringing the community together, so in September of 2016, her dream became reality.

According to Lindeberg, her passion in life is to drink from all over the world and to spread the good news and the health benefits of tea. Opening Open Door Tea was an expansion of her dream to serve good food, using only pure ingredients, to help people maintain their good health.

Currently Open Door Tea is only open for takeout. Customers can still enter the shop to place their orders, or they can call the shop directly at (203) 345-9659 for curbside pickup. You can also order from a take-out app, e.g. Uber Eats or GrubHub. You can also book a virtual Tea Tasting Party, a fun and educational way to learn more about teas: where they come from, how to serve them, and even how to bake with them (teas are versatile and not just for sipping).

These guided tea tasting can be for small or large group gathering. According to Lindenberg, “they are a great way to learn about teas and the areas they come from. Everyone enjoys the teas tasting and tea tours.”

All teas served are sourced from a variety of small farms from around the world, especially in the tea regions, China, and India, or they are carefully blended inhouse to create a unique tea experience. With over 100 tea varieties, you are sure you will find a tea you like.

Before Covid, you would be able to get a whiff of your tea to make sure you like it, now you can rely on the knowledge of the staff to answer any of your tea questions. There are also varying types of tea such as black, green, Rooibis, and white tea. If this is not your “cup of tea” they also have coffee or fresh juice.

Of course you cannot have a tea without a scrumptious treat or a light meal. At Open Door, they serve pastries, sandwiches, salads, soups, quiches and other small delicacies. Check out their menu by visiting: https://opendoortea.com/pages/menu.

Open Door is a great place to get a nice afternoon pick me up or even an early morning breakfast. The knowledgeable staff welcomes your questions and concerns, especially when it come to allergies, and food sensitivities. They cover them all as best as they can.

Lindeberg saw her tea room as a way to bring the community together to live, learn and love. Even the name of the tea shop came as an inspiration from the bible verse in Revelation 3:20. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.” As Ms. Lindeberg shares, “we are an open door to all to enter and I look forward to opening my doors again soon for everyone to come back and dine in.”

Open Door Tea is currently open Monday-Saturday 11-4 pm. Take out only. For more information visit http://opendoortea.com/.

Back to the Future

Time to Reflect and Move Forward

By Osi Rosenberg
Real Estate Correspondent
A to Z Realty, LLC
osi@atozct.com/www.atozct.com

Welcome to 2021. Its time reflect on the past year, and look on to the new one. While the real estate market soared in Stratford throughout the pandemic and many people moved in and out of our small town, one thing remained constant, our sense of community and neighborly love. Regardless of how you feel about the events of 2020, I believe that we all shone through the darkest days with compassion and resilience, and for that, I am forever grateful to all of you.

The question we are all asking ourselves now is, “What does our future hold in the real estate market in Stratford?”. To figure this out, we start with a look back at the last few years. Almost 1,000 homes were purchased in Stratford in 2020. An increase of almost 100 homes sold from the 2019. This is significant as the global pandemic raged through the country, our town was flooded with home purchases.

I decided to investigate how Stratford stands up in relation to our neighboring towns of Trumbull, Bridgeport, and Shelton. These three towns are, as you well know, are part of Fairfield County, and each have their own attractive qualities to draw in potential buyers and new homeowners. I also remember that Bridgeport, being the largest city in the state, would be expected to have higher numbers of closed homes in any given year, just by the advantage of shear geographic size. It is that fact that makes this next revelation even more exciting.

Did you know that in at least the last 3 years, Stratford rivals Bridgeport in closed home sales, more so than any of our other neighboring towns. In 2020 Bridgeport closed 1,023 homes, Stratford a close second with 987 closings, and Shelton and Trumbull a distant 3rd and 4th with 669 and 610 closed homes, respectively. I also took a quick look at how Fairfield did as well, here are the numbers for that comparison:

As a whole, Fairfield County saw a total of 14,426 closed homes in 2020. Which is approximately 3,000 home increase from 2019. Purchasing a home is generally seen as a semi-permanent decision to stick around for at least several years. It is uplifting to see so many choose to flock to Stratford. It would be interesting to learn what prompted people’s decision to move into town. While the local government, schools, and civic organizations offer so much to the citizens of Stratford, discovering what the ultimate motivation of choosing Stratford over its neighboring towns would assist us as a community to see what we are doing right, so we can continue to push in that direction.

As we delve deeper into the single-family homes sold homes in Stratford in 2020, we can see that 314 units were sold in under 30 days. The average price of a 3 bedroom home was just shy of $300,000 and we had 2 homes sell in Stratford for Two Million Dollars or more. With interest rates staying at historic lows, we see that fixed conventional loans have been the fad of the year with approximately 331 Conventional Fixed loans used as financing. Other financing options used, included 159 FHA loans and even 75 homes being purchased with cash. Approximately 20 VA loans indicate that we have some new military families in town. I have always known Stratford to be a welcoming town to veterans and their families. We thank them for their service and their sacrifices.

What does all this mean for the future of real estate value in Stratford? Everyone hopes that the soaring home values of 2020 become the ‘new norm’, we should be cautious to take a realistic view on values moving forward. Are we in a bubble? Are there safeguards in place to prevent a foreclosure apocalypse like we saw in the 2010’s? Only time will tell. 2022 is a huge question mark of uncertainty.

There is a lot to look forward to in 2021. On a national level there is promise of ongoing foreclosure and eviction moratoriums, increase stimulus payments, and other financial assistance to those in need. We are all excited for the distribution of vaccines and programs to assist us to move forward towards a brighter tomorrow. Soon, very soon, our community will be able to gather again in celebration of each other. We will bring back the Bands on the Bluffs, Tuesday Concerts on the Green, Memorial Day Gatherings, Library Lectures, Main Street Festivals, Art Exhibits, Bingo Nights, Town Parades, and all the other town and civic organizational programs that we all crave. I certainly look forward to the Shakespeare Market which will be coming soon on the grounds of the Shakespeare Theatre. I hope you join me in welcoming these events and more back to our calendars. I urge my fellow Stratfordites to participate in conversations about moving this town into a bright and hopeful post-pandemic future that will not only make our lives better together, but also invite new residents, keep property values high, and build an even stronger quality of life for all of our residents. Happy New Year!


A to Z Realty, LLC is Stratford based Real Estate Brokerage. Our office offers flexibility, reliability, and a no-strings attached initial client meeting to discuss your real estate needs, either in person, telephonically or through video conferencing. We take the sale of your home personally. Call Osi at 203.738.5999 or email Osi@atozct.com. Learn more at www.AtoZRealtyCT.com

*Note that the figures in this article are taken from InfoSparks statistics with the restriction of Stratford, CT/All Price Ranges/All Property Types/All Bedrooms/All Bathrooms/All Sizes.

Feed Your Soul

Pies to Go!

The Center for Food Equity and Economic Development (FEED), a division of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport, wants you to stay out of the kitchen this holiday season!  Enjoy time with your family and delicious desserts while supporting a great cause. All proceeds support the work of the FEED Center to bring healthy foods and economic opportunities to Bridgeport area residents.

Their plain cheesecake, apple crumb pie and pumpkin pie are $10 and strawberry cheesecake is $12.  Ordering is easy and all online!  Contactless, curbside pick-up is available on Wednesday, December 23rd.

Call in orders to Shanita Santiago at 203-331-6182 or order online at https://feedbpt.smartonlineorder.com/. FEED is focused on economic development based initiatives within the food industry that build assets and wealth within the Bridgeport community by providing culinary training to low-income residents for food industry employment and entrepreneurial ventures through their CREATE (CREATE CULINARY CAREERS TRAINING COURSE) program.

CREATE is a culinary training for food industry employment for the aspiring food entrepreneur. Their culinary boot camps are geared to prepare students for all aspects of the food industry, from basic knife skills, cooking techniques, recipe testing and scaling, and ServSafe to workshops in product development, business accounting, permits and licenses, farmers market retail, and entrepreneurship. Classes are intended for under-and unemployed area residents looking to start their own businesses or explore a new career in the food industry.

Applications are now being accepted for their winter course that will run from January 11th , 2021, through to March 5th .

Olé! New Business in Town: Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Chipotle Mexican Grill has officially opened in Stratford. The chain’s Stratford location is at 100 E. Main St. and includes a drive-thru lane that allows for service with minimal contact, according to Linhart PR, a firm representing the Mexican eatery. Chipotle offers fast-casual dining and is open 10:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. They are also available as a partner for local fundraisers. For more information, visit community.chipotle.com. Chipotle had more than 2,450 restaurants in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Germany and is the only restaurant company of its size that owns and operates all its restaurants.

The Chipotle in Stratford offers fresh, real ingredients and specializes in custom burrito bowls, burritos, tacos and salads either that you can cater for your next large event or order online and enjoy a meal without the wait.

Stratford’s Town Council approved a tax break for the development in July 2019. The Chipotle location was previously residential property, but was rezoned for commercial use in 2018. Under the tax abatement approved by council members in July, 2019, Chipotle and the storage facility also located in the shopping plaza, will be 100% tax exempt for three years, and will receive a tax exemption between 33% and 72% for the following four years. Starbucks is also scheduled to go into this development, but was not listed as part of the abatement schedule. The site is being developed by Urstadt Biddle Properties Inc.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Time to Sell – or – Time to Buy? 

By Osi Rosenberg,
A to Z Realty,
LLC osi@atozct.com/www.atozct.com

It is the middle of the pandemic and lockdowns are looming. Here is how things look in Stratford! At the time this was written, November 18, 2020, there are 83 properties on the market with a price range of $45,000 to $2.3M. An impressive range for our humble little town. While we don’t have a lot of inventory, the real question is, what kind of market are we in? Buyer or Sellers? Good question! It is hard to say how this will play out with so many moving parts such as the pandemic response in CT and surrounding states, the elections finalization, and the much awaited, highly anticipated vaccine. 

Key Conditions:

Let us go back to economics class for a moment. What happens when there is very little inventory (sellers), and a lot of demand (buyers)? If your Virtually Educated Middle Schooler answered prices skyrocket, they would be correct! When we have very few homes on the market and buyers pouring into the state, there is a huge demand that causes buyers to fight tooth and nail to outbid their competition. In some cases, having the winning bid meant bidding on homes $20,000 to $50,000 over asking price in parts of the state. This makes a Sellers’ market that Stratfordites and all of CT seemed to enjoy over the summer months. Summer is usually a busy time in real estate, 2020 did not change that, in fact it was impressive on all accounts. Buyers from NYC flocked to the suburbs to stretch their legs in the new remote work environment. I’ve even heard it described as the “Great Exodus”! 

Market Drivers: 

Now, the initial wave of panic has settled, and the pouring out of NY has slowed. What happens when the supply is increased and the demand decreases? You guessed it, the exact opposite, the infamous Buyers’ market. Where Buyers underbid and Sellers have two choices; wait for the market to turn, or accept lower than asking price. With the winter months approaching, colder weather, darker days and COVID-19 still looming, a Buyers’ market certainly seems very possible. 

 

Opportunities Amidst Challenges:

So where are we here in Stratford? Like the rest of CT, Stratford had its fair share of the benefits of the Great Exodus. I would attribute this to the position on the Metro North and Forest to Shore small town feel. During the pandemic, Stratfordites, supported each other through its religious and civic organizations as well as its municipal initiatives. Stratford has so much to offer and just a hop, skip, and train ride to the city. But as they say, what goes up, must come down. Homes are not flying off the market like they were, Sellers are seeing higher numbers of showings to contract, and Buyers are being braver with their low ball offers. The good news is that buyers are still looking, and homes are still going on the market, but like the ebb and flow of the tide, there is a familiar feeling in the current of Stratford Real Estate Market. What will happen going into the holiday season and beyond? Time will tell, but Buyers’ Market warnings are around us.

Fair Market values always drop a little in the winter months and it will be interesting to see how the market fairs the next few months. I’ll be watching. 

Sneak Peek at the next edition: 

Short Sales and REO’s are Reading their Ugly Heads Again. 

Now that courts are back in session, the pause on evictions, stalled foreclosures, and extended law days are coming to an end, February and March will likely see a huge uptick in foreclosure proceedings. Next edition, I will discuss the issues involved in Distressed Homes, Short Sales and how they affect the market. If you want to discuss your distressed property sooner than later, contact A to Z Realty, LLC 203.738.5999. We are always available to assist. 

Real Estate Question Corner: 

I was asked the other day about refinancing opportunities and if it is worthwhile in this market. 

Considerations:

Here are the factors to consider: 

  1. What is your current mortgage rate? 
  2. What is your current Loan to Value ratio?
  3. What is your current mortgage payment versus what you may pay with a new loan? 
  4. Do you have enough equity to do a no-money-down refinance? 
  5. Are you interested in cash out refinance? 
  6. How’s that credit score? 

Your best first step is to contact a Mortgage Professional and discuss your options. There are several mortgage professional businesses based right here in Stratford. 

*Note that the figures in this article are taken from InfoSparks statistics with the restriction of Stratford, CT/All Price Ranges/All Property Types/All Bedrooms/All Bathrooms/All Sizes.

Mellow Monkey Gifts and Home Décor

11th Annual Small Business Saturday® Begins on November 28th

Mellow Monkey Gifts and Home Decor has announced that as a member of the American Express® Neighborhood Champion Program, it is encouraging consumers to shop with local, independently owned small businesses as part of the 11th Annual Small Business Saturday, which begins on Nov 28 and continues all holiday season long. Created by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday celebrates the impact small businesses have on communities across the country, and is a celebration of the positive impact they have on communities across the country. American Express works with organizations and independent businesses to provide solutions that support communities and uplift local economies. Learn more and connect with us on ShopSmall.com, Instagram.com/ShopSmall, and Facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday.

For the fourth year in a row, Mellow Monkey has led the Shop Small effort in cooperation with the Town of Stratford Department of Economic Development by promoting “Shop Small Stratford.” a town-wide effort that highlights small businesses in the town of Stratford and what they have to offer. This year’s Shop Small event is particularly challenging given the fluid nature of the pandemic and its impact on small businesses.

According to Howard Aspinwall, “Historically, Shop Small Saturday has put a focus on getting consumers in the doors of small businesses. This year, restrictions on occupancy and any potential lockdown measures make this year’s event a challenging one. To address that, we’re encouraging businesses to plan for both scenarios – in particular, to ensure their online and social media presence is ready and up-to-date, and their alternative fulfillment processes (local delivery, curbside pickup and shipping) are clearly communicated to consumers.”

“At Mellow Monkey, we are actively encouraging our customer base to get out NOW and shop with small businesses in advance of the event by incentivizing them to do so. The store will reward customers with shopping discounts on Shop Small Saturday when customers present receipts for purchases made with other Stratford Small Businesses from November 13th through November 28th (Shop Small Saturday).”

“Mellow Monkey is also cross-promoting other independently owned “retail stores” regionally and in its same vertical market. While technically we all sell gifts and home décor, our primary competition is not with each other, but with national and online brands. Working together, we are stronger as a collective by reminding and encouraging consumers to do their holiday shopping with small business retailers.

Specifically in retail, it’s important to remember small businesses needed to tap into a financial reserve during the Spring lock down – a cushion that came from holiday sales in the previous year. Without the benefit of holiday sales this year, most retailers would find it difficult if not impossible to survive into 2021. The impact of shuttered small businesses in 2021 would be extensive and noticeable because they have given back to the community many times over and also make up the fabric and color of the communities they operate in.” Howard Aspinwall, Owner, Mellow Monkey Gifts and Home Decor

In order to drive shoppers to Shop Small® this Nov 28, Mellow Monkey Gifts and Home Decor is participating in the American Express® Neighborhood Champion Program to spotlight small businesses and the impact they have on communities. According to the 2019 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, 97% of consumers who
shopped on Small Business Saturday agree that small businesses are essential to their community and 95% reported the day makes them want to shop or eat at small, independently-owned businesses all year long, not just during the holiday season.

Since it started in 2010, consumers have reported spending an estimated $120 billion across all Small Business Saturdays combined. Merchants and consumers can learn more about Shop Small, Small Business Saturday and how to get involved by visiting ShopSmall.com.

Stratford Real Estate Market Leaps during Pandemic

By Osi Rosenberg, A to Z Realty, LLC

Location! Location! Location! Stratford is my dream hometown. Situated on the Metro North Train Line with a Forest at one end, and the Shore on the other, Stratford truly is the town for all seasons. The housing market has certainly proven that the time to be in Stratford is now!

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, homes on the market have been flying off the streets of Stratford at record prices. In July 2019, Stratford’s average price range was approximately $243,000, but spiked drastically between March and July 2020 to $258,000. This increased the price average per square feet values from $150 in July 2019 to $160 per square foot in July.

Many homeowners chose not to move out during the uncertain times of the pandemic, dropping the supply of new homes to a bare minimum. As a result of the low supply of homes, the Stratford market has been in a heat wave throughout the summer months. May 2019 Stratford had 1,218 new listings on the market compared to May 2020 only 963 new listings were available. There has been a slight uptick in July 2020 which saw 1,023 new listings.

It is no wonder it’s a seller’s market with the low inventory and high demand for suburban living that Stratford offers in abundance. Even a pandemic could not quash the American suburban dream in Stratford. I, for one, felt insulated and safe while still being able to take the kids for a stroll in the woods, or head to the beach to go kayaking or fishing. Friendly neighbors, active civic organizations, strong sense of community, proximity to major metropolises, and well-maintained beaches and parks. Many New York residents look to Stratford as an affordable option to escape while still staying tethered to the big city.

The average amount of time a home stays on the market is only 69 days, which from my experience, is slowed mostly by lenders that are overwhelmed by a backlog of loan applications and closings.

What does this mean for your property? Simple! Right now, most homes are selling at a premium. Your home may see an increase market value. Which is great news if you want to sell, refinance, or obtain a line of equity while interest rates are historically low.

*Note that the figures in this article are taken from InfoSparks statistics with the restriction of Stratford, CT/All Price Ranges/All Property Types/All Bedrooms/All Bathrooms/All Sizes.

A to Z Realty, LLC is Stratford based Real Estate Brokerage.