From high tech to high art

Microscope engineer Lou Farkas switches work to follow his passion

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MEREDITH — Lou Farkas has spent most of his adult life working to develop next generation high-resolution microscopes, a demanding and high stress field in which success is measured in such small incremental units of measure that the results are invisible to the unaided human eye.
Now he's embarked on a new career, one in which his high-end furniture creations are very visible and highly sought after for their superior craftsmanship and eye-pleasing appeal.
Farkas, who grew up in Ohio and graduated from Ohio State with a degree in electrical engineering, said he's always had a passion for woodworking and would unwind from the stress of the intense work he was doing by using his hands to build furniture.
''I did a lot of woodworking for family and friends,'' said Farkas, who bought the former Hickory Stick restaurant in Belmont 10 years ago and has turned it into a private home where he has a woodworking shop where he turns out furniture, much of it Shaker period pieces, which are highly regarded as works of art.
He said that during the course of his career in microscopy he spent a lot of time in research and development and traveled all over the world. Among his achievements was working with Billy Ward and other 34 other engineers at Atomic Level Imaging Systems in Peabody, Massachusetts, to develop a helium ion microscope which generated higher resolution images at the atomic level than ever before considered possible.
"It was the only one of it's kind in the world," said Farkas, who said that it was a major breakthrough in the nanotechnology world at that time, 2005, and led to the firm being sold to Carl Zeiss' Nano Technology Systems Division the following year.
It was around that time that Farkas and his, wife, Ginny, decided to move from the Durham area to Belmont, which they saw as a good place to raise their two sons. He continued to work for ALIS but says he grew tired of the hectic pace and constant travel.
Early last year, he and Ginny talked about the future.

"I said I can't do this any more. It's just too high stress. She said, 'Why don't you sell your furniture?' and that's how it got started. We looked at Portsmouth as a location but decided we liked Meredith better and it was closer to home," said Farkas.

Last summer they opened Meredith Bay Furniture Company in a 4,000-square-foot building at 44 Main St., just across from the Meredith town offices, where they could sell the custom-built furniture and antiques.
Farkas, who says that he has been stockpiling wood for 30 years to use in building furniture and enjoys working with American hardwoods which have unique grain structures, such as curly maple, birds-eye maple, red curly birch, butternut, and quarter-sawn white oak and white ash, which is sawed in a way which maximizes the exposure of the wood grain.
He said he has developed his own clientele through the many projects he has undertaken in which he first designs the specified piece on a computer and works with the client to achieve the desired result. He has made everything from kitchen islands with live-edge lumber and drop-leaf trestle tables to kitchen cabinets and counters with an antique cast-iron sink and a coffee table encased by a metal rim from a wagon wheel.
"I'm a perfectionist. I want people to be able to have something that's unique and that they consider a work of art. I look at its being a craftsman, not a contractor. That's why I do all of my own installations, because I want it to look just right," said Farkas.
Although he's an Ohio State grad, Farkas said he considers New Hampshire his home after living 32 years in the Granite State. And he doesn't follow the Ohio State Buckeyes or college football generally. But when Sunday rolls around during the pro football season, he and Ginny will likely turn on the tube and root for the Patriots.

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Lou Farkas of Meredith Bay Furniture with two of his handmade works, a red curly birch island behind him and a tiger maple coffee table beside him. An electrical engineer who helped develop a revolutionary helium ion microscope, Farkas is now concentrating on creating custom built furniture. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Lou and Ginny Farkas opened Meredith Bay Furniture Company last year on Meredith's Main Street and feature custom-built furniture as well as antiques. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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A Shaker-style table made with tiger maple is one of many unique pieces of furniture at Meredith Bay Furniture Company. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun).

With banks tough on lending, 'hard money' loans are growing

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — "Hard money" lending, which was tainted by the collapse of Financial Resources Mortgage Inc. in 2009, has gathered momentum as banks, coping with changing regulations, have retrained construction lending and investors, chaffing at low yields, are chasing higher returns.

Hard-money loans are short-term instruments secured by the value of real property generally used by developers or owners of real estate to finance the construction or renovation of property in anticipation of selling it for a profit. Sometimes called loans of "last resort" or "bridge loans," hard-money loans are issued by private investors and small companies rather than conventional financial institutions like banks.

Although lenders may consider the creditworthiness of the borrower, their decision to make a loan and in what amount is primarily based on the value of the property collateralizing it. To lessen the risk to the lender, most finance in the first lien position, ensuring they are the first creditors to be repaid in the event of default. Likewise, hard-money loans carry a lower loan-to-value ratio than conventional bank financing; that is, a lender would advance up to 75 percent of the value of the property securing the loan. Finally, hard-money loans carry relatively high interest rates, as many as 10 points higher than conventional loans, as well as origination fees and closing costs.

A hard-money lender stressed that the current practice bears no similarity to the Ponzi scheme operated by Financial Resources Mortgage Inc., which solicited investors, pooled or comingled their investments and allocated the money to different borrowers. When borrowers defaulted and income shrank, one round of investors were paid with investments of another round of investors until the money ran out.

Currently, the lender said that lenders and borrowers enter one-to-one relationships in which each party is represented by an attorney. "The closing is done just like a bank," he said. "We don't take money from investors, but only lend our own money. It's private lending." He said there is an informal network, connected "by word of mouth."

Although borrowers, lenders and bankers were unwilling to speak on the record, all agreed that that any increase in hard-money lending reflects a tightening of credit by banks. One longtime home builder with a sound track record said flatly "The banks aren't making construction loans." He was echoed by an individual who said that as banks have grown reluctant to lend "all kinds of people are loaning out money."

Bankers acknowledged that a new rule, issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, has crimped construction lending in particular. The rule, known as "TRID," a train wreck of federal acronyms compounding the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) to make TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure or TRID. Introduced in October 2015, the rule is intended improve understanding of the mortgage process on the part of consumers as well as assist them in comparison shopping and spare them surprises at closing.

However, as one banker explained, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offered no guidance on applying the new rule to adjustable rate construction loans. He said that software is still being developed to automate the process and in the meantime the managing the paperwork manually adding to the time and cost originating and closing loans.

A survey of 548 banks undertaken by the American Bankers Association in May found that three-quarters reported that TRID caused delays of up to 20 days in closing loans. Nearly as many reported that software vendors had yet to overcome glitches in their systems. A quarter of banks reported suspending products, with construction loans, especially those that convert to permanent financing, among the most likely to be shelved.

A local banker anticipated that the problems arising from TRID will soon be overcome and banks that have suspended construction lending will be re-entering the market.

Apart from TRID, one banker suggested that the cost of constructing a new home often exceeds its appraised value, which is based not only on the cost of building it but also on the selling prices of similar homes nearby. Homes are appraised after the builder and buyer agree to a purchase price. If the purchase price exceeds the appraised value, the buyer will have trouble securing a mortgage, putting the transaction at risk. This scenario was especially prevalent during the recent recession when there was a glut of foreclosures and short sales on the market. Although the market has revived, the banker said that some conventional construction lending may be stymied simply because the transaction founders on the difference between construction costs and appraised value.

Alleged counterfeiter had been found in July with guns, equipment

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — A Belknap County prosecutor told the court Tuesday that Belmont Police had found counterfeiting equipment in July in the house where a woman arrested for trying to pass false money over the weekend was staying.

Melinda McDonald was charged with receiving stolen property and is scheduled to appear in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division in September.

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McDonald, 35, whose address is listed as transient, was in Superior Court on Tuesday for a bail hearing. She told the court that she wanted to be released on personal recognizance bail so she could live with her mother in Concord and go to drug rehab.

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Represented by attorney Ted Barnes, McDonald argued that McDonald's co-defendent, Kyle Joyce, 30, who is also transient, was released on personal recognizance bail and his alleged conduct is at least as involved as hers.

Arguing for continuing $2,000 cash or corporate surety bail, Assistant County Attorney Adam Wood said McDonald has multiple recent convictions welfare fraud and hindering apprehension for giving police a false name.

He said she appeared in the 6th Circuit Court, Franklin Division Tuesday morning for a shoplifting charge and has a second court appearance scheduled in Concord District for a similar charge.

Wood said the most recent forgery charges show she has allegedly found another printer or way of creating counterfeit money.

Additionally, Concord Police confirmed Tuesday that McDonald pleaded guilty to one count of theft in April.

Judge Amy Ignatius said she was not comfortable releasing McDonald on personal recognizance bail because of her recent and recurring encounters with multiple law enforcement agencies.

She ordered McDonald continue to be held on $2,000 cash or corporate surety bail.