Why Winter 2018 is a Great Time to Purchase a Home

It’s no secret in the real estate business that the housing inventory in New Jersey is tight; there are far more buyers than sellers and it’s been that way for a while. This level of competition drives up housing prices (it seems we all know someone who ended up in a bidding war, whether as a home buyer or home seller, or have heard the stories). Another factor that drives home purchases: mortgage interest rates.

How do interest rates originate?
Interest rates are typically determined by a central bank in most countries. In the United States, representatives from the Federal Reserve Board and Federal Reserve Bank comprise the Federal Open Market Committee, which assesses the economic status of the country throughout the year and adjusts interest rates accordingly.

The central bank lends money to retail banks at a discount and then consumers borrow from the retail banks. The rates assigned by the central bank to the retail banks determine interest rates or Prime Interest Rates.

Why interest rates fluctuate
If the central bank wants to discourage consumer borrowing and encourage more saving, it raises interest rates. The banks rely on those deposits in order to raise their worth and have money to lend to another party, which generates additional income from interest collected. When the central bank wants to encourage consumer borrowing and increase spending, it will lower interest rates.

Mortgage interest rates today
Interest rates started creeping up a little bit late in the fall and continue a modest rise—from 3/8 to ½ of a percentage point. Bankrate predicts a slow and steady climb throughout the first half of this year due to various pressures on the U.S. bond market.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate rose .08 percent in the first week of January, a significant jump after a prior rate drop (it is currently slightly over 4 percent). That said, with New Jersey’s housing inventory being so tight and home values remaining fairly steady, why not strike while the iron is hot?

Some figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association:

  • The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.57 percent from 3.49 percent.
  • The 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage rose to 3.77 percent from 3.70 percent.
  • The 30-year fixed-rate jumbo mortgage rose to 4.21 percent from 4.14 percent.

Although the difference in monthly mortgage payments is quite small today as interest rates rise (a few dollars a month for most borrowers), there’s no telling where it could end up six months from now—and besides, why pay any more than you have to on a home loan?

Some Americans appear to be catching the clue. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, mortgage applications overall rose 8.3 percent for the week ending January 5, 2017; 52.9 percent of those were refinances (up nearly a full percentage point from the week before). Homeowners and those on the market to purchase a home are locking into rates now.

Get into a new home sooner than later
Again, there is tremendous competition for good houses in northern New Jersey, so if you are planning to purchase a home, there’s no time like the present to get into the real estate market. And, if your credit history is strong, it’s a great time to pre-qualify for a favorable mortgage program at preferential rates.

Another great reason to purchase a home now: you’ll beat the typical spring/summer rush, so there are fewer buyers to compete with. Fewer buyers may help keep prices moderated in your favor. Sellers may also be more willing to negotiate with you.

The real estate agents at Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty will help you zero in on the right towns to meet your criteria and your budget, and work hard to help make your transaction as smooth as possible. We’re experts in Essex County, where our office is located … but we work throughout northern New Jersey, from Hudson County to Warren County and everywhere in between. We’re here with our heavy winter coats, ready to show you our listings, so contact us to get into a new home this winter at (973) 228-1050.

Creating a Zen Garden for Your New Jersey Backyard

Zen—or dry—gardens date back to the late 14th century, when Zen Buddhist priests created these austere gardens for meditation and appreciation of beauty. These gardens had no water features; the priests created a feeling of water with rocks, even raking them to get a ripple-like appearance.

Zen gardens are appearing in backyards across northern New Jersey as well, taking a cue from Asian traditions by keeping the focus on nature. Homeowners may choose to create these gardens—made primarily of stone and gravel, often enhanced with moss, small plants or shrubs, and rock formations—to avoid having to water; others choose to install these for the quiet contemplation they invite and the serenity they provide. And, they are easy to maintain and are weatherproof. The homeowner needs simply to rake the gravel or sand, in desired designs. The very act of this raking can be in itself a meditation and is meant to be relaxing. Raked designs are often made to look like waves or streams.

Although they appear simple on the surface, Zen gardens have a complexity that is revealed as one takes time to enjoy the space. The homeowner takes an active (albeit, relaxing) role in changing the raked design, then stepping back to contemplate and enjoy it. The carefully groomed sand is meant to provide a refuge from the world.

Today’s Zen gardens may include enhancements such as ponds, bridges, lighting and sculpture but the raked sand and fine gravel are the canvas upon which these sit.

Designing your Zen Garden

This starts by defining the space: a corner of an existing garden, part of your yard or even the whole yard. Do some research or visit other Zen or Asian gardens for ideas about topography and the hardscape (the stone work). Do you want to include water or not? What about lighting?

Whatever you do, think nature—a space with rough edges. Plants are not the main attraction so select a few specimen plants that will enhance the design because of their color or texture. Also consider seasonal changes; in northern New Jersey we experience all four seasons very distinctly and so does plant life.

Then it’s time for your hardscape materials:

  • Stone – the structural basis for your Zen garden. Stepping stones, formations, borders, designs.
  • Pebbles – think river-rounded pebbles of various sizes that will create the fields, surround plants and outline paths.
  • Sand or fine gravel – this is used to create the illusion of water, raked as anything from a dry riverbed to roiling waves and ripples – the choice (and the fun) is all yours.

Other enhancements may include bamboo panels, statues (such as one of Buddha), low lighting (stone or concrete housing blends in best), and a koi fish pond. The plants you choose should offer some texture and color. Your landscaping professional or high-quality garden center should be able to make some smart suggestions.

You can find inspiration and ideas for your Zen garden on Pinterest and there are plenty of sources online or in your public library.

Adding a Zen garden to your New Jersey property will certainly make your home stand out, and will provide you with many tranquil hours enjoying and reconfiguring your creation.

Getting Ready to List Your Home – Steps You Can Take to Add Value for Buyers

Getting your home prepared for a listing with a real estate agency is an exciting time. Of course, your agent will want to be excited about your listing and bring as many qualified prospects as possible. Is your real estate professional providing you with guidance about how to add value to your home? These home maintenance and repair tips will help you increase your chances of a sale more quickly.

De-clutter and organize. No one wants to step through clutter, look in rooms or closets that are overflowing with unnecessary items, or have to imagine what the space could look like without a homeowners personal effects clouding the “scenery.” Before you list your home for sale, start going through all the rooms, from attic to basement, and clean out and organize. You can create piles for discard, donate and store; once you’ve done the first two, it’s time to organize your storage needs. Closet storage systems will help you keep clothes organized and make a great presentation. Garage and basement storage solutions are also available to keep items off the floor and in a safe place.

Refresh rooms with paint. That first impression will be largely influenced by the look and feel of your rooms. After you’ve cleaned and cleared, a fresh coat of paint in neutral colors will help rooms look larger and make prospective buyers feel better about your space. Bright colors might be your style but not theirs so avoid making too much of a “statement” in your color choice.

Update bathroom fixtures. Swap out those tired old bathroom faucets and the old sink; install a new vanity or a shower head; or put on new toilet seats if necessary. You need not spend lots of money to do these simple updates and a little goes a long way. Remember, clean and new is better than tired and worn.

Update kitchen appliances and fixtures. If this is in your budget, it is well worth the expenditure on this end of the sales process. There’s no need for a full remodel but a face lift is well worth it for making a quicker sale. New cabinet doors and hardware or a new sink or new faucet with sprayer (a popular feature) are good investments. If you can swing it and your dishwasher or refrigerator are outdated, consider installing new models that prospective home buyers will appreciate.

Boost your curb appeal. Landscaping and driveway appearance are what prospective home buyers will see first—and will encourage or discourage them about coming inside for a closer look. Get your lawn in shape, plant your garden beds, prune your trees and shrubs. Outdoor lighting is also a benefit, from the front porch to the walkway or gardens. If the driveway is in poor shape, have it repaired.

Make necessary exterior repairs. In addition to the driveway, your front steps should be in good condition; your gutters should be in place and doing their jobs to prevent water damage to the home; missing roof shingles should be replaced; problems with paver or concrete walkways, your sidewalk, patio and deck (where applicable) should be remediated. Remember, you don’t want to give anyone a reason to walk away (and you wouldn’t want anyone to trip and get hurt).

Insulate for energy efficiency. One way to show prospective home buyers that your home is prepared for 21st century living is to add insulation in order to improve your energy efficiency and reduce heating and cooling costs. This is a also good time to look at your windows to see where you can seal any seams or cracks where air penetrates.

At Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we guide our clients to make sure their homes are in “ready for sale” condition, in order to make the sales process as stress-free as possible for everyone involved. As part of our client service, our real estate agents will go over what we feel your home needs to prepare it for a listing, and help you hash out the pros and cons of certain upgrades and repairs. Want to find out more about the best way to sell your home in Essex County or other northern New Jersey areas? Call Century 21 Cedarcrest at (973) 228-1050 or visit our website to get started.

When Less is More in Real Estate

Of all the things that can be most damaging in real estate, clutter tops the list. For many, this just means that the house needs tidied or the shelves need to be cleaned up a bit or even removed. For others, some major outdoor and indoor work may be necessary. The goal here is to maximize the concept of space. Even a large room looks small when it’s cluttered, but even a small room can look large when it’s not cluttered. Use the tips here, but listen to specifics from your real estate agent, who has to experience to know what really matters in your home specifically.

 

De-Personalize the House

 

You may enjoy collecting all sorts of things, but you aren’t trying to impress a buyer with your decorating skills. Instead, you are trying to offer a buyer an open canvas, a place where he or she can imagine their own collections and how they would personalize the space. Consider removing shelves and pictures from the wall, but also make sure to clean up the marks to give a smooth, open appearance.

 

Manage the Landscaping

 

Take a walk around your house, starting at the front. This is the first impression that people have when they come to see if your house is the one they want to invest in. Make sure to clean up any clutter and put away most of the decorations. This is especially true if you happen to have religious decorations. It may be difficult, but you need to keep your personal beliefs out of the buyer’s mind so they can focus on the major aspects of the house itself.

 

Once you have the front yard covered, try cleaning up the back. It’s fine to have your patio furniture out, especially if it goes with the house. Just try to avoid the decorations. It might even be a great time to thin the flowers so they can see what is there, but also see that there is plenty of room for their own interests.

 

Keep in mind that the buyer is looking for a home that fits them and their interests. They want to see if they can make this property fit their lifestyle, not if they can move in to your lifestyle.

Modeling to the Target Buyer

It is hard enough to part with a home you love without trying to imagine that someone will use it in a way you wouldn’t like. If you have the time and the luxury of seeking out a target buyer, then by all means, make the effort to do so. Some houses just suit particular people better. For example, if you own an urban dwelling with a concrete backyard and swimming pool, your realtor probably isn’t going to try and target buyers who are looking for a quiet country dwelling where they can garden all summer long.

 

Maximize Focal Points

 

If your home has specific features that make it perfect for a certain type of lifestyle, you will want to make those features stand out when you market to a specific audience. You might also ask yourself what you can add that would make it even more appealing. If your property has a greenhouse, will you be leaving any supplies so that the owner can use it right away? Those little things can let a buyer know they can start in on their hobbies immediately, without an added expense on top of a new home purchase.

 

Allow for Immersion

 

Some properties aren’t set up so much for hobbies as they are other elements. You will want to be able to immerse your guests in the experience so they can enjoy it with all their senses. Are you trying to demonstrate that your home is a quiet safe haven from the world? Offer a viewing when the neighborhood kids are at school or make sure to do most of the welcoming in the soundproof room. These are the details that can really capture a buyer’s attention. Make the most of them.

 

Avoid Advice

 

Just as much as you want to market to specific buyers, you also want to avoid leaving hints or advice. This is the start of a new journey for them so they will want to do it their way. In the meantime, you don’t want to have to think about them doing things differently than you would because that can limit your pleasure with the experience.

 

Best Season to Sell a Home

Knowing what the best season is to buy or sell a home is just the tip of the iceberg. Believe it or not, there are also best days to list a home or make an offer. Sometimes the best days to buy and sell coincide, but not always. That becomes important when you go from listing your home to shopping for a new one. It can also make a difference in how you or your broker or agent manages your sale or purchase.

 

Spring is the Busy Season

 

Hands down, spring is the busiest season to buy or sell a home. The weather is starting to warm up, but it is not so hot that people don’t want to get out and about. If anything, they are dying to get out of the house. However, this is also the season when your yard looks the worst because the snow just melted and revealed what was left after a long winter. Be sure to spruce things up a bit before you list your home.

 

January Starts Things Off

 

January doesn’t just start the new year, but is probably the best month to start making offers on homes. Most people are waiting for spring to arrive so they can get out and about in comfort. For a home buyer, this means that there is far less competition than there is going to be in a couple of months. For the home seller, it may bring some much needed relief after an expensive winter.

 

Tuesday and Thursday

 

Tuesday and Thursday have a special significance in the real estate world. The first Tuesday of the month is the day that many mortgage payments are due. That means it is a perfect day to make an offer on a house. The owner just made a payment that they really don’t care to make anymore, so they will be more inclined to accept and offer.

 

Thursday is the day to list a house. During the week, people are busy working and they may not have much time to patiently explore what’s for sale. Thursday posting will be listed as new listing over the weekend, so they are sure to get plenty of views.

 

Maximizing Cozy Spaces

In the real estate world, nothing is “small.” It quaint, cozy, or comfortable, but never small. Words matter when it comes to how real estate is listed, but they also have meaning. That is why it is important to turn those small spaces into ones that really are cozy. You can maximize storage space, use colors that open the room up, or use other methods that can take a room from cramped to comfortable.

 

Lighten Things Up

 

Light colors make things look bigger. This is true from fashion to home remodeling. If you have a small space that you want to expand on, consider painting it a light, neutral color. You won’t want a bold choice because the buyer may not like that color or theme. A neutral tone gives them a chance to see the space looking as large and open as it can, but it also allows them to consider how they might add some color to the room.

 

Use Mirrors for Deco

 

A limited amount of mirrors on the wall is a great way to enlarge any space. Mirrors not only expand the space, but they are a neutral decorating material, unlike collections or family photos. However, don’t use small decorative mirrors because they don’t really expand the space and might instead clutter the wall. Be sure to pay attention to the reflection in the mirror too. You don’t want to reflect a neighbor’s messy yard to your visitors.

 

Maximize Storage Space

 

It’s time to get creative about clutter. What you don’t want to do is throw a bunch of bookshelves into a small room. You also don’t want to show your existing cluttered shelves. Instead, try putting your things in storage containers, like baskets or pails. This allows you to continue to use your things and the space available, but it also keep the room looking neat. Instead of shelves looking like they are only big enough to hold small things, the baskets and/or pails give the impression that they can create a large, organized space.

 

Expand on your small spaces, but don’t clutter them up. You want to make them look larger than they are, but also keep them cozy and useful.

 

2016 Real Estate Market

Home prices are moving up moderately this year, but not to the point of discouraging buyers from a first or second home purchase. In fact, the moderate value increase is – in part – due to a supply vs. demand imbalance in many cities across the United States. With new construction at a 50-year low, there are currently more prospective buyers in the market than there are sellers of existing homes.

 

Interest Rates and Income Growth

 

Some of the demand is due to the prospect of a raise to interest rates in the future. Many looking to lock in at today’s lower rates are not waiting for those changes, even though it is a sign of a growing economic stability. Low to moderate income growth for those in the middle class also is impacting the supply, as many who were able to hold onto their homes amid the financial crisis nearly a decade ago are nervous to sell or are still recovering their equity. Yet unable to use equity to perhaps buy above their original starter home, many are sitting tight on their current homes. These factors have created a somewhat even and steady market, with it leaning slightly to the advantage of the seller.

 

The Rental Cost Impact on the Market

 

Rental prices have increased, with the result having a multispectral effect on real estate. On one hand, the increases in rental prices are a nudge to the renter to take the necessary steps to become a buyer. On the other, it is often more difficult for a prospective buyer to save for a down payment when more of his or her expendable income is going towards maintaining the rent. At the same time, it is a boon for real estate investors and those looking to purchase a second home to rent, rather than sell, the first.

 

The 2016 market certainly isn’t the gloom and doom prophesied by some. While homeownership is still at its lowest in 50 years and new development has also slowed, values are growing and sellers are finding that buyers are making smart, competitive bids on property. These positive trends are expected to continue as the average wage income increases over the next few years.