Agent Spotlight on . . . Jo Ann Restrepo

Jo Ann Restrepo - Century 21 Cedarcrest RealtyJo Ann Restrepo has worked in real estate since 1998 and joined CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty in May. You might say she grew up in the business—her mother and aunt were real estate agents for decades, which is how she met broker owner John Sass. Jo Ann used to visit her mother at another CENTURY 21 office where she worked and over time, mom and the other agents talked her into getting into the business.

A long-time Hawthorne resident, Jo Ann works mostly in Passaic and Bergen counties as well as Essex and Morris. Before coming to Cedarcrest Realty, she worked in several Passaic County brokerages. She enjoys working most with buyers and managing the buying process for them.

“Once they make an offer and it’s accepted by the seller, I work closely with all the related professionals—home inspectors, attorneys, mortgage brokers—throughout each step of the process, and make sure the deal goes through,” said Jo Ann.

Prior to becoming a real estate agent, Jo Ann was a payroll supervisor for construction companies, handling union payrolls and benefits for projects in New York City and New Jersey, some in the billions of dollars. She’d also been an executive secretary, so details, numbers, and integrity count strongly for her when it comes to real estate transactions.

As someone who manages each buyer’s journey with care, Jo Ann noted she’s also not afraid to express her opinion.

“I deal honestly with people and treat my customers like family. If something comes up during the inspection that concerns me, I will advise buyers about whether or not they should buy the house.”

Over the past 20+ years, Jo Ann has seen many changes in the way real estate is transacted. While she acknowledges that technology saves agents time and paper—no more multiple originals of all the paperwork—she prefers the personal touch when it comes to presenting offers to the sellers.

“I like presenting my buyers and telling their story; this is especially helpful when you’re in a situation with multiple offers or a bidding war,” said Jo Ann. “Electronic filing has streamlined the logistics of the transaction and has changed the way we represent our clients, but for me, real estate is still a personal business and it always will be.”

John Sass agrees. “We’re delighted to have an agent with so much experience in our core areas join the CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty family,” said John. “Jo Ann shares our commitment to great customer service with that personal touch that makes such a difference in how we conduct our business.”

Planning to Sell Your Home Soon? Hold Off on Too Many Renovations
Certain Home Renovations Deliver ROI. Others, Not so Much.

Many homeowners who are tired of staring at their interiors through the pandemic are anxious to renovate and make some upgrades. However, it you plan to list your home for sale in the foreseeable future—say, within the next two years—you might want to resist renovation temptation. Many major home improvements are costly and you will never see the money back at time of sale.

Sure, it may help your home stand out from others in your local market, but the money you spend will not automatically come back to you in full when you close.

Remodeling magazine put out a 2021 Cost vs. Value Report that lists 22 popular projects and tracks their cost, resale value and ROI in terms of percentage recovered at resale. You can search by U.S. region (the report covers 150 different U.S. housing markets) for how prices stack up in your area and which projects will yield the best return or retain the most value at resale.

The top remodeling projects which did the best in terms of net cost vs. value (60% ROI or higher) are:
1 – Garage door replacement – highest at 94%
2 – Manufactured stone veneer
3 – Minor kitchen remodel – you will only recover 72% of the cost
4 – Siding replacement (fiber cement did slight better than vinyl)
5 – Window replacement (vinyl did slightly better than wood for this project)
6 – Deck addition (wood)
7 – Entry door replacement (steel)
8 – Deck addition (composite)
9 – Grand entrance (fiberglass)
10 – Asphalt shingle roof replacement
11 – Mid-range bathroom remodel

You can read the entire report here.

Repairs and renovations that make financial sense
Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates that Americans’ total spend on home remodeling projects will rise to $337 billion in the second half of 2021, and increase of $5 billion from third quarter 2020. This, despite the fact that the average amount recouped for home remodeling projects. However, if you want to catch buyers’ attention, there are quite a few projects worth investing in:

1 – Expanding square footage is at the top of that list. In 2020, 44% of real estate agents cited the “need for more space” as the top motivator for moving. Creating a more open floor plan is also an attention-getter.

2 – Curb appeal is so important—it’s the first impression prospective buyers get of your home. A nicely landscaped home says “well maintained” and the landscaping costs will bring sales results.

3 – Finishing the basement ups the asking price to high-income home buyers in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Pacific Northwest according to the NAHB.

4 – Definitely in invest some money and time into touching up the paint (or repainting altogether) to make the house look fresh and well-cared-for. Light neutral colors are advised. Now is a great time to power wash the exterior and your patio or walkways.

5 – If you are tempted to redo the bathrooms or kitchen, make moderate upgrades that update the look without breaking the bank. For example, change out the cabinet and drawer fronts but keep the cabinet boxes in place. Replace fixtures or install a new floor if the current one is worn or outdated.

6 – If your home has hardwood floors, refinish them as needed or replace them with new wood flooring. The NAR’s 2019 Remodeling Impact Report states that refinishing hardwood floors recovers 100% of the cost at resale, while new wood flooring recoups 106% of costs.

7 – Handle big-ticket repair items such as replacing a roof or installing a new HVAC system. Also, buyers look for energy efficiency and savings on utility costs so consider putting in energy-efficient appliances (Energy Star), smart or programmable thermostats, energy-efficient windows, and low-flow toilets.

At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, our real estate agents can guide you on what will make the most sense to invest in before you list your home for sale. We know what buyers are looking for in the North Jersey real estate markets in which we specialize, and can connect you with other professionals who can bring new life to your home to help it sell more quickly to the right buyers. Contact us at 973-228-1050 to discuss how we’ll market your home or for help finding the home of your dreams.

Agent Spotlight . . . Jill Savva

Jill Savva brings years of training experience and a vast knowledge of the NJ real estate market to CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, where she is collaborating with broker owner John Sass on growing our company by recruiting, developing, and mentoring new real estate agents.

“John is a great guy who you can trust,” said Jill. “His office is like a family and it’s a great, intimate environment. I’m glad to be here and put my years of experience to good use with our new associates.”

A long-time real estate professional and broker associate, Jill has managed real estate offices and has trained new agents throughout the past 12 years. At Cedarcrest Realty, she shares her expertise with new agents as a field trainer, accompanying them on appointments to guide them through their early transactions. She assists with recruiting and onboarding new real estate agents, helps them secure and market listings, and takes them through the entire sales process. New agents from both our offices now have someone with them on appointments to strengthen their training in real time, and show them how to leverage the corporate marketing resources. The feedback has been very positive.

“It’s great having Jill here to provide such tremendous value to our newer real estate agents,” said Sass. “To now have this level of hands-on training and mentoring is making such a big difference in terms of their confidence level and ability to apply what they’re learning in our classroom to the entire sales process with our customers.”

Jill’s real estate career began when she was a young adult. She had an insurance license and enjoyed selling, and used to manage restaurants, having grown up in a family that owned a deli. When a friend suggested she explore real estate, she jumped right in and as she says, “I never looked back.” That was 30 years ago and her passion for the real estate field is going strong.

Of working with home buyers and sellers, Jill said, “I especially enjoy helping mature homeowners organize and manage the whole process as they prepare to sell their homes. They are often nervous and need someone to support them. I also like working with younger professionals who are focused buyers with a healthy budget. They know what they want and where they want it; my job is to find it for them which is a quite different transaction.”

In addition, she is co-owner with her husband of a residential contracting company, providing her with additional expertise in helping sellers prepare and stage their homes for sale—from cosmetic updates and repairs to furniture placement and home accessories.

A lifelong New Jersey resident, Jill played soccer, softball and basketball in high school and college, and is an avid bowler; she has also coached basketball and softball, and umpired and refereed for high school sports. To say she is a team player is an understatement!

“I like seeing other agents do well—it’s good for everyone. I believe if you work ethically and help each other, the money will come and everyone succeeds,” she said. “At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest, I can be hands on, help other agents get ahead, and I feel like I’m part of something.”

Celebrating Two Years in Little Falls at Cedarcrest Realty

Wow – time really flies when you’re working hard in real estate! This month marks two years since we opened our second Cedarcrest Realty office in Little Falls. We are happy to say, things are going well there.

Broker owner John Sass, who is marking 37 years with the CENTURY 21 Real Estate system this year, said that a lot has changed over the years.

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of change in the real estate industry, particularly in the way brokers, managers, and agents approach the business through the use of technology,” said John. “Our focus and challenge at Cedarcrest Realty has been to marry the effective use of real estate tech with the time-honored sales and people skills that successful agents need. At the core of our training and development is the mantra to be as professional as possible in our approach to our clients and sales. That high standard of professionalism is what’s gotten our team through the pandemic year and is propelling us into a greater 2021 and beyond.”

Nancy Scancarella, who joined us in Little Falls at the start in 2019, said, “We are moving along nicely and our office is very much ‘on the map’ thanks to everyone’s hard work and marketing efforts. Our agents are getting listings and closing transactions, including rentals. A lot of people are also walking in to inquire about the apartments in our building, which we’ve listed.”

She explained that many people are now selling their homes at high prices, and renting short term to wait out the market and look for a good deal. “That makes for a competitive rental market, similar to what we’re seeing with single-family homes in some areas.”

Nancy has worked in real estate for 28 years at offices in Passaic County and emphasizes the importance of continual marketing for success in the business. Part of her marketing includes sending out mailers to condo complexes in Little Falls and neighboring Woodland Park, letting homeowners know our office is here to help if they are looking to sell or rent their homes. She uses calendars, seed packages, and other small items with her business card attached and also sends emails to her client and prospect lists on a regular basis.

A long-time broker associate, she has been mentoring some of our newer real estate agents, including Adriana Umaña. “It’s great for our new agents to have a mentor right here to teach them how to handle certain situations. Even for experienced agents, there’s always something new you’ve never encountered and need guidance.”

Adriana, a native of Costa Rica, joined Cedarcrest Realty in late January after getting her real estate license.

“I spoke to Lynn De Luccia last summer and told her I was attending real estate school, which is something I’ve wanted to do for many years,” said Adriana. “She called me in December to ask if I wanted to join the group and I didn’t give it a second thought.”

A Woodland Park resident, she is happy to have our Little Falls location so close to home as her business base. She also attends training classes every Wednesday at our Caldwell office. She appreciates having a designated REALTOR as her mentor. “When you’re new, you have so many questions and you need someone to turn to.”

In Costa Rica, Adriana worked in marketing and logistics for Sony Ericsson, and in the U.S., she has had her own business. “I enjoy talking to people and selling—two important components of a real estate career,” she said. She is currently working on some rental listings and is looking forward to developing her book of business at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty.

Our team is always looking for well-qualified, experienced real estate professionals to join our team, as well as newcomers with a passion for helping people find their perfect home—be it a house, townhouse, or condominium. We also welcome agents with experience in the commercial property sector, as our office is a Certified Commercial Specialist by CENTURY 21 Real Estate LLC. Contact broker owner John Sass at 973-228-1050 to discuss opportunities at our Caldwell or Little Falls office.

How to Make the Best Home Purchase Offer in Seller’s Market

Low Housing Inventory and High Demand Mean Buyers Must be Well-Prepared

Photo: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

As we noted in a previous post, the real estate market in New Jersey, especially northern NJ, is very tight, with low inventory and high demand—and bidding wars.

With the current inventory challenge being the number one concern on most real estate consumer’s minds, we counsel homebuyers we work with to come prepared and ready to make the best purchase offer possible. While this has always been the case, in today’s competitive market, it is especially important in order to make a purchase offer that is more likely to be accepted by sellers.

  • Don’t lowball home sellers—they have the advantage. Rather, offer your “best price” up front. Your CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty agent will have all the relevant comps and reports for you to go into the transaction with the pricing information you need.
  • Eliminate or reduce contingencies, which are the provisions or conditions that must be met to complete the transaction. Overuse of contingencies can sabotage a sale. The two most important contingencies for home buyers are inspection and financing contingencies.
    • A pre-offer inspection can help make the offer stronger because you will be able to negotiate your offer price based on needed repairs.
    • Other contingency reductions are minimization of the title, appraisal, and mortgage contingencies, although the latter two require a cash offer. Your Cedarcrest Realty agent can walk you through all the typical contingencies of a real estate transaction and guide you on how these may affect your purchase offer.
  • Get a lender’s pre-approval letter; this is not a guarantee of a loan but it is a commitment to a certain mortgage amount, pending appraisal. From the seller’s perspective, pre-approval shows that you are serious about making an offer on the home. It also shows that you underwent a more rigorous process than pre-qualification, and clarifies your home-buying budget.
  • Give a larger earnest money deposit (the amount you submit with your offer) than you were thinking—even double or triple the amount if you can swing it. This larger deposit could make you more attractive to a seller who has received multiple offers (as often happens in North Jersey). It goes toward your total down payment anyway and you’ll pay it at closing, so if you can do this at time of purchase offer, it’s a good tool in a competitive offer situation.

As always, the real estate professionals at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty have the knowledge and insights about the dozens of municipalities in which they work throughout Essex and Passaic counties and beyond. Contact our offices in Caldwell or Little Falls to list your home or to start your home buyer’s journey with our award-winning team. Caldwell: 973-228-1050 or Little Falls: 973-364-1111.

Thinking of Listing Your Property? Now is the Best Time to Do It.

Sure, it’s cold out and we’re dealing with snow in North Jersey. It might not be a great time to climb up on the roof to fix loose shingles or get that patio project started; but if you’re thinking of putting your house on the market, it’s actually the perfect time to do so.

There are a few factors that make early 2021 prime time for residential real estate in our area: low inventory, low mortgage interest rates, and the pandemic-fueled desire for more space.

  • North Jersey has been dealing with tight residential housing inventory for a few years, making this a seller’s market.
  • The real estate market has only gotten tighter as urban dwellers are seeking out the suburbs, or homeowners are looking to “size up” due to remote working and remote schooling that make their current environments too small.
  • Historically low interest rates on mortgages are making home ownership more affordable than ever—and first-time buyers are discovering that the traditional 20% down payment is no longer a necessity.

When there’s less inventory on the market there is more competition among buyers and that typically means your home, if it is showing at its best, is likely to sell faster and at a higher price. There are highly motivated buyers waiting for their dream home and homeowners should contemplate listing their property at this time if it aligns favorably with their personal financial situation.

Although it is a seller’s market, pricing strategy is still crucial. Many homes in the northern New Jersey towns we work in often end up in a bidding war or sell over asking price—especially in Essex and Passaic counties—but a house must be priced right to attract buyers and generate offers. Having the home staged by a professional real estate stager will also help potential buyers envision themselves living there, so be sure to clear out the clutter, organize the space, and have the stager direct you regarding furnishings and accessories. Be sure to always keep walkways shoveled and de-iced.

Another reason this quarter is a great time to list your home is to get ahead of the usual spring listing rush. There’s less competition now and winter buyers who are braving the cold and snow (rather than sitting by the fire) are likely to be highly motivated.

If you’re thinking of selling your home and want some guidance, or you’re ready to list right away, the real estate professionals at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty are here to help. We are specialists in North Jersey real estate, and our Fine Homes & Estates division offers specialty marketing services for the area’s most upscale properties. For superior service in any season, contact us at 973-228-1050 to discuss your needs, as a home buyer or seller.

Spotlight on . . . Carol Berry

After 30 years of working as a legal secretary and real estate paralegal, Carol Berry—who joined CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest in November 2020—is ready to negotiate on behalf of her customers, review contracts, and help home buyers and sellers enjoy a smooth transaction from start to finish. With many years of direct selling experience as well, she said that the skills she acquired in both fields will help her deliver exceptional service.

“Through my paralegal work, I have experience with the flow of real estate transactions and can help customers understand all the elements of a home buying contract,” said Carol.

She said she was always interested in real estate—actually, houses and people—and programs on HGTV about home improvement, buying and selling, and house flipping fueled her interest in becoming a real estate professional. She decided to attend real estate school, passed the exam last October and joined Cedarcrest Realty shortly after that.

“John McKenna, the attorney I worked with at the law firm, put me in touch with a former colleague of Susan Mazzetta at Cedarcrest Realty, who connected me to Susan. I interviewed with her and we stayed in touch for a year. I was delighted that she invited me to come back when I was ready and I did! I interviewed with John Sass last fall; I didn’t even think about interviewing anywhere else.”

Carol is glad she followed her gut instinct to join CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, noting how well everything fell into place as she starts her new career.

“The mentoring and training are excellent; I have a wealth of knowledge about real estate at my disposal and the classes cover everything you need to know to be a good real estate agent. The camaraderie here is so nice. Everyone is on the same team and other agents have been so generous about sharing their expertise. Everything about being here has made this midlife transition so much easier.”

The mom of a special-needs daughter, Carol knows that patience and empathy are needed to overcome the challenges that arise in life. She also relies on her faith to guide her. As she advances in her real estate career, she will apply those attributes to her work.

“I like to see people achieve their dreams, whether buying a house or a condo. Right now, I’m helping first-time home buyers match desired locations with their budget. Finding the home that makes them happy and meets their needs will take some time and patience. I’m ready with both.”

So, You Want to Get into Real Estate? These Cedarcrest Realty Agents Share Their Journeys

There are many reasons and paths that people take to become real estate agents. At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we have agents who range from still in college to those enjoying second (or third) careers. Our agents come from interesting and diverse professional and personal backgrounds, like two of our newer associates, Eric Pavan and Khaled “Jay” Basuf.

Eric Pavan
Eric joined Cedarcrest Realty in September with a strong background in customer service, having been a customer success manager for a company that handled AT&T enterprise accounts. Eric’s father was a real estate professional so when it was time for a career change, he decided to attend real estate school, take the exam, and dive in.

His report to date: “So far, so good. This fits nicely with my customer service background and I like that I can make my own hours.”

As a real estate newcomer, Eric has been working closely in our Caldwell office with Dennis DiSabato, our sales manager, which he said is a big reason why he chose to join CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest. “This agency offered me support that others did not, such as training and mentorship from Dennis and having all the tech tools available to help me build my book of business,” said Eric.

He is becoming adept at the CRM and other cloud-based tools we use in our offices and is a big fan of 21Online, CENTURY 21 Real Estate’s robust content and marketing platform. “There is so much content there, I love that. I’m using it to build my prospecting list and plan out my activities from there,” he said.

The former Eagle Scout is also finding that his commitment to honesty and integrity is put to work every day for his growing client list.

“Succeeding in real estate means working hard every day. My goal is to I bring my best to every transaction, inform my clients, and leave them smiling.”

Jay Basuf
Jay has been a long-time real estate investor and decided that adding real estate agent to his work portfolio made good sense. He got his license in September and has been working out of our Little Falls office. He also owned and operated a successful lunch truck business for 20 years; while he no longer needs to get up at 3:30 a.m., he understands hard work and service get you where you want to go.

Twelve years ago, Jay decided to buy distressed homes, and fix up and sell them as a side business; his success with that endeavor got him thinking about real estate sales from the agent side.

“With my knowledge about and experience in rental property investing, I look beyond the number of rooms or cosmetic condition of a home. I’m able to provide details about a property to prospective buyers such as total square footage, the water/sewage system, age of the heating system, and other important information my clients should have,” said Jay.

Jay has been working on building his clientele and likes the flexibility that a real estate career provides, enabling him to spend more time with his family, which he couldn’t do as much with his former business. “I can hustle without making myself crazy,” he said.

Like Eric, he is a fan of 21Online and especially the MLS services we use. Jay knows the technology is important but when it comes to working with home buyers and sellers, he prefers personal contact, and stays in touch by phone or gets outdoors to work an area. “I love to hustle and be outside. The best thing you can do in real estate is to take a break and get outside,” he noted.

At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we’re always looking to add motivated people to our team who understand that hustle and strong interpersonal skills are foundations for a successful real estate career. If you’re thinking of going into real estate or are looking to make a change from your current situation, contact broker owner John Sass at johnsassc21re@gmail.com.