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.

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.

First-time Home Buyer? Don’t Get Hung Up by That 20% Down Payment

The New York metro real estate market has seen big shifts since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the area, with many city dwellers seeking out the suburbs to get away from crowded urban areas. They now want open space and great quality of life at a better cost of living when compared to NYC.

Another shift is the population making the move: in New Jersey, there are 1.8 million millennials (between ages 24 and 39) who make up 72% of today’s housing demand. The average age of these home buyers is 32.

This is also a group that’s paying off student loans, have been paying high rental rates, perhaps have started a family or paid for a wedding . . . and therefore, they don’t have the 20% down payment saved up. With prevailing home prices in northern New Jersey, that figure could be as high as $65,000 (or more) depending on type and location of the home. According to mortgage industry executive and videocaster Barry Habib, 74% of millennials are ready to purchase a home within 12 months but 88% say they have significantly less than 20% of the sale price saved up for down payment. In fact, 14% state they have nothing saved up.

What’s a young first-time home buyer to do?

FHA-backed mortgages for first-time buyers
If you’re a millennial buying your first home, don’t despair—this is not your father’s real estate market anymore and that includes the types of home loans available. Has your real estate agent mentioned FHA loans? These federally guaranteed mortgages enable you to put down far less on a home. In fact, you can have as low as 3.5% of the purchase price to put down, and less-than-perfect credit to qualify for an FHA loan (the minimum credit score is 580 to qualify, unless you are putting down at least 10%). As with all mortgages, the lending institution will make the determination regarding loan qualification.

You’ll pay higher costs on the transaction, but these loans are the leg up many young buyers need to realize the dream of home ownership.

What is the FHA
FHA stands for the Federal Housing Administration, an entity of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It provides mortgage insurance on loans made by FHA-approved lenders on single family and multi-family homes in the U.S. FHA-backed mortgages are also available to certain borrowers who have filed bankruptcy or foreclosed on a previous property.

Work with a real estate brokerage that shows you the ropes
At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we work with many first-time home buyers at all income levels and with a variety of down payment savings. We understand what it takes—beyond showing homes in certain towns or within certain budgets—to get a real estate transaction from start to finish with as few hiccups as possible. One of the biggest roadblocks is qualifying for a mortgage, so we provide advice about mortgage options—including FHA loans; we also stress the importance of getting pre-approved for a mortgage in the tight market we operate in, which you can read about in this prior blog post. Contact us to get your home buying process started in Caldwell at (973) 228-1050 or Little Falls at (973) 364-1111.

Buying and Selling Real Estate During the Pandemic

John Sass, broker owner of CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty

While we all work through the COVID-19 pandemic, the business of real estate continues in different ways. For homeowners wishing to sell and prospective buyers looking for their new home, conducting real estate transactions continues, with modifications.

CENTURY 21® Real Estate LLC has been a national leader in real estate technology, with strong marketing and listing tools. Technology now plays a central and highly visible role in how real estate is done now—from the virtual sales meetings that brokerages hold for their agents to virtual tours posted online for buyers.

Technology brings efficiency and safety
At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we had already been doing extensive virtual tours, created by our system automatically with images shot by professional photographers. These provide buyers with a full view of a home’s interior and exterior; they’re a great way for buyers to save time as they get a feel for home styles, narrow down their search to which properties to see in person, and make informed decisions about what they can afford. These video tours are augmented by floor plans of each home on the MLS listing, which further help buyers in their decision-making process.

Buyers appreciate the ability to view homes online at their convenience and from any distance; and in today’s environment, sellers appreciate that this limits the number of people coming into their home.

We also stay in touch with our customers via video chat and Facebook Live (as well as phone and email, of course) and are using various online meeting platforms to connect with our sales associates and strategic partners as more people work remotely.

Coronavirus safety protocols
Early in the pandemic, CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty implemented our nationwide system’s buyer and seller showing protocols, which are designed to protect all parties involved and ensure that everyone who works with our team is comfortable. In fact, we will only work with other professionals and customers who follow our prescribed safety measures.

  • Anyone entering a home must wear gloves, a mask, and shoe booties: real estate agents, buyers, photographers, appraisers, and home inspectors.
  • The homeowners are asked to turn on all the lights in the house and leave while the photographer is there to take pictures. This avoids unnecessary contact with light switches and people.
  • We conduct in-person, one-on-one showings only (no open houses). Again, all the lights are on in advance and buyers and agents (and sellers) adhere to the six-foot distancing rule.
  • Our agents must state in writing that they have not had the virus, as do all buyers and sellers with whom we do business. If any party to the transaction did have the virus, this must be disclosed, and all parties must acknowledge this and consent to moving forward.
  • Buyers must get preapprovals from their mortgage company before seeing a property. This limits the number of people viewing a home in a certain price range; and in today’s market, with historically low interest rates, this prequalification also benefits the buyer to lock into a low rate now.
  • Attorneys and title companies are working virtually, with electronic documents and e-signature capabilities for contactless paperwork and closings with limited contact.
  • Our two office locations are disinfected regularly, conference room use is limited, and measures are in place to reduce the potential for infection from secondary contact from surfaces.


At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest, we have the experience, market knowledge, and real estate technology to adapt to the rapidly changing world we are now in. We have a range of listings—single-family homes, condos, and townhouses—in great suburban locations. After you’ve taken a few virtual video tours, contact us to arrange a showing.

How the SALT Deduction is Affecting NJ Real Estate Market

Photo Credit: Denise Kappa

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act took effect for taxpayers upon filing their 2018 tax returns earlier this year. One of the biggest changes felt by homeowners in New Jersey—the state with the highest property taxes in the nation—was the state and local tax (SALT) deductions which include property, income, and sales taxes.

Property tax deductions
The SALT deduction allows taxpayers in high-tax states to deduct their local tax payments on their federal tax returns. Before the 2018 tax year, no maximum limits were attached to that deduction amount. Anyone who itemizes can deduct property taxes; the other taxes are their choice.

However, the new tax law placed a cap, for those who claim deductions, of $10,000 for income and property taxes. Ouch! Especially for homeowners in high-end markets, with homes valued at $1 million-plus, that cap represents an enormous drop in the deduction from what those taxpayers were claiming just two years ago.

In northern New Jersey—particularly in highly taxed municipalities in Bergen, Essex, and Passaic counties—these deductions for taxpayers who itemize were highly valued when filing their federal tax returns.

As our friend Joseph Isabella, a loan officer at Investors Bank illustrated in a recent presentation to our Cedarcrest team, “If you are paying $25,000 in income taxes to NJ and $25,000 in property taxes to your North Jersey town, that $50,000 deduction goes down to $10,000.” This is certainly affecting wealthier taxpayers, who now pay a higher tax bill to the federal government. However, middle-class Americans who itemize (or had itemized), and who pay substantial property taxes, have also felt the pinch.

Mortgage interest and home equity/HELOC deductions
Another reason why the TCJA affects those with high-value homes is that the bill also reduces the limit on deductible mortgage debt.

  • For loans taken out after December 15, 2017, the cap is $750,000. Loans existing on December 15, 2017 of up to $1 million are not subject to the new $750,000 cap (they are grandfathered in). This figure is based on married filing jointly status; for a married filing separately or a single filer, the cap is half ($375,000).
  • If you have a loan of up to $1 million that existed on that mid-December date, you may refinance it and still deduct the interest. However, the new loan must not exceed the amount of the mortgage being refinanced.
  • Interest is still deductible on second homes, subject to the $1 million/$750,000 limits.
  • The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminates the deduction for interest paid on home equity loans and lines of credit for tax years 2018-2025 unless you use(d) those funds to purchase, renovate or substantially improve your primary or second home (any personal expenses are excluded, such as education or debt consolidation).

While high-net-worth individuals are seeing the biggest impact on their tax returns, the loss in deductions could be offset by the decrease of the top federal income tax rate, the doubling of the estate tax deduction, and the cutting of the capital gains rate.

Taking a broader view, these deduction limits may not have the negative effect many people fear. Due to their income or tax bracket, many taxpayers don’t qualify for itemization on their tax returns and/or are best served taking the (now higher) standard deduction. For taxpayers who are single or married but filing separately, the standard deduction is $12,000. For heads of households, it is $18,000 and $24,000 for the married filing jointly taxpayers.

Yes, New Jersey has high property taxes, but it also has some great places to live—with lots of town services and strong school systems supported by those local property taxes. John Sass, broker owner of CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, notes that, “Prior to buying or selling a home, consumers should consult with their tax advisors/accountants to see how the new tax laws may affect them, given their particular circumstances. This is especially true now as 2020 approaches. With lots of numbers to crunch and tax strategies to consider, it’s a great time to talk about tax matters related to real estate transactions with your trusted advisor.”

It’s also a great time to come talk to our real estate professionals at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty. Whether you’re looking for a new home or putting yours on the market, our team’s expertise in North Jersey real estate will help make the process a smooth one, every step of the way.

On the Market for a Home? Here are Five Considerations Before You Buy.

Are you a first-time home buyer? If so, here are five issues into consideration as you engage in your house hunt. Doing so will help avoid surprises that could bog down your transaction.

Is now the right time for you to buy?

This depends somewhat on your career situation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of workers of ages 55 to 64 is 10.1 years, while for workers ages 25 to 34, it is only 2.8 years on average. If a distant job relocation is in the foreseeable future or career advancement is likely to take you out of the area, consider remaining a renter for now. Conventional wisdom is that you need to stay in the home for at least five years in order to recoup the amount of money you spent to purchase it.

Identify your housing criteria

Do you have a “dream home” in mind? Are you willing to modify your dream? After all, no house is totally perfect. We suggest you:

  • Create a list of absolute musts and reasons why—such as the town (for the school district, town services, property tax rate, environment), style and size of house, proximity to work, public transportation, etc.
  • Be flexible. Cosmetic updates may be needed in an otherwise great house so don’t let those deter you. If you like a house that needs a lot of work but has great bones, ask if the selling price is negotiable enough to make a reasonable offer.

What can you afford—including closing costs?

Set yourself up for success by first developing a budget that includes how much down payment and monthly mortgage payments you can afford. Then, look at the closing fees you’ll have to cover at time of loan settlement. These are fees paid to various third parties as part of expediting and closing the transaction.

As the home buyer, you are expected to cover most of those closing costs (3-4% of the home’s price) compared to what the seller will. Included are:

  • Title company closing fee for the representative who supervises the title transfer
  • Title search – this ensures there are no liens on the property to prevent you from buying it
  • Lender’s title insurance – protects the mortgage lender if something was overlooked in the title search
  • Document recording fees (deed and mortgage)
  • Loan origination fee – paperwork processing
  • Home appraisal
  • Home inspection
  • Survey fee (single-family homes, townhomes)
  • Escrow deposit – usually covers two months of prepaid property taxes and mortgage insurance payments
  • Taxes on money you borrowed for your home loan
  • Discount/mortgage points – paid to your lender in exchange for a lower interest rate, which has great long-term value
  • PMI, or private mortgage insurance, if you put down less than 20 percent of the purchase price
  • Other fees include running your credit report, underwriting and assessing your creditworthiness, wire/courier fees, attorney fees, and real estate agent commission

Federal law mandates that mortgage lenders provide borrowers with a loan estimate form in advance of the closing, denoting all the approximate closing costs. You may opt to roll the closing costs into the mortgage, but you’ll be paying interest on that amount for the life of the loan.

NOTE: If buying a condominium, get as much information as you can about the homeowners association fees/common area charges, the regulations regarding home improvements in your unit, and the association’s track record on maintenance and repairs.

Check your credit report

As noted above, the lender will be doing so and so should you. Contact Equifax, Experian and/or TransUnion for your free annual report. You want your credit score (FICO score) to be high enough to qualify you for a favorable rate. Clean up any outdated or incorrect information you find on the report right away. Scores in the 750-850 range are considered excellent, 700-749 is good. Anything below 650 is considered poor, making you a credit risk in lenders’ eyes.

Work with CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty

Searching for a home—whether as a first-time buyer or a seasoned residential real estate owner—is exciting but with all the details, it can be bit daunting and time-consuming. At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest, our real estate professionals are dedicated to producing the best outcomes for every customer. When you work with our team, you’ll be with people who work tirelessly to help you navigate your real estate experience—with enthusiasm, confidence, and a passion for superior service—all backed by the industry-leading CENTURY 21® system and tools.

Contact us to get started on your journey to home ownership, or to find your next great home. We’re specialists in Essex County and Passaic County, NJ, and represent buyers and sellers from municipalities throughout North Jersey.

Working with Millennial First-Time Home Buyers

With most first-time home buyers falling within the millennial age range (those born between 1981 and 1996, ages 23 to 38 this year), real estate professionals might be interested in findings revealed in a recent Chase Home Lending survey. The survey was done among 1000 millennials about home ownership.

It turns out that they making smart financial decisions and saving money to make home ownership a reality. In fact, responses point to millennials being hyper-focused on the home buying journey. More than two-thirds of respondents said they want to talk about the process and about real estate topics, such as affordability and neighborhoods, with their friends.

Some other key findings include:

  • Seventy percent say they are willing to cut back on weekend activities in order to buy a home within the next 12 months – they are curtailing their shopping, dining out, movie-going and spa visits among their expense reduction tactics
  • Women are slightly more open to this idea than men
  • Fifty-two percent of first-time home buyers feel financially ready now
  • Many are optimistic about the home buying process
  • Seventy-one percent of women are willing to discuss real estate topics with friends while over 50 percent of men are comfortable talking about these on social media

Our takeaways at Century 21 Cedarcrest

1 – Real estate agents who provide an excellent transaction process with millennial homebuyers are likely to receive more referrals. After all, if these buyers are talking to their peers about the home buying journey, they are more likely to refer those agents with whom they are having a positive experience. This group values peer opinions; make sure you’re part of that.
2 – Members of this demographic are serious about positioning themselves for home ownership; and they want to learn more about becoming home owners. Whatever information or guidance you can provide will be a positive part of the transaction and help position you, as their real estate agent, as a trusted resource worth their referrals.
3 – If improving their credit score is an issue they are working on, or if they want to better understand home mortgages, look at your network to see who you can refer to help these home buyers make their dream of ownership a reality.
4 – With more than half of millennial first-time home buyers stating they feel financially ready to purchase a home, help them keep up the anticipation and excitement with relentlessly excellent service.

At Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we pride ourselves on making the process as smooth as possible for first-time home buyers. We understand you’ll have lots of questions and our team has the answers—and the listings that meet your criteria, from neighborhoods to school systems to town services and more. Whether it’s a condominium, townhouse, or single-family home, contact Century 21 Cedarcrest about what you’re looking for.