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.

You Found Your Dream House Online – Now What?

Online shopping and e-commerce work great for clothing and housewares—but what about a house?

Many people start their home buying journey with online searches, made easy today by multiple listing services that real estate brokerages like CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty subscribe to. Once only accessible to real estate professionals, these MLS listings are now readily available to consumers. But once you find a house online you want, then what do you do?

The importance of representation for buyers and sellers
If you think working without a real estate agent is easy—on either the home buying or selling side of the transaction—you might want to think again. According to CENTURY 21 Real Estate, there are around 180 steps involved in every successful real estate transaction.

Direct-to-consumer sales of homes or commercial properties lack a critical element in the sale or purchase of real estate—representation by a real estate professional, someone who works in your best interest to get you to the closing as smoothly as possible. There’s a lot at stake, and no real estate agent means you won’t having someone guiding you through all the steps in a DIY transaction.

When you work with a real estate agent, especially one who’s backed by an experienced, respected brokerage, you get service from start to finish, adding tremendous value and peace of mind, step by step.

  • Writing the contract of sale
  • Buyer pre-qualifications
  • Arranging and conducting showings
  • Staging the home
  • Pricing and marketing the property
  • Preparing buyers to make a strong offer that will be accepted
  • Presenting the buyer to the seller
  • Negotiations between buyer and seller
  • Mortgage pre-approval and follow-through on the loan
  • Setting up home inspection and appraisal

For many consumers, this is the largest dollar transaction they’ll conduct in their lives. There are numerous details to track during this important person-to-person arrangement. Having an experienced third party to handle the details is a key to success.

Award-winning service
At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we know what it takes to get buyers and sellers to the closing table, with annual service awards that recognize our commitment to our customers.

As a full-service real estate brokerage, we don’t skimp on service; rather, we invest in each transaction.

  • We work closely with our buyers to show them how to structure a strong offer, which is especially important in a tight real estate market like North Jersey.
  • We personally present buyers to sellers the old-fashioned way—with meaningful conversation.
  • Our team will help stage your home or recommend professional home stagers to attract more prospective buyers.
  • We set pricing at the right level for sale.
  • We market your property to get the most people looking—from photos and videos to listings where they matter most.
  • Follow up with all parties to keep the transaction moving forward – inspectors, lender, attorneys, etc.
  • Coordinate the closing down and migration of utilities

When you work with CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest, you work with real estate agents who make sure every aspect of the process is set up, timed right, and followed through. As REALTORs we are also bound by a strict code of ethic and abide by the stated rules and regulations that protect buyers and sellers from illegal or unethical practices. If you’re on the market for a home or are preparing to sell yours, we’re here to help—every step of the way.

How to Handle a Real Estate Bidding War

In northern New Jersey, the inventory of homes for sale has been relatively tight for several years, with more prospective buyers vying for homes on the market. That often means a bidding war, as home buyers attempt to be the one who gets the house they want.

Also driving this demand right now is the trend forecasted a couple of months ago (in the early weeks of the pandemic) and is now a reality—people are leaving the cities for more space in the suburbs. We’re seeing not only an increased number of people in our sales lead pipeline, but also where they are from—the majority being from congested urban areas outside of the suburban Essex County and Passaic County towns. These are well-qualified buyers, usually in their mid-30s and starting families. They are looking for homes across price ranges and they’re bringing large down payments to secure the home of their dreams.

That said, we’re seeing every property—whether single family or two-family (another popular property type right now) being bid upon by multiple buyers. Some properties are selling for $50,000 over asking price and, with tight inventory, many go to contract within a week, especially those that are priced right at market level and are professionally staged.

Here are some recommendations for buyers in a tight housing market, to engage smartly in a bidding war:

1 – Before you even go out to look at houses, get pre-approved for a mortgage. We cannot stress this enough. This is more rigorous than pre-qualification because the mortgage lender will run your credit, check your job information, and verify income. Based on that, the lender will tell you how much money the bank is prepared to lend you with a commitment to an actual amount (subject to appraisal).

2 – Make a larger-than-normal down payment. This shows you have serious intention of buying.

3 – Accelerate the time frame for making the second deposit after signing the contract (within 5 to 7 days instead of 10). As soon as the contract is signed, make that next payment!

4 – Accelerate the home inspection as well; get it done within one business week instead of two.

Advice to sellers
Before you put your house on the market, invest in cosmetic upgrades and basic repairs, like painting, refinishing floors or replacing old carpet, or replacing a tired-looking bathroom vanity. Fix what’s broken, clean out the attic, and organize the garage and the basement. Consider getting a pre-inspection so you’ll have a home inspector’s report on the major issues to take care of in advance.

Also invest in real estate staging to visually merchandise your home. A professionally staged home sells more quickly, and that more inviting interior may invite higher bids.

With a house that shows well and hungry buyers at your door, it’s tempting to accept the highest price; but at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we feel it’s more important to accept the strongest buyers (see list above). Terms are so important now, especially as people are dealing with the effects of the pandemic, with layoffs, furloughs, or reduced hours. You want to make sure the buyer can complete the contract process without issue. Your Cedarcrest Realty real estate agent, as your partner, can help you assess your buyer pool.

Contact us if you’re thinking of listing your home for sale in northern New Jersey, or if you’re looking for a great house that checks off all the boxes for you. We have two offices to serve you, in Caldwell (973) 228-1050 and Little Falls (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.

Winter Home Improvement Projects for North Jersey Homeowners

In northeast New Jersey where our offices are located, snow, ice and cold temperatures make outdoor renovation and home improvement projects unlikely in the winter. However, there are some projects you can do now to get your home ready for an early spring showing, or to beautify and update your home for your pleasure.

If your project requires a contractor or home improvement specialist, you may be able to take advantage of these professionals’ off season in terms of scheduling and rates., before they get into the spring hustle.

TIP: Remember to check your municipality regarding which kinds of projects require permits from the building department and build that into your timeline.

Paint and accessories

Painting your home’s interior is a great indoor project and instantly refreshes rooms (we recommend you choose light neutral tones if your home is going on the market). After you’re done painting, you might be inspired to change out carpeting or area rugs, add toss pillows in new colors, or hang new drapes in coordinating colors.

Bathroom or kitchen remodel

Whether you’re considering cosmetic changes such as new kitchen counters and cabinets, or a new bathroom vanity, or a more large-scale renovation, remodeling will bring new life to your home. A full kitchen renovation may not pay off in terms of sale price, since tastes and lifestyles differ, but appliance upgrades, freshening up cabinetry, and new lighting are great ways to update a kitchen.

A popular bathroom upgrade is to replace the traditional showerhead with a spa-style showerhead that offer a more luxurious shower experience. Handheld shower heads are also a great (and less expensive) shower upgrade. If you’re going for a full bathroom remodel, heated floors, overhead heat lamp, and heated towel bars are other luxuries to consider including.

Even low-cost updates, such as painting walls a new color or adding a colorful backsplash can perk up these spaces and add value to your home. If you’re prepping your home for sale, these changes will also give you new ideas for real estate staging.

Weatherproofing

There are many ways to make your home more energy efficient and comfortable, from adding insulation to walls or the attic to sealing up cracks and caulking around windows. Even your high-hat lighting cans can be an entry point for cold or hot air. Replacing old exterior doors with insulated models will also “tighten the envelope.” Installing smart thermostats also help control energy costs. A more expensive project with long-term benefits is to replace old windows with top-quality energy-efficient windows.

Organize the garage

Grab a jacket and get out there to organize your gardening, snow and hand tools. Hang wall units made specially for holding and hanging these items, and shelves above or in front of vehicles to stack boxes, cans and large objects. If you have a workbench, hang a peg board for hand tools and store large items underneath the table. Clean out what you no longer need (including old boxes of stuff that came with you from the last move).

Prune and nourish your trees

OK, this one’s outdoors . . . but late winter is a great time to trim trees and shrubs before the spring bloom starts. The bare limbs give you clear visibility and because the trees and shrubs are dormant, they are less likely to attract insects or disease. This is also a time to add fertilizer in preparation for spring. Take time now to plan out any landscaping updates as well.

Install a security system

From smart doorbells to connected alarms, these products will keep your family and belongings safer and are a great selling point to prospective buyers.

Finish the basement

This is a highly worthwhile project, providing extra (and insulated) workspace, storage, a playroom or entertainment area for your family-even a guest bedroom depending on the home’s structure. A finished basement also increases your home’s value. It’s like adding on a room without breaking ground.

At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, our sales associates will review your home improvement plans or discuss timely projects that make good sense to handle right now. Contact us for questions about listing your North Jersey real estate.

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.