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.

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.

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.

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.

Spotlight on . . . Omar Ibrahim

At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we’re thrilled to have the next generation of real estate pros join our agency. The newest addition to our team is a true Gen Zer—19-year-old college student, Omar Ibrahim.

Omar, who lives in Clifton, is a sophomore at Rutgers University, studying industrial engineering. He attended real estate school last December, got his license in January, and joined Cedarcrest Realty in early summer. Why real estate?

“I’d always been interested in learning more about real estate with an eye towards future investing, and had been reading books and watching videos about it; I’d been thinking that becoming a real estate agent would be a great steppingstone to becoming a real estate investor,” explained Omar. “I became friendly with a former Cedarcrest Realty agent in town, who told me a lot about the real estate field, which propelled me to get my license. He spoke highly of the Cedarcrest office so when it was time to join a brokerage, that was the first place I went.”

Omar is grateful for the coaching he’s getting from Dennis DiSabato, sales manager in our Caldwell office. “I’m learning a lot here on the job that wasn’t covered in real estate school. Dennis is very up-to-date with what’s going on in our markets and has shared great techniques to getting transactions done smoothly; he’s been so great to work with.”

With college classes being held virtually right now, Omar says that although he’s a full-time student, he has plenty of time to work the CENTURY 21 leads system and MLS listings to help people searching for a new home. He has several deals in the pipeline already, representing both buyers and sellers in Essex and Passaic counties. He says strong time management skills are key to juggling school and work and so far, so good.

Broker owner John Sass notes that while Omar has duly impressed all of us at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest, he is equally impressive in his academic life. He was a project manager for NASA HUNCH, leading a team of students in creating prototypes for the International Space Station; they were recognized for their success, ranking in the top seven teams nationwide, by the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Omar represents what passionate, focused people can achieve in any field. The fact that as a new agent, at such a young age, he’s been able to get five real estate deals moving ahead this summer is a glimpse of where he’s going in life,” said John. “We are looking forward to helping him rock his real estate career as part of the new generation of agents we are bringing into CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty.”

Eleven Years Already? Here’s to the Next 11 Years of Superior Service at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest

We’re looking for dedicated real estate professionals and motivated newcomers to join the business

Broker owner John Sass and our real estate team at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty celebrated 11 years as a leading North Jersey real estate brokerage in June 2020. Where did the years go? It seems like yesterday that John took over the Caldwell office after many years in recruiting and training for other CENTURY 21 agencies.

Marking his 11th anniversary as broker owner, John notes these agency milestones:

  • Taking ownership of Cedarcrest Realty in 2009
  • Earning the CENTURY 21 Quality Service Pinnacle Award—the system’s top customer service award—10 years in a row
  • The Caldwell office received the CENTURY 21 CENTURION® Award in 2018 (the top award for sales production) AND the CENTURY 21 President’s Award that year, which is a rare honor
    • The President’s Award is most prestigious honor given to producers, teams and offices that achieve both CENTURION® level production and the Quality Service Pinnacle Award in the same year
  • Opening a second office in Little Falls in 2019 to better serve home buyers and sellers and commercial clients throughout North Jersey

Positioning CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest for continued excellence
Our agency is always recruiting great people who want to become real estate agents or are experienced pros who want to make a move. We have two offices in North Jersey to staff with motivated, dedicated people who love sales, working with all sorts of people, and enjoy stepping up to meet the challenges we all face in today’s marketplace. The CENTURY 21 motto is “Be Relentless” and we are just that when it comes to delivering quality service to home buyers, sellers, and our team.

  • New to real estate: Our office offers opportunities for people entering the real estate field, who are going for their real estate license, and who are seeking mentorship from top sales professionals, guidance, and professional development.
  • Experienced agents: If you feel stale in the job, stalled in their career, or not supported at their current agency, please come talk to us. CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest offers the training and support you need to take your career and your transactions to the next level. We’ll share techniques to boost your production while providing the high level of service we’ve been known for over the past 11 years.
  • Excellent training/support: We have our own on-site training room in our Caldwell office, where we’ve begun holding in-person classes again (with all the necessary health guidelines in place); we also have ongoing virtual training classes which include CENTURY 21 system-wide training as well as our own programs we’ve developed.
  • Personal coaching: Our sales manager, Dennis DiSabato provides one-on-one coaching to agents at all levels of experience, applying his experience to help our team members put transactions together and get them to closing—including deals that encounter roadblocks that could derail them completely.

Drive, passion, communication
At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest, we know the value of good old-fashioned communication; after all, real estate is a people-oriented business. It’s about building trust and relationships. If you’re someone who understands that sometimes, there’s no greater tool than getting on the phone to talk to buyers and sellers, let’s talk. We are adding to our team with people who rise to a challenge, address problems as they occur, and enjoy real conversations with people . . . professionals who understand how the real estate sales process works and how to make it work for them.

Interested? Contact John Sass at 973.228.1050, ext. 102 or johnsassc21re@gmail.com.

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.