First-Time Home Buyer? Cedarcrest Realty is Here to Help

You’ve been renting an apartment or house but now you’re thinking about buying your first home in North Jersey. There are many considerations for first-time home buyers—from determining your budget to locating your target neighborhoods.

Entering the real estate market can be exciting—and for first-time buyers, a bit daunting (we promise it gets easier after your first home purchase!). It’s no secret that we live in an expensive part of the country with high real estate taxes. But don’t let that deter you from finding a great starter home in Bergen, Essex, Morris, or Passaic counties (or beyond). There are many wonderful towns and homes in all price ranges.

Let’s break it down for you.

Considerations for first-time home buyers

  1. Budget – determining your home-buying budget will then determine many other factors involved in your decision—size of the house, neighborhood/town, type of mortgage, and more. The sale price of any home is not the only cost consideration—there will be approximate monthly mortgage payments, real estate taxes, and utility costs. In the case of a condominium or townhouse community, common area charges and/or homeowner association (HOA) fees must be included. Your real estate agent can go over all the typical expenses involved, and help you formulate a comfortable working budget.
  2. Settling on a budget will lead you to the next steps in the house hunt. Knowing what you can comfortably afford will help you zero in on certain towns or areas, and the type of house in your budget. Choosing the area and type of home are highly subjective decisions and many criteria play into it. For example:
    1. Do you prefer urban, suburban, or more rural communities?
    2. Do you need bus or rail availability, or access to highways?
    3. Is the public school system important to you if you plan to raise children there?
    4. What features are must-haves vs. want-to-have in the home?
    5. A fixer-upper in an urban location may be right for you—if you have the funds to invest in the needed renovations or can tackle those yourself.
    6. Perhaps a smaller house in a desirable town is a great starter home, with room to expand or move up in later years.
    7. Or maybe, despite renting all those years, you’ve socked away a hefty amount for a down payment and your income supports a jumbo mortgage on a big house on a large piece of land. Go for it!
  3. Our Cedarcrest Realty associates can provide valuable information about the towns in the counties we serve, with relevant tax rate figures, the town amenities (recreation facilities, programming for residents, shopping, and dining options) and what your local real estate taxes cover (such as garbage and recycling pickup). Your agent will also provide the comparative sales analyses that will help you arrive at a competitive offer price.

  4. Mortgage pre-approval – at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we strongly recommend (especially in the crowded North Jersey real estate market) to get pre-approved for a mortgage (not just pre-qualified). A lender’s pre-approval letter, while not a guarantee of a loan, is a commitment by the lender to a certain amount (pending appraisal). This shows you are serious about making an offer, as it is a more rigorous process than pre-qualification.
  5. About that mortgage: Having a strong credit score will help you qualify for a favorable program, so it’s important to know your credit score and take steps to improve it if necessary. Review your finances to see how you can save as much as possible (while also meeting your existing financial obligations, of course), and assess where you can cut if necessary. The traditional down payment is 20% of the purchase price but there are programs available for home buyers who have less set aside for the down payment.

  6. The offer – once you find the right house, your real estate agent will help you negotiate an offer and guide you through the next steps once your offer is accepted. There are a lot of them! There will be certain disclosures to consider and items you may want repaired before the sale (or use as a bargaining tool if you agree to handle those once the sale is completed). There will be a home inspection, appraisal, title search, and mortgage approvals. Your Cedarcrest agent will also explain the closing costs associated with your transaction so you can be prepared for everything in that exciting home stretch.

Your real estate agent at CENTURY 21 Cedarcest Realty will walk you through the entire home buying process, and provide guidance at each step. Our team also has many in-office resources as well as trusted professionals in related fields such as mortgage lenders and home inspectors. The New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency has a helpful guide with lots of information about what to expect during your first-time home search, and our specialists in North Jersey real estate are here to help. Call our Caldwell office at 973-228-1050 or in Little Falls at 973-364-1111 to get started on your home-buying journey.

The Benefits of Real Estate Staging

The practice of real estate staging isn’t new—it was first introduced in the 1970s—but it has become an increasingly popular and important tool for real estate agents and homeowners selling a home. Staging a home enables potential buyers to really see the full view of the property and helps them envision how they would use it.

According to the National Association of REALTORS® 2021 Profile of Home Staging, home staging is a significant part of home buying and selling. The report notes that:

  • Eighty-two percent of buyers’ agents said staging made it easier for a buyer to visualize the property as a future home.
  • Twenty-three percent of both buyers’ and seller’s agents said that home staging raised the dollar value offered between 1% and 5%, compared to similar homes on the market that hadn’t been staged.
    • Eighteen percent of sellers’ agents said home staging increased a residence’s dollar value by 6% to 10%.
    • Thirty-one percent said that home staging greatly decreased the amount of time a home spent on the market.

What is real estate staging
Staging originally meant decluttering rooms, arranging the furniture, and making basic or cosmetic repairs. Today—especially in competitive markets like northern New Jersey—home stagers may recommend steps that totally transform rooms. The idea is to show off the spaces to their best advantage by creating an updated, clean, appealing environment—the ultimate model home. That may entail:

  • Removing or replacing some furniture (to make the room look larger and to utilize the space more efficiently or to show off special features)
  • Accessorizing with pillows, plants, towels, new bed covers, and lifestyle accessories
  • Removing many personal family photos and knickknacks that can distract prospective buyers and add clutter to shelves and tables
  • Repainting rooms to be more neutral backdrops, replacing carpeting or flooring if necessary.
  • Update lighting
  • Add some artwork to walls or shelves for pops of color and interest
  • Include seasonal or location-specific décor or accessories

According to the NAR report, the living room is the most important and most common room to stage, followed by the master bedroom and kitchen. However, with more people working from home at least part of the time these days, staging a home office could be just as important.

The value of strong visuals
The expression “You never have a second chance to make a good first impression” certainly plays out when it comes to staging. As real estate professionals, we understand the value of having great photography and video to help show a home and give buyers a first look that entices them to see the home with their real estate agent. A professionally staged home photographs beautifully and shows better on video tours and walkthroughs as well.

Work staging into the budget
Staging an empty home may be easier than working with existing furnishings, and the costs will also depend on the size and condition of the home. Factor in the local market competition and estimated return on staging investment—which for luxury listings will be nominal. Even for homes in the mid-market range, sellers should consider the few thousand dollars it costs to be money very well spent. You’ll see good ROI when you sell your home in less time, getting asking price or above (avoiding a price reduction) for a beautifully staged home that attracts motivated buyers.

At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we are experts in North Jersey real estate, and we know what it takes to market a home in our highly competitive area. Our goal is to provide superior customer service throughout every step of every transaction. Our real estate associates will walk through your home and make suggestions for decluttering areas, rearranging or removing furniture, making simple repairs, and painting where needed. If a larger-scale staging effort is needed, we can make recommendations for certified home stagers as well as professional organizers, cleanout experts, and other service providers that can help get your house in order, inside and out, before listing it for sale.

Contact our Caldwell office at 973-228-1050 or in Little Falls at 973-364-1111 if you’re putting your house on the market or if you’re shopping for a new house, condo, or townhouse. We’re here to help!

Luxury Property Real Estate Transactions: CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest’s Fine Homes & Estates

We are blessed to have offices in Essex County and Passaic County, where many high-end homes are also located, with proximity to other luxury markets in Bergen County and Morris County. As a real estate brokerage that is part of the CENTURY 21 Fine Homes & Estates® program, we have the knowledge and resources to market luxury homes in our market. This is a specialized division that caters to the home buyers and sellers in the luxury market.

What constitutes a luxury home?
According to CENTURY 21 Real Estate, a luxury listing is one that is priced at three times the market area’s median price, and typically is in the top 10% tier of the local real estate market.

According to the New Jersey REALTORS®, the single-family median sales price was $458,675 in June 2021 (up by about 29% over the prior year); given that figure, a luxury listing in our area would start at approximately $1,380,000. In addition to price point, other criteria may include the home’s condition, size (property and house), number of bedrooms and bathrooms, location (neighborhood as well as environment such as waterfront property or golf/country club community), and high-end amenities.

Who are today’s luxury-home buyers?
Urban buyers who came out to North Jersey during the pandemic, seeking more house and space drove luxury home sales over the past year, as the money they were paying to live in New York City went (and still goes) further in our suburbs. These buyers are often well-positioned to buy the prestigious properties within our Fine Homes & Estates portfolio.

Further, they are usually millennials who postponed buying a “starter home” as their parents probably did, and now have the purchasing power to go big. In fact, according to the National Association of REALTORs, millennials comprise the largest cohort of home buyers nationwide followed by Gen Xers. Given they have delayed their residential real estate purchases and with mortgage rates historically low, it’s prime time for this population to enter the luxury market.

What do they want in an upscale home?
Some high-end amenities are based on the home’s location or the buyer’s profile, but some common sought-after upgrades include:

  • Expansive outdoor entertaining space (complete with chef-worthy outdoor kitchen, built-in fireplace, multi-level patio or deck, spa, lush gardens)
  • Kitchens with work/dining island, European appliances, industrial stoves
  • Private dock and/or beach for waterfront properties
  • Wine cellar
  • Smart appliances/connected home
  • Fully equipped media room.
  • Home office(s) or playroom
  • Guest/caregiver bedroom and bath
  • Energy efficiency features from solar panels to tankless water heaters

Tools to market luxury homes
Preparing to list and market these distinctive homes requires a higher level of preparation and attention to detail. With the CENTURY 21 Fine Homes & Estates program, Cedarcrest Realty has access to specialized marketing tools to effectively market distinctive homes and address the expectations of the more affluent buyer or seller. For example, our real estate associates who work within this segment understand that they may be expected to work with or negotiate with other individuals such as trusted advisors (attorneys, accountants, business managers) or professional associates of the buyers or sellers.

Marketing your New Jersey luxury home

Every listing in Cedarcrest Realty’s Fine Homes & Estates program receives extensive exposure to potential buyers and their real estate agents through multimedia marketing and advertising support, which includes:

  • Strong curbside visibility with our “Fine Homes and Estates” signage
  • Exposure nationwide and internationally on hundreds of websites that cater to exclusive lifestyles, including Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com), RobbReport. com, duPontREGISTRY.com, LuxuryHomes.com, James Edition, MansionGlobal.com
  • Professional real estate photography
  • Professionally written and designed marketing collateral that highlights the property’s unique high-end features
  • Property brochures distributed to potential luxury home buyers and the area’s finest real estate offices
  • Featured listing in Suburban Essex magazine, Essex County’s upscale lifestyle magazine read by your potential buyers
  • Outreach to our extensive Global Broker Referral Network℠

Remarkable homes for sale require remarkable service and attention. At CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we have won multiple industry and consumer awards in recognition of our high level of customer service (as well as sales). Rest assured, our Fine Homes & Estates team will create an award-winning experience for your luxury home listing or to help you find the distinctive property you seek in North Jersey. Contact our office in Caldwell at (973) 228-1050 to get started.

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.