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.

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.

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.

In the Office, at an Expo, Online or at an Open House: Real Estate Marketing Happens in Many Places for Cedarcrest Realty’s Team

Three of the real estate professionals from CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty recently attended the North Jersey Woman Expo at Mayfair Farms in West Orange. Paula Cano, Carolyn Maloney and Lizette Brown were at our exhibitor table, handing out giveaways (including snacks labeled with their contact information) and chatting it up with attendees about the local real estate market.

This was the third year that Carolyn has represented us at the expo and a first for Paula and Lizette, who left with many leads to follow up on from people who may be planning to buy or sell a home in the area in the foreseeable future. Lizette had information to share about a new listing that had just come in for her team, so the expo provided good marketing exposure for that.

More good exposure came from our gift basket raffle; the basket drew people’s attention to our table and many stopped by to leave a business card for the drawing. This provided additional opportunities for our agents to speak to them about what we do at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest. As it so happens, the woman who won the basket is currently renovating her home in anticipation of putting it on the market. Given that she had a chance to chat with Paula at the show, Paula is now following up about and will meet with her to do a comprehensive market analysis for the house.

When our agents are not at business expos meeting hundreds of people, they are busy cultivating and working listings in other ways. For example, Carolyn and Jacqueline Cabrera, who often work as a team, have visited a condominium community across the street from our Caldwell office to hand out flower and herb seeds, along with information on how to cultivate balcony gardens. They have struck up conversations with condo residents and let residents know about the agency, should they know anyone interested in moving into the area—or if any residents are ready to upsize to a single-family home in northern New Jersey.

Of course, as part of the CENTURY 21® system, our entire team has access to the real estate industry’s best sales tools to get our listings in front of more prospects, and help prospective buyers find the types of properties they want and that are worth a look. There is always someone on site in our two offices (Caldwell and Little Falls) to assist by phone or in person during business hours. And we offer flexible open house schedules—such as twilight open houses—that help draw more people at the times they are available to attend.

Whether you’re buying or selling . . . on the market for a residential or commercial property . . . CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty is here to help in all ways possible!

Going into a Commercial Space? Follow These Five Steps.

CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest - Commercial Space TipsCENTURY 21 Cedarcrest is expanding and—if all goes well—we hope to move into a second office in the Township of Little Falls, in Passaic County. The last couple of months have been hectic, to say the least, with choosing a location and then dealing with all the aspects of the build out in our new space.

John Sass, broker owner of Cedarcrest Realty, shares these tips for companies that are moving into a new commercial space, and are undergoing renovation.

  1. Have a plan. Know in advance exactly how you envision the space, from its design to how it will be used and by whom. Plan down to the smallest details, with the help of your design and construction team. It might sound crazy but even the number and placement of electrical outlets and Wi-Fi connections will make a difference for your staff—so think about your number of employees, their jobs, where customers will be greeted or wait for service.
    1. For example, if it’s a retail location, your selling space is key; your back office, less so. Are you opening a restaurant? There is so much that goes into planning your back of the house as well as front of the house.
    2. Make sure, as part of your plan, that you hire professionals with experience in your type of commercial space or who have worked with the municipality before (always a good idea when dealing with a building department) or with your landlord.
    3. Also plan for delays that you cannot control (whether it’s a scheduling issue, equipment that has not arrived when expected, weather-related delays, etc.). No matter how well prepared you are, your project will take three times longer than anticipated (and probably cost twice as much!).
  2. Check with the town for all requirement and permitted uses for the property. Find out exactly which permits you’ll be required to take out, how you may use the property (is it retail only or can you put an office in that storefront?), and what will trigger a variance hearing with the zoning board. Ask the building department what it requires in terms of drawings or anything else that could catch you off guard during construction (and hold up the project).
  3. Get contractor estimates in writing. Make sure your general contractor (or any trades you hire) put their estimates in writing and commit to them. Get their timelines for getting your work down as well (do they have other jobs that will make it difficult for them to get to your project?)
    1. Be sure they are all licensed and insured and that those numbers are readily available to you.
    2. Before you sign, check references, their ratings, and see if there are any complaints against them at the NJ Division of Consumer Affairs.
  4. Maintain good communication with all parties. Keep an open line of communication with your architect, interior designer or space planner, the contractor, and the landlord. When everyone knows what’s going on, things will progress more smoothly, problems will be solved more efficiently, and you’ll avoid nasty surprises.
  5. Understand your landlord’s expectations. Bottom line—it’s the landlord’s building, not yours. The landlord expects the renovation work or installations to be completed in a timely fashion, and performed in accordance with the property. You cannot alter something that does not belong to you without the landlord signing off on the plan. Check your lease for any build out requirements or restrictions for both interior and, if applicable, exterior work. This includes awnings and signage.

Above all else, stay calm and remain flexible. Moving into a new commercial space is exciting but a lot will happen between finding the right location, signing the lease, and move-in day—even when there is little work to be done (perhaps just a coat of fresh paint or new flooring in an office). Even as a certified commercial specialist, we are tackling the challenges of building out a new office every day!

Is a Winter Season Home Sale the Right Time for You?

Photo by Emil Vilsek on Unsplash

Even in northern New Jersey, which has a healthy real estate market, it’s hard to know whether or not seasons play in the home sale cycle. With the cold temperatures and inevitable snow and ice, many homeowners—and home buyers—may feel it’s better to wait until spring.

Not so fast!

There are actually strong reasons to put your home on the market now. The common belief is that the spring market—when birds are chirping and gardens are blooming—is the best time to buy and sell real estate but here are some good reasons to put your house on the market in the late fall or winter.

  1. You attract more serious buyers. Really—these people are on the hunt and want a house now. Motivated buyers, for whatever their reason, are always searching for the right home in the right town for them. The winter months also gives these buyers a chance to scope out potential neighborhoods when other things are going on besides landscaping and swimming pools. They may love or abhor lots of holiday lights, for example, and want to see what goes on around the block during December and January (or even February for Valentine’s Day and March for St. Patrick’s Day). Or they may have concerns about whether the neighbors are keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice (and whether the town snowplows are doing a good job).
  2. Wintertime staging possibilities. A well-staged home attracts buyers and offers, and winter greenery, cozy throws and blankets, and the aroma of pumpkin spice can be very alluring.
  3. Competition is lighter. It’s all about supply and demand. With less “for sale” signs around town, yours will catch attention and yield calls to the real estate agency to see the house. Fewer homes on the market drives up buyer demand, increases the probability of showings and with those, strong offers.
  4. Speedier transactions (and less stress). Think of the real estate market as a highway; with fewer “cars” in the buying lane, there are no processing traffic jams for all parties involved and transactions can move along more quickly. Mortgage lenders have fewer loans to process, real estate attorneys are dealing with a lighter closing load, and home inspectors are more available.
  5. Your real estate agent is always ready! Good real estate agents know that any time of year is a good time to list a home and bring buyers around. Marketing tactics may shift with the seasons and these professionals are ready with tips to help sell your home at any time of year.

If you’re thinking of putting your home up for sale now, or are looking for a home in Essex County or throughout northern New Jersey, the real estate agents at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty are ready to help. Contact us at (973) 228-1050 to get started.