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.

Five Reasons to Forego a FSBO (For Sale By Owner)

For Sale By Owner - Century 21 CedarcrestYou’ve probably passed For Sale by Owner signs and wondered whether you could sell your house by yourself–and if it makes sense financially. The quick answer for most people: it’s a lot of work, for no guaranteed payoff. And the risks really aren’t worth it.

With FSBO (pronounced fizz-bow) transactions, sellers think they’ll save on commissions. But they’ll be missing out on what seasoned real estate agents do best–negotiating a great deal that could net you much more money than you’re likely to get on your own.

Factor in the hidden or unexpected expenses, say from potential legal or other problems, and it’s no wonder only 8% of homeowners in New Jersey decide to sell solo, according to the latest data from New Jersey Realtors®.

Here are some key reasons to work with a good real estate agent, backed by a solid brokerage, instead of FSBO:

  1. Pricing strategy

    Sure, you can look up comps and use online assessment tools, but there’s no substitute for local market knowledge. Experienced agents have a deep understanding of neighborhood and industry trends to help you determine the actual value of your home based on a detailed market analysis and any improvements you’ve made.

    The goal is to pinpoint the optimal price; too high, and your home sits on the market, a red flag for buyers. Too low, and you’ll get a bad return on perhaps your biggest investment.

  2. Prepping your property

    So what are buyers looking for these days? A good agent will know the answer, and how to position the look and feel of your property. Does a room need painting or minor repairs? How about swapping out some things, like furniture or a faucet? If you’re tackling a sale on your own, you might be tempted to do a major, unnecessary overhaul–or do nothing, which could turn off potential buyers immediately.

    Real estate agents also have relationships with professional stagers and photographers who can present your home in the best light for onsite showings and online photos.

  3. Marketing your home

    The more buyers who know about your home sale, the more likely you’ll get the price you’re looking for, in the shortest amount of time. Brokers and real estate agents have access to extensive resources and technology that will quickly broaden your field of serious prospects.

    Nearly all buyers start online, and that’s where FSBOs can have limited exposure. Agents get the word out through online portal listings, most notably the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which updates constantly. And, they reach a wider audience through social media channels, professional networks, and name recognition. You can list on the MLS as a FSBO, but it will cost you.

  4. Handling all those people

    A home that’s for sale is at the busy intersection of gawkers, serious buyers, buyers’ agents and attorneys, home inspectors, and possibly appraisers, to name a few. Showings alone can be exhausting. And with a FSBO, no one else is looking out for your interests or representing you.

    An experienced real estate agent will streamline the process, bring in more pre-approved buyers, and collect valuable feedback. You’ll yield the strongest offers and the most motivated sellers, plus get recommendations on appropriate counteroffers. Having a broker or agent experienced in such negotiations, and advising on final terms and conditions, will reduce stress and anxiety for you.

  5. Paper, paper, everywhere

    The closing process involves a huge stack of complicated paperwork, knowledge of local real estate law, and attention to detail to make sure the sale goes through. If you fail to disclose something crucial about your property, for example, you could face serious financial or legal repercussions and perhaps a buyer who walks away.

    Do you want the burden of making sure all the documentation is complete and accurate? And are you comfortable knowing all the regulations affecting your sale?

Our sign is a good sign
At Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty, our real estate pros will support you throughout the entire selling or buying process. We’re Essex County and northern New Jersey experts with a successful track record. Our agency has been voted “Best Realtor” four years in a row (and counting!) in Suburban Essex magazine’s Best of Essex Readers’ Choice Awards. Give us a call at 973-228-1050 to discuss your listing.

Why Winter 2018 is a Great Time to Purchase a Home

It’s no secret in the real estate business that the housing inventory in New Jersey is tight; there are far more buyers than sellers and it’s been that way for a while. This level of competition drives up housing prices (it seems we all know someone who ended up in a bidding war, whether as a home buyer or home seller, or have heard the stories). Another factor that drives home purchases: mortgage interest rates.

How do interest rates originate?
Interest rates are typically determined by a central bank in most countries. In the United States, representatives from the Federal Reserve Board and Federal Reserve Bank comprise the Federal Open Market Committee, which assesses the economic status of the country throughout the year and adjusts interest rates accordingly.

The central bank lends money to retail banks at a discount and then consumers borrow from the retail banks. The rates assigned by the central bank to the retail banks determine interest rates or Prime Interest Rates.

Why interest rates fluctuate
If the central bank wants to discourage consumer borrowing and encourage more saving, it raises interest rates. The banks rely on those deposits in order to raise their worth and have money to lend to another party, which generates additional income from interest collected. When the central bank wants to encourage consumer borrowing and increase spending, it will lower interest rates.

Mortgage interest rates today
Interest rates started creeping up a little bit late in the fall and continue a modest rise—from 3/8 to ½ of a percentage point. Bankrate predicts a slow and steady climb throughout the first half of this year due to various pressures on the U.S. bond market.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate rose .08 percent in the first week of January, a significant jump after a prior rate drop (it is currently slightly over 4 percent). That said, with New Jersey’s housing inventory being so tight and home values remaining fairly steady, why not strike while the iron is hot?

Some figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association:

  • The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.57 percent from 3.49 percent.
  • The 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage rose to 3.77 percent from 3.70 percent.
  • The 30-year fixed-rate jumbo mortgage rose to 4.21 percent from 4.14 percent.

Although the difference in monthly mortgage payments is quite small today as interest rates rise (a few dollars a month for most borrowers), there’s no telling where it could end up six months from now—and besides, why pay any more than you have to on a home loan?

Some Americans appear to be catching the clue. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, mortgage applications overall rose 8.3 percent for the week ending January 5, 2017; 52.9 percent of those were refinances (up nearly a full percentage point from the week before). Homeowners and those on the market to purchase a home are locking into rates now.

Get into a new home sooner than later
Again, there is tremendous competition for good houses in northern New Jersey, so if you are planning to purchase a home, there’s no time like the present to get into the real estate market. And, if your credit history is strong, it’s a great time to pre-qualify for a favorable mortgage program at preferential rates.

Another great reason to purchase a home now: you’ll beat the typical spring/summer rush, so there are fewer buyers to compete with. Fewer buyers may help keep prices moderated in your favor. Sellers may also be more willing to negotiate with you.

The real estate agents at Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty will help you zero in on the right towns to meet your criteria and your budget, and work hard to help make your transaction as smooth as possible. We’re experts in Essex County, where our office is located … but we work throughout northern New Jersey, from Hudson County to Warren County and everywhere in between. We’re here with our heavy winter coats, ready to show you our listings, so contact us to get into a new home this winter at (973) 228-1050.

Creating a Zen Garden for Your New Jersey Backyard

Zen—or dry—gardens date back to the late 14th century, when Zen Buddhist priests created these austere gardens for meditation and appreciation of beauty. These gardens had no water features; the priests created a feeling of water with rocks, even raking them to get a ripple-like appearance.

Zen gardens are appearing in backyards across northern New Jersey as well, taking a cue from Asian traditions by keeping the focus on nature. Homeowners may choose to create these gardens—made primarily of stone and gravel, often enhanced with moss, small plants or shrubs, and rock formations—to avoid having to water; others choose to install these for the quiet contemplation they invite and the serenity they provide. And, they are easy to maintain and are weatherproof. The homeowner needs simply to rake the gravel or sand, in desired designs. The very act of this raking can be in itself a meditation and is meant to be relaxing. Raked designs are often made to look like waves or streams.

Although they appear simple on the surface, Zen gardens have a complexity that is revealed as one takes time to enjoy the space. The homeowner takes an active (albeit, relaxing) role in changing the raked design, then stepping back to contemplate and enjoy it. The carefully groomed sand is meant to provide a refuge from the world.

Today’s Zen gardens may include enhancements such as ponds, bridges, lighting and sculpture but the raked sand and fine gravel are the canvas upon which these sit.

Designing your Zen Garden

This starts by defining the space: a corner of an existing garden, part of your yard or even the whole yard. Do some research or visit other Zen or Asian gardens for ideas about topography and the hardscape (the stone work). Do you want to include water or not? What about lighting?

Whatever you do, think nature—a space with rough edges. Plants are not the main attraction so select a few specimen plants that will enhance the design because of their color or texture. Also consider seasonal changes; in northern New Jersey we experience all four seasons very distinctly and so does plant life.

Then it’s time for your hardscape materials:

  • Stone – the structural basis for your Zen garden. Stepping stones, formations, borders, designs.
  • Pebbles – think river-rounded pebbles of various sizes that will create the fields, surround plants and outline paths.
  • Sand or fine gravel – this is used to create the illusion of water, raked as anything from a dry riverbed to roiling waves and ripples – the choice (and the fun) is all yours.

Other enhancements may include bamboo panels, statues (such as one of Buddha), low lighting (stone or concrete housing blends in best), and a koi fish pond. The plants you choose should offer some texture and color. Your landscaping professional or high-quality garden center should be able to make some smart suggestions.

You can find inspiration and ideas for your Zen garden on Pinterest and there are plenty of sources online or in your public library.

Adding a Zen garden to your New Jersey property will certainly make your home stand out, and will provide you with many tranquil hours enjoying and reconfiguring your creation.

Getting Ready to List Your Home – Steps You Can Take to Add Value for Buyers

Getting your home prepared for a listing with a real estate agency is an exciting time. Of course, your agent will want to be excited about your listing and bring as many qualified prospects as possible. Is your real estate professional providing you with guidance about how to add value to your home? These home maintenance and repair tips will help you increase your chances of a sale more quickly.

De-clutter and organize. No one wants to step through clutter, look in rooms or closets that are overflowing with unnecessary items, or have to imagine what the space could look like without a homeowners personal effects clouding the “scenery.” Before you list your home for sale, start going through all the rooms, from attic to basement, and clean out and organize. You can create piles for discard, donate and store; once you’ve done the first two, it’s time to organize your storage needs. Closet storage systems will help you keep clothes organized and make a great presentation. Garage and basement storage solutions are also available to keep items off the floor and in a safe place.

Refresh rooms with paint. That first impression will be largely influenced by the look and feel of your rooms. After you’ve cleaned and cleared, a fresh coat of paint in neutral colors will help rooms look larger and make prospective buyers feel better about your space. Bright colors might be your style but not theirs so avoid making too much of a “statement” in your color choice.

Update bathroom fixtures. Swap out those tired old bathroom faucets and the old sink; install a new vanity or a shower head; or put on new toilet seats if necessary. You need not spend lots of money to do these simple updates and a little goes a long way. Remember, clean and new is better than tired and worn.

Update kitchen appliances and fixtures. If this is in your budget, it is well worth the expenditure on this end of the sales process. There’s no need for a full remodel but a face lift is well worth it for making a quicker sale. New cabinet doors and hardware or a new sink or new faucet with sprayer (a popular feature) are good investments. If you can swing it and your dishwasher or refrigerator are outdated, consider installing new models that prospective home buyers will appreciate.

Boost your curb appeal. Landscaping and driveway appearance are what prospective home buyers will see first—and will encourage or discourage them about coming inside for a closer look. Get your lawn in shape, plant your garden beds, prune your trees and shrubs. Outdoor lighting is also a benefit, from the front porch to the walkway or gardens. If the driveway is in poor shape, have it repaired.

Make necessary exterior repairs. In addition to the driveway, your front steps should be in good condition; your gutters should be in place and doing their jobs to prevent water damage to the home; missing roof shingles should be replaced; problems with paver or concrete walkways, your sidewalk, patio and deck (where applicable) should be remediated. Remember, you don’t want to give anyone a reason to walk away (and you wouldn’t want anyone to trip and get hurt).

Insulate for energy efficiency. One way to show prospective home buyers that your home is prepared for 21st century living is to add insulation in order to improve your energy efficiency and reduce heating and cooling costs. This is a also good time to look at your windows to see where you can seal any seams or cracks where air penetrates.

At Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we guide our clients to make sure their homes are in “ready for sale” condition, in order to make the sales process as stress-free as possible for everyone involved. As part of our client service, our real estate agents will go over what we feel your home needs to prepare it for a listing, and help you hash out the pros and cons of certain upgrades and repairs. Want to find out more about the best way to sell your home in Essex County or other northern New Jersey areas? Call Century 21 Cedarcrest at (973) 228-1050 or visit our website to get started.

Maximizing Cozy Spaces

In the real estate world, nothing is “small.” It quaint, cozy, or comfortable, but never small. Words matter when it comes to how real estate is listed, but they also have meaning. That is why it is important to turn those small spaces into ones that really are cozy. You can maximize storage space, use colors that open the room up, or use other methods that can take a room from cramped to comfortable.

 

Lighten Things Up

 

Light colors make things look bigger. This is true from fashion to home remodeling. If you have a small space that you want to expand on, consider painting it a light, neutral color. You won’t want a bold choice because the buyer may not like that color or theme. A neutral tone gives them a chance to see the space looking as large and open as it can, but it also allows them to consider how they might add some color to the room.

 

Use Mirrors for Deco

 

A limited amount of mirrors on the wall is a great way to enlarge any space. Mirrors not only expand the space, but they are a neutral decorating material, unlike collections or family photos. However, don’t use small decorative mirrors because they don’t really expand the space and might instead clutter the wall. Be sure to pay attention to the reflection in the mirror too. You don’t want to reflect a neighbor’s messy yard to your visitors.

 

Maximize Storage Space

 

It’s time to get creative about clutter. What you don’t want to do is throw a bunch of bookshelves into a small room. You also don’t want to show your existing cluttered shelves. Instead, try putting your things in storage containers, like baskets or pails. This allows you to continue to use your things and the space available, but it also keep the room looking neat. Instead of shelves looking like they are only big enough to hold small things, the baskets and/or pails give the impression that they can create a large, organized space.

 

Expand on your small spaces, but don’t clutter them up. You want to make them look larger than they are, but also keep them cozy and useful.

 

2016 Real Estate Market

Home prices are moving up moderately this year, but not to the point of discouraging buyers from a first or second home purchase. In fact, the moderate value increase is – in part – due to a supply vs. demand imbalance in many cities across the United States. With new construction at a 50-year low, there are currently more prospective buyers in the market than there are sellers of existing homes.

 

Interest Rates and Income Growth

 

Some of the demand is due to the prospect of a raise to interest rates in the future. Many looking to lock in at today’s lower rates are not waiting for those changes, even though it is a sign of a growing economic stability. Low to moderate income growth for those in the middle class also is impacting the supply, as many who were able to hold onto their homes amid the financial crisis nearly a decade ago are nervous to sell or are still recovering their equity. Yet unable to use equity to perhaps buy above their original starter home, many are sitting tight on their current homes. These factors have created a somewhat even and steady market, with it leaning slightly to the advantage of the seller.

 

The Rental Cost Impact on the Market

 

Rental prices have increased, with the result having a multispectral effect on real estate. On one hand, the increases in rental prices are a nudge to the renter to take the necessary steps to become a buyer. On the other, it is often more difficult for a prospective buyer to save for a down payment when more of his or her expendable income is going towards maintaining the rent. At the same time, it is a boon for real estate investors and those looking to purchase a second home to rent, rather than sell, the first.

 

The 2016 market certainly isn’t the gloom and doom prophesied by some. While homeownership is still at its lowest in 50 years and new development has also slowed, values are growing and sellers are finding that buyers are making smart, competitive bids on property. These positive trends are expected to continue as the average wage income increases over the next few years.