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.

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.

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.

Agent Spotlight on … our Newest Real Estate Team Members

CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty has been growing significantly this year, with three new agents joining our team in the last two months.

Krystle Delgado - Century 21 CedarcrestKRYSTLE DELGADO is new to real estate but her dream of working in real estate dates back to her high school graduation! After some other endeavors and dealing with a serious health issue, Krystle examined her life and made her career goal a priority. During her recovery, she took the real estate course and passed the exam.

She was looking for schedule flexibility and was talking to several agencies but none felt right. A conversation with a family friend led to her contacting Susan Mazzetta, CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest’s director of training and development.

“Susan made me feel very comfortable and at ease, and right away, I knew that Cedarcrest Realty was a good fit for me.” Krystle, who lives in Bloomfield, joined our agency in early October.

As to “why real estate,” she has a strong sales background and values independence and self-sufficiency. “I like the idea of being in charge of my own business; if I’m not successful, there’s no one to blame but myself.”

Regarding CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest, Krystle says, “Everyone is very willing to help and answer questions; I never feel intimidated. Everyone walks you through the processes and offers assistance. I also like to learn new things and there’s a lot of training here, which is great.”

Natasha Barinas - Century 21 CedarcrestNATASHA BARINAS also joined CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest in October after several years selling real estate in Los Angeles. Prior to that, she worked in fashion design and production, in retail, and owned her own swimwear line.

“I like real estate because you’re independent, taking responsibility for your business,” she says. “I also like the dynamic of working with so many different people; every day is different.”

She finds similarities between real estate and her work in fashion, where she did a lot of negotiating and interpreting ideas into reality. “With real estate you help buyers determine where they really belong. I love helping them discover the dream home they truly feel is right for them.”

After moving to Verona this past summer, Natasha enrolled in the NJ state licensing classes; she told her instructor she wanted to connect to a more intimate, boutique-style brokerage, like the one in California. “CENTURY 21 is exactly what you’re describing” was the advice she received. She says that she felt that immediately when she interviewed with Susan at Cedarcrest Realty.

“In Los Angeles I interviewed at around 30 agencies before finding the right one but here, I found exactly where I want to be right away. The way the agents joke around and really know each other—it felt like family.”

Carolina Marin - Century 21 CedarcrestCAROLINA MARIN of Clifton, who’d worked a few years ago at a Coldwell Banker office, has returned to real estate after a brief hiatus into other fields. She joined CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest in early November after a chance meeting with a friend, Paula Cano, one of our real estate agents.

“I mentioned that I wanted to get back into real estate and was looking for an agency that offered training and development. Paula recommended CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest because of the training and professional development here,” says Carolina. “I really appreciate that Cedarcrest Realty gives us the tools to develop our real estate practice.”

She says she likes helping clients find the home they’ll love, and that being at the closing and seeing them so happy makes her day. She also likes that “Everyone is very helpful and so nice about answering questions. In some offices, they leave you on your own with no support. But at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest, everyone is willing to assist you.”

If you’re looking for a real estate office that supports its people—from new agents to seasoned pros—contact Susan Mazzetta for a confidential interview at (973) 228-1050.

The Business of Being a Commercial Real Estate Agent

Working in commercial real estate is quite different from helping home buyers and sellers—you’re working with business owners and investors with a very different inventory.

A commercial transaction might deal with multi-family, mixed-use, retail, or office space. Therefore, successful commercial real estate agents must know about sales and leasing in a broad array of property types. There are different kinds of tenant negotiations that occur, and different types of marketing strategies. And a transaction could be for an owner occupied property or as a commercial real estate investment, adding additional factors to the transaction.

What do investors, buyers and tenants want from a commercial real estate professional

First off, commercial is a specialty, so it’s best that an agent gain experience and knowledge in this specific sector of the real estate field. Know (or learn) how to deal with commercial transactions—there are no uniform contracts or cookie cutter leases. That means sharpening your negotiation skills as well as understanding the leasing or commercial buying process.

Of course, just as with residential sales professionals, being proactive is important. Aside from canvassing the local market for properties and leads, research is key to commercial transactions.

  • Use your office’s systems and tools to research market rates for rentals
  • Become conversant in investment packages
  • Gain a full understanding of the different areas in your market. Do properties in certain areas attract certain kinds of businesses? Do the listing prices make sense for sale properties?
  • Can you provide a detailed and accurate financial analysis for commercial investors?

Aside from research, developing good relationships with area business owners can help create strong database and referral network. When that investor calls the office looking for help finding the right property, you’ll not only have the listings services as a resource, you’ll have local people to contact and potential space to visit because you’ve done your homework.

Speaking of referrals—remember that commercial real estate transactions often involve build outs and other improvements as part of the lease negotiations. Therefore, good power partners are architects, general contractors, and others involved in lease improvements.

More complicated investment deals may require partnering with others to make a successful transaction, so it’s important to know the players in your area or your office to create a winning team.

If you are working with tenants, it’s important that you show them you understand their businesses and that you are showing them space that makes sense for their needs. Whether it’s a restaurant, retailer, healthcare facility or law practice, every client has different needs in terms of square footage, utilities, parking and leasehold improvements.

When working with building owners, these clients want to know that you have a good performance record when it comes to finding strong tenants or solid buyers; your experience will speak for itself. They will also count on you to represent their interests to potential buyers or tenants, and that you can negotiate a strong deal on their behalf. Like the buyer or tenant, the seller or landlord will want to know that you have his/her best interests in mind throughout the transaction.

From any side of the transaction, building trust builds relationships that will in turn build business.

Build your book of business at Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty

Our office is growing—and we’re always looking for savvy commercial real estate agents to join our team. When you join our northern New Jersey office, you become part of one of the country’s most well-respected real estate organizations, with business-building tools and apps designed for commercial real estate agents. You can take advantage of commercial investment training that will position you for a broader range of transactions. Plus, you’ll benefit from our ongoing in-office training and development for agents at all stages of their careers—an important way we support our team, and why Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty consistently wins industry awards for sales volume and customer service—and accolades and awards from consumers as well.

Interested in learning more? Contact Susan Mazzetta at (973) 228-1050, ext. 126 for a confidential interview.

Are you an Experienced NJ Real Estate Sales Professional with a Career that’s Stuck in Neutral?

Experienced real estate agents know that a career in real estate has many rewards. To a large extent, you make your own hours and the earning potential is high—especially when you’ve nurtured great leads and have closed many successful transactions with happy customers.

However, as with many other careers, sometimes you need to make a change. Over time, motivation can lag and that spark can start to sputter when you’ve been in the same office for a very long time.

If you’re feeling like your real estate sales career has gotten stagnant, it might be time to change offices. And, if you’re working in northern New Jersey on residential sales and rentals, Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty in Caldwell, NJ has a place for you.

Our office is all about excitement and opportunity, working in an upscale market in northern New Jersey. In fact, Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty is a designated Fine Homes & Estates office; wouldn’t like a piece of that action?

Five great reasons to join Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty

  1. As one of our agents, you’ll be part of the vast Century 21 network, with opportunities to work with buyers and sellers from just about anywhere across the country—and around the world.
  2. We’re all about career development, and provide ongoing training in our own training center. Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty offers weekly training classes and provides guidance whenever you need it to help you keep your sales and marketing skills sharp and your customer relationships positive.
  3. No-fee leads – unlike other offices, Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty covers the cost of the lead management system to help maximize your earnings.
  4. Senior management that’s there and that cares. We’re not behind closed doors—we’re available every day for hands-on interactions with our sales associates, always ready to help you build your book of business.

Come rejuvenate your real estate career at Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty. Contact Susan Mazzetta at (973) 225-1050, ext. 126 for a confidential conversation about opportunities for seasoned real estate sales associates … and a future with Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty.

Are you Thinking of Getting into Real Estate? Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty is Hiring New Real Estate Agents!

Becoming a real estate sales professional can be an exciting and lucrative career for the right person – energetic, people-oriented, and with a passion for sales. At Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty, we’re looking for people who are interested in starting a new career in real estate. Experience is not required but a willingness to learn and work hard are definitely traits anyone must have to gain a foothold in this industry.

Benefits of working at Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty

  • You become part of a great team and an international network of real estate offices. Yes, our agents may work with buyers and sellers from just about anywhere.
  • Our corporate culture here is all about support, mentorship, and ongoing professional development.
  • Century 21 is a brand with powerful advertising and high consumer respect.
  • You’ll have access to industry-leading technology for maximum exposure and increased qualified leads.
  • Although we are specialists in Essex County real estate, our busy office represents buyers and sellers from throughout Northern New Jersey.
  • Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty was named 2015 “Best Realtor” by readers of Suburban Essex magazine in its Best of Essex Readers’ Choice Awards—and we’ve been nominated again for the 2016 honor.

We invest in your future with us

Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty also believes investing in the future success of our sales associates. One way we do that is to offer you a $100 discount off the mandatory state pre-licensing course, which prepares you to sit for the New Jersey real estate exam, in order to become a licensed real estate agent.

Then, after you’ve passed the exam and received your license, we provide ongoing expert training, led by seasoned real estate pros who’ve seen and done it all. They’ll teach you our winning sales and customer service techniques that get your foot in more doors with home buyers and sellers.

Upon your first closing with us, we then reimburse new agents for the out-of-pocket expense of the pre-licensing course, up to $275.

All our agents have access to Century 21’s superior real estate marketing, automation and communications systems as well as C21 University, an online resource that offers continuing education programs and a library of valuable assets to help you grow your book of business and refine your customer service skills.

About that training …

We offer weekly in-house training and professional development courses in our nicely appointed training room. These programs are managed by Susan Mazzetta, Century 21 Cedarcrest’s director of career development. Our agents also receive valuable mentorship about marketing their listings, customer relations, and sales techniques from Susan and Dennis DiSabato, our agency’s sales manager.

We have an open-door policy with senior management so that everyone at every level of experience can share challenges and gain valuable support and ideas; this extends not only to Susan, Dennis and broker owner, John Sass but to other team members as well.

Are you our next hire?

We’re looking for people with enthusiasm and motivation, strong interpersonal skills, and a passion for sales, to talk to us about their real estate career. The North Jersey market is hot right now and it’s a great time to get into the business (or build up an existing real estate career).
Prospective agents may upload a resume and get more information at http://century21cedarcrest.com/careers/. For a confidential interview, call Susan Mazzetta, director of career development at (973) 228-1050, ext. 126. We look forward to meeting you and bringing you into the world of real estate in Northern New Jersey!

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.