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!

Celebrating Two Years in Little Falls at Cedarcrest Realty

Wow – time really flies when you’re working hard in real estate! This month marks two years since we opened our second Cedarcrest Realty office in Little Falls. We are happy to say, things are going well there.

Broker owner John Sass, who is marking 37 years with the CENTURY 21 Real Estate system this year, said that a lot has changed over the years.

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of change in the real estate industry, particularly in the way brokers, managers, and agents approach the business through the use of technology,” said John. “Our focus and challenge at Cedarcrest Realty has been to marry the effective use of real estate tech with the time-honored sales and people skills that successful agents need. At the core of our training and development is the mantra to be as professional as possible in our approach to our clients and sales. That high standard of professionalism is what’s gotten our team through the pandemic year and is propelling us into a greater 2021 and beyond.”

Nancy Scancarella, who joined us in Little Falls at the start in 2019, said, “We are moving along nicely and our office is very much ‘on the map’ thanks to everyone’s hard work and marketing efforts. Our agents are getting listings and closing transactions, including rentals. A lot of people are also walking in to inquire about the apartments in our building, which we’ve listed.”

She explained that many people are now selling their homes at high prices, and renting short term to wait out the market and look for a good deal. “That makes for a competitive rental market, similar to what we’re seeing with single-family homes in some areas.”

Nancy has worked in real estate for 28 years at offices in Passaic County and emphasizes the importance of continual marketing for success in the business. Part of her marketing includes sending out mailers to condo complexes in Little Falls and neighboring Woodland Park, letting homeowners know our office is here to help if they are looking to sell or rent their homes. She uses calendars, seed packages, and other small items with her business card attached and also sends emails to her client and prospect lists on a regular basis.

A long-time broker associate, she has been mentoring some of our newer real estate agents, including Adriana Umaña. “It’s great for our new agents to have a mentor right here to teach them how to handle certain situations. Even for experienced agents, there’s always something new you’ve never encountered and need guidance.”

Adriana, a native of Costa Rica, joined Cedarcrest Realty in late January after getting her real estate license.

“I spoke to Lynn De Luccia last summer and told her I was attending real estate school, which is something I’ve wanted to do for many years,” said Adriana. “She called me in December to ask if I wanted to join the group and I didn’t give it a second thought.”

A Woodland Park resident, she is happy to have our Little Falls location so close to home as her business base. She also attends training classes every Wednesday at our Caldwell office. She appreciates having a designated REALTOR as her mentor. “When you’re new, you have so many questions and you need someone to turn to.”

In Costa Rica, Adriana worked in marketing and logistics for Sony Ericsson, and in the U.S., she has had her own business. “I enjoy talking to people and selling—two important components of a real estate career,” she said. She is currently working on some rental listings and is looking forward to developing her book of business at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty.

Our team is always looking for well-qualified, experienced real estate professionals to join our team, as well as newcomers with a passion for helping people find their perfect home—be it a house, townhouse, or condominium. We also welcome agents with experience in the commercial property sector, as our office is a Certified Commercial Specialist by CENTURY 21 Real Estate LLC. Contact broker owner John Sass at 973-228-1050 to discuss opportunities at our Caldwell or Little Falls office.

How to Make the Best Home Purchase Offer in Seller’s Market

Low Housing Inventory and High Demand Mean Buyers Must be Well-Prepared

Photo: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

As we noted in a previous post, the real estate market in New Jersey, especially northern NJ, is very tight, with low inventory and high demand—and bidding wars.

With the current inventory challenge being the number one concern on most real estate consumer’s minds, we counsel homebuyers we work with to come prepared and ready to make the best purchase offer possible. While this has always been the case, in today’s competitive market, it is especially important in order to make a purchase offer that is more likely to be accepted by sellers.

  • Don’t lowball home sellers—they have the advantage. Rather, offer your “best price” up front. Your CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty agent will have all the relevant comps and reports for you to go into the transaction with the pricing information you need.
  • Eliminate or reduce contingencies, which are the provisions or conditions that must be met to complete the transaction. Overuse of contingencies can sabotage a sale. The two most important contingencies for home buyers are inspection and financing contingencies.
    • A pre-offer inspection can help make the offer stronger because you will be able to negotiate your offer price based on needed repairs.
    • Other contingency reductions are minimization of the title, appraisal, and mortgage contingencies, although the latter two require a cash offer. Your Cedarcrest Realty agent can walk you through all the typical contingencies of a real estate transaction and guide you on how these may affect your purchase offer.
  • Get a lender’s pre-approval letter; this is not a guarantee of a loan but it is a commitment to a certain mortgage amount, pending appraisal. From the seller’s perspective, pre-approval shows that you are serious about making an offer on the home. It also shows that you underwent a more rigorous process than pre-qualification, and clarifies your home-buying budget.
  • Give a larger earnest money deposit (the amount you submit with your offer) than you were thinking—even double or triple the amount if you can swing it. This larger deposit could make you more attractive to a seller who has received multiple offers (as often happens in North Jersey). It goes toward your total down payment anyway and you’ll pay it at closing, so if you can do this at time of purchase offer, it’s a good tool in a competitive offer situation.

As always, the real estate professionals at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty have the knowledge and insights about the dozens of municipalities in which they work throughout Essex and Passaic counties and beyond. Contact our offices in Caldwell or Little Falls to list your home or to start your home buyer’s journey with our award-winning team. Caldwell: 973-228-1050 or Little Falls: 973-364-1111.

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.

Agent Spotlight . . . Chanda Webb

No car? No problem. Chanda Webb, who joined CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest Realty in December 2015, was not going to let the lack of her own car stand in her way of finding success as a real estate agent.

Chanda was working at Essex Community College as an advisor to students transferring into four-year programs, in part creating events that connected students to four-year colleges. Her knack for making matches and connecting people has served her well in real estate.

With her daughter graduated from high school and taking a year of study abroad, Chanda felt it was a good time to explore other careers and income streams, and took the real estate course. She interviewed at Cedarcrest Realty and explained she was without a car at the time. “John Sass, Susan Mazzetta and Dennis DiSabato believed in my potential and gave me a chance; they’re all so down to earth and really care. They made a place for me and I worked on building my leads and doing my training in the Caldwell office, which I got to by bus.” Since Chanda was still working at the college full-time (she recently left her position in September), she used her vacation and personal days for time off to attend agency meetings and training sessions. Thanks to the real estate technology employed by the CENTURY 21 system, she was able to work remotely as well.

She also got busy by walking her neighborhood and knocking on doors. “Within four months, I had my first listing, just by walking through my community,” she said. “Soon after, I got two more listings—even though it took another year before I got a car.” She said that friends, homeowners from her listings, and her customers often drove with her to showings; other times, she took public transportation from her Bloomfield home.

She also discovered the power of working a database of contacts.

“I knew many people at the college where I was working, people who cared about and believed in me. I reached out to these connections to ask if they knew anyone looking to buy or sell a home; I got referrals that way and made referrals to other agents as well. Being a connector by profession was helpful, as I was able to get people to help me out and vice versa.”

As for why she chose real estate, Chanda said, “If you’re a go-getter, real estate is for you. If you want to connect people and help them understand about buying or selling a home, this is the perfect career. I find it so empowering and I’m so glad I was able to do this as a single parent and still be there for my child.”

Her daughter, now age 27, got married last year in England. Chanda is grateful that her real estate income enabled her to cover some wedding expenses and join her daughter overseas with family and friends from the U.S. “It felt so good to help my daughter, and know that it was directly from my real estate transactions,” said Chanda.

She cites the trainings at CENTURY 21 Cedarcrest as factors in her success as well as the many online tools for helping her market listings and build a book of leads. She’s taken full advantage of the technology to create polished, professional brochures and customer guides, find and develop quality leads, and stay in touch with connections about homes on the market with email newsletters. “C21 Online is excellent and all agents should know about and use this great marketing tool,” she said.

Chanda is now designated as a seller representative specialist and hopes to one day teach real estate courses. She is working on the required designations to qualify for that. And, she has a car. Good thing, since she said that even through the pandemic, she was still getting referrals, talking to prospects, and began showing houses again in the early summer. Now a full-time real estate agent, she is working hard with our sales manager to execute and meet her sales goals. We are very proud of how far she’s come!

Spotlight on . . . Omar Ibrahim

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

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

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

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

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

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