Buying

How To Tour A Home

The other day during a house tour, a first-time buyer asked me, “What should I be looking for?”

This is such a great question.

As a buyer, you’re no doubt looking for specific things in a home: a certain number of bedrooms; a kitchen big enough to host brunch for your extended family every other Sunday; a backyard big enough that you can put up a swing set. Ideally, your agent would address as much of your “wish list” as possible when she provides listings. Or she may give you alternatives: “The yard may be small for a swing set, but the park is a block away.”

When the main items on your wish list have been satisfied, your next job is to imagine.

What does it feel like to be in this space?

Can you picture your furniture in the rooms?

Can you imagine family dinners here?

Can you imagine what it might be like to come back from a trip, open the door, and be home?

For some, it’s very important to have a feeling about the block or immediate neighborhood, for others, it’s important to have a yard with big, mature trees.

These are all things you cannot change, so if you don’t have the right feeling about a house, it’s probably best just to walk away. But if the vibe is right, you can (and should) consider proceeding to the next step.

Having owned many homes myself, I consider things like a squeaky door, a cracked garage window, or a drippy faucet “minor stuff” – barely worth discussing. A thorough going-over by a qualified home inspector will let you know whether there are important repairs needed on the home. The truth is, most of us buy houses that are “used,” but unlike shopping for, say, a used car, you don’t need spend your visit constantly on the lookout for little, easily-repaired things. I promise you: whatever house you buy will need a little something, if for no other reason than to make it what you want.

There’s no need to focus on what might be wrong with a house during a home tour — save that for the inspection! It’s much more important to tune into your gut and focus on what is right.

Is There Really A Shortage of Homes For Sale in Montclair?

You may have heard tales of frequent bidding wars in Montclair and Maplewood due to a shortage of inventory. However, the truth is, there's plenty of inventory to go around. In this case, “shortage” doesn’t necessarily refer to “number of homes” as much as it does to “what a buyer is looking for.”

I’ve written here about the misconception that sellers often have about what is “valuable;” this discrepancy between perception and reality comes into play regularly when some of us try and sell our parents’ china sets or old books. Generally speaking, today’s buyers don’t want Old Stuff. And when it comes to houses there are certain things they’re looking for: smaller spaces, new renovation, and walkability.

Unfortunately, not all the homes in these towns are small and “steps away from everything.” But this does not necessarily mean a seller won’t be able to sell or buyer won’t find a satisfactory home.

Smart sellers need to understand their customer base and do what they can to increase the appeal of their home – even if their home has been fine for them the way it’s been for 25 years.

And smart buyers need to be open to hidden opportunities and value that might not be evident from a simple walk through – for example, understanding the “value” of a location beyond merely how many steps it is to the nearest coffee shop.

A good real estate agent will help you find what you say you’re looking for – whether that means getting the price you hope to get or being able to check all the boxes on your wish list. A great real estate agent will educate you and make you smarter about a town or a process that you may not be so familiar with. That’s my job. I do it every day, often 7 days a week.

Whether you’re ready to buy or to sell, allow me to share my expertise with you.

New Listing: 4 Hickory Road, Nutley NJ

4 Hickory Rd Nutley - kitchenThere’s so much I love about this gorgeous split level in Nutley! The layout is open and airy. It was kept immaculately, so you feel calm as soon as you step inside. The floors are beautiful and the renovated kitchen is both elegant and inviting. I’m a big fan of outdoor entertaining and the deck/patio combo here is perfect for weekend barbecues or kicking back on a summer evening. There’s even a view of the Manhattan skyline from the oversized deck.

Hickory Road is a great, quiet location -- a tucked away side street with very little traffic, that also offers quick access to the Garden State Parkway as well as local shopping.4 Hickory Rd Nutley - living room

Central air, attached garage, cathedral ceiling, renovated bath and a family room that’s like a little oasis. At $399,000, this home is likely to go fast.

Whether you’re moving from an apartment or downsizing from a larger space, this house will call to you. Some homes just have a great vibe, and this is one of them.

Come see for yourself at my OPEN HOUSE this Sunday, May 21 from 2-4pm.

4 Hickory Rd Nutley - deck

Your Questions Answered: What's the Deal with "Teams"?

People often ask me to explain how “teams” work in real estate agencies, and what it means for them as clients. The short answer is, it depends what kind of team it is.

“Small Teams”
Many agents discover that, while they may be great at educating clients about homes and negotiating deals, they are not as well-suited to the administrative work. So once they become established enough, they quickly hire an assistant to take on non-sales tasks. This is great for the agent, freeing her up to do more face-to-face client work. And it’s great for the client, because the support person is usually very detail- and deadline-oriented. This arrangement is technically a “Small Team”, however it’s usually not referred to as a “team” at all because even though there may be several people working on the client’s behalf, there is only one “public-facing” agent.  

“Named Teams”
Named Teams are typically bigger and advertise themselves as a "team." This structure is often comprised of an experienced lead agent (whose name is in the "team name"), one or more less experienced “buyer’s agents,” and an administrative assistant. Sometimes the lead agent will handle mostly sellers and the newer agents may handle mostly buyers, especially those looking in lower price ranges.

The newer agents are provided prospective buyers and mentorship from the lead agent and in exchange, any clients they bring to the “team” become the “property” of the lead agent. As a buyer or seller, this type of team may or may not be beneficial to you – it largely depends on the experience level of the specific agents handling your business and the ability of the lead agent to oversee the quality of the team’s work.

“Family Teams”
This might be a husband and wife team, a mother-son team, or a man and his nephews. The implication is: we’re family, so we’re close and work well together. Sometimes that’s true. But these “teams” can often form because a successful agent is trying to help out a loved one who’s in transition (unemployed, new to the area, etc.). And in those cases, a client isn’t always getting someone who’s fully committed to this very service-oriented business.

Pros and Cons
There are definite advantages in working with a team. Namely, that people are usually doing the jobs they are best suited for. The main disadvantage is the confusion around not having a “single” person accountable for your business. Who do you go to with a problem? The administrator? The lead agent (whom you may never have met)? The person showing you around?

In my opinion, the agent/client relationship is more important than who or how many are on a “team.” If you’re looking to buy, look for an agent who can educate you about every aspect of the process: the market climate, the town, the neighborhoods, renovations and remodeling, and the context in which to determine the value of your purchase.

If you’re looking to sell, seek out an agent who is knowledgeable about the town’s real estate culture, is an experienced marketer and pricing strategist and one who can also guide you through the difficult process of getting your house ready for market.

And, if on top of all that, you find an agent who understands a perspective that can add even more value to your purchase or sale – say, the walkability perspective – well, that person may be your MVP. :)

 

What Millennial Home Buyers Are Looking For

open kitchen

When I moved to this area, close to 30 years ago, it was all about the detail. Whether a home was big or small, most of us were looking for craftsmanship -- a house with good bones. And this area is brimming with them!

But this generation of buyer isn’t looking for the same things most sellers were looking for when we purchased our houses decades ago. So, if you’re a seller who is considering doing some work before listing this season, you can really increase your home’s “appeal” by paying attention to what today’s buyers care about most.

If you’re going to renovate, open spaces are more desirable than lots of smaller rooms. For example, an open kitchen is a big draw. But it doesn’t need to be a big, fancy kitchen! Millennials seem to prefer cleaner lines and more light over fussy architectural details. Bigger windows, not bigger moldings!

In fact, it doesn’t have to be a big house at all. Millennials would rather have a home office than a formal dining room. They're drawn to things like energy efficiency, low VOC paint, smart tech accoutrements (WiFi-enabled lights, thermostats, locks, and garage doors). And, need I say it – walkability!

Also, the lower the maintenance, the better. Examples would be Hardie Board siding vs. wood clapboard exteriors, or Trex for decking over wood. This crop of buyers want to spend their weekends entertaining friends, not staining the deck.

I’ve been helping sellers prep their homes for years. I have a background in architecture and a passion for construction details. If you want to get ready for market, I’m delighted to partner with you in any way you need. 

And if you’re looking for a home in a great, walkable suburb, I can help you turn whatever you find into the home of your dreams!

 

 

New Listing: 182 Alexander Ave. Upper Montclair

002_Side

Sometimes Things Go Sideways

One thing I love about this area is how individual the homes are. Even within broad categories like Colonial or Tudor, there are so many variations. And even within all that individuality resides an extremely small subcategory.

I'm talking now about the Sideways House.

Sideways Houses are homes that have been built so the front entrance faces the side yard, rather than the street. This orientation gives the home a decidedly Country House feel, as it overlooks only landscaping. From the inside, Sideways Houses tend to feel very private and secluded, even though they might be smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood.

And that's exactly the case for this wonderful 5-bedroom 2-full/2-half bath home in beautiful Upper Montclair. Wonderful because it looks out on a big, open yard, wonderful because it offers a coveted wrap-around porch, and wonderful because the renovated kitchen has an unusually "artsy" vibe, featuring a large custom banquette for lazy Sunday brunches with family and friends.

Other features include: oversized rooms, central air conditioning, newly renovated, ensuite master bathroom,

This home is a 3-minute walk to the New York City bus; the train station about a 10-minute walk. It's also located at the Northern end of town, with quick and easy access to the highway.

Because they're so few and far between, Sideways Houses don't come on the market very often.

Priced at $799,000, this special house will not last. If you're looking for a wonderful family home in a remarkable community, please call me and let me show you the magic of Sideways Living.  973.809.5277 

Pricing Your Montclair Home: What's the Sweet Spot?

5-back-iconWhen you're pricing your home, it's always tempting to ask for a bit more than you expect - to leave a little room for negotiating. But this strategy actually doesn't work.

According to industry experts, houses priced 10% over their ultimate selling price typically receive no offers. In fact, even houses priced a mere 5% too high will typically get showings, but no offers. If you start too high, you'll have to gradually lower your price over time until you find someone willing to buy.

In real estate, "gradually" is not great.

No one wants their house to sit on the market. Not you. Not your agent. The DOM (Days On Market) of a home is the leading indicator as to whether it is priced appropriately.

In Montclair, the average DOM is 50.

Examples of homes priced too high: 363 Park Street - Original price: $1,450,000; DOM-370 Offers started when price was dropped to $1,199,000

18 Capron Lane - Original price: $1,200,000; DOM-170 It sold when the price was lowered to $989,000

Even a house listed at its "correct" price - that is, the price it is likely to sell for - may not be ideal for the seller. Studies show that the market responds most enthusiastically when houses are priced just below their true value.

When a home is listed at about 5% under its ideal sales price, the property nearly always sells for more than asking, and often substantially more. This doesn't make complete logical sense, so it requires a leap of faith on the part of the homeowner. As a seller, you need a strong stomach and a good realtor who knows the market and how to price at that sweet spot.

Here's what happens when houses are priced to sell:

117 Haddon - Listed $699,000; Sold $826,000; DOM-11 19 Windsor - Listed $699,000; Sold $838,000; DOM-9 131 Wildwood - Listed $899,000; Sold $111,0000; DOM-10

When clients ask me how much negotiating room there should be when pricing their Montclair home, the answer is none.

If you'd like to talk about home pricing, or get a better sense of the market, call me. I love to talk real estate! 973.809.5277

*Studies performed by Jeffery Otteau of the Otteau Valuation Group www.otteau.com

4 Ways to Avoid Paying Too Much for a House in Montclair

Version 2Right now in Montclair, houses are selling for 103% of asking price. Meaning: on average, most sellers are getting 3 percent more than they list their home for. This is great for sellers! But how do buyers protect themselves from considerably overpaying for a house?

I tell my clients there are four things to seriously consider when buying.

1 - Understand the Market Conditions Most of us are familiar with the concept of supply and demand: The fewer there are of something, coupled with the more people who want the thing, the more expensive the thing is likely to be. In housing, this can be a function of many variables, but I advise buyers to become familiar with the Buyer to Seller Ratio and the Absorption Rate.

The current Buyer to Seller Ratio in Montclair is 37/100, or for every 100 sellers, there are 37 buyers. That's a lot of buyers for not much housing selection, which means the prices of "desirable" properties are likely to be bid way up.

The Absorption Rate right now is 2.7 months, which means that if no new houses come on the market, the current number of homes will sell out in less than 3 months. An Absorption Rate of under 6 months means that home prices are appreciating; under 3 months means that prices are escalating at approximately half a percent per month. In practical terms: if you bid on a house and lose it, by the time you put in a bid for the next house, it could be 1-2 percent more than it would have sold for a couple of months ago.

The lesson here is, if you find a great house in a rising market, don't underbid. You may end up paying more in the long run.

2 - It's Not Only About Price When you have to compete for a house, you can make your offer stronger by adjusting some of the terms in your contract. If you are savvy about home systems or have family who are in the trades, you might consider waiving your inspection contingency. This can be attractive to sellers for two reasons. 1. They know they won't be nickel-and-dimed for multiple repairs, and 2. They do not have to be bothered with estimates and scheduling contractors.

If you have the liquidity and you don't need a mortgage, you can make a cash offer, and waive you mortgage contingency, but you will likely have to show "proof of funds." Be mindful, however, that in the absence of a mortgage you will not need a bank appraisal, a measure that ensures that the bank is not loaning on a house for far more money than it's worth.

You can also increase the chances of your offer being accepted by writing a letter to the owners - sometimes an emotional appeal for a beloved house makes you a more popular candidate, especially if the seller has a home that's been in the family for years and is looking for just the right steward.

3 - Be Aware of Escalation Clauses and Buyer Fatigue Obviously, if you significantly overbid, you may get the house, but you'll be stuck with a big price tag. Some buyers include an Escalation Clause in their offer - agreeing to pay, say, $5,000 over the highest bidder. This can work well for some, but it wrests a lot of control from the buyer and often results in Buyer's Remorse, so most seller's agents advise against it.

If you underbid consistently, you put yourself at risk for Buyer Fatigue. You've lost 10 houses and a contender comes along and, no matter what, you will NOT lose this house. I don't have to tell you what happens in this scenario. Suffice it to say: you get your house, but at what cost?

4 - Make Your Offer Based on Your Expected Residency If you pay a bit more for a home than it's technically worth, you will feel it much more acutely if you're planning to put it back on the market in 5 years. However, if you're planning to stay for the long haul, and can ride out market conditions and amortize your investment, most consider the extra money far less of a "real" concern.

One of the things my clients seem to like about me is my interest in educating them about the housing market - in addition to finding them a great home. If you'd like to learn more or have questions about Absorption Rates and Buyer/Seller ratios in other towns- call me! 973.809.5277

New Listing: The Perfect Commuter Home - Bloomfield, NJ

What does it take to make a perfect commuter home?

o New York bus one block away! o 21-minute commute to midtown! o High end cook's kitchen! o Central air conditioning and outdoor hot tub! o Big bright family room! o Cozy fireplace! o Basement Rec Room! o Quiet neighborhood! o Easy highway access!

kitchen fam room hot tub

10 Bolton Place was just listed for $399,000 and will not last long on the market.

With ample room for relaxation and entertaining, this sweet home is perfectly placed for you to take advantage of quick, easy access to NY Port Authority. Whether your family is growing out of an apartment into a house, or downsizing into a simpler lifestyle, you have everything to gain in this 3-bedroom gem.

If you'd like to see this or any other homes, please call or text: 973.809.5277

My Accessories Are Your Accessories!

IMG_4866Rugs. End tables. Vases. Patio Furniture. The back of my garage looks like an aisle at Home Goods. Am I getting ready for a yard sale?

Au contraire. I'm getting ready to sell your home.

Today's buyers expect a house to be presented to the market in its very best light. No one wants to see "grandma" furniture and doilies when they're house hunting. In fact, buyers sometimes don't respond well to anything that doesn't feel "fresh" or "new."

When I'm with buyers, part of my job is to help them envision what can be done to a house to make it their own. I have a background in architecture and have done several personal renovations, so I am skilled in providing this information as part of my service.

But when I'm with sellers, I need to help them look at their home as a buyer would - which is to say, critically. I maintain a large inventory of staging items that can fill a whole room (if it's empty) or just fill in the gaps where needed.

Most sellers are not able to prepare their home for sale without help. And a good staging can generate more interest and a higher selling price in the market. I employ a professional stager and include one free day of staging with all my listings!

Call me and let's talk throw pillows. 973.809.5277