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First Time Home Buyers Say They Appreciate My Experience

One of my clients purchased a single-family home in Montclair recently and left a really nice review about working with me. Part of what he said was this:

Lina combines 3 qualities that made working with her perfect for us:

  • She has a lot of experience and during walk throughs she was able to help us understand the overall state of the house (approximate age of the roof, age of the different areas - kitchen, bathrooms - and general appliances - boiler, etc).
  • When it came to appraisals - before making an offer - we saw that all her estimates were really on point.
  • Lina is not pushy or judgmental. This was really a great thing for us because we don't want to feel rushed or pushed to make a decision. She accepted, no questions asked when we didn't want to make an offer and was very responsive when we did want to.

Like Barnardo's, many of my online reviews mention my experience. At the risk of tooting my own horn, this does not surprise me. I really like providing an education to buyers – especially first-time buyers, or someone upsizing to a gracious, older home. In addition to giving someone time to take in the “space”, we talk a lot about things that many people never give a thought to before buying a house: boilers, French drains, knob-and-tube wiring. It can all feel very intimidating.

I've been working with buyers and sellers for over 20 years and have been on too many home inspections to count. I’ve also done plenty of renovations in my own homes. All of this has provided me with a very solid knowledge base as to which type of “home work" is worrisome and which is a breeze. Giving people a context in which to think about repairs or upgrades allows them to make confident decisions.

My goal with buyers is to provide them with the information they need to find the right house for them. I have very few buyers that ever feel the need to back out of a deal. I credit this to giving them what they need so they truly feel sure.

If you’re looking for a new home and you’d like to take advantage of my experience, please reach out. And feel free to check out my reviews. I’ve worked hard for them. 

Talk or Text: 973-809-5277

 

 

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NEW TO MARKET: 757 Broad Street, Bloomfield

NEW TO MARKET: 757 Broad Street, Bloomfield

OPEN HOUSE 

SUNDAY 3/21 from 2 - 4 PM

Offered at $499,000

The spring housing market is in full swing and with inventory at all time lows I know 757 Broad Street will not be on the market long.

This sunny, stylish, recently renovated four bedroom colonial has it all. An open flow first floor with living room, dining room, kitchen and powder room leads to a generous deck overlooking a private fully fenced yard.

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Head upstairs to the second floor to find three bedrooms and a full bathroom and third floor with a private bedroom or office with ensuite full bathroom.

Close to transportation, Bloomfield shops and restaurants and Brookside Park, this one is not to be missed!

Come by the Open House on Sunday 3/21 from 2-4 PM or call me to schedule a private showing at 973.809.5277.  

The Value of In-Home Exercise Space 

I talk a lot about the benefits of living in a walkable suburb – the ease of meeting neighbors and the way you can really engage with a community when you’re on foot.

Talking with clients this past year about what they’re looking for in a house – or a in a town – I’ve had more conversations about mental well-being than I think I’ve had in the past 20 years combined. And the number one thing that comes up for practically everyone is not surprising: Exercise.

We all know that walking and being outdoors feels good and is good for your health. I love that there are exercise studios and programs in town that have moved completely outdoors during the pandemic, like the socially-distanced yoga class in Anderson Park or the Tae Kwon Do studio on Glen Ridge Ave that held classes in the parking lot. 

Unfortunately, those solutions don’t work as well when there’s a foot of snow on the ground.

Whether you are buying or selling, I recommend that my clients think about the space in their home with an eye toward exercise space. I wrote a post exactly a year ago, pre-pandemic, about seeing “extra” bedrooms as home offices or workout spaces (a post that seems especially prescient these days!). Now I add to that: basements, sun-rooms, garages!

[Small sunrooms make great workout spaces.]

[A simple basement set up.]

You don’t need much square footage to dedicate to a physical regimen, and it doesn’t need to be fancy.  After gaining a bit of weight late last spring, my own son set up a humble exercise area in the garage and lost over 50 lbs.

[My son's garage workout space.]

Of course, when the space is little fancier, it may be more inviting and more profitable. My colleagues and I have been surprised on occasion how much a house has sold for, and it seems like those with an attractive Home Gym area are particularly appealing. 

[Garage-turned-exercise studio.]

My background in architecture has come in quite handy, helping buyers and sellers envision a living space that focuses on well-being, indoors or outdoors. Call or text: 973-809-5277

Montclair to Bloomfield – A New Cozy Community

Carol and John moved to Montclair in 1995. They have three grown children, two of whom are out on their own; the youngest is living at home. John works from home, a partner in a media marketing company. Carol commutes to New York City four days a week for her job at a non-profit. This past summer, after 24 years in their Montclair home, they sold and bought a home in Bloomfield.

Why Bloomfield?

We wanted to stay in the Montclair area – close to friends and all the places we like to go. Our original plan was to downsize, but the house we bought is not much smaller than what we had been in. However, it was less expensive, and it’s also a much better configuration for our current situation. We wanted to be close to the New York bus and able to walk to things, and we were lucky enough to get a house in the Brookdale section, right off the park.

What’s your favorite thing about living here?

We love the neighborhood. Not just the proximity to the park, but also the coziness of block. It’s a dead-end street, so the only people driving on the block, live here. The houses are closer together and closer to the street, so it feels more like a little community. Everyone is extremely friendly, so it just feels really good to be here. 

Any challenges along the way?

We bought and sold with Lina, and for us, the buying was very easy. We went to an open house that checked off all our boxes; she came back with us the next week and everything fell into place quickly and smoothly, even in this neighborhood where houses go fast. The selling was more complicated for us, and there, Lina was amazing. We had her come over almost a year earlier and advise us what we should do to prepare the house. We discovered there was a lot that needed updating, projects we often did ourselves. (That was the hard part.)  Our prep work included repainting every room, refinishing floors, finishing off the 3rd floor more completely, updating kitchen cabinets and counters, and installing some new light fixtures. Lina’s advice was spot on. She really understands the market and what it takes to make a house marketable. From the timing, to the paint colors, we just did everything she told us to do and it worked. Our Montclair house was our nest egg and she helped us maximize what we could get for it. 

What’s turned out better than you expected?

Our other challenge was the endless decluttering. We had to get rid of so much! It was hard to let go of what we’d held onto for decades. For months, we spent most weekends giving things away and filling up a dumpster. But now, it feels so good to live a more streamlined life. It’s been great to learn that we can make do with a lot less “stuff.” The fact that we didn’t have to let go of our relationships in the area probably made the whole move a little easier.

Photos: Top - Carol and John in front of their new home; Bottom - their former Montclair home. 

Home-buying and How To Think About Bedrooms

I have had clients who look at a listing I send them and say, “We’re only two people, why would we want four bedrooms?” There was a time I'd have made the same comment.

It wasn’t until I downsized myself that I started thinking about bedrooms differently.

In my first house, I had a spacious bedroom with plenty of room for dressers, an upholstered chair, and an exercise bike. I never sat in the chair; it was a place I tossed my clothes. If I’m being honest, the exercise bike was a clothes rack as well. When my kids got older and started moving out, I downsized and bought a house with smaller (and fewer) bedrooms, matching the number of bedrooms to the number of people who would be sleeping there.

But some days, I wish I had an extra bedroom – or two.  I would set one up as a little yoga room and another as a dedicated room for my son, who ends up coming home to visit more than I expected.

Trends in housing over the last 10 years have shown that the most popular homes were those with lots of communal or shared spaces -- open layouts. But housing trends change, and then change again.

Now that more and more people work from home, a laptop at the kitchen island isn’t always adequate. I find that more people seem interested in having rooms they can use as private spaces. They need a dedicated office where they can close the door and Skype with clients.

If you’re planning to buy, don’t just think about bedrooms for sleeping.  Think about a home’s space configurations and what it is you might want in your home.

Do you need a home office?

Two home offices?

A guest room? 

A Peloton room?

A dressing room?

Many of these “luxury” amenities can be accomplished easily once you see all the possibilities a bedroom can offer. 

Don't Buy A House For Your Furniture

Not long ago, I showed a couple a house that was perfect in every way. Perfect size. Perfect location. Perfect price. They were visibly interested as they moved from room to room. When we got back in the car, I was waiting for one of them to ask what I thought they should offer. Instead, the woman said, “I don’t think this house is for me. My armoire isn’t going to fit.” 

I understand someone being attached to a piece of furniture with great sentimental value, but this wasn’t that. It was just a cabinet she’d bought to keep sweaters in.  

“Donate it,” I suggested. But to some, this is unthinkable.

Like most people, I love most of my furniture. But buying and selling houses reminds me that the real goal in house shopping is to find a home for you. Not your furniture. 

Many of the houses in the areas I show most often – Montclair, Glen Ridge, the Oranges, Verona, Cedar Grove, Livingston, the Caldwells – have unique layouts, quirky shaped rooms, or architectural details that could be enhanced (or diminished) by the right (or wrong) piece of furniture. When clients say they’ve had a hard time finding a home for their 94-inch sofa, to me, the solution is simple: buy the furniture that the house needs. Not the other way around.

I had a client who was selling a house with a long, skinny living room. I had my stager come in and replace his living room furniture with pieces that enhanced the space. He said, “I’ve lived here for 20 years and had no idea how to furnish this room. Until now.”

I had another client who was moving from a 7-bedroom house in Montclair to a 3-bedroom condo in West Orange. “I’m not taking any furniture with me,” she said. I was inspired by her attitude, as I know that sometimes not wanting to let go of our furniture is really a metaphor for not wanting to let go of our old house. She moved in with all new furniture and everything she bought was exactly the right size and proportion for her new space. And guess what? It looked amazing!

One thing I hope I can always offer my clients – both buyers and sellers – is the ability to offer perspective on which things are actually worth worrying about in a home sale. And which, like furniture, are often not worth a second thought. 

Photo: This unusually narrow living room, with its off-center fireplace, never looked quite right to the homeowner, until our stager set up furniture that was the right scale for the space.

5 Biggest Client Complaints

It’s been a long time since I sat in Real Estate School classes, gulping down the many facts and rules and equations necessary to get my licensure. But like any job, many of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an agent were not taught in the classroom.

They were taught to me by my clients – buyers and sellers, alike.

Yes, agents have to know the most up-to-date information about oil tanks, and yes, it’s handy to have a list of great vendors for clients – from floor finishers to structural engineers. However, there are a few things that may be more important, and I know that because clients have come to me with these complaints about their previous agent. Here are the top five:

  1. "After we signed the listing papers, our agent handed us off to others." One client told me she never saw her agent again after her house was officially listed. Instead, she was assigned to a listing manager, a stager, and various office assistants. There is nothing wrong with having an assistant follow up on details. However, I consider my listings my direct responsibility, and I make sure to be in touch with sellers regularly throughout the marketing and sale of their home.
  2. "My listing agent would schedule house showings and then no one showed up." To be fair, buyers often change plans, even after a seller has filled the morning tidying, stashing kids’ toys, and relocating a pet to the neighbor’s. It's understandably annoying to ready a house that no one comes to see. If a buyer cancels, I consider it my first responsibility to let the seller know  – whether they are my clients, or theirs is a home was going to show my buyers. Having sold my own house recently, I am very attuned to the effort that goes into a showing.
  3. "The agent who was showing me houses didn’t know the town." It’s easy to show homes in your own town, especially if you’ve lived there awhile. However, if agents are showing homes in an unfamiliar town, they have to do their homework. A good agent should be able to tell you distances to grocery stores and have a working knowledge of commuter options. I live in Montclair, but spend a lot of time in Glenridge, Cedar Grove, South Orange, Maplewood and other nearby Essex County suburbs for the sole purpose of providing my clients with the most accurate information possible.
  4. "I felt constant pressure to increase my bids." Buying a home can be stressful and, in my opinion, an agent’s job is to try and reduce that stress. Not add to it. We should provide data, insight and knowledge. We should not make a client feel insecure about a bid (which, apparently happens a lot). My only agenda with my clients is that they find the home that suits them best. 
  5. "My agent never answered my calls." I will confess: I do not answer the phone while driving, but beyond that, I respond to my clients – calls, texts, and emails – immediately or, at least, quickly. That’s just good business.

So, as you can see, I’ve learned a lot over these 14 years. If you want to put me to the test, I’d relish the opportunity. Then again, maybe there are a few things I could learn from you too!

Call or text:  973-809-5277  If I'm driving, I'll call you back!

Six Ways to Take a Prospective New Town for a Test Drive

You research the school system. You collect the train schedules. You drive around the neighborhood after an open house. 

Buying a house means buying into a community. So, of course, information about schools and transportation is important. However, a big part of what most of my clients are looking for is a particular vibe. And in my opinion, vibe needs to be evaluated firsthand. 

Here are my 6 favorite suggestions for taking a town for a test drive. Feel free to post your own in the comments!

1. Take a walk.

When you drive through town with an agent, they tend to take you through the nicest neighborhoods. So, if you’re looking at a particular house, in addition to circling the neighborhood, google directions to a nearby restaurant or school – and walk to it. Beyond getting a feel for the friendliness of fellow pedestrians, you’ll notice things that you’d never have access to inside your car.

2. Hang around after school.

Whether it’s the vibe of the school's neighborhood, or what your new neighborhood feels like when school gets out, you’ll get plenty of information about what your child’s after-school experience may be like. 

3. Take an exercise class.

Or a yoga class. Or visit the library. Or a church. Or a temple. Or the senior center. If there are things you love to do, take the opportunity to see what it’s like to do them in a new town. Obviously, walking into the Montclair YMCA was a different experience the first time I showed up there decades ago than it is now. I didn’t know anyone and, in fact, I got lost. But even then, the Y had an easy, welcoming vibe that made me feel instantly comfortable.

4. Go to the grocery store.

I spent a lot of time in the supermarket when I was raising my family. If that sounds like you, pop in and see what your home-away-from-home will feel like. Montclair has plenty of grocery options – I’m happy to guide clients to the 2 or 3 destinations that seem most right for them.

5. Take the train (or bus) in and out of town.

I have clients who do this as a matter of course – executing their entire door-to-door commute from a prospective neighborhood to experience it in real time -- and also to see what it will feel like. 

6. Check out the Saturday night scene.

Montclair has always been something of an arts and entertainment hub, a destination for people all over northern New Jersey. But there’s no better way to know if it will suit your own entertainment needs (or, at least, many of them) than having a meal, getting a drink, catching a movie, listening to a band. Meander down Bloomfield Avenue and see what speaks to you. There are plenty of restaurant options where reservations are not required.

Getting a clear feel for a town or a neighborhood helps buyers become more confident in their purchase. I regularly tell clients: You can always change a kitchen or an entryway – but you can’t change what a town feels like on a cool spring morning or after a quiet snow.

To me, taking a town for a test drive provides a buyer with more options. You may read things about Montclair or Glenridge or South Orange or Verona, but until you experience the town’s vibe, you won’t have information from the most reliable source: you. 

If you want some more ideas about how to test drive a town, don’t hesitate to call me: 973-809-5277

Photo: Montclair YMCA Large Pool 

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.