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What My Listing Clients Have to Say

Sold: Single-Family home in West Orange, NJ - July 2020

“We began the process early in 2020, meeting and discussing how the process would go. We signed the contract and set a date the house would go on the market. Unfortunately, Covid 19 hit and all our plans had to be put on hold. Throughout this time, Lina stayed in touch and kept us in the loop about the marketplace and what was going on. When the time was right, Lina got our house on the market. It started with the professional staging, the photographs and the virtual tour. The house went on the market as planned and to our shock it sold in 4 days for well above our asking price.”  –NT 


Sold: Single-Family home in Bloomfield, NJ - Dec 2019

“When I first met Lina, I already felt confident in the way she presented her plan on how to market my house. She took a look at my property and told me exactly what has to be done to make it appeal to the buyers. And indeed, it worked. She was hands-on in prepping my house for open house. I was impressed that after only 3 days on the market I got multiple offers. She helped me all through the process until my house was finally sold. I would highly recommend her to my friends, due to her expertise in her business.” – AL


Sold: Single-Family home in Glen Ridge, NJ - May 2015

“I could not have dreamt of a better realtor than Pauline Panza. Her exceptional skills, drive and pleasant demeanor resulted in delivering a successful and lucrative sale. With this being our third home sale, our experience with Pauline has been hands-down the most professional and profitable transaction. I highly recommend Pauline Panza to sell homes, especially in the high-end range.” –BB

Selling Your Home

I wanted to share these reviews from sellers over the years to illustrate my philosophy as a listing agent. When I’m marketing your home, I have a very specific goal: Get as many people as possible to look at your house in the shortest period of time. 

That’s the key to a profitable sale.

Some people have a misconception about what listing agents do. A good listing agent does not “sell” a house through “salesmanship.” Selling houses is about knowing how to present your home in its most flattering light. How to position your house so it’s priced to create excitement. And how to market your house so that a maximum number of buyers know about it. 

Experience Pays Off

My team’s success in “selling” homes rests on decades of experience, knowing exactly what to do to draw buyers to your home and bid on it, and then understanding the finer points of negotiation so that everything comes together at the closing table. This is has been our approach year after year, and it always works!

My most successful sellers are those who take our advice and let us do what needs to be done to bring eager buyers to their home. Even during this challenging year, with the whole family working and going to school from home, we have helped sellers get their house on the market quickly and lucratively. 

If you’re thinking about selling, I’d love to share my expertise with you.

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

What Buyers Want Now – A Great Outdoors 

Many sellers are taking advantage of the increased interest in moving from city to suburbs, streamlining their belongings and trying to get their home into “move in condition.” This is really smart. When my colleagues and I discuss big picture issues in the market right now, we are all seeing an even stronger desire in buyers for turn-key experiences. The less work they have to take on, the more valuable the home is to them.

The other most valuable aspect of a home these days is “nice, private outdoor space.”

What I’ve been seeing is that you don’t need a grand or fancy yard to hold appeal for a buyer. Recently, there was a house listed that was the size of a 2-bedroom apartment, but it was on a nice enough piece of property and the owners had turned half the 2-car garage into home office space. The yard was not huge. It was big enough to eat outdoors, toss a ball, maybe grow a vegetable garden. They received 8 offers, which is more interest than a house like this would typically attract.

Right now, most any home with a little green space is a sought-after commodity. Even homes with pools, which are sometimes slightly more difficult to sell, now hold extra appeal.

This is the time to attend to your outdoor space, either for putting on the market now or for selling in the future. Patios and decks are a plus, but not a necessity. String some lights and buy a fire pit for a cozy evening vibe. 

My biggest piece of advice: Plant some trees! Trees and shrubs are some of the few investments you can make in a home that actually get better with time.

If you’d like to take a tour of your yard together, I’m happy to offer my perspective on what exterior improvements will pay off. Talk or Text: 973-809-5277

5 Things That Drive Me Nuts About HGTV

As someone obsessed with houses, I turn on HGTV all the time. And many of my clients spend time watching various shows as well. It doesn’t take long after stepping into a kitchen – whether with a buyer or a seller -- for the conversation to turn to renovations. And for the misinformation to take over.

Don’t get me wrong – I like HGTV. But many of those shows depict home buying and renovation in a completely inaccurate way. For me, these are the five biggest offenders: 

1. Renovation Costs Are Too Low – Believe me, I would love for a kitchen renovation to cost what’s quoted on Love It or List It. But the truth is, an older kitchen, gutted and being brought up to code, is almost always more expensive than my clients have been led to believe by the television show. Usually, by a lot.

2. The Value-Add Is Too High – I have clients who are convinced that if they spend $85,000 on a bathroom renovation, it will increase the value of their home by $115K. In my experience, the opposite is true. Unless you are a contractor or can do most of the work yourself, you will not recoup the money you invest on finishing a basement or renovating a kitchen. Of course, you should do the renovation to improve your home for you. But don’t expect it to be a money-maker. 

However, there are two projects that are always worth investing in: fresh paint and refinished floors. Even if they cost more than HGTV may suggest, newly done walls and floors make a house feel clean, fresh and inviting.

3. Project Duration (and Inconvenience) Is Underplayed – Through the magic of television, clients are lulled into believing that a renovation can be done in six weeks. Six months is more accurate, and even that is often optimistic. Again, this is not to say you shouldn’t create your dream kitchen. Just know that projects often take much longer IRL than characterized on TV.

4. Selection Process is Oversimplified – In House Hunters, a buyer is shown three houses and asked to pick one. The host never says, “I’m sorry, you’ve been outbid. Again.” In fact, there are no bidding wars at all – one of many TV omissions that make home buying appear more straightforward than it typically is. 

5. Agents Are Depicted as Simple-Minded – Although I try not to take it personally, there are way too many instances where real estate agents are depicted merely as the person who has a key to the front door. I would say about 20% of an agent’s job is showing houses. Most of the job entails working out problems related to easements, oil tank remediations, title issues, and closing logistics.

Finally, HGTV – as delightful as it is – doesn’t spend anywhere near the amount of time talking about the quality of life benefits you may want to look for once you walk out your new front door. For example, how living in a walkable suburb contributes to a person's good health and fosters a sense of community. I think I could host a show like that!

But in the meantime, I’m happy to just talk about it with my clients. If you’d like an amazing and realistic sense of what Montclair, Maplewood, Glen Ridge, South Orange, West Orange, Verona, Cedar Grove and Bloomfield have to offer, please reach out: 973-809-5277

It's Tax Appeal Time – What You Should Know

“Should I appeal my tax assessment?”

As the April 1st tax appeal deadline approaches, that’s the question du jour.

Town-wide re-valuations are done every 5 to 10 years in an effort to fairly distribute the tax burden across all property owners according to the value of each property. However, sometimes the system fails. If your home was measured incorrectly or if an extra bathroom was inadvertently added into your assessment, you may be paying more than your fair share in real estate taxes. 

Over-assessment can also be the result of a neighborhood that declines in value relative to other neighborhoods, or a shift in buyer preference for a certain style of house. If you believe you’ve been assessed unfairly, you have the opportunity to challenge your assessment, and this is especially important to do if you’re planning on listing your house soon.

According to Jeffrey Otteau, one of New Jersey’s most respected appraisers, there’s not only a direct relationship between an over-assessed house and its selling price, there’s even a rule-of-thumb calculation you can apply to determine how much it will affect your selling price.

Otteau says that when selling, a home’s value is reduced by 7.5 times the excess valuation. So, for example, if most of the 1,800 SF, 2-Bath houses in the area have yearly taxes of $16,000 and the taxes on your 1,800 SF, 2-Bath house are $18,000, all other things being equal, that additional $2,000 translates to a $15,000 reduction in value in the marketplace.

The key in evaluating your tax burden is understanding how your home – and assessed taxes – compare with similar homes/taxes. I’m always happy to meet with sellers a year (or more!) before they put their house on the market to determine whether it’s worthwhile to challenge their current tax assessment. Call or text: 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

5 Home Staging "Rules of Thumb"

living roomHome Staging has become one of the biggest buzzwords in world of selling real estate, yet many sellers are still perplexed by the concept. "Why do you want me to dismantle my photograph wall?" a client will ask. "It's one of my favorites parts of the house!"

Plain and simple: staging a home allows a buyer to more easily envision himself living in the space. And the more of "your" stuff that's around, the less of "his" stuff he can imagine there.

There are many suggestions I make when I meet with a client about getting ready to sell, but a few are worth noting as Staging Rules of Thumb - small changes you can make that will make your home show better and sell faster.

  1. Don't Overdo It. Many people think of staging as bringing things in - furniture, rugs, accent pieces - but most of the "work" of staging is taking pieces out. The more "available" square footage in a room, the more easily the buyer will be able to see her own furniture there.
  2. Create Conversation Spaces. Sofas and chairs do not need to line the perimeter of the room. Consider furniture arrangements that allow people to easily converse and socialize. Let the buyer to imagine all the lovely entertaining that she can do in your home.
  3. Keep Accessories Tasteful. Small, thoughtful additions can go a long way in making a space feel homey and inviting, especially gentle smells like potpourri in the bathrooms. Best, though, to keep additions neutral; controversial material - like political or religious books - is better off out of plain sight.
  4. Focus on the Main Rooms. Staging is crucial for the Big 4: Living Room, Kitchen, Master Bedroom and all Bathrooms. The other rooms - kids bedrooms, guest rooms, den - can simply be pared down and filled in by the buyer's imagination.
  5. Let a "Blank Slate" Be Your Guide. Your personal photographs and children's artwork is no doubt amazing, but they are just going to muddy the waters when it comes to helping a buyer visualize herself in your home. Put away your personal effects, but please, don't take it personally.

These rules are general so if you're in need of a personal staging consult, don't hesitate to call me. 973-809-5277

How Accurate is Your "Zestimate" ?

This LA Times article about Zillow estimates is from a year ago, but it recently resurfaced on my social media pages and seems worth sharing. For homeowners, Zillow seems like the best thing since sliced bread. A do-it-yourself tool to determine home values. Unfortunately, it's not the last word in valuation and is often controversial.

Zillow uses an Automated Valuation Model  (AVM), which is an algorithm that takes into account location, price per sqft, lot size, etc by relying on publicly available data from comparable properties. Sometimes this data is old or just simply wrong.  It's not a bad system for very general ideas about home value, but it doesn't account for anything unusual (good or bad) about your home.  AVMs tend to overstate the value of homes that are in poor condition or in an awkward location (like next to a gas station).  Similarly, they understate the value of homes that have fabulous recent renovations or are walkable to the NYC train.  It's a little like the real estate equivalent of an automated telephone customer service system. It's good for only the most basic information gathering.

And, as this article points out, "Zestimates" aren't even especially accurate - on average they are off by 8%.

Working with an experienced agent (i.e., me!), you'll have access to all the same type of automated information available through Zillow AND the expertise of someone who knows what the inside of the comp homes look like.  So, together, we can make a smart marketing plan if you're a seller, and realistic decisions about bidding if you're a buyer.

I'm happy to come over and tell you what your home is worth. Buying and selling homes is nuanced and subjective. It's not about algorithms. It's about lifestyles and dreams.

To Stage or Not To Stage?

Bessida Before 2 Bessida After

In my opinion, this should not even be a question. According to the Real Estate Staging Association, "Professionally listed staged properties look better, spend 73 percent less time on the market, typically sell for more money, end up on buyers' 'must see' lists, are perceived as 'well-maintained,' and have fewer concessions requested of the seller."

Plus, who doesn't love a good make-over?

Staging is not decorating. In fact, in many ways it's actually un-decorating. It usually involves decluttering, repairing and (unfortunately) depersonalizing a home so that a prospective buyer can easily envision themselves living there.

Sometimes it requires eliminating odors from pets, cooking, or mothballs. Or freshening up the landscape - trimming or removing overgrown bushes (especially important in a walkable suburb!). Also, although not really staging, there are "fixes" that are best done before putting a house on the market, such as removing underground oil tanks or removing asbestos pipe-wrap.

Some homes can be staged in a day but others take weeks or months of planning, sorting, storing and executing.

I consider staging an activity with few downsides and huge potential returns. Probably the worst you can say about staging is that it can be a little sad to make your home look its very best only to pack up and leave it. I had one client who didn't want to spend money refinishing floors when they moved in and only went to the trouble to do it when they put the house on the market. "I can't believe how much better our house looks now!" I remember her saying.

So if you're thinking of selling in a few years, you may want to start in on some of those repairs or touch ups now, while you have time to enjoy them.

(And now for a moment of shameless self-promotion: The before and after photo above is a home that sat on the market with two different agents for a combined 728 days. Neither bothered to stage the house. When I took over the listing and staged it, the house sold in 45 days.)