Posted by & filed under Bergen County LIfe.

Getting a pet when you move into your new home is almost a ritual for many families in Bergen County.  It’s not unusual for me to learn that one of my customers has added a new dog or cat or other pet to their family once everything is unpacked.  Those of us who grew up with pets can remember how excited we were when our parents let us bring home our new pet.  It was so much fun and it taught us to be responsible – after all, a pet needs to be taken care of but oh what love they give us in return!  When you adopt a pet you add so much to your life and that of your family’s.

Bergen County has several opportunities for pet adoption.  Unfortunately, there are so many pets available these days waiting to be adopted.  Why not make your house a home by adopting a pet?

There are two animal shelters – the Bergen County Animal Shelter in Teterboro and the Ramapo Bergen Animal Refuge in Oakland.  We also have some wonderful organizations where I have met many teriffic volunteers during my time in Bergen County real estate sales.

There’s PetResQwhich is an all volunteer group based in Tenafly and having it’s first ever annual “Fur Ball” dinner dance at the Clinton Inn in Tenafly on March 27th.  We also have the Bergen County Humane Society  based in Lyndhurst  but serving the entire county.  Another great group is the New Jersey Boxer Rescue which is extremely active in Bergen County although they cover the entire state.  I’ve had personal experience with the New Jersey Boxer Rescue folks and I can’t say enough good things about them.

If you’re ready for a new member of the family, you can certainly find one in Bergen County.  Adopt a pet from an animal shelter or one of these organizations and you’ll rescue an animal that will love you for years to come.

Posted by & filed under Buying.

Buying a home for most of us means getting a mortgage.  Mortgage rates become a prime issue for home buyers as does their credit report.  The interest rate on that mortgage is determined in large part by your credit score.

Whether or not you qualify for a mortgage is often determined by your credit score alone.  It is true that income, debt and assets are important but your credit score is the first determining factor.  Your credit score must be at a certain level for the rest to matter.  Rates are based on your credit score as well.

Credit scores are vital to your financial well being in so many ways that have nothing to do with purchasing a home.  For example, your credit score can impact what you are charged for auto insurance or whether or not a utility company requires a security deposit in order to get the lights turned on in your new home.

Here’s a good tip to improve your credit score – don’t pay off your credit cards.  Get them down to half or less of what you’re allowed to charge.  Ellen Jacobson is a Senior Mortgage Banker with JP Morgan Chase and someone I’ve worked with for years.  She told me that most folks she sees make the same mistake.  They pay off one credit card at a time in an effort to have fewer credit cards.  “Nothing could be further from the truth” she told me.  In fact, she said that closing a credit card can hurt your credit score.

Of course no one is advocating that you maintain credit card debt.  If you do have several credit cards, try to make sure you keep them all no higher than 50% of what you are allowed.  This will improve your scores.  You may also want to get best balance transfer cards. It’s also a smart idea to consult with your mortgage banker before you do anything.  Being careful is always a good idea.

Posted by & filed under Buying, Selling.

The New Jersey Association of Realtors publishes a report every year on the characteristics of people who buy and sell homes in New Jersey.  The National Association of Realtors has it’s own buyer and seller profile but naturally that’s on a national scale.  I prefer to use the New Jersey Home Buyer Profile report because it focuses on our State.

There are some very interesting facts in this report and you might just be surprised by a few.  Here are some highlights from the New Jersey Association of Realtors profile of home buyers:

  • The median age of New Jersey home buyers is 36
  • First time home buyers had a median age of 30
  • 56% were married couples
  • 21% were single females
  • 10% were single males
  • 49% of home buyers were first time buyers
  • 64% had no children under 18 living with them
  • The #1 reason to buy a home – a desire to own your own home
  • The #1 reason for deciding when to do it – it was the right time in their life
  • Top reason to choose the location – quality of the neighborhood
  • 2nd reason to choose the location – convient to their job
  • 68% of all purchases were detached single family homes
  • 89% used a fixed rate mortgage
  • 72% used the internet frequently to search for a home; 17% occasionally

There are two key items here ito note – 49% of all buyers in 2008 were first time home buyers and they decided to buy a home because the time was right for them.

First time home buyers are crucial to keep a market moving – without them, a real estate market will collapse because they are the first cog in the wheel that drives the real estate engine forward. There was also a rise in the we buy houses companies. They are the one’s that come in and pay cash for the home fix it up and make a large profit. Most are on the up and up but a few have talked the elderly into selling their homes promising them the world and then come to find out they are left with less than half what the home is worth. It’s also interesting to see that no matter the external factors at work (economy, interest rates, etc), it still comes down to when it’s the right time for me.  If you want a copy of the full report, just email me.

Posted by & filed under Bergen County LIfe.

The closest winter sports facility to New York City is right here in Bergen County at Campgaw Mountain Reservation.  Only 18 miles from the George Washington Bridge, Campgaw is run by the Bergen County Department of Parks and has it all – you can ski, snowboard and tube down the mountain day and night.

There’s all sorts of fun here and it’s also a learning center with group and private lessons for you and your family – here’s some children at a Skiwee session:  Campgaw Mountain

For the more adventurous, however, there’s the thrill of snowboarding and those glorious jumps.

Campgaw Mountain Campgaw Mountain

If you’re more “down to earth, there’s also the fun of sliding down the mountain on a snow tube.

But if you’re a traditionalist, you can ski downhill with abandon!

Campgaw Mountain

Campgaw Mountain Reservation is open year round because in warmer weather it’s a favorite hiking and camping retreat.  But, in the winter, it becomes a snow park where you and your family can come for “in your backyard” winter sports.  Campgaw is just another reason why it’s fun to live in Bergen County and why our Bergen County homes are so valued.  I bet you didn’t expect a ski resort only 30 minutes from Manhattan!

Posted by & filed under Buying.

In the world of Bergen County real estate, one of the most popular style of homes is the split level.  It’s efficient design, open floor plan, bright sunlit interior and uncomplicated mechanical systems makes these homes highly sought after by buyers.  Bergen County saw an explosion of split level home construction from 1960 through the mid 1970’s.  A wonderful example of the split level design is found in my listing at 18 Ridge Road which is offered at $795,000:

18 Ridge Road     It’s easy to see the multi level feature of this style:

To the right is the upper level where you’ll find all 4 bedrooms.  The lower level of the left is the entry level where there is a formal entry hall, the living room, dining room and kitchen.  One level down on the ground level is the family room, power door with laundry and entrance to the 2 car garage.  There’s also a basement with a rec room and separate storage/utility room.  All in all, you get a lot of living space in these mutli level homes.

The present owner renovated and expanded the home in 2004 – take a look at how well done it is:

18 Ridge Road 18 Ridge Road

The living and dining rooms are filled with light.  The open floor plan allows for tremendous light to enter the house through the large window at front and sliding glass door across at the end of the dining room leading to the outdoor deck.

18 Ridge Road 18 Ridge Road

There was a lot of planning that went into this beautiful kitchen renovation and it shows.

18 Ridge RoadThis is the family room  on the left and the rec room is one level below – it’s a perfect set up because the adults can relax in the family room while the children are playing in the rec room.

18 Ridge Road

These 2 rooms in particular demonstrate the versatility of the split level home.

18 Ridge Road was constructed around 1960 and has only had 2 owners but that isn’t all that unusual.  People tend to stay here once they’ve moved in.  Cresskill is a highly prized location – it has an excellent school district, robust business district, terrific town services and a very strong community spirit.  It’s large enough to support it’s own school district but still very much a small town where one easily feels at home.  A classic Bergen County home located in a quiet family neighborhood with an easy commute to NYC, 18 Ridge Road is simply a wonderful home.

Posted by & filed under Buying, Selling.

I’m not an economist – I’m just a real estate agent.  But, as opposed to what some of my friends will tell you, I am not crazy and I have a lot of common sense.  This is why what has happened makes no sense at all to me.  If only people had behaved responsibly there would be no sub prime mortgage mess.

It all starts with the mortgage.  If you go to my website at www.BergenCountyHomes.com you will see an entire section devoted to how to buy a house the right way.  And what is the first thing I tell you to do?  Go to a licensed mortgage bank.  I refuse to work with any buyers who will not go to a credible financial institution.  Period.  End of story.  No way.  Can I be more direct?

It makes no sense at all for anyone to go to a credible banker who tells them they can afford $100 and then shop around on the internet and find a miracle – you can now afford $150!  Miracles, voodoo dolls, fortune tellers, glass balls with smoke inside, tarot cards etc. are not how you figure out what you can afford.

I keep telling people, the first thing you do before you look at one house is to work with a licensed mortgage banker.  This is why what happened makes no sense to me.   Realistically I understand how it happened – of course I do.  But it still makes no sense at all to me that so many people found miracles and believed them.  What’s even worse were the people stirring that miracle pot of magic and proclaiming that they were Merlin the Magician or the Wizard of Oz.  Where was Dorothy when we needed her?

And how about those Hedge Fund folks and all the others who churned those packages of bogus loans?  Years ago you had to justify the credit worthiness of a loan to get an investor to buy it.  Well, I guess that went out the window into some dark hole.  But, again, it all comes down to that individual who only wanted to buy a home and wanted a miracle.  But, it wasn’t entirely his fault.

Have you ever tried to read a mortgage document?  If you’ve bought a home in Bergen County, you’ll remember your closing as a blur of papers you had to sign.  They are supposed to be in understandable English but no one, perhaps not even the Pope, can understand it all.

So between greed from the mortgage broker (notice the expression mortgage broker – it doesn’t say licensed mortgage banker now does it?) who was motivated to sell a loan and get a commission, the real estate agent who was motivated to sell a home and get a commission, in many cases that agent’s manager and company who wanted even more transactions, the banking system who wanted that loan no matter whether or not the buyer could pay for the mortgage and the international investors who wanted US investments and took it “on faith” that what some salesperson was telling them (disguised as a financial advisor, trader, investment banker, hedge fund, international institution, etc) was the truth, we went down this road to a crash literally heard around the world.

So, for those of you who want to buy a home and are nice enough to work with me, understand why I have been telling people for over 20 years that you do not go to alphabet soup mortgage brokers, you go to such places as JP Morgan Chase, Huson City Savings & Loan, Classic Mortgage, New Jersey Lenders or ISB.  These are all strong, solid institutions and no they do not have the lowest rates published – I can almost guarantee you of that.  What they do have is something we used to call a “true rate” (as opposed to untrue?) which tells you what it really costs.

Remember, if these folks tell you can afford 100 or 150, that’s what you can afford.  Because not only do they figure in your mortgage amount, but good, ethical licensed mortgage bankers also figure in things like property taxes and home insurance.  As a result, the figure they give you is credible and usually not as terrific as ABC Mortgage’s phony pie in the sky miracle rate.  But, it is real and so you are protected.

If you need some good bankers to refinance or buy a home, go to http://bergencountyhomes.com/financing.htm (and in case you’re wondering, I receive no sponsorship from any of them; they don’t participate in conflict of interest behavior and neither do I)

Posted by & filed under Buying, Selling.

Although it’s very early in the year we can still get an idea of the real estate market.  Here is what I’ve found:

The spring market for real estate in Bergen County arrived in February.  We’ve noticed an increase in the number of buyer inquiries and in the number of people coming out on weekends to look at homes on Sunday afternoons which is pretty much what we expect every year.

Below is a quick study of how the market is doing as of February 17th based on New Jersey MLS data.  Over the years, I’ve found that it’s important to see the relationship between the number of homes for sale (A for Active Listings) and under contract (UC).  In a strong seller’s market, this ratio is at 2 to 1.  How long a home is on the market is also important and I’ve put this in the same order for you (A/UC).   I feel that this is a result of over pricing.  It’s pretty tough in any market to get an offer on an over priced home; it just doesn’t make sense to  a buyer.

For a more in depth look at the real estate market go to my market trends report which I’ll be updating monthly at  http://bergencountyhomes.com/market.htm

A/UC                Ratio                Days on the Market

Alpine                          43/1                 43 to 1             257/298

 

Closter                         74/10               7.4 to 1            136/224

 

Cresskill                       69:7                 10 to 1             132/128

 

Dumont                        44/12               3.7 to 1            117/81

 

Englewood                   123/16             7.7 to 1           155/110

 

Englewood Cliffs          45/1                 45 to 1             132/221

 

Harrington Park            18/3                 6 to 1                92/51

 

Haworth                       35/1                 35 to 1             122/83

 

Paramus                       114/25             4.5 to 1            146/103

 

Ridgewood                   98/14               7 to 1                94/105

 

River Edge                   34/11               3 to 1                73/95

 

Tenafly                         93/19               5 to 1              118/150          

This truly shows you the state of the real estate market in Bergen County.               

Posted by & filed under Bergen County LIfe.

Bergen County is next to New York City in the northeast corner of New Jersey.  I can give you an idea of how close we are to New York City by showing you these pictures:

next to new york city

George Washington Bridge NJ side

This picture to the right shows you the NJ side and the picture to the left shows you what you see looking at Manhattan from New Jersey.

next to new york city

George Washington Bridge View from NJ

No matter which side of the Hudson River you’re viewing, the distance across the George Washington Bridge between Bergen County and NYC is just under one mile at 4,760 feet (one mile equals 5,280 feet).

Mahwah is located at the northwest corner of Bergen County on the New York State border.  Even here Manhattan isn’t far/  It’s only 21 miles and a 30 minute drive away.

Such close proximity to Manhattan makes us an excellent commute to NYC and the Big Apple a major presence in our lives.

A large number of Bergen County residents work there.  Many of us go there on weekends to take advantage of it’s museums and other cultural activities such as Broadway plays, Lincoln Center concerts and art fairs.  This is a primary reason why Bergen County homes are so valuable to buyers.  Where else can you get the best of suburban living 15 minutes from one of the world’s major cities that is both an international cultural and financial center?

As a result Bergen County homes are highly sought after.  Being a river away from a major world capitol is a uniquely positive aspect of living here.  In fact, many people visiting Manhattan stay in less expensive Bergen County hotels taking public transportation back and forth to the City.

Bergen County has the best of suburban living and easy access to all that New York City has to offer.  Next to New York City is where we’re at and that is a very good thing indeed.

Posted by & filed under Bergen County LIfe.

high school reunionLast summer I did something I thought I’d never ever do – I went to my high school reunion.

It’s the oddest thing but during the past few years, we’ve all been finding each other again.  This is most definitely a very weird reaction to reaching the latter part of your middle age of life.   Not that all of us have separated from each other.  Among the advantages of living in Bergen County is that we’re next door to one of the greatest cities in the world – New York City.  There’s a lot here to make you stay when you have Manhattan in your back yard.

However the world is also a big place with plenty of opportunities and places to see. Many of us moved far away.  I keep in touch with some of my closest friends.  I recently connected with others. Its been great but it’s also got me thinking about what it was like to grow up in Bergen County and what’s changed and remained the same since then.  I guess it’s natural to go to a high school reunion when you begin such introspection.

Life in Bergen County is a combination of many things. There’s the commuting morning, relaxed day and busier late afternoons and early evenings. Saturdays are bustling and because we have “blue laws” from many years ago that do not allow most shopping on Sundays, Sundays are quiet. That part of Bergen County is the same as when I was growing up.

What’s changed here is the number of homes and families we have – the increase in both has been tremendous. Real estate has been a big growth industry here with almost all available land that could be developed gobbled up by builders. Today it’s common to see an older home knocked down so a new one can be built.  This is because there are no large tracts of undeveloped land left. Along with this development came a lot of diversity. There are so many different cultures here that are well represented. When I was growing up this was not so much the case. However, this greater diversity has maintained the vitality and economic health of our area.

What remains the same is our small town suburban lifestyle. People still come here to buy a home and raise their family. There are just more of us with a greater variety of backgrounds. I can still go to my local downtown shopping district and bump into people I know. There are still stores here that we call “institutions” because they’ve been here for generations. We still have Saturday football games, baseball in the spring but now we also have added soccer in the fall.

So when I met my classmates last summer at my high school reunion, we shard a lot of memories, opened up that high school yearbook and laughed at those young people inside those pages.  We were amazed to find that although much had changed, much still remained the same. For over the years people have come and always will come to live in Bergen County for the lifestyle and American values that it represents and maintains.

Posted by & filed under Bergen County LIfe.

The Revolutionary War era 1740 Bogert house still stands today and has quite a history.

Demarest NJ was a beautiful area of farms and mills in the 1700’s.  It was also the setting for one of the American Revolution’s major campaigns:  Washington’s Retreat from New York.  Washington’s army crossed the Hudson going through Bergen County where they camped in Fort Lee.  They eventually ended up in his famous Delaware Crossing into Pennsylvania.

Mattias Bogert was one of those farmers.  He built a house alongside what is today called Old County Road.  Mattias worked very hard.  As a result, he had a prosperous business.  Just to his north was the Demarest family.  They had a farm and grist mill.  Six or seven farmers settled here by the late 1700’s.  Most were patriots.  As a result they helped supply the Continental Army in Fort Lee with flour, produce etc.  The story is that one of their sons took off on horseback to warn General Washington that the Tory’s were coming down Closter Dock in pursuit of him.

This was the time of Washington’s famous retreat having been badly beaten by the British in New York.  On May 9, 1779 the Tory’s unleashed a brutal attack on these farmers because they knew they were patriots.  The British burned their homes, destroyed their crops, killed people and took many prisoners.  Matthias Bogert, his family, his home and his farm were not spared.  They suffered along with all the other patriots in the area.  Everyone returned after the war to rebuild their homes and farms.

The Bogert House is a registered National Landmark and preserved forever with a conservation easement.   Magnificently kept, the main part of the house is wonderfully elegant.  This beautiful Dutch Colonial estate home is constructed with the material of the day that all better properties shared – sandstone and wood.  The large front porch is an absolute delight and looks out upon most of the nearly 3 acres of property.  The 2 car garage was once a full sized barn with stables.  One stable still exists inside.  None of it’s original charm and appointments is missing.   Bergen County was a large part of the American Revolutionary War as one of the 13 Original States.  This wonderful 1740 Bogert House is part of that heritage for all of us.