Posted by & filed under Bergen County LIfe.

Cresskill EarthfestCresskill is celebrating Earth Day in a very special way by having it’s first ever Cresskill  Earthfest.  The date is Sunday, April 18th and everyone is looking forward to it.

This is going to be an all day fun filled event for people of all ages.  The focus is not only on celebrating our planet but also learning about it.   As a result there’s going to be a large number of learning activities and exhibitions.

Cresskill Earthfest is also about having fun.  This is why they have plenty of live entertainment and fascinating exhibits.  There are the following events for even more fun too:

  • A Family Bicycle Tour (it’s also ok if you’re not a family),
  • An Environmental Fun Walk
  • a Volunteer Community Clean up of the Tenakill Brook
  • A Children’s Bicycle Rodeo and Safety Check (be sure the kids bring their bikes)

Cresskill Earthfest starts at 9 am and ends at 2 pm (although it might run a bit longer).  This is going to be an awesome event.  Many environmental groups and regulation agencies are coming to help enthuse and educate everyone.  They will teach us how to preserve and protect the environment.  They will also show us to live a better life by going green.

Have you ever thought about going green with a car?  If you have, you’re in for a treat because there will be an exhibit of the latest in green cars.

This very impressive event is put together by the Cresskill Environmental Commission and the Cresskill Education Fund. Working hard together they have created a spectacular day.  It has everything you’d expect of an Earth Day celebration. You’ll find things from alternative energy exhibits to an arts and crafts table to foods from organic farms. If it’s about the environment and making your world more green, it will be there for you.

Come to the Cresskill Earthfest on the 18th.  This major event is located on the 3rd Street field and rec center near the town pool.

Posted by & filed under Buying, Selling.

The figures are in and the real estate market in Bergen County is doing OK.  It’s still a buyer’s market for homes but you can see some signs of improvement with Bergen County real estate.

In January I had written that the real estate market in Bergen County would shift during the 4th quarter of 2009 and stabilize.  From then on for a few years we would be working in a narrow range before turning upward again.  This time it would take longer than it did in the early 90’s to rebound fully but being stable is good.  So far my projection is still on target.

Most of the reports at that time were for this to happen once we were solidly in 2010 – well, the media reports are singing a different song because things have changed.  And so has the Bergen County real estate market.

If you look at the number of homes coming onto the market and going under contract, what you’ll find is very interesting.  For the homes becoming active in the New Jersey MLS, there’s been an 11% drop during the first quarter of 2009 but the pace of homes going under contract is the same this year as it was last year.  Do I hear the word stable anywhere?  Yes, this is indeed a sign of stabilization and that’s, to quote Martha Stewart, a good thing.

For the first quarter in both 2008 and 2009 the Active to Under Contract ratio is 3.9 to 1 in the New Jersey MLS data.  This means that the pace of home sales is maintaining itself and it’s also quite respectable – the ratio of a strong seller’s market is 2 to 1.

Looking closer to see what happened we find that in 2008 the rate at which homes became active was pretty normal – a gradual progression as you moved more into the year.  But in 2009, January and February were anemic and then we had a 32% explosion upward in March.  Do you think that the spring real esate market is back in Bergen County?  I sure do.

Home buying activity has really picked up since March 1st and home sellers have correspondingly jumped into the real estate market.  Why would they wait until now to put their home on the market for sale?  Because the atmosphere was so negative at the end of 2008 that it made many homeowners hold off.  What’s changed?  Well, just to mention a few items – the $8,000 tax credit, liberalization of FHA mortgages, even lower mortage rates, home prices not seen in nearly 8 years and the natural spring rhythm of home buying.

While home values are still going down – another 5% for the rest of this year – I still feel that the market will be stabilized by the 4th quarter.  What we’ve seen so far this year in maintaining the pace of sales and in the recent surge in home buying activity certainly point to this and also to a good spring market for Bergen County real estate.  In fact, I won’t be surprised to learn that the bottom of the real estate market in Bergen County was the end of 2008 and the very beginning of 2009.  2009 will be a year of change.

Posted by & filed under Buying.

The most important first step in buying a home is financing which involves getting prequalified for a home mortgage.  It doesn’t matter if you’re buying Bergen County real estate or a home somewhere else – because your mortgage loan is so critical to your home buying process, you are naturally interested in any news about these loans.  Here is where you begin what I call Mortgage Rate Madness.

People afflicted with this disease believe that they can get mortgage rates at levels not seen because they don’t exist.  The other day I had a call from a consumer who had this disease – a really bad case of MRM!  She thought she could get a mortgage rate of 4%.  The reason she was so sure of this was simply because one of her friends heard this on the radio and someone else saw it on TV.

Hmm…..maybe at 3 in the morning you might see some infomercial where all sorts of nice people are sitting in their Bentleys (which they rented for the hour) telling the world all sorts of mysterious fables.  You know, the folks who make millions without working and get tons of free money.  It isn’t your fault if you get the MRM disease.  This virus is everywhere – it’s on the radio, it’s on TV, it’s online, it comes from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from…and on and on and on.

OK – how about a good dose of reality?  Mortgage rates are indeed low.  In fact, they’re so low that they’re truly at historic lows.  But the interest rate on your mortgage depends on many things – for example, if you have a small down payment, for almost everyone that means a FHA loan.  Because your down payment is small, the risk is greater to the lender so the interest rate is a little higher; the FHA specializes in such loans.  It’s all in the details as they say.

It also depends on how much money you are going to borrow.  Up to $417,000 it’s one rate, at $417,000 – $1 million it’s about one half point higher, etc.  Mortgage rates vary depending on how much you borrow, your down payment and, of course, your credit score.  I can tell you that that there is a cure for MRM disease – work with a good licensed mortgage banker.  Invest some time in getting properly educated and pre-approved for your mortgage.  It’s usually the biggest loan you’ll ever have.  If you go to the Financing section at www.BergenCountyHomes.com you’ll find several.  Trust me – if it’s too good to be true, it’s MRM disease!

Posted by & filed under Buying, Selling.

Here is a quick update for you and it is indeed great news.  Buyers are back.  As a result activity’s up in the real estate market.

There has been a noticeable increase in the number of people looking at homes over the past two weeks.  We’re seeing more buyers coming out on Sundays to our open houses.  We are also receiving more calls into our offices and more web responses to our internet postings.   The Bergen County real estate market has become very very busy.

At the same time, the inventory of homes for sale is growing daily.  More and more people are putting their homes on the market for sale now that we’re safely past the snow season.  Most home owners do not want to sell their home during the winter weather.  As a result having the number of homes for sale grow significantly at winter’s end is quite normal.

The reason for home buyer activity is improved market conditions.  Because market conditions for buyers have improved greatly, buyers are back.  Prices are down substantially from 2004 (by 20 to 25% in most areas) and mortgage rates tumbled over the past 2 weeks.

Jeffrey Otteau is  one of the most respected analysts of New Jersey real estate.  When he speaks people listen.  Here is his take on things:

Mr. Otteau announced last week that New Jersey real estate will depreciate another 9% in 2009.  He went on to say that prices will stay at that level in 2010 as the real estate market stabilizes.  For many home buyers, this combination of factors made buying a home now a great idea.

It will be interesting to see if this pick up in activity continues and for how long.  I have a funny feeling that the “smart money” is buying a home now.  Only a lucky person picks the market bottom but I must say that we’ve got to be pretty close to it now.  What I do know is that buyers are back and that’s a very good thing.

Posted by & filed under Buying, Selling.

A short sale occurs when a home that is sold is worth less than the mortgage amount and the homeowner cannot make up the difference.  For example, you sell a home for $75,000 but the mortgage is $100,000; you’re short $25,000.  The bank enables the homeowner to sell the house by forgiving the $25,000 difference.  So while the bank doesn’t own the house, the owner can’t sell it without the bank’s cooperation.   Of course, in an actual short sale, the bank would be forgiving the mortgage amount, any other liens and the closing costs.

This is my best advice to pursue a short sale in Bergen County:  Contact an attorney who specializes in real estate before you do anything.  It is always best if you begin by being fully informed.

You do several things to get a bank to allow a short sale.  Banks require homeowners to complete a “workout package”.  Hardship letters are part of this package.  They are written by the owner to explain the circumstances that led to the owner’s financial difficulties.  Supporting documents are included too such as pay stubs and account statements.  You need to make a strong case to get the bank’s approval.

Why would a bank do this?  Because the other alternative is a foreclosure.  Foreclosures cost the bank much more in time and money.

Why would a homeowner dos this?  Because a short sale erases the debt.  Banks forgive everything most of the time.  They may insist on a promissory note for part of the loss sometimes.  That’s still much better than a foreclosure.

Foreclosures do not erase debt.  Debt collectors pursue you for years.  They take your vehicles, garnish your wages, clean out your checking account etc.  Your credit is ruined for about 10 years.  That is a Titanic sized disaster.  Short sales recover your credit in a few years.  Debts are wiped clean.  The IRS does not consider forgiven debt as income.

3,703 single family homes are for sale in Bergen County.  Short sales total 346 or 9.3% of all homes for sale.  They resolve a difficult situation for both banks and owners.

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.