A lack of inventory continues to be the headline for the Bergen County housing market. No matter the town, no matter the price range we still have fewer homes available than the market needs. As I’ve said before here, I cannot see this changing for many years due to demographics.
Baby boomers are aging but they are more “young” than their predecessors. They are more physically fit and mentally sharp and for those who’ve lived in their homes a long while, mortgage free. In many cases renting a small apartment costs the same or more than the monthly cost to keep their home. They don’t need to sell and they don’t want to sell for a much longer time than most people would have expected. Thus a large contribution to the lack of inventory.
Buyers have slowed down due to the time of year which is normal but much less than last year. There is a good deal of activity out there with buyers going into contract at a fairly good rate. When activity in the 4th quarter is more than one would expect, that usually transfers into a robust following year. My projection for 2015 is that it will be very busy exceeding 2014 and that interest rates will be favorable until we approach summer.
Prices appear to have done what we expected – risen gradually in 2014. Mortgage rates which were approach 5% this summer are now around 4% and trending lower. I will publish a more detailed report in January but for now, all projections I made are on target.
Our December holidays are upon us. The Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, begins on the night of the 16th. Hanukkah lasts for 8 days and ends on the 24th, Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve is followed by Christmas Day. The day after Christmas starts the Kwanzaa celebration of the 7 Principles. And, of course, we have New Year’s Eve.
In Bergen County we celebrate all 3 major holidays and end the year by going out or with a party at a friend’s home. There are parties and activities throughout December; it seems that every weekend something major is going on.
Concerts and theatrical productions are held throughout Bergen County in churches and synagogues as well as a packed scheduled at our live theater, the Bergen Performing Arts Center or as we call it, Bergen Pac.
To keep on top of everything going on, here are some suggestions –
- Your Church or Synagogue
- Town websites
It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow. A time to celebrate all we have together with family and friends. Thanksgiving for me is one of my favorite holidays. I love the spirit and the fact that this is one holiday we all can share together.
It is also the start of the holiday shopping season and has become, at least to me, under attack by the highway stores where malls are opening earlier and earlier. While the bargains are compelling, ruining the spirit of this special American holiday is horrible.
This is happening because of the internet. Brick and mortar stores are being forced to extend themselves more and more as they compete against websites that are open around the clock.
Also under attack is your neighborhood store.
The merchants you depend on when you forgot something or needed something and didn’t have time to go out on the highway, those shop keepers who are there for you when you need them most are having a very hard time. Many closed during the recession and those left are on the edge of closing too. Sadly, in January you will see several have gone in every town.
We need our local shops. Our town business districts are important parts of our lifestyle. They are often local residents who care about where they live and help support our local activities from donating goods to putting your flyer in their window.
I remember one year when I was seriously ill recovering from major spinal surgery. When I was able to get out I went to my local Tenafly stores and was so touched by what happened. To be honest, I looked horrible but the fact is every shop keeper noticed. Every one of them helped me. They wouldn’t let me carry anything to my car and some called afterward to make sure I got home all right. I never asked them but they knew.
So this shopping season, make sure you buy something from your local stores. They are there for you all year long. Be there for them at the biggest shopping season of the year. If each of us supported them just a little bit more, we’ll have all of them in 2015.
You can feel it in the wind – it’s starting to get cold. Not too cold quite yet but cool enough to let you know that winter weather is on it’s way. In Bergen County that means snow and we get a good amount of it.
Our average snowfall is around 30 inches but last year we had more than double for a near record 65.6 inches in Tenafly and the surrounding towns of Bergenfield, Cresskill, Englewood and Teaneck. Elsewhere in Bergen County it was a little plus or minus that.
Shoveling even 30 inches takes effort. Life can be much better with a snow blower. Those wonderful machines make clearing out your driveway and walks faster and easier than shoveling. Snow blowers are great but like any machine they need care and maintenance.
If you’re like most people, you’re in denial. You parked your snow blower in the back of the garage last year and forgot it. In a few weeks, this is going to happen to you –
One day soon the weather man will tell you that this huge pile of frozen air is about to descend on you with tons of snow. Like thousands of other Bergen County residents you panic. Oh no! I have to get my snow blower to the mechanic before the snow starts! OR you do nothing, wait for the snow, get the machine out of the garage, try to turn it on but it won’t. Either way you end up standing in line at the repair shop only to hear it will be ready next week…..
There is a better way – take your snow blower to the mechanic now. If you need to buy one, get it now. Don’t wait until they’re all sold out later. Waiting until it’s too late means you’ll be shoveling snow or wading through it in a few weeks. Avoid the headache, take care of this now. And if you need help, get a landscaper to add you to his list now.
I’m quite serious – mortgage rates don’t count at all when you’re shopping for a house. In fact, when you are buying a home and you go to those wonderful websites that promise you everything in 30 seconds or less, you can easily damage your credit. Let me explain why mortgage rates don’t count and it’s dangerous to shop around.
Today we do everything through the web and most of us do it on a laptop late at night or on our smart phone during the day. If it’s in the internet we trust it – no matter what it is from a food recipe to financing our home. But should we? Blind faith is exactly that – blind.
Marketing folks have focused everyone in on rates. They have convinced you when buying a home that you should shop for the best interest rate you can find and THAT’S the ONLY bank you should use. Well guess what – shopping for rates is a total waste of time. Why? Because of 2 major facts:
#1 – Why worry about an interest rate today when the rate you get happens 2-3 months or more from now? Does it make sense to price a mortgage rate today when you get the mortgage months from now? Can anyone tell you exactly what interest rates will be in 3 months? No one can. So shopping for a rate today is completely irrelevant and it’s the WORST way to choose a banker.
#2 – Rates from one bank to another vary based on, in my opinion, how honest they are. Ever hear of a true rate? I bet not. Why? Because the marketing folks don’t want you to know about that. Every hear of a closing cost worksheet? I bet not. Why? Because that’s the truth and the ONLY way to compare banks. Rates quoted to you vary because banks play with the cost figures. If one bank is very low I will bet my life that they haven’t included all their costs. Is the light bulb going off in your head now? It should be.
I have seen customers insist on using Happy Financial who gave them an incredibly low rate only to learn later that the fees charged were astronomical. Did you know that if you pay a bank 1 point (1% of the mortgage amount) you can reduce the mortgage loan by 1/4%? Another light bulb should be going off – this is why the rate is so much lower. If you paid 1 point you can write that off on your taxes; when a bank hits you over the head with that 1 point in outrageous fees you can’t write it off.
The only way to compare bank costs is with a closing cost worksheet. An ethical banker will give you that when you meet with him or her. You won’t have to ask for it. An ethical banker will go over the mortgage process with you and explain why they recommend a particular mortgage to you. Such a banker will spend time with you, answer all your questions and most importantly NOT give you a pre-approval in a few minutes because that’s worthless (see a follow up article on this in the near future).
The bankers I recommend must reach my standards. There is no compromise on this. Both they and the bank itself must achieve my requirements in ethics and service. I will tolerate nothing less for my clients and nor should you.
One of the most powerful and useful resources for community information is the US Census Bureau. The amount of information you’ll find there is, to be frank, at times overwhelming. Whether you’re buying a home, selling a home or just plain curious, the US Census Bureau has statistics and data that is quite helpful and also interesting.
This free resource is where most paid services get their data so why not check it out yourself? If you’re buying a home I know that you have loads of questions about our Bergen County towns. You want to know about the towns, the schools, the commute. I’m often asked about the number of young families with children, average incomes, age breakdown, how many own rather than rent and so many other questions.
If you’re selling a home and moving out of state, you have even more questions and concerns about the various locations you’re considering. It’s not at all unusual for a current homeowner moving out of state to want to do their own preliminary research even if it’s a corporate relocation where relocation specialists will be helping you.
The US Census Bureau website has a very useful tool for this which they are just developing called Quick Facts. There is also the free new mobile app called Dwellr which you can download from their website. Dwellr is based on the American Community Survey and is intended to help people identify where they want to live based on data.
Of course finding the right town for you and your family is more than just demographic data but what the U.S. Census and Dwellr offer you is certainly a great help.
Election Day is November 4th this year. In Bergen County, elections have become more significant than ever because many towns have combined their school board elections with government official elections to save money. Holding an election is expensive. It just doesn’t make economic sense to do it twice and turnouts for school board elections (most often held in early spring) are smaller than in November.
Even if you have been going to the same place for years to vote, it’s a good idea to check with your town clerk to see if anything has changed. I remember one year when I lived in Tenafly going to the school 2 blocks from my house where I’d gone for over 10 years only to find out it was closed. Tenafly had changed the voting location to the McCandless Room in the Borough complex.
Double check with a call to your town clerk and make sure you vote. Each vote is indeed important. In the game of politics, 1 vote counts as 2. Did you know that? This is because political parties figure that they’ve changed one vote against them into a vote for them thus it’s like 2 votes in their eyes. You can’t complain about what happens if you don’t vote.
What if I can’t be sure I’ll make it? Absentee ballots fix that problem BUT your absentee ballot application request MUST be received by the Bergen County Clerk’s office no later than 7 days before the election and your mail in ballot MUST be received by the Bergen County Clerk before the close of the voting polls on Election Day. Go to the Bergen County Clerk’s website where you’ll find everything you need to know; the absentee ballot application link is at the bottom of the page.
After the December holidays, winter sets in and weeks of cold, snow and ice follow. January, for those of us who love football, isn’t too bad because we have NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl to spice up life. But northern New Jersey, like the rest of the northeast, has it’s worst winter weather usually from mid January through early March.
With many snow storms and freezing rain, Bergen County residents can’t wait for spring. Owning a Bergen County home means shoveling, buying bags of ice melt and bundling up against those frigid arctic blasts of ice cold air pouring down on us from Canada. No wonder we can’t wait for spring and what means spring more than flowers sprouting up from the ground?
Among the most beautiful of early spring flowers are bulb plants from tulips to daffodils; they make us smile and tell us that yes, winter’s over and spring is arriving.
Fall is the right time to plant bulbs for spring. Planting them too early turns them to mush; planting too late doesn’t work either. You want to get them planted before the ground freezes and if you wait too long to do it, you could freeze too! October is here so get those bulbs planted now before the cold days of November.
Planting bulbs is easy, takes a few hours and isn’t terribly expensive. Bulbs can produce flowers for years depending on what you plant.
Using the right tools helps to make your life easier too. Get yourself a bulb planter and ask your local nursery for advice on how to prepare the soil. A great source of information is a Rutgers University article that tells you everything you need to know. With a few tools and a little effort you will create a wonderful spring display of beautiful flowers.
It’s apple picking time.
The golden sun of autumn is here and the weather is turning colder. Early fall is one of the most beautiful times of year and it’s filled with all sorts of fun activities. One of the best is picking apples at a local orchard.
Going to an orchard on a weekend is quite an experience. If you’ve never eaten an apple straight off a tree you’re in for quite a treat. You’ll be amazed at how delicious they are. You’ll also be surprised at how fragrant an orchard is and by the incredible variety of apples.
Apple picking has become big business. Orchards will sell you everything you can imagine with some having gift shops filled with “country items” that have little to do with picking an apple. Even though it’s become very commercialized, going to an orchard to pick apples on a fall day is still a lot of fun.
Bergen County has some apple picking orchards of it’s own and there are some barely a 1 hour drive away too. When my son was little I went up to Masker Orchards but there are several choices. Here are some you’ll enjoy –
Alstede Farms in Chester, NJ
Demarest Farms in Hillsdale, NJ
Masker Orchards in Warwick, NY
Ochs Orchard in Warwick, NJ
Apple picking is one of those special moments a family shares together. Being outdoors enjoying the orchard’s fragrant fresh air in the warm fall sun is healthy and it’s also very relaxing.
Children especially enjoy it and it’s a terrific teaching opportunity as well as a fun time. Some orchards have apple cider presses where children can see apple cider being made. Because this can change from year to year, call ahead to find out about this.
A fall tradition, apple picking time is one of many terrific experiences you’ll enjoy as a Bergen County resident.
Bergen County is part of the New York City metro area made up of bordering parts of New Jersey (Bergen County), New York (Rockland & Westchester Counties + NYC) and Connecticut. With tremendous commerce and activity throughout this area, it is often viewed as one region rather than 3 separate States. This perception often creates problems.
Bergen County is a commuting location to Manhattan. With Manhattan 1 miles across the Hudson River, Bergen County home values are based on proximity to NYC. This is why Fort Lee values are high and your dollar goes much further in Mahwah. The George Washington Bridge is in Fort Lee and Mahwah is furthest away.
Because so many people work in NYC seeing this area as a region it’s not unusual for buyers to choose a bank or attorney from NYC. However, that’s often like hiring a bank or attorney from Wyoming to buy a NJ home. Why?
Because New York and New Jersey are 2 separate states. Buying a home anywhere in New York is different from buying a home anywhere in New Jersey. Even if your New York bank or attorney is licensed in New Jersey, their primary business is in New York.
It seems New York banks never close on time – they just don’t understand the process here. Typically 2 weeks before closing they announce a delay causing havoc for both buyer and seller.
The home buying process in NY and NJ is radically different. Being licensed in NJ does not mean NY attorneys know what they’re doing here. If representing the buyer, the attorney may inconveniently insist we close in NYC. You may have to pay the seller’s attorney to go there.
Protect yourself – use excellent local professionals when buying and selling a Bergen County home. Why do anything else?