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Orly Steinberg

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When Passaic County Homeowners Capitalize on Energy Savings

by Orly Steinberg

 It’s been a welcome relief for Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne homeowners as the Bad Old Days of the energy crisis recede from memory. $4+-a-gallon gasoline, huge electric, propane and fuel oil bills that were the subject of national outrage have faded from the headlines. We’re now busy attending to the current challenges of daily living—and OPEC’s machinations aren’t front and center!

But for those Northern New Jersey homeowners more attuned to what’s likely to be headed our way sooner or later, now is as good a time as any to prepare for the next spate of energy price surprises. And there are many new products—some in development, some already on the market—that soon could put a serious dent in the damage tomorrow’s energy bills might wreak.

Some of the interesting innovations:

  • Bladeless Fans. These are already out there—the weird-looking magnifying-glass-shaped electric fans that suck hot air in through the base and push a steady stream of air out via an impeller. The no-blades design promises to make them safer, and eventually less of an energy-eater.
  • Smart Thermostats. The best new ones connect to home systems and display how much energy is being used (and how much it’s costing). Being able to see the dollars and cents result of every temperature-setting decision, these “smart” thermostats can’t help but result in measurable energy savings.  
  • Flooring Upgrades. Who isn’t attracted to the warmth of hardwood floors? That never changes, but when it comes to the cost factor, they can’t match the energy savings of radiant heat. Unlike older versions of radiant flooring, the new products like Warmboard don’t require running tubes in concrete to circulate hot water. Radiant solutions were already 25% more efficient than forced air—the newer systems allow greater control and lower water temperatures.
  • Sprinkler Controllers. Water bills can be eyebrow-raisers anytime—but if you’ve ever found yourself rushing outside during a rainstorm to figure out how to stop your automatic lawn sprinkling system from adding to the flood, that situation needn’t reoccur. The newest “smart” systems take weather, sprinkler type—even growing conditions—into account. As an extra, mobile apps allow you to supervise from afar.
  • Solar Shingles. They’re not yet at the price point of traditional solar panels (who would have thought that bolt-on solar panels would ever become “traditional”?)—but they are quicker to install and have the advantage of maintaining the traditional rooflines. They are becoming the renewable energy solution with curb appeal!

Investments in home renovations that give Passaic County homeowners energy savings are investments that pay off twice: right now, as the monthly operating costs are realized; and later, when those advanced features make the property more attractive to buyers. If that “later” is also a time when a future energy crunch is on everybody’s minds, it can be an important selling feature.

That would also be prime time to give me a call! 

One good way my clients get a head start from the word “go!” is the amount of attention their Passaic County listing receives. Since that listing is by far the most prominent display piece their property will be presenting to the world of potential buyers, it has to be first-rate. The details must be presented in clear and unambiguous language, laid out with the information buyers consider important right at the top. Most important of all is how the data is illustrated. If there is ever a place where top-notch photography will pay off, this is it!

That’s why it’s astonishing when you come across Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne listings where the shots appear to have been taken with casual abandon. You seldom see those when a property is represented by a licensed agent—or if you do, it’s probably the result of a client’s sudden need to sell quickly—in which case the offending specimens are usually swiftly replaced by professional substitutes.

What are the most common amateur photography slip-ups that can’t help but harm a property’s impact? Here are five that seem to lead the pack:

1.   Flash. Even most smartphone cameras have flash capability for dark scenes. The problems with that kind of flash is that, since the light provided is right next to the lens, everything that’s illuminated looks flat—it erases the depth that shadows provide. Also, things that are closest to the camera are bright, those distant are darker—making for all the appeal of a crime scene photo. As if that weren’t enough, reflective objects like mirrors and glass reflect the glare of the flash. Professionals use multiple “slaved” flashes deflected off walls and ceilings—an entirely different matter!

2.   Illumination. Most Passaic County listings are more inviting when they serve to emphasize a property’s open, spacious qualities. There are exceptions, but most of the time that means bright and light. Rooms look their best when their natural light is only subtly augmented by additional photo lighting. Photo lights introduce unnatural shadows unless they are skillfully placed…but when that’s accomplished, the result is a bright, clean, color-balanced shot.

3.   Selection. When a listing photo portrays an Northern New Jersey that isn’t obvious—when a shot doesn’t “explain itself”—the result is confusion for the viewer. More than one or two close-ups of architectural details without a clear indication of where they are found don’t help tell the listing’s “story.”

4.   Focal length. Most “normal” lenses aren’t well suited for listing photography. Wide angle shots are almost always more appropriate. They provide more information by showing a greater Northern New Jersey—which also conveys a more spacious feeling.

5.   Clutter. Experienced listing photographers know how the viewer’s eye is attracted to details which are out of place. The personal bric-a-brac that’s part of daily living can be a show-stopper in listing photography. Amateurs leave clutter in; professionals seek to remove it before every shot!

A superb Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne listing is one that features photos that tell a story beautifully and accurately. It’s really the opening act of a presentation which—hopefully—ends with a deed conveyed and front door key presented. I hope you’ll call me when it’s time to get your show on the road!

Foreign Buyers Mean Passaic County Listings Should Be Eye-Grabbers

by Orly Steinberg

The Passaic County listings are one piece of what is now a towering real estate marketing colossus. Our MLS is like the bulletin board at the Passaic County supermarket where you pin up your garage sale notice or picture of the old lawn mower you’d like to get rid of in that it’s simple to use and, for the sellers, free. The difference is that today’s Passaic County listings are on the internet, so instead of just being available to the shoppers in Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne, it’s posted for the whole world to see. Literally.

And people from all over the world, instead of just wheeling their carts past it on their way to a parking lot, are increasingly paying attention. The most recent survey had foreign buyers plunking down $104 billion for about 8% of total existing homes sales dollars. In other words, people in China are checking out the homes for sale in Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne. (Fewer people in the Northern New Jersey are checking out the homes for sale in China, but there are ample reasons for that). Real estate magazine The Real Deal points out that in some U.S. markets, Chinese buyers have claimed the title of top foreign buyers because of internet buying. “Indeed, prospective Chinese buyers are increasingly relying on websites…”  

How foreign buyers come across likely purchases is hard to track, but it’s a cinch that the same listings we use are frequently splashed onto screens across Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, China, etc. When the simplest in-home showing involves the hassle and expense of foreign travel, you can be sure that the still photos and virtual tours integrated into the Passaic County listings are close to decisive when foreign buyers are the prospective buyers.

You might think that wealthy Chinese prospects in particular would be mainly attracted to the highest-end trophy properties, but some of the most recent statistics don’t bear that out. Business Insider last reported that in the U.S., “Chinese buyers spent an average of $425,000 on homes.”  Because of the difficulty U.S. lenders have in verifying borrower financial data, these are largely cash purchases.

When a residence goes up on the Passaic County listings, it’s one more reminder of how wide-ranging the potential audience will be. We expect to be viewed by out-of-Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayneers, of course—out-of-staters, sure…but now, increasingly, way out-ofs! With eyes from all over the world joining those who will be giving a property the once-over, we’re again reminded how powerful the visual element of our listings become. It’s why I take great pains to help assemble the finest onscreen presentations for every client…and another good reason you should give me a call!

 

Passaic County Home Loan Credit Decisions Are About to Change

by Orly Steinberg

 

 This will be a heads-up for Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne residents who may be applying for a home loan in the future: there are some major adjustments underway that could affect their eligibility. It hasn’t been talked about much—possibly because most peoples’ eyes tend to glaze over when the topic of loan analysis is raised. But the more Passaic County mortgage applicants know about how lenders decide which loans to grant and on what terms, the better the odds of getting a green light. Briefly, here’s what is coming:

Starting on the 25th of this month, the way Fannie Mae (FNMA) goes about assessing creditworthiness will change. FNMA is the government-backed outfit that buys up private lenders’ home loans once they have been made. That insures that the lenders continue to have a steady supply of cash with which to fund new loans. In short, Fannie’s mission is to keep the home loan industry liquid. Together with similar corporation Freddie Mac, they are behind 60% of home loans in the U.S.—so many Northern New Jersey mortgages are directly involved.

In order to qualify for government backing, lenders have to prove that a given home loan carries an acceptable level of risk. Lenders work with software programs issued by Fannie to help put numbers to the amount of risk—and that’s where the change is about to take place. Beginning next weekend, their latest release of the software (“Desk Underwriter 10.0”) will start to be used. For the first time, it will add a new element in the way a Passaic County applicant’s credit history is analyzed—one that is intended to better predict their ability to repay. It’s called “trended data.”

Credit reports will continue to use the familiar scoring benchmarks: outstanding balance, percentage of credit used, and timeliness of payments. In fact, the traditional credit scores aren’t slated to be impacted at all. What will change is the importance those scores are given, because the trended credit data will go deeper into what a borrower’s history shows. The software will take the previous 24 months’ revolving credit card payment history to rate whether the trend has been one of using more credit; maintaining the same level of borrowing; or paying down balances. In brief, if the “trended data” shows that balances owed have been rising, it indicates a Near Prime borrower. If the amount owed remains relatively stable, it shows a Prime borrower. If the balances have been dropping, it indicates a Super Prime candidate who is most likely to repay without a hitch.

There are nuances, too (they really would make everyone’s eyes glaze over)—but that’s the big picture. For Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne mortgage applicants who will be applying this summer, the fact that their history will now be analyzed in this manner is at least good to know—even if it’s not possible to alter. For everyone else who may not be applying for a while yet, it should be useful to plan credit card usage in light of how it’s likely to affect lending decisions.

I make it a point to keep my clients abreast of all current developments affecting the buying, selling, and financing of Northern New Jersey properties. Whenever you have a question about anything to do with our Passaic County real estate scene, I hope you won’t hesitate to call! 

A mega-proportion of serious Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne house hunters ultimately decide it makes the most sense to team up with a real estate professional to get the job done. Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne buyers may begin the process of finding and buying their next home on their own, checking through the online listings or driving target neighborhoods to check out the “For Sale” signs—but the NAR® reports that 9 out of 10 of U.S. buyers will eventually use a real estate agent in their search process.

The most obvious motivation for that is because the buyer’s agent’s fee is paid from the seller’s proceeds. That alone could explain a 90% level of popularity. When you can benefit from a professional’s services at no cost to yourself, Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne house hunters would have to think long and hard to come up with what the downside could possibly be. To run down the arguments that could explain how 10% might decide to pass up the buyer’s agent service, I looked for the most common arguments against the grain.

Here are the Top Four, presented in no particular order. (Since I definitely do have a dog in this fight, I’ve also included some counterarguments):

1.Distrust. Something for nothing? A free lunch? Common sense teaches the same lesson, always and forever: THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH! (Counter: the service is not free: the seller pays).

2.Independent Spirit. Some people know that they work and think better when they take sole responsibility. They may have been misled by “experts” too many times—may regret not relying upon their own instincts. After all, Americans are mavericks by nature: they are at their best using their own native ingenuity to solve problems. (Counter: a substantial portion of the process of purchasing a home in Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne requires mastering technical legal and timing requirements. Although a buyer can take the time to learn about all of them, since their buyer’s agent has already handled them successfully many times, it’s wasted effort. IOW, this is a wheel that doesn’t need to be reinvented).

3. Commitment. If asked to okay an agreement that spells out the ground rules for working with a buyer’s agent, it’s as if a commitment is being forced prematurely. After all, who knows for certain that the right house at the right price is even out there? It just feels like putting the cart before the horse. (Counter: this is never a commitment to buy—just an agreement for how the search and commission will be handled if a suitable home is found and purchased. The buyer can make sure the arrangement can be severed without penalty if the service is not satisfactory).

4.Motivation. Since a buyer’s agent will profit from any sale—they’ll try to sell me anything. (Counter: Every buyer’s agent is legally and ethically duty-bound to represent their client’s interests—plus, since their entire career is utterly dependent on their reputation, their interests align).

Whenever I represent any buyer, my motivation is 100% that of helping them reach their desired outcome. Reaching that goal—finding the right Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne home, then negotiating and closing at the right price—is the way I keep the phone ringing. See for yourself by giving me a call!

It’s interesting to look into how many ways the universe of food —be it restaurants, markets, cooking, gardening or eating—intersects with the world of real estate. The connections are many and important. That’s true from the moment a future  Northern New Jersey homeowner begins to look into the current crop of Passaic County homes for sale.

We commonly think about residential real estate predominantly in terms of shelter. The listed homes for sale are vying to become the roof over our head; the place where the family will be blissfully protected from the elements. But since it will also be the place where we prepare our meals, store the groceries, and experience the holiday celebrations and feasts that will be remembered forever as key moments in our family’s life together.

Food is central to all these things—it’s why homes for sale that can claim superior kitchens have a clear advantage over those with cramped layouts or dated appliances. The popularity of formal dining rooms may be waning, but the importance of the kitchen has never been more pronounced. Interestingly, large, showy kitchens don’t always get the highest marks from experienced family head chefs. For some, a more compact layout that creates an efficient “work triangle” (the imaginary line connecting cook top, sink, and refrigerator) can win favor by saving steps—and time. In any case, most Americans think of the kitchen as the house’s nerve center around which family life revolves. And in summertime, when the action moves outside, an extra advantage goes to the homes for sale that have patios or decks that look ideal for outdoor grilling.

It is also true that for even the most dedicated amateur chefs, hectic workday schedules can mean that cookery of any kind is forced into becoming a strictly weekend pursuit. For those whose professional lives make that an unavoidable reality, a property’s proximity to quality Passaic County dining outlets can be a major selling point. One way alert homeowners take advantage of that is by preparing a list of their favorite Passaic County eateries—or even by prominently displaying a collection of current take-out menus from nearby restaurants.

When you think about it, it makes good sense to take a look at the ways homes for sale in Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne can make the food connection part of their marketing approach. Call me for a rundown of some of the other lifestyle elements that we can use to demonstrate to prospective buyers how readily your property can fit into their vision of what a treasured home should be.

 

Moving Day: for Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne residents who relish order in their lives, this is one day when no amount of preparation is likely to totally quell the feeling that the world is on the verge of chaos. The day (or days, if the move is one that begins or ends outside our Northern New Jersey) will predictably end with all worldly goods beginning to rearrange themselves in their new settings—but although the outcome is assured, as moving day approaches, rattled nerves require taking a deep breath. Several deep breaths…

When you add small children to the mix, strategic preparation is even clearer as the order of the day. Some of the tried-and-true ideas are ones that all parents naturally figure out—such as having kids help put things away at the new house so they feel part of the process (as well as seeing where familiar things are now located). Other strategies may be obvious, but in the throes of unpacking, can require discipline to carry out—like sticking to the kids’ familiar morning and evening rituals.

One idea is especially useful because it can be completed before the movers arrive. Create a special box or duffel bag with all the child’s “gotta-haves”—toys, blankies, pjs, toothbrushes, a favorite book or two, and the like. Then add some Ziploc bags with the very best special favorite treats (ones that don’t need to be refrigerated)—these will definitely come in handy. Be sure to keep an eye on the special bag throughout the day, and let the child know where it is. Especially as long as there are untapped treats in there, its safety and well-being will be a healthy diversionary focus.

See if you can arrange for the children’s room to be the last the movers pack into the truck. That way, they’ll be first out—which will allow you to set up the children’s room ahead of everything else. It may be necessary to fight powerful contrary urges—like getting the kitchen into some semblance of order—but it will be worth it.  See if some of the child’s own ideas about where to arrange their things are doable. If so, all the better: the feeling of ownership will help make their new room no longer such a strange place (and possibly exactly the perfect place to dig one last treat out of the duffel bag).

Making moving fun for kids is a noble goal. It’s doable for some, but since all kids are different, perhaps creating a moving day where the kids feel they’ve been valued contributors to a family adventure is a significant enough outcome.

Moving day is, after all, the culmination of the team effort that stretches all the way back to when you made that first call to the one who turned out to be your Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne Realtor®. If you’re just at the starting point, I hope that call is to me!      

Monday’s Memorial Day in our Northern New Jersey capped a weekend that definitely felt like summer was close at hand. Actual summer may not arrive in Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne until the summer solstice on June 20, but especially in years like this one, when Monday’s holiday is also just two days removed from the start of hurricane season, it’s clearly time to check whether there are any charcoal briquettes left over from last year.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts on June 1 because, logically, that’s about when the storms out there in the mid-Atlantic begin to get serious. Technically, between June 1 and November 30, 97% of Atlantic tropical cyclone activity occurs, so June 1 has every reason to lay claim to honor of being the starting block. Besides, as one meteorologist admitted, June 1 is easy to remember. At any rate, this Wednesday is it.

Of course, Memorial Day Weekend means a lot more than being the point on our calendar that marks the start of summertime activities. The meaning of the holiday is in its name, with its root “memory.” Passaic County families with members currently serving in the armed forces don’t need to be reminded of the sacrifices that have kept Americans free since the founding of the Republic. That’s a part of everyday life for them. An often difficult (but always proud) part.

For the rest of us, there is usually at least one moment sometime during the holiday when some incidental occurrence gives pause for the real meaning behind the day.

It might be a fleeting glimpse on a TV of a reporter standing on a faraway battlefield, now covered in wildflowers; or it might be an encounter outside the grocery store with an old vet seated at a folding table, seeking contributions for a warrior’s fund. That’s when we experience something that’s not part of our everyday. It might feel like a somber moment that’s somehow strangely uplifting at the same time. It might be no more than an inkling; or it may be a flood of emotion—but that’s the moment when we realize once again how much each and every one of us truly owes to those who gave everything for our freedom.

It’s a valuable thing, Memorial Day.

 

  

 

Those of us who keep abreast of where our Northern New Jersey’s home loan interest rates are likely to head haven’t had much to keep track of lately. By the end of last week, that was beginning to change.

Ever since the Federal Reserve’s single boost in their Fed Funds rate by a quarter of a percent last December, the interest rate scene had been quiet. At that time, a gradual increase in the Funds rate had been predicted by nearly every observer. It’s the benchmark rate by which banks determine their prime interest rates, which are generally about 3% higher; our Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne’s home loan interest rates are closely related to those.

 But the widely hailed gradual rise in rates failed to appear in January; then again in February—the result of the Fed’s Governors getting cold feet. The economy, battered by some nasty weather and further rained upon by disappointing employment numbers, was judged to be simply too uncertain to have more cold water poured upon it (interest rate hikes do that). The consensus view gradually turned to an expectation that home loan interest rates were stuck in neutral.

This month began with most observers sticking to their guns. The 24/7 Wall Street web site ended April with the headline “Little Chance (or None) Seen for Fed Rate Hike.” They elaborated that “Some economists feel that the rate hike risks have all but dried up for 2016…it does imply that rates will rise far slower than what had been expected...

Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne businesses (Passaic County real estate among them) generally stand to benefit by the continuation of the stimulative effect of low interest rates, so having rates frozen at historically low levels is treated as good news. Sooner or later there will have to be a return to normal interest rate levels, but in the meantime, few voices argue very strenuously against the status quo.

That quiet was broken last Wednesday with the release of minutes from the Fed’s last meeting—the gist of which seemed to be that a June hike in rates was now being seriously considered. Most press reports made it sound as if a rate hike was imminent; but closer scrutiny made that considerably less than a sure thing. What had really been enunciated was subtle.

CNBC’s Kate Rooney had the clearest take in an article about Wall Street trying to make sense of the Fed’s announcements. Since Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s statements in March had led all to believe no rate hike was anticipated, the new strong statement may have been intended to undo too much reliance on that. What was really being said was that a hike would be likely if current positive trends continued, rather than that newly strengthening trends were required. Most importantly, NO prediction was being made: everything would depend on the data (and events like the British vote to leave the European Union).

The bottom line for where home loan interest rates were likely to head? The best call is that unfolding events will determine that—and even the Fed itself awaits what’s to come. The one absolute in all of this was that right now, our Ringwood, Wanaque, Pompton Lakes and Wayne’s home loan interest rates remain extremely attractive. It’s nice to have at least one certainty—which continues to be that it’s a very good time to call me!    

 

It’s a great feeling to assist clients on the great adventure of discovering and landing their new Northern New Jersey home. The final part of the real estate sale comes with the closing, where the papers are executed and house keys handed over.

Virtually all of my Passaic County real estate sales proceed to closing without significant hitches. That’s not by accident: I’ve helped clear the path by methodically checking off every item on each sale’s unique ‘to do’ list. That checklist has evolved to include the various technical legal and financial items that need to be addressed before a change of ownership can happen. At closing, they’re all addressed.

But—as everyone with many closings to their credit will tell you—even well-laid plans can begin to unravel when the unexpected pops up. Apparently “closing nightmare” stories make for great internet fodder, because you can find scores of them online. Some are tall tales, but others are exactly what’s to be expected if care isn’t taken to head them off.

Here is a list of five of those kinds of closing predicaments. They reflect common missteps that can derail things when everything else is in order. Since most are easily preventable, they’re unlikely to occur at the last minute if real estate professionals have been part of the picture from the start:

1.Agreed-upon repairs aren’t completed. This can happen for any number of reasons, but innocent or not, if the timetable for completion hasn’t been met, it can threaten to derail the real estate sale. This one doesn’t have to prevent closing. If everyone wants to proceed, the R® for the parties can work out an escrow arrangement with funds set aside to cover the shortfall.

2.The house can’t be sold. This rarer situation should have been identified before closing, but it’s possible that a mechanic’s or tax lien can show up late in the day. In cases where there has been a death in the family, it’s also possible that the heirs may mistakenly believe they will have legal title to home in before the probate process can be completed.

3.The home loan appraisal comes up short. Both buyer and seller may be in perfect agreement about the value of the Northern New Jersey property— but if the chosen bank’s appraiser demurs, it may be back to Square One.

4.The buyer’s finances change. When a lender green-lights a loan based upon the buyer’s debt-to-income ratio, that’s considered a key qualifier. If the buyer changes that ratio by losing income or taking on new debt (or even paying off an existing debt!) it alters the ratio, which can trigger a new investigation, stall the loan—and waylay the closing.

5.Homeowner’s insurance falls through. It’s a bad idea to assume that every insurance company will grant required homeowner insurance. Since their binder or policy will be needed, better to take the extra moments to call to more than one agent.

The best Passaic County closings are no accident: they happen when all contingencies have been discussed and worked out well in advance. They start at the very beginning—hopefully, with a call to me!

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Orly Steinberg

Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage
130 Skyline Drive, Ringwood NJ 07456

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