Despite the chilly outdoor temperatures, the real estate market in and around Bergen County right now is hot, hot, hot. As we head into the final weeks of winter, this typically slower time of year in the market was anything but this year, and promises to pick up even more steam in the coming months. There are an abundance of buyers currently house-hunting, but very little inventory, creating a competitive experience and many bidding wars. “There’s no looking casually right now, things are going fast and it’s a seller’s market,” says Mia Stern, Realtor® Associate with Christie’s International Real Estate. “People have slowed down, want a community and reprioritized,” leading many to start looking for a home they can settle down in. If you’re in the market for a new house, Stern shares some secrets for being on top of the real estate buying game.
Get Your Finances in Order
Because houses are flying off the shelves faster than toilet paper circa March 2020, it’s crucial to have a realistic budget and be pre-approved for a mortgage, or have proof of funds readily available. This way, you’re ready to go if you fall in love with a house and want to put in an offer. “Establish a relationship with a qualified lender that comes recommended from someone you know or your realtor, and make sure the lender is reachable any time,” says Stern. Accessibility is important as many people see houses over the weekend, and may need to adjust their pre-approval loan amount during off-hours. “Agents have relationships with lenders that their offices use, so they can help you get things done quickly.”
Another thing to consider when creating a budget is knowing how much additional money you will need for repairs, as most homes that aren’t new builds will require some work from the outset. Read the seller’s disclosure carefully and factor these costs into your budget so that you aren’t “house poor” after purchasing a home. In addition to cosmetic work such as painting, decorating or refinishing floors, be aware of hidden costs. Will the house soon need a new roof or siding? Are the utilities such as hot water heater or furnace on their last legs? Are there signs of mold or water damage? Is there an underground oil tank? These are all questions to factor into your final budget. Be sure to set aside money for emergencies, especially when purchasing an older home. “You can’t get a credit for something that is older but functioning,” says Stern.
Know What You Want
Knowing that you want to live in Bergen County may not be narrow enough in this competitive market, and may be an inefficient way to search. “Have a specific location in mind,” says Stern. “Make sure you can afford the town, factor in the taxes, research the school systems if public schooling is important for your family, understand the community.” Think about things such as whether having a close downtown area is important to you, as well as your work situation and the commute to a job. “Know what the plan is at your company: are they just remote for now, or will you be going back to an office at some point?” says Stern.
As far as the house is concerned, it’s essential to fully understand your wants and how you live your life. “Do you cook and/or entertain a lot?” says Stern. If so, consider a larger kitchen, family room or outdoor area rather than focusing more on bedroom size. “Remember, you’re not entertaining in your master bedroom.” Other things to consider is an appropriate office/work space if needed, as well as quiet space for kids to do remote learning.
Have An Open Mind
A good realtor not only helps you find a house you love, but comes with vision to open your eyes to homes that you may not have imagined a possibility. Know if you are a Nicole Curtis and able to handle a fixer upper, or if significant renovations are simply not in your wheelhouse. “Fixer uppers and new builds are both going quickly because there are two different types of people,” says Stern. “However, an agent’s job is to have a vision for their clients. I’ve seen some gorgeous bi-levels, and was able to offer ways to switch things around so they work. Right now, there’s no style of house that isn’t desirable.” Stern does say to consider a fixer upper if you want to get in a certain town, as the value will almost always increase should you need to sell the house in the future. “Don’t pigeonhole yourself,” she says.
Find Your Perfect (Realtor) Match
Finding an agent that you trust and connect with, particularly if you’re a first-time buyer, can make the process much smoother, more enjoyable and less stressful. “When you have a connection with someone, they will go above and beyond for you,” says Stern. “An agent is your advocate, so find someone you love and they will find you a house you love.”
Above all, be patient. “It’s a frustrating market and it may take longer than you want, but the market will pick up a bit in the spring,” says Stern. “We’re still seeing the effects of COVID, people fleeing the city and reevaluating their lives, but it won’t last forever as everything is cyclical.” Now that most families are spending more time at home together, if you fall in love with a house, be prepared to move forward immediately. Stern says if you see something that would really upset you to lose, then go for it. “I am a firm believer of if it’s meant to be, it will be.”