More Housing Numbers: Confusion or Clarity?

A new set of numbers recently released says home prices in our area are stabilizing, but still need to adjust a bit. The problem is that numbers never tell the whole story.

The same study shows that across Morris County, home sales are up a bit and inventory is down, all good signs for our economy and for the housing market. The figures come from a monthly tally distributed by Jeffrey Otteau of Otteau Valuation Group, a highly respected property appraiser who is a recognized expert on New Jersey real estate.

Closer to home, Otteau reported that October home sales were up from September in the Chesters and inventory is down. Both communities report about a six-month supply of inventory, which puts them in the stable category. Home sales in Mount Olive and Long Valley were down in October, compared to September, but so was inventory. Mount Olive reports an 11.8-month inventory during October, which means prices there may continue to fall as the market stabilizes. Washington Township has a seven-month inventory supply, which means it has a shorter way to go to stability than Mount Olive.

Figures like these are ways of looking at the real estate market which, by all accounts is improving. If you put this information with longer term information and you begin to get a better picture. For instance, across Morris County, 299 homes were sold in October 2011, 383 homes were sold in October 2012.
But these figures are general. If you are interested in buying or selling a home, you have to look at what’s happening in your neighborhood or in the neighborhood where you’re buying. A town may report slow sales yet the street you’re interested may be selling well. And your house, if properly priced, staged and marketed, may create a bidding war…or not.

National news stories may be interesting, but every home, home seller and homebuyer is different. The best action is contacting a professional. Realtors can get information about each neighborhood. They can help determine a competitive price for your home, discuss its staging and marketing, and help you survive the challenge of selling it. Similarly, a Realtor can help you set an aggressive but fair offer for a home you’re interested in.

Numbers are always interesting, especially since they’ve become so encouraging. But reading the signals that will help sell a specific home takes more than reading a few articles. It’s a job for a professional. If you don’t have a Realtor, but have questions, feel free to give us a call. There’s never an obligation.

A Dozen Morris County People Talk With Realtor Kelly Holmquist, Attorney Marty Eagan About Avoiding Foreclosures

(We just issued the following release:)

The Holmquist Team, Kelly Holmquist, Morris County Realtor, houses for sale in Long Valley, houses for sale in Chester, houses for sale in Mount OliveCHESTER – The headlines may be shouting about an improving housing market, but for a dozen people at a workshop in Chester earlier this month, the topic of a quieter discussion is avoiding foreclosure. They heard two experts – Kelly Holmquist of The Holmquist Team, part of Keller Williams-Towne Square Realtors and Morristown Real Estate Attorney Martin Eagan – talk about ways to do that.

Ms.Kelly Holmquist, the Holmquist Team; Morris County Realtor, Long Valley Realtor, Chester Realtor; short sales, foreclosures Holmquist and Mr. Eagan work together to help people sell homes short, meaning the bank agrees to allow a house to be sold for market value, even when that sum is less than what is owed to the bank.

“It’s a traditional sale,” explained Eagan. “You’re selling to a buyer. It’s not a foreclosure. It’s just the bank agrees to take less than you owe.”

As they have at several previous workshops, the duo explained to those around the table how a short sale works and the role of the attorney and the Realtor in the sale. The bank agrees to accept the lower price, but it does want market value. It’s a tight rope, said Eagan.

“We want to upsell it to the buyer and downsell it to the bank,” said Eagan. “Kelly’s great at that.”

Ms. Holmquist explained that the home will be appraised by the bank, which will set a target asking price. The house is then aggressively marketed like any other home. It must be listed on the MLS, for instance. And home sellers are encouraged to properly stage their homes so it sells quickly. When an offer is received, the bank has to approve the offer.  In fact, said Ms. Holmquist, the only difference between a short sale and regular sale is the negotiations are done by the attorney with the bank and others owed money from the proceeds of the sale.

“On the front side, everything appears to be a traditional sale,” said Ms. Holmquist. “It’s on the back side that it’s different.”

While past workshops have been attended by an array of people, many of them have been younger homeowners who can no longer afford their mortgages or who need to move for a better job, but can’t sell their depreciated homes. This group was a different, said Ms. Holmquist and Mr. Eagan. One couple, for instance, was collecting information for their daughter who is going through a divorce. Another couple is trying without success to sell a home owned by the woman’s mother, now in her 80s in assisted living and with no income. A third woman, in her 70s, had taken multiple mortgages to pay medical expenses. Although she’s never missed a mortgage payment, the failure of the real estate market and the devaluation of her savings now has created financial problems.

“All sorts of people are facing foreclosure or are so far underwater that they may never recover, even though they’re making their payments,” said Ms. Holmquist. “It’s not at all uncommon.”

In fact, she said, about 29 percent of the homes being sold in Long Valley and Mount Olive are short sales. In the Chesters, that number is about 9 percent.

“Working with an established team of an attorney and a Realtor to sell short offers a good way out for many people,” said Ms. Holmquist. “The improving real estate market improves their chances of selling short, but it’s still the best answer for some people.”

Ms. Holmquist said people with questions about short sales or any other facet of buying or selling real estate can call her office at (908) 867-7109 or by sending her an email at kholmquist@comcast.net.

Ms. Holmquist is the team leader for the Holmquist Team, part of Keller Williams Towne Square Realty, and one of the top-producing real estate teams in Morris County, N.J.  She has been in real estate since 1997, specializing in residential home sales. After working at other agencies, she founded The Holmquist Team in 2008. A Certified Residential Specialist (CRS), she holds a bachelor of science from PennStateUniversity. More information is at http://www.kellysellshouses.com or by calling (908) 867-7109.

Eagan heads an office that focuses on real estate and is one of New Jersey’s fastest growing specialty law firms. The firm has successfully represented thousands of individuals and business clients across the state in residential and commercial real estate transactions. More information is available at (973) 898-7300 or www.martyeagan.com.

Summer Weather Puts Homes with Swimming Pools In the Spotlight

LONG VALLEY, N.J. — Summer temperatures are making backyard pools a hot topic among those buying and selling homes in our area. While a swimming pool may be a cool idea in many ways, agents with The Holmquist Team have found that it requires some extra attention on both sides of the sales equation.

A house with a pool is a great place to learn to swim, but requires more steps than other houses for sale or homes for sale.

A home with a swimming pool is a great place to learn to swim, cool off in private or entertain. But these homes for sale with a pool require some extra steps on both sides of the sales equation.

There are three kinds of homebuyers: (1) Those who absolutely don’t want a swimming pool in their backyard, (2) those who definitely do want a pool and (3) those who haven’t thought about it but are willing to when they see the right home. For buyers in the second two categories,  here are some things to think about when considering homes for sale with swimming pools:

  • Whether or not you’ll have to pay more for that house for sale with a pool depends on the neighborhood where you’re looking. A 2003 study in the Philadelphia area said pools added 8 percent to the price of a home, but a lot has happened in the housing market since then. Your Realtor will be able to counsel you about the impact of the pool on the home’s value.
  • Check out the condition of the swimming pool and its surface or liner and the age of the filter and other maintenance equipment.
  • Review the impact of the pool on the homeowner’s water and electricity costs. Again, your Realtor can help you compare bills for the home with a pool to homes in the neighborhood without a pool.
  • Check  with your insurance broker about the cost of insurance.
  • Does  the home comply with local safety and other
  • Bring in a reputable pool maintenance expert to look over the pool and equipment, and listen to what he or she has to say.
  • Think  about the investment in time as well as money: Are you ready to commit to the responsibilities of pool ownership, including maintenance and watching your kids…and possibly the neighbors’ kids?

For many people, a pool means a great place to throw a party and a private place to cool off and relax. For those folks, a home with a pool in the backyard can be a great buy.

But how do you attract that person to your home if you’re selling a home with a pool? Again, your Realtor’s expertise in target marketing will help you find that person. Here are some things for sellers to think about:

  • Reread everything buyers think about and get ready for the questions those tips create.
  • Dismiss  the idea that your home will bring many extra dollars (or lose many extra dollars) because of your beautiful pool.
  • As it is with the rest of your home, staging is all-important. Make your pool area looks like an idyllic summer retreat that nobody can resist.
  • Work with your pool maintenance team and your Realtor to be sure your pool is ready for the scrutiny a new buyer will give it. If it needs resurfacing or your filter needs replacing, either take care of it or be prepared to adjust your pricing accordingly.
  • Have  documents ready to show how well your pool is maintained and how little it costs to maintain it compared to how much you enjoy it.
  • Make  sure it’s sparkling clean. That means no discolored bottoms, no leaves floating in the pool.

Two final thoughts: First, if you’re thinking about putting your home on the market this fall or winter, take some photos of the pool with and without people. Second, think about your response if someone is interested in  your home only if you get rid of the swimming pool.

A swimming pool can make a home unique, but before jumping into a sale, make sure you work with The Holmquist Team or another real estate and other professionals to make sure you don’t find yourself in over your head.

When It Comes To Mortgages, Stick With the People You Know

If you’re buying a home, your Realtor will help find a mortgage. A friend of mine, Attorney Larry Fox of Chester, gives his clients a warning that’s worth repeating: Stick with mortgage lenders who are local and who you know.

There's more to a mortgage than the rate. Pick a broker or bank with a good reputation and people you can actually talk with.

There's more to a mortgage than the rate. Pick a broker or bank with a good reputation and people you can actually talk with.

Larry’s been doing real estate law and managing property closing for 40 years, so he’s experienced in this area. He’s not talking about the on-line presence of well-known and respected banks or mortgage brokers. He’s talking about the fly-by-night brokers who promise you big savings. In the end, he says, they can’t deliver.

“You wind up dealing with two sets of people: broker and the lender,” he told me. “You have no control over the process. They don’t understand the process and you can’t find a real person, it’s all done online. It’s very difficult to negotiate with them and get them closed. In the end, you find they’re no cheaper.”

Every state is different, and Larry points out that these online brokers usually are in another state and don’t understand New Jersey’s laws and rules. For instance, one broker wanted certain forms signed before they’d arrange for the delivery of the check. But in New Jersey, those forms are signed at the closing.

Homebuyers pay for their attorneys or Realtors make the arrangements for the closing, including getting the check there. Using these out-of-state brokers requires more time and aggravation on the attorney’s part.

“The rate’s the rate,” Larry said. “It’s the fees you’ll save on, they say. But the few bucks you save, you’ll lose in time and aggravation.”

 Larry’s advice is the pretty much the same that we give to all of our buyers.

“Do what you can to negotiate with local banks, local brokers…people who have a good relationship with local borrowers,” he suggests. “Don’t be fooled by advertisements of lower fees because it doesn’t work that way.”

Your Realtor can help you find a mortgage with a reputable local bank or broker. In fact, we recommend you prequalify for a mortgage because it lets you know what you can afford and gives you added negotiating strength when you find something you like.

Shopping around for a mortgage is a wise thing to do. But make sure you’re dealing with a bank or a broker with a good reputation for getting you to the closing table with a check in your hand.

If you have questions, or need help finding someone to prequalify you, please give us a call.

In Real Estate, the Game is Offer, Counteroffer and Your Realtor Is Your Best Coach

Spring is here and for-sale signs are sprouting everywhere. What’s really exciting about this spring is that we’re seeing sold signs are popping up on many of those for-sale signs.

With a strong spring real estate market, it’s important to make sure you’re ready get what you can for your home. That

Flowers and for sale signs are popping up

It's spring and flowers and for sale signs are popping up everywhere.

means pricing your home correctly and being ready to counter whatever offers you get.

It’s up to you to put a price tag on your home, but your Realtor should help you by showing you recent similar sales in your neighborhood, looking at the condition of your home compared to its competition and counseling you about preparing your home for the market. In addition, your Realtor is an objective third party who isn’t emotionally attached to your home. And when those offers come in, your Realtor will be able to help you decide what to do with them

You have three choices with any offer: you can accept the offer, make a counteroffer or reject the offer.

You and your agent can discuss whether it’s a good idea to simply accept the offer or counter it, but you should never reject an offer. An offer from a potential buyer is an opening gambit. As in any gambit, you should respond.

You and your Realtor can look at the offer, compare it to what you asked for and decide how to respond. An offer may contain more than just a price. It may call for you to make certain repairs, leave some things behind, call for a contingency (the deal ends if the buyer can’t sell their home) or have other conditions. The offer puts you as the seller at an advantage because you now know what the buyer wants.

Even if the offer seems ridiculously low or has terms you wouldn’t even consider, you and your Realtor should respond. Responding, or countering, keeps the conversation going and starts the negotiation process.

Your counter can contain a higher price, but something lower than your original asking price. You also can change the terms, such as increasing the deposit, offering to pay for certain reports or fees, or leaving behind appliances or other articles the buyer liked.

The hope here is that the potential buyer will remain interested and will counter your counter. This “conversation” requires patience and an experienced Realtor to guide you on what’s realistic, legal and productive. Potentially, you could have more than one negotiation going on.

The offer-counteroffer nature of real estate sales is one more reason why you need an experienced Realtor who will be candid with you and help you through the challenges of selling your home.

Make Sure Your Real Estate Agent Is Working For You

We’re enjoying a robust spring real estate market even though it’s just March. Many attribute that to the nice weather and improving consumer confidence, but whatever the reason, people are getting out and looking at homes. If you’re among them, you need a real estate agent who’s working for you.

Holmquist Team sold sign in spring market in Mount Olive, Long Valley and Chester.

It's proving to be a strong spring real estate market. With the right Realtor, this could be the time to sell your home or buy a new one.

Almost as a rule, real estate agents are nice, personable people. After all, selling a home is about as intensely personal as you can get, so it attracts “people people.” But don’t let their friendly manners fool you: Real estate agents are business people.

What does that mean for you?

It means you want to have a real estate agent who is on your side. If you’re selling your home, you want a listing or seller’s agent. If you’re buying a home, you want a buyer’s or selling agent. They can be the same person, but make sure you understand the relationship.

There are, of course legal definitions for all this. In fact, you’ll be asked to sign a “Consumer Information Statement on New Jersey Real Estate Relationships” and an agreement with your agent, outlining your relationship. Outside ofNew Jersey, the relationships are the same, although disclosure rules may differ.A seller’s agent works only for the person selling a home. He or she has legal obligations including loyalty, confidentiality and full disclosure. On the other hand, your seller’s agent must be honest about matters about the transaction or the property.

If your Great Aunt Tillie promised you $10 million if you’d just sell your house and move toTimbuktuwith her, confidentiality means your agent can’t tell a potential buyer how desperate you are to sell.

A buyer’s agent works only for the buyer and has similar “fiduciary duties.” The buyer’s agent has to be honest in representing you and in counseling you. For instance, if you can’t qualify for a mortgage, the agent can’t tell a seller that you can easily afford the home, no matter how much you want it and expect Great Aunt Tillie to help you out.

It gets tricky when an agent represents both sides of the transaction. It’s legal and ethical. It’s called a disclosed dual agent. If you walk into an open house, for instance, and fall in love with the home, you can ask the seller’s agent to work with you. That agent must disclose his or her role and you’ll be asked to sign an acknowledgement of that status. It means that although the agent knows how much the buyer wants to sell, he or she can’t tell you. On the other hand, if you’re about to come into a small fortune from your Great Aunt Tillie, the agent can’t tell the seller to ask for more.

In some agencies like the Holmquist Team, part of Keller Williams Towne Square Realty, the agents work together to take care of the customers without getting into the sensitive challenges of disclosed dual agent. They work within the same agency, so there’s excellent communication, but the buyer would be assigned a different agent than the seller to avoid the potential or appearance of a conflict. Some of our agents specialize in listing, some in selling and some in dealing with special challenges, and that brings additional skills to the table.

Finding an agent is one of the most important parts of buying or selling a home. First, ask around, visit a few Web sites and visit with a real estate agent you think you might like. If things feel right, select that agent as your buyer’s agent. He or she will counsel you about what you can afford, help you prequalify for a mortgage, and take you to see some homes. Your agent will fight on your behalf to get you the best deal possible.

If you’re listing a home, you want to do the same thing and select a listing agent. That agent will do the best he or she can to get you the most for your home. He or she will counsel you about what to fix up, how to stage and what you might realistically expect to get.

And, yes, the same agent can help you sell your home while helping you find a new home.

Finding the right agent or agents, and understanding your relationship with him, her or them will assure that your home-buying and –selling experience is profitable and comfortable. If you have questions about buying or selling a home, talk with a Realtor or call us. We’ll be happy to help.

2012 Could Be The Year You Buy or Sell a Home!

Will 2012 be the year we climb out of the real estate market ditch? Could this finally be the time to sell your home or buy a new one? Members of The Holmquist Team are hearing a lot of optimism out there.

Several economists and observers of homes for sale are sounding some cautiously optimistic notes. Even the jaded news media is beginning to sound optimistic. Amanda Gengler of CNN Money, even said, “If you’re gearing up to buy a home, 2012 will be a great year.”

Experts say home values are great

Experts are saying:

  • Housing prices, which are still falling, could stabilize by mid-2012.
  • The annual pace of home sales has already been heading up, and experts expect that trend to continue.
  • Home value, expressed as affordability, has reached record levels. Mortgage payments are now only 13 percent of family median income.

There is sound reasoning behind this. Jeff Otteau, aNew Jerseyappraiser who has earned a sterling reputation as an accurate observer and predictor ofNew Jersey’s housing markets, is among those dipping his toes in optimism. He points out:

  • Pending contract sales inNew Jerseyhave risen for six of the last seven months.
  • Consumer sentiment has been improving since summer.
  • Unsold inventory is down, especially in certain segments of the market.
  • Job creation is up, even inNew Jersey, although our state lags behind the rest of the nation.
  • There is a shortage of rental housing. That has two implications for home sales. First, it’s driving up the price of rentals, making buying a home more attractive. Second, expect new construction on multifamily homes, generating jobs and more money being spent with those supplying builders and renters.

Yes, this recovery, if it is one, is fragile. Yes, we still have a lot of foreclosures and short sales in the pipeline that have to work their way through the market. Yes, there are a lot of people in trouble with their homes.

Good time to list your home

Nevertheless, this information means that if you’ve been thinking about listing your home or looking for a new home, it could be a good time to do so. Demand has been building up, so these optimistic reports are liable to bring people and homes to the market.

Is the time right for you? That’s something you should discuss with your financial counselor and a Realtor. If you’re buying, you need to feel secure and somewhat stable with your financial situation, have the income to make a purchase and be realistic about what you want. If you’re selling, your home needs to be ready and, again, you need to be realistic about what you can get for your home.

The bottom line is that current tone of the experts – cautiously optimistic – means that if you’ve been waiting for the right time to sell or buy a home, that time is likely here. If members of the Holmquist Team can help you with your decision, please don’t hesitate to call us.