If you’re looking to buy a home in NJ right now, you’re not alone. Thanks to a trifecta of low-interest rates, a yearning for wide-open spaces, and the need for bigger houses (to make room for makeshift classrooms, home offices, and workout spaces, of course), the pandemic housing market has exploded. “With so many people moving and trying to buy homes in NJ right now, there are way more buyers than sellers. In this market, it pays to be prepared which could be the deciding factor in owning your dream home,” says Diane Traverso, a real estate agent at NextHome Nexus Realty Group (Editor’s Note: Diane is an incredible Monmouth County realtor who helped us find and obtain our dream home quickly!). And homes are selling faster, too—the average number of days on the market is decreasing significantly, with houses in desirable areas going in less than a week. While the market is extremely competitive for buyers, Traverso emphasizes that you can still find the home of your dreams right now as long as you are flexible and prepared. Scroll down for her tips on how to make the best of pandemic home-buying.
Handle the basics first when buying a home in NJ
In any market, the first step to buying a home is putting together a reliable team. “You want your realtor to be there with you every step of the way, and who knows the area very well,” says Traverso. Don’t know where to find one? If you have friends in the area, ask for referrals, and do research on them—interview them on their past sales, ask what they can offer you, especially in this tight market, and ask them about specific neighborhoods and towns you’re considering. After you find the realtor, ask around for referrals for a mortgage lender who can help you secure a mortgage commitment before you even look. “A commitment is crucial in this market. Once you obtain that, the only thing you have to do is wait to find the house,” Traverso explains. And while there’s a fee for it, “it’s so much more substantial to have it when you’re putting an offer in.”
Find the neighborhood you love
If there’s any real estate mantra that gets repeated more, it’s location, location, location. The reason is that location dictates the price—the more desirable the area, the more expensive it’s going to be. “You can always change the house, but not the location, so it’s important to keep that as your priority,” says Traverso. Not sure where you want to live? Begin by driving around the town or towns you may be interested in. Get a feel for the neighborhoods and ask around to shop owners, restaurants, and even moms on the playground to see their thoughts on what they like about the area. Spend time combing neighborhoods in your price range (you can quickly look up housing prices on Zillow for recent sales), and once you’ve decided on your real estate agent, he or she can help you get the facts on the town too, like the schools and the neighborhoods.
Get creative when buying a home
While thinking outside the box is always a way to approach a sale, it’s even more crucial during pandemic buying. Love a neighborhood or have an eye on a house you’re dying to have? Write a letter to the homeowners to see if they might be interested in selling their house. The letter should include who you are and the fact that you’re qualified to purchase the home, Traverso says. “You can appeal to their emotional side by mentioning details like you would love to raise your children in the neighborhood or how much you admire the house,” she notes. And if you’ve got friends or family in your dream ‘hood, ask them to keep their eyes and ears open so that you might be able to jump on a listing before it goes public.
Know that the house tour might look different right now
The pandemic has limited open houses and walkthroughs—so when you’re in the initial stages and trying to narrow your choices down, take a virtual tour. “Many times, the listing might have a 3D video tour or a Matterport tour which walks you through the home and can help you eliminate seeing homes that are not suitable,” says Traverso. After that, you can pick a few houses to visit in person or ask your realtor to do a video chat to walk you through the house in real-time.
Be flexible and make quick decisions with your NJ realtor
With the housing market moving as quickly as it is, it’s essential to be flexible. Look at houses with a guideline—not a checklist—in mind, and know what’s a ‘need’ versus a ‘want.’ “My advice to some buyers is to find a well-built home in a great location and update it over time,” Traverso says. “Some things, like taking down wallpaper or changing up the paint color, can go a long way and done right after you move in.” And when you find the right house, move fast. Be ready to make an offer as soon as you see the right house come on the market,” Traverso says. And know that the right house isn’t necessarily the perfect house—especially in these circumstances. If a place checks a good portion of your boxes (like location, size, style, and price), it’s better to make an offer. You don’t want to regret missing out on it, especially if that perfect house never materializes.
Be prepared for a bidding war
“Everyone’s going after the same houses,” says Traverso. “Most buyers are looking for homes that are move-in ready and don’t need any updating.” But with the increased demand these days, most houses are fair game—which means a lot of bids, some potentially offering way over the asking price. But there are a few other ways to sweeten the deal to get the house you want. Of course, “offering over list price or paying cash will usually help win the bid,” says Traverso. “But the least amount of contingencies you have built into your offer, the better.” This includes waiving property appraisal or home inspection. But be careful, Traverso adds. “I would proceed only on solid advice from my realtor on either of those.” And at the end of the day, if the bidding war gets too high, you might need to walk away—and that’s OK. “It may take several tries before your offer is accepted—but if you’re patient, you can get the home you really want,” says Traverso.
Additional questions about buying a home in New Jersey? Reach out to Diane Traverso here. This post is not sponsored— our Editor had an incredible experience working with Diane and happy to share her home-buying knowledge with the NJMOM community.