From the Record:
Tired of renting, Charles Carozza and his fiancée, Christina Trause, recently bought a Fair Lawn Cape Cod for $305,000 — well below the $400,000 they think the house would have fetched at the market peak.
“If you can, now is totally the time to buy,” said Carozza, who recruits doctors to do exams in legal cases.
A lot of buyers apparently agree with him. This year’s spring market in North Jersey was the most active in several years, suggesting that a recovery in housing may finally be taking hold. The number of single-family sales rose 12.2 percent in Bergen County and 7.9 percent in Passaic County from January through May, compared with the period last year. The trend is stronger in Bergen because its proximity to New York and its highly regarded school systems make it a more desirable location, experts say.
But activity remains well below levels during the housing boom, with Bergen County sales volume down almost 20 percent from 2006, according to the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service. And prices continued to slide — 6 percent in Bergen and 2.8 percent in Passaic, compared with the first five months of 2011.
“The volume of transactions is way up,” said real estate agent Marilyn Nuber of Keller Williams Village Square Realty in Ridgewood. “Prices are not way up, though.”
“It’s the lower prices, really,” said Arlene Cabrera, an agent with Whitley Real Estate in New Milford. “We haven’t seen prices this low in a very long time.”
Home values have come down 27 percent in the New York metropolitan area, compared with their peaks in 2006, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index. (New Jersey MLS numbers show a similar drop for Bergen County.)
But a number of North Jersey real estate agents say they saw more multiple bids this spring than they have in several years.
“I have taken three listings in the last month, and they all have experienced bidding wars,” said Kathleen Falco, a Re/Max agent in Franklin Lakes.
Andrew and Sheila Guarino have accepted that reality. The couple bought their five-bedroom Ridgewood colonial at the market’s peak in 2007, paying $2.56 million and putting in another $600,000 of renovations. Now that two of their three children have gone off to college, they want to downsize and cut their home maintenance costs, as well as property taxes of more than $49,000.
They have the house on the market for $2.5 million, and are resigned to taking a loss.
“It’s difficult, but you have to make a practical decision,” said Andrew Guarino, who owns a fire alarm service company in New York City. “We just don’t need all that space. … We wanted to have our dream house, we’ve had it, and now we realize what that entails.”
The Guarinos aren’t tempted to hold on till prices rebound, since they figure that could take several years. “I don’t believe in playing the market in real estate,” Andrew Guarino said.
Jeffrey Otteau, an East Brunswick appraiser who tracks the housing market statewide, agreed that despite the uptick in activity, sellers must keep their prices competitive to attract buyers “because there are no lenders that will allow you to buy more house than you can afford.”