Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the

April 18, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

How to Buy a House in a Seller’s Market

Just last week a family in Hamilton put their


one-and-a-half bath house on the market. "There were four offers

before it hit the computer," says Joan Eisenberg, one of

five real estate agents who own ReMax Greater Princeton. "They

listed in the mid-$190,000s," she reports. "The people who

got it had to go over $200,000."

Welcome to the spring real estate market, a joy for sellers, but a

challenge for buyers. "Prices are escalating with every sale in

every neighborhood," says Eisenberg. "It’s still a seller’s

market." The biggest gains are young houses, those that were built

two or three years ago. But even in sectors that had been lagging,

sales are brisk. Condos moved slowly for years, she says, but are

now in demand. "A colleague just put a one-bedroom condo in


on the market. She had three or four offers in the first week."

Eisenberg speaks at monthly free seminars on "Buying and Selling

a Home." The next seminar is held on Thursday, May 10, at 7 p.m.

at the Courtyard Marriott on Route 1. Call 609-951-8600.

Eisenberg, a Long Island native, began her career in real estate when

she moved to West Windsor 10 years ago. She and her husband, Elliott,

a consultant, had been living in Gramercy Park, and made the move

for a classic reason — a yard and a good environment in which

to raise a family. The couple have two sons, a 16-year-old, who is

in the 10th grade at West Windsor Plainsboro High School North, and

a 19-year-old, who is in his first year at Penn State.

Real estate was something Eisenberg "was just going to try."

She holds a psychology degree from Ithaca College and a master’s in

social work from Yeshiva University. She moved to New Jersey after

spending 15 years working with abused children and multi-problem


in Manhattan Family Court. She says a career in residential real


sales is every bit as stressful, but a good deal less depressing,

and she finds it a good fit.

Technology has made it a career that fits well with family life.


the cell phone," Eisenberg says. "I have two." That means

she can field calls from anxious buyers, and still sit in the stands

during her son’s football games "and not miss a play."

Cell phone or not "I absolutely work seven days a week," she

says. "It’s a constant pace. Yesterday was my birthday, and I

had a special dinner planned." She went ahead with the


sitting with close friends for hours, but then "on the way home,

I had to stop to get contracts signed." This flexibility, the

ability to schedule work around family time, is a plus for the


she says.

While all real estate agents are in business for themselves to one

degree or another, Eisenberg and four colleagues took their


up one level when they opened their own agency last year. "We

got to the point where we knew we wanted a certain type of office,

a certain type of equipment," she says. The five agents, all


share the administrative tasks of running their office, which is


in Forrestal Village. This type of arrangement is "not common

at all," she says, but is working out "better than we ever


As the spring selling season gets underway in earnest, Eisenberg


buyers this advice for coping with a tight housing market.

Jump. "It used to be that I would show a house on

a Saturday, and the buyers would call on Tuesday to say they wanted

it," says Eisenberg. Now, mulling over the decision for three

days is unthinkable. Eisenberg combs through "hot sheets"

of new listings right after she sees her son off to school, and checks

them again three, five, seven times a day. When a listing that matches

a client’s requirements comes up, she calls. "If they’ve been

waiting for something special, definitely they should go see it


after work," she says. For while Eisenberg lets no new listing

slip by her, she says there are other eagle-eyed agents out there

scanning monitors for their clients.

Be nice. "If a house is listed at $200,000, and you

plan to pay $200,000, don’t offer $170,000," she says. "It’s

insulting." A house is often a seller’s most precious possession,

and he will not like a buyer who throws out a low-ball offer. For

sure, the low offer will set a negative tone for the entire


process. What’s worse, in this market it could crater the sale.


ago, maybe when my parents bought a house, it was a game,"


says. Now sellers know what their house will fetch. Try to play games

and "they will bump you if another offer comes in during the


review period."

And don’t haggle over the washing machine. This is not a market in

which it is a good idea to get hung up on details of what will, or

won’t, be included in the sale. "If you want it, ask,"


says, but don’t make an issue of small things unless you are willing

to risk losing out on the house.

Be flexible. The highest price does not always bag the

house, Eisenberg says. Sellers in the happy position of choosing a

buyer from among several bidders may well go with the one who can

close at a time that suits them. Another key factor sellers look at

is a buyer’s ability to get a mortgage. Surprisingly, cash does not

always rule the day. "I’ve seen cash sales fall through,"

she says. This can happen when the money involved is to come from

family members, and there is a disagreement among them. With a


a lender has seen all the documentation and agreed to grant the buyer

a loan up to a specified dollar amount. Pre-qualified is not as good,

Eisenberg says. It means a lender is inclined to grant a buyer a


but generally has not seen all of the buyer’s financials.

Don’t worry. Eisenberg says many people are needlessly

fearful that credit problems in their history will rule out a


Not so. "There are so many products out there," she says.

Nearly everyone can qualify for a mortgage. In the worst cases, credit

problems may indeed doom a current application, but she says there

are a number of lenders that will work with would-be homeowners to

help them get their credit in shape so that in a year or so they will

be able to qualify to buy a house.

With interest rates low, and dropping, this could be a fine

time to look into obtaining a mortgage and buying a home, Eisenberg

says. "It’s less expensive than renting, especially when you


tax considerations," she says. An added incentive could be a


in rents that is outpacing even rising home prices in some cases.

"A townhouse in Princeton Landing was $2,100 last year," she

says. "It just came on the market, and now it’s $2,800."


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