When Nathan Heltzel and Roshni Desai were planning their move to Bergen County, they fell in love with Ridgewood.
"We had a price in our minds that seemed to keep going up, the more we looked in Ridgewood," Heltzel recalled. Although they were willing to pay to live in a town that so appealed to them, the house they selected was clearly overpriced.
Naïve sellers sometimes price their houses considerably higher than the market value. By taking a tactful approach, a serious buyer may be able to purchase such a home for a price that's in line with current values.
Heltzel owned a condo, and Desai owned a town house, both in Rockland County. When they married and Desai, an optometrist, bought a practice in Jersey City, they started scouting locations in Bergen County.
"My wife was born and raised in India," said Heltzel, "but she moved to Passaic in high school, so she's familiar with the area. She remembered playing tennis in Ridgewood, and we decided to check out the town. We tried to do things that someone who lived here would do."
They went out to lunch and dinner, walked the downtown area and brought their daughter, now almost 2 years old, to parks and the Graydon Pool. After touring several other towns, it became clear that they wanted to live in Ridgewood.
Then the couple spent nine months looking at houses, enough time to give them a solid sense of the market. The house they liked was a four-bedroom side-hall Colonial with three and a half baths, in walking distance of an elementary school and Main Street.
"We found it to be over market value in price, which caused a lot of people to not even look at the home," said Heltzel. "By the time we set foot in it, it was still almost $100,000 over market price, and there was not a lot of interest. We wanted to make an initial offer of $100,000 below the asking price."
The dealing begins
Their real estate agent, Leta DeMatteo of Re/Max Properties in Saddle River, agreed with their assessment but didn't want to offer such a drastically reduced price so baldly. "She said, 'We have to massage the situation, talk with the realty group and the buyer,' " explained Heltzel. " 'We can't just write it down and float it across the table.' "
The seller's agent was a relatively inexperienced part-timer affiliated with a realty group. DeMatteo discussed the pricing and showed comparable properties to a broker from the group, and the homeowner was persuaded to drop the price $50,000.
"They republished the price," said Heltzel, "and then we went into a full-court-press situation with Leta. She was on the phone back and forth and ended up brokering a deal at $65,000 below the original asking price."
A curious situation arose when the couple applied for a mortgage. They had been preapproved for a loan, but after submitting W-2s, bank records and closing documents on their New York State homes, they were told that the realty group had "serious concerns about our ability to buy the house," said Heltzel.
"I went ballistic! They said my wife's job was 'questionable at best,' although the business she owns has been there since 1942. I'm a high school guidance counselor and a veteran of a lot of years in the armed forces."
They were planning to take out a Veterans Administration loan, which requires no money down.
"We had a significant amount of money saved, but we didn't want to drain our account," Heltzel said. With the realty group blocking the deal, ostensibly to protect the client, Heltzel finally decided to offer a 20 percent down payment. The deal went through, and an attorney arranged for a down payment of only 10 percent.
The family moved into their new home in July and have found Ridgewood to be the walkable, family-oriented community they expected.
Heltzel's advice to homebuyers: "You have to have the right realtor, and you have to be on top of your research. You really have to know what and where and who."