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By Kathleen Lynn

RISMEDIA, July 17, 2008-(MCT)-Mark and Caryn Stansfield loved the Wayne split-level with views of Pines Lake, New Jersey when they first saw it last summer. But at $570,000, it was out of their price range.

Then the asking price was cut to $499,900. The Stansfields, who had been renting a place nearby, offered $450,000, and ended up buying it for $470,000.

“To be able to look at a place that was $100,000 north of what you’d go for, and to get it for your price with no competition-it’s great,” said Mark Stansfield, a doctor.

Like the Stansfields, a number of buyers find that in the current market downturn, they can afford more house than they could have hoped for a year or two ago. While many potential buyers are still waiting for prices to fall more, some buyers and real estate agents say you can get bargains now-if you find a motivated seller.

“There are tremendous buys out there,” said Dick O’Connor of Dick O’Connor Real Estate in Dumont.

Of course, not all sellers are willing to deeply discount their asking prices, said Peggie Breslin, an agent with Terrie O’Connor Realtors in Allendale.

“Every buyer out there is looking for an unbelievable deal, but sellers are not willing to give their houses away,” Breslin said. Many sellers who paid top dollar during the housing boom a few years ago “can’t take a hit,” she added.

Bob Lindsay of Coldwell Banker in Wayne said getting a deal takes “a lot of luck and timing.”

While sellers are becoming more realistic about price, he said, buyers who expect to get a steal will usually be disappointed.

“The people who are looking to pay 60 or 70 cents on the dollar, typically that’s not going to happen,” said Lindsay, who helped the Stansfields find their Wayne home.

In fact, home prices in the New York metropolitan area, which includes North Jersey, declined an average of 8.4% from April 2007 to April 2008, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Index. While that was a significant drop, it was still only about half the average decline seen in 20 metropolitan areas covered by Case-Shiller.

The best deals are likely to come from sellers eager to unload the properties — whether because they have already bought another house or because they can’t afford the mortgage payments and are facing foreclosure. Some of these homeowners are seeking to work out a short sale with their lenders. In a short sale, the lender accepts less than is owed on the mortgage just to let a sale go through. For lenders, this can be a better choice than the trouble and expense of a foreclosure.

Many of these distressed homeowners bought their homes with interest-only, no-down-payment and adjustable-rate mortgages that now are resetting to higher monthly payments. Now they find they can’t afford their homes.

About one-third of total purchases in May were distressed properties, according to NAR estimates.

Rosevony Duroseau, a 32-year-old lawyer, and her husband, Sean Anderson, a 34-year-old information technology manager, were drawn into the housing market by reports of declining prices and motivated sellers.

“We thought we could find something we would otherwise not be able to afford,” she said.

They recently traded up from their one-bedroom Jersey City condo to a four-bedroom home in Hackensack’s Fairmount section. They paid $490,000 for the house, which was built in 2005. The seller had cut the price from $549,000 for a quick sale, because he had already bought another property.

Occasionally Duroseau wonders if they should have waited for an even better deal, as many other potential buyers appear to be doing. But Duroseau also knows she locked in a great mortgage rate — 5.75% for a 30-year, fixed loans. Those loans are now averaging around 6.6%.

Duroseau and Anderson also felt the sting of a falling market, however, because they were unable to sell their condo for the price they wanted. As a result, they are renting it out.

Karim Dawli, an agent with RE/MAX Properties Plus of Tenafly, has helped buyers find deals through short sales.

Working on a short sale can be a hassle for buyers and real estate agents, because the lender must approve the price, and many lenders are overworked and overwhelmed by the housing crunch. Delays are maddeningly common, and the agent has to call the lender repeatedly to shepherd the deal through, Dawli said.

But Dawli says if he doesn’t work on short sales, he won’t have much to do.

“The only thing that’s selling right now is when the seller is really under the gun,” Dawli said. Buyers are holding back unless “they see something priced under market value.”

When short sales work out, they can offer excellent bargains, Dawli said. Lenders will often accept a 15% to 20% discount off the mortgage amount, he said.

One of his first-time buyers, Naem Zakko, started out thinking a single-family home was all he could afford in his price range, around $500,000.

But Dawli told him about a 15-year-old two-family house in Elmwood Park that was in a short sale situation and available in his price range. The house has a three-bedroom unit, plus a two-bedroom unit. Both are in move-in condition, Zakko said.

Having a tenant “gives me a better cushion” because the rent will help him pay the mortgage, said Zakko, a 26-year-old financial analyst.

“I found it to be a really great deal,” he said.

More deals can be found in Teaneck, Hackensack and Englewood, according to Ronald Rollieson of English Realty in Englewood. He said he is seeing more houses available in the $300,000 range-about the same price as they were four or five years ago — in those towns.

“There are three- and four-bedroom Cape Cods, little Colonials,” he said.

“They’re in some surprisingly nice neighborhoods. It’s a great time to get into the market.”

Nancy Rivera bought a Teaneck Colonial last fall for $335,000 after “renting forever,” she said. As home prices rose during the first half of the decade, she thought she wouldn’t be able to afford Bergen County and started house-hunting in the Poconos. But she ultimately decided she couldn’t face the commute to her nursing job in New York.

She got her Teaneck house after the former owner, an elderly man, could no longer live there. His family priced it to sell quickly, Rivera said. She saw similar houses on the market last year for as much as $380,000.

“I think I just came at the right time,” she said. “I feel so blessed.”

Derek and Kathleen Gamble also feel they got a great deal. After renting in Hoboken, then staying with relatives while they searched for a home, they bought a three-bedroom ranch in the country club section of Ramsey for $495,000-$100,000 less than its original asking price. The couple, both 30, first saw the home in the fall, when its asking price had been reduced to about $540,000.

“At $540,000, we would not have done it,” said Derek Gamble, an advertising salesman who works in New York. But the decline in home prices “worked out great for us,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier.”

Copyright © 2008, The Record, Hackensack, N.J.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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