Andrew Greenberg is trying not to panic.
The 58-year-old suburban dad is watching the clock on a sunny Wednesday morning, agonizing over the unknown. His body is tight with tension. He can’t focus on his work.
Greenberg has pumped nearly $60,000 into his handsome Glen Ridge home, endured months of chaotic renovations — from a new kitchen, to new lighting, to new doorknobs — and essentially transformed his son into a 17-year-old nomad who travels from house to house searching for a quiet place to lay his head, all in pursuit of a pandemic-era “fantasy,” as he calls it.
And now the moment of truth has almost arrived.
Today, best and final offers are due on the family’s four-bedroom Arts and Crafts Tudor, listed at $749,000. Today, June 16, Greenberg will finally have an answer to the question he’s obsessed over since deciding to rush his home on the market and downsize a few years ahead of schedule:
Did he sell in time to land a mega-offer before New Jersey’s pandemic-juiced real estate market cools off?
“I haven’t been this stressed out in a very long time,” Greenberg texts me at 8:20 a.m. “It’s pretty harrowing. Every minute feels like an hour.”
Six days earlier, Greenberg — a trim man with dark, wavy hair and clear-framed glasses — seemed almost relaxed as he stood on the Midland Avenue sidewalk. He was leaving just minutes before strangers arrived to dissect his home, scrutinizing it for every imperfection, real or imagined, before bidding a small fortune on it.
These are the dying days of a cut-throat sellers market in Glen Ridge, Montclair and Bloomfield after a year of soaring demand, astonishing competition and over-the-top cash offers. And I’ve come to chronicle what’s left of it.
The open house at Andrew Greenberg’s home at 190 Midland Ave. in Glen Ridge. Steve Hockstein | For NJ Advance Media
Though New Jersey’s bonkers market has delivered eye-popping sales for more than a year — the state’s average home transaction increased $123,727 compared to last spring — the past few weeks have been undeniably slower. Sellers are getting nervous. Buyers feel hopeless. And realtors aren’t quite sure how quickly the market is shifting beneath their feet.
The overheated market created sky-high expectations, especially in Essex County’s affluent suburbs. It’s an exclusive world of $1 million budgets and neighbors you can look up on Wikipedia, where zip codes are a status symbol to be bought and sold like commodities. But miss the wave by a matter of weeks in Glen Ridge? Your home price just dropped by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It is a gamble,” said Greenberg, who owns a recruiting company. “It is like you are playing cards and you’ve got a straight flush and you are thinking, ‘I should win.’ But until everyone throws their cards down, who knows?”
Over the ensuing week, potential buyers will probe his home with an air of secrecy and paranoia. They quietly peek under rugs. They peer into garage windows. One couple doesn’t want family and friends to know they’re looking to leave Montclair. Another refuses to speak on the record, worried their words could be used to glamorize the miserable home buying experience.
Meanwhile, the Greenberg family nervously waits for offers on its Glen Ridge home of 17 years. A Bloomfield colonial near Brookdale Park will deliver shocking results for super-realtor Amy Owens. And Susy Koujak’s family will race through a whirlwind Montclair-area tour for the fourth straight weekend, determined to find the perfect home before summer.
“We finally feel like we’re at that point in our lives where we can make that dream purchase, and now we’re coming into the market where everything is just so out of reach,” Koujak says as she waits to see Greenberg’s home.
“It’s like the most disappointing feeling in the world.”
Andrew Greenberg and his wife Sharon spend the week in an Airbnb in Caldwell as potential buyers tour their home in Glen Ridge. Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media
Six days earlier…
TWELVE MINUTES HAVE passed since Greenberg’s light cream Glen Ridge Tudor officially hit the market, and a young mother in a patterned orange dress pops through the front door with her agent.
It’s the 10 a.m. broker open house, the first chance for realtors to see homes before scheduled showings. Realtors don’t typically bring clients. This is a good sign.
The brown-haired woman, who declines to give her name, quietly inspects each room. She says her family of four has outgrown its place in Jersey City and she’s looking for a suburban town like leafy Glen Ridge, with great schools and “commutability.”
Inventory is somewhat limited in the upscale borough of just over 7,500 residents, known for its century-old homes and gas-lit street lamps. But 190 Midland Avenue hits the market on the same day as two similarly priced houses, including a striking 1886 Victorian listed at $799,000 that was featured in The New York Times for its spring daffodil garden.
Not that Amy Owens is worried.
Owens, Greenberg’s listing agent, glides across the freshly painted, white living room and tells me she’s never seen a client do so much to prepare a home for sale.
White quartz countertops. Stainless steel appliances. Recessed lighting. Sturdy interior doors with oil-rubbed bronze knobs. The list goes on.
“If I said it, he did it,” Owens says of the home makeover.
The “perfect living room” in Andrew Greenberg’s Midland Avenue home in Glen Ridge. John Jones | For NJ Advance Media
The 2,154-square-foot home built in 1912 is listed at $749,000. But anybody who knows anything about the Glen Ridge market knows it has a shot to fetch a cool million, if not more.
Owens, 56, a short and cerebral blonde, tilts her head to admire the exposed ceiling beams — “Doesn’t this just look like the perfect living room?”
She points to the oak floors beneath my feet.
“Dark wood is not really in favor right now,” she says, “but this is exquisite dark wood.”
The Glen Ridge market has been hot, and Owens’ sellers are averaging 18% over asking here in the past 12 months, according to her office.
More than two dozen agents tour Greenberg’s home this morning.
Owens is confident the market won’t let her down.
Real estate agent Amy Owens at a home for sale in Glen Ridge. Amanda Brown | For NJ Advance Media
Five days earlier…
THEY CALL IT the Poet Section. Hawthorne. Lowell. Emerson. Whittier.
Four idyllic side streets off Bloomfield’s busy Watchung Avenue. Four streets with easy access to 121-acre Brookdale Park, designed by the iconic firm that planned New York City’s Central Park.
When a home in the Poet Section gets listed, buyers like Doug Hall pounce.
“We are looking for a specific thing,” Hall tells me. “I don’t know of any others that are on the market right now.”
Hall, tall and bespectacled, is a veteran composer best known for crafting the music behind the famous J.G. Wentworth opera spoof commercial. His wife, Iris Schaffer-Hall, who declined to be interviewed, is an ever-busy producer in the music industry.
I meet the empty nesters outside 11 Lowell Terrace, a four-bedroom, two-bathroom colonial built in 1937 and listed for $519,000. The house is another Owens’ listing, and the Bloomfield market has also been booming, with homes drawing dozens of offers and her clients averaging 20% over asking.
A day earlier, I overheard agents at the broker open house dishing a rumor that someone in Bloomfield turned down a $750,000 cash offer. $750,000! In Bloomfield! They can’t believe it.
“I think this is going to sell for a lot of money,” said an agent who asked not to be identified while touring the house. “F—.”
Hall and Schaffer-Hall scrutinize the stone and white siding exterior. But like so many other buyers in this market, they’re still thinking about the one that got away.
The family downsized a few years back, selling its five-bedroom center hall colonial in Montclair and renting in the same town with their mini goldendoodle, Harry (short for George Harrison).
They’ve always planned on buying a three-bedroom place in Bloomfield near Brookdale Park. Then the market exploded. Bloomfield’s smaller, more affordable homes — compared to Montclair and Glen Ridge — are especially popular among first-time buyers moving from New York City.
“A lot of people, they come out thinking Montclair, but they’re not gonna be able to do it,” says Mary Keramedjian, a veteran realtor who works part-time on Owens’ team. “It’s not just the price. It’s that people are paying cash … so Bloomfield has become very popular because it’s still more affordable.”
A charming house tucked away on Reid Avenue, a tiny side street off Hawthorne Avenue, came on the market earlier this spring, Hall tells me. It was listed around $579,000, he says, which means it had the potential to clear $700,000.
“We made what we thought was a really strong bid, and that house got 29 offers and we were not even in the top five,” Hall tells me (his wife instructed him not to say exactly how strong their bid was). “We have been sort of mourning the loss of that one.”
On the surface, 11 Lowell meets their specifications. Perfect location. At least three bedrooms. And a minute and 45 second walk to the park, an idyllic space where young lovers carve their initials in the trees.
But it needs work. The bathrooms are meh. The basement isn’t finished.
The owners left during the pandemic, and the renters didn’t move out until a week before the house hit the market. A rushed staging couldn’t fix the lack of overhead lighting in the first floor living spaces or the noticeable stain and wear and tear on the staircase runner.
“We don’t want to buy any house,” Hall tells me when we talk Friday night. “We want to buy a house that we love.”
An open house at 11 Lowell Terrace in Bloomfield. Will the red-hot real estate market last long enough for this home to attract an enormous bid? Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media
Four days earlier…
ANDREW GREENBERG REALLY can’t help it.
He and his wife, Sharon, are camped out for the week at a second floor Airbnb in Caldwell. With dozens of potential buyers touring their house today, it’s torture.
“I just want to be a fly on the wall so badly,” says Greenberg, sporting a gray The College of New Jersey T-shirt. “It is nerve-wracking to just be sitting here.”
“Yeah, he’s a little bit obsessed with it,” Sharon Greenberg, 55, an affable personal trainer with shoulder-length brown hair, says lovingly.
Sitting at their makeshift dining room table, the Greenbergs tell me their story.
Their initial plan was to downsize when their sons, 21, and 17, had more time at college and were ready to say goodbye to their childhood home.
Then they realized what was happening all around them.
“We kept hearing all the stories about…” Sharon Greenberg begins.
“…our friends and neighbors, their houses going for 50% over ask,” Andrew Greenberg says, finishing his wife’s sentence.
“Our jaws started dropping.”
The turning point? When they heard a Glen Ridge home smaller than theirs was listed around $600,000 and went for somewhere around $900,000. They decided in January to downsize ASAP and put all that equity toward college tuition.
But it was such a mad dash to get the property on the market that their younger son, Will, started sleeping over at a revolving door of friends’ houses because of the chaos. Carpets were torn out. The kitchen was a wreck. He wasn’t even sure which rooms he could use anymore.
“He’s like, ‘I’m going in my room to lay down,’ and I’m like, ‘You can’t lay down. This bed is staged,’” Sharon Greenberg says, laughing.
“It’s been like a roller coaster,” she continues. “Every day we say, ‘We want to get off this roller coaster.’”
Andrew Greenberg knows some of his Glen Ridge neighbors who sold earlier this year got about 30% over asking. He would love more. But even if that’s the best he can get, it would equate to selling a house for nearly $974,000 that the couple bought for $510,000 in 2004.
Still, he worries.
Owens pushed him to get the house listed in May, but he couldn’t get all the contractors lined up in time.
What if they hit the market too late?
“When I look and I see what other houses are selling for that I feel are comparable to mine, it just seems like almost too good to be true,” he says. “It’s kind of a fantasy.”
Ridwan Adhami, left, and his wife Susy Koujak head to another house while searching for a home in Glen Ridge. This 1886 Victorian, listed at $799,000, was featured in The New York Times for its spring daffodil garden. Amanda Brown| For NJ Advance Media
SUSY KOUJAK AND Ridwan Adhami don’t think they’re asking for too much.
Koujak, an entertainingly blunt high school science teacher, and Adhami, a creative director, marketer and photographer, want a modern aesthetic with three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a decent-sized kitchen. They would love central air and a large basement. And they dream of a place along a Montclair cul-de-sac with an asking price below $1 million.
Four weeks into their search, they’ve seen at least 30 houses — they lost count a while ago — and are still looking.
“We have a pretty decent budget, you would think, for a home and yet we still can’t find anything,” says Koujak, whose family sold its Virginia townhouse after Adhami accepted a new job in New York City. “That just doesn’t make any sense. If this was just even a few years ago, yeah, we would have our pick.”
They’ve driven four-and-a-half hours from Sterling, Virginia yet again for a speed round of home tours. After coming up empty so far in Montclair, they’ve agreed to start today’s search in Glen Ridge at the Victorian with the large daffodil garden.
The stately home — Owens told clients the annual property taxes are $20,505, and they didn’t even blink — boasts high ceilings and towering bookshelves, making it feel like walking into the past.
Koujak, 41, wearing a light pink hijab, wants something modern. She’s not pleased.
“If someone falls, they die,” she jokes, refusing to go down the steep, aging basement staircase.
“I already feel like I’ve made a conclusion,” she announces before they even head up the conspicuously creaky stairs to the second floor.
They hurry back inside their black Honda CRV with their remarkably patient 12-year-daughter, Anisa Adhami, and head to 190 Midland Avenue, Andrew Greeberg’s home.
“We are in a time crunch because I have to register this girl for school,” Koujak tells me as they wait for their turn to go inside. “You can’t register for school unless you have an address to register with.”
We head inside.
“I like it,” Koujak says, admiring the backyard from the renovated kitchen.
But she has a question.
“Where’s the bathroom?”
They find it off the stairs leading to the basement, not ideal for when her parents visit.
Her parents hate stairs.
“Huh,” she says, her voice dropping an octave.
They tour the rest of the house but pretty much already know. That bathroom is a deal breaker.
Ridwan Adhami, his daughter Anisa Adhami and wife Susy Koujak tour a home with creaky stairs on Hillside Avenue in Glen Ridge. Amanda Brown| For NJ Advance Media
Three days earlier…
ELENA AND VLADIMIR Allende arrive 20 minutes early for 11 Lowell’s open house.
There is no line to get in, and there never will be.
Appointments at the Bloomfield colonial are sparse compared to earlier this spring, and the open house is no different.
Vladimir, a 52-year-old Peruvian living in Belleville, tells me the couple is renting a multi-family unit and has just started searching for a single-family home in the area.
“What do you like about Bloomfield?” I ask.
“To be honest, not much,” he says laughing.
“We’re not that much familiar with Bloomfield,” Elena adds.
They’ve heard how crazy the market is. And they aren’t going to rush into an offer.
Inside, the house is silent. Too silent. Alarmingly silent.
I find Keramedjian positioned at the staged dining room table. She wonders if the market is evaporating before her eyes.
“I think we are trying to figure out what’s going on,” she says.
In a typical year, June ushers in graduation parties and vacations, and the market slows. It never happened last year, Keramedjian says. But it could be happening now.
“We’ll have a better feel about that on Monday and Tuesday when we start getting feedback from people,’’ she says, not yet too concerned.
Real estate broker Maggie D’Aquila (left) talks with clients Michelle and Matthew Wooden of Queens during an open house at 11 Lowell Terrace in Bloomfield. Steve Hockstein | For NJ Advance Media
“IF WE KNEW we could get it for asking, we would be all over it,” Karen Henke says as she moves from bedroom to bedroom at 190 Midland Avenue in Glen Ridge.
Henke, wearing a pink button down and jeans, is one of the first to arrive at the open house, along with several nosey neighbors and a guy climbing the stairs who says he’s looking “to get out of Nutley.”
Henke likes the home, which has a finished basement for her 19-year-old son to entertain, and she loves the neighborhood. But she knows how hard it is to get anything in this market.
Henke and her partner bid 15% over asking on a four-bedroom in Bloomfield earlier this spring and were told they were in the middle of the pack, she says.
She now expects to wait out the market rather than overpay. She can sense it’s changing.
“One thing I can tell you is when I was at open houses, like six weeks, seven weeks ago, there were lines around the block,” Henke says, “and there aren’t lines around the block now.”
When the open house is over, Owens sits on the front porch barefoot, her pink toenails exposed. She has worked harder during the pandemic real estate boom than at any other point in her life, she says.
She’s tired. Just like everyone else.
A woman pushes a stroller down the sidewalk and spots Owens. She says she is looking to sell.
Real estate agent Amy Owens at Andrew Greenberg’s Arts and Crafts Tudor for sale in Glen Ridge. Amanda Brown| For NJ Advance Media
Two days earlier…
IT’S TIME TO start worrying.
At the weekly Monday morning meeting, several members of Owens’ 10-person team sit at a long conference table in her Upper Montclair office or Zoom in from home. The topic? The underperforming 11 Lowell property.
Owens joins the meeting from inside her champagne Volvo for the first few minutes while business manager Kim McGuire rattles off the numbers.
The Bloomfield colonial had only 14 showing appointments, and about a dozen groups walked through the open house. What’s worse: Many buyers were just starting their home search, an ominous sign considering few people make offers early in the process.
“Based on what we’ve seen in Bloomfield, I was surprised at how few appointments we had there,” McGuire says, now hoping for just two or three strong offers.
Owens says she heard similar stories from other realtors, all nervous about a dramatic decline in foot traffic, even in Glen Ridge.
The Greenberg home, 190 Midland Avenue, had what seemed like a strong weekend, though.
Twenty five groups came through the broker open house, 30 through the Sunday open house and there were 31 showing appointments from Thursday morning to Sunday evening. All together, there were 86 touches.
“I think that 190 Midland is going to be the winner of the week,” Owens says. “So I think we will be OK.”
KOUJAK AND ADHAMI aren’t quite ready to pull the trigger.
They initially loved a contemporary Montclair colonial sitting on a cul-de-sac on Alexander Court and listed for $750,000.
“This is the house,” Adhami, 41, said excitedly Saturday as he stood in the threshold between the primary bedroom and its sun-drenched bathroom.
But it wasn’t the house, as it turns out.
They rushed through another Montclair circuit Sunday and saw a home they liked better, a split-level at the end of a private road.
“You feel that pressure,” Adhami had told me Saturday. “You have to make a decision. You can’t be like, ‘We like this house. Let’s think about it.’ It will be gone.”
But they decide not to make an offer and take a chance it lingers on the market.
They’ll have to make a fifth trek to the Jersey suburbs for yet another home tour.
Susy Koujak and her husband Ridwan Adhami confer with real estate agent Vishal Poddar following a tour of a Midland Avenue home in Glen Ridge.
Amanda Brown| For NJ Advance Media
One day earlier…
THE DEADLINE FOR best and final offers for 11 Lowell has come and gone.
Owens is absolutely stunned.
Not a single bid.
“This market is changing,” she tells me, her voice rising. “That house should have had 10 bids.”
The owners regret not putting it on the market sooner, she tells me.
She regrets not having more time to get it in better shape for sale.
“We had five people who said they were coming in, and we had five people give us glowing feedback,” Owens says. “And in the end, none of them (bid).”
The house remains on the market.
“I think buyers are afraid,” Owens says. “This is going to put more pressure on us to get places even closer to perfection. Or we are going to have to start lowballing list prices … because that house should have had a lot better response.”
Real estate broker Maggie D’Aquila (center) talks kitchens with clients Matthew and Michelle Wooden of Queens during an open house at 11 Lowell Terrace in Bloomfield. Steve Hockstein | For NJ Advance Media
ANDREW GREENBERG HOPES he didn’t make a major mistake.
Before listing 190 Midland, the family bought a townhouse in Chester, Morris County, guided by the allure of a sellers market and a behemoth payday.
“Given that I have already bought another house, I did it based upon what I think mine will sell for,” he told me during our first conversation. “That is stressful, just thinking, ‘What happens if I don’t go over asking?’”
Owens meets the Greenbergs at noon at 190 Midland, where I’m not allowed inside for the final reveal.
McGuire says Owens will call me in an hour, but I hear nothing all afternoon. Five hours later, Owens is still on the phone finalizing the deal, McGuire says.
At 8:12 p.m., I call the Greenbergs. They have an agreement of sale, but have been instructed not to disclose the price until after closing, Andrew Greenberg says.
He’s convinced his house would have sold for more if it went on the market sooner.
“I got within my range, so overall I am very happy,” he says, though he sounds more moderately happy than very happy. “But it would have been nicer if it was a higher range.”
The house received seven offers, Owens tells me, and the top offer “backed out due to cold feet.”
“Nobody was getting 20 offers this week. Nobody,” she says, adamant that seven offers was a win. “I am telling you, the market has softened.”
Owens predicts houses that are prepared to perfection will continue getting 20% to 30% over asking price in the coming weeks, which sounds like an inadvertent hint for how well 190 Midland Avenue performed.
But the days of 40% over asking are going to disappear soon, she says.
Greenberg isn’t popping champagne yet, he says. The family has traded the stress of waiting for offers for the stress of waiting for the deal to clear attorney review. In some ways, this is almost worse, he tells me.
I ask if he still thinks this was worth it. His home has been a construction zone for months. His son’s senior year, already upended by COVID, was thrown into total disarray. His stress level is through the slate roof.
Was rushing to sell his family’s beloved home really the right decision?
“100%,” he says without hesitation. “I have no regrets.”
Andrew Greenberg and his wife Sharon are spending the week in an Airbnb in Caldwell as potential buyers tour their home in Glen Ridge.
Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media
THE SPLIT-LEVEL DIDN’T sell.
Koujak and Adhami come back for a second look and realize it doesn’t need as much work as they thought. An $839,000 asking price leaves plenty of room in their budget for a kitchen renovation.
For the first time in their grueling home search, they make an offer.
“We put in one offer,” Adhami says two days later. “And we got the one offer.”
190 Midland Avenue in Glen Ridge is out of attorney review. Andrew Greenberg can breathe again.
But the house at 11 Lowell in Bloomfield, sitting in the shadow of Brookdale Park, remained unappreciated and unsold for a full week after best and final offers were due.
Owens had her team scour their client lists for prospective buyers. After a concerted effort, the home attracted six offers and sold in the ballpark of 20% over asking, she says.
The market feels like it’s correcting, Owens tells me. It almost feels like it’s back to normal.
But she’s already moved on to the next house, a bungalow owned by poets.
“You’ve never seen a house decorated like this before!” she says. “Ever.”
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