HOME SWEET HOME: “The real estate agent guides you through the process. We are the experts in the field. A good real estate agent can bring more money to the seller and help the buyer spend less. It’s my career and I take it very seriously. And seeing the uniqueness of so many homes, even after all these years, is what makes it so much fun. Donna M. Murray, founding agent of Compass Princeton RE, the newly opened independent real estate company in Princeton at 47 Hulfish Street, is excited about her chosen field.
By Jean Stratton
Donna M. Murray knew from the start that a future in real estate was in store for her.
After starting her career as a flight attendant at American Airlines, she took the advice of a friend in the real estate business and approached one of the companies in the area. She was immediately accepted for training, which involved absorbing a lot of difficult new information, ranging from legal issues and mortgages to wetlands and flood insurance, and more. After passing the exam, he was then told to go sell houses.
“After the training period and the exam, they said, ‘Now get out there, call your friends and family to see if anyone wants to buy or sell a house.’
“So I called a friend who I thought might be interested in moving, and I asked her. She said yes, and I put her property up for sale, which sold, and then I was able to help her buy a new house as well.
Murray was on his way!
That was 24 years ago, and she hasn’t stopped since. “It’s a career that I love,” says the sales associate and real estate agent. “I like meeting people and helping them achieve their goal. I also learn something new every day, and every day is different.
Today, she embarked on a new stage in her career, as the founding agent of independent real estate company Compass RE in Princeton.
“I contacted Compass because I thought another independent brokerage would be a perfect fit for Princeton,” she explains. “Compass is an independent company with sites in 46 states and very experienced, high performing agents. They have different and innovative programs that they can offer me and that I can offer to my buyers and sellers that no other company has.
“Compass RE provides me with the office space, and it’s a platform for additional resources. They will help me grow my team (which I handpicked) and provide me with knowledge of new real estate trends. My clients are my clients and I am a Compass RE client. They are all intended to help me with my business and my clients.
Real estate is a booming business right now, with many buyers looking to find a home in Princeton, she reports. This has been true since COVID-19 prompted many people to move from cities to the suburbs.
“I was lucky with the COVID shutdown in March 2020. I had already listed many vacant homes that sold immediately. Adjustments had to be made so that buyers could view these properties even though they were vacant. Masks, gloves, slippers, wardrobes and open kitchen / bathroom cabinets (so buyers don’t have to touch anything), lights on (no on / off switch) and disinfection after each visit. It was all necessary.
“Princeton is a great place live, ”she continues. “We will always have people coming from the cities here. Our location between Philadelphia and New York and proximity to the ocean and mountains is so desirable. In addition, there are a number of headquarters for technology, pharmaceutical and financial companies. “
Additionally, online opportunities have been useful during the virus, and they have generally become a mainstay of real estate.
“The Internet is a powerful marketing tool for giving the home full market visibility,” says Murray. “And it’s global. With the advancement of professional photography to include 3D tours of Matterport and aerial drone shots, a buyer has a great idea of the home before they even enter. But the buyer still likes to go inside to get a feel for the house and examine the house’s mechanics, including the HVAC, plumbing, roof, and windows.
Location, location, location!
In today’s market, buyers are looking for certain specifics that will make them react positively to a home.
“The location, the school system, the ability to walk or a short drive to town, and proximity to one’s workplace are very important,” Murray says.
“The most popular homes are the Colonials with four bedrooms for buyers between 30 and 45 with families. Princeton has a variety of excellent schools to choose from, and this is one of the city’s many assets. Public, charter, private and parish schools are all available.
“Community homes for active adults have become extremely popular with the over-55 population. Typically, these homes do not have a basement and offer first floor bedrooms, property maintenance included in the Homeowners Association (HOA), and reduced taxes.
As it always has been, the kitchen is the gathering place in the home, and this, with the emphasis today on large bathrooms, is a major selling point.
“The kitchens are the heart of the house, where everyone meets several times a day. Besides the bedrooms, the bathrooms are really the only place for privacy. Modern kitchens and bathrooms are extremely popular, and I think they always will be.
Murray points out other important selling points: “The changing rooms and lots of closets for people to put things out of sight. Flexible spaces – these are areas of the house that can be doubled for different purposes as needed. For example: from the home office to the nursery; a storage room to an exercise room.
Open floor plans remain popular, she adds. “Families can see and feel connected all day long. Also, if the house is small, it makes it feel bigger. The same is true for the height of the ceilings. The higher the ceiling, the larger the room. “
For those who wish to sell, Murray offers a number of suggestions to help them achieve the desired result. It is important to prepare the ground, and it is crucial to prepare the house for the visit of potential buyers.
“When a house is put on the market, it has to be in the best possible condition. Never rush unless it is inevitable. People are getting ready for testing, getting ready for events, and getting ready for travel. Why not prepare to sell your home? It will definitely give you more value on your more expensive asset.
The simple act of painting goes a long way in refreshing a home. It’s inexpensive, and can be done by the vendor. Modern colors can make any home shine. Decluttering and packing unused items (you still need to wrap!) Will make your home look bigger. It’s important to make sure the front of the house is clean and inviting, because buyers know within the first three to five seconds if the house is for them.
Plus, staging has become an important part of the process, she explains. “The way you organize a house is very different from decorating a house to live in. You want to have neutral and modern colors, no wallpaper, bright light in all rooms (using non-LED bulbs) and no photos. You want the house to feel young.
“Some homeowners might like a southwest theme in their home, from the color of the walls to the decor. It’s too personalized, and it will be difficult for the buyer to see past it and imagine what their style would be like on the property. It is best to keep the house neutral and simple.
Plus, she adds, “Realtors like me can get their Staging Certificate: Accredited Staging Professional (ASP). If an agent chosen by the seller does not have it, it can cost the owner a fee for hiring an interior designer.
In addition to helping clients buy and sell homes, Murray also deals with rental properties. “With the current low interest rate,” she says, “people will be living in rentals and saving for a down payment on a house.”
During his 24 years in the real estate industry, Murray has seen many changes, especially the growing importance of the Internet. “The ability of sellers to show their property globally is the biggest change. Now buyers have the option of buying homes from the comfort of their living room.
His skills as a real estate agent have won him numerous awards including New Jersey Realtors 2017 Realtor of the Year – Mercer County, New Jersey Realtors Circle of Excellence Sales Award Platinum (2015-2020) and the Five Star Professional Award (2013 – 2020).
These are all a recognition of his expertise and the result of his ability to helping clients navigate one of the most difficult experiences – selling or buying a home.
“An agent can help relieve stress and handle all the details so clients don’t have to worry. You have to build a sense of trust. You can be very close to your customers during this time. I know when I can call someone at 7 a.m. or 9 p.m. I know their preferences. We work together and helping my clients is my greatest pleasure.
For for more information call Donna Murray at (908) 391-8396 or (609) 710-2021. Website: YourPrincetonAgent.com.