By Bonnie Mason

Are you thinking of buying your first home? Or, perhaps you’re a homeowner who wants to sell? Real estate consultant Maria Cherrez-VanGalder, with Charles Rutenberg Realty, has the skills, knowledge, passion and honesty to help you through the often daunting home buying or selling process.

Finding the right realtor is a process. Maria says, “The most important thing when choosing a real estate professional is to find someone you can trust. Don’t be afraid to interview several agents before choosing one you feel comfortable will represent your interests.”

“Your realtor should know the market you are buying or selling in, have access to the latest industry tools and proven relationship skills necessary to close the deal,” she says. Maria’s past clients will attest that you can depend upon her history of success and integrity in a business not always known for its great integrity. She is an experienced negotiator with expert knowledge of the New Tampa community — where she both lives and works — giving her an edge on obtaining the best results for her clients.

Maria learned the hard way — she lost her down payment funds on the first home she wanted to buy, due, for the most part, to the strict credit requirements in place in the early 1990s. Later, she learned there was no reason to lose her down payment and vowed to become more educated about the home buying process. It is with this determination that Maria helps first-time home buyers through the entire process — from building credit to closing on a new home.

“It was a hard lesson to learn, but I feel it’s part of what makes me work even harder for my clients,” she says.

Maria received her real estate training with Mark It Realty Group with Broker Mark Weiss in 1998 and in 2002 began her career with Charles Rutenberg Realty, which is based in Clearwater, although Maria works out of her home in the New Tampa area and helps both buyers and sellers in her community. She also serves Wesley Chapel, Land O’ Lakes and the Carrollwood area where she first began her real estate career.

With more than 4,000 agents in Florida, Illinois and New York, Maria can count on the support she receives from Charles Rutenberg Realty — believing completely in the company’s mission and tradition of excellence.


In The People Business

Maria understands that every client is unique and she treats every one of them with respect — always considering the way she would want to be treated in any situation.

Client Elizabeth Welliver (with Maria in photo above) says, “While selling my home in Hunter’s Green, Maria put forth great effort in advertising and also hosted several open houses. She does her work with passion and is obviously willing to do all she can to help her clients. Maria applies the concept of ethics in her work as a realtor.”

Maria says that a high percentage of her clients are repeat customers who come back to her whenever they are ready to buy or sell a home for the second or even third time. Her clients know that they can rely on the relationship they built from their first encounter.

“I don’t measure my success by sales, but by the relationships I build along the way,” she says.

Maria was just 14 years old when her parents moved her and her five siblings from Ecuador to New York City. That experience of being in a new place and wanting to find “your place” has made her into the compassionate agent her clients experience every day. Maria has two adult children — Rob, who lives in New York City, and Dianne, who lives in California. Maria and her husband Mark have been married for 21 years.

First-Time Buyer Advice

Maria’s main advice to any homebuyer, especially first-time home buyers, is to buy only what you can afford.

“Anytime a client can’t comfortably afford the mortgage on a home, I advise them to be patient and wait,” says Maria. “Many potential home buyers need to reassess their budgets to learn where they may have to make cuts. And, clients may even come to the realization that they need to save more money before taking the plunge into home-ownership.”

Many first-time buyers are right now finding it more difficult to obtain mortgage financing, due to the increase in restrictions brought on by the most recent nationwide financial crisis. Maria recommends taking whatever steps you can to fix your credit. “Although it may take some time to fix your credit,” she says, “you’ll still have time to buy at a low interest rate.” Maria provides her clients with a variety of options for getting help to fix their credit.


Preparing A Home for Sale

Maria suggests sellers be as objective as possible when pricing their homes. She says you can be competitive by obtaining at least three free market analyses from different real estate agents to allow a fair assessment of the value of your home and the current market. And then, price yours to sell. Another recommendation from Maria to sellers is to de-clutter each room and closet in their homes. A home on the market should be clean and clutter-free. If necessary, rent an off-site storage unit for excess furniture and other items.

What about current homeowners who are “upside down” in their homes? Maria suggests staying in your current home until the market changes. She says, “The local market is becoming a seller’s market — home prices are slowly increasing across the Tampa Bay area. However, there are investors out there who are paying cash for homes and winning bidding wars with cash payments. This is good for sellers because they are selling at their asking price and sometimes higher.”

Perhaps the most important thing Maria says to remember about the current market is that many listed homes in our area are going under contract in 30 days or less and there are still many short sales locally, as well as REOs (real estate owned by banks).

And, while she says that the current market includes a high percentage of repeat home buyers, new home builders in the area also are ramping up to benefit from an expected increase in first-time buyers. For example, Lennar Homes is building at Easton Park and Meritage Homes at Bassett Creek — both in K-Bar Ranch — and both also are offering a variety of incentives, to make it easier for most home buyers to purchase. “I see a bright future,” Maria says. “The curtain is rising to reveal a whole new picture.”

Part Of The Community

Maria is extremely active in the New Tampa and Tampa Bay communities and says she is passionate about helping others.

For example, she is a Board member of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals® (NAHREP)’ Tampa Bay chapter. NAHREP members act as advocates to help Hispanic families achieve the American Dream of becoming homeowners.

Maria also is a member of the North East Tampa Women in Business (NETWIB) and the Hispanic Professional Women’s Association (HPWA) groups, where she helped in fund-raising efforts for migrant children and families. And, last October, Maria raised money for the American Cancer Society and participated in “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” event in downtown Tampa.

If you are in the market for a real estate consultant, Maria Cherrez-VanGalder is the advocate for you.

New Tampa resident Maria Cherrez-VanGalder, is a short sale-certified, full-time real estate consultant for Charles Rutenberg Realty in the New Tampa/Wesley Chapel area. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 679-9595, or visit

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