Rowan Boulevard in Glassboro, where new development has revitalized the once frayed borough, better connecting it to the Rowan University campus. Courtesy of Nexus Properties
New Jersey’s real estate market has been frenetic for more than a year, driven by the search for more space during the pandemic. Bidding wars are the norm, home prices have spiked upward and inventory is slim. Remote work has pumped up sales in so-called Zoom towns—distant suburban and exurban areas and most of the Jersey Shore. Closer to the metro areas, perennially hot towns have become superheated.
But what are the next hot markets? We set out to identify towns to watch. We looked for communities where home prices and sales volume are accelerating even faster than the vigorous statewide pace, according to data from trade association New Jersey Realtors. In our admittedly unscientific process, we also homed in on areas where builders are betting on redevelopment, or where we detected surging interest from buyers who have been priced out of top-tier towns.
We were especially interested in what millennials want, since they make up the largest share—37 percent—of the national home-buying market. Therefore, we gave extra weight to towns where prices aren’t necessarily out of reach for a generation carrying heavy student-loan debt. But our quest also took us to a town booming with over-55 development.
Predictions are always tricky, and one giant unknown looms: Will people who have worked at home during the pandemic return to the office?
“If people can stay home or commute to work only one or two times a week, or a month, that will lead to continued growth in suburban areas, small towns and rural areas,” says Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for the National Association of Realtors.
With the exception of the Shore, where the market is heating up in part because of second-home buying, Otteau expects demand to return to pre-pandemic trends. That means more activity in inner suburbs with the easiest commutes, relatively affordable asking prices and walkable downtowns.
“Millennials will want to be in the suburbs—maybe they’re having children, or thinking of children, and want more space—but they need to be within striking distance of getting to the city,” he says.
What follows is a closer look at 12 housing markets to watch in the Garden State (arranged alphabetically).
Barnegat has become the locus for new construction in the 55-plus market near the Shore. The two largest builders in the United States—Lennar and D.R. Horton—are putting up nearly 600 luxury homes combined in active-adult communities, adding to the township’s existing inventory of more than 3,000 age-restricted homes.
The new builds feature upscale amenities and prices starting in the mid-$400,000s. Recently, more than 200 new age-restricted luxury apartments leased quickly, and construction will start soon on a 144-unit condominium project for seniors off Exit 67 on the Garden State Parkway, says Martin Lisella, township administrator. The parkway bisects the 40-square-mile township, which stretches from the Pine Barrens to Barnegat Bay, opposite Long Beach Island.
The new developments join five established adult communities. Residents of those communities now make up about one-third of the municipality’s population, which has grown nearly five-fold—to more than 25,000—since 2000, Lisella says.
Outside the adult communities, the median sales price of homes rose 23 percent to $360,000 in the 12 months ending in April. The housing mix ranges from modest Capes to $800,000 waterfront homes on the lagoons carved out of the bayshore. D.R. Horton is also working on the next phase of its sprawling Ocean Acres development, which straddles Barnegat and Stafford Township; 317 more homes are planned.
Bayonne’s redevelopment includes 430 acres at the old Military Ocean Terminal. Courtesy of the City of Bayonne
This city of 65,000 is drawing home buyers thanks to “the best price point in Hudson County,” says Achim Borkeloh, broker/manager of Weichert Realtors in Bayonne. Older, single-family houses line side streets on this 6-square-mile peninsula. It’s possible to find a starter home under $300,000, but this year’s average single-family sale price has been in the mid-$400,000s, Borkeloh says. Bayonne draws many buyers from Brooklyn and other New York boroughs, and appeals to buyers and renters priced out of Jersey City, he adds.
The town is also buzzing with redevelopment, including shopping centers along Route 440 and residential rental construction on its east side. The biggest redevelopment project involves 430 acres at the old Military Ocean Terminal, which will be the site of residential, warehouse and mixed-use buildings. About 2,200 housing units have been approved, and another 850 are pending. Over the next 25 years, another 4,500 units are planned, says Joe Ryan, a city spokesman.
Bayonne has four stops on NJ Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, which connect it to the PATH line in Jersey City, making for a quick commute to New York City. It’s also easily reached from the New Jersey Turnpike. A ferry to Manhattan, scheduled to open this fall, is expected to make Bayonne even more attractive to commuters, Borkeloh says.
Luis Maldonado and Dina Mansour were attracted by Bloomfield’s schools and “suburban vibe.” Photo by Joe Polillio
Prices are up an estimated 25 percent over 2020 as young buyers look to Bloomfield (population 47,000), with its easy commuter access (both by NJ Transit train and the Garden State Parkway), quiet residential streets and walkable shopping districts.
“To us, Bloomfield has a suburban vibe, but is still urban enough in its diversity,” says Dina Mansour, a law student and union political organizer who, with her husband, Luis Maldonado, recently paid $385,000 for a 1934 house in the township. The couple, who are expecting their first child, were drawn by the reputation of Bloomfield’s elementary schools. They also needed a manageable commute to her job in Newark and his as a Verizon analyst in Basking Ridge.
Bloomfield is one of the places experiencing “spillover from the brand-name towns”—in this case, neighboring Montclair and Glen Ridge —according to Alison Bernstein, founder and president of Suburban Jungle, a company and technology platform that helps city dwellers move to suburban towns.
Bloomfield has also seen significant mixed-use redevelopment, especially in the town center. The township is home to Bloomfield College, established in 1868, and a large section of Brookdale Park, a sprawling county park notable for its rose garden. And don’t forget Holsten’s, for lovers of ice cream and The Sopranos.
Rowan University’s efforts to revitalize its frayed host city appear to be paying off with private residential development near downtown. Meanwhile, newer subdivisions carved out of farmland in adjacent suburbs—including Williamstown, Washington Township and Sicklerville—are steady draws for home buyers from Philadelphia and neighboring Camden County.
In Glassboro, the Rowan Boulevard project was implemented over the past decade through public-private partnerships that generated more than $350 million in mixed-use development, including a Marriott hotel. The 26 acres are meant to serve as a bridge between the campus and the borough, which has a population of 20,000 and has struggled since its 19th-century heyday as a glass-manufacturing center.
Now, private developers have built apartments and townhomes on Poplar Street; more are planned on South Delsea Drive and East High Street, says borough administrator Ed Malandro, a former councilman. “I have developers right now looking to build high-end townhomes, which I never thought I’d see in Glassboro,” says Malandro.
The resale market is strong, too; the median sale price for single-family homes was up 29 percent to $240,000, and condos and townhomes increased 27 percent to $222,000, during the year ending in April.
Glassboro is a hub for this growing region in South Jersey; planners predict that jobs and population will increase about 30 percent in Gloucester County by 2045. A $350 million hospital complex—Inspira at Mullica Hill—recently opened just outside of town, and an 18-mile Camden-Glassboro light rail is planned.
A downtown revitalization in recent years has spawned a construction boom in this county seat. Luxury rental buildings with desirable amenities—including Manhattan views—are replacing underused or vacant commercial properties. With help from the new construction, the median sale price of a single-family home in the city rose 27 percent from 2017 to 2020.
This sprawling, 42-square-mile township (population 21,000) has two large, developed sections: the Lake Hopatcong neighborhood to the west and Oak Ridge/Milton to the east, off Route 23. Each section has its own elementary schools. In the middle are the high school, middle school, library, township hall and the preserved wilderness of the 3,494-acre Mahlon Dickerson Reservation, Morris County’s largest park.
Jefferson is roughly 50 miles from midtown Manhattan, and it’s not on a train line, so the commute to New York is a challenge. That has been less of an obstacle since the pandemic sent many workers home. Whether that will change after the pandemic remains to be seen. Mayor Eric Wilsusen, whose family has lived on Jefferson’s Lake Shawnee since the 1940s, predicts the township’s low crime rates and the appeal of living near lakes and forests will continue to draw home buyers. Most of Jefferson is in the Highlands Region, where new development is limited by state law. “We can’t grow any more,” says Wilsusen.
Sales were up 43 percent this year over last. Homes range from small cottages for around $200,000 to large, updated, lakefront houses in the neighborhood of $1 million.
Good schools and ample parks motivated Stephanie and Adam Starr to buy in Oakland. Photo by Joe Polillio
This leafy borough of 13,000 people on the Bergen/Passaic border lacks a commuter train, but its location on Route 208 and Interstate 287 makes it accessible from New York City, which is 30 miles away, as well as the neighboring counties. It also offers opportunities for hiking and other recreation in large state and county parks nearby.
“It’s close enough to New York to commute, but we’re surrounded by the Ramapo Mountains,” says Mayor Linda Schwager.
Starter homes, such as ranches and Cape Cods, can be found for under $400,000, making the borough an affordable alternative to its pricey northern-Bergen County neighbors. That helped fuel a big jump in sales volume, up 40 percent this year over 2020.
Stephanie and Adam Starr, both 29, paid $450,000 for a three-bedroom ranch in October 2020, drawn by the parks, Crystal Lake Beach Club and the reputation of Oakland’s schools. The borough is part of the Ramapo-Indian Hills school district, sharing two high schools with the affluent neighboring towns of Wyckoff and Franklin Lakes. Oakland also offers a manageable commute to Parsippany, where Stephanie works in corporate human resources and Adam is a teacher.
New development is underway on land adjacent to the 140-acre, mixed-use Washington Town Center, a downtown carved out of farmland in this Trenton suburb (population 14,500) over the past two decades.
Designed along the lines of New Urbanism—a planning approach that promotes walkable neighborhoods and diverse housing—the new development features parks, shopping and restaurants in strolling distance of about 1,000 detached homes and townhouses on smaller lots, as well as condominiums and apartments above retail spaces.
Town Center north of Route 33 is built out. South of the highway, an area about one-third of the size is now poised for growth, says Paul Renaud, Robbinsville’s community-development director. Three apartment buildings have recently gone up—they are leasing quickly—and the township is seeking proposals for 17 acres it owns there.
Robbinsville also offers highly rated schools and easy access to the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 1 and the neighboring Hamilton Transit Station. More traditional suburban developments wrap around Town Center. The median listing this summer for townhouses and condos in Robbinsville was $300,000; for single-family homes, the median was $620,000.
Giant retailers—including Amazon—have built large distribution centers within the township near the New Jersey Turnpike, but locals fret that taxes are still high. It is hoped that commercial tenancy will pick up post-pandemic in Town Center, which is already home to local favorites like DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, a Trenton institution that moved there in 2012.
After years of planning and toxic-waste cleanups, these gritty, formerly industrial towns on the banks of the Raritan Bay and Raritan River are poised for transformation. Nearly $3 billion in mixed-use development is proposed, including 4,000 housing units and direct ferry service to Manhattan.
The municipalities sit at the foot of the Driscoll Bridge, which carries the Garden State Parkway across the bay. More than $30 million in state and federal funding is earmarked for the ferry terminal and parking in South Amboy (population 9,200). Nearby, developers have plans for as many as 1,750 luxury apartments on 55 acres. The first 250 apartments are expected to be available in October, says South Amboy business administrator Glenn Skarzynski. Other residential proposals are pending for the city’s waterfront, which is also near NJ Transit’s South Amboy station.
In Sayreville (population 44,000), a long-delayed, mixed-use redevelopment of the former National Lead site is expected to get underway soon, with the first building—a Bass Pro Shops location—scheduled to open in 2023. The redevelopment, first proposed in 1999, is called Riverton and is envisioned as a 400-acre, $2.5 billion, mixed-use project with hotels, offices, 2,000 housing units, and a Main Street-style shopping district on the Raritan River. “It will open this riverfront section to the public for the first time in a century,” says Kevin Polston, project executive for the developer, North American Properties.
Greek restaurant Kyma is one of the many eateries that have made downtown Somerville a dining destination. Photo by Joe Polillio
The 1988 opening of Bridgewater Commons Mall threatened the viability of the Raritan Valley’s downtowns. But Somerville (population 12,000) wasn’t having it. A special improvement district was formed in the county seat to retain merchants and attract new businesses. And downtown was rezoned to allow residential development.
“The town decided to fight to preserve something special,” says Mike Kerwin, a former mayor.
Today, downtown Somerville is a hopping regional destination for foodies who can choose among diverse cuisines. Solid housing stock, transit accessibility and a central location near New Jersey’s pharma corridor round out the picture for this suburb with a small-town feel.
Several mixed-use developments near the train station were recently completed or are underway, as are luxury townhouses on the east end. Young professionals and empty nesters are lured downtown by the Edge at Main, a concierge apartment building with an upscale Wolfgang’s Steakhouse on the ground floor, says Natalie Pineiro, executive director of the Downtown Somerville Alliance.
The Somerset County courthouse anchors the east end of Main Street, along with the Somerset Hotel, circa 1748. The housing mix includes 1920s bungalows, 1960s split levels, and a section of stately Victorian homes. The median price of 31 homes listed on Realtor.com this summer was about $390,000, with newly built $500,000-plus townhomes pushing up the averages.
Major redevelopment plans, including hundreds of apartments in the downtown shopping district and near Kean University, are underway in this township of 58,300. Prewar colonials and postwar Cape Cods and split-levels are available on small lots, with prices generally starting in the $350,000s, making the township more affordable than some of its neighbors, according to David Weisbrod of White Realty in the township. Buyers also like the access to the Garden State Parkway, Routes 22 and 78, and the NJ Transit train, with its 35-minute rail commute into New York City.
Many buyers are drawn to the township’s diversity; according to the U.S. Census, Union is 37 percent non-Hispanic white, 32 percent Black, 10 percent Asian and 18 percent Hispanic.
The traditional shopping district along Stuyvesant Avenue lost some luster in the face of competition from malls and Internet shopping. But the downtown has been spruced up with trees, benches and streetlights and has the potential to appeal to younger households who crave being able to walk to favorite stores and restaurants.
“It’s definitely on a huge upswing,” says Joe Leo, who grew up in Union and has owned a downtown bookstore, Here’s the Story, since 1995.
Contractors are all over this 3.5-square-mile seaside town (population 10,000) just south of Atlantic City. “They’re rehabbing everywhere,” says Peter Romano, who purchased his three-bedroom ranch last year for under $350,000. He calls Ventnor “a great beach town, a hidden gem.”
The city has a non-commercial beachfront boardwalk that connects with Atlantic City, as well as good restaurants and three new liquor licenses. The landmark Art Deco Ventnor Square Theater was restored and reopened as a quad-screen for the summer.
Properties are still affordable and diverse, some dating to the turn of the last century. In June, the median price of 190 Ventnor listings on Realtor.com was $423,000, with 29 properties listed for less than $200,000—unheard-of at much of the Shore.
But renovations and new construction are driving prices up. A trio of five-bedroom, five-bath, single-family homes under construction on the beach block of South Oxford Street were each recently listed above $2 million. A 15th floor, 1,100-square-foot condo in Regency Tower on the boardwalk that sold for $202,450 in 2017 went for $405,000 in January 2021 after a complete renovation.
The town still offers a quiet respite from its glitzy neighbor to the north. Real estate broker Angela Desch says more new residents are living here full-time, making for a livelier vibe off-season. “It’s busier, and more young couples are coming in,” she says.
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