The pandemic real estate market continues to sizzle in North Jersey as buyers seek to move to suburbs from crowded urban spaces. And the shift to remote learning and working means some less usual suspects have joined the list of hot markets.
Coldwell Banker Realty polled local real estate agents and found towns offering large houses with room for home offices and big backyards in demand, according to results released last month. That’s produced a list of top housing markets no longer dominated by towns with easy commutes to New York or proximity to corporate headquarters.
Mainstays like Montclair and Madison remain on the list, but farther-afield locales like Sparta in Sussex County, with its private lake communities and the Clintons, gateway to the Hunterdon County countryside, are seeing renewed interest.
North Jersey claimed five of the top 10 markets listed by Coldwell’s agents, including Wyckoff and Closter in Bergen County, Madison in Morris County, Sparta in Sussex County and Montclair in Essex County.
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“Rather than picking a town because it’s 10 miles from their office, people are picking a town because it affords them the quality of life they’re wishing for their family,” said Rob Norman, Coldwell Banker’s president for New Jersey and Rockland County, New York. “If you could live anywhere in America and still have your same job, where would you choose to live? People get that choice now. And that’s a very unique situation that we haven’t seen before.”
Properties with room for offices and home-schooling have become more attractive. People who are wondering when they’ll be able to go on another vacation are looking for houses that can offer a “staycation” destination next to lakes, Norman said. Large yards are a plus, but also walkable downtowns like those in Madison and Wyckoff.
“Homes with that type of feeling are moving quicker,” he said. “I do believe that’s why you start to see anomalies like towns such as Clinton and Sparta moving at a faster pace right now than towns such as Hoboken and Jersey City.”
Historically low interest rates have also contributed to the rush, as well as a tightening housing stock: inventory was down almost 40% in Bergen County in August compared to the previous year, according to New Jersey Realtors, the industry trade group.
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Princeton is a diverse community largely influenced by education and culture, said agent Heidi Hartmann. Princeton’s current influx of buyers are generally from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey City. Pending sales in July and August were more than 30% over the previous year.
This suburban hub in Somerset County saw a 40% increase in homes with pending sales in August compared to the previous year. Bridgewater draws in home buyers due to its central location among major highways along with rail access and an abundance of retail and dining establishments, said agent Kevin Yento.
Offering 11 private lake communities and the historic Lake Mohawk boardwalk and plaza, Sparta provides the charm of resort living just 45 miles from Manhattan in Sussex County.
“What we’re selling here in Sparta and Lake Mohawk is a lifestyle,” said agent Denny Kevil. The average list price for a home in Sparta jumped from $464,809 to $529,695 between August 2019 and August 2020.
Local real estate agents are reporting a surge of buyers from New York City in this Morris County village. Madison’s downtown, train access and proximity to highways are among the town’s amenities, said agent Scott Spelker. New listings jumped by 53.8% in August year-over-year.
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6. Clinton (Town and Township)
With proximity to the office becoming less critical for many workers, rural Hunterdon County — more than 50 miles west of New York City — has become a popular destination for home buyers, Coldwell Banker said. Clinton is just off three major highways with outdoor recreation and a quaint downtown. Homes in the Clintons spent an average 54 days on the market in August compared to 76 days a year prior.
The relocation of New Yorkers to suburban Bergen County continues to gain strength. Closter saw a whopping 185.7% increase in home sales this year. Such towns are desirable due to the easy commute to Manhattan, said agent Josh Baris.
The Jersey Shore area is seeing an inflow of New York City buyers. Between August 2019 and August 2020, the average sales price jumped from $425,000 to $525,000 in the suburban town, which is about 15 miles from New Jersey beaches and 45 miles from New York City.
The Bergen County township saw closed sales this September double over the previous September. Wyckoff is a peaceful suburb with a top-notch school district and a vivacious community, said agent Will Alfaro.
“I am definitely seeing more New York buyers now than I have ever seen,” said Wyckoff agent Lynn Brescia. In August, pending deals more than tripled, rising 222% over the previous year, the real estate agency said.
With its train access to Manhattan, the Essex County town has always been in high demand. But the pandemic has driven the market even higher, with the median sales prices in town jumping 29.5% to $975,000 from the previous September to this year, Coldwell Banker said.
“I’ve never seen it like this before, ever. They’re coming in droves. There are lines at open houses and almost every car on the street has a New York license plate,” said Montclair agent Jocelyn Russo.
Union County has seen a large migration from New York City. Westfield saw a 97.1% increase in new listings in August 2020 over 2019, and a 58.3% rise in sales.
“It’s no surprise we are having an influx of buyers coming from urban areas. I moved to Westfield from Brooklyn 25 years ago because Westfield was the perfect combination of urban living with a small-town vibe,” said Westfield agent Jean Marie Morgan.
Staff writer Jenna Intersimone contributed to this report.
Mary Chao covers the Asian community, real estate and small business for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news out of North Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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