The Real Deal New York

Ranking NJ’s high-end home sales

Brokers say luxury homes are sitting longer, while new homes outfitted with technology and the ‘Pottery Barn look’ appeal to buyers
By Maya Rajamani | July 12, 2018 11:00AM

159 Anderson Avenue in Alpine

Brokers selling homes in North Jersey saw nearly a dozen properties leaving the market for upwards of $4 million between May 1, 2017, and April 30, 2018, according to an analysis by The Real Deal .

Agents in the area said that while many homebuyers were gravitating toward brand-new homes with modern fixings and high-tech amenities, a handful weren’t afraid to drop millions on a few of the area’s historic homes. And although some brokers felt the high-end market wasn’t as strong as it’s been in the past, proximity to the train, airport and good schools continued to be a draw for the well-heeled.

From a mansion owned by a Russian developer linked to the alleged Trump election scandal to a landmarked property where cattle once roamed, TRD ranked the top home sales between May 2017 and April 2018 in North Jersey. The list includes single-family home sales in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris and Passaic counties, as reported by PropertyShark.

Head for (Short) Hills

Topping TRD’s ranking of the priciest home sales was a four-bedroom at 30 Dorison Drive in Short Hills that sold for $7.65 million in June 2017. The sale was an off-market deal, according to Elaine Pruzon, an agent based at Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty’s Short Hills office who is familiar with the property.

Taking the silver was a 17,731-square-foot home at 220 Vaccaro Drive in Cresskill, built in 2008, that sold for $6.75 million in February of this year. The seven-bedroom, 11-bathroom home sat on 2.7 acres and sported a pond with fountains, according to Prominent Property Sotheby’s International Realty’s, whose Jeri Green had the listing.

The third spot went to a seven-bedroom home at 40 Montview Avenue in Short Hills that brought in $6 million toward the end of January.

Listing agent Susan Penney of Coldwell Banker’s Short Hills office described the home and its 3.5 acres as “a private oasis … with resort-like amenities.” Those perks included a pool with a spa, pool house with a full kitchen, guest house, wine cellar and movie theater. The previous owners renovated the home before putting it on the market, Penney said. 

Fourth on the TRD rankings was a home at 159 Anderson Avenue in Alpine. Its owner, Russian developer Aras Agalarov, made headlines when he put it on the market in 2017. Agalarov, along with music publicist Rob Goldstone, helped arrange the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya that has been a central part of the special counsel’s ongoing Russia probe.

While listing agent David Axelrad declined to comment on the headlines surrounding the home, which sold for $5.8 million in October 2017, he noted that it had a number of unique attributes. The “palatial” house  is on the same street as the sprawling, seven-bedroom mansion that Sean “Diddy” Combs sold in 2016. It also has one of the longest driveways in New Jersey, Axelrad said, plus a secret door that leads into a Moroccan-themed room with sunset views. The home, which is tucked away on a swath of land not far from the Hudson River, also has a spa and gym in the basement, a home theater and a wine room, he said.

Aging like a fine wine

A number of the homes on TRD’s list of priciest sales had historic allure. Taking fifth place with a sale price of $5.25 million was a 10.3-acre farm at 2 Dickson’s Mill Road in Harding Township. Known as Copper Beech Farm, the property’s five-bedroom main house was “fashioned from a 1904 brick hay barn with attached corn crib,” according to materials provided by listing agents Ann Marie Battaglia and Jon Buryk of Kienlen Lattmann Sotheby’s International Realty.

Eighth on TRD’s list of priciest homes was a landmarked home at 523 Van Beuren Road in Morristown that sold for $4.85 million. The home was built in 1928 and sits on 31 acres of land. For many years, its previous owners kept cattle on the front lawn, said Turpin Real Estate broker Karen Tourville , who was the listing agent for the property.

“It feels like you’re in this gorgeous, bucolic setting, because you are,” Tourville said of the home, which has fireplaces in the bedrooms and much of its original millwork. The home hit the market in May 2016 at around $5.5 million and ultimately closed with about a $650,000 price cut in June 2017, Tourville said.

A colonial house at 593 Spring Valley Road in Morristown, meanwhile, clinched the 12th spot on TRD’s list, going for about $3.69 million in August of last year. The home is part of Hartley Farms, the estate that was once home to Marcellus Hartley Dodge, president of the Remington Arms Company, and Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge,  niece of John D. Rockefeller. The home has black-and-white granite and marble floors and a wrap-around staircase as well as groves and walking paths throughout the grounds, according to listing agent Debbie Woerner, a luxury home specialist for Coldwell Banker in New Jersey.

And a 1932-built English manor at 401 Mountain Avenue in Ridgewood placed 15th on the list after selling for $3.5 million this past February. The house boasts vaulted ceilings, wood finishes, stone patios, a tennis court, a pool and pool house and parking for five cars, said listing agent Lorraine Sinnott, a sales associate based out of Coldwell Banker’s Ridgewood/Glen Rock office.

“This was extremely special and unusual, because it was on one of the last original estates in Ridgewood,” said Sinnott, explaining that the land was never subdivided after it was originally purchased around the turn of the 20th century. The manor was constructed for a businessman who owned several other homes in the neighborhood, she said.

Sinnott priced the home based on her suspicion that a buyer might be interested in subdividing the lot — the home stands on around 2.4 acres of land. Her intuition proved correct, as it was ultimately purchased by a builder who plans to subdivide the estate and build two new houses near the existing manor, she said.

Technology and modern design

Despite the handful of storied homes that left the market this past year, several brokers said buyers were particularly interested in brand-new homes with modern details and amenities.

(Click to enlarge)

Sinnott, who focuses primarily on Ridgewood, said prospective buyers had few qualms about dropping significant amounts of money on “expensive new homes.”

“Everybody seems to love new — they seem to really like the ‘Pottery Barn’ look,” she said. “Or any house that’s been totally redone inside to look new.”

Buyers shopping for homes — on the high end of the market, at least — are less interested in fixer-uppers than they have been in the past, brokers noted.

“People want smart, and people want new,” Axelrad said. “At this price point in the luxury market, people don’t want to buy something and then have a project … They don’t have the time to bring on something new in terms of having contractors, picking out tile, picking out finishes.”

Technology has long been a draw for homebuyers in the area, too, and it’s become increasingly important over the past few years as more and more products hit the market. Tracy Freeman, an agent who works out of Coldwell Banker’s Maplewood office, said she has definitely seen an uptick in high-end buyers looking for “smart-home technology,” from state-of-the-art security systems to a refrigerator that alerts its owners when they’re running low on groceries.

“It’s little things like that … [that] make those homes even better,” Freeman said. “I think it’s getting to be more mainstream, even in the lower-priced homes … because the technology’s kind of sexy — people like it.”

Buyers have also started to require security cameras inside and outside their homes in recent years, several brokers said.

“In the luxury homes, they’re requiring that almost as a standard item,” Woerner said. “Whereas last year and the previous years it was an additional thing, now they want it as a standard component.”

What the market says

Brokers’ analyses of the North Jersey market in 2017 and into 2018 varied from town to town.

Turpin Real Estate’s Tourville, who focuses on Harding Township, said she saw “a very nice uptick in activity in the luxury end” in her area starting not long after the presidential election in 2016. “We saw things start to get very busy early on in 2017, and that activity sustained itself through most of the year,” she said. “I think there was a sense of confidence that the economy was going to improve.”

And while areas like Millburn and Short Hills have seen highs and lows within the past few years, Freeman said markets like Maplewood that haven’t historically had many homes priced over $1 million are seeing increased activity and prices.

More recently, inventory in North Jersey has been tight, and homes in the below-$1 million market are seeing rising prices and bidding wars, she said. For the higher-end market, however, this year has been a slower one, several brokers said. “It’s been a little more sluggish, and I think a lot of us were blaming it on the weather,” Tourville said, noting that some homeowners in Harding Township saw more trees come down and lawns torn up by the elements.

Pruzon, whose business focuses primarily on Short Hills, said she’s been seeing “considerable price reductions” in recent months. “I’m not seeing the kind of bidding situations I did a year ago in the spring market,” Pruzon said. Homes priced above $2.5 million have been staying on the market longer and seeing price reductions, she said. Inventory in Short Hills, meanwhile, is higher in recent months than it’s been in years.

“We think the new tax law has had a tremendous impact on our inventory in this town,” she said of the federal  law that caps the state and local tax deduction at $10,000, noting that prospective buyers have told her they feel “penalized” by it. (TRD talks to experts about the tax reform on page 58.)

Sinnott, too, said the new law — in addition to high property taxes — has impacted the high-end market. She and several other brokers said their successes this past year were due in part to pricing their properties correctly. The quick sale of 401 Mountain Avenue in Ridgewood was because “the perfect price” was put on the property, she said.

“Many homes that hit the market with price tags above the $4 million mark around the same time as that home have taken significant price chops and are still for sale,” she continued.

Coldwell Banker agent Michele Kolsky-Assatly, a Bergen County luxury market veteran, is currently reselling 32 Allison Road in Alpine, which sold for $5.05 million last June and placed seventh on TRD’s rankings. The owner is selling it fully furnished, with some renovations, for around $6.48 million, she said. Kolsky-Assatly said a significant part of her job is convincing homeowners to reduce the prices.

Despite the slowdown in some parts of the luxury market, however, brokers were optimistic about the future of North Jersey real estate. They said that at the end of the day, buyers will continue to gravitate toward North Jersey for its proximity to New York City, its high-rated schools and the indoor and outdoor space.

“The schools, the train and the proximity to the airport are still the main draws for that town,” Pruzon said. “And I don’t see that changing.”