The right side of the tracks

Some New Jersey towns close to transit options have seen home prices spike this year
By Bryan Virasami | July 13, 2018 11:00AM

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As more and more young families and professionals flee New York in search of more space and a lower cost of living, New Jersey towns with easy access to transit to the city are increasingly reaping the benefits. Take New Providence, which saw a 52 percent surge in median home prices from April 2017 to April 2018, according to data from New Jersey Realtors. The median sales price is still a relatively affordable $715,000, however, making it an extremely attractive alternative to the sky-high prices across the Hudson, brokers said.

More than half the Jersey towns that saw price increases last year have New Jersey Transit stations, according to data analyzed by The Real Deal. Bradley Beach, which is on the North Jersey Coast Line, saw a more than 40 percent year-over-year jump in prices this April, according to the data.

If there’s a beach and a train nearby, that’s a doubly winning combination. Homes in the beachside communities of Monmouth County command some of the highest prices in the state, and the prices are continuing to rise, according to the latest data from New Jersey Realtors. “I was with a client from the city two days ago and that was one of her first questions,” said Patrick Parker of Patrick Parker Realty in Bradley Beach, referring to the proximity of a train station. “Her second question was how far the ocean is.”

A review of median sales data, broken down by municipality, showed that homes in or around 74 of 138 NJ Transit stations reported price increases between April 2017 and April 2018. Some of the sharpest jumps in median sale prices in April occurred in such municipalities as Manasquan, Passaic, East Orange, City of Orange, Woodcliff Lake, New Providence and Little Silver — all with NJ Transit stations.

It’s not just single-family home sales that see the benefit. Rental properties near transit hubs are also seeing growth, especially among millennials who are opting out of car ownership. Near the Belmar station in Monmouth County, the median rent in April 2018 climbed to $6,350 from $4,000 in April 2017, Trulia data shows.

Demand for homes near transit stations first rose soon after the 2008 economic crisis, according to Peter Reinhart, director of the Kislak Real Estate Institute at Monmouth University. He also said millennials, whether they’re buying or renting, are not attracted to suburban sprawl, especially when they’re commuting to New York, Jersey City or Hoboken for work.

Towns in remote areas were doing well in the 1980s and ’90s, Reinhart added, but homes there have not appreciated in value like those near transit. “It’s a challenge for remote towns,” he said.

At the same time, developers who pour money into renovating old homes and apartments are seeing the benefits, while communities that rezone to allow for mixed-use and multifamily projects — including  Metuchen, Cranford, Red Bank and New Brunswick — are growing faster, Reinhart said.

The Real Deal looked at prices and demand along NJ Transit lines. Here’s the 411 on some of the state’s train towns, including how long it takes to get to the city around 8 a.m. 

1. New Providence
Line: Gladstone Branch
Time to Penn Station: 54 minutes
Price Update: The median price in April of homes in New Providence was $715,000, a 52 percent increase from April 2017, NJ Realtor reported. The median in 2017 was $590,000 for the year.
About the area: Prices have been gradually rising in this “insular community” where “neighbors watch out for each other,” according to Berkshire Hathaway’s Michele DiBenedetto. There are two stations here, including the Murray Hill stop, which offer low-cost parking for local residents who commute to Midtown. “It’s all driven by the job market in New York, the higher wage jobs in New York and people want a quicker commuting time,” DiBenedetto said. “Houses that are less than a mile from the train station will do the best price-wise.”

2. Millburn and Short Hills
Line: Gladstone and Morristown Lines
Time to Penn Station: 54 and 57 minutes (some trains require a transfer at Broad Street in Newark)
Price update: In April, the reported median price was $1.1 million, according to NJ Realtors, a 25 percent increase over the same month in 2017.
About the area: These two Midtown Direct train line towns are highly desirable, said Sue Adler, realtor and CEO of the Sue Adler Team, which operates within Keller Williams Realty Premier Properties. “Our proximity to NYC is what has kept our market so healthy — the New Jersey market changes drastically once you are out of the main commuter towns.” Adler added that luckily for buyers, inventory has grown “because the baby boomers who had been on the fence about downsizing were finally motivated by the new tax-reform laws. It financially no longer makes sense for them to stay if they don’t have kids in the schools.”

3. Bradley Beach
Line: North Jersey Coast Line
Time to Penn Station: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Price update: Between April 2017 and 2018, Bradley Beach home prices rose 43.6 percent, to $825,000. In 2017, the median was $647,000 for the year.
About the area: Bradley Beach buyers are looking for access to both the city and the water. In recent years, more buyers have been asking about homes closer to train stations, Patrick Parker noted. As recently as five years ago, people scoffed at the idea of living near railroad tracks, he said. He pointed to a recent sale as an example how things have changed: “It was three houses from the railroad tracks. We priced it at $369,000, and we got multiple offers and settled at $429,000 in one weekend.”

4. Woodcliff Lake
Line: Pascack Valley Line
Time to Penn Station: 1 hour, 2 minutes
Price update: The median price in April rose 59 percent, to $983,250 from April 2017, when it was $615,000, according to NJ Realtors. The median in 2017 was $710,000 for the year.
About the area: Woodcliff Lake is on the Hoboken Line and requires a transfer at Secaucus Junction to get to Penn Station. It’s located in Bergen County,  just a few stops before the New York state line. Keller Williams listed a five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom home for $949,000 in July, describing it as “convenient to NY transportation, shopping, parks, and top-rated” schools.

5. Chatham
Line: Morristown Line
Time to Penn Station: 49 minutes
Price update: The median price in April was $877,100, a 17 percent rise over April 2017. The median for 2017 was $810,000 for the year, which was unchanged from 2016.
About the area: The picturesque homes in Chatham in Morris County tend to be in demand thanks to the direct train ride to Penn Station, good schools and luxury condos, realtors said. In July, a Zillow search showed several homes for sale, including a six-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom house with an “in-law suite” on the first floor
going for $999,000. According to the listing, the “modern farmhouse will make [HGTV “Fixer Upper” costar] Joanna Gaines proud!”

6. Allenhurst
Line: North Jersey Coast Line
Time to Penn Station: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Price update: Allenhurst reported one of the highest median prices last year at $1.5 million, a 111 percent jump over 2016. And so far this year, the median price of homes sold in the first four months was a whopping $3.3 million. In April, the median was $2.5 million, according to NJ Realtors data, although there were no reported sales in April 2017 for comparison.
About the area: This tiny seaside borough in Monmouth County, where residents can swim, fish and surf to their heart’s content, has a handful of pricey homes available for sale this summer. A Zillow search in early July showed only three properties listed for sale, from a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house for $1.5 million to a nine-bedroom, eight-bathroom home “close to the beach” for $7.2 million.