The little town with the big reputation
Celebrities and CEOs flock to Alpine for its location, low taxes and big lots, but can the buzz factor spare the luxury enclave from the resi sales slowdown?
Alpine has long been synonymous with luxury real estate in Northern New Jersey. Located on the bluffs above the Hudson River just north of New York City, the town has quite a gaggle of famous homeowners among its 1,800 residents. Tracy Morgan, Lil’ Kim and Chris Rock, as well as Trump administration adviser Kellyanne Conway, call Alpine home (or second home) these days. Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder and Eddie Murphy also once lived there.
Alpine occupies less than nine square miles and contains fewer than 800 homes, but the exclusive enclave looms large in reputation. In 2018, Alpine was ranked as the 33rd most expensive zip code in America, according to Property Shark’s annual rankings. It placed higher on that list than any other Tri-State town outside Manhattan — except for Sagaponack and Water Mill in the Hamptons.
The town’s proximity to New York City and low local property tax rates are the main attractions for wealthy buyers, but changing tastes and market uncertainty are keeping brokers on their toes as they convince sellers to lower their expectations on pricing.
“The properties north of $2.5 and $3 million over the last two to three years have been very difficult to sell,” said Igor Beyder of Beyder and Company, which is based in neighboring Closter. “The prices have been overinflated for a great majority of these properties.”
Of the 11 transactions closed in Alpine last year, all but two sold for less than the asking price. None of the 12 sales in 2017 met its asking price, according to data collected and analyzed by Anat Eisenberg at Keller Williams Town Life.
“We are entering a time where everything is much more price driven,” Eisenberg said. “People are much more inclined to compromise on location. It’s a different type of taste and clientele.”
As in high-end markets around the region, Alpine has seen slowing price growth, brokers said. In 2018, the median home price for Alpine was $2.6 million, up from $2.4 million in 2017 and $2 million in 2016, according to Eisenberg’s data.
“At this point, high end is dead, really,” said Marlyn Friedberg, owner of Friedberg Properties, which has more than 20 agents in its Alpine office. “Prices had been going up, up, up, and I think now they’re considerably down, maybe 20 percent down.”
But others see some room for optimism, given some movement within certain price points, said Alpine-based broker Dennis McCormack of Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty.
“There’s activity in the very high end, and there’s activity for Alpine in the lower end, so there’s more activity under $3 million and over $10 million,” McCormack said. “The midrange is what’s soft.”
Of the 45 Alpine homes listed on the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service [NJMLS] in the first week of February, six were asking between $10 million and $20 million, while 13 were priced below $3 million.
Alpine’s appealing low taxes aren’t as much of a selling point as they once were, given the new federal tax laws, brokers said.
“Lower is no longer low,” said Freidberg, who added that the loss of mortgage deductibility in federal tax law is putting some buyers off.
Still, Alpine’s 0.801 percent tax rate was the lowest in Bergen County in 2018, said Keller Williams Village Square Realty agent Michael Shetler, who also noted that properties were assessed at just 80 percent of market value, meaning that Alpine had by far the lowest effective tax rate.
The town’s low taxes are accounted for in its high home prices, but for a buyer who intends to keep the home long-term, there’s a financial benefit.
“You’re paying more for the house and a little less down the road for the taxes,” Beyder said.
McCormack pointed to one of his current properties to prove that point. The older home of moderate size for Alpine is listed at just under $3 million. “The house is about 5,500 square feet, and the real estate taxes on that house are about $13,000 a year,” he said. “So very low carrying costs.”
Friedberg is confident that the market will heat up again, but when is anyone’s guess.
“Hopefully, the year is going to start out slow and end with a bang, but I don’t see that with what’s going on politically and every other way,” she said. “People are not feeling so secure.”