Best Counties for Middle Class NJ Residents

We may be biased, but New Jersey is one of the best states to live in!

The dynamic history, the beautiful Jersey Shore coastline and great eats from famous diners and local farmer’s markets make the Garden State a pleasant and entertaining place to live. We also have a dense population that keeps things interesting. Some residents were born and raised in NJ, while others have come to our state from NYC to seek a quiet, suburban lifestyle. Our close proximity to other cities, including Philadelphia, Manhattan and Boston, also make NJ a hotspot.

The one downfall to NJ is that we are an expensive state. In fact, a recent study from Trulia reported that in Bergen County alone, only 19 percent of homes are within reach for middle-class families. A family with a median income of $56,000 could afford a home in Bergen County priced at $274,000. Unfortunately, homes in this price range are rare. We are talking about some of the most expensive counties in the country after all.

So, if you’re currently looking for a new home in NJ and have moderate earnings, where are some of the best – but affordable – places to live?

Below is a great chart to reference, courtesy of Fred Kaimann/The Star Ledger, with data from Trulia. This comprehensive chart is an excellent tool for middle-class families looking for an affordable home in the Garden State.

 

County

Percentage of homes within reach for middle class

Median square foot of affordable homes

Median household income for metro

Maximum affordable home price

Atlantic

51%

1,248

$51,191

$218,000

Bergen

19%

1,410

$56,007

$274,000

Burlington

72%

1,497

$68,241

$272,000

Camden

86%

1,376

$68,241

$272,000

Cape May

37%

1,040

$57,001

$270,000

Cumberland

74%

1,302

$47,072

$191,000

Essex

55%

1,760

$70,062

$294,000

Gloucester

78%

1,536

$68,241

$272,000

Hudson

40%

825

$56,007

$274,000

Hunterdon

34%

1,418

$70,062

$294,000

Mercer

70%

1,316

$67,991

$278,000

Middlesex

63%

1,432

$75,355

$326,000

Monmouth

45%

1,448

$75,355

$326,000

Morris

32%

1,353

$70,062

$294,000

Ocean

66%

1,437

$75,355

$326,000

Passaic

42%

1,503

$56,007

$274,000

Salem

92%

1,404

$62,075

$319,000

Somerset

45%

1,320

$75,355

$326,000

Sussex

65%

1,381

$70,062

$294,000

Union

54%

1,360

$70,062

$294,000

Warren

55%

1,389

$55,766

$249,000

With Manhattan Homes on the Rise, More People are Looking to Buy in the NJ Suburbs

For the first time in decades, U.S. cities are growing faster than the suburbs. And, it’s no surprise why. With a tough economy and even tougher job market, it makes practical and financial sense to stay close to the city where job opportunities are more plentiful. But, just because this idea may seem great in theory doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense for all people. Living in a city like NYC is costly, and fortunately, it’s not the only smart choice. Thanks to the surrounding suburbs of New Jersey, it may be the best financial choice to live outside the city, getting the most for your money.

According to a recent survey by Miller Samuel, it’s becoming more difficult to purchase a non-luxury home. (Non-luxury homes are those that cost less than $3 million.) The number of non-luxury homes has dropped by more than 36 percent, leaving people with far less to choose from. For instance, the average one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan is $1.35 million, and the average two-bedroom apartment is $2.63 million. Basically, any apartment with three bedrooms or attractive features will be included in the luxury market, which accounts for the majority of Manhattan homes.

There is a better option, and that is living in New Jersey. Consider that the median price of a single family home with all the bells and whistles is $360,000 in New Jersey. And, with counties like Essex and Hudson, you can live just 30 minutes from NYC, making it possible to take advantage of job opportunities in the city. Even though the cities are seeing growth, New Jersey counties are still experiencing steady growth because of their accessible location to New York City.

In addition, the average one-bedroom Manhattan apartment has gone up 7.8 percent from year-to-year, while the average two-bedroom has gone up 10 percent. New Jersey properties are climbing as well, but as with any city-to-suburb move, you can get so much more for your money. Those looking to relocate may find that moving to the suburbs of New Jersey makes both financial and practical sense, and the commute to work is very doable. It’s definitely something worth considering, especially since now is still a great time to invest in a home thanks to low interest rates and housing prices.

High-End Homes in New Jersey See Slow Growth

New Jersey has some of the most beautiful, high-end homes in the country thanks to their historic charm, intricate details and superior construction. Unfortunately, these high-end homes have been the slowest to recover and slumped the most in 2012. For instance, prices in Bergen County rose 5.9 percent at the beginning of 2013 while prices in Passaic County only rose 1 percent. Should the homeowners with these high-end homes worry?

No. Although the high-end areas in North Jersey have been slower to recover than the rest of the New Jersey market, they are still improving. Upper-end sales have picked up this past spring and should continue to rise over the following months. Some realtors predict that it will take about 2 years for the high-end homes to see sales return.

One reason why the lower market has seen greater home prices is because of the short sales and foreclosures that have been recently purchased, many of which sat for years during the recession. With these homes being sold for lower prices, they bumped up the lower market without having an impact on the higher market. Also, there is more demand for smaller, lower priced homes compared to large, expensive ones. Fewer buyers for these types of homes is what is preventing prices from rising.

Additionally, from 2006 to 2011, the North Jersey economy lost 10 percent of the jobs in high-paying industries. With the crash of the housing market and the loss of good jobs, buyers have been  more careful about what they invest in, even affluent buyers. Young couples and young adults alike are choosing to invest in homes that are more economically priced, sized smaller and are more cost-effective to maintain. All of these factors put the high-end market at a disadvantage.

Still, there is something about the historic homes in North Jersey, and they can’t be replicated anywhere else. As the housing market recovers and these high-end homes can be purchased at a decent price, more buyers will take the opportunity to have a North Jersey home. Sellers may have no choice but to take some loss, but buyers will have plenty of opportunities to own a North  Jersey home at a lower price.

New Home Construction is 45% Higher than Last Year

It’s another sign of recovery for the housing market: home construction in New Jersey is up 45 percent compared to last year. Nearly 9,000 housing permits were issued in the past five months; last year’s numbers were just around 6,000. And, with reasonable home prices and low interest rates, buyers aren’t afraid to buy. They know that their clock is running down, and they’re ready to take the plunge and invest in a home to get the best rates before they’re gone.

The majority of housing permits were for multi-family construction, which is growing in demand. These homes are cost-effective, easy to maintain and offer plenty of space, and they are good for growing families or those looking to downsize. This makes up a lot of New Jersey buyers at this time, especially as there is more spillover from the New York City market.

People who are used to living in small apartments in the heart of the city find it more difficult to spring for the large home in New Jersey. With jobs being less secure than in years past, people want to remain close the city. That’s where new multi-family homes become the perfect solution; they are a nice upgrade for urban dwellers and packed with new amenities and they still keep a reasonable price tag.

Single-family builds are also on the rise and will serve as great housing for families that may have more job stability and want to move a bit farther out from NYC. The fact that new home construction is up nearly 50 percent from last year is exciting, and it’s definitely what the NJ market needs to grow. With more sales comes more stability, and homeowners who have been waiting out the market may finally have their opportunity to sell. They may still have to take a loss, but it won’t be nearly as bad as last year.

The housing market is unpredictable as we’ve learned, but both buyers and sellers have more opportunities at their fingertips than ever before. With more new construction, there will be a better inventory for homebuyers, coupled with historically low interest rates and reasonable housing prices. Sellers are watching their homes get bid on quickly, and if they can sell without taking too big of a loss, they too can take advantage of a great time to buy.