A Guide to Buying a House in: New Jersey

(Because "down the shore" might not be helpful/enough instruction)
Atlantic city waterline aerial view, New Jersey

Looking to buy a house in The Garden State, but you're not quite sure where to start? Never fear, because we've put together a guide to buying a house in New Jersey, and even packed in some extra bonus material about the state overall. So, let's get right to it.

The Most and Least Expensive Cities in New Jersey

New Jersey is super close to New York, which of course means that some areas of the state come with pretty hefty price tags. Don't let that scare you, though, since there are plenty of options where the price might be just right. To help you out, we checked out gathered data and put together a list of a few cities in the most/least pricey categories, for 2019.

Most expensive cities:

  • Englewood Cliffs
  • Palisades Park
  • Ridgefield
  • Edgewater
  • Asbury Park

Least expensive cities:

  • Audubon
  • Stratford
  • Barrington
  • Somerdale
  • Runnemede

Look these over before setting sights on your next destination. It'll be way more satisfying and less stressful if you follow the right steps to your new home.

New Jersey's Housing Market

The housing market in New Jersey isn't exactly as well known as the various reality shows churned out from the place over the past decade or so. So to aid you on your quest of new home selection, we've got a sneak peek at what the market's like in Jersey, up next.

The New Jersey housing market was reportedly strong throughout 2018, and that trend continues into 2019. The shortage of inventory in the state means high buyer demand, and therefore high home prices. So, it's been a seller's market for a while now, and will continue to be through the beginning of 2019.

However, things will be looking up for buyers as 2019 progresses. The market's predicted to shift over to favor buyers as prices start leveling off later in the year. So, if you can hold tight just a little longer before starting your hunt, your wallet may seriously thank you for it.

Where People Are Moving in New Jersey

Though New Jersey's undoubtedly got plenty to offer as a state to move to, one city is clearly in the lead for its most moved-to destination in recent years, and that's Jersey City. Jersey City has all kinds of benefits, including beaches, delicious diners, good public transit, and NYC as practically its next door neighbor (only this place has WAY cheaper prices). Not too shabby.

That all being said, Jersey City living still has a pretty impressive price tag of its own. Home values here average $480,900, currently. Home values have increased a whopping 13.8% over the past year, and they're expected to rise another 7.6% within the upcoming year. Homes are listed on the market for about $585,000 as of late, and renting a house costs around $2,100/month.

Jersey City's not the only option for your new place, obviously. The state's actually got a TON (and we do mean a TON) of new construction underway lately, all across the state. Seriously, you could throw a rock out of someone's window and hit some new construction, no matter where you were. Any major city you could name — Atlantic City, Camden, Trenton, Newark, Jersey City, New Brunswick — all have development in progress. The power of choice is yours.

Home Property Values and Costs in New Jersey

It's all well and good to know where you want to look for your new house, but it's even better to know how much you'll paying for it. That's why we're about to check out some home costs and property values, New Jersey-style.

As far as home values go, research says the average currently is $324,700 for the state. Home values have increased 5.9% over the past year, and they're expected to rise another 7.0% within the upcoming year. The price per square foot is about $181. Homes are listed on the market for around $319,900, and they're closing for about $279,400. Renting a house costs about $1,900/month.

Let's check out those apartments, though. According to sources, you can find one-bedroom places going for about $880/month in Camden, $1,024/month in Newark, $2,590/month in Jersey City, $1,024/month in Trenton, and $1,634/month in New Brunswick, just to give you an idea.

Alright townhouse-seekers, you're up. Townhouse rent in New Jersey ranges from the low-side of about $650/month for a studio with one bathroom in Runnemede, to about $1,850/month for a two-bed/one-and-a-half-bath place in Newark.

You May Need to Add Hurricane Insurance in New Jersey

The Jersey Shore is wonderful, and makes New Jersey a very attractive place to live — until a hurricane comes along. Jersey's coastal location unfortunately means the place is not just a host for epic beach parties, but that it also plays host to hurricanes once in a while. So, you may need to review your homeowner's insurance policy to make sure you have coverage.

New Jersey is one of 19 states that require a mandatory hurricane deductible as part of its homeowner's insurance policies, so you can't really escape needing it. But considering the amount of damage these storms can dish out, you'll really WANT it, anyway. 

If you're unsure of what your homeowner's insurance policy covers, don't hesitate to reach out to your agent. You'll be grateful, should disaster ever strike, that you took measures to prepare yourself in advance.

. . . and Maybe Flood Insurance, Too

Though hurricanes do like to visit New Jersey from time to time, the state's actually most prone to blizzards, in the natural disasters category. Once all that snow melts, the water has to go somewhere — most likely to your basement. So, it might mean you need to add on even more coverage.

If you live in an area deemed to be "high-risk", your mortgage lender might require you to purchase extra homeowner's insurance coverage specifically for flooding. Though it's important to note that even areas not in designated high-risk areas might still need it. Why? Because water damage is no joke, and neither is having to pay for it.

Before you find out if you even need it, maybe you should first know what it is. Well, broken down, flood insurance will cover your property (the actual structure of your home and your belongings within it - to an extent) if natural water (i.e. rain, waves, etc.) decides to wreak havoc. Many policies will say that the water must cover at least two acres of normally-dry land, in order to qualify for reimbursement. 

Once again, if you're unsure if you have it/need it, talk with your agent. They'll be able to get you set up with exactly what you need.

Quality of Schools in New Jersey

The quality of the school system in a certain state might be another good thing to take into consideration before making your move. So, how does a New Jersey education rank against the other options in the US? Let's find out.

Here are some 2018 WalletHub stats about how New Jersey schools ranked in the country:

  • #2 overall for the US
  • #3 for quality
  • #9 for safety
  • #2 for lowest dropout rates
  • #3 for highest math test scores
  • #2 for highest reading test scores
  • #4 for lowest pupil-teacher ratio

The top-rated schools in the state are High Technology High School in Lincroft, and Princeton University in Princeton.

Moving to New Jersey: Pros and Cons

It's time for the more fun section of this guide, where we get into some nitty-gritty about New Jersey itself. Before we convince you to buy a house here, let's outline a few reasons why others already did. We talked to some locals about PROs and CONs to Jersey living, for your reading pleasure.

PROs, as voted by New Jersey Residents:

  • Close proximity to NYC: It’s so dang close to Manhattan. Locals can enjoy day trips to the big city and return to their less hectic hometown to unwind. And with rent in New Jersey being dramatically lower, many who work in NYC live in The Garden State and commute daily. Residents refer to New Jersey as a "small sanctuary when needed" to get away from the hustle and bustle of NYC. 
  • No tax on clothes: If you're feeling the need to totally revamp your wardrobe, you might as well do it in New Jersey, where you won't be charged any sales tax on clothing purchases. Make sure to grab yourself some new swimsuits for all your upcoming trips to "The Shore" while you're at it.
  • Food: No state is complete without its signature food, and New Jersey residents are some of the most loyal ones out there. Between the bagels, pizza, Disco fries and something called Taylor Ham (also called pork roll), no mouth will go unsatisfied on this turf. You can have yourself a Jersey Breakfast, which typically consists of Taylor Ham, other breakfast meats and cheese on a toasted bagel. You'll never go hungry. 
Taylor ham, pork roll, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich with home fries from New Jersey
  • As Seen on TV: So, everyone's heard of the infamous Jersey Shore — but the reality TV world has no shortage of love for the Jersey lifestyle. There's also Jerseylicious (set in a salon), Cake Boss (set in a cake shop), Jersey Couture (set in a family-run dress shop) and the infamous Real Housewives of New Jersey (set in an alternate universe altogether). And that’s a lot to be proud of.

CONs, also as voted by New Jersey Residents

  • "Abominable" traffic: The Garden State is essentially a conduit between NYC and Philadelphia, so naturally there's a boatload of traffic. It's so bad, in fact, sources say the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 4 in Fort Lee has been named the "second-most congested bottleneck in the nation," making it the "nation's second worst traffic nightmare." Yikes. Pack some audiobooks — you’ll need ‘em. 
  • Higher taxes: Property taxes in The Garden State are said to be worse than any other US state. So high, in fact, that The Tax Foundation named it as having the "highest overall tax burden" in the country — with a higher cost of living "in every category" — from groceries, to transportation, to utilities, and beyond. Luckily there are no taxes on clothes, or else they’d all be running around wearing even less than they already do.
  • Weather: Residents complain that the weather here is rarely perfect, or even tolerable for that matter, and is "almost always too hot or too cold.” New Jersey has higher humidity than most other states, making for muggy, smoldering summers and precipitation-happy winters. Combined with its lower-than-average number of sun days, it’s tough to be optimistic about the day’s weather.

Activities to Do in New Jersey

So now we know a bit about WHY people move to New Jersey, but let's check out WHAT these people do, once they arrive. We talked with the locals a bit longer to find out the state's lesser-known hotspots, full of fun activities for all.

Here just a few of the state's coolest attractions:

  • Cape May: This 18th century trendy resort town is located on Delaware Bay. You'll find huge Victorian-style homes (AKA "McMansions"), beaches, and an impressive lighthouse. This area was packed with the super-rich back in the day, and since then six different US presidents have had vacation homes here. 
Victorian architecture along the promenade in the historic district of Cape May, New Jersey
  • Sterling Hill Mining Museum: Opened in 1793, this zinc mine was one of the oldest in the US when it was closed down in 1990. Today it houses the largest collection in the world of fluorescent rocks that glow like a warehouse rave under black light. This rockin’ tour lets you get a closer look at minerals, fossils, crystals, glass, fabric, and concrete. 
  • Grounds for Sculpture: This 42-acre sculpture park in Hamilton Township is home to 300 bronze sculptures of people in "everyday situations." You'll find them stationed throughout the park — playing chess, sitting on benches, reading, dining at an outdoor cafe, and more. 
  • Hindenburg Crash Site: In 1937, 35 people died when the Hindenburg, a big blimp you might know from Led Zeppelin’s debut album cover, caught fire and was almost instantly engulfed in a raging fireball at Lakehurst National Air Station. Today, this historic landmark in Lakehurst features a memorial to the crash site, with an outline of where the Hindenburg fell to Earth. 

Settling in to Your New Jersey Home

We've done our best to bring you just a bite-sized guide to buying a house in New Jersey, and hope the lowdown on the state's housing market and Jersey-style trivia will seriously aid you in your quest. buying a new house should be an exciting endeavor, and having some background information beforehand should (hopefully) increase the chances of that.

If you're looking to buy a house in the state where you can just as easily go "down the shore" you can hop over to New York.

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