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Best Cities for Homeownership in New Jersey

Homeowners in New Jersey endure some of the highest property taxes in the nation, yet 64% of residents have put down roots as homeowners, according to the latest figures available from the U.S. Census. The median value of owner-occupied homes in the state was $321,100 as of 2017, and monthly housing costs came in at $2,398.

Depending on where you live, your choice to own a home in New Jersey may have paid off. However, much of the state has seen depreciating home values over the past few years, which is unusual when compared to other states and not great news for homeowners. Of course, home value is far from the only factor to consider when it comes to judging a community for its overall friendliness to homeowners.

To reveal the best spots for homeownership in the Garden State, LendingTree combed through data points including home value appreciation, average commute times and unemployment rates. Results include both metro and micro areas, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2013 through 2017. Here’s what we found. (Because of how the number of metropolitan statistical areas can vary by state, only seven areas total were analyzed for New Jersey, while other states in this series covered far more locations.)

Key findings

  • The Ocean City metro area is the best place for homeownership in New Jersey. Ocean City has a high median home value ($296,200), the shortest average commute time (22.9 minutes) and decreasing housing costs from 2013 to 2017 (-3.18%).
  • The second-best place for homeownership in New Jersey is the Newark-Jersey City, metro area. This large area has the highest median home value ($416,800), low unemployment (6.9%) and increasing median home values from 2013-2017 (1.39%).
  • The worst place in New Jersey for homeownership is the Atlantic City metro area. This area has the highest unemployment rate (10.9%), substantially decreasing home values from 2013-2017 (-7.41%) and increasing housing costs during the same period (2.2%).

The best cities for homeownership in New Jersey

1. Ocean City

Ocean City has taken a hit on its property values over the past few years, with median home values declining by 5.34% from 2013 to 2017. This is the second-highest decline of any of the cities on our list. So why does this seashore community nab the No. 1 spot? The area is helped by the fact that housing costs also declined the most of any place on our list, falling 3.18% during the same time period. Residents here also have the shortest commute time of any area on this list — an average of 22.9 minutes.

As of 2017, the median home value in Ocean City was $296,200. The unemployment rate was on the higher end, at 8.4%.

2. Newark-Jersey City

Right across the Hudson River from New York City, Newark-Jersey City has the highest median home value of all the cities on our list, at $416,800 in 2017. The home value appreciation from 2013 to 2017 was also the highest on our list, at a still-small 1.39%. (This was, in fact, the only area on our list that saw an increase, rather than a decrease, in home values during that time period.) Housing costs rose 1.12%, during the same period. Residents here have by far the longest commute on our list, at an average of 36.3 minutes. The unemployment rate was 6.9% in 2017 — the second-lowest on our list.

3. Phillipsburg

On the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania is the town of Phillipsburg, where the median home value is on the lower end of our list, at $210,500. From 2013 to 2017, housing costs in Phillipsburg rose 0.06%, while the median home value declined by 3.35%. The average commute time for residents is 27.7 minutes, and the unemployment rate was 6.7% in 2017, the lowest on our list.

4. Camden

The median home value in Camden was $250,500 in 2017. Between 2013 and 2017, housing  costs were essentially flat, rising just 0.15%. Home value appreciation value was also flat, declining by 0.24% during the same time period. The commute time is 29.5 minutes, and the unemployment rate was 7.4% in 2017.

5. Trenton

New Jersey’s capital city of Trenton is about an hour and a half from Manhattan by train. The median home value here was $286,500 in 2017; values from 2013 to 2017 were close to flat, declining by 0.59%. Housing costs were up 1.43% during the same period. The average commute time is 28.3 minutes, and the unemployment rate was 7.5% in 2017.

6. Vineland-Bridgeton

Vineland-Bridgeton has the lowest median home value among all the cities on this list, at $166,900. From 2013 to 2017, home values depreciated by 5.12%, but housing costs also declined at a relatively decent clip, falling by 2.41%. The unemployment rate in 2017 was relatively high at 9%. On the brighter side, the average commute time is the second-lowest on our list, at 23.6 minutes.

7. Atlantic City

Known for its beaches, boardwalks, casinos and entertainment, the median home value in the resort town of Atlantic City was $222,500 in 2017. Home values here declined the most of any city on our list between 2013 and 2017, falling 7.41%. At the same time, housing costs rose by 2.2%. The unemployment rate in 2017 was also the highest on our list, at 10.9%. Residents here do enjoy a relatively short commute time, at an average of 24.2 minutes.

Homebuying tips for New Jersey

If you are not a homeowner in New Jersey but would like to become one, below are some tips that can help you find your dream home in the Garden State.

1. Research the neighborhood

“It’s helpful for potential buyers to think about the type of lifestyle they want and reach out to a realtor who is well-versed in that particular area with local information,” said Ilene Horowitz, president of New Jersey Realtors. “Finding the right home for a buyer often means finding the right neighborhood.”

When considering location, ask yourself: How long are you willing to commute to work? Are home values going up in the neighborhood you’re considering? How might housing costs in the area impact your standard of living?

2. Make sure you understand the costs associated with being a homeowner

There are a lot of costs that come with being a homeowner. Aside from monthly mortgage payments, buyers should calculate all other potential costs of buying and maintaining a home, which include a down payment, closing costs, property taxes and special assessments, utilities, association and membership fees (for condominiums and townhomes) and other recurring costs.

3. Choose a loan type

There are many loan options available for buyers in New Jersey — fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, conventional, Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Affairs loans among them. The interest rate you pay on your loan can vary widely depending on what kind of mortgage you go with.

If you don’t have a lot of money to put down, have a lower credit score or are a first-time homebuyer, an FHA loan might be a good option for you; your down payment may be as low as 3.5%, and the minimum credit score needed is a relatively low 580.

You can check overall mortgage rates in New Jersey here.

Methodology:

The methodology for this study was simple and straightforward.

1: Collect metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) and micropolitan statistical areas from the U.S. Census Bureau using 2017 population data.

2: Each MSA and micropolitan statistical area was ranked on a scale from 7 (Best) to 1 (Worst) for five different metrics. Those metrics are:

Median Home Value (7-Highest Value, 1-Lowest Value)

Unemployment Rate (7-Lowest Rate, 1-Highest Rate)

Average Commute Time (7-Shortest Time, 1-Longest Time)

Median Home Value Appreciation (2013-2017) (7-Greatest Appreciation, 1-Smallest Appreciation)

Median Change in Yearly Housing Costs (2013-2017) (7-Smallest Cost Change, 1-Greatest Positive Cost Change) — The formula for this metric is:

(((Monthly Housing Costs for 2017 *12)+(Real Estate Tax for 2017))/ ((Monthly Housing Costs for 2013 *12)+(Real Estate Tax for 2013))-1)

3: An average score was then calculated for each MSA based upon the scores received for each metric.

4: The MSAs and micropolitan statistical areas were then ranked on a scale of 1 (Best) to 7 (Worst) based on their average scores.

5: All metrics were ranked equally.

Data:

All data were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau. More information on where the data came from is provided below:

2017 Median Home Value, Monthly Housing Costs, Real Estate Taxes

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Financial Characteristics for housing units with a mortgage – 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

2017 Unemployment Rate and Median Commute Time

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Selected Economic Characteristics – 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

2013 Median Home Value, Monthly Housing Costs, Real Estate Taxes

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Financial Characteristics for housing units with a mortgage – 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates
 

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