Ups and downs in residential real estate
Thrifty buyers return to slowly improving housing market
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Mar 07, 2010 | 2824 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
NICE TO MEET YOU – Residents get neighborly at Jersey City’s Saffron.
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More than two years after the start of the recession and the crash of the financial firm Lehman Brothers – two events that helped trigger a national housing slump – the worst of the bust appears to be over. Falling housing prices and an $8,000 tax credit for homebuyers have lured buyers back to the market. Last year, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) began seeing new signs of life in some parts of Hudson Country.

In the period from May through September 2009, NAR reported improved housing conditions in five of the six months. Existing home sales were particularly encouraging. On the heels of this news, however, came word that sales of new single-family homes dropped 11.2 percent this past January.

So as the economy struggles to recover, the housing sector continues to send mixed signals. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, median sale prices were $203,500 in January of 2010, a 2.4 percent drop from median sale prices in January 2009. However, rentals remain strong, and many people still prefer to live in Hudson County, where they have access to four types of public transportation and diverse services and neighborhoods.
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The fate of the housing market largely rests on unemployment figures and other economic factors that affect income.
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It’s possible there could be a temporary increase in home sales before the end of April, the last chance (for now) to take advantage of a Federal Housing Tax Credit. Under the program, passed last year as part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, homebuyers are eligible for a tax credit. The Federal Housing Tax Credit expires June 30, but homebuyers must sign their contract by April 30.

In another move designed to bolster the housing market, the Federal Reserve bought millions of bad mortgages that were made during the boom years. But this practice will end March 31 and some analysts believe mortgage rates could rise as a result, making home purchases more expensive.

One silver lining to Hudson County’s current housing picture is that housing prices have fallen to more affordable levels, which means homeownership is in reach for more people. During the peak housing boom years of 2005 and 2006, when rapid-fire home sales helped drive up prices, median sale prices were eight times more than what the average American earned in take-home pay.

Jersey City Coldwell Banker real estate agent Debra Holloway said, “If a property is priced right, it will move.”

Jersey City

Concerned about continued softness in the local housing market, developers and property managers are using unique marketing strategies to attract residents.

Jersey City’s Saffron building at 217 Newark Ave. recently held auctions to generate interest among prospective homebuyers. The newly constructed Saffron features 76 one- and two-bedroom luxury condos. Nine units were sold at auction the end of last year. More recently the complex, located in downtown Jersey City, has advertised itself as a great community for singles and younger residents to meet each other. Fields Development Group, the Saffron’s developer, is touting a number of its features – a central courtyard, a rooftop deck, and community room – as great community builders for residents.

Also this year, construction should be completed on the Monaco Towers, twin residential buildings rising at the corner of Washington Blvd. and Sixth Street in Jersey City. The towers will ultimately include 500 luxury rental units and 11,000 square feet of retail space. Originally planned as a condo development, Monaco Towers has, like some similar projects, changed to rental.

Construction of the long-delayed development finally began in May of 2009 after the developer received a revised tax abatement deal from the city, another financial benefit that several developers of large projects have requested in this economy. Meanwhile, the San Remo, a third tower originally included in the Monaco Towers development, has been temporarily put on hold.

Hoboken

While most of the large developments were completed in Hoboken in the last 10 years, construction continues on a section of the massive Shipyard Development Project on Hoboken’s north waterfront.

Applied Housing, based in Hoboken, has almost completed their 14-story building on 14th and Hudson Streets. The luxury building will include 93 loft-style luxury units and in-house exercise facilities.

The most attention this year will probably focus on NJ Transit’s controversial plans to redevelop the rail yard at the south end of the mile-square city. Last year, NJ Transit announced plans to build a massive 70-story office tower – next to eight residential and commercial buildings – on the 36-acre rail yard located between the Hoboken PATH station and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.

The agency’s proposal, dubbed the Hoboken Terminal and Yard Redevelopment Plan, would include 3,200 condos. Town officials argue that the project would put a burden on municipal services and exacerbate the city’s current parking and traffic problems. Officials are hoping NJ Transit will scale down the project.

North Bergen

Residents of Manhattan Trailer Court, a North Bergen Trailer Park on Tonnelle Avenue, began receiving eviction notices in early March. Bergen County developer James Demetrakis has plans to build 216 units of residential housing on the trailer park site, which is located across the street from a light rail station. He purchased it from the estate of the former owner in the last few years. Residents have been fighting to stay in their mobile homes since then.

Some residents want to stay in the park, while others would just like compensation to leave. After all, NJ Transit bought another trailer park across Tonnelle Avenue to build the light rail station several years ago, and some trailer owners in that other park received as much as $150,000 each.

Secaucus

Proposed changes to New Jersey’s affordable housing policy will impact every municipality in the state, including all those in Hudson County. But no Hudson County town has bristled against imposed affordable housing mandates more than Secaucus. This is because the town still has some open space that affordable housing advocates are eyeing.

Under legislation proposed in January by State Sen. Ray Lesniak and State Sen. Christopher Bateman, Secaucus and other municipalities will be able to block new affordable housing developments in their towns. Their legislation would abolish the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) and oversight of affordable housing policy would be shifted to the State Planning Commission. Current affordable housing mandates could be eliminated.

Right now, under COAH requirements, Secaucus is currently required to create about 303 affordable housing units by 2018, a number that town officials have long argued would burden the local school system and municipal services.

The Lesniak-Bateman bill cleared the State Senate’s Economic Growth Committee in February.

In addition to this bill, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order last month suspending most actions by COAH. The order also creates a special five-member task force that will examine how to restructure affordable housing policy throughout the state.

Union City

While Union City is Hudson County’s most densely populated municipality and has little room for new development, some developers believe the next wave of new development will take off here.

In recent years, work was completed on the Thread condo building, which offers Manhattan skyline views. In addition, construction was finished on Altessa and Park City Grand, two more high-end condominium developments located in Union City.

With Union City’s close proximity to Manhattan, these developments offer many of the same amenities to homebuyers as comparable developments in Hoboken and Jersey City – but for a lot less money. For example, a condo in Hoboken can sell for $500 a square foot or more. But a comparable unit in Union City can go for as little as $300 a square foot.

City officials began paving the way for a housing boom nearly a decade ago when they approved a number of redevelopment zones. When towns designate a redevelopment area, they come up with plans to revitalize blighted property and can change the zoning in the area and seek out developers. They can also buy property from the existing owners through the use of eminent domain, or demand that the owners conform to the new plans.

West New York

Another phase of Henley-on-Hudson, part of the vast Port Imperial development that spans Weehawken and West New York, will open this summer. Located at Henley Place along the waterfront, this phase of the development will include 27 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. The first Henley residents began moving into the other four complexes in the development last year.

The 200-acre complex features mixed housing (townhouses and condos), restaurant and cafes, boutiques, and views of Manhattan.

The asking price on the new units will start at $550,000.

Meanwhile, developer James Canino of Park Terrace, LLC wants to build a 243-unit building at 57th Street and Park Avenue. Canino’s plans for the development have been controversial. Current zoning laws for this property allow buildings to be no higher than 12 stories; Canino wants Park Terrace to be 22. Area residents believe, if built as currently designed, Park Terrace will be incompatible with other residences in its vicinity.

In January, Park Terrace, LLC went before the local zoning board to request a variance for height, density, parking, driveway opening, front yard, rear yard, floor area ratio, parking space size, and drive aisle width. A February Zoning Board hearing on these requests was postponed until later in March.

Weehawken

Plans are underway to convert the old Park Avenue Hotel, near 48th Street, into housing for senior citizens. The town has put up $1.6 million for the conversion, while Hudson County has thus far pledged $500,000 in grant money to get the project started. The county will ultimately put up $2 million of the $8 million needed for the conversion.The hotel was the site of the notorious murder of a Bergen County woman in 2006 and the rundown property has languished ever since. The redevelopment should begin this year with the project being completed sometime in 2011. When completed, the senior building will be run by the Weehawken Senior Housing Corporation.

Bayonne

Redevelopment of the 430-acre former Military Ocean Terminal site – now known as the Peninsula development – will continue this year. The site will eventually be home to residential, commercial, and office space, which will be spread across six planned districts: the Loft District, Harbor Station, Bayonne Bay, the Landing, Bayonne Point, and the Maritime Industrial District.

In 2008, residents began moving into the 577-unit apartment complex developed by Trammel Crow at the Peninsula.

The town recently cleared a hurdle regarding part of the development. Last month, Fidelco Bayonne HSN, LLC, which had intended to build homes on 47 acres of the Harbor Station sector, reached a legal agreement that will allow them to back out of building those units because of the economy. All parties agreed that a commercial redevelopment of the site would be more beneficial to the community. Peninsula Infrastructure Partners now has the development rights to the property, and plans to build premium outlet shops, restaurants, and hotels. E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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