For the past few years, people afraid to buy homes in a tough economy have turned to renting instead – but this has increased demand so much that there is now a shortage of rentals in apartment-heavy Hudson County.
One Hoboken real estate agent, Gerald Stier of Hudson Place Realty, recently posted a message on a Yahoo listserve for Hoboken moms, saying, “We are having a shortage of rental properties. If you want to rent your place please let me know.”
Last week, Stier explained, “You have to do a little more research to find new landlords. It’s a little more challenging.”
Last month, a national real estate website called Real Estate Weekly ran an essay by a young woman named Liana Grey who left her tiny $1,700 East Village walkup to find a less expensive apartment in Hudson County.
“If it stays the way it is, we’re kind of stuck.” – Gerald Stier
She found better prices in Weehawken and Union City, ultimately choosing a $1,250 two-bedroom in the latter.
Andrew McNaughton, 23, was recently looking for a four-bedroom in Hudson County with roommates. He started in Hoboken, hoping to find something for $3,000 or less, but anything close to that amount was snapped up quickly.
Like many who come to Hudson County, he works in New York City and wants an easy commute. The least expensive studio apartments in Hoboken are often priced at $1,400 or more. Two-bedrooms top $2,000 per month. Units in neighboring towns with a good commute to Manhattan but without their own PATH trains – like Weehawken, North Bergen, and Union City – may rent at lower prices, but those towns have fewer new apartments available. Over the last 15 years, Hoboken and Jersey City have seen many new units come on the market.
“Any available apartment that was reasonably priced was filled before I could even respond in time,” McNaughton said. “Affordable apartments don’t last.”
Scott Selleck, a broker from Edgewater who works in both Hudson County and Bergen County, said, “It’s not as easy to find options because there’s less options. [It’s] because of the uncertainty that’s out there with the employment picture, and because of the fact that they’re not quite sure if we’re at the bottom.”
Alireza Memar, a Remax broker based in Ridgefield, attempts to overcome the shortage by moving local apartment-hunters to a neighboring county.
“We try to spread them a little bit outwards toward Bergen County,” said Memar, adding that many Hudson County residents who work in New York City can still easily commute from Bergen County.
“They can steer into the areas that are more rental-available and for cheaper price than Hudson County,” noted Memar.
Memar believes the rental shortage in Hudson County is due to the large amount of short sells stemming from homeowners who could no longer afford to pay their mortgages.
Short selling occurs when a homeowner owes more on the mortgage than the value of the home. The home is sold, and the bank agrees to take a discounted amount on the mortgage. The former homeowners then must seek alternative housing, which is often in the form of affordable rentals.
According to Memar, short selling happens mostly in towns such as North Bergen, Union City, and West New York, where many homeowners are families who purchased houses while the prices were still rising. Many of these families bought homes they could not afford, or simply lost their jobs and failed to keep up with their mortgages.
Some brokers are optimistic that the rental shortage will not last much longer.
“Probably by the end of next year,” said Memar. “Most of these houses that we short sell are going to come back to the market after renovation.”
Stier said, “If unemployment drops, people could get a little more confident, [and] we could hope [to bounce back] maybe in a couple of years. Right now, if it stays the way it is, we’re kind of stuck.”
So what about renters who need a place to live now?
“I would say be diligent,” said Stier. “Scour the real estate websites, talk to Realtors, [and] go to their offices … If you see something that you like, take it. Because in a day or two, it won’t be there.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.