CORE in the News: Central Jersey Real Estate Agents Optimistic Despite Pandemic
By Nick Muscavage
Bridgewater Courier News
Published July 3, 2020
Although the coronavirus may have complicated the search for a new home this spring, there was still plenty of action in the real estate market.
The pandemic disrupted many industries, real estate not excluded. Social distancing orders and economic uncertainty likely contributed to decreases in home sales from January to April.
A recent Gallup Poll found only half of Americans believe now is a good time to buy a home, marking an all-time low as pessimism spreads about the housing market amid the economic fallout from the pandemic.
In Middlesex County, there were a recorded 500 closed sales and 797 new listings in January, according to data from New Jersey REALTORS. The numbers include detached homes and condos.
In February, there were 327 closed sales and 955 new listings. In March, there were 527 closed sales and 811 new listings. And in April, there were 483 closed sales and 434 new listings.
During that same period, Edison Township attracted the most buyers with 218 home sales, according to date from the state Department of Treasury – which isn’t a surprise given the fact that it’s one of the most densely populated municipalities in the county.
The average home sale price in Edison was $379,363.
Monroe came in second with 187 home sales with an average sale price of $294,354.
Woodbridge came in a close third with 182 home sales and an average home price of $294,354.
The most expensive home sold, however, was a home on Shady Brook Lane in Cranbury at $1.31 million. That home sale was recorded on Feb. 21 before the pandemic took hold.
According to Gene Krutyansky, president of Metro Centre Association of Realtors, which covers Middlesex County, new listings in Middlesex went down 32% from May 2019 to May 2020, closed sales decreased by 16% and inventory is down 35%.
Despite this, the median sales price for single-family homes went from $340,000 to $358,000 in Middlesex County, he said.
“The biggest challenge now is not finding a home, it’s actually getting your offer accepted,” Krutyansky said. “With inventory being so low our agents are sometimes involved in multiple offer situations with as much as 25 other buyers.”
He said when the pandemic began, “almost all real estate came to a crashing halt as no one knew what can be done regarding showings.”
“Sellers didn’t want people in their homes and buyers decided to put their search on hold,” Krutyansky said. “Usually, the towns that are close to public transportation and major highways are always very popular and get sold quicker, but with what’s been going on with low inventory, all towns are selling like hot cakes.”
Somerset and Hunterdon counties followed similar trends in home sales over the same period, with a dip in February when the spread of COVID-19 began to pick up pace.
According to Garden State MLS, which covers Somerset and Hunterdon counties, there was a combined 658 new listings in January. There were 276 closed sales in Somerset and 121 in Hunterdon.
In February, there were 769 new listings in Somerset and Hunterdon counties. Somerset saw 209 closed sales and Hunterdon 115. In March, there were 739 new listings. Somerset had 290 closed sales and Hunterdon 142. And in April, there were 358 new listings. There were 266 closed sales in Somerset and 160 in Hunterdon.
Over the four-month period, Franklin saw 149 recorded home sales, with the average price being $343,320, according to data from the state Department of Treasury. Franklin is the most populous municipality in Somerset County.
Hillsborough had the second-most home sales in Somerset with 91. The average sale price was $373,159.
Bridgewater saw 87 home sales with an average price of $429,600.
The most expensive home on record for that period was on Meeker Road in Basking Ridge at $2.9 million, which was recorded Feb. 2.
Sue LaRue, president-elect of CORE Association of Realtors, which covers Somerset, Hunterdon and Mercer counties, said the pandemic affected the pace of transactions.
“The month of March ended well, as a historically high number of pending sales were already in the pipeline before COVID hit,” LaRue said. “April was slow, but demand and therefore activity continued because interest rates were not affected. It’s just that inventory was down, and safety concerns were at the highest, so the pace of transactions slowed.”
She said May saw an increase in inventory, with “multiple offers on most properties priced properly,” especially those priced between $300,000 to $600,000.
LaRue said June has seen a huge increase in the market in both inventory and sales, again with homes priced in the $300,000 to $600,000 range.
“With open houses being allowed now, there are lines outside homes to view the properties and again, multiple offers with sale prices going over asking price,” she said.
Raritan Township, which is the most-populated municipality in Hunterdon County, saw the most home sales with 69 recorded over the four-month period, according to the state Department of Treasury. The average home price was $402,776.
Readington saw a recorded 47 home sales with an average home price of $427,462.
There were 28 homes sold in Clinton Township over the same period with an average home price of $382,279.
The most expensive home sold since New Year’s was on Ramsey Road in Lebanon Township at $1.12 million, which was recorded Feb. 20.
New home construction was already at a low point in Somerset and Hunterdon counties, according to LaRue.
The pandemic froze an already cold market, she said.
“All the new residential construction real estate offices were closed for three months, just doing virtual showings or viewing from the MLS,” she said, “which is an extreme challenge in new construction, as lot location is key, not to mention seeing the upgrades available to them vs. the standard offerings.”
LaRue, however, is optimistic about the summer.
She believes that the summer is going to show a steady increase in sales and an increase in home prices for Somerset and Hunterdon counties, “especially by the train station areas, as long as we do not have a second round of COVID-19 isolation.”
She said that Realtors throughout the region are seeing a huge increase in New York residents coming to New Jersey, “many seeking to get away from densely populated urban areas, and rentals are also flying off the market.”
“Our open space and relatively low traffic and density seem to be drivers of most of these moves,” she said, adding that she has seen spikes in sales in Somerville, Flemington and Clinton Town. “Towns near train stations are particularly hot.”
In Union County, Elizabeth had the most home sales over this period with 169, according to the state Department of Treasury. The average home price was $355,060.
Union Township followed with 144 home sales and an average price $350,846.
Westfield was the third-most popular with 125 home sales and an average home price of $785,450.
The most expensive home sold was in Summit for $6.25 million on Hobart Avenue. The sale was recorded March 5.
“I can say that our Realtor members throughout Hunterdon and Somerset counties are all hoping interest rates stay where they are,” LaRue said. “I’ve also heard they may even be going lower, which would help a lot of people who are looking to buy.”
Nick Muscavage is a watchdog reporter for the Courier News, Home News Tribune and MyCentralJersey.com.