Written by Cherise Fantus
New Jersey is steadily gaining jobs and economists predict the state’s economy will continue to grow in the coming years, according to economic forecasts from Rutgers Economic Advisory Service. The economic growth is also bringing new residents: places near New York City and Philadelphia saw population increases of 5% or greater between 2010 and 2012, according to census data analyzed by NerdWallet.
Because the state is close to jobs in Philadelphia and New York City and has more than 100 miles of beaches, home prices are higher than in many other states. But for motivated homebuyers, help is available. The Live Where You Work Homebuyer Program provides low-interest mortgages for those buying homes where they work. There are also agencies across the state that provide mortgage counseling and new homebuyer education classes.
NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find the best places for homeownership in New Jersey. Here’s what the best places had in common:
- 16 of the top 20 cities are within commuting distance to New York City.
- Home values were over $200,000 in all of the top 20 cities on our list.
- Residents in all of the top 20 cities spend over 30% of their income on monthly homeowner costs.
NerdWallet looked at the 70 communities in New Jersey with more than 15,000 residents to determine which are the best for homeownership. Our analysis answers three main questions:
1. Are homes available? We looked at the area’s homeownership rate to determine the availability of homes. A low homeownership rate is likely a signal of competitive inventory, more options for renters rather than buyers and expensive housing. Areas with a high homeownership rate led to a higher overall score.
2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at median household income, monthly homeowner costs and median home value to assess affordability and determine whether residents could live comfortably in the area. We used monthly homeowner costs to measure cost of living. Areas with high median incomes and low cost of living scored higher. Are you thinking about buying a home? Learn more about current mortgage rates and mortgage refinancing options in our mortgage guide, as well as whether it’s best to rent or buy.
3. Is the area growing? We measured population growth to ensure that the area is attracting new residents and showing signs of solid growth. This is likely a signal of a robust local economy, which is another attractive characteristic for homebuyers.
For more details on our methodology, please see the section at the end of the report.
Top 10 Places for Homeownership in New Jersey
Williamstown, a census-designated place within Monroe Township, which is about 25 miles east of Philadelphia, takes the top spot on our list for its moderate home values of $219,700, and for its rapid population growth of 7.2% from 2010 to 2012. For outdoor fun, residents head to the Hospitality Creek Campground or send the kids to Tall Pines Day Camp.
2. Ocean Acres
Ocean Acres is a census-designated place with a 92.3% homeownership rate, the highest on our list. The area, about 10 miles from the Jersey Shore, saw a building boom in the 1990s, and its newly constructed homes have made Ocean Acres a destination for young families and retirees looking for affordable, single-family homes. Homeowners here spend 33.6% of their monthly income on their homes, according to data crunched by NerdWallet.
This census-designated place within Woodbridge Township saw its population grow 4.6% from 2010 to 2012. Woodbridge, which is just 30 miles from Manhattan and 20 miles from the Jersey Shore, has plenty of opportunities to get outdoors at its 35 parks and playgrounds. Woodbridge’s Keasbey community is home to New Jersey’s biggest employer, Wakefern Food Corp., the largest supermarket cooperative in the U.S.
4. South Plainfield
Monthly costs for homeowners in this borough less than 10 miles east of Woodbridge are some of the more affordable in the state, according to data crunched by NerdWallet. Homeowners earning the median monthly household income of $7,606 per month spend 31.7% of that income on their mortgage and utilities each month, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The borough’s Monument Park recognizes the sacrifices made by the town’s military veterans and others who have served the community.
Located about 50 miles south of Manhattan, Somerset is a census-designated place within the borders of Franklin Township. Some of the largest employers near Somerset include SHI International, a provider of information technology products and services, and Promotion in Motion, which makes candies and fruit snacks, including Welch’s products. Agritourism is a popular activity at the Gardens at Colonial Park and several farms, including pick-your-own produce locations.
Secaucus, which is less than a 10-mile drive to Manhattan, is close to the Meadowlands Sports Complex and the home of the New York Giants and the Jets. From 2010 to 2012, Secaucus’ population grew 5%, the second-highest rate on our list. The city also is home to the headquarters of Goya Foods, The Children’s Place clothing company and NBA Entertainment, the company that manages the NBA’s TV and Internet programming.
The most affordable place on our list is the borough of Hopatcong, where homeowners pay only 30% of their median monthly household income on their monthly mortgage and utility bills. The city, located just over 50 miles west of Manhattan, has a 92.2% homeownership rate, the second highest on our list. Residents here enjoy activities at Lake Hopatcong, including the annual Hopatcong Days and Lake Hopatcong Grand Prix.
8. Tinton Falls
Tinton Falls has an enduring link to history at its Old Mill, which was built in 1676, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Median home values of $333,000 in Tinton Falls are in the middle of the road for New Jersey. Even though it’s a short drive to the shore, Tinton Falls offers a different kind of fun at its outlet mall with over 100 stores.
With an $8,497 median monthly household income, residents in Paramus make the most of the communities in our top 10, and Paramus is the place to spend it. The borough, with its three major malls and two highways lined with retailers, is known as the place to shop. People come from all over New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania to shop in Paramus, which generates over $5 billion in sales every year.
Iselin, with its Metropark train station and its proximity to New York City, is a great place for commuters. Iselin’s downtown features dozens of restaurants, groceries and shops thanks to the thriving Indian-American community. Homeowners here who earn the median monthly household income pay 30.5% of their earnings toward homeowner costs.
|Rank||City||Nearest Big City||Home Ownership Rate||Median Selected Monthly Homeowner Costs||Median Monthly Household Income||Homeowner Costs as a Percentage of Household Income||Median Home Values||2010-2012 Population Growth||Overall Score for Home Owners|
|2||Ocean Acres||Atlantic City||92.3%||$2,170||$6,451||33.6%||$281,200||3.1%||83.0|
|8||Tinton Falls||Perth Amboy||78.7%||$2,422||$6,228||38.9%||$333,000||1.5%||70.0|
The overall score for each city was derived from these measures:
1. Homeownership rate made up 33.3% of the total score. A higher rate earned a higher score. The rate comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 04.
2. Selected monthly owner costs as a percentage of median household income made up 16.7% of the total score. A lower percentage earned a higher score. Monthly homeowner costs as a percentage of median household income made up one-half of the affordability score. Median household income comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 03. The figure for monthly homeowner costs comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 04.
3. Median home value made up 16.7% of the total score. A lower value earned a higher score. Median home value made up one-half of the affordability score. Median home value comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 04.
4. Population change from 2010 to 2012 made up 33.3% of the total score. A higher percent change earned a higher score. The 2010 population comes from the 2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 05. The 2012 population data comes from the 2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 05. NerdWallet calculated the percent change.
Only places with 15,000 or more residents were included in the study. Places with higher-than-average crime and environmental hazards were excluded from the top 20 ranking. For the full ranking, click here.
Image: Ken Lund/Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/c2n37N