Imagine Manhattan, plunked down in your backyard.
You’ve just imagined living in Jersey City, New York’s honorary “Sixth Borough,” combining the cosmopolitan energy of NYC with the homey feel of a smaller town. This city is a gem (though not quite as “undiscovered” as it once was).
It’s New Jersey’s second-most populous city, with a steady growth of 5.8% in the past decade. If you want to buy a house in Jersey City, you’ve made a wise choice. There’s a spate of new construction and development, as well as historic buildings waiting to be rediscovered. Jersey City also offers restaurants that rival those of its neighbor across the Hudson, top-rated schools, and the Statue of Liberty.
Yep. Lady Liberty, that classic NYC icon, is within the borders of Jersey City. So yeah. It’s close.
And the market keeps heating up. New Yorkers, in search of the next cool place to live, have plundered the once-affordable neighborhoods of Brooklyn and started exploring westward into New Jersey. The median home value in Jersey City is $373,700, and you can expect that to climb.
A city with a heartbeat
Nestled between the Hackensack and Hudson rivers, the layout of Jersey City resembles a human heart. That makes sense — it throbs with the pride and resilience New Jersey is famous for. Its six historic wards are further divided into countless smaller neighborhoods, which can be daunting for a newcomer.
So we had a heart-to-heart with top-performing real estate agent Michael Klein, who’s spent 17 years matching buyers with homes in Jersey City and the surrounding area. He walked us through some of the challenges and rewards of buying a home here.
Klein is adamant that Jersey City is too big and varied for a quick summary. “It’s one of the most diverse areas, from what I understand, in the United States.” The schools buzz with 75 different languages, the wards are dotted with cultural enclaves, and the city defies easy categorization.
But we have to start somewhere, so …
Ward to the wise
Here’s a rundown of Jersey City, ward by ward.
The most sought-after neighborhood in the city is also the most expensive. Historic Downtown real estate prices are about 46% higher than the city average, and Klein says you can expect to pay within 5% of a home’s asking price. But a median-priced home between $630,000 and $690,00 treats you to the breathtaking waterfront, beautifully restored brownstones, and countless arts destinations, from ballet to galleries to rock concerts.
Klein estimates that in Downtown, the market is “probably [composed] of 85% condos” and “probably only 5% single-family homes.”
Looking for a fixer-upper? Look elsewhere. Downtown’s prices make it less likely you’ll find a bargain waiting for you to work your magic. (And the few projects in the area generally get snatched up by professional flippers before they’re listed.)
You might find that fixer-upper in this neighborhood, named for the former headquarters of the Jersey Journal newspaper. Its new residential construction is surrounded by established condos and historic brownstones.
The city’s Transportation Center is here, allowing quick access on the PATH trains (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) to anywhere from Newark to Midtown Manhattan. This rests upon what Klein calls the “good infrastructure” of the area: small, local shops and services anchoring a neighborhood ripe for potential.
“Journal Square is actually still starting to go through a change and may be coming into fruition somewhere over the next 10 years.”
But for now (as of February 2021), real estate prices are 15% lower than the city average, so if you want to buy a house in Jersey City, it’s a good time to harness this area.
This neighborhood features absolutely jaw-dropping Victorian and Edwardian mansions that have been divided up into (rarely available) apartments. But there are also many condo developments and not-quite-discovered microneighborhoods among the cafes and row homes.
West Side also contains the beautiful Lincoln Park, the “jewel of the Hudson County Park System.” The paths brim with locals playing tennis, softball, or soccer — or just ambling around with a dog and spying on osprey and egrets. If Manhattan is in Jersey City’s backyard, then Lincoln Park is a front lawn full of active, socializing neighbors.
The north end of the city truly feels like the top, with beautiful views over the Hudson River Palisades.
This area beckons with multi-family houses and a hip, urban scene, alongside stately, historic homes and burgeoning condo developments. Enjoy a meal or a gourmet cake at the Argentine-inspired Dulce de Leche Bakery, pick up some specialty kicks at the Sneaker Room, or just take in some of the ward’s vibrant murals.
This neighborhood, at the southern end of the city, is considered vulnerable and underserved. The I Love Greenville initiative seeks to improve the livability for existing residents, with an eye toward resisting (or mitigating) gentrification.
Obviously, it’s not a forbidden neighborhood to buy in, but the focus of the community is less on attracting outside buyers and more on nurturing the roots of the families there now.
This neighborhood (“BeLa” for short) keeps getting more rewarding, with attractive real estate prices (12% lower than the city average) and an ongoing influx of cool stuff.
For example: BeLa’s Berry Lane Park opened in 2016 as a way to transform this formerly junkyard-dotted area into a thriving public space. Its most recent addition: the largest skatepark in New Jersey (created with help from Tony Hawk!!!).
What else do you need to know?
Winter brings a cooler market — and that might be good
When is the best time to buy a house in Jersey City? “Wintertime, there’s usually less on the market,” Klein says, “but there’s also usually [fewer] buyers, so it could be a potentially better time to have a negotiation.” So if you’re prepared — and you’d prefer a smaller and more manageable selection — you could use the winter to your advantage.
As Jersey City’s real estate heats up, so does the planet
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy laid bare the city’s vulnerabilities, flooding much of the city and knocking out electricity. The City Planning Division is brainstorming how best to anticipate the next one, and while direct hits are still relatively rare, a team of scientists recently increased the odds of landfall from 2% to 3%. That may seem slight, but a homeowner in this area should prepare.
“Codes have changed drastically,” Klein says. For example, if a new structure is built in a flood zone, the ground floor may be forbidden from holding a residence. Instead, it might be reserved for storage, nudging the lowest inhabited floor up one story. Electrical panels have to be a certain height in relation to sea level as well.
“You’d need to be aware of water penetration issues,” says Marshal Datkowitz of Optimal Home Inspections. “There’s a lot of older housing stock, so the inspection usually is going to entail a lot more — how can I put it? — ‘issues.’ We’re talking about a housing stock that could easily be 120 years old.”
Keep in mind that the flood-prep codes only apply to new structures; they don’t require older buildings to be updated. So be prepared to ask about the age and preparedness of homes during your search.
Lots of your neighbors will work in Manhattan …
You can get from Jersey City to Lower Manhattan on the PATH subway in 11 minutes. (It’s tough to get anywhere within Manhattan in 11 minutes.) There’s also a reliable ferry, and, if you insist on driving, the nearby Holland Tunnel.
Plus, a fun little tax benefit: NYC levies a city tax of about 4.9% on its residents. But if you work in Manhattan and live in Jersey City, that doesn’t apply to you. More of that Manhattan paycheck stays in your pocket.
… but they’ll play in Jersey City
This isn’t just a dormitory for Manhattan’s workforce. There’s plenty to do and see here (did we mention the Tony Hawk skate park?!!) and plenty of in-city transportation options to get there.
- Hudson-Bergen Light Rail
These electric trains run along the east side of the city and across the middle through Bergen-Lafayette and West Side.
- NJ Transit Buses
The city’s bus routes are run by NJ Transit, though many residents don’t feel it has successfully accommodated a growing population. This has led to Jersey City thinking outside the bus with …
- Via Jersey City
A brand-new success story, this is billed as an “on-demand public bus service,” providing affordable ridesharing that connects areas previously underserved by existing bus lines.
OK, so you want in on this. What next?
Figure out your budget
The first thing to do when you decide to move forward and buy a house in Jersey City is to determine how much home you can afford.
Get yourself a lawyer
(Even though you don’t legally need one in New Jersey …)
“Although we’re not an attorney state by mandatory,” Klein tells us, “I’d say [in northern New Jersey] 99% off all real estate transactions utilize a real estate attorney,” someone who knows the ins and outs of the region. Klein estimates that most attorneys will run you between $1,400 and $2,000.
Schedule an inspection
As with attorneys, home inspections are generally not required in New Jersey, but they are recommended. Datkowitz of Optimal Home Inspections says that with the market heating up, it may take longer to schedule yours. “If people are looking for inspections, they should be aware that a lot of inspectors are booked weeks ahead of time. In the past, there’d be an opening in a day or two.” Book your inspection well in advance, so you don’t jeopardize your schedule.
Partner with a top Jersey City buyer’s agent
Now that you’ve decided to buy a house in Jersey City, it’s important to partner with a buyer’s agent. A top buyer’s agent in Jersey City transacts 1.8 times more than the average agent, and can save homebuyers $96,263. With a top agent by your side, you have an ally who knows Jersey City like they know their own heart. They’ll streamline your search, leap through local idiosyncrasies, and get you the best value in a timely fashion.
Header Image Source: (Saketh Garuda / Unsplash)
Discover your next home in Jersey City: Learn the neighborhoods, attractions, and tax benefits of this vibrant, growing city with the help of a top agent.HomeLight Blog