When a New Yorker thinks of hightailing it to New Jersey, it might be hard to see beyond the sparkling Jersey City and Hoboken coastline. Still, this splendor comes with a hefty price tag. Hoboken recently raised property taxes 47%, and Weehawken is not far behind.
It’s no surprise, then, that New Jersey towns with lower-cost housing and sometime stronger school districts look more attractive every day. In Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties alone, home hunters have great possibilities for neighborhoods with cultural attractions, fine restaurants and easy transportation to midtown Manhattan.
Besides, who can resist a $300,000 quality home? Here are six New Jersey towns that might not make you miss New York.
Considered the jewel of Essex County, Montclair has often been a top choice for New Yorkers looking for a suburban alternative. One reason is the town’s international aspect, as residents can dine at an Ethiopian restaurant, check out Native American art and take in a French film without walking a mile. “People don’t like to leave Montclair,” said Mary Tetzloff, sales associate for Montclair Realty Realtors. “Once you’re here, you’re here.” Culture may be one reason. The historic Wellmont Theatre, a former movie house that dates to the 1920s, reopened last year as a concert venue featuring artists like Tony Bennett. The Montclair Art Museum displays modern and contemporary art among its collections and has a art summer camp for kids. Tetzloff sees one- and two-bedroom condominiums in the $200,000-$300,000 range, perfect for starter families. Split-level Colonial or Cape Cods cost $375,000. A custom-built home with four-bedrooms, three baths and skyline views of New York was recently listed for just under $800,000. Manhattan is a 45-minute bus ride away. It’s $13 for round-trip bus tickets and $11 for round-trip rail service from the Bay Street train station.
Just one square mile square with 7,800 residents, Caldwell has a viable downtown shopping area with a movie theater, four-year college and girls academy dating to 1892. Bus transportation to Manhattan runs every 20 minutes during rush hour, with the trip taking about an hour. There are no monthly passes, but 10 trips cost just under $60 and 40 trips run $225.While the town enjoys presidential history as the birthplace of Grover S. Cleveland in 1837, the real draw is home prices. Lifelong resident Tom Gartland, broker-owner of Gartland Realtors in Fairfield, says one-bedroom condominiums can be found for just under $190,000. A two-storyColonial might run $325,000, with a two-bedroom home costing around $600,000. As a bonus, this community, dating to the early 1700s, offer many of the features of small-town America.”It’s a safe community with hardly any crime,” said long-time Caldwell resident John Tully, 80, who worked in local law enforcement.
It’s hard to imagine Westwood Ave., the bustling main street in the borough of Westwood, as farm country. But that was the case prior to the Civil War. Today, it’s thriving downtown area adds vitality to the village feel. There’s an old-fashioned Veterans’ Park with a gazebo and a public library that turns 90 in 2009. Bonnie Borkin Filippi, 43, moved to Westwood four years ago after living in Manhattan for 17 years. She likes having her own garden and going to supermarkets that have larger selections and lower prices than New York. “I walk down main street and take care of every retail need I have,” says Borkin Filippi, who also likes the proximity to NYC. Less than 10 miles from the New York State border, the Bergen County borough has bus and train options that get into New York City in about an hour. The train has connecting service to Hoboken and PATH trains as well as the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and ferry service to Manhattan. A single-family Cape Cod built in the 1950s was recently listed for $275,000, a good price for starter families. On the high end of the scale, a newer, five-bedroom Colonial costs just under $1.2 million.
Robert Mair, 46, chose Ridgewood, a bedroom community in Bergen County, for its exceptional school system. “A lot of the value here is in the school system,” said Mair, who moved from nearby Englewood eight years ago with his wife and children. “You don’t have to pay for private school when you live here.” The former East Flatbush resident is an accountant in Manhattan, a commute that takes an hour by train. Even though he and his wife go into New York all the time, he misses Jamaican beef patties. Fortunately, he found a substitute in nearby Hackensack. The family takes advantage of the local activities. Both the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra and BookEnds, a shop that has attracted celebrity authors like Hillary Clinton, are town staples. “Ridgewood has a strong downtown, even though it’s next to Paramus,” said Bill Gilsenan, an owner-broker with Gilsenan & Co. Realtors in Ridgewood. Paramus is well-known for its shopping malls. Gilsenan said that families wanting starter homes might find a two-bedroom ranch for $350,000. Hospital care is another draw. Nearby Valley Hospital is an award winner for outstanding patient care and is respected for its cardiology services and neonatal intensive care unit.
If Union City had a patron saint, it would be Celia Cruz, the wildly popular Cuban salsa singer who died in 2003. Even though Cruz lived in nearby Fort Lee, she has been embraced by the town’s large Hispanic community, which is believed to have the largest Cuban population outside of Miami. There is a park named in Cruz’s honor that also recognizes such other Latin performers as Tito Puente, and a star-laden walk of fame on the city’s main artery, Bergenline Ave. Restaurants offer Latin foods like churros and Cuban sandwiches. Ever entrepreneurial, some people peddle mangoes and pineapples out of trucks. Transportation is the major draw. Union City is a transit hub, with numerous bus lines passing by the post office en route to New York City, a 15-minute trip with no traffic. A round-trip costs about $5. Commuter vans and a light rail service are also available, with connecting Manhattan ferry service. small, one-family rowhouse near Bergenline Ave. sells for $189,000. “Union City has always been an affordable area,” he said, acknowledging that home prices have been reduced because of the economy. New developments have also popped up. The Thread has upscale amenities, with prices starting at $300,000 for one-bedrooms.
For a small Hudson County town, Guttenberg has a big history. Mayor Gerald R. Drasheff said that a Revolutionary War battle was fought at what is now 72nd St. and Kennedy Blvd. East, known to almost everybody as Boulevard East. In the 1870s, a stone quarry in town provided stones to pave streets in New York City and Washington, D.C. Screen legends Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle used the Palisades on the Guttenberg/North Bergen border as a film backdrop. To celebrate the town’s 150th birthday this year, there will be street fairs overlooking the Hudson River. While the town four blocks wide and eight blocks long, there are nearly 12,000 residents, making it one of the most densely populated towns in the United States, says Drasheff. “It’s a small town, you could get to know everybody,” said the mayor, who wants to see a recreation center/cultural center in place by 2011.Resident Kathleen Carty made the move from downtown Manhattan 30 years ago. She went from a cramped studio apartment near the World Trade Center for about $800 to a spacious two-bedroom for $350. She now lives in a one-bedoom co-op that she paid $42,000 in 2001. Carty, 62, took early retirement last year from her job at Pace University, but doesn’t feel she misses out by living on this side of the river. She travels in once a week to visit museums, see her doctor or lunch with friends. Apartments in the Galaxy Towers, four huge apartment buildings built in the 1970s, start around $1,500 for a one-bedroom rental. Amenities include an indoor and outdoor pool. For those looking for houses, a one-family row house with two bedrooms and two baths can be found for about $300,000.