With mortgage rates still low—but threatening to increase—New Jersey home buyers remain highly motivated. But whether they are first-time buyers, expanding families or downsizers, the question remains: Where should they buy? We’ve identified 16 municipalities around the state that real estate professionals agree are among the hottest markets. Each moved notably higher on this year’s Top Towns chart; most are in the top 100. In all of the towns, homes move relatively quickly. In all but one, home prices rose significantly since we compiled our last Top Towns chart in 2015. (The exception, Haddonfield, is in less-bullish South Jersey, where true bargains can still be had.)
Our list does not include such high-profile markets as Montclair, Maplewood and Hoboken—places where bidding wars are common and buyers often feel shut out. Rather, we’ve picked towns that are less obvious—but just as desirable. And while prices have been going up, these towns remain relatively affordable, with median home prices ranging from $345,000 in Medford to $738,000 in booming Weehawken.
Branchburg, Somerset County
Chart rank: 49 (2015: 144)
Median home price: $452,500
Change since 2014: +23.1%
Average days on market: 61
High school rank, 2016: 115
Why It’s Hot: The 20.28-square-mile township of Branchburg is a popular choice for families seeking quiet and more space than they might find in nearby Somerville. Yet they can still enjoy Somerville’s revitalized downtown, as well as Somerville High School, which serves Branchburg kids. The town’s North Branch train station, on NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line, offers limited weekday service to New York’s Penn Station. “Residents are happy,” says Berkshire Hathaway Realtor Joanne Strutzel. “You don’t see people moving out unless they’re leaving because their kids have gone through the school system.”
Neighborhoods: For a village flavor, look to the hamlets of North Branch and Neshanic Station.
Fun Fact: The South Branch Little Red Schoolhouse, built in 1874, remained in use until 1965. In 2005, it was listed on the state and national registers of historic places. —SV
Chart rank: 14 (2015: 55)
Median home price: $720,000
Change since 2014: +14.2%
Average days on market: 85
High school rank, 2016: 15
Why It’s Hot: Just over the border from Princeton, Cranbury provides residents the proximity of a university town and the advantage of sending their kids to Princeton High School. Meanwhile, they avoid Princeton’s higher housing prices and Mercer County’s higher taxes. With its quaint central village—designated as a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places in 1980—Cranbury exudes small-town appeal. For Porch Fest, residents on Main Street open their front porches each Friday evening in the summer for visitors to stop by for food and drink. “When people come to town, they’re just bowled over with its charm,” says Anita Fischer O’Meara, a Realtor with Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty. “It’s small-town living.”
Neighborhoods: Most houses in the town center are more than 100 years old. Outside the center, late-20th-century homes sit on larger tracts of land where farms once sprawled. Meanwhile, the town has preserved more than 2,000 acres of open land.
Fun Fact: America’s earliest-recorded fatal train accident occurred here in 1833, when a derailment killed two. Among the 23 injured was ship and rail magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. —JPC
Chart rank: 9 (2015: 84)
Median home price: $390,000
Change since 2014: +11%
Average days on market: 69
High school rank, 2016: 62
Why It’s Hot: Known as the Hub of Morris County, this 12.64-square-mile township provides easy access to Route 10, Route 46 and Interstate 80. The Denville train station has service to Hoboken Terminal and New York’s Penn Station on two NJ Transit lines: the Morristown Line and the Montclair-Boonton Line. Denville has 11 bodies of water, including four residential lakes—Indian Lake, Cedar Lake, Lake Arrowhead and Rock Ridge—and plenty of small-town charm. “Downtown Denville is bustling,” says Bill Peer, an agent with Weichert’s Mountain Lakes office. “You can find other towns like it, but they’re much more expensive.”
Neighborhoods: Buyers flock to the town side of Denville—north of Route 10—within walking distance of the downtown district, with its many shops and restaurants.
Fun Fact: Babe Ruth owned a vacation home in Cedar Lake, one of the town’s residential lake communities. —SV
Chart rank: 38 (2015: 186)
Median home price: $667,500
Change since 2014: +16.3%
Average days on market: 42
High school rank, 2016: 29
Why It’s Hot: A wisp of a town, Glen Ridge packs piles of charm into its 1.5 square miles—thanks in large part to the 667 old-fashioned gaslights that illuminate its streets. Residents enjoy all the amenities and the restaurant scene of neighboring Montclair, but without the downtown congestion. Schools are highly rated, and NJ Transit promises a ride of about 35 minutes to New York’s Penn Station. “Buyers for Glen Ridge tend to be young families,” says Diane Russell of Stanton Company Realtors in Montclair. “[They’re] looking for single-family homes that are a good size, with four to five bedrooms and two to three baths.”
Neighborhoods: Buyers who can’t spring for one of the eye-popping, 19th-century mansions that line Ridgewood Avenue find more affordable colonials at the cozy south end of town.
Fun Fact: The town runs two jitney services to the Glen Ridge train station. A monthly pass costs $25.—JKClick here to leave a comment