Kevin Best lives on the Cape May County mainland in Upper Township, but his office is right across the 34th Street bridge in Ocean City.
That’s a short drive, but for the purposes of this veteran agent’s job at Goldcoast Sotheby’s International Realty, Best says those neighboring towns might as well be different states. That’s because most island buyers are shopping for vacation houses, and people buying on the mainland plan to live there.
Homes are historically much pricier in local shore towns, and that’s still very true today. But new sales figures from the New Jersey Association of Realtors surprised observers by showing that prices on parts of the Cape May County mainland have increased more this year than in those beach towns just over the bridges.
For the county as a whole through September 2016, the median price of a single-family house has fallen 4 percent, to $288,000.
But in Upper Township, prices are up almost 14 percent, to a median of $279,000 for the first nine months of this year.
And in the month of September alone, single homes in Upper Township jumped by 36 percent over the same month in 2015, to a median of $305,000. The median figure means half of all sales are above it and half are below it.
In neighboring Dennis Township on the mainland, the number of completed sales of single homes has shot up by almost 47 percent over last year. The median price has also gone up 17 percent, to $244,800.
Ocean City’s dollar figures are far higher, with the median sale coming in at $600,000 last month, according to NJAR. But that was down from September of last year, when that down-the-middle figure for single-home sales was $614,000.
And the condos or townhouses that are key pieces of the market in Ocean City and more local beach towns have also dropped slightly since 2015. The median sale through September 2016 is $430,000, down from $435,000 for the same period in 2015.
“People who are buying on the island are not working here,” said Best, who does most of his business on the mainland in Dennis and Upper townships. For those second-home buyers, the real concern “is whether the job market is good in Philly and New York, not Atlantic City.”
But some casino workers do live on his mainland turf, so five giant local employers closing is a worry there too.
“When Atlantic City was beginning to go downhill, I wondered are we going to go down with it, or are we going to be the safe haven for people who want to live in area but are worried about the decline, and the prices and the taxes?” Best says.
Burt Wilkins, who runs Goldcoast Sotheby’s, figures that about 75 percent of his agency’s business is in Ocean City, and the rest is on the mainland. So he regularly analyzes sales on both sides of the bay, but said “I’m surprised our mainland market jumped the way it did. … I think it’s awesome for the mainland communities that we’re seeing those median prices rise.”
Wilkins attributes the increases mainly to a “combination of higher-end folks buying and ... values going up a little bit.”
Other South Jersey counties have shown mixed results for much of 2016, with the number of sales generally increasing but prices staying flat or falling.
Atlantic County continues to see prices drop, with a total of 2,180 deals closed on single-family homes through this September, or 24.4 percent up from the same point last year, NJAR reported.
But prices in the county have fallen to a median figure of $171,000, about 12 percent less than last year.
Cumberland County’s single-home sales have increased almost 10 percent so far this year, to a total of 977 closed deals. But the price has dipped slightly, to $130,000, almost 1 percent off from 2015.
And single-family sales in Ocean County have been far more brisk than 2015, with a total of 5,317 deals closed through last month. That’s more than 23 percent ahead of last year’s pace, by NJAR’s figures.
But at $278,000, the median sales price this year is just 1 percent up from 2015, the trade group’s statistics show.