ATLANTIC CITY — Drive down Pacific Avenue, past old motels converted into condos, and you might guess how it looks inside: popcorn ceilings, a musky smell and sticky carpets.
But Stephanie and Rocco Jiannone weren’t skeptical at all.
The Pittsgrove Township, Salem County, natives bought a $50,000 unit at the Seashore Club Condominiums last year and invested a few thousand dollars to renovate it, adding hardwood floors, granite countertops and a new bathroom.
Now, the condos there have doubled in price, and the couple is looking to buy a second, second home either in Chelsea or Gardner’s Basin to accommodate their friends, who are eager to spend the summer next to towering casinos and miles of boardwalk.
“There’s always stuff to do here. That’s why we bought in Atlantic City,” Rocco Jiannone said. “We actually thought about buying in other towns, but in the offseason, there’s nothing to do. You have one restaurant open, and that’s all you get.”
What really pushed the Jiannones to buy in Atlantic City again, like others, was the affordability. The average price of a home in Atlantic City is $52,250, according to a Redfin study from 2017. Compare that to multimillion-dollar shore homes in neighboring towns like Margate and Longport. For those seeking an urban feel by the ocean, the resort has its appeal.
On Monday, the couple, who own four small businesses in South Jersey, toured another condo on South Providence Avenue before heading to a two-story home at the Harbour Pointe development near Gardner’s Basin going for $149,000.
“It is so affordable,” Stephanie Jiannone said. “You can’t get that anywhere else.”
Some say Atlantic City should be marketing itself as a destination for middle-income buyers looking for a spot to vacation from June to August. It’s a way to bring in more tax dollars, fill vacant land and help the economy.
About 47% of residential properties in Atlantic City were owned by out-of-towners last year, according to the most recent data available from the state Division of Taxation.
That’s up 4% from a decade ago but still significantly lower than most other Jersey Shore towns in the southern half of the state that are majority second homeowners.
Still, Weichert Realtors agent Jerry Barker says he has noticed an uptick in second home sales over the past 12 months that he expects to continue, and attributes it to the opening of Stockton University last September.
He points to Chelsea and Gardner’s Basin as hotspots in the market.
Those neighborhoods, he said, are perceived as safer. There are also units that are newer compared to the rest of the city’s old housing stock.
“A lot of people want that maintenance-free lifestyle,” Barker said. “I’ll pay the condo fees all day long if you take care of the outside, the landscaping, the parking and snow removal.”
Keith Groff, of Medford Township, Burlington County, bought a two-story house near Gardner’s Basin in a sheriff’s sale two months ago for $115,000. The 40-year-old travels to the shore around holidays with his family and on some weekends.
He made small renovations, but the property, built in the early 2000s, was ready to move into almost immediately. He has owned two other houses in the city, which he sold.
“I think it’s just the best value for any home in a shore town,” said Groff, who once ran for City Council.
But boosting second home ownership substantially might require a push from city officials and targeted marketing to people living in New York City and Philadelphia suburbs.
Atlantic City could take a page from Somers Point, a town about 15 miles south that launched a successful campaign four years ago promoting itself as a place for second home buyers who couldn’t afford mansions in Stone Harbor and Ocean City but still want to be near the sand.
In the face of foreclosures from the 2008 recession, a councilman suggested pushing Somers Point as a place to own a second home. The city hired a branding firm, Suasion Communications Group, to help put together the campaign.
“We felt the moment was right because the barrier islands continued to see higher prices. ... There was a certain market here. Not the megarich, but the well-to-do,” Councilman Sean McGuigan said.
First came a catchy slogan, “The Shore Starts Here,” followed by an official website for the campaign.
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt, president of Suasion, said 40 homes were sold in the city in the following year.
“It was really a genius idea,” she said.
For Atlantic City, outside of Chelsea and Gardner’s Basin, some say the vast vacant lots in the South Inlet are ripe for development of second homes. Whether the opportunity is seized, though, will require developers with deep pockets.
Jesse Kurtz, 6th Ward councilman, said people who have been priced out of Ventnor are moving into existing units in Lower Chelsea that may be fixer-uppers.
But the Inlet, he said, is a candidate for new development.
“Atlantic City has, in a small space, many different markets and usage combines, and it always has,” Kurtz said. “We want to take advantage of homes that are currently vacant and pieces of land that are currently vacant.”
After the modern 600 NoBe at North Beach market-rate rentals opened in the Inlet last year, Barker said he fielded a number of calls from people interested in buying units there. He had to explain the new buildings, developed by Boraie Development LLC, are for renters.
Owner-occupied condos with a “gated community” feel could go up in the Marina District.
MGM Resorts International, which owns a piece of land near Golden Nugget Atlantic City, announced earlier this month plans to partner with Boraie Development to build luxury single-family homes there. The project would require a zoning variance and approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Today’s buyers want a nicer product,” Barker said. “There’s a real lack of newer product. ... When something new comes out, people snatch it up.”