The Real Estate Market
December 24, 2020
A Comprehensive Look at the State of Housing in Lakewood and Its Surrounding Areas
In recent months, the housing market has exploded.
Perri Goodman, owner and broker of Good Choice Realty, describes the market as “hotter than it ever was in ten years.” A house in Lakewood, Jackson, Toms River, or Howell is typically grabbed within 24 hours of becoming available. Bidding wars have spiraled out of control, with 10 potential buyers per house and homes being sold for as much as 30,000 dollars above the asking price.
Why is there such a huge demand for houses today?
The impact of corona
Sara Rivkah Rosenfeld of Imperial Real Estate shares a joke passed among realtors: “How’s the market? Remember in May you couldn’t find toilet paper? Yeah, like that.”
Indeed, corona has caused a shortage of many basic items, from toilet paper to Bounty paper towels to cream cheese…and now, a shortage of houses. Many realtors believe that the claustrophobic feeling that resulted from the lockdown caused people to seek bigger homes.
Pinny Wolhendler of Gefen Construction and Development concurs, noting that “in the beginning of May, people really came out of the box and started looking for houses.”
Many tenants living in basements had been contemplating buying a home for a while, but after the lockdown, they are itching to get out, explains Shifra Cymet of Four Points Realty.
As Sara Rivkah Rosenfeld puts it, “People are so done with being locked up.” Many were “looking to buy” and now they’re “dying to buy.”
Shifra adds that some buyers are moving from New York because over the course of the lockdown, they realized just how cramped their homes were.
As per the rules of economics, tprices have shot up due to the high demand.
“If you’re looking for a deal, it’s not the right time now,” Sara Rivkah notes.
The state of the market is a surprise to both realtors and buyers. You would think that after suffering financial losses during the pandemic, people would be unable to afford new homes.
“No one expected the market to be anywhere near where it is today,” Perri remarks. She explains that some people are able to buy despite their finances having been hit, due to stimulus checks and Unemployment Insurance.
Another factor is the recent drop in mortgage rates to historic lows.
“People are able to afford higher prices because of the low interest rates,” Baila Jaskiel of Keller Williams Realty says.
The pandemic caused the stock market to suffer, which always causes mortgage rates to go down. Today, rates are between 2.5 and 3 percent. Before corona, they were about 4 percent. The new rates mean that a person can save hundreds of dollars a month, significantly lightening a homeowner’s financial burden.
Lakewood’s tremendous growth
Even before corona, homes in the Lakewood area have been in high demand due to the town’s rapid growth. To illustrate, since 1990, Lakewood’s population has grown from 40,000 to 130,000. Twenty years ago, Lakewood was the 20th-largest municipality in New Jersey; today it’s the fourth or fifth largest.
In addition to its native population growth, locations all over the world have contributed to Lakewood’s numbers. Baila Jaskiel notes that there are people moving in from across the globe, including Canada, Eretz Yisrael, all over America, and specifically, the tristate area. “Lakewood is kibbutz galuyus of America!” she declares.
Young people come either for Beth Medrash Govoha or simply because they are looking for affordable housing. “People are moving from Flatbush and Boro Park en masse because you get so much more for your money,” Baila explains.
Lakewood has developed a lot over the years, making it an attractive option for many. While Lakewood residents used to go to shop in New York, nowadays, New Yorkers come to shop in Lakewood. There are also schools that cater to the New Yorkers streaming into the town. In short, “you have all the conveniences for frum life,” Baila concludes.
As Rabbi Aaron Kotler says about Lakewood, “It’s an attractive place, if not the single most attractive place, because of the Orthodox amenities it has.”
Yet, despite all the newcomers, “the core of Lakewood is families connected to the Yeshivah,” Rabbi Kotler says. Two years ago, some 85 percent of Lakewood men were either talmidim or alumni of BMG.
As Lakewood’s population swelled, people began to spread out. In the beginning, Lakewood’s population was concentrated in the Yeshivah area. “East End was considered far from Yeshivah at one point,” Baila Jaskiel points out. Today, on the other hand, “you have so many more neighborhoods open to frum people.”
Rabbi Kotler describes the trend of Yidden moving farther out over the years. In the beginning, frum life was centered in the Yeshivah area. As the community grew, its members began spreading further along Monmouth, Princeton, Forest, and Lakewood Avenues. In the 70s, frum families began to buy homes in the 14th Street area. In the 80s, Marshal Weisman built townhouses on Third and Forest, and others built along Squankum. Later, Ralph Zucker starting building on Somerset Avenue, and Dov Gluck built Forest Park on Pine Street. By 2005, it was normal for Orthodox families to be living along Route Nine.
As Lakewood began bursting at its seams, the community spilled over into the surrounding areas, such as Jackson, Toms River, and Howell. This movement began about six years ago, first with the White Road, Clearstream, and Pawnee areas. It was in July of 2015 that the real influx of frum buyers started streaming into Jackson’s many sections, and the town now hosts about 1,500 frum families.
Toms River also boasts tremendous growth. “Toms River is bursting,” says Hadassah, a woman who lives in a neighborhood in Toms River near Cox Cro Road. Shifra Cymet estimates that since 2015, it grew to over a thousand families.
Howell is currently home to approximately 50 Orthodox Jewish families. It is a tight-knit community which recently acquired a new rav, Rabbi Avrohom Shloima Katz shlit”a. The neighborhood hasn’t grown much yet because there aren’t many properties for sale there. But Tsivi Herskowitz of Crossroads Realty believes that Orthodox families will eventually move to more neighborhoods in Howell, noting that bidding wars took place in the last two sales of Howell houses, due to the strong demand.
There is also a small kehillah that was started around nine months ago in Manchester, in an area called Holly Oaks, which borders the Whitesville section of Toms River. This summer, its members have succeeded in forming a minyan.
Yehuda Neustadt of Keller Williams Shore Properties, who buys and sells all over New Jersey and was the first to identify the great potential of this community, relates. “Although when I initially sold homes in the Holly Oaks section of Manchester, it was primarily to investors, now my primary clients are younger families who wish to settle. In addition, there are some buyers who purchased a couple of years ago in order to capitalize on a good deal before the market appreciated. They are currently renting out those homes and plan to eventually move in.”
And while right now there is no frum presence in Brick, based on the trends of today’s world, it’s very likely that the Lakewood community will extend its borders there too.
Advantages of the surrounding areas
What attracts Yidden to the “outskirts” of Lakewood?
Sara Rivkah Rosenfeld explains that prices go down as you move outward. “You get more for your money and can own your own private house.” She also mentions the greenery, landscaping, and pools which homeowners appreciate.
“You could literally feel like you’re on vacation year round. It’s so peaceful; the serenity is great!” Shifra Cymet enthuses.
A resident of Brookwood One in Jackson shares the advantages of her neighborhood. It’s a very affordable area, with houses selling for around 350K dollars, and it’s a short seven-minute drive to Yeshivah. She loves the crowd, which she describes as old-time Lakewood, with everyone committed to a Torah lifestyle. She says she enjoys the privacy and peacefulness, which you can’t find in a development. “You live your own life,” she reflects.
Hadassah, who lived in a development for 12 years, moved to Toms River in an effort to find space, quality of life, quiet, an affordable price per square foot, and privacy. She says her neighborhood is an example of “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenosecha Yisrael.” Her children are not living with the neighbors the whole day. “My kids had a much easier time being on lockdown because they’re not used to being with other kids twenty-four hours a day,” she says. You get the best of both worlds, she opines, because you have privacy but you’re not too far out—it’s four minutes to Seagull Square and six minutes to Todd Plaza. She describes it as “living in your own oasis, with a parking spot, but not far from shopping.”
Yehuda F. of Holly Oaks in Manchester shares that the residents of his new community are the “sweetest people in the world.” Most are learning in BMG or elsewhere. There are neighbors from many different places, but at the same time, “I feel comfortable sending my kids to any house, anyone who moves in here. For me that’s a very big plus.”
If “out of town” is so attractive, why do some choose to remain in Lakewood proper?
Some specifically enjoy development life. Even Hadassah admits that she found that it’s good for young families; it’s just that families with older kids need more privacy. Others like the fact that the homes are newly built. There’s also the proximity to Yeshivah and the fact that you can live surrounded by frum Yidden.
In addition, the town is geared to our way of living. “Everything is set up for frum neighborhoods, especially the yeshivos and shuls,” Baila points out. “Busing is a big factor as well, as not every school has Jackson and Toms River busing.”
And if someone grew up in Lakewood, often, they feel pulled to stay. “Their hometown is their hometown,” states Sara Rivkah. They want to live near their friends and family. And they want the unique beauty of the town, the “taste of Lakewood that you can’t get anywhere else,” as Sarah Rivkah puts it.
As young families migrate toward the Lakewood area, their grandparents come to be with their eineklach. Some of them choose to live in senior communities, such as Pine River Village, A Country Place, Fairways, Enclave, and Horizons.
A sought-after option, Pine River Village is the only senior-living community that is all frum; the rest started out non-Jewish, though A Country Place always had frum people.
Enclave and Fairways are very popular. Horizons didn’t yet gain the same popularity, but according to Miri Bergman of Imperial Real Estate, it’s just a matter of time until it will.
The rental market
“The rental market is flooded now because there’s a shortage of houses and too many buyers competing with each other,” explains Perri Goodman.
Mr. Spiegal of Imperial Real Estate says that the demand for rentals always goes up in the summer, but this year, the demand has been especially high. Still, he adds, there are more options for renting than for buying. If someone wants to move to Lakewood, Jackson, or Toms River but can’t find a house to buy, they can rent instead. Often, they are willing to settle temporarily in a second-choice house that’s not in the location they want until they can find an appropriate home to purchase.
Miri Bergman adds that currently, there are many newlywed couples that are planning to move to Eretz Yisrael but cannot do so because of corona. They are renting apartments temporarily in places like Yeshivah area, Prime, or the Oak and Vine neighborhood.
Temporary apartments are even harder to find than long-term rentals because for most landlords, it’s not worth it to have to keep finding new tenants.
With rental options so scarce, young couples might need to get creative. Some move temporarily to neighborhoods that are not their first choice. Others couples opt to buy a house, live in the basement, and rent out the upstairs until their family grows.
What’s in store
Which additional changes can we anticipate over the next few years?
“The way things are moving, the demand is getting so high and the supply is becoming lower and lower,” Mr. Wolhendler notes.
In 10–15 years, there probably won’t be any more room to build large developments in Lakewood. Prices will probably continue to rise. Every year or two, prices jump by about 50K.
Mr. Wolhendler advises, “With the current interest rates being so low, this is a great opportunity. In a couple of years people might look back and say, ‘What a shame that I didn’t take advantage. Prices weren’t this high and mortgage rates were so low.’”
Baruch Hashem, we have been blessed with exponential growth, and our community is flourishing. Our thriving town and its satellite neighborhoods will b’ezras Hashem continue to prosper and continue to be a glorious jewel for American Jewry. As Rabbi Kotler calls it, Lakewood area is a “beautiful Torah community.”
The future of the neighboring towns
“We can’t predict the future, but we can all guess that it’s most likely that people are going to spread out to places that we never could have imagined,” Shifra Cymet remarks.
Mr. Neustadt affirms, “Anyone who’s been watching the local market knows it doesn’t take too long for an area to explode once there’s a minyan.”
Mr. Wilner says people will spread further out as long as they can get busing to school. He also presumes, “Eventually, there are going to be normal shuls in these towns. I don’t doubt it.”
Will the thriving communities in Lakewood’s surrounding areas be able to remain connected to our town, or will they eventually break off, establish their own schools, and become kehillos of their own? Miri Bergman asserts that they will always remain connected. Jackson, Toms River, Howell, Manchester, and Brick will im yirtzeh Hashem fill up, but they will still be branches of Lakewood.
“The heart of all this is Lakewood,” Miri declares.
Why have mortgage rates plummeted to an all-time low?
To understand this, we must first know what happens to our mortgages. The banks consolidate the mortgages into bonds, called MBSs, which they sell to investors the same way stocks are sold. These bonds, while very secure, are not very profitable. When the economy is doing well, there is less risk involved in stocks, which are far more profitable than MBSs, and investors will faster buy stocks than MBSs. Therefore, banks must raise the mortgage rates to make the bonds more lucrative and attract investors. But when the economy suffers—like now, due to corona—investors are reluctant to buy stocks and are quicker to buy these bonds, so banks can lower the mortgages rates.
How much can a person save due to the low rates?
For argument’s sake, take a 500K–dollar house. A year ago, 3.875 percent was considered a good rate. With the standard 20 percent down payment, that would mean a monthly mortgage payment of 1,881 dollars. Now, many lenders are offering a rate of 2.5-percent, bringing the monthly payment down to 1,580 dollars—a difference of 300 dollars a month.