One in a continuing series spotlighting the real estate market in this region's communities.
Whoever coined the phrase "You can't get there from here" overlooked Mount Laurel.
One of the township's selling points to home builders and buyers alike has long been its accessibility to everywhere: Center City via Route 38 and the High-Speed Line's Woodcrest Station; the rest of New Jersey, New York, and Delaware on the turnpike and I-295; and Northeast Philadelphia and the Atlantic City Expressway by way of Route 73.
Many of South Jersey's major employers are located here - PHH Mortgage is the largest, with 4,800 workers - and the transient workforce population is estimated at 60,000.
Many Mount Laurel residents commute to jobs elsewhere, too.
I-295 and her husband's job in Trenton brought Dawn Hogan and family from Philadelphia to Mount Laurel 18 years ago. The schools were a big selling point then and remain so today, says Hogan, now an agent with Weichert Realtors, based in its Moorestown office.
Because of the schools' reputation, many homeowners in need of additional space for their growing families look in town first.
Considering that "Mount Laurel has a wonderful mix of homes" - and that the home-rental market remains strong if you can't find a buyer right away - moving to a house that's larger and still local isn't difficult, she says.
In nearby Moorestown, Hogan says, "houses have similar square footage, but prices and taxes are much higher."
Because Mount Laurel has a big commercial and corporate tax base, property taxes fall about the middle of South Jersey's highest and lowest. A house valued at $350,000 in Mount Laurel would come with a $7,000 annual tax bill, Hogan says.
A revaluation that will be reflected in the 2014 tax bills is under way, the township says.
Like communities all over, Mount Laurel had to live through the six-year real estate downturn.
"Had you asked about sales a month ago, my answer would have been different," Hogan says. "I'm as busy as I was in 2007. There is lots selling, and sellers are excited."
In a place where condos sell for as little $140,000 and custom homes in the luxury Wildflowers development go for $1 million to $2 million, with $300,000 townhouses in between, there is a considerable selection.
"Some townhouses have the square footage of a single," she says. "This is where the younger buyers are putting their foot in the door."
It's also where good rental income allows trade-up buyers to hold on to their former homes.
Marshal Granor, whose Community Management Service Group manages townhouse and condo developments in Mount Laurel, said he had seen few condominium sales.
"It is hard to say how much movement there is outside of our communities," Granor says. "Some of the condo complexes that offer some amenities that have smaller units in the $100,000-to-$125,000 range are probably moving because they are cheap, and first-time buyers are out there."
Though there are a lot of condos in Mount Laurel, "townhouses and singles sell at a faster rate," Hogan says.
Builder Bruce Paparone can attest to that. He has just sold the last of nine single-family houses in Ryan's Cove, with prices averaging from the low $400,000s to $489,000.
"It was an 11-house project on smaller lots on a cul-de-sac that we took over from a friend, who had sold two but was struggling with the market," says Paparone, whose family's business entered Mount Laurel in the 1960s in the Ramblewood neighborhood.
Sales show "the market is alive again," he says, "although we are a long way from being healthy."
Mount Laurel is what Paparone calls a "mature town," meaning fewer new houses. Township literature describes it as about "80 percent built-out," and it is projected that the population, now about 42,000, will likely peak at 45,000.
For more than 40 years, however, construction boomed here, starting in 1961 with Ramblewood, where several builders put up more than 1,000 houses and a golf course. In other developments such as the Lakes at Larchmont, Orleans Homebuilders alone contributed almost 5,000 units, mostly townhouses and condos.
During those boom years, challenges to local zoning ordinances resulted in the landmark "Mount Laurel decisions," which established that New Jersey municipalities were constitutionally mandated to provide low- and moderate-income housing.
Today, Mount Laurel continues to focus on acquiring and maintaining open space. Since 1997, through purchases financed by residents, Burlington County, and the state, it has doubled the amount of undeveloped acreage.
One example is Laurel Acres Park, which has playgrounds, sports fields, a nature trail, a fishing lake, and a sledding hill.
Another is the township's nonprofit Paws Farms and Nature Center, a refuge for injured and orphaned animals, run by volunteers.
Sarah Sedinova, who oversees its operations, says the center is an integral part of the third-grade curriculum in Mount Laurel schools, meaning that, at some point, the district's 7,000 students have a hands-on learning experience.
"But it is much more, and not just for Mount Laurel," she says. "People with special needs from Bancroft, Lenape, and Moorestown put in hours here, as do clients from child and family services."
One teenager came to Paws to put in community hours working with the animals, then did an internship there, Sedinova says.
"She's now in a pre-vet program in college."
Town By Town: Mount Laurel, By the Numbers
Median income: $67,533 (2009).
Settlements in the last three months: 104.
on market: 64.
Median sale price (single-family homes): $224,000.
Median sale price
(all homes): $198,000.
18,000 units; singles, townhouses, and condos, most built since 1970.
Mount Laurel; Lenape Regional High School
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; Zillow.com; Trulia.com; City-Data.com; Movoto.com.
Contact Alan J. Heavens
at 215-854-2472, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or @alheavens at Twitter.