One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in this region's communities.
There are faster ways to get to Gloucester Township than along N.J. Route 168, especially during rush hour, but for those unfamiliar with the interior of Camden County, this stretch of road - also known as the Black Horse Pike - can offer South Jersey geography lessons well worth learning.
Once you get to Gloucester Township, at the county's southwestern edge, there's still a lot of exploring to do as you pass through its communities - locales such as Blackwood, Erial, Chews Landing, Blenheim, Glendora, and Sicklerville.
And although the shops, eateries, and produce stands there are worth visiting, what mostly draws people to Gloucester Township is the real estate.
That's as true today as it was 21 years ago, when Conrad Kuhn bought what he considered an affordable house by this county's standards.
When Kuhn, a 26-year agent with Weichert Realtors' Washington Township office, bought his house, Gloucester Township had 10,000 fewer residents than it does now. Since 1970, the township has added 40,000 people, drawn by easy access to the Atlantic City Expressway and, over time, I-295.
Homes here remain relatively affordable, with prices ranging from $185,000 to $375,000 and property taxes comparable with nearby Washington Township - long one of the more popular locations with buyers, Kuhn says.
Construction, spurred by infrastructure improvements, continues, although not at its pre-market-downturn pace.
Completion of Exit 41 of the Route 42 Expressway, at Berlin-Cross Keys Road, led first to commercial development here, then to residential, with Ryan Homes building Gloucester Chase, houses priced in the upper $200,000s.
Single-family homes and condominiums, scattered in almost 50 subdivisions, make up the lion's share of homes for sale today.
A large number of those are less than 10 years old, says Prudential Fox & Roach agent Johnny Jones, adding that the township's accessible location remains its biggest selling point.
NJ Transit, too, has extensive service in and out of the township, with one major reason the main campus of Camden County College in Blackwood.
Buses travel regularly to and from Center City, as well as to the terminus of the PATCO High-Speed Line at Lindenwold. There is an NJ Transit rail station at Lindenwold from which trains travel to Atlantic City and 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.
Right now, Jones says, the township is experiencing what he considers a "normal" market, with a median price of about $156,000.
"A house is taking an average of four months to sell," says Jones, who has been selling real estate in the area since 1990; current for-sale inventory is 410 houses and condos.
One out of every 12 homes sells each month, Jones says, which means there are 39 transactions every 30 days.
The Gloucester Township School District is a major lure, Kuhn and Jones say, and reassessment two years ago reduced property owners' tax burdens considerably.
The township is trying to keep the lid on spending, which resulted in an A+ bond rating from Standard & Poor's, says Mayor David Mayer.
It also continues to work to attract new business, an effort that continues to bear much fruit, and is preparing redevelopment plans for the College Drive interchange from Route 42, for the Blackwood-Clementon Road, and for the revitalization of downtown Blackwood.
Although there are some over-55 communities in the township, about 300 homes total, Jones emphasizes the population is "mostly families and kids."
Rental options, especially single-family houses, are not abundant in Gloucester Township, says David Marcantuno, an agent with Century 21 Alliance, who sells in the area.
Marcantuno recently sold a single-family house as rental property in Sicklerville and is working with an investor who is looking for less expensive homes in the township to rent out.
"Rental demand is fairly high in general," he says. Investors "buy family-sized houses in regular neighborhoods."
Although renting to students is common in college communities like Blackwood, "these [houses] are not specifically targeted toward students," Marcantuno says. "There simply is not a big inventory of rentals in the region, so if you can put a rental on the market, you will get plenty of applicants."
Lower interest rates and improved consumer confidence have boosted the township's market in the last year or so, says Kuhn, with a modest increase in prices and, recently, a boost in the number of houses for sale.
"There are a lot of first-time buyers," Kuhn says, "but a growing number of repeat buyers want to stay here for the ease of the commute and for the school district."
Gloucester Twp., By the Numbers
Population: 64,634 (2010)
Median income: $69,272 (2008)
Area: 23.2 square miles
Homes for sale: 410
Settlements over three months: 98*
Median days on market: 160
Median sale price (single-family): $156,000
Median sale price (all homes): $156,000
Housing stock: 14,000 units; built mainly from 1970 on
School district: Gloucester Township
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Trulia.com; Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert Report; Johnny Jones, Prudential Fox & Roach