Town By Town: Mount Holly keeps people coming back

Mill Race Village sign along Washington Street, Mt. Holly, NJ. July 10, 2013( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer )

One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in this region's communities.

You'd expect Robert "Rocky" D'Entremont, a longtime resident who also sells real estate and insurance in Mount Holly, to be a township booster.

Yet even D'Entremont, of Alloway Associates Real Estate in Vincentown, was amazed by the hundreds of students past and present who showed up to be photographed at Rancocas Valley High when the school celebrated its 75th anniversary in June.

"I couldn't believe it. They filled the front lawn," he says. And "just about every one of them talked about how much they liked Mount Holly."

There's something about it, D'Entremont says, that "keeps people coming back, whether they grew up and went to school here or were in the military and lived in an apartment while they were stationed here and now want to buy a house."

Vicki Bush, an associate broker with Prudential Fox & Roach in Mount Laurel, bought a house on High Street 25 years ago as an investment "because it had a rental apartment."

"It was supposed to be temporary, but I fell in love with Mount Holly and never left," says Bush, who has sold real estate in the township for 30 years.

Mount Holly, she says, is the town the housing boom forgot.

"When prices were crazy, Mount Holly's were stable," D'Entremont observes, and some people who moved here in that time "capitalized on that."

Yet prices fell 20 percent in the downturn. The top of the market has fallen under $100,000 for a twin and to less than $450,000 for one of those big singles, Bush says.

"Not much moved in the last few years," D'Entremont says, with "resales under $300,000 and most below $200,000."

Of the 86 properties for sale, Weichert Realtors agent Howard Lipton says, 30 percent are short sales, and about 50 percent of those are likely to go to foreclosure.

He's seen houses here sell recently for as little as $29,000 and as much as $549,000, adding that "as interest rates have risen in the last three or four months, the market has begun to pop."

Houses in Mount Holly are a bargain, even the big old ones D'Entremont lists. "The cost is substantially lower than in surrounding towns with this kind of housing stock, such as Moorestown and Haddonfield," he says.

There are quite a few investors on High Street, Lipton says, and about 12 properties for rent.

A wide variety of housing exists here, from the big late-19th- and early-20th-century homes along High Street, Broad Street, and Ridgway Street, to the 50-year-old subdivisions of Cape Cods and split levels on Ridgely Street, Randolph Drive, and Woodlane Road, to the new construction on Ashurst Lane.

Mount Holly, is, of course, the Burlington County seat. It has been since 1793, and many historic buildings lining the streets near the county offices are occupied by law firms, bail-bond providers, and title companies.

Though the business of Burlington County boosts the population from 9 to 5 weekdays, life here continues when the government offices close. Efforts are afoot to increase shopping and dining opportunities downtown for residents.

At Mill Race Village, for example, the township changed the zoning to allow businesses to occupy the lower floors of the historic buildings and residents the upper floors.

Audrey Winzinger, whose family began acquiring the first of 25 buildings along Mill Race 25 years ago and redeveloping them as work/live properties, said there is need for "critical mass" to make such efforts to succeed.

"There are ambitious development plans for every section of the township," she said. "We need to work together to create one big coherent plan for Mount Holly."

Joseph Riggs Jr., of Prudential Fox & Roach in Haddonfield, says the commercial real estate market in Mount Holly is no different from those in other small retail centers, with turnover owing to business failure relatively low.

"Most of what becomes available is the result of retailers who outgrow space or rented too much," says Riggs, listing agent for the Washington House office building at High and Washington Streets.

Though many here laud the volunteer spirit in evidence in Mount Holly, they say that the community has had its ups and downs and that government has not always been as forward-thinking as the residents would have liked.

"We have been through several changes over the years," Bush says. "There have been stalemates, but there are good people now making great changes."

One is controversial, to say the least.

Since 2002, the township has targeted Mount Holly Gardens, a 53-year-old project built for veterans, for redevelopment. Twenty-five residents, most African American and Latino, sued, even though all but 60 of the 329 units remain.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, in which the residents contend that the township's plan is discriminatory, in the fall.

D'Entremont says he believes the dispute "will be worked out in time," adding that "it was a tough decision to make."

Kent R. Pipes, who has turned scores of derelict buildings into affordable housing, does not support the plan, saying the township should focus on "revitalizing, not driving lower-income people out."

He also says he does not think the county is contributing its fair share, tearing down a lot of the downtown over the years for sprawling parking lots and removing tax-ratable properties.

Yet Pipes says Mount Holly has a promising future.

"A lot of people are looking back to living in walkable communities, having things all in one place," he says. "And that is what makes Mount Holly a good place to live."


Town By Town: Mount Holly, By the Numbers

Population: 9,536 (2010)

Median income:

$55,239 (2008)

Area: 2.85 square miles

Homes for sale: 142

Settlements in the last three months: 15

Median days on market: 196

Median sale price (single-family homes): $107,900

Median sale price

(all homes): $107,900

Housing stock:

Mostly pre-World War II

School district:

Mount Holly; Rancocas Regional High School

SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau;;; Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert Report

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, or @alheavens at Twitter.