Town By Town: Housing market as hearty as neighboring crops
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in this region's communities.
Drive a couple of miles down Route 322 East from Exit 2 of the New Jersey Turnpike, and you get a real feel for Mullica Hill.
Large, new housing developments line one side of the road as far as the eye can see.
On the other, for much of your journey thus far, are signs touting Rosie's, one of the farm stands that sells just-picked stringbeans, peaches, and other produce from fields scattered across 19 square miles of Harrison Township.
The old and the new are in peaceful co-existence in this piece of Gloucester County that is Harrison Township but known universally as Mullica Hill - the historic enclave of 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century houses and shops just about in the middle of it all.
"They are interchangeable," says Weichert Realtors agent Deb Andrews, referring to Mullica Hill and its township.
Even South Harrison Township, where builder Bruce Paparone is at work these days, "has a Mullica Hill mailing address," he says, "but that may be pushing it."
Paparone's family has been building in Mullica Hill since the late 1990s.
Mention Rosie's to Nancy Kowalik, of Keller Williams Real Estate, calling from Paris where she's on her first vacation in three years, and thoughts of just-picked tomatoes briefly supersede ones of where to dine this evening in the Sixth Arrondissement.
"They are selling milk and cheese at Rosie's now," says the 25-year resident of Mullica Hill, adding that, even after the solid decade of new-home building on farmland, the number of produce stands has grown to meet increased demand for "Jersey Fresh."
"In some places, it may look like big houses and little trees," she says, "but it's not," even though Harrison Township's population more than tripled between 1990 and 2010.
"It didn't grow as fast as Washington or Greenwich Townships," Paparone says, because it was a little farther out.
"Today, the Clearview Regional School District is reeling them in," he says.
People don't just buy houses here. "They buy community," says Pat Settar, of Prudential Fox & Roach, who moved to Mullica Hill 21 years ago for the "charm and the schools" and has sold real estate for 18 years.
Those who bought during Mullica Hill's building boom are "becoming more and more involved in the community," Kowalik says. "It is local people more than visitors who are shopping and dining here."
If, as Settar says, "the best is yet to come" for Mullica Hill, the recovering real estate market is at the heart of it.
Prices have been ranging from $200,000 for an older house to $549,000 for newer ones on a half-acre with public water and sewer, Kowalik says.
The second-quarter median was $314,000, according to Prudential Fox Roach HomExpert Report, although Settar says that prices are up about 7 percent in the past 60 days.
Andrews scrolls through 55 recent pending and closed sales and sees prices starting to climb back to $500,000 and $600,000, where they hadn't been since the boom ended in late 2007.
"We've finally broken $700,000," Andrews says
It was Settar's sale, which closed for $729,000, she says, in a neighborhood where $1 million was not unusual during last decade's boom years.
"The seller was realistic," Settar says. "I could have sold that house three or four times."
There are plenty of multiple bids in this market, because it is desirable and convenient to I-295, the Turnpike and Route 55 - something that eased the effects of the real-estate downturn slightly.
Aided by liberalized lender policies, "we are finally working through the short sales," Andrews says, and this has helped increase prices and cut days on the market.
Beth English, an agent with Century 21 Hughes-Riggs in Mullica Hill, agrees the market is up after it "hit a brick wall briefly" when fixed interest rates rose from the mid-threes to the mid-fours "and people got scared."
With rates back to 4.25 percent, "the sold-to-active ratio is now one-to-one," English says.
Property taxes are "in the middle" for South Jersey, she says. The owner of a 3,600-square-foot house on a half-acre would pay $10,000 - a "better value" than a lot of area towns.
There is still building going on, with Orleans' Leigh Hunt on Route 322 selling fast, the agents say.
Beazer Homes is moving earth on a parcel on Route 45 for 77 single-family homes - a site Paparone coveted, "but we didn't move fast enough."
Custom builders are doing "a lot of infill," Kowalik says.
The township has succeeded in reining in growth, the agents say, with Paparone especially impressed by "the concern for architecture."
Growth begat traffic jams through Mullica Hill proper, and that made Dave Welsh, who opened the second South Jersey Running & Triathalon Store in a house he bought at North Main just off Route 322 in 2006, nervous.
Welsh's stores are destinations for runners and don't benefit from people driving by.
"Traffic and business were so bad" that he considered closing, Welsh says..
When the Mullica Hill Bypass was completed last year, it eased traffic so much "that my business jumped 30 percent overnight," he says. "My business in this store is now where I thought it should be three years after I opened."
Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, email@example.com or @alheavens at Twitter.