Felipe is scheduled to begin his new job on May 1, so he will have to move to Missouri, ahead of his wife and three children, who will finish out the school year at Horace Mann and move sometime this summer. In the meantime, it was not too early for Felipe Velez to put his house on the real estate market.
"I figured it would take some time before I would get a decent price for my house," said Velez, who came to North Bergen from his native Dominican Republic some 30 years ago and did a lot of work to the home he purchased for $65,000 in 1979. "I added a finished basement and a porch in the backyard. I made it a nice place to live, because I always thought that I would live here. But it hasn't worked out that way. I have to go where my job takes me."
When Velez first approached a real estate agent, he had a sale figure in mind.
"I figured my house was worth $185,000," Velez said. "That's what I was told."
He was wrong. The market called for a little more. Velez is now listening to bids in the low $210,000 range. It could go higher.
"I may not sell for a while now," Velez said. "Maybe I have to see what people have to offer. I'm really happy that it looks like I'm going to get a good price for my home."
Velez is not alone. It appears as if there is a seller's market in real estate in North Bergen.
According to the latest figures released by the National Association of Realtors, residential home prices in Hudson County have increased by 14 percent over a year ago, thanks mainly to a strong demand for homes and a weak supply.
The average residential home in Hudson County sold for $153,000 in 2000, up from $134,500 in 1999. According to Joe Hottendorf, the executive officer for the Hudson County Board of Realtors, the average residential property went for $197,000, up from $171,000 in 1999.
And the biggest increase in the average selling price has taken place in North Bergen, where the average home has gone from a selling price of $140,000 two years ago to an estimated $190,000 now, an increase average of nearly 25 percent in just two years.
Real estate experts believe that the trend has been caused by a stalemate in single-family development in the area, especially the township of North Bergen, coupled with the demand that people have become more interested in living in the area.
"There is a cheaper cost of living in Hudson County and North Bergen, with a general proximity to Manhattan, in terms of commuting," said Allan Averson, a representative for the NAR. "The lower cost of living and lower taxes have lured a lot of Manhattan professionals to want to move to Hudson County. North Bergen is one of the more attractive areas, because there is a waterfront community there."
Currently, the high-scale - and high-priced - Half Moon Harbour housing development is under construction, which will only lead to an increase in property values throughout the township.
Because so many people are interested in the general locale, it has led to increased values.
The challenge has also caused some concern with Realtors, because there simply aren't enough affordable single-family units available to fit the needs of prospective buyers. Realtors believe that they cannot take full advantage of the rise in market prices.
Since there seems to be no real residential single-unit development on the horizon - the proposed development at the site of the former Sier-Bath gear factory continues to be a multi-unit proposal - prospective buyers have to be on the lookout, while prospective sellers lick their chops in anticipation.
"I've been in this business 40 years and nothing surprises me," said Robert DiRuggiero of DiRuggiero Realty in Hoboken. "From my standpoint, because of the shrinking in the amount of the product and the high demand, the sellers can call the shots. Right now, it's a strong seller's market and it's been that way for a while. People want to live in Hudson County. It's a strong draw."
Across the board
Hottendorf said that the Hudson County figures are high because of the diverse variety of housing available in the area, like one and two-family homes, as well as condominiums and multi-unit residential area.
"In other areas, those numbers apply, because 90 percent of their markets are nothing but one-family homes," Hottendorf said. "Statistics are not available in Hudson County on single-family homes. We have to look at the overall residential figures. Some people may look at it as one-family, but that's simply not the case.
Added Hottendorf, "But we can say that the prices in residential property have gone up and that's across the board, the entire county. We have not seen one month in decline since 1996 and that month was because of two snowstorms and no one was buying. We've seen double digit increases since that time and it's still climbing. I'm predicting that it will fall into single digits this year, but still, up is up."
Hottendorf also agreed that it is a seller's market.
"It is a seller's market, but the seller has to be more restrained and reasonable than ever before," Hottendorf said. "There are only so many pockets where the bidding has taken place. Sooner or later, that will all subside and there will be no more bidding wars. If the seller is reasonable, the market will be profitable."
As the Velez family is rapidly finding out.
"I would have never dreamed that I could get over $200,000," Felipe Velez said. "It really has turned out great for me and my family and we will be able to find someplace nice for our new home as soon as possible."
The next quarterly report from the NAR will be released May 1. It should be interesting to see where the area's sales numbers stand then.