West Orange housing prices continue to rise, experts say

WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange property values are on the rise compared to five years ago, when housing prices across the nation reached new lows as a result of the national housing bubble.

Local real estate agents have said houses are sell at higher prices and staying on the market for less time than a few years ago. On top of that, they said they have noticed an increased interest in West Orange from potential buyers.

“In terms of the demand, it’s as strong as it’s been since the crash,” Dan Yanofski, co-owner of Elite Realtors, told the West Orange Chronicle in a June 7 phone interview. “West Orange is back. We’re back, and the housing market is as strong as it’s ever been.”

Yanofski’s claim is backed up by statistics. Referring to data from the Garden State Multiple Listings Service, he said the average under-contract price has increased by approximately $59,000 since 2012, going from roughly $343,000 to a little more than $402,000. The active listing price has jumped by around $108,000 in the last five years as well, increasing to approximately $485,000 from $377,000, Yanofski said.

The average time a house spends on the market has meanwhile seen a noticeable decrease, Yanofski said, adding that back in 2012, a house would typically spend 97 days on the market before going under contract. Today, he said, the average time is 71 days.

But Yanofski added that many houses have been selling in far less time than that. In fact, he said he has been seeing a lot of bidding wars — which he said usually happen in places like Short Hills or Upper Montclair — that result in houses going under contract in just two weeks. He said these wars, which have included 10 or more bidders, can significantly increase the price of a property above what was originally listed. He estimated that prices usually increase by 15 percent in those cases.

Of course, that is only an average. Yanofski said he recently represented the buyer of one distressed house that sold for roughly $50,000 more than the listed price after a bidding war. The reason it sold for so much, he said, is that distressed properties are in high demand from people who want to renovate and sell them for a greater value, also called “house-flipping.” And the fact that such investors are looking at West Orange is a good sign for the real estate market here, he said.

Yanofski is not the only one to have noticed an improvement in the local market. Ken Baris, of Jordan Baris Inc. Realtors, said his agency has been setting neighborhood records for the highest sale prices in many years. For instance, Baris said he recently closed on a house in The Grande for $838,000, the highest price there in a long time. He also said he was set to close on one house on St. Cloud Avenue that sold for $530,000 — making it the highest priced split-level house in the area in more than five years. That bodes well for everyone living nearby, he said.

“That whole neighborhood should follow suit and values should really be jumping,” Baris told the Chronicle in a June 7 phone interview.

The township as a whole has been doing well throughout the past year, according to Baris. Referring to statistics from his agency’s JB Advantage Analytics, which produces data on the entire West Orange real estate market, the Baris said 590 of the township’s 1,054 listings in the past 12 months have sold or are under contract. Looking at individual neighborhoods, he said more than a quarter of the houses within the Gregory Elementary School area sold within 30 days, with 58 percent of those properties selling above the list price. He added that Llewellyn Park — which for years had houses selling for less than $1 million — now has an average price of $1,275,000.

And things are only looking up, Baris said.

“The most exciting thing is that we’re just at the start of the big jumps,” Baris told the Chronicle in a June 7 phone interview. “I think we’re going to see a lot of (property values) just getting higher and higher. I think we’re right at the brink of tremendous excitement.”

Yanofski agreed that the West Orange market has been doing better since it first started turning around two or three years ago. That improvement stems from a number of factors; first, he said, neighboring towns such as South Orange and Maplewood are doing so well that overflow buyers are now looking at West Orange and appreciating its more reasonable prices. And, he said people want to buy properties now, before interest rates increase.

On top of that, Yanofski and Baris pointed out that West Orange has a lot to boast of — something they both know firsthand after living in town for decades. Baris said the township offers quality programs like the Mountain Top League in addition to interesting locations such as the South Mountain Recreation Complex. He also said the diversity found in town is tremendous.

Though taxes might be considered high by many, Yanofski and Baris said the services it offers in return are worth the expense. From snow plowing and garbage pickup to street cleaning and the Police and Fire departments, Yanofski said what West Orange offers to its residents is truly “superior.”

“We feel we have the best services of any of the towns around us,” Yanofski said, saying that residents do not have to pay for garbage pickup and that West Orange’s streets are the clearest he sees after a snowstorm. “I don’t think people appreciate it nearly as much as they should,” he added.

All of those features will help West Orange residents sell their houses, but Yanofski said there are a few points everyone should keep in mind. First, he stressed that people should not wait until the summer to put their houses on the market since February and March — when inventory is lower — are actually the best times to sell. When they are ready to sell, he said property owners should find a Realtor who is both passionate about the township and has a large online presence. Plus, he said everyone should remember to stage their interiors before showing a house, use a professional photographer to take pictures, and get rid of as much clutter as possible. A house can never be too neat, he said.

As for buyers, Baris suggested connecting with one good Realtor to work with throughout the process, rather than consulting with several. If Realtors know a buyer is loyal to them, he said they will think to call them first if a suitable property comes on the market.

And of course, Baris feels that buyers should check out West Orange if they want an exceptional place to live.