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Housing index puts N.J.'s market near bottom

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The health of New Jersey's housing market ranks near the bottom in the nation, according to the Healthiest Housing Index from online loan marketplace LendingTree LLC.

The health of housing markets was based on seven criteria, according to LendingTree: the unemployment rate, foreclosure percentage, debt-to-income ratio, home ownership and vacancy, percentage past-due, loan-to-value ratio, and equity.

Still, Jeffrey G. Otteau, president of East Brunswick-based Otteau Valuation Group Inc., said the state's economy has been recovering, and he expects New Jersey's rankings to improve.

"Based upon long-term economic and housing data, New Jersey ranks as one of the weakest markets in the country," Otteau said. "However, over the last seven months, economic growth has actually outpaced the rest of the nation, and the housing market has begun to recover."

Otteau pointed to data released by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank showing economic indicators in New Jersey improved at a faster pace than for the nation overall, posting a 0.8 percent increase in the last quarter of 2011, compared to 0.7 percent nationally.

In the LendingTree index, New Jersey was 47 out of 49 geographies in the nation, ahead of only Florida and Nevada. The index ranked 48 states and Washington, D.C.; South Dakota and Vermont were not ranked because of insufficient data, the company said.

In the LendingTree index, the Great Plains region, home to eight of the healthiest states, was the overall best housing region, LendingTree said. North Dakota, Wyoming and Minnesota make up the top three.

New Jersey's unemployment rate at 9 percent — higher than the national rate of 8.3 percent — helped drag down the state's ranking, said Megan Greuling, marketing coordinator at LendingTree.

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