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Signs of strength in South Jersey real estate market

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The South Jersey Commercial Real Estate market had a solid first quarter of 2013, according to a new report, fueling hopes for a strong 2013.

Wolf Commercial Real Estate said approximately 300,000 square feet of new lease deals and renewals were executed in South Jersey during the first three months of the year, an 8.5 percentage point increase over first-quarter 2012. Of those transactions, about 43 percent were new leases.

Jason Wolf, the firm's founder and principal, said there were a number of positive macroeconomic signs last quarter, including record highs for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, downward movement in the federal and state unemployment rates, higher home values and retail sales and continued low interest rates.

"We saw several positive trends indicating improving growth, but we are still in a weak labor market, and more robust job growth is needed to lower the overall vacancy figures in our region."

Class A and B vacancy was in the 18 percent to 19 percent range in the first quarter. Wolf said he'd like to see those numbers fall closer to the single-digit rates seen at the height of the market.

The report found no signs of significant office construction in the region, though the company said that's unlikely to pick up until more of the vacant space is absorbed.

Wolf said there already are signs of a strong second quarter.

"There are more than 200,000 square feet of new deals and renewals awaiting signatures in April alone," he said, "so we expect substantial gains in the next quarter."

The most active sectors included health care, computer services, insurance, defense contracting, consulting, engineering and financial companies.

On the retail side, stores reported first-quarter sales exceeding those of the last quarter of 2012, which included the holiday shopping season. Retail vacancies are at 17 percent to 18 percent.

Among the most significant retail deals of the first quarter were Whole Foods' inking of a deal to open a 47,000-square-foot store at the Ellisburg Circle Shopping Center, in Cherry Hill; and the Ravitz Family's decision to open a 75,000-square-foot ShopRite in a new shopping center on Admiral Wilson Boulevard, in Camden. The latter will become the first full-service grocer to open its doors in Camden in three decades.

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