Ask someone where the best place to live in New Jersey is, and you're likely to get an answer as varied as, well, the state itself. Commuting to Manhattan? There's North Jersey. A Philly phanatic? Look South. A beach-lover? That's what the Shore is for.
But one website wants to help you take a more scientific approach. NerdWallet, a consumer advocacy site based in San Francisco, crunched the census data and came up with a list of the best places for homeownership in the Garden State.
The winner? Williamstown, a section of Monroe Township in Gloucester County.
But even a data-driven Top 20 is literally all over the map. From Hopatcong in rural Sussex County, to Woodbridge and South Plainfield in the heavily-trafficked central part of the state, or down the Shore in Ocean Acres, the top homeownership sites range widely.
Most of the top-ranked locations according to NerdWallet’s scoring system all have one thing in common, however: They are near where the jobs are.
“One of the things we noticed is that the best places are clustered around job centers, so we have a lot of places west of Manhattan and south of Manhattan, and a couple of places in South Jersey that are within commuting distance of Philadelphia,” said Maggie Clark, an analyst with NerdWallet. “And not as many places along the Shore or in Central Jersey, because those are not the same job holes as New York or Philadelphia.”
NerdWallet used three main factors to determine the best places for would-be homebuyers to invest: homeownership, affordability and population growth. Homeownership indicated the investment in the community, affordability factored in how much of a bite that house will take from your wallet and population growth represented the “cool” factor — how many people wanted to move to the region.
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“We’ve done about half of the states at this point, and I would say that homeownership rates in New Jersey are on the higher side, especially in a couple of the places,” Clark said, citing Ocean Acres’ 92.3 percent rate and Hopatcong’s 92.2 percent figure. “ … That’s something really interesting.”
On the other hand, homes in New Jersey tend to take up more of people’s incomes than in other places, she said, and population growth rates were a little slower than in other states.
The site narrowed the locations to those with more than 15,000 residents, then ranked all 70 qualifying municipalities. NerdWallet did eliminate a few locations from its Top 20 ranking because of environmental and crime concerns, but the overall table was achieved strictly through number-crunching.
“What we did was, we looked at each kind of metric as a third of the score, so the homeownership rate is one-third of the score, affordability is one-third of the score and population growth is one-third of the score,” Clark said.
As for which factor was most important, Clark said it really depends on what buyers are looking for.
“If they value affordability, then the most important factor for them is going to be homeowner cost as a percentage of household income,” she said. “If they’re concerned about a place that is kind of a vibrant place or is there stuff going on, what’s the potential for future appreciation on their investment, they might be interested in looking at the population growth numbers.”
New Jersey did live up to its reputation in some ways, she added.
“The North Jersey places tended to have higher population growth, and the South Jersey places were more affordable,” she said.
The Top 10, according to NerdWallet:
8. Tinton Falls
4. South Plainfield
2. Ocean Acres
To see the complete ranking of 70 municipalities, click here.
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