The Avalon-to-Stone Harbor stretch known as “Seven Mile Island” is united by more than a moniker. In both municipalities, retail and entertainment offerings are high-end, single-family homes predomi-nate, and home values have skyrocketed.
Not only have these barrier islands avoided any serious market cool-ing to date, but some interesting new market trends are emerging.
Old Coast, Gold Coast
The area always was unique. Early Cape May settlers used Seven Mile Island to forage food for livestock during the summers, and also for timbering, oystering, and whale fishing.
According to Jeffrey Dorwart’s history of Cape May County (pub-lished by Rutgers Univer-sity Press), the entire stretch was owned by the Leaming family be-tween 1723 and the 1850’s, when it was sold to the Tatham fam-ily.
By the late 1880’s, portions were being sold to Pennsylvania invest-ment syndicates includ-ing the “Seven Mile Beach Company,” whose secretary named Avalon after the mythical Arthu-rian city.
One of the syndicates sold all of Stone Harbor to the South Jersey Realty Company for $90,000 in September 1907.
Avalon incorporated as a borough in 1892, and Stone Harbor in 1914.
Dorwart’s study notes that early land use pat-terns differed from those of the mainland. Given the narrowness of the beaches, and homeown-ers’ demand for a quiet solitude that would dis-tinguish their beachside residences from their city homes, the towns each organized along a central street and rela-tively standard-sized square building lots. Given summer residents’ comfort requirements, the barrier islands also had modern utilities before many mainland communities.
Dorwart notes the tra-dition of “expensive homes” in Avalon, as well as Stone Harbor’s “distinctive selection of small shops and a heronry.”
Real estate value in both towns remains chart-topping today.
According to the most recent County Tax Board records, these relatively small municipalities, with their single-family homes that seem to grow larger with each passing building season, rank below only one other town (Ocean City) in total ratables. Avalon places second in the county with $5.5 billion in ratables, and Stone Harbor is third with $3.6 billion.
New Buying Trends?
Avalon and Stone Har-bor were prime partici-pants in the recent building and home sale booms. Today, it’s dif-ficult to drive through any significant stretch in either town without seeing numerous large homes under construc-tion.
The most recent of the Herald’s Property Trans-fer Charts shows eight sales of Avalon homes and four sales in Stone Harbor during the week-long period from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5. The cumula-tive value of the Avalon homes is $17.2 million, and $6.7 million for the Stone Harbor properties.
By comparison, be-tween April and October of this year, Avalon aver-aged 32 sales monthly (or eight on a weekly basis), and Stone Harbor averaged 13 monthly sales (or just three to four weekly).
Stone Harbor sales in-cluded a single-family cape cod style home on 103rd Street for $1.5 million (pictured), a home across from the bay on West Avalon’s 89th Street for $1.9 mil-lion (pictured), and beachblock property on First Avenue for $2.9 million. Avalon’s sales included an expansive cape cod style structure on 75th Street for $1.8 million (pictured),
According to Jamie Diller, a third generation realtor at Diller-Fisher Realtors, however one chooses to characterize the present market, it’s most certainly not in a slump.
“The sale frenzy may be over,” he said, “but the market is just revert-ing to what it was be-fore – which involves pretty significant num-bers.” Market adjust-ments are to be expected and are healthy, said Diller.
Dilller also noted an interesting development in buying trends. For the second year in a row, after slightly in-creased buying activity during the summer sea-son, activity has slowed slightly due to unique demographics of the now-typical buyer.
“The buyers have chil-dren,” said Diller, “and they’re loaded with school and weekend sports activities begin-ning in September and continuing to the holi-days,” and that results in less traveling to the beach in “soccer sea-son.”
After the holidays, however, “when their lives calm down,” they’ll find their way back to the Jersey shore.
Ann Delaney, of Tim Kerr’s Power Play Realty in Avalon, also said that a quiet market has be-come “fairly typical of this time of year.”
The typical buyer, she said, now is in his or her mid-30’s to mid-40’s, and is inclined, during these pre-holiday months, to lament that “My weekend’s booked!” when it comes to house-hunting tasks. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be buying, she said.
Where, by the way, are youthful middle-agers getting the kind of money required for pur-chases in the coastal communities?
“Inheritances, wise investments and trade-ups,” said Delaney.
At least half of the buyers, in her estima-tion, are taking advan-tage of growth in the value of their existing second homes – which are located not only at the shore, but in resorts such as the Poconos – and using that gain to buy houses that are larger, or closer to the beach, than the houses that they presently own.
Jamie Diller noted that buyers now are coming from areas spanning from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, all the way north through New York. “There are immense amounts of money com-ing in from Northern Jersey,” he noted.
Delaney and Diller both noted that shore property inventory has been growing. “Includ-ing the category of new construction priced be-tween two to three mil-lion,” according to De-laney.
And therein lies a key to interpreting the cur-rent shore scene. In a mature, built-out market, this might raise ques-tions as to why multiple owners would be exiting an established area in large numbers at the same time. But Jersey shore sellers have unique characteristics, which both Diller and Delaney were careful to note. Many senior homeown-ers, for example, for practical reasons want a condominium that will require less maintenance than their current home, or perhaps even an as-sisted living situation.
“It’s lifestyle more than economics,” De-laney noted.
And as for that new construction coming on the market – it may slightly dilute the sales opportunities of other properties in inventory, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sell to a group of buyers who remain will-ing and able.
$7 Million Tear-Down
Among the recent Avalon sales were two side-by-side beachfront houses with addresses, respectively, on 18th and 19th Street. Both were owned by the same indi-viduals, but the proper-ties were purchased by different buyers.
Late last week, a visit to the more expensive of the two – 94 E. 18th Street, which sold for $7,025,000 – revealed not a family of buyers anxious to stake out their new rooms, but an estate sale company sell-ing off the existing house’s contents – in-cluding building materi-als – before the structure is completely torn down so that another may be built. (See pictures, this page.)
Magnificent ocean views were evident from all seaside rooms. Sale items included fur coats, books like John Dean’s “Blind Ambition” sug-gesting that the home may have seen peak us-age in earlier decades, oriental rugs, and an-tique tables whose rich wooden tones contrasted with the lighter, painted colors of furniture in the multiple bedrooms.
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