Hunterdon home sales are up while commercial real estate struggles during the coronavirus pandemic

Hunterdon home sales are up while commercial real estate struggles during the coronavirus pandemic


The real estate market in Hunterdon County is seeing both dramatic gains and losses in spite of — and as a result of — the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, according to agents across the region.

Teresa Trigas-Pfefferle, the immediate past president of Core Association Realtors for Hunterdon, Mercer, and Somerset counties and the broker of record for Keller Williams in Clinton, said that residential real estate has “exploded” throughout Hunterdon County in recent months.

“It’s unfathomable how busy the real estate market is right now,” Trigas-Pfefferie said. “Of my current listing inventory, everything that’s transpired — everything that I currently have under contract or listed actively — has happened in the last two months. All of the business just sort of came.”

While acknowledging that in mid-March “several transactions” fell through because of layoffs or other unforeseen economic hardships resulting from the pandemic, Trigas-Pfefferle said that those who elected to keep their homes on the market were able to sell them for “more than we had anticipated, and quickly.”

Trigas-Pfefferle partially credited the market’s success to people — specifically those living in urban areas — “re-evaluating their lifestyles” in response to the outbreak.

“To give you some perspective, I had a client who was referred to me last week who lived in Manhattan, grew up in the city, and said, ‘I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t be locked up in my apartment; it’s not the same here,‘” Trigas-Pfefferle said. “And (Hunterdon) is only an hour to the city ... And has lots of green. They have Frenchtown, they have Clinton ... a lot of resources in terms of cute river towns, and walking and parks.”

Of the 21 New Jersey counties, Hunterdon County has been amongst those seeing the fewest number of new coronavirus cases in recent weeks, the state reporting one new positive case on Tuesday.

Echoing Trigas-Pfefferle, Marla Witter, a manager/broker for Weichert Realtors in Flemington, stated that the business experienced “a lull” at the onset of the pandemic but has since seen “busier months than we’ve ever had” throughout her 15 years in the industry due to all-time low interest rates as well as an influx of buyers from New York City.

“We’re seeing bidding wars all over the place, including higher value dollar properties that wouldn’t normally have a bidding war,” Witter said. “People are coming out from New York City and other cities to Hunterdon County to have more space, especially with COVID and people working from home ... It’s just been a tremendous market for us.”

Both Witter and Trigas-Pfefferle said that residential houses with pools have been overwhelmingly targeted by buyers.

“For the average person, they want a house with a pool. They’re thinking, ‘If I have to be inside, and at my house, and working from home, what do I want that to look like?’” Trigas-Pfefferle said.

“They’re looking for big houses with pools, a resort for the summer, or at least rental properties to get away from the city,” Witter said. “A lot of people don’t have to go into their jobs anymore, so commuting isn’t really a factor.”

They both agreed that the greatest issue in the Hunterdon residential real estate market at present day is not related to selling any type of property, but rather to finding more property that can be sold.

“Our biggest problem is we don’t have enough houses to sell,” Witter said. “It was a problem going into it ... inventory was kind of low already, and then you have some people who didn’t want to go on the market because of the pandemic — they weren’t sure if they wanted to have people in their houses or not.”

Individuals willing but reluctant to put their homes on the market during the global crisis may have ample time to reconsider, according to agents. Max Spann, president of Max Spann Real Estate & Auction Company in Clinton, described the climb of the residential real estate market as a “long-term trend” that is likely to remain intact in tandem with the continuance of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The perception of having a place where you can social distance — where you can walk out and you don’t have all of those concerns you have in more urban areas — has driven people not just to Hunterdon County, but all around the state,” Spann said. “A lot of corporations that I’ve talked to ... they’re not opening up for months and months and months — some of them not till next year. So I think that will continue to drive this trend.”

Still, while the pandemic appears to have benefitted residential real estate throughout Hunterdon County, it has had an opposite effect upon its commercial side, Spann added.

“Other segments of the market aren’t quite as robust — like the retail sector,” Spann said. “There had already been a trend downwards on retail, because of technology. And that’s just been exacerbated with this COVID outbreak; number one: you can’t have stores open, and number two: people have really embraced buying things online now. It’s going to be a real quandary for owners of retail space going forward.”

And the decline has not been felt in retail real estate alone. David Chippendale, a senior vice president for Weichert Commercial Brokerage in Morris Plains who is “very active” in the Hunterdon real estate market, said that ostensibly all aspects of commercial real estate including the sale of office and industrial buildings have “taken a bit of a sabbatical” since the onset of the outbreak.

“Basically, it’s a very slow market. People are looking more to pull out than get into a space, whether they be buying or leasing,” Chippendale said. “And it’s all due to the virus, absolutely.”

“There’s still a big unknown out there,” he explained. “You’re not seeing anybody with new business ideas coming forward because now is the time to kind of hunker down and just survive without spending money.

”And that’s where the industry is at right now — it’s definitely at a standstill.”

Nonetheless, Chippendale emphasized his optimism that this sabbatical will not last forever. Nonetheless, he still noted that — just as it does now — a shift in the real estate market will ultimately depend upon a shift in the pandemic.

“Once they come up with an antidote for the virus, (there will be a turn-around). Basically, up until then, I think all bets are off,” he said.

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