The Northern New Jersey housing market finished 2017 strong, with prices up even while declining inventory throughout the region stifled sales growth. With demand high, and available homes low, we believe that homeowners will continue to enjoy price increases throughout 2018.
Regional sales were up, but not in every county. Regional sales were up slightly for the quarter, rising almost 2% from the fourth quarter of last year, even while some counties like Bergen and Morris were down slightly. We believe that a lack of inventory is stifling sales growth, simply because we don’t have enough “fuel for the fire” to satiate the existing buyer demand. That said, sales in every county were up for the full calendar year, with the 27,000 regional sales in 2017 representing almost a 6% increase from 2016, and a full 75% increase from the bottom of the market in 2011. Inventory was down significantly again. The number of homes for sale continued to fall in the fourth quarter, dropping in every county in the region. Indeed, most of our Northern New Jersey markets have now fallen below the six‑months‑of‑inventory level that traditionally starts to signal a seller’s market: Bergen at 3.4, Passaic at 4.9, Morris at 4.5, and Essex at 4.1. Only Sussex County, at 7.3 months of inventory, is above that six‑month indicator. If inventory continues to tighten, and demand stays strong, we are likely to see more upward pressure on pricing. With sales up and inventory down, prices are starting to show some meaningful price appreciation. Basic economics of supply and demand would tell us that after five years of steadily increasing buyer demand, we would expect to see some meaningful price increases. And we’re starting to see some promising signs: for the 2017 year, the regional average price was up about 1%, and average prices were up in most of the counties in the region: Bergen up 4%, Passaic up 3%, Morris up 3%, Essex up 2%. Again, only Sussex was the outlier, with the average price down about 2%. Going forward, we remain confident that rising demand and falling inventory will continue to drive price appreciation through 2018. Sales have now been increasing for over five years, which has brought inventory below the seller’s market threshold in much of the region. The economic fundamentals are all good: homes are priced at 2004 levels (without even adjusting for inflation), interest rates are still near historic lows, and the regional economy is stable. Accordingly, we continue to believe the region is poised for a robust seller’s market in 2018.