From the Press of Atlantic City:
John Van Duyne heads into a house he recently finished building, a few doors off the beach in Ventnor.
He points out the quartz shower seats and countertops in the downstairs bathrooms. In the living room, a giant TV is recessed into the wall, and rows of speakers are built into the ceiling.
The master bedroom includes a bar and refrigerator hidden under a sink. And when Van Duyne approaches a separate room that houses the toilet, the lid lifts automatically as soon as he reaches the door.
This could be a dream beach house to almost anyone. Van Duyne figures that on the grand scale of today’s luxury homes, this one is maybe a 4 out of 10.
Construction is still busy on the islands that stretch along the South Jersey coastline. And builders say much of their market now is for high-end homes with elevators and pools and luxury gadgetry built right in, from automatic vacuum systems to automatic irrigation systems for the plants that decorate the decks.
News about South Jersey real estate often includes fair amounts of gloom and doom. Atlantic County is still the national leader in mortgage foreclosures. And sales figures from New Jersey Realtors, the trade group, show the median value of a single-family home in Cape May County dropping last year by 5.8 percent to $290,000.
For those reasons and more, a local home-building industry that boomed for decades along with Atlantic City’s casino business has slowed almost to a halt in much of the region. But building hasn’t stopped entirely. It just moved to the beach.
“The focus is always on the water, whether it’s beachfront or bayfront,” says Van Duyne, a Ventnor native who builds on Absecon Island.
“They’re basically two separate markets now, with outsiders buying up the islands,” says Richard Perniciaro, a veteran Atlantic Cape Community College economist. “The two housing markets — mainland and island — are very separate and influenced by different housing trends.”
“The investors, or second-home owners or retirees from outside the area, are making housing decisions based on the value of their homes in (Philadelphia), North Jersey or Cherry Hill,” he says.
Those markets have largely recovered from the housing debacle that fed the national recession, he said.
With home values growing in those areas, Perniciaro said, “The shore is a bargain to them.”