From the Record:
For buyers turned off by North Jersey’s high home prices and property taxes, the answer has long been: Go west, to the Poconos.
Transplants from North Jersey and the New York metropolitan area have swollen the population of what was once a rural vacation area. In Monroe County, Pa., just across the Delaware Water Gap on Route 80, the population has soared 72 percent since 1990, to an estimated 165,000.
But the housing bust has slammed the Poconos, with prices down 20 percent over the past year, to a median $140,000. At the same time, foreclosures have risen. And buyers who’d like to take advantage of the lower prices often can’t get mortgages.
All in all, veteran Poconos real estate professionals say, it’s the worst market they’ve seen in decades.
“We have more houses than there are buyers in the market who can qualify to get a loan,” said Kathy Louis of Kathy Louis Real Estate Inc. in Mount Pocono. “They [lenders] shut the valve completely off.”
Now, the question is whether the demand for housing in the Poconos will return as the real estate and mortgage markets recover.
But others say the rate of migration from New York and New Jersey is not likely to return to the levels of the first half of this decade. For one thing, said John Woodling, director of planning for Monroe County, environmental regulations and other restrictions will make home construction more difficult in the Poconos.
“The parcels of land that can be developed relatively easily — there aren’t that many left,” Woodling said.
Moreover, more people from New York and New Jersey may decide that they’re not willing to make the required trade-offs — especially the long commute, which could become even more burdensome if gas prices soar again.
“People say, ‘It’s only 80 miles to Manhattan.’ But it’s 2 1/2 hours in the morning and 2 1/2 hours at night,” said Christine Harvell, a Stroudsburg real estate agent who grew up in Lyndhurst.
Of course, commuters spend money as well as time: the bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal costs more than $460 a month.
While the commute is tough, living in the Poconos meant the Marohns could build a large, four-bedroom house for less than what a Cape Cod would cost in North Jersey. When they step out onto their deck, they’re not looking into the neighbor’s yard, because the nearest house is “two football fields away,” Sylvia said.
“I couldn’t see us anyplace else right now,” she said.