We’ve all heard of “the Jersey Shore,” however with 130 miles of Atlantic Ocean frontage, it’s not all reality show goombas and New York City riffraff. The communities of Avalon and Stone Harbor share a barrier island on the far southern New Jersey coast called Seven Mile Island (no points for guessing the name’s origin). The island is about 36 miles south of Atlantic City and 20 miles north of Cape May.
Originally the island contained just Avalon but was split in 1941 to add Stone Harbor. Seven Mile Island protrudes about a mile further east into the Atlantic Ocean than nearby islands and so gained the motto, “Cooler by a Mile.”
However, like New York City, nearly all the streets are numbered. From north to south the streets run from 6th Street to 122nd Street. In the early 20th century, a hurricane washed away part of the island, which is why the streets begin at 6th Street today. The Stone Harbor and Avalon border is at 80th Street, and it’s also where Avalon’s Dune and Ocean Drives become Stone Harbor’s 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Being a barrier island, it varies from one to four blocks in width between Ocean Drive and … well … the actual ocean. West of Ocean there are a series of canals and marshy islets before joining with the mainland.
Politically, these towns should feel homey for Texans, with 76 percent of Stone Harbor and 52 percent of Avalon residents being registered Republicans.
Second home owners and vacationers have their own preferences on whether to be on the ocean or bay side (which aren’t actually “bays” but called “sounds” on the east coast). For beachy-keen me, it’s ocean side all the way as the island’s beaches consistently rank in the top 10 for New Jersey. The bay side, with its marshes, tends have a lot of bugs, but if you’re a fisherman with a boat, the bay side is where you want to be. Economics play a part, too.
Another geographic marker home buyers need to understand is “beach block.” Long blocks run perpendicular to the beach. This means the block closest to the beach has just two homes that are oceanfront (one on each side at the end of the street). Homes get less expensive the further away from the ocean with beach block being the most coveted and expensive.
In New England, beach towns support a huge summer rental operation. Up until the early 2000s, a homeowner could expect to recoup the mortgage and taxes on their home just from vacation rentals from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Towns like Avalon with 1,000-ish full-time residents swell as 20,000 vacationers breathe life into sleepy towns. However with the housing boom coupled with a second home boom, that’s no longer possible.
What you can expect to budget
In 2015, the average single family home sold for $1.65 million and the average condo/townhouse sold for $770,000. If you want a sub-$1 million single family, there are a few tiny-lotted, tiny homes (approx. 500-600 square feet) that are generally surrounded by other homes. Otherwise get out your big checkbook. Condos will range from condotels to quite large 4-5 bedroom options.
The options I’m presenting are from Avalon, as I know it better. I’ve walked and ridden a bicycle all over the island, but spent most of my time in Avalon. Stone Harbor is supposed to be a bit tonier, but in recent years that difference has evaporated with the real estate boom. Given that it’s one long, skinny island, that’s as it should be. If you want something a bit wallet-friendly, north of the island is Sea Isle City and south is Wildwood, which are separate islands.
Real estate in these towns isn’t cheap. For those itching to get in on a budget, there’s the Concord Suites condotel. A condotel is where a buyer purchases a hotel room that is placed in hotel rotation at the owner’s discretion to generate a percentage of the daily room rental in revenue. Units are like Embassy Suites with a separate sleeping and living rooms with a small kitchenette and uniform décor. Concord Suites units can be had in the $270,000 range. There are several listings with several from Coldwell Banker James Cotton.
Beach block townhouse that’s really a single-family split in half. It has 1,560 square feet with four bedrooms and two full baths. It’s listed by Berkshire Hathaway affiliate Fox & Roach for $899,000. Like many area homes, it’s “upside-down” with the bedrooms on the lower level and the main living areas upstairs to capture what views are on offer. Being on beach block, the home does have some ocean views and off-street parking. It also has central heat and air for year-round use. The kitchen has been renovated but the bathrooms are dated.
Also, like many resort homes, furniture is included unless specifically excluded. A friend of mine who purchased a home in Avalon for $440,000 on beach block sold it a decade later for $1.7 million as a tear-down. Even after the wobbles of the recession, those prices have held. This home’s $899,000 price is likely a smidge less than half the cost to purchase the whole house as a tear down.
Staying with the beach block theme, this home is one of the two oceanfront homes on 37th Street. Think of this as the full-house version of the 27th Street townhouse listed above but oceanfront. This 1979 home has 2,993 square feet with four bedrooms and four full bathrooms, It’s listed by Janet DeLorenzo with Coldwell Banker James Cotton for $4,895,000.
Like I said, this home is oceanfront … well, New England oceanfront. There are yards of plant-filled dunes (erosion fighter) between you and the wide sandy beach. It’s still pretty heavenly.
In 2012 the home received two new bathrooms and this new (poorly photographed) kitchen with Shaker style cabinets, granite counters and two sinks. I’m not sure if the appliances are white out of taste or necessity. Being so close to salt air, metal is constantly threatening to rust.
The living room has not received the same updating as other parts of the home. The owner says there’s room for a pool (something that baffles me so close to the ocean) and is zoned for a third floor.
Wow! This 2008 home has five bedroom, four full bathroom home sprawls over 3,786 square feet. It’s listed with Craig Soens of Ferguson Dechert Realtors for $4,595,000. Hmmm, one street away from the previous house, same ocean front lot, nearly 800 additional square feet and 28 years newer for $300,000 less? What gives? To quote the agent, “Due to an oversight, a pipe burst during the winter of 2015. The damage has been professionally remediated and all plumbing, heating and cooling is operational. The interior is in an unfinished state…”
Being a renovator, I think if all the inspections panned out, this is a better bargain than the 37th Street house. Use the $300,000 difference to finish this place out and have a much better/newer home. So there was a huge flood? As long as it’s sound, bring in the drywallers, carpenters and painters and get a nearly new house for a song … if $4.595 mil plus finish out is a song you can sing.
Thinking about renting for a summer holiday?
Renting in Avalon and Stone Harbor is big business as evidenced by the 20x upswing in summer population. In addition to sites like VRBO.com, local realtors do a thriving business in holiday rentals. You can rent anything from a studio condo to a jumbo oceanfront home. It all depends on budget and needs … mostly budget.
New England rentals are different. Unless it’s really a hotel, expect to bring your own sheets and towels. The beaches are also a bit private. A rental will also come with beach tokens that you’ll clip to your gear while at the beach. Be prepared for bossy lifeguards. Also, while there are plenty of restaurants nearby, you’ll likely be doing a lot of grilling. Cape May Courthouse is about nine miles south and where major grocery stores are located.
All in all, with the right company and the right bottle of wine, Avalon can be as mythical as the Avalon of Arthurian legend … without a Snooki or JWoww in earshot.
Remember: Do you have a secondshelters.com location you’d like to see featured? I travel quite a bit and enjoy poking around real estate. Realtors, have clients who’d like to document their second home journey? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (they’re legal)! firstname.lastname@example.org