Like so many New Yorkers who have recently fled the city, Luis and Evelyn Torres had been thinking about selling their home, a condominium in Queens, but found their plans accelerated by the onslaught of the coronavirus. In May, the couple began looking at houses in New Jersey, starting in the northern part of the state and working their way south, until they landed in Jackson Township.
“When we got to Jackson, we knew, this is it,” said Mr. Torres, 50, the owner of a trucking company in Manhattan. “For what I’d pay for a house in Secaucus or Paramus, I’d get twice the size of house and two to three times the size of land here. And the commute would be just about the same.”
After losing out on several houses in Jackson to other eager buyers, the Torreses paid $695,000 for a 4,017-square-foot, five-bedroom house on 1.36 acres — with what Mr. Torres described as “the biggest pool you can get” — and they moved in last week.
A once largely rural area known for its cranberry bogs, sawmills and chicken farms, Jackson Township has seen much recent growth, from large single-family housing developments to new apartment and condo complexes, as well as major commercial projects along the main arteries. Being equidistant from New York City and Philadelphia, and about 30 minutes from the Jersey Shore, this sprawling northern Ocean County township is now home to 61,914 residents, having added close to 20,000 people in the past 20 years, according to U.S. census figures.
“We’re no longer the quiet, sleepy community we once were,” said Michael Kafton, 55, the broker-owner of Exit Realty and a lifelong resident, who described the flurry of activity as “change for the better.”
Along with families like the Torreses seeking more space, the relatively affordable Jackson appeals to first-time home buyers, as well as renters and retirees. In the first category is Ilona Gliszczynski, 27, an accountant who moved out of her parents’ house in Woodbridge, N.J., last month and into a 1993 four-bedroom bi-level house that she and her boyfriend bought for $372,000. Soon after moving in, the couple got engaged. “He was waiting for us to get the house, and then he proposed,” Ms. Gliszczynski said.
At the other end of the spectrum is Diane Bravata. After retiring from the investment management team at the Bank of New York three years ago, she wanted to be closer to her two daughters who were living in New Jersey. So she set off on a grand tour of about two dozen adult communities in New Jersey.
In April of last year, Ms. Bravata settled on Westlake Golf and Country Club, one of Jackson’s four 55-plus communities, buying a 2,800-square-foot, three-bedroom house built in 2002, for $398,000. Although not much of a golfer, she said she liked the country club’s amenities. Since moving, she and her husband, Peppi Colangelo, have joined a close-knit group of couples that Ms. Bravata referred to as “the Westlake troublemakers.” Together, they eat at local restaurants and hang out by the pool. Before Covid hit, they attended concerts and dinner dances in Westlake’s ballroom.
“Everybody’s from New York or Brooklyn, so we all have the same kind of vibe,” said Ms. Bravata, 64, referring to their friends in this community of more than 1,400 homes. “It’s a good fit.”
What You’ll Find
At just over 100 square miles, Jackson Township is New Jersey’s third largest municipality, with a combination of sparsely populated pine forests and more dense residential developments. The oldest of these large residential neighborhoods is Brookwood. Built in four phases in the 1960s and 1970s, it comprises more than 2,000 modest split-level and bi-level homes. Larger and newer houses on more than an acre can be found in areas with names like Belaire Estates. Houses on Jackson’s more populated east side have access to public water and sewer lines, while most properties on the west side have wells and septic tanks.
In addition to its four 55-plus communities, Jackson has six mobile-home parks and several condominium and rental complexes, the newest being the Gardens at Jackson Twenty-One, named for the project’s location near exit 21 of Interstate 195, which cuts across the top of Jackson. The Gardens and the adjacent affordable-housing project known as the Ponds are the first two phases of an expansive mixed-use project that has been in the planning stages for many years.
Some of Jackson’s oldest homes are found in what some refer to as the “Piney area,” where houses tucked into the woods displayed an abundance of Trump campaign signs in late October. (Jackson Township, like the county it sits in, has favored Republican candidates by about two to one in recent elections.)
In the past few years, Hasidic families from New York and neighboring Lakewood, N.J., have been gravitating to sections of Jackson that border Lakewood. Jackson is currently facing a discrimination lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Fair Housing acts, after blocking the proposed building of a Yeshiva school dormitory.
What You’ll Pay
The range of prices in Jackson is about as wide as the array of housing options, from a 2019 seven-bedroom Craftsman-style house on three acres currently listed for $1,699,999 to a 1972 two-bedroom mobile home for $28,000.
While prices are creeping up, “there’s still tremendous value here,” said James J. Befarah, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway, especially relative to neighboring towns.
In mid-November, there were 172 homes on the market, including 140 single-family homes, 24 adult community homes and eight condominiums. The average sale price of homes from January through Nov. 10 of this year was $386,500, up from $358,000 during the same period in 2019, according to the Monmouth Ocean County Multiple Listing Service. The recent uptick can be seen in sales figures from the 60-day period from Sept. 10 to Nov. 10, when the average price jumped to $435,000.
Rental apartments range from $1,225 a month for a two-bedroom apartment at an older complex like Jackson Colonial Arms, to around $1,945 for a two-bedroom unit at the Gardens.
Nonresidents mostly know Jackson Township as the home of the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park. Opened in 1974, it has since added a water park and a safari adventure, and now occupies 510 acres, making it one of the largest theme parks in the world. Many residents buy discounted season passes to take advantage of the park during less busy weekdays.
Jackson Premium Outlets also draw visitors from throughout the region, with outlet stores of dozens of national retail chains.
Seeking to appeal to those who travel to the two attractions, a local developer is now clearing 300 acres adjacent to Great Adventure to build Adventure Crossing, which is expected to include hotels, indoor and outdoor sports and entertainment arenas, restaurants and shops, plus a brain-research center.
Elsewhere in town, Jackson has three golf courses and numerous public parks and nature preserves.
Jackson Township has six elementary schools, two middle schools and two public high schools.
During the 2018-19 school year, Jackson Liberty High School had 1,131 students, and Jackson Memorial High School had 1,584 students. Average SAT scores at Jackson Liberty that year were 531 in math and 539 in reading and writing; at Jackson Memorial, the averages were 559 in math and 552 in reading and writing. (State averages were 541 in math and 539 in reading and writing.) Both schools offer more than 16 Advanced Placement courses. Jackson Memorial also has a Career Academy program, with tracks in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), digital media, business, and visual and performing arts.
Private school options include Mother Seton Academy, a Catholic school in Howell, N.J., that serves students from preschool through eighth grade.
Jackson Township is about 70 miles south of New York City, with a drive time of about an hour and a half. The Jackson Park and Ride commuter bus terminal, just off exit 21 of I-195, offers free parking to Jackson residents.
Bus service to the Port Authority terminal in Manhattan is provided by Academy Bus; the trip takes about an hour and 40 minutes and costs $19 one way or $410 for a monthly pass. A New Jersey Transit bus travels from farther south in Jackson, along Route 528, to Port Authority, but requires changing buses in Lakewood; it takes two hours and 39 minutes, and one-way tickets cost $21.75.
The cultivation and commercialization of cranberries has been credited to John Webb, a retired seaman turned schoolteacher known as Peg Leg, who sought to supply the vitamin-rich fruit to Philadelphia sailing masters hoping to avoid diseases on long voyages in the 19th century. Webb created a method for controlling water flow at his cranberry bogs and invented a sorting machine for ripe berries, both of which helped produce greater yields. A thriving industry was born, with Jackson once home to 260 cranberry bogs and related processing, packaging and shipping operations.