By Donald Wittkowski
Driving around Sea Isle City, it’s not unusual to see new homes or duplexes being built in virtually every part of town.
Overall, it is more of a boomlet than an outright boom. It certainly hasn’t been a bust.
Avoiding any wild swings up or down, the city’s new housing market has maintained pretty much of a steady pace over the past 10 years, according to newly released figures by Sea Isle’s Construction Office.
The number of new residential units built in Sea Isle annually between 2008 and 2018 ranged from a low of 70 in 2009 to a high of 103 in 2012. The nation’s recession was at its tail end in 2009, while the economic recovery was continuing in 2012.
Between 2008 and 2018, an average of 86 residential units were built each year, a figure that reflected consistency in the housing market.
“Sea Isle has been steady over the last 10 years,” said Neil Byrne, the city’s construction official. “Most of the shore towns have been redeveloping. Sea Isle has been doing it a little longer, 15 or 20 years or so – since about 2000. We have a mix of single-family homes, duplexes and multi-family units.”
In 2018, a total of 79 residential units were built in Sea Isle. Byrne expects that the number of units built in 2019 will be higher than 2018.
He noted that two mixed-used projects combining commercial space with condominiums will open this year along the Landis Avenue corridor between 42nd and 44th streets, in the heart of the downtown business district.
One of those projects includes 12 condo units, while the second will have six. The condos are being built on the top floors of three-story buildings that will have restaurants or retail space at ground level.
With a scarce amount of developable land available in the beach resort, new construction is often being done on property where old homes were demolished.
From 2008 to 2018, an average of 62 residential and commercial units were demolished each year, according to figures compiled by Byrne’s office. During that same period, the number of demolitions peaked at 77 units, both in 2012 and 2013, and hit a low of 30 in 2011.
Sea Isle’s new housing market is dominated by duplexes. Over the last 10 years, an average of 56 duplex units have been built each year compared to about 10 single-family homes on an annual basis, figures show.
However, on average, about 14 single-family homes have been built annually in the last five years. Byrne said that indicates an emerging trend in which wealthy second-homeowners are building their houses exclusively for themselves instead of renting them out to visitors for summer vacations.
“In the last five years, we’ve gotten a lot more single families. People are strictly building more single-family homes,” he said. “The number of people renting their properties is down.”
He added, “I think, if anything, that’s the change in the market. We’re seeing more singles.”
Sea Isle has been evolving into a more upscale resort town featuring multimillion-dollar vacation homes lining the beachfront and bays. In 2018, the typical home in Sea Isle was assessed at about $642,000.
Underscoring the shift in the market, the total number of housing units in Sea Isle has climbed from 5,000 to 7,000, but rental permits have plummeted from 2,500 to 1,300, according to the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization.
Carol Hopely Russo, vice president and head of the Sea Isle office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors, characterized the overall housing market as strong.
“It’s a good market,” she said. “The activity, I think, is strong.”
Compared to the same period last year, the number of sales is up in January 2019 at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors, she noted.
Hopely Russo said duplex sales still lead the Sea Isle market. With single-family homes typically costing $1 million or more, duplexes offer a more affordable option for people looking to buy a seashore vacation property, she pointed out.
“Duplexes are still No. 1,” she said.
At the same time, though, single-family homes seem to be growing in popularity in Sea Isle, suggesting what Hopely Russo said could be an “ever so slight” shift in the market.
“Do people prefer singles? Yes, they certainly do,” she said.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors has been approached by custom homebuilders in Bucks, Montgomery and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania scouting for single-family home sites on Sea Isle’s beachfront, Hopely Russo said.
But the homebuilders want the land for their own homes, rather than building vacation houses for someone else.
“What we have are buyers who come in and say, ‘If you ever come across a single-family home site on a beach block, I would be interested in that,’” Hopely Russo said.