Here is an OAQ (Occasionally Asked Questions) breakdown for people considering moving to Cranford.
Q. [We’re]…looking to move out of New York City and into the suburbs. We visited and thought it was very nice. We are also looking more north, the Bergen County area…
Best of luck in your house hunt. It is definitely not a bad time to buy.
We like it here. We feel it is less judgmental than the more exclusive communities (like the ‘my Volvo’s trim level is nicer than your Volvo’s trim level’ type of stuff. If you’re into comparing your Volvo’s trim level to your neighbor’s,and Summit have more Volvos for comparing.)
It seems like you get more for your money in Cranford than you do in towns in Bergen County or even compared to Westfield. How come that is?
While I can’t explain completely why Cranford is cheaper than Westfield or Ridgewood, here’s my thinking:
* Cranford’s housing stock has many more small, modest homes. Westfield and Ridgewood have a lot of pretty stately places, while Cranford has a limited number, mostly on the north side. So telling others you’re from Cranford usually does not get the reaction that you would get saying you’re from Westfield, Short Hills, Summit or Ridgewood. Half of the time when I tell people where we live they think I mean Cranbury (which is actually a nice little town) near Exit 8 of the Turnpike.
* Cranford up until oh, 25 years ago, had a decent amount of industry. There are still some plants in town, but fewer every year. A big GM ball bearing plant became the Hyatt Hills Golf Course, for example. Having smokestacks nearby keeps prices down. The other towns are more professional / residential. I don’t think that Cranford now has any disadvantage from having industry than any other town around. I don’t consider anything close by to be a danger. (UPDATE Dec 2012: By now, with the US Gypsum plant on Raritan in Clark, and the businesses on North Avenue by the Parkway all closing, there is even less industry to worry about.)
* Cranford’s downtown does not have critical mass. Based on the footprint and the, it probably won’t anytime soon. That’s not saying it’s bad, it’s not. Even though a lot of people are really critical. But because of it’s limited size, the foot traffic, parking, etc., mall stores probably won’t find it cost-effective and there’s no room for a supermarket or major department store. You can take care of a lot of weekend errands in town, and there are some pretty good restaurants. There are also some nice offbeat local stores. But Westfield with it’s wider sidewalks, more outdoor dining choices and big name stores will always be considered to be more desirable.
* Cranford has no direct midtown train service. We like Cranford since you have the choice of train and express bus to NYC. Not every town does. But since we’re on the Raritan Valley line, we have to switch in . That stinks. We’re supposed to get direct service, but it will be years. When Summit got direct to midtown service their property values went up about 15% in a year. Westfield is on the same line but it has a couple of express trains to Newark. (Update Jan 2015: There are now off-peak direct trains to NYC during the day and in the evening, which is great if you have flex time or shift work or want to meet up for drinks in the city in the evening; the train trip is reduced to a manageable 37 minutes or so.)
The fact that the express buses stop at the train station has been a life-saver more than a few times when the trains are broken (which is less rare than we’d like). Early morning express buses can get you into Port Authority in under an hour. Taking an express bus home from NYC can take 35 minutes at the right time of day (the 8:05 pm express, for example). My commute to downtown near the WTC was an hour and five minutes door to door using NJTransit to Newark and the PATH.
Since you came from the same sort of situation not too long ago of moving from NYC to Cranford, would you suggest it to be a good move?
We had a little kid learning to walk in a one bedroom on the West Side. We felt it was the right thing to do. If we stayed, we figured we’d have to do private school and move to a 2 bedroom. We had a car in a garage. We had stuff in a storage bin. Our rent was at market rates, which in 2002-2003 was not a good thing.
If we were going to bother moving, why not go where we can have a yard, decent public schools (so that they were an option), a garage, a basement and an attic? (Which is what we got.) Our mortgage is less than our rent was. Food shopping is a breeze with supermarkets nearby in Clark, Garwood and Kenilworth. Daycare here is much cheaper than NYC and we found places we liked. No more NYC resident income tax. Other than the commute, we’re ahead.
In Cranford, there is a little bit of a dichotomy between north and south sides, which the Raritan Valley Line tracks divide. We’re on the south side. When we were looking, the north side houses were about 10% more expensive. Some of the old timers may think the north side is better but I think it doesn’t really matter (in fact, I have heard from multiple people that the south side elementary schools are thought to be better than the north side’s).
What is your read on the real estate market? Do you think the housing prices will continue to fall in the area? How desperate are the sellers in Cranford? Please be honest.
I can’t predict the real estate market. However, I would guess that Cranford’s housing won’t crater relative to towns around us. There is no room for any large tract developments, so there can be no flood of new supply. There are potential developments on South Ave and Birchwood Ave, but they won’t happen for years, if ever, due to litigation. (Update Jan 2015: The South Ave development is nearing completion and the development by the train station is essentially done. I haven’t seen much going on at Birchwood.) Prices may fall some more as taxes increase and the impact of the Schering Plough buyout results in layoffs (the headquarters were in North Jersey. I’m sure you can find some desperate sellers, but not everybody. I honestly don’t see a huge property value drop that would be worse than what NJ will experience in general, but that is just my personal opinion.). But overall, there is good commuter access (GSP/78, train and bus), the housing prices are still affordable for people with a decent job, and we still have relatively low crime. Taxes aren’t worse than most of
Is there anything you can tell me about the town through your personal experience of living there compared to what I can get from brokers or other outside biased parties?
We’re pretty busy and we’re still getting to know people and exploring. Overall people in Cranford tend to be pretty decent and reasonably friendly. Our neighbors have been very easy to get along with. Our kid has made some very nice little friends. We have also made some good friendships (often with the parents of our kid’s friends). My family has been happy here. The vibe I get is that the town is stable, family oriented, resists any kind of change, and is less corrupt than most NJ towns.
One thing: when looking at a house, make sure it doesn’t have a flooding problem. We got some water in the big storm of April 2007, but we have a sump pump that held up. A lot of houses on the north side and a few on the south get flooded when the river rises. The Cranford Taxpayer blog has some shots of that. Most houses don’t have a problem, but look out when the furnace is on blocks and evidence of water damage is on the basement walls. UPDATE Sept 2011: Of course, Hurricane Irene dropped more rain in 2011 (about 10 inches in less than 24 hours) than had been seen since Cranford became populated. Some houses were hit with flooding for the first time. We had water closer than ever and many people who live near us had some pretty bad problems. We have a perimeter drain with a sump pump, and have a manual bilge pump as a back-up..our basement stayed dry during the flooding. When looking at a home, consider this map…it may sway your decision…or if you choose to buy in this area, just factor in that an ornately finished basement may not be the best idea.
UPDATE: Dec 2012 – Here are new maps that were used for Sandy..which pretty much sum up the total of Irene’s flooding. There are a lot more homes in the evac zone – granted, Irene was pretty epic as far as rainfall was concerned. Sandy dropped only about 2 inches of rain and most of the issues were falling trees and power outages, like everywhere else.
Before you buy, find out if the property is on the FEMA map requiring flood insurance and determine what the flood insurance premium is. I do not have any info on how many homes in Cranford require flood insurance or how much it costs.
UPDATE Jan 2013: I spoke with a friend of mine who works for PSE&G. He made an interesting comment about the south side. The south side’s electrical infrastructure is newer and a completely different technology compared to the north side and thus more durable. Which may explain the fact that we on the south side didn’t lose power in the past three “storms of the century”. Also, the south side is served by a different substation than the north. The north side’s substation is near the train station on South Avenue..which was heavily flooded during Irene. This isn’t to bash the north side. It has a lot of great streets and homes, and we may live on the north side someday. But if you buy on the north side, just be aware of some of the risks and plan accordingly.
Is there a bad part of town?
If there is, I’m not as aware as I should be. I can’t say “avoid there and there”. And I think that parking a car overnight on any residential street in Cranford would be okay. If you’re looking for a house, you should be able to get a good feel walking around the neighborhood. Some neighborhoods are more upscale than others. The houses on the north side around Casino are very different than the south side near the Centennial Ave Pool. (Although the Casino houses can flood.) The town has lower crime than most, but it is not crime-free. The police do seem to patrol more around the entry points of town…Raritan Road by the Parkway and Centennial, and North and South Avenues (as well as downtown).
What surprised you after you moved into the town of Cranford that you weren’t expecting?
Nothing comes to mind as a surprise. One thing I did think of was traffic, as North Ave in rush hour can get bad, but one thing I liked about Cranford traffic is that it can’t get worse. It is pretty much as developed as it ever will be. If anything, people were tearing down two small houses to put up one big house. Well, I was surprised when a few mobsters who were arrested apparently lived in town. But what town in NJ doesn’t have a couple of mobsters? It IS New Jersey.
UPDATE: The NY Times got around to Cranford for its “Living In” series.
Some of the assertions should be taken with a grain of salt (especially the downtown management corporation and starting a business portion which would spark a lively debate with the locals)…but a lot of it is basically correct.