Six years ago, Brittin Bleakley walked into a friend’s Jersey City home with her daughter for a play date and fell in love.
She loved the home’s back yard, the old-house details like the original stained glass window, the finished basement and the size — four bedrooms.
Bleakley, her husband and their two children started looking to buy after renting in Jersey City for many years. They heard the friend was actually interested in selling and moved into their dream home this summer.
“She had done a lot of work on the house, it was move-in ready,” said Bleakley who paid $270,000. “It’s wonderful. I’m so lucky.”
When people think of Jersey City, they often think of two extremes: luxe waterfront condos with sky-high price tags or crime-ridden neighborhoods with boarded up buildings. Jersey City also recently hit the news when it was announced that reality TV stars Snooki and JWoww would live there to shoot a new show.
But beyond the headlines, the state’s second-largest city has more than a dozen neighborhoods, each with its own vibe. The Van Vorst Park and Hamilton Park sections are known for stately row houses; Lincoln Park has sprawling Victorians. The waterfront and Newport have luxury condo towers and the Heights has colonials and lower-rise condos.
There is also a huge variety in housing stock. There are the new, modern condos at Canco Lofts, near Journal Square with its transportation hub and PATH service. There’s the prewar condo building at 2600 Kennedy Blvd., where Frank Hague, the legendarily political boss and mayor, once lived. There are row houses and brownstones that would seem at home in the tony Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, and grand Victorians similar to those in Montclair.
“People are being priced out of New York City,” said Dan Pelosi of Weichert Realtors. “It always surprises me when people say that they’d live far out in Brooklyn or Queens because ‘at least it’s in New York.’ Our PATH is sometimes a lot more convenient than the subway in New York. You can get to the World Trade Center in nine minutes from downtown.”
Bleakely’s dream home, a 1904-farmhouse style, is in Greenville, a large area that is home to many of the city’s poorest residents. She said her immediate neighborhood is lovely.
“People take pride in their homes here,” she said. “A few blocks over you can run into some scary places, but they are starting to build new buildings, and it’s starting to look better.”
Kelly Bignell was also renting in Jersey City for many years and recently decided to buy. She and her boyfriend, Aaron Asedo, chose the Canco Lofts, built on the site of the former American Can Co. factory because they loved the modern aesthetic.
Their apartment has about 1,400 square feet, 14-foot ceilings, one bedroom, a den and an office. They bought in December, paying just under $400,000. Bignell loves the amenities in the building, including the luxury lounge and full gym. She works in advertising and takes the PATH to the Tribeca section of Manhattan. Her husband has a furniture design studio in commercial space at the Canco complex.
“It’s such a great location,” she said. “I grew up in Canada in the middle of nowhere, and I love New York City. But I could never live there — it’s just too busy. Here we can go into the city and do anything you want, but you can come home and have a little more quiet.”
‘On the edge’
Carly Berwick and her husband were renting in Brooklyn before moving to Jersey City in 2002, when they bought a two-family in the Lincoln Park area.
Now with two young boys, they purchased a one-family home in the McGinley Square neighborhood, about eight blocks away, in spring 2011.
The 1910 stucco home has a driveway, a garage, a yard and six bedrooms, which comes in handy for visiting relatives.
“We had 12 or 13 people sleeping here over Christmas,” said Berwick, who paid in the mid-300’s for the home.
While many people head for the suburbs after having children, Berwick said she and her husband are happy to raise their kids in the city. While Jersey City fights the stereotype of having bad schools, Berwick said she believes there are plenty of good options in public, charter and private schools in the city. They like to frequent the local parks and they are both active in the community effort to encourage more bicycling in the city.
“When we first moved here we’d be so surprised to see a hipster in our neighborhood,” Berwick said. “Now we don’t even count them anymore. People are coming because of the amazing housing stock, the proximity to New York and the coolness factor of being a little bit on the edge.”
George Biris and his partner, Jay Barksdale, had lived in a 400-square-foot studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for decades but recently decided they needed more space. While it was anathema to many of their friends, they looked across the river and found their new home in a luxury condo called Washington Commons in the Powerhouse district.
They love the sweeping view of New York City and that they can walk to stores and restaurants. Barksdale said his commute is only about 10 minutes longer than it was when he and Biris lived in Manhattan.
Their two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit, with about 1,300 square feet of space, would have easily been more than $1.5 million in Manhattan, Biris said. They paid $523,000 in Jersey City.
“Our friends who live in Manhattan still have not gotten over the psychological bump you have to make to exit the New York City transit system, but we’re very happy here,” Biris said.
Their realtor, Joni Vicente, a broker associate at Boutique Realty has worked in Jersey City for 30 years. She said that among the city’s great appeals is the ethnic diversity in neighborhoods. There is a Little India, an Italian section, a neighborhood with a large number of Filipino residents and another with a good-size German and Polish community.
“Jersey City really is a melting pot,” Vicente said.
Vicente said many people relocate to Jersey City after being priced out of New York City. Over the years, residents have been priced out of certain Jersey City neighborhoods — like Hamilton Park and Van Vorst Park — and are moving to the West Side or north to the Heights.
One Realtor, Anthony Armagno, said he’s seen the most changes in the city’s downtown, which includes Hamilton Park and Van Vorst Park, where there are dozens of hip bars and eateries.
“Twenty or 30 years ago most of the houses were burned out. Banks wouldn’t even give mortgages to buy it was so bad,” he said. “Now you can’t find a brownstone for under $700,000 or $800,000.”
Marisa Musachio has been living in the Heights for seven years, first in a condo and now in a two-bedroom colonial she bought in December with her husband, Tom Gerke.
Newlyweds, they looked in downtown neighborhoods but found them too pricey. They also looked at the suburbs at his request, delving into Maplewood, Montclair and Bloomfield.
“The prices and taxes are insane,” said Musachio, who was hoping to remain in Jersey City because she likes the urban feel. They ended up paying $360,000 for their home.
Musachio said she loves the parquet floors, the wooden molding, the driveway and the yard surrounded by trees. She commutes to Hoboken, he to the financial district.
“Jersey City still maintains a diversity that you don’t see in places like Hoboken anymore,” she said. “I feel like there has been enough gentrification, but not so much to the point that it’s lost it’s uniqueness.”
BY JENNIFER V. HUGHES
SPECIAL TO THE RECORD