With its gruff governor – Chris Christie – and working-class heroes such as Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, New Jersey is hardly known for its glamour or gentility. But while New Jersey’s biggest city, Newark, may be among America’s poorest urban centres, the tiny hamlet of Alpine, a mere 25 miles north, is one of the wealthiest enclaves in the US.
Located along the Hudson River, eight miles north of New York City, Alpine is just under one-third the size of Manhattan island – but with a mere 3,000 residents and some of the nation’s highest average housing costs and fastest-rising prices.
The average Alpine residential sale was $6.7m last year, according to online listing service Realtor.com – costlier than midtown Manhattan and almost twice the price in Beverly Hills, California. Despite those expensive homes, Alpine’s property tax rates are the lowest in Bergen County and among the lowest in New Jersey. Prices in Alpine plunged by more than 25 per cent between 2008 and 2011, but increased 41 per cent in 2012 and 64 per cent since 2002, according to Knight Frank International Research and Otteau Valuation Group.
“Alpine houses are big and there aren’t many of them available for sale,” says Michael Simonsen, co-founder and chief executive of housing data consultancy Altos Research, which for the past five years has identified Alpine as one of the US’s priciest communities. “This low supply keeps the market high,” he adds.
With past and present residents including Sean “Puffy” Combs, Chris Rock and Stevie Wonder, Alpine has become a destination of choice for entertainers and sports stars. Celebrities are attracted to Alpine for the same qualities that have also lured a lesser-known cohort of hedge-funders, bankers and top-level corporate executives from northern New Jersey’s myriad consumer products, automotive and media companies. Alpine is secure and extremely private: street addresses are well guarded and mail must be collected from the post office rather than delivered door-to-door.
“Alpine is climbing back to the highs of 2005 to 2007 and we are seeing a lot of Wall Street buyers, a smattering of Chinese and increased Russian interest,” says estate agent Michele Kolsky-Assatly of Coldwell Banker in nearby Fort Lee. “The foreign interest has really picked up in the last two-and-a-half years as buyers view Alpine as a good place to park their money.”
Foreigners have shown particularly strong interest in Alpine’s most expensive listing, the former Frick Estate, which sits on 60 acres purchased from the grandson of steel magnate Henry Clay Frick for $58m in 2006. The buyer – property entrepreneur Richard Kurtz – has divided the 70-year-old compound into nine separate properties set within the newly-named Estates at Alpine complex. The largest property is the Stone Mansion, a five-floor, 30,000 sq ft new-build home with 12 bedrooms, 19 bathrooms, full-size cinema and indoor basketball court, on six acres of parkland. Priced at $49m, the house is listed through Knight Frank in London and Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty in Alpine.
Kurtz, who has lived for more than two decades in a 10,000 sq ft Alpine home, says buyers from Russia, China, Mexico and the Middle East have “shown serious interest in the mansion” – which was originally listed at $68m in mid-2010. “These are people who might typically look at Greenwich, Connecticut or parts of New York’s Westchester Country but want to be closer to the city,” adds Kurtz, who says that five of the estate’s lots have already been sold, including a two-acre parcel to professional hockey player Ilya Kovalchuk for $4.5m.
Across Bergen County, large properties like the former Frick Estate suffered power cuts and fallen trees during both superstorm Sandy last year and Hurricane Irene in 2011. However, many such homes are equipped with their own power sources.
Dede Shoeris-Levitt has lived at 4 Stone Tower Drive, a 23,000 sq ft mansion she built with her former husband, for the past decade. The colonial-style home, which includes seven bedrooms, six reception rooms and a two-lane bowling alley, is currently listed for $18.5m by Prominent Properties. Despite her decision to move to Manhattan, Shoeris-Levitt has an affection for Alpine. “This is a great place to raise kids with nature centres and lots of outdoor space,” she says. “[It] just happens to have very gorgeous, very expensive homes.”
While Alpine’s homes may be grand, their style and size are not suited to every buyer. Often newly built on lots originally intended for smaller houses, the homes’ inconsistent architectural aesthetic – ranging from faux-French to neocolonial to alpine-modern – is magnified by their scale.
What’s more, with virtually no shops or other surrounding services, residential properties dominate the landscape like a suburban sprawl. Alpine’s limited education facilities – there is just one school, the well-regarded Alpine Public School, which does not include a high school – contribute to the sense of a disparate community; older students must attend high school in nearby Tenafly or opt for private schooling.
“Alpine is fundamentally a residential destination,” says realtor Kolsky-Assatly, who is currently offering a five-bedroom/7,000 sq ft Alpine home on 1.43 acres for $3.75m, which was originally listed at $5.7m. “There is no commercial activity, no formal ‘town’ of Alpine where you can drop in for bagels and coffee.”
In a town where “starter homes” begin at $1.5m, Alpine buyers can clearly afford private education. Yet even as the number of buyers picks up, Alpine’s long-term prognosis is still uncertain as some properties continue to reduce their prices years after entering the market.
“Alpine’s outlook remains positive for at least the next six to 12 months,” says Simonsen. “But Alpine is heavily driven by New York City’s financial sector. So while signs are bullish for the moment, things could change if jobs pull back or new taxes kick in.”
● Violent crime is almost non-existent in Alpine and property crime rates are among the lowest in New Jersey
● The climate is typical of America’s mid-Atlantic region – warm, humid summers and cold winters
● There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in the US but financing is tougher for non-nationals
● Closing costs in New Jersey are among America’s highest
What you can buy for …
$1.5m A four-bedroom, three-bathroom colonial-style home built in the early 20th century
$5.388m A 13,000 sq ft, seven-bedroom new-build estate on 2.2 acres in a gated community