Data analysis by Frank Kummer
If you're in Avalon for a last summer blast and spot a Penn State flag flying on a deck overlooking a ribbon of cars with Pennsylvania plates, you've hit upon what an analysis of thousands of property records shows:
Philadelphians and their suburban neighbors own a heck of a lot of the Jersey Shore (search all NJ property records here).
The analysis of residential and vacant properties in 22 Shore municipalities across Atlantic, Cape May, and Ocean Counties from 2016 shows that a majority of the properties in all but one Shore town are owned by out-of-towners. Pennsylvanians predominate. (Here are our top findings)
In fact, Philadelphians alone own more than 5,700 properties scattered across those communities.
It's no surprise that people group together. Geography and income are key groups in Jersey Shore ownership. But so is religion, because so many people attend houses of worship while they're at the Shore on weekends.
"The islands are very personal," said Michael C. Powers, a managing broker with Re/Max at the Shore in Avalon. The homes are handed down through generations, he said.
And, so are the memories that bring people back year after year.
"It is hard to describe the comfort level," Powers said.
Out-of-town ownership ranges from just under half of Atlantic City to 87 percent in Avalon, Stone Harbor, and Sea Isle City. The latter group is dominated by owners from the Main Line and other wealthy Pennsylvania suburbs such as West Chester and Newtown.
Jackie Burke, 42, of Moorestown, who has been renting the same Avalon Shore home for years, knows her landlords are from somewhere in the Pennsylvania suburbs.
Maybe West Chester?
"That is exactly where they are from," she said.
In Avalon, the predominant out-of-town owners live in West Chester, followed by Philadelphia, Malvern, Wayne, and Newtown Square.
The data suggest those from wealthy Pennsylvania suburbs embrace pricey Shore communities more to the south while owners from Cherry Hill favor Brigantine, Margate, Longport, Ventnor, and Ocean City. Owners from Northeast and South Philly congregate in the Wildwoods.
Those from Marlton, Medford, and Moorestown in Burlington County gravitate toward Long Beach Island communities, which are closer to home.
But why the connection from one inland community to a certain beach town?
In a word, comfort.
"All things being equal, what is the expression? 'Birds of a feather flock together,' " said James Schwarzwalder, 69, of Lindenwold, who also has a second home in Avalon. "You tend to gravitate to where you feel at ease."
While Schwarzwalder and his wife, who bought in the upscale Shore community about 22 years ago for business purposes, defy the trend of coming from the Philadelphia suburbs, they are well aware that is where most of their Shore neighbors live in the off-season.
Car bumper stickers from the local schools give it away, he said. Even signs on Shore businesses confirm strong Pennsylvania connections.
Hassis Men's Shop of Newtown Square has a second location in Avalon, where Jim Hassis, the original owner, who died in 1980, had a Shore home. Hassis also had another men's shop in the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City.
"For us it is a no-brainer to have a summer store," said Peter Marziano, the men's shop's general manager. It is open from June through September.
Religion also may play a part in where people buy vacation homes.
"This is a very Catholic town," Schwarzwalder said about Avalon.
The borough has a very active Roman Catholic parish, St. Brendan the Navigator, along with Maris Stella Church on Dune Drive in Avalon and St. Paul Church on Third Avenue in Stone Harbor, he said.
Bridgette Iglesias, 56, of Lansdale, was recently visiting Lucy the Elephant in Margate with her children. For years, her husband's family owned Bubba's Deli in Margate, the best place to buy a bagel, she said.
Longport, Margate, and Ventnor were known as Jewish summer communities, she said.
"It was the food," said Iglesias. "I came here to get Jewish deli."
Not surprisingly, Ocean County draws less from Philadelphia and its suburbs. Rather, its ownership derives from nearby communities, such as Toms River, or further inland, such as Wayne, Passaic County. And, of course, New York City and Staten Island are well represented. Owners from Philadelphia, however, like Harvey Cedars in particular.
It's difficult to say with any degree of precision how many Shore homes are owned strictly as income or investment properties. And it depends on the town, of course.
In Seaside Heights, a number of the out-of-town owners are in nearby communities of Toms River and Brick Township and own income property in both locations. Residents of Staten Island are also buyers in Seaside Heights.
"Almost without exception it is entirely the business community," said Laura Shaw, tax collector for Seaside Heights Borough, Ocean County, where tourism is the number-one industry. "They are either in amusements or rental properties."
Indeed, Seaside Heights was the first location for the reality show Jersey Shore and three of the cast members were from Staten Island.
Strong anecdotal information suggests many Shore homes serve owners both for personal use and as rental investments for at least part of the year.
In Longport, where 77 percent of the property is owned by out-of-towners, Philadelphia tops the list of their residences, with Cherry Hill, Bryn Mawr, Huntingdon Valley, and Gladwyne rounding out the top five.
Besides being a unique geographical location with water on three sides, Longport has become a sound investment - if you have the means, said Mayor Nick Russo.
While property values have increased in the last five years, the tax rate is the lowest in Atlantic County," said Russo.
"These are homes that are used by the people that actually own them," said Russo.
Year-round residents note that there are downsides to living in a town where most of the property owners are from someplace else and homes are occupied only a few months each year.
Out-of-town ownership has taken a toll on some schools.
"There is no one in grade schools anymore," Powers said about Avalon.
The Avalon and Stone Harbor School Districts have combined for grades one through eight but now send students to Middle Township High School in Cape May Court House for high school. Some students commute as far as Philadelphia to attend private schools, he said.
Susan Venesz, 62, a retired nurse and midwife, and one of the 777 full-timers in Longport, runs down her list of summer pet peeves.
The beaches are crowded, parking is a pain, you can't go to your favorite haunts, and the summer-only people "don't invest in the community," said Venesz.
Locals hate summer, Venesz said as she surveyed the community vegetable garden outside the municipal building.