The recruitment campaign is on: Somers Point wants you.
Armed with catchy slogans ("The Shore Starts Here" and "Get to the Point"), a stylish website (LiveinSomersPoint.com), and a tax incentive, movers and shakers in this 4.03-square-mile mainland community across the Ninth Street Bridge from Ocean City are pulling out all the stops to get vacation- and primary-home buyers alike - entrepreneurs, too - to take notice.
"Everything you'll ever need to live here we have," said First Ward Councilman Kirk Gerety, whose family has lived in Somers Point for four generations, moving from South Philadelphia to open a grocery store in a building that now is one of the city's many restaurants.
"And if we don't have it, we'll try to get it," he said.
The locals want to renew and grow their town (current population: 10,785). And they're passionate about the cause.
If he could bottle David R. Hughes' enthusiasm, Michael Bray would make a fortune selling it at his Somers Point liquor store, Passion Vines. Not that he isn't equally passionate.
Bray, who moved to town from Brigantine in 2002, is chairman of the nine-member Economic Development Advisory Commission and president of the Somers Point Business Association, and is involved in any number of community activities.
Hughes, chief financial officer of Shore Medical Center, the city's biggest employer, spent most of his career as a gaming-industry executive, and he'll tell you Somers Point is a sure bet for anyone looking to buy a house or open a business.
"I built a house here in 1998, then worked all over the country, but in 2010 I decided to come back," Hughes said. "This has always been my home."
Somers Point is "a great 'back in time' Shore community," said John Duffy, owner of Duffy Real Estate on the Main Line, who has long owned a vacation home in Ocean City across the Great Egg Harbor Bay.
Plus, it's a place especially well-known to those in "dry" Ocean City who head over the Ninth Street Bridge to Somers Point's restaurants to have drinks with their meals.
Thus, a major focus of the marketing campaign is to compare the affordability of permanent and vacation homes in Somers Point with what is for sale on the barrier islands.
Thomas Lacovara said he and his wife and son lived in neighboring Linwood for 22 years before buying in Somers Point 11 months ago.
"We considered the islands, but they are dead six months of the year and Somers Point is year-round," Lacovara said. Making a "lifestyle change," he said, he "got twice the house for half the money than elsewhere."
Bob Brenna sold his Ocean City condo and his primary residence in Yardville and built "right on the bay."
Brenna, too, mentioned getting more house for the money, as well as bike paths and sidewalks to go with the bay view from his second-floor office."
"It is a great place for the family," he said.
Judith Hanlin, an agent with Bay Harbor Realty, said there are 122 active listings here, with prices ranging from $80,000 to $1.94 million, and a median price of $209,450 (half the houses sold for more, half for less).
Taxes average $5,200 a year, she said.
Hanlin, a native of Atlantic City, moved to Somers Point 37 years ago to work as a nurse at the hospital. She noted that while Somers Point does have newer construction - the condos at Greate Bay Country Club, for example - it didn't experience the frenzied building that the boom years brought to Ocean City and other beach communities.
Though its higher elevation helped it easily weather Hurricane Sandy in 2012 - as reflected in its lower flood-insurance rates of $300 to $600 a year - Somers Point was not safeguarded from the worst effects of the real estate downturn.
The city's economy may be tied to the Shore, but "the behavior of its housing market in recent years seems to have much more in common with inland South Jersey," said Kevin Gillen, chief economist at Meyers Research and senior research fellow at the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University.
High rates of foreclosure have plagued Somers Point ever since the housing bubble burst, Gillen said.
Hardin put the current foreclosure level at 25 percent of listings. Hughes said the city has had considerable success in getting the banks to make foreclosed houses available for sale.
Home values have reflected the high foreclosure rate, Gillen said: From a peak of $277,000 in 2006, the median price fell to $185,000 by 2012 and has struggled to recover to the current median.
Somers Point has older homes, with "price points well below the average for the much newer and larger vacation homes on the barrier islands," he said.
Even though waterfront fundamentals are improving, Somers Point needs to sweat off its excess of foreclosed properties before it can resume any significant price appreciation, he said.
Hence, the "Live in Somers Point" campaign addresses upgrading of the housing stock, as well as attracting new business and "working with existing ones to make doing business here as good as it can be," Bray said.
The city is encouraging renovation and construction. If you buy a house that is at least 20 years old and renovating it adds $25,000 to the assessed value, you get a five-year tax break on that added value.
The same will be true if you build a new house, but the valuation numbers will be much higher.