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Caldwell, N.J.: Reasonably Priced, With a Reasonable Commute

Category: Finance,Real Estate

Peter and Erin verDorn started their home search in Montclair and Glen Ridge, N.J., hoping to find a place near the New Jersey Transit commuter train line. But the housing prices in those towns pushed them west to Caldwell, where they found a four-bedroom 1904 colonial with a wraparound porch, for which they paid $545,000 in 2017.

“We got a lot more bang for our buck in Caldwell,” said Mr. verDorn, 32, who works as director of sales and membership for a country club. “We feel we really lucked out.”

The couple’s home is a block from Bloomfield Avenue, the main shopping street in this 1.2-square-mile borough of 8,000 people. The pedestrian-friendly landscape is a big part of what draws buyers to Caldwell, real estate agents said.

“We have lots of stuff we can walk to,” Mr. verDorn said. “We love being in Caldwell for that.” Ms. verDorn, an executive at Victoria’s Secret, catches the New York commuter bus on Bloomfield Avenue.

“A lot of people like that downtown area, that Main Street U.S.A. kind of feel,” said Dennis DiSabato, a broker associate with Century 21 Cedarcrest Realty, in Caldwell.

And Montclair’s lively restaurant and entertainment scene, he added, is nearby: Caldwell is “more affordable than Montclair, but they can get in the car and in five minutes be in Montclair.”

First-time buyers in Caldwell are often people in their 30s starting families, like the verDorns, who have a 10-month-old daughter and who previously lived in Hoboken and Verona.

“Millennials are migrating out of Hoboken and those areas, and looking for that good school system where they can settle down,” said Mary Anne Manning, a Coldwell Banker agent who has worked in Caldwell since 1999.

Longtime residents also appreciate the walkable, small-town vibe and good schools. Janice Kurus, 43, is a bookkeeper who has lived in Caldwell her entire life, staying in her childhood home after her mother died almost two decades ago. She and her husband, B.J., an architect who is also 43, have three children.

“It’s a nice little town. You pretty much have everything within a close distance: restaurants, schools, the grocery store, the hardware store,” she said. “There was nowhere else I really wanted to go.”

Residents showed their community spirit when a recent fire badly damaged a three-family house, displacing its residents, said Ann Dassing, who owns a public relations firm and is also Caldwell’s mayor. “The town got together and had these fund-raisers all over town,” she said. “A resident put up the security deposit for an apartment for one of the families.”

Caldwell shares its school system and recreation department with West Caldwell, and the two municipalities are currently studying whether to merge their police departments as well, Ms. Dassing said. “What we’re trying to do is create a more robust police department for both towns, to get a bigger department where we would have more bodies to put on the street, maybe have a dedicated traffic bureau and a bigger detective bureau,” she said.

The borough is in the process of replacing its aging water pipes, Ms. Dassing said, adding that she would also like to see the sidewalks and retail facades along Bloomfield Avenue upgraded, though they haven’t been able to find funding for that.

In the meantime, a developer is turning an old bank building on Bloomfield Avenue into retail and office space, and hopes to do the same with a second bank building nearby, Ms. Dassing said.

Caldwell is in northwestern Essex County, bordered to the east by Verona, to the west by West Caldwell, to the north by North Caldwell and to the south by Essex Fells. The borough is about 20 miles from Midtown Manhattan, and is easily reached by Routes 80 and 280.

Much of the borough was developed before World War II, so buyers will find older homes on small lots, tucked under tall trees. In the western part of Caldwell, there are several garden and high-rise apartment and condominium complexes, mostly built after the war.

Homes in Caldwell are affordable when compared with nearby towns, but the prices are going up. Homes for sale are in short supply, which has boosted prices, Ms. Manning said. According to figures from the Garden State Multiple Listing Service, provided by Ms. Manning, the median price for a single-family house sold in the 12 months ending Aug. 30 was $497,500, a 12.5 percent increase over the previous 12 months.

The multiple listing service showed 15 properties on the market as of Sept. 17, ranging from a two-bedroom condominium listed for $360,000 to a four-bedroom colonial, still to be built on almost half an acre, listed for $1.05 million.

The typical Caldwell house on the market is an older three-bedroom priced between the mid-$400,000s and the low $500,000s, Ms. Manning said.

The intersection of Bloomfield and Roseland Avenues is the heart of Caldwell. Nearby is the historic First Presbyterian Church, along with a movie theater, the library, the municipal building and the community center, which has a six-lane indoor pool, a basketball court and fitness rooms.

The community center sponsors swim teams, including a Special Olympics team, and also offers a summer camp. This summer, 11- and 12-year-old campers took Zumba classes with a seniors’ group. The idea was to help the children “understand it’s a generation you can learn a tremendous amount from, and have fun with,” said Rosemarie Sutherlin, the community center’s director.

On Bloomfield Avenue, there are a couple of bars and a mix of ethnic restaurants, including Italian, Filipino, Thai and Japanese. There are also several yoga and martial-arts studios. Calandra’s Italian Village, run by the family that owns the well-known Calandra’s Bakery in Newark, offers a deli, bakery and restaurant under one roof.

Nature lovers can stroll through Grover Cleveland Park, a 41-acre Essex County property in Caldwell and Essex Fells. And Caldwell University, a Catholic liberal-arts school, offers lectures and performances.

The Caldwell-West Caldwell school district serves about 2,600 students in total. There are four elementary schools, including three in West Caldwell and one in Caldwell, Lincoln Elementary School.

Grover Cleveland Middle School in Caldwell serves about 630 students in grades 6 through 8, and James Caldwell High School in West Caldwell serves about 800 students in grades 9 through 12. In 2016-2017, high school students had average SAT scores of 591 in reading and writing and 576 in math, compared to statewide averages of 551 and 552.

Private schools include Trinity Academy, a Catholic elementary school serving prekindergarten through eighth grade, and Mount Saint Dominic Academy, a Catholic high school for girls in ninth through 12th grades, which shares its campus with Caldwell University.

DeCamp Bus Lines’ route 33 runs along Bloomfield Avenue and makes the trip to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan in 50 to 60 minutes; the fare is $8.15 one way or $267 for a package of 40 trips. New Jersey Transit doesn’t offer direct bus or train service into New York City from Caldwell, but commuters can take the New Jersey Transit bus route 29 to Glen Ridge and transfer there to a New Jersey Transit train to Penn Station in Manhattan.

Caldwell is named for the Rev. James Caldwell. Legend has it that during the Battle of Springfield in June 1780, Continental Army soldiers ran out of paper wadding to hold powder in their muskets; Rev. Caldwell ran up to the front, tearing out pages from hymnals and thrusting the paper into soldiers’ hands.

Grover Cleveland, the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms, was born in Caldwell in 1837, when his father, a minister, served in the First Presbyterian Church. The former president’s birthplace is now a museum run by the State of New Jersey.

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