March 26, 2014

Real Estate Market Is Healthy Say Professionals on Panel

Residential and commercial real estate in Princeton has recovered, for the most part, from the economic downturn of a few years ago. This upswing in activity was the theme of a presentation by key players in the local real estate industry to members of the Princeton Merchants Association, held in the Community Room of Princeton Public Library Tuesday morning.

“Two-thousand-thirteen was definitely the year of the rebound for Princeton real estate,” said Judson Henderson of Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s. Pricing on residential properties peaked in 2008 at an average of $1.16 million. By 2012, it was down to $857,000. But last year, the figure had climbed to $933,000, Mr. Henderson said, rising for the fourth consecutive year.

“One of the things we have learned is that you cannot speak generally about the real estate market anymore,” he said. “It’s going well, but in segments.” People want to live where they can walk to town and “walk to a cup of coffee,” he added. “And efficiency is the key. They don’t want a lot to take care of.”

One trend Mr. Henderson has noticed is that many of the executives being brought in to companies in or around Princeton are renting rather than buying a home. Peter Dodds of Morford & Dodds Realty said that the companies that employ those executives are looking for high quality, “A” space in new construction, as well as the repositioning of existing buildings.

“A number of developers are re-investing in older buildings, which shows people are interested in being in Princeton,” he said. “That’s very positive and it bodes well for all of us.”

While pharmaceutical companies continue to dominate the market, it is newer firms from China, Japan, and Korea that are shopping for good quality space in or just outside Princeton. They come here because of the name recognition, the location in the northeast corridor, and the area’s strong skilled labor force, Mr. Dodds said.

As vice president of Palmer Square Management since 1995, David Newton has watched the retail market rise, fall, and rise again. He called 2012 “a watershed year” with the arrival of Urban Outfitters, which marked the shopping area’s second two-level store, after J. Crew. “In 2013, we stayed fully occupied, but there will be some vacancies later this year,” he added. “There are still a lot of people looking for Princeton, but there is a lot of competition.”

Mr. Newton had hoped to purchase the building that has housed the Princeton branch of the U.S. Post Office since 1934, but was outbid by a California company. “I always hoped The Apple Store would relocate in the post office,” he said, but the company instead went to Quakerbridge Mall. “We didn’t get the post office, but I’m sure the group that got it will put it to good use.”

There are some small construction projects pending in Palmer Square, “and we are bracing for the renovation of the post office,” Mr. Newton added. He also took the opportunity to praise Derek Bridger, Princeton’s zoning officer and a member of the panel. “He is a shining light in a somewhat bureaucratic environment that needs some improvement.”

David G. Germakian, development manager of EDENS, the company that bought Princeton Shopping Center in 2012, said the Harrison Street center is one of about 110 owned by EDENS up and down the east coast. The company is focused on centers that are anchored by grocery stores like McCaffrey’s.

“We’re a little different from other shopping centers in that we’re in it for the long haul,” he said. “Our value is in enriching communities and we try to understand the market, the town, and the players.” He added, “We feel design is critical in creating places that will foster community engagement and interaction.” The “food component” is also key, and the company has brought in a former chef “to help attract talented operators,” he said.

Architect Joshua Zinder said his firm has doubled in the past two-and-a-half years. The company recently renovated the restaurants Despana and La Mezzaluna, and also has several international projects in its portfolio. “We see a lot of businesses looking for space for expansions,” he said. “The re-invention of properties has been the core of the work we’ve been doing in Princeton, and understanding how small businesses run and operate is the key to our success.”

Mr. Bridger concluded the panel by calling consolidation “a work in progress but a success.” Princeton has rebounded, he said, though he still sees small retail businesses as being pressured by the Internet. He urged members of the Merchants Association to enlist his office’s assistance when needed. “The staff is here to help you,” he said. “I feel for you guys.”