By Liana Grey
When Jodi Stasse furnishes model units at condo complexes across New Jersey, she follows a single rule: reflect the tastes of the average buyer, not the style of the building or the brand behind it.
“People associate Trump with chandeliers,” said Stasse, whose boutique agency, Stasse and Company, began marketing Trump Plaza Residences, the tallest residential building in downtown Jersey City, two years ago.
But rather than play up the company’s trademark glamour, she went with a West Elm look that wouldn’t intimidate the building’s 32-year-old buyers, many of whom are former renters from the area. “All we did was enhance what was in place, and add a more hip feel,” Stasse said.
As a result, the building’s 445 units are flying off the market. “There are less than 100 homes left. “It’s sad,” she joked. “I’m going to find myself out of a job.”
At CANCO Lofts, a condo complex across town in Journal Square, Stasse revised the work of a previous sales director, who had filled the model units with sleek, ultramodern pieces.
The industrial chic decor was a natural choice for the converted factory, which produced the country’s first tab-topped beer cans, but didn’t appeal to the average house hunter that stopped by. “Believe it or not, it’s the Crate & Barrel person,” Stasse said.
Though the 550-unit complex is home to several artsy types, including a roller coaster designer and a woman that makes vegan handbags, the majority commute to jobs in the Financial District or office parks elsewhere in New Jersey. Further pointing to an affinity with suburbia, 40% of residents own cars.
So Stasse handpicked homey pieces like plush beige couches and silver candlesticks, and rolled them in on a dolly cart. And she transformed the sales office into a museum-like space, with a map highlighting metro area attractions and their distance from the property. The Statue of Liberty, for instance, is only five miles away, and the Empire State Building is six miles to the west.
“Once you get to CANCO you can’t really see where you are,” Stasse said. Even longtime Garden State residents find themselves spun around, unfamiliar with the building’s remote location near the elevated Pulaski Skyway, about 10 blocks northwest of the Journal Square PATH station.
“One of our biggest challenges is getting people to see us,” Stasse said. There are some signs of life in the neighborhood: a gourmet Zeytuna market moved into a ground-floor retail space at the property, and a beer garden and 100,000 s/f arts center opened in vacant factories nearby.
But the surrounding blocks of detached brick and clapboard homes have been slow to gentrify; in early May, Stasse organized a community cleanup, in which 75 residents signed up to pick up
trash around the neighborhood. Stasse predicts that a few more luxury properties would spark a renaissance. “I’m talking to other developers in Journal Square,” she said. “We can’t be the only talk of the town.”
In the meantime, Stasse relies on the quality of the building itself to lure prospective buyers. Prices are a relative bargain (Streeteasy.com lists a three-bedroom for $525,000), and residents are offered an array of perks, from a free shuttle bus to the PATH to a dog yard to a screening room with black leather seats.
To build a convincing case, Stasse enlists the help of current homeowners. “We put people on the phone with residents,” she said. On June 4th, residents led prospective buyers on a tour of the
property. As of last week, 10 members of the CANCO community, including some penthouse owners, had volunteered to show off their homes.
Still, it takes buyers an average of 60 to 120 days to close on a unit at the building. Stasse keeps in constant contact with potential residents, even if it’s just to wish them a happy Memorial
Day. “Think of all the times you have to stay in touch,” she said. Approachability helps seal the deal, but at the end of the day, Stasse explained, “the building really sells itself.”
It’s the same case at Dixon Mills, a factory that produced Ticonderoga pencils before being converted into rentals in the ‘80s. Stasse was hired to market the building once it was transformed into condos last decade. As usual, she focused her attention on the model units.
“Jodi is going to be remodeling everything,” said Nick Garfall, the building’s director of sales. “If you come back in a couple months you’ll have all new furniture.”
Stasse can’t disclose her makeover plans just yet, but she’s aiming for something eclectic and gender neutral, as is standard at her properties. Perhaps she’ll throw in an upscale item or two. “We’re trying to get away from a rental association,” said Garfall.
With renovations underway, Stasse is putting together a report on the building’s current demographics. The range, she found, is wider than at some other luxury properties in the neighborhood.
Though prospective buyers from Hoboken, the trendy town to the north, often steer clear of Jersey City, “Hoboken people would consider Dixon Mills because it has a village feel,” she said.
The property is indeed quaint: a cobblestone lane runs past a cluster of brick low-rises, which are connected by skywalks and separated by a landscaped courtyard. Nearby streets are lined with historic brownstones, and the Grove Street PATH station is about five blocks away.
It doesn’t take Stasse long to determine who a property might attract. Since launching a real estate career as an assistant for a local developer over 20 years ago, she’s seen it all.
While marketing properties for construction giant K. Hovnanian during the mid ‘90s, there were moments when she had to juggle literally 100 projects at once, from urban developments to two distinct types of active adult communities: single-family and apartment complexes.
“At one point, I was involved in everything they were doing in New Jersey,” she said. “Back then it was crazy. If we weren’t writing 20 contracts a week, they were like, ‘What were you doing?’”
Semi-urban properties were in high demand. At Bull’s Ferry, a waterfront project in northern Hudson County, prospective buyers regularly lined up outside the sales office. At Society Hill, a
gated condo and townhouse community along Route 440 in southern Jersey City, 100 apartments were handed off in a lottery on the first day of sales.
It was an impressive feat, considering the rundown state of the 440 corridor at the time. The highway, which stretches down to Bayonne, is still lined with gas stations and warehouses, but has cleaned up a bit. A park along the Hackensack River, facing Newark, is becoming a popular recreation area. “Don’t be surprised if this is the next ‘it’ spot in Jersey City,” predicts NabeWise, a website that profiles neighborhoods in and around New York.
The area’s revival has kept Stasse hopeful about the northwest corner Journal Square, which also has a brand-new park, courtesy of CANCO’s developers. “If I could sell that,” Stasse said of Society Hill, “this is nothing,”
Things were different before the recession, of course. Brokers didn’t have to rely too heavily on selling a neighborhood, or even tailoring model units to buyers, to ensure brisk sales.
Nonetheless, Stasse made a name for herself last decade with a home design center and specifications consulting service that eventually grew into her boutique agency. Even before well-decorated model units made a comeback after the market crashed, Stasse was busy distinguishing between West Elm types and Crate & Barrel buyers, at developments like Livingston Town Center and the Legends at Mantua in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
Differences in furniture taste aside, she discovered, buyers at New Jersey’s premier luxury properties have something in common: a link, in one form or another, to the state.
“I just sold out a property in New Brunswick,” she said. “Everyone that purchased had ties to New Brunswick.” Graduate students and professors at Rutgers University flocked to the 47-unit building, which shares space and a name with the Heldrich Hotel.
Empty nesters from nearby suburbs, too, were drawn to the property’s location in a walkable commercial district. Proximity to shops was also a perk for suburban families at Palmer Square, a mixed-use development in downtown Princeton that Stasse considers to be one of her firm’s most unique projects.
The complex, which offers townhomes beginning at $1.8 million, is the only example of new construction in the town’s business district. No vacant lots remain.
“They love downtown Princeton,” Stasse said of suburban families hoping to send their children to the town’s acclaimed private schools. “When the market changed, urban became the strength of the market.”
But even the bustling retail and nightlife scenes of the state’s densest communities – like Jersey City and Hoboken – can fail to lure native Manhattanites. “It’s very hard to get a true New Yorker to move to New Jersey,” Stasse said.
When leaving the island, most Manhattan residents limit their search to Brooklyn or Long Island City, unless they have friends or relatives across the Hudson. At one point, Stasse worked with a
young couple from Long Island that was condo-shopping in New Jersey. “After getting to know them, I found out that his father passed away and his mother lives in Livingston,” she said. “He grew up there.”
Then again, 77 Hudson, a tower along the Jersey City waterfront that is nearly half sold, lured residents from the Big Apple – and three continents.
“We get a lot of people from suburban New Jersey,” said Randy Brossau, K. Hovnanian’s New York metro area president. But French, Italian, Mexican, Korean, Chinese, and South American
families have snapped up units as well, along with CEOs and sports stars. “It’s very eclectic,” he said. “We never saw that coming.”