As part of a program called the Counseling Corps that is sponsored by the Counselors of Real Estate (“CRE”), we periodically volunteer for nonprofits and municipalities, or other religious, educational, and government clients who need help with a complex real estate problem. A handful of counselors travel to the client for a week of fact-finding; at the end of their visit, they make a presentation; and within 45 days, they submit a report with recommendations.
I recently volunteered in this capacity for the town of Oxford, New Jersey. Our Counseling Corps team included a real estate analyst from Phoenix, an appraiser from Chicago, a real estate database expert from Florida, and a real estate entrepreneur and analyst from Madison, Wisconsin. This was a wonderful opportunity for our diverse group of experts to have a positive impact on a small community.
Oxford is located on Route 31 between interstates 78 and 80, just a few miles from the Delaware River and close to Pennsylvania. It's a small town of about 2500 people that has been the site for textile manufacturing, iron ore extraction, and steel making industries since the birth of the industry in America. However, over the last half century, each of these industries has slowly left or shuttered. Consequently, the tax base has been shrinking for a long time, and as a result, Oxford’s taxes are higher than in surrounding towns. The property has been ceded to the town because owners can’t afford to pay their property taxes. Other property owners are not able to maintain their property—which leads to an impression that the town is in decline.
When we first arrived in Oxford, the socio-economic problems felt overwhelming, even dire, but then we started to dissect and evaluate the situation and craft solutions around the assets that Oxford has. Among other things, we performed a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis that allowed the community to express their concerns and hopes.
We learned that Oxford has great natural beauty and a rich and long and distinguished history. We also became convinced that the ongoing loss of “millennials” is reversible. Its assets also were attractive to visitors and tourists.
Some of the Corps’ recommendations are micro-level. For example, currently, there is no signage to announce that you are entering or leaving Oxford or approaching the town or its center. Developing branding and informative materials about the town can help to breathe life into its civic consciousness. On a larger scale, the town needs to reduce the tax burden on its residents. Fortunately, the land is relatively inexpensive and attractive to developers, who can help revitalize Oxford by creating housing that will bring in more residents to expand the tax base and support local businesses.
Our Counseling Corps team will be sharing specific recommendations with Oxford’s elected officials in the near future, and we look forward to seeing a revitalized Oxford, New Jersey!
George E. Grace
Mohr Partners, Inc.
232 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016