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In New Jersey, home prices are at an all time high. Even for those who are fortunate enough to afford housing without assistance, homeownership can be an overwhelming and costly process. As New Jersey 's economy slowed in the second half of 2005, early 2006 offers few encouraging signs, according to recent reports.

Unemployment rose, housing permits declined and hours worked in manufacturing fell, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia annual report indicated. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reported that the majority of new jobs in 2005 were lower paying, meaning that rising home prices stabilized, and reduced office vacancy rates may not be sustained.

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Things are looking up in some ways for the Garden state, the monthly forecast from the reserve bank projected moderate growth for the New Jersey economy through September, noting that initial unemployment claims decreased in February while payroll employment rose.

Sadly, the reports confirm that New Jersey remains in the slowest market expansion since World War II. From 2000 to 2005, the state lost 118,000 high-paying office and manufacturing jobs, while adding 113,000 low-paying service jobs.

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The reserve bank forecast that the Garden State economy would grow by 2.1 percent through September. Worryingly, the bank's nine-month forecasts, issued each month, have generally been for below 2 percent growth since last June. The bank's index of current economic activity rose 0.2 percent from January to February. Records show that the economy has grown by 0.8 percent in the last three months and by 2.9 percent over the last year.

With what looks to be a slow growth period for 2006, home prices in New Jersey should increase only marginally. This would be great news for home buyers, except that the prices for homes in New Jersey are already prohibitively high. At a state average of $170,800, the prices of homes in the garden state are well above the national average, which sits at only $119,600. While this doesn’t mean that people should avoid buying a home in New Jersey, it does indicate that shopping around for the best price is especially important.

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