SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- When Paul Lamastra started working full-time at ERA Suburb Realty in 1985, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, Live Aid raised $50 million for famine relief, and Michael Jordan was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

Since then, real estate prices in Scotch Plains and Fanwood have risen dramatically, as have taxes. The sizes of homes in the area have expanded significantly. One of the most important aspects of home-building is waterproofing, which has vastly improved with the use of French drains. It has enabled people to make invest in finished basements.

“In the late 1980s and early 90s, builders were making 2,400 sq. ft. homes. By the mid ‘90s builders were building houses more commonly 3,000 sq. ft. and up,” Lamastra said. “Part of the reason for the larger homes is that people work out of their homes and want a home office. They also want more living space.”

Sign Up for E-News

Lamastra says that the number of Manhattan commuters grew, and traffic increased ten-fold. However, the sense of community has grown.

“It was strong then, but stronger today. Look at the soccer, little league and marching band programs.”

However, Lamastra says the biggest change in the real estate industry over the last third of a century is that today everything is computerized.

“Consumers have so much information at their fingertips,” said Lamastra, a graduate of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School and Keane University. “They can learn a lot about the area on the internet. Certainly, The New York Times real estate articles profiling Scotch Plains and Fanwood enhanced their reputations.”

One-seat rides on NJ Transit have been a positive addition, but are only available off-peak. Rush hour commuters into New York City still must change in Newark Penn Station. Lamastra estimates that real estate prices would increase 5-10 percent if one-seat rides went into effect during rush hour.

“Right now, the alternatives are to go to Summit or Berkeley Heights, where the prices are higher.”

What’s Hot and What’s Not

Currently, demand is highest for starter homes. Cape Cods, smaller ranches, and split level homes are driving the market, according to Lamastra.

“The $350K to $600K range is really hot,” the real estate veteran said. “Houses (in Scotch Plains) are selling quickly; they aren’t sitting on the market a long time. Sales of homes at $750K and above have slowed a bit, unless the house is new or in really outstanding condition.”

In Fanwood, the housing inventory is historically low.

“Under 30 houses are for sale right now,” Lamastra said. “Fanwood has taken a step forward as a huge commuter area.”

The Migration from New York City and Hoboken

Over the past two decades, many couples who beginning to plan for starting a family have migrated to Scotch Plains and Fanwood. That trend continues today.

“Their initial reaction is that they really love it. We are in a great suburban town with proximity to New York City. All the information about the schools is online for them to know. It’s attractive and safe here,” Lamastra explained.

“The school system, full-day kindergarten, affordability (compared to Westfield or Summit), and the sense of community are big draws,” added Lamastra, who estimates that he has sold about 1,500 homes in his career. “We have parks and recreation programs. These things can put someone over the edge to buy here.”

“People who buy in our community enjoy the lifestyle, and then tell their friends about the community,” he added. “Many buyers come to me by word of mouth. The town has a great reputation.”

Lamastra’s firm, ERA Suburb Realty, has been located on East Second Street since his father started the firm. His brother, Don, also works for the company, which employs about 30 full-time and 15 part-time agents. The agency’s primary area covers Scotch Plains and Fanwood. Of the 3,200 ERA branches across the country, the  office ranks in the top 5 in the state and in the top 60 nationally.

“What is most rewarding for me is finding the perfect home for a couple or family, and seeing the reaction when you give them the keys at the closing. When you meet them on the street, they tell you how much they love it here,” Lamastra explained.

“For the sellers, they walk out of the closing, and see how their investment has grown,” Lamastra said. “Some people put houses up for sale shortly after their children graduate from high school or college. If they aren’t going to take advantage of the schools anymore, people leave. The schools are a big draw, but the taxes come along with it.”

A lot has changed since Lamastra first entered the real estate business, one thing that has remained the same: his passion for industry.

“My father owned the company. It was a family business; my brother and I grew up in it,” said Lamastra, who recently marked 33 years at ERA. “I was always interested in real estate. The sky is the limit. It’s not a ‘9 to 5’ job. The potential is always there to go as far as you want as long as you work hard.”'