I agree about driving to the City. I include it as an option, since there are definitely people who make that trek via car from here on a daily basis. I vote with you position. I wouldn't do it.
I really like taking the ferry. There are people who do it everyday, but it is more expensive as compared to train fares. The last departures for NJ on the ferry are around 10pm. If I have reason to stay in the City later than that, I grab the train. I favor the ferry - it's quiet, fast, comfortable and I do find my transit time productive via ferry. I hold a signal on my iPad well on the ferry most of the time.
As far as towns.........it depends upon your expectations in a property and your lifestyle choice. You can certainly find homes in any town in northern Monmouth county at 500K and under that mark. ( I do understand clearly that you want to rent right now........and where you rent and where you purchase may or may not be the same.) Your dollar will buy you more house and land by going inland a bit. Will it be more important to get more bang for the buck, or be closer to the shore? The criteria goes beyond the simplicity of just that choice - providing that as just one example.
A consideration for you will be options in transit and locations closer to the ferry, train or bus. Evaluating transit options may guide you tin include or exclude certain towns.
Our snail mail package includes an overview of all towns in Northern Monmouth County and may be quite helpful for you. It includes information about lifestyle and an overview of the real estate trends for the prior year by town - average and median housing costs, number of transactions, etc.
If this is helpful, it's yours for the asking.
Deborah Madey - Broker
Peninsula Realty Group
732 784 8450 Mobile (Text or Voice) BEST