Blog :: 2010

Live in Montclair - Be Happy

I just read an article on usatoday.com that confirmed what I've suspected for awhile - that walkability leads to happiness.  The article cited a recent study from the University of New Hampshire which found that people who live in walkable communities are happier than those who don't. Researchers interviewed 700 residents of three different communities and found that those who lived in the most walkable areas reported being happier, healthier and more likely to volunteer in their community than those who lived in less walkable areas.

Walkability is certainly one of the reasons I feel so connected to my own town. My sons bike to Montclair High School every day and to get to Edgemont park they just have to cross the street. On Sunday morning sometimes they walk over to Watchung Plaza and bring home a bag of Sunrise Bagels. I don't need a car to get to the train station, my office is walking distance from our home and the supermarket is next to my office. For me, walking along a tree-lined street to a locally-owned store beats driving on a highway to the mall any day - it's one of the things that makes Montclair a great place to live and Montclair real estate a great investment.

Two Dalebrook Road: Walkable in Bloomfield

Sometimes a house just has the right combination of elements  --  location, price and space.  2 Dalebrook Road, in Bloomfield earns high marks on any walkability scale. It's close to Brookdale' s  interesting ethnic restaurants-- Stamna (Greek), Boonsong  (Thai) and Bar Cara (Italian).  Houses of worship-- Temple Ner Tamid and the Watchung Presbyterian Church-- are literally steps away, as is Bloomfield Middle School. For commuters, the DeCamp bus to New York City stops right around the corner, and Brookdale Park is a five-minute up Watchung Avenue.

Location is not the only virtue of this property. 2 Dalebrook Rd is a well-maintained split-level with 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a den and an oversized rec-room - great for table tennis, billiards or a child's playroom. Oak hardwood floors and lots of windows make the house bright and airy. A newly carpeted and painted rec room, a new shower in the master bath, new front steps, and central air-conditioning (you guessed it, also new) make this house move-in ready, all at an affordable $379,000. Happen to be looking for homes in Bloomfield?  Check out this great house in a great neighborhood at a great price.

Axing the Arc Commuter Rail Tunnel is Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

I had a lovely client who along with her partner wanted to rent a house on a big property so their dogs could run.   We found her a great place, and the lease was signed.  She paid all the fees and deposits. And then days before the move in date, she had to back out of the deal because she lost her job.  She was a project manager on the ARC tunnel project planned to link NJ to NY with an additional rail tube across the Hudson river.  She had been working on it for eleven years. And then it was over. Her job was just one small casualty of the Christie administration's cancellation of a major project that would have provided a vital additional link between New Jersey and New York.

As any commuter knows, our single tunnel just isn't enough.   And the easy access of our state to one of the biggest economic center's in the western world has always created enormous opportunities for New Jersey's own economy and its citizens.   As reported by The New York Times,  the tunnel would have shortened commute times and linked additional communities.

As any New Jersey Realtor will tell you, one of the single most effective ways to boost property values is to offer a quick commute to Manhattan.  Bigger property values equals bigger tax revenues for the state.   One non-profit research group estimated that home values within two miles of the rail station would have risen by $19,000 and by $29,000 for homes within half a mile.  Given the estimated $18 billion increase in property values, NJ would have immediately started raking in an additional  $375 million in tax receipts per year.

Consider too the additional jobs that would have resulted directly from the tunnel project and indirectly from easier access to other business markets. And let us not forget the benefits to our environment and to our communities that always follow from better public transit and increased walkability.  We all know that Governor Christie inherited one of the most difficult fiscal situations since World War II.  And we know that the budget needs to be balanced. No one would deny that these are tough economic times, but axing the ARC midtown direct tunnel project was penny wise, pound foolish.

Perfect Schmerfect: Searching for your Montclair dream home

When Voltaire said "The perfect is the enemy of the good," he wasn't philosophizing about buying real estate in Essex County NJ, but I often remind my buyers of the wisdom of his words and how it applies to their home search. During my years as a New Jersey real estate agent I have watched many good houses get passed over by clients who are looking for the perfect Montclair house. The houses that fall short are often the ones they later realize had lots of potential and manageable flaws. Perhaps the search for the perfect house is something all home buyers have to go through, and losing a few good ones along the way is just part of the real estate process. Still, I thought I would offer a strategy based on my own home buying experience. First, try to define the things that are non-negotiable. Perhaps lots of natural light is one of those things. Maybe you want to be in the Montclair school district. Or perhaps it's a walk of less than 10 minutes to the train station or an extra room for your mom to stay in.  List your top ten things.  Then get a fat black marker and be prepared to cross half of them out. When I bought my Montclair house there were 3 less-than-perfect things that I thought I could live with.  I used my fat black marker to cross off  1.) Quiet Street  2.)Lots of privacy  3.)Renovated kitchen and bathrooms.

3 compromises and how I dealt with them when buying my house in Montclair:

  1. Busy road on side yard. Put up a nice fence all the way around the property and planted lots of trees and bushes.
  2. Too close to house next door. Put frosted glass in some windows, Put up a high fence. Planted trees. Got nice wooden blinds.
  3. Kitchens and bathrooms were old. Painted kitchen cabinets & got new hardware. Renovated the master bath. Changed fixtures in other bathrooms.

But here's what I got that was important to me (and that was not always found in Montclair real estate in my price range):

  1. Near the park, village and transportation
  2. Lots of light, good flow, clean lines.
  3. Powder room on the 1st floor.
  4. Master bathroom
  5. 1st floor den/playroom/tv room for the kids

No matter what your price range, there will always be something you want that is slightly out of reach. So get your black marker ready, work from your shortened list and you just might find the house that is actually the perfect house for you.

The Current Kitchen: What Montclair Home Buyers Want

Heard this weekend while showing some Montclair houses for sale: "disappointed by the kitchens in the current inventory of Montclair real estate - even some of those that have been renovated"

It seems today's Montclair home buyers expect more out of the kitchen than they did in years past. The dream kitchen of today is not just equipped with Sub-Zero and Viking appliances; it is also centrally located within the house and versatile. Susan Serra, a home designer on Long Island, explains in this month's issue of Realtor magazine that "Living room and family room activities are merging into the kitchen, and it's changing how kitchens look." The kitchen has become the nerve center of the house, where party guests congregate and kids do their homework.

Homeowners are knocking down the walls separating the kitchen from the dining room and even the living room, creating a more open, inviting space. For sellers not looking to do such a drastic overhaul, there are a number of smaller steps that will create the same feel. Serra suggests using sconces and small lamps rather than overhead lighting, for a softer effect. Buyers love extra storage space, so adding a cabinet or wall shelving will add appeal. And most important, don't skip the basics: make sure the countertops, flooring, etc. are in good condition.

Before you renovate or sell your Montclair home, give me a call or send me an email and I'd be happy to discuss what many of my buyer clients are looking for in the "current kitchen".

Neighborhoods: Montclair

I'll be doing a series of posts that will look more closely at the neighborhoods of these walkable suburbs. Every neighborhood has something  unique to offer. Montclair's Neighborhoods:

  • Upper Montclair Village: Visitors to Montclair can explore what the township has to offer by driving down Valley Road, one of Montclair's main streets, anchored by Montclair State University on the north end. A few blocks south of the University is the business center of Upper Montclair, a charming Tudor-style cluster of shops, restaurants and a movie theater, that fan out from the corner of Valley Road and Bellevue Avenue, and includes lovely Anderson Park just across from the Upper Montclair train station.
  • PaNaMa: The combination of Patton, Nassau, and Macopin Streets, the northernmost part of Montclair between Valley and Park. This lovely residential area of bungalows and smaller Colonials, many with Toney's Brook running through their backyards, has a real sense of community. Bradford School is just around the corner on Mt. Hebron Rd.
  • Yantacaw: East of Valley, past Grove and north of Bellevue is Yantacaw Park, on a former golf course characterized by rolling hills, winding roads, and large lots of mostly rambling mid-century ranches and large split-levels. Yantacaw includes Windermere Road, Yantacaw Brook Road, Club Road, Heller Drive, Woodmont Road, and Capron Lane.  Northeast School, the international magnet is in the neighborhod
  • Tuers Park: A smaller neighborhood tucked in between the Yantacaw neighborhood and Alexander Avenue. Smaller split-levels of the 1950s and '60s sit next to Colonials of the 1940s. Streets include Stonehenge Road, Squire Hill Road, Lane Court, and Tuers Place.
  • Fairway: South of the Yantacaw neighborhood, mainly large Tudors of the 1920s and '30s on smaller lots. The Fairway section includes The Fairway, Greenview Way, Bellegrove Drive, and Glenside Terrace.
  • Watchung Plaza: From there continue south on Valley Road to Watchung Avenue. Turn left on Watchung Avenue (or arrive by train at Watchung Station) to enjoy the centrally located Watchung Plaza, with its boutiques, independent bookstore, cafés and signature gazebo and historic flagpole.  Streets in this neighborhood include Fairfield, Waterbury, Beverley and Gordonhurst among many others.  Watchung School, the science and technology magnet lies between North Fullerton and Essex, just south of the plaza.
  • Erwin Park: A secluded neighborhood near Edgemont Park with easy access to Watchung Plaza.  Streets include Holland, Erwin Park, Brunswick, Wendover and others.
  • Marlboro Park: An historic district of Montclair which includes Christopher Court (a development of new homes built on the site of old Marlboro Inn), Fairfield Street, Waterbury Road, The north ends of Montclair Avenue and Christopher Street, Watchung Avenue between N. Fullerton and Grove Streets. Edgemont Park: Streets near this historic memorial park are loved for being centrally located and a stone's throw from Edgemont Montessori School, Watchung Plaza shopping, train and bus stops.  These include Berkeley, Edgemont and Parkway.
  • Frog Hollow: Heading south on Valley Road, pass Edgemont Park's pond and stop in at Frog Hollow's stores and eateries, anchored by historic Tierney's Tavern. Turn right on Van Vleck Street and enter the Van Vleck House and Gardens, which are especially fragrant in the spring when the wisteria are in bloom.
  • Walnut-Grove District: Continue down Valley, when The Montclair Times office is your right, turn left onto Walnut Street and discover the Walnut-Grove District, where you can pick up great bread and pastries, have a drink at Egan's, eat at one of the area's terrific restaurants, or listen to jazz at Trumpet's. If you're traveling by train, the Walnut St. Station is right there. In the winter, you can even catch a youth hockey game at nearby Clary Anderson Arena.
  • Montclair Town Center: Return to Valley Road, turn left and proceed south; you will reach Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair Town Center. Up the avenue to the west, take in an art exhibition at the renowned Montclair Art Museum. Down Bloomfield Avenue, to the east, explore the Historic District: many retailers, the multi-screen cinema, and one of the largest collections of restaurants in northern New Jersey.
  • The Estate Section: South of Bloomfield Avenue lies a neighborhood of mansions and stately historic homes, many on lots larger than an acre.  Prominent streets include South Mountain Avenue, Llewellyn Road, Stonebridge Road and Clinton Avenue. NJ Transit operates a shuttle from the Estate Section to the Bay Street train station.
  • South End Village: Last, but certainly not least, go east on Bloomfield Avenue and turn right at Elm Street. Follow Elm as it turns into Orange Road to reach the South End shopping area shops and services, just a few blocks from beautiful Nishuane Park to the west and the recently renovated Canterbury Park to the east. Nishuane School, the gifted and talented magnet resides on Cedar Street in this neighborhood.

Short Sales

A recent New York Times article discusses the rise in short sales in Manhattan due to the recession. One market analyst said "2010 might well be dubbed the Year of the Short Sale nationally. 'A short sale is going to be the only way for many people who bought at the peak and who are now underwater to move on with their lives if they have to relocate or downsize.'" Like Manhattan, Montclair, Glen Ridge Maplewood and the rest of Essex County have seen the number of short sales rise. When the alternative is foreclosure, selling a house through a short sale is a way for the owner to come out of the deal relatively unscathed. I discuss the issue of short sales further in Short Sales for Buyers and Short Sales for Sellers. If you have any questions about short sales, either because you're thinking of selling your house short or you're interested in buying a house that's  a short sale, please email me for more information.

The Cleanest Energy of All

On September 14, the Star-Ledger ran an article about electric car charging stations; Montclair is one of four towns in New Jersey that received a grant from Walmart to install them. I have mixed feelings about these stations. On one hand, electric cars reduce our dependence on foreign oil, so anything that makes them more convenient to drive is probably a good thing. On the other hand, electricity itself is often derived from non-renewable fossil fuels, so generating it still pollutes the environment.

There is, however, a form of energy that is safe, cheap, and absolutely clean: human kinetic energy (walking). For families with school-aged children, October is International Walk to School Month; next Wednesday, October 6, is International Walk to School Day. This was started in 1997 by the Partnership for a Walkable America and quickly grew into a nationwide movement. There are so many benefits to walking to school: less gasoline used, safer and less congested streets, more fresh air and exercise, even an increased sense of community. Of course, walking to school isn't always feasible, but if you can do it, why not give it a try? Let me know how it goes!

Reasons I Love Montclair #2: Bonjour Montclair

"The perfect meal at Bonjour Montclair: the turkey-goat-cheese-tomato-pesto crepe, iced coffee, and the strawberry-banana-nutella dessert crepe (although really, they're all delicious, I also love the cinnamon-sugar). The one downside to this creperie is their use of styrofoam and plasticware, but you can always try bringing your own reusable stuff. Bonjour Montclair is cheap, fast, friendly, and never as crowded on the weekends as Bluestone, with more outdoor seating, located in lovely Watchung Plaza."

Guest post: Vicky Ludas.

I invite you to comment below or email me with your own reasons for loving your hometown, and I'll post them here!

Reasons I Love Montclair #1: Sandwich Theory's #5

The #5 sandwich (roast beef, havarti, lettuce, tomato and herb mayo on peasant bread) with sides of sauteed green beans and beets, coffee, and a brownie, at Sandwich Theory (formerly known as The Cheese Shop), 590 Valley Road. It is delicious, filling, sort of good for you, and absolutely satisfying. Sandwich Theory is an unpretentious (read: low- to no-atmosphere) grab-n-go place in the heart of Upper Montclair.

I invite you to comment below or email me with your own reasons for loving your hometown, and I'll post them here!