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Long Island City to Bloomfield – The Scootable Suburb

Nicki and Dani both grew up in Florida, moving to the New York area where they both went to law school. After renting in the East Village, Astoria, Ossining, and Long Island City, they bought a house in Bloomfield, NJ in November 2018. Both commute to NYC for work, Nicki to her midtown law firm, Dani to her sales job in Soho.

Why Bloomfield?

We’d visit friends who live in Bloomfield and we thought the town was cute. When my mother moved into our apartment with us, Dani and I decided it was time for more space. We chose this area for its proximity to Montclair, which was a town that had a lot going on. Coming from the city, we wanted to live somewhere that felt lively. 

What’s your favorite thing about living here?

It’s great to have outdoor space to entertain friends. Dani had wanted a backyard for a while and we even “renovated” our garage to be a hang-out space, which includes an inflatable hot tub! One of the very best things we did was, after a recent trip to Europe, bought ourselves each an electric scooter, which people ride constantly over there. It’s insanely fun to ride up and down Ridgewood Avenue, and we often scoot over to Rita’s Ices or to have breakfast at The Corner in Montclair. 

What was your buying experience like?

Even though our friends had recommended Lina as an agent, Dani actually discovered the house herself on Zillow, where she had, coincidentally, once worked. We went to an Open House and really loved the Bloomfield place, but it was more than we could afford, and we weren’t in a position to move so quickly. A few weeks later, we got in touch with Lina and she took us to a few houses in different towns so we could see the variety of what was available. They dropped the price on the first house and Lina counseled us on how to bid. Then she counseled us on everything else, including attending the home inspection and asking all the follow-up questions that we had no idea to ask. She was a great resource every step of the way, including after the sale when we had water in the basement. She actually came over on a Saturday during the holidays to help us figure out how to solve our problem. 

What’s turned out better than you expected?

Getting to and from the city is easier than we thought. The bus is a few houses away. It’s a longer commute than from Long Island City, but we don’t mind it. A lot of our social life involves our city friends, so we’re often there, or our friends come here. If we’re out late, we don’t typically splurge on Ubers from the city. Instead, we figured out that if we miss that last bus, we can take a slightly later train to Secaucus and Uber from there, which is a lot cheaper. And if we’re driving, it’s so much quicker than Ossining (which was our “test suburb”). Here, we're close to New York, close to big box stores (which, I’m embarrassed to admit, is a plus!), and close to anything we want to do in Montclair. Our next purchase may be a guest scooter.

From Brooklyn to Maplewood with Jersey

Rebecca works in a Brooklyn-based consulting firm and Dave is a freelance musician. They were living in an apartment in the Kensington section of Brooklyn with their dog, Jersey, for 7 years. In February 2019, they moved to Maplewood and into their first house. 

Why Maplewood? 

After years of renting, Dave and I decided we needed more space. We looked at towns that were on the train line, relatively close and affordable, which ruled out most New York suburbs. I grew up in Edison, NJ and, in my mind, all New Jersey towns were like that – kind of bland suburbia. I know it seems crazy, but I didn’t even know New Jersey had cute, fun towns like Maplewood.  

What’s your favorite thing about living here?

I love walking Jersey around town, with all the trees and greenery. (Coincidentally, we named our dog Jersey long before we ever moved here.) I now work from home four days a week, and there’s a coffee shop that I can walk to from my house, which I love. We both love Maplewood’s downtown, and it’s been easy to become a part of the community. I joined the planning committee for our block party, which was a great experience. We didn’t have anything like that where we lived in Brooklyn.

Any challenges you care to share?

As first-time buyers, we knew very little about the process of buying a house. When you have no clue what you’re doing, it can feel like you’re constantly jumping through hoops. Lina was this extremely knowledgeable presence, guiding us every step of the way. She kept us on our deadlines. She knew what to do when, who to hire for what. She is frank and direct and completely no BS, which we both really appreciated. If not for her, we would have thrown up our hands. 

What’s turned out better than you expected? 

I didn’t realize how great it would be to have jitney service to the train. We could walk, but it’s a long walk, especially if it’s raining. Dave is super psyched to have a driveway where he can now easily load all his equipment for a gig. I think the biggest surprise, though, was how easy the transition was. It felt like no adjustment at all. We moved in, and we were like, ok, we’re home. 

Don't Buy A House For Your Furniture

Not long ago, I showed a couple a house that was perfect in every way. Perfect size. Perfect location. Perfect price. They were visibly interested as they moved from room to room. When we got back in the car, I was waiting for one of them to ask what I thought they should offer. Instead, the woman said, “I don’t think this house is for me. My armoire isn’t going to fit.” 

I understand someone being attached to a piece of furniture with great sentimental value, but this wasn’t that. It was just a cabinet she’d bought to keep sweaters in.  

“Donate it,” I suggested. But to some, this is unthinkable.

Like most people, I love most of my furniture. But buying and selling houses reminds me that the real goal in house shopping is to find a home for you. Not your furniture. 

Many of the houses in the areas I show most often – Montclair, Glen Ridge, the Oranges, Verona, Cedar Grove, Livingston, the Caldwells – have unique layouts, quirky shaped rooms, or architectural details that could be enhanced (or diminished) by the right (or wrong) piece of furniture. When clients say they’ve had a hard time finding a home for their 94-inch sofa, to me, the solution is simple: buy the furniture that the house needs. Not the other way around.

I had a client who was selling a house with a long, skinny living room. I had my stager come in and replace his living room furniture with pieces that enhanced the space. He said, “I’ve lived here for 20 years and had no idea how to furnish this room. Until now.”

I had another client who was moving from a 7-bedroom house in Montclair to a 3-bedroom condo in West Orange. “I’m not taking any furniture with me,” she said. I was inspired by her attitude, as I know that sometimes not wanting to let go of our furniture is really a metaphor for not wanting to let go of our old house. She moved in with all new furniture and everything she bought was exactly the right size and proportion for her new space. And guess what? It looked amazing!

One thing I hope I can always offer my clients – both buyers and sellers – is the ability to offer perspective on which things are actually worth worrying about in a home sale. And which, like furniture, are often not worth a second thought. 

Photo: This unusually narrow living room, with its off-center fireplace, never looked quite right to the homeowner, until our stager set up furniture that was the right scale for the space.

NEW TO MARKET: 142 Haddon Place, Upper Montclair, NJ

OPEN HOUSE

Saturday 9/28 & Sunday 9/29

2 - 4 PM

Offered at: $869,000

Montclair has tremendous diversity among the style, size and age of its housing stock.  In fact, one of the best things about Montclair is that no two houses are alike.  

142 Haddon Place is a perfect example of this.  Built in 1883,  this house is historic and unique.  It maintains many original details such as fully functioning pocket doors, natural wood trim and original built-in linen room. Still, it has been thoughtfully updated to offer many modern conveniences. 

An over sized front porch was surely used at one point for cooling down on hot days. Now it is still there to enjoy, but no need to suffer inside because there are two zones of central AC. The kitchen has been updated, the master bathroom newly renovated and the house has been freshly painted from top to bottom. There's also a natural gas hookup on the backyard deck for your grill, so no need to cook dinner over an open flame like they did back in the day!

Stop by this weekend for a visit at one of the open houses on Saturday and Sunday from 2 -4 or call me to schedule a private showing: 973-809-5277.

 

 

NEW TO MARKET: 18 Beverly Road, Cedar Grove

It's not every day that you come across a home that still belongs to the original owner, but we've got one as our newest listing.

18 Beverly Road, a 1954 split level in Cedar Grove is a true mid century modern marvel. The flow of the home, the slant of the roof and the way the levels are divided were ahead of their time in the mid 20th century but still make perfect sense for today's lifestyle.

With the right vision, a buyer will see all the possibilities that this opportunity offers.

Offered at $425,00 - OPEN HOUSE SUNDAY AUGUST 25th from 1 - 4 PM

Can't make it to the Open House? Call me and I will arrange a private showing: 973-809-5277

 

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    How We Build Community in Montclair

    Earlier this month, I was on Facebook and noticed a post on the “Montclair Watercooler” page from a woman about to move to town. She asked what were people’s favorite way to be involved in the community. This woman's story was similar story to many of my clients': she grew up in a close-knit city community, hadn’t been able to find that same feeling in other NJ suburbs, commutes into the city for work, and hadn’t yet started a family.

    The Montclair Watercooler is an online community group where members can ask for advice, recommendations, or guidance about all things local. By the time I’d come upon this post, there were nearly 100 responses.

    I wasn’t super surprised by the suggestions. People pointed her toward running clubs, volunteer opportunities with music organizations like Montclair Jazz Festival or Outpost in the Burbs, or classes at the Adult School. A few suggested joining The Study Hall Gang, a Friday night social gathering started a few years ago by a husband and wife looking to meet people, which has grown into a 250-member friend group. 

    There were invitations to join a local women’s group, a kickball league, and the YMCA. The library and art museum were popular suggestions, as was the Farmer’s Market, which usually hosts live music and has become The Saturday Morning Place to Go. 

    One commenter said her neighborhood does a Wine O’clock on warm Friday evenings. (That sounds pretty fun!)

    What did surprise me about the comments was something altogether separate from the suggestions themselves: namely, the community building that was happening right on the thread. People were reading the suggestions and thanking each other for telling them things they never knew about. Someone who lived in the poster’s neighborhood suggested they meet and hang out. In fact, people all over the thread were inviting each other to things left and right. 

    One person suggested to the poster, “Strike up a conversation everywhere you go,” and I thought, “Yes! Montclair is absolutely a place where you can do that!”

    I, of course, think we are more able to connect with each other here in Montclair because we have ample opportunities to walk the town. Without the constant barricade of a car enclosing us, we are naturally more open to meeting each other. 

    The whole post reminded me of that old saying that, for me, always sums up our town, (and yes, I've taken some liberties with the wording): There are no strangers here in this walkable suburb; only friends you haven’t met yet.

    From Montclair to the Moon

    I just came across this photo on Facebook the other day – an illustration taken from the children’s book Reaching for the Moon, by Buzz Aldrin. I’d walked past this house hundreds of times before I knew it was the home that he grew up in. 

    In the post, it recounts Aldrin once saying, "I'd climb out the 3rd floor and walk along the roof with a candle. Was I crazy?" 

    Maybe. But it seemed to have worked out.

    Montclair has always been home to a good number of “famous” people. We are so close to New York City, and also so away from the city, that it’s always been a top choice for actors, musicians, writers, professional athletes – people whose names I sometimes drop when I drive my clients around town. (Yes, I do sometimes do that.) Linking my town with people who have become household names is often a shorthand way of communicating, “This person could live anywhere, and they’ve chosen to live here.”

    But there’s something different about knowing that Buzz Aldrin grew up here. About knowing that his dreams were formed while gazing at the moon from the same vantage point as my own children do. That his courage and curiosity developed in a community where the impossible maybe didn’t seem all that far-fetched. A community in which, to me, it has always felt safe to be exactly who you are.

    These are all ideals that cannot be seen within the homes I show or on the streets I drive along with my clients. But they’re here. 

    I’m not suggesting that we are a town of roof-climbing children. (I really felt for his mother when I read that!) However, I have heard from so many people that growing up here shaped them in remarkable ways – ways they never understood until they left. 

    It's an amazing gift to give our children. The opportunity to grow up in a place where they can have wondrous dreams, and then become those dreams. That’s what I see in this photograph. In this town.

    5 Things That Drive Me Nuts About HGTV

    As someone obsessed with houses, I turn on HGTV all the time. And many of my clients spend time watching various shows as well. It doesn’t take long after stepping into a kitchen – whether with a buyer or a seller -- for the conversation to turn to renovations. And for the misinformation to take over.

    Don’t get me wrong – I like HGTV. But many of those shows depict home buying and renovation in a completely inaccurate way. For me, these are the five biggest offenders: 

    1. Renovation Costs Are Too Low – Believe me, I would love for a kitchen renovation to cost what’s quoted on Love It or List It. But the truth is, an older kitchen, gutted and being brought up to code, is almost always more expensive than my clients have been led to believe by the television show. Usually, by a lot.

    2. The Value-Add Is Too High – I have clients who are convinced that if they spend $85,000 on a bathroom renovation, it will increase the value of their home by $115K. In my experience, the opposite is true. Unless you are a contractor or can do most of the work yourself, you will not recoup the money you invest on finishing a basement or renovating a kitchen. Of course, you should do the renovation to improve your home for you. But don’t expect it to be a money-maker. 

    However, there are two projects that are always worth investing in: fresh paint and refinished floors. Even if they cost more than HGTV may suggest, newly done walls and floors make a house feel clean, fresh and inviting.

    3. Project Duration (and Inconvenience) Is Underplayed – Through the magic of television, clients are lulled into believing that a renovation can be done in six weeks. Six months is more accurate, and even that is often optimistic. Again, this is not to say you shouldn’t create your dream kitchen. Just know that projects often take much longer IRL than characterized on TV.

    4. Selection Process is Oversimplified – In House Hunters, a buyer is shown three houses and asked to pick one. The host never says, “I’m sorry, you’ve been outbid. Again.” In fact, there are no bidding wars at all – one of many TV omissions that make home buying appear more straightforward than it typically is. 

    5. Agents Are Depicted as Simple-Minded – Although I try not to take it personally, there are way too many instances where real estate agents are depicted merely as the person who has a key to the front door. I would say about 20% of an agent’s job is showing houses. Most of the job entails working out problems related to easements, oil tank remediations, title issues, and closing logistics.

    Finally, HGTV – as delightful as it is – doesn’t spend anywhere near the amount of time talking about the quality of life benefits you may want to look for once you walk out your new front door. For example, how living in a walkable suburb contributes to a person's good health and fosters a sense of community. I think I could host a show like that!

    But in the meantime, I’m happy to just talk about it with my clients. If you’d like an amazing and realistic sense of what Montclair, Maplewood, Glen Ridge, South Orange, West Orange, Verona, Cedar Grove and Bloomfield have to offer, please reach out: 973-809-5277

    Why A Walkable Suburb Rules

    I have to be honest: when I moved from Manhattan to Montclair, a part of me worried. I’d grown up in New York City – I was, by all accounts, a City Person – and I wasn’t sure I’d ever be happy living in the suburbs. I knew it would be good for my kids to live somewhere with a yard, and my then-husband had grown up here. There were lots of reasons Montclair seemed like a good idea. But it wasn’t “the City.”

    I was surprised how quickly I took to the ease and convenience of suburban living. And I was even more surprised how happy I was.

    Over the years, I started to pay attention to what exactly made me happy here and found it nearly always circled back to the same thing. The incredible sense of community.

    I’ve always attributed the great community feeling here to Montclair’s walkability. It’s the main thing I talk about with my clients. So, I wasn’t super surprised to read this article in The Atlantic Monthly, "Having a Library or Cafe Down the Block Could Change Your Life," about a new study out that confirms all of it:

    1, People who live in high-amenity suburbs – that is, a suburb where you can walk to the grocery store, a movie theater, the library, a park – are three times happier than suburban dwellers that have to drive 20-plus minutes to get anywhere.

    2. People in walkable suburbs feel more trusting of their neighbors and more a part of their community.

    3. A strong sense of community inspires local businesses to create more community-focused spaces and events, which strengthens that feeling even further.

    Many of the towns I show are considered high-amenity suburbs – places like Maplewood, South Orange and Bloomfield that have vibrant downtowns with plenty of restaurants and shopping that can be done on foot. Even Glenridge, despite not having a big downtown of its own, has so much to walk to, it is considered a high-amenity suburb as well. 

    Here in Montclair, the great focus on community has resulted in the creation of parklets, free outdoor music on Church Street, lots of al fresco dining, more work-share spaces, and one of my favorite additions, Cornerstone, a recently transformed building “uptown” that was designed with an eye toward inclusion. There’s an indoor play/party space for differently-abled young people, an art gallery, rentable event space and an incredibly fun “general store” (a great place for kid gifts).

    Like so many others who have moved here, the owner of Cornerstone quit her day job and began adding to the fabric of the community. You see that here everywhere you turn.

    I’m always excited to show houses, but please make time to let me show you some of the magical parts of Montclair or our neighboring towns. My office is right in uptown Montclair, and you can feel the “happy” even in a very short walk.

    Montclair is Committed to Community

    Early last Friday evening, on Montclair’s cobblestoned Church Street, I met an old friend for a glass of wine at Amanti Vino’s outdoor wine café. The wine was delicious, the night was clear and cool, and we were surrounded by hundreds of friends and neighbors. 

    This area can get busy on a clear summer night, but Friday pulled a crowd that was sizable even by Church Street standards, with the entire block closed to traffic in order to host a community dinner –  the first of its kind.

    The dinner was one of the launch events of a brand new, week-long local festival called “Bounce,” designed to celebrate resilience and optimism. There were dozens of long tables set up end-to-end, running the length of Church Street like a spine. Each “place setting” had a festival brochure listing all the events for the week – art exhibits, musical performances, dance, lectures, and tons of “experiential” activities for both adults and kids – as well as a simple, typewritten message of positivity that was taped to the paper table cloth. People could pick up a free sandwich and pasta salad at one of the serving tables or buy a to-go meal from one of the many area restaurants and eat family-style with others from the community.

    It was actually very cool.

    I was struck by many things that evening. One was that, even though I’ve made this town my home for 20 years, there were lots of people I had never seen before. Another was that, after making this my home for so long, it was great fun to run into people I use to work with on PTA committees or work out next to at the gym. 

    I was also amazed – as I usually am – at how people in this town are continually motivated to put together yet another engaging community event. Since I’ve moved here, Montclair has launched a Film Festival, a Jazz Festival, an Art Walk, a town-wide Music Day, an outdoor public Dance Performance, a Farmers Market, a few Road Races and Garden Tours, and a host of other free entertainment offerings designed with a single goal in mind: creating a strong sense of community.

    And, as far as I can tell, it’s worked.

    There are always so many people here working hard on everyone else’s behalf. I love that about our community. There’s always something to do. 

    If you’re interested in a vibrant town with direct NYC access and something for everyone, let me take you around. Beyond all our fabulous festivals, we have some pretty great houses for sale too.  

    TALK OR TEXT: 973-809-5277