And Health

What Have We Learned So Far

I think I can speak for most when I say this past few months has been an incredible learning experience. From the minute New Jersey went on “lockdown,” all my colleagues and I could talk about was how will we do our jobs?

We learned how to make great use of virtual house-tour apps and what to do to make an in-person home tour safe. We learned how to get houses inspected and close under the most arduous circumstances. But maybe most important, as a society we learned to stop all our hurrying about and start to understand what we care about and value. What we want to take into the future with us.

Many of my clients adopted a more inward focus. Buyers started to care more about “comfort,” less about “image.” Grand spaces for entertaining became less important than a garage loft that could be converted into a home office. Also, short commutes to work from an apartment on the Upper West Side became less important than outdoor space.

We’ve also seen how size came to matter in a different way. Some sellers looked at their big houses as a welcome oasis, someplace where they could work and school their kids and have a little privacy from everyone else. Others began to see their big house as too much to take care of since they’d become the ones cleaning it every week.

Buying and selling decisions have become far more about “quality of life” – though not just about a person’s individual life. We’ve seen more people looking for quality of life in a community that’s consistent with their beliefs. A community’s dedication to welcoming all people has become a selling point like never before. I know as a society we still have a long way to go, but as someone raised in Manhattan, I can personally vouch for Montclair’s continued commitment to making our town feel like it’s a place where everyone belongs.

Helping people buy or sell a home has always been a very personal experience, and now it feels like an even deeper one. As always, I’m here to talk about any and every aspect of home buying or sales. Talk or text: (973) 809-5277

UPDATE - NJ Real Estate During Pandemic

People have been asking what I’m seeing in New Jersey real estate these days.

There’s been a noticeable increase in people from the city interested in moving to the suburbs. People want to leave their apartments and are looking for lower density population areas and with more outdoor space. This is especially appealing now that so many people are working and schooling their kids at home. And as employers consider expanding telecommuting options in order to meet social distancing requirements in cramped NYC offices, people may be able to work from home several days per week. This makes a New York City commute seem much less daunting.  

Also, living in the suburbs lowers the cost of living for many people, another draw in a slowing economy.

So even though we’re seeing a slow down in the number of houses being sold, it’s mostly due to very low inventory. Prices remain solid and a good number of houses are still seeing multiple offers. 

However, this is not to say it’s easy to sell a house right now. Or to buy one.

There’s a lot more screening taking place before an agent can show a house in person. Updated mortgage pre-apps are required before setting up appointments as well as current pay stubs or statements from employers verifying that the person has not been laid off or furloughed.  

We’re using a lot more virtual tours, virtual open houses and “doll house” or 3D Matterport tours. If someone wants to see the town, we drive in separate cars and talk about neighborhoods over the phone.

It’s a little harder to do things like home inspections, title searches, or obtain a certificate of occupancy. Anything requiring people being in certain places at certain times is more complicated. This is why when a contract is written, a Covid Addendum is now attached, recognizing the uncertainty and difficulty of meeting the contract timelines. 

Even with all this, business is still getting done. People are buying, selling and moving. It all speaks to our resiliency and ability to adapt — something I think we should all feel good about.

Together Apart

Things are changing so rapidly. Last weekend we did open houses that were well attended. The houses were vacant, and we took precautions like opening all closet and interior doors to eliminate touching. We required everyone to sanitize their hands and wear booties and asked them to refrain from coming in at all in if they had recently traveled abroad or were feeling unwell.  We also limited the number of people in the house to one family at a time. 

This weekend, I would not dream of doing an open house. 

Each new day brings its own interesting challenges. Yesterday, a painter cancelled. If county offices close, title searches will come to a grinding halt. Tomorrow, Governor Murphy may even ask everyone to stay home.

Our current situation requires extreme flexibility, creativity and the ability to be nimble. And no amount of foresight can predict what’s next for the real estate market. We are working with our clients, buyers and sellers alike, to determine what the best way is to proceed in each scenario.

We are setting up video tours and also using a product called Matterport, which is like a 3D floor plan that lets you virtually walk through a house as you please, turning left here, going up the stairs there.

I suspect our current state of uncertainty will push the spring market into summer or perhaps fall. There may end up being a surge of home buying because of pent up demand. At this point, it’s impossible to predict anything.

In the meantime, I think people who have been tossing around the idea of selling should use this time to get their houses ready for market (whenever that may be).  Clean out the garage, declutter, go through closets and donate, change your furnace and AC filters, make all the minor repairs you've been meaning to do, like fixing that dripping faucet, tightening that loose doorknob, and tending to your landscaping. Hire any tradesperson that can work on the exterior of your house, like gutter cleaners, exterior painters, landscapers, tree surgeons, power washing companies, chimney repair people and brick re-pointers. And get that darn oil tank out of the ground. 

For sellers, I’m happy to do Zoom or FaceTime appointments to give direct advice on what needs to be done to get a house ready. We have two team members that can do Zoom meetings to guide people through organizing and decluttering. 

For buyers, screen houses that you may want to visit by first asking if there are any virtual tours or Matterport tours available and if not, ask the agent to do a FaceTime walkthrough of the house for you. 

Our top priority, as always, is to make buying or selling as safe and stress-free as possible. Call or text to chat about how we can work together creatively in these new circumstances.  (973) 809-5277

Surgeon General Calls - Montclair Answers

walking-web-buttonI just came upon one of those cute 2-minute videos where a narrator explains some broad concept while a high-speed hand renders an animated line drawing to illustrate the point - in this particular case, the point being:

We All Need To Walk More!

The walking information should come as no surprise to anyone - the health benefits of walking have been written about abundantly. What was surprising (and gratifying) to me was that Step It Up! - the campaign that the Surgeon General launched last week - involves not only a call to action for people to increase the amount of time they spend walking, but also for communities to become safer, more hospitable places to walk.

This means adding sidewalks, taking care of green space, and generally creating a vibe throughout the community that makes walking pleasant and appealing. For me, that often means having interesting destinations - coffee shops, boutiques, bookstores - that I can get to on foot. The good news is, Montclair already does all of that!

This video even included things that are already part of my life - like walking to the train or the bus if I'm going into the city, or structuring some of my social time around walking (I have as many walking dates as I do lunch dates to catch up with friends).

Do I feel proud of my town for being a poster child for the Surgeon General's most recent communique to create more walkable communities? I don't really have to answer that, do I?

Montclair: More Trees Than People

IMG_6288I often tell clients how living in a walkable suburb just feels better, but have never given much thought to quantifying it. However, others apparently have! There's an article in the New Yorker ("How Trees Calm Us Down") that talks not only about how people feel healthier the more trees are around, but also goes on to say that the benefits come mostly from trees in front yards and those planted at the curb - trees that can be enjoyed by people who walk by.

The scientists said that ten additional trees on a block had the effect of people feeling better to the degree that they would if they were seven years younger - or were given $10,000. That's pretty darn good in my book.

They can't really say what it is about trees that provides such solace and healing, but it seems that the benevolent power of trees will uplift you whether you're a nature lover or not. The "softly fascinating stimulation" of trees, according to the article, is good for our soul. And just being around trees is beneficial to memory, attention and mood.

Wait...did I mention Montclair has more trees than people? Close to 40 thousand! That's a lot of feel good trees. I guess it goes without saying that I'd be delighted to take you around to see some of them - and of course the houses that go with them!

Walking Around Town is Good For Your Brain

edgemont fountain Soon after starting a family, we moved into our first house in Montclair, which was across the street from a park. And although the playground was in need of a facelift back then, the park had a paved path, a climbing tree, a baseball diamond, a big pond, a fountain and a few weeping bushes that kids could tuck themselves into for hide-and-seek, making it a premiere destination for neighborhood strolls. Even before the playground renovation made Edgemont Park the place to be with toddlers, it was super easy to meet neighbors and potential playmates for my twins. This is one of the most obvious advantages of a Walkable Suburb - people are out walking with their kids and usually happy to socialize.

But now and then I stumble upon less obvious benefits of living in a walkable environment, like the one I came across recently about walkability and brain health. It seems that a recent pilot study showed that living in a walkable town - a place where you can navigate on foot - may foster better cognition abilities as we age. Specifically, the article said, "the sample of older adults who lived in more 'walkable' neighborhoods performed much better on cognition tests." This is an area that researchers are just beginning to explore, so I wouldn't delete that Lumosity app just yet, but there are early indicators that Walkability is not just for kids anymore!

Montclair: A Very Friendly Town

bicyclistsAs a longtime resident of Montclair, I've always thought of my town as a very friendly community. Apparently the U.S. Department of Transportation thinks so too; Montclair was just designated a Silver Level Walk Friendly Community by the DOT's Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Walk Friendly Communities is a nationwide program honoring communities which have made pedestrian safety and convenience a priority. With our Safe Routes to School program, traffic-calming projects, and other initiatives, Montclair is definitely pedestrian-friendly.

Montclair is also a welcoming town for cyclists: We were recently recognized as a Bronze Level Bike Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Our major roads all have bike lanes (all?), and one of the most popular town-wide events for the past 10 years has been the Tour de Montclair, sponsored by Bike & Walk Montclair (BWM took a break this year but plans to bring back the Tour in 2014).

You might be wondering why any of this matters.  Well, the way I see it, these awards show that Montclair  is a town that values the environment (bikes and feet don't spew pollutants into the air) and the health (exercise is great for our physical and mental well-being) of its citizens. Sounds pretty friendly to me.

Walk Where You Live. Live Where you Walk

familywalkingI recently read an article in The Sacramento Bee that confirmed what I've suspected for a long time: Americans know that walking is good for their health and that they aren't doing enough of it. According to a survey commissioned by the major health-care provider Kaiser Permanente, a whopping 94% of Americans recognize the physical and mental health benefits of walking, and 79% admit that they aren't doing enough of it to enjoy these benefits. These benefits range from weight loss to heart disease prevention to stress reduction..

The survey respondents gave a variety of reasons, including a lack of time or energy, for not incorporating walking into their daily lives. I was especially interested to read that many also said that not being able to walk to shops, schools and services prevented them from walking more. A full 40% of respondents described their neighborhoods as "not very" or "not at all" walkable. They cited a lack of sidewalks, speeding cars, and drivers who talk/text while driving as the biggest barriers to walking in their neighborhoods.

The survey also found that those who live in walkable neighborhoods do, in fact, walk more. It seems to me, then, that buying a home in Montclair or Maplewood (both very walkable communities)  can actually be beneficial to one's mental and physical well-being.

Comments

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    Tips for Montclair Bicycle Commuters

    bicyclecommuterAccording to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans are increasingly choosing to live in walkable communities, like Montclair, where there are more transportation choices that allow residents to live free of traffic jams and closer to their jobs, shopping and schools. The personal freedom, minimized carbon footprint, and cost-saving routines combine to create a vibrant and less stressful way of life.

    While the notion of commuting at least part way by bike sounds idyllic, forewarned is definitely forearmed. Here are some tips to consider before strapping on your helmet and loading your briefcase onto the luggage rack.

    Unless your office has a handy shower available to you, consider carefully what you to choose to wear on your commute. There's nothing worse than arriving sweaty with no reasonable way to freshen up. Ride slowly, and choose clothing that breathes. Always carry a packable rain jacket, preferably one with armpit zippers, which you can throw on quickly in the event of rain or brisk winds.

    Saddlebags are a great way to carry your gear - lock, pump, tools, raincoat, lunch, laptop, what have you. Choose a model that's weatherproof. It will keep rain, snow and puddles at bay. They also keep the weight off your back, letting you balance your bicycle for optimum stability. Most come with quick release catches, allowing you to grab and go once you've parked the bike for the day.

    Don't forget about the bike. Keeping your bike in good condition and well-tuned is the best way to minimize the amount of energy it will take to ride back and forth to work or the station. Check your tire pressure regularly, and make sure that your gears are properly adjusted.

    Bicycle or multi-modal commuting is a great way to enjoy both the urban experience as well as the great outdoors, and Montclair offers the best of both. Built before the advent of the automobile, it is pedestrian-friendly and architecturally eclectic, and I'd love to help you make it your home. Visit my website, give me a call on my mobile at 973-809-5277, or send me an email at info@walkablesuburb.com, and let's find you the perfect Montclair home.

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        Driving Less: Sign of the (NewYork) Times

        300px-Waldwick,_NJ,_train_station_from_pedestrian_bridgeEarlier this week, I came across an intriguing headline in The New York Times: "Young Americans Lead Trend to Less Driving."  As aNew Jersey Realtorwhose home-buying  clients tend to be New Yorkers looking for urban convenience along with leafy yards and good schools, I've been a witness to this phenomenon locally. Apparently it's happening nationwide as well.

        According to Phineas Baxandall, the author of a report mentioned in the article, "Millennials  (those born in the 1980s or '90s) aren't driving cars".  This is a major change from past generations, when teenagers everywhere saw a drivers license as a symbol of independence. A drop in the number of  licenses issued nationwide is partly the result of a weak economy (fewer jobs to drive to, a desire to save on gas), but also the result of increased environmental awareness and improved mass transit options nationwide. On the other end of the age spectrum, Baby Boomers are "aging out of the daily work force and need to commute less," according John Schwartz, the author of the article.

        I believe that the trend toward increased use of buses, trains and feet (for walking and biking) will continue. And whether you are a Millennial, a Boomer, or somewhere in between, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me. I'd love to show you homes in New Jersey communities such as Montclair, Glen Ridge and Maplewood that are already less car-dependent.