Enjoying Home

Montclair to Bloomfield – A New Cozy Community

Carol and John moved to Montclair in 1995. They have three grown children, two of whom are out on their own; the youngest is living at home. John works from home, a partner in a media marketing company. Carol commutes to New York City four days a week for her job at a non-profit. This past summer, after 24 years in their Montclair home, they sold and bought a home in Bloomfield.

Why Bloomfield?

We wanted to stay in the Montclair area – close to friends and all the places we like to go. Our original plan was to downsize, but the house we bought is not much smaller than what we had been in. However, it was less expensive, and it’s also a much better configuration for our current situation. We wanted to be close to the New York bus and able to walk to things, and we were lucky enough to get a house in the Brookdale section, right off the park.

What’s your favorite thing about living here?

We love the neighborhood. Not just the proximity to the park, but also the coziness of block. It’s a dead-end street, so the only people driving on the block, live here. The houses are closer together and closer to the street, so it feels more like a little community. Everyone is extremely friendly, so it just feels really good to be here. 

Any challenges along the way?

We bought and sold with Lina, and for us, the buying was very easy. We went to an open house that checked off all our boxes; she came back with us the next week and everything fell into place quickly and smoothly, even in this neighborhood where houses go fast. The selling was more complicated for us, and there, Lina was amazing. We had her come over almost a year earlier and advise us what we should do to prepare the house. We discovered there was a lot that needed updating, projects we often did ourselves. (That was the hard part.)  Our prep work included repainting every room, refinishing floors, finishing off the 3rd floor more completely, updating kitchen cabinets and counters, and installing some new light fixtures. Lina’s advice was spot on. She really understands the market and what it takes to make a house marketable. From the timing, to the paint colors, we just did everything she told us to do and it worked. Our Montclair house was our nest egg and she helped us maximize what we could get for it. 

What’s turned out better than you expected?

Our other challenge was the endless decluttering. We had to get rid of so much! It was hard to let go of what we’d held onto for decades. For months, we spent most weekends giving things away and filling up a dumpster. But now, it feels so good to live a more streamlined life. It’s been great to learn that we can make do with a lot less “stuff.” The fact that we didn’t have to let go of our relationships in the area probably made the whole move a little easier.

Photos: Top - Carol and John in front of their new home; Bottom - their former Montclair home. 

Home-buying and How To Think About Bedrooms

I have had clients who look at a listing I send them and say, “We’re only two people, why would we want four bedrooms?” There was a time I'd have made the same comment.

It wasn’t until I downsized myself that I started thinking about bedrooms differently.

In my first house, I had a spacious bedroom with plenty of room for dressers, an upholstered chair, and an exercise bike. I never sat in the chair; it was a place I tossed my clothes. If I’m being honest, the exercise bike was a clothes rack as well. When my kids got older and started moving out, I downsized and bought a house with smaller (and fewer) bedrooms, matching the number of bedrooms to the number of people who would be sleeping there.

But some days, I wish I had an extra bedroom – or two.  I would set one up as a little yoga room and another as a dedicated room for my son, who ends up coming home to visit more than I expected.

Trends in housing over the last 10 years have shown that the most popular homes were those with lots of communal or shared spaces -- open layouts. But housing trends change, and then change again.

Now that more and more people work from home, a laptop at the kitchen island isn’t always adequate. I find that more people seem interested in having rooms they can use as private spaces. They need a dedicated office where they can close the door and Skype with clients.

If you’re planning to buy, don’t just think about bedrooms for sleeping.  Think about a home’s space configurations and what it is you might want in your home.

Do you need a home office?

Two home offices?

A guest room? 

A Peloton room?

A dressing room?

Many of these “luxury” amenities can be accomplished easily once you see all the possibilities a bedroom can offer. 

Manhattan to Montclair – “No pressure with Lina”

 

Rachel and Tom just celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary last September and had their first child in December. Rachel was born and raised in Washington, DC and Tom grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Both went to college in Boston and when they graduated, moved to NYC to begin their careers -- Rachel in sales & marketing and Tom as an accountant. Last August, they left their 1-bedroom apartment in Chelsea and moved to a 3-bedroom home in Montclair, NJ. 

Why Montclair?

We explored several neighborhoods in the area and decided that Montclair was the place that we wanted to start our family. We fell in love with the downtown area and all of the villages throughout the town. We love the history and charm of all the homes, and we had heard nothing but great things about the people and the schools, which was really important to us. We also picked it because of the close proximity to Manhattan and have since found that the commute is very manageable. 

What’s your favorite thing about living here?

We love how walkable the neighborhood is and have really enjoyed exploring Upper Montclair village and all of the restaurants this town has to offer. 

Any challenges along the way?

Before we got pregnant, we knew we wanted to buy a house, but in our minds, we had a longer timeline. The pregnancy definitely expedited the process. We were slightly nervous that the home buying process would be very overwhelming and stressful; since we had been renting an apartment, there were a several things we had to learn about home ownership in general. There were also times we got a bit discouraged that we might not find something in our budget in the neighborhood we wanted, but in time, we ended up landing on the perfect home in the perfect neighborhood and we couldn't be happier. 

What’s turned out better than you expected?

We’ve found the move and transition to be fairly easy and were so pleasantly surprised with how seamless the process was. This was thanks to Lina, who we’d met at an Open House. She made the entire home buying process so enjoyable for us. We had never worked with a real estate agent before and didn't really know what to expect. She was so patient, answering all of our questions, and, as first-time buyers, we had a ton of questions. All along, she was a calming and reassuring resource. We always felt like she had our best interest in mind and never felt pressured. We are so grateful for her guidance and advice and would recommend her a million times over!

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.

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.

Plant. Shred. Recycle. Upcoming Events To Make Your Spring Cleaner

Whether you’re buying, selling, or just staying put, spring always feels like the right time to clean up. Still, sometimes we could use a little extra motivation. Here are a few upcoming events that may inspire you to tackle one of those spring-cleaning projects sooner rather than later. 

 

Paper Shredding – two low or no-cost options.

April 20 Montclair Shred-fest - 9am - 1pm at the Community Service Yard 219 N Fullerton. Montclair residents only. Free.

April  27 - Homecorp Shred Day - 9:30am - 12:30pm. 8 Hillside Ave. Open to the public. Donation requested.

 

Plant Sale - Annual event to benefit Van Vleck Gardens. Experts on-site for advice.

May 3 - 6 — Times vary. Van Vleck Gardens.

 

Hazardous Waste Collection - Goodbye old paint! (Oil paint, that is. And fluorescent light bulbs. And old fire extinguishers. And anti-freeze.)

May 4 - 8:30am-4pm at the Essex County Public Works site, 99 West Bradford Ave, Cedar Grove

 

Electronics Recycling - Computers, DVDs, 8-Track Tape players (don’t laugh, I still see some around).

May 18 - 9am - 3pm at the Essex County Public Works site, 99 West Bradford Ave, Cedar Grove

Saturdays - 9am - 4pm at Montclair Community Service Yard, 219 N Fullerton. Residents only. Also 2-4pm Wednesdays and Fridays.

 

Book Donations - Ongoing collections for book sales to benefit education.

Sep - May - Lacordaire Academy at Park St. and Lorraine Ave. Drop off this year before May 3, 2019.

May - August/Saturdays 8:30—11:30am -  Montclair College Women’s Club Book Sale. Collections at 26 Park Street, Montclair. Check website for May start-up dates.

 

Most websites will spell out what the organizations do and don’t accept as well as any other details you may need.

 

If you’re planning a garage sale, I always suggest timing it so you can take advantage of bulk waste pick up or any relevant recycling events afterwards. (Most towns require permits; here's info for Montclair.)

 

For anything else that you might want to sell (or buy) — furniture, clothing, sports equipment, old lawn mowers — I always check out the local swap pages on Facebook (here's one for non-clothing items). One person’s trash is another person’s treasure!

My 5 Tips for Clutter

Clutter is a topic that my clients and I can talk about for hours. 

It’s no secret that one of a real estate agent’s first directives to a potential seller is “Get rid of the clutter.” This is obviously easier said than done.

I just came across some research studies that tie an organized, uncluttered home to feelings of well-being, particularly in women. I have definitely found this in my own life. A few years ago, I downsized and had to deal with a lot of my stuff for the first time in a long time. I like “things,” so since then, I have had to adopt some new habits to keep may spaces streamlined. I can personally attest to the fact that, in stressful times, a calm, organized environment can act as a salve.

Here are some of my suggestions for getting started on your own Decluttering Journey.

1. Binge Watch Marie Kondo on Netflix – I know many roll their eyes about her, but she has been a motivator for many of my clients. I read her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a few years ago, but the TV show seems more relatable. People can see their own “issues” in the stories of her clients and are inspired to overcome them.

2. Read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson – I have not read this book yet, but my mother was Danish and essentially lived by the philosophy, “Don’t leave a big mess for your family to sort out after you pass.” Mom would come to visit, happily toting my old soccer trophies from seventh grade. She didn’t want them and neither did I. Sometimes we hold onto things thinking our children will want them in their future. And oftentimes we are mistaken.

3. Declutter By Time Rather Than By Area – Sometimes, just the idea of decluttering an area – the closet, the pantry, the basement – can feel overwhelming. Some people have luck with allotting successive amounts of time to an organizing project. I might set my timer for 30 minutes and then tackle whatever I can get done with the linen closet in that time, giving myself permission to spend ONLY 30 minutes today and come back to it for more 30-minute intervals during the week.

4. Hire a Professional – My assistant, Jodi,  is a professional organizer and she has been a life saver in helping people who cannot find the time to declutter on their own. I actually use several different organizers, each with their own super-power, so I can pair a client with the organizer that will best suit them. One organizer is so lovely and patient, she will listen to a client's every anecdote about each teacup as they goes through the cabinets.

5. Stage to Stay – Many think of professional stagers as people who bring things into a home to make it look a certain way. But most of “staging” really involves taking things away. When a house is going to market, there is usually a time-line and an urgency for staging. However, if you just want to make your home more streamlined, stagers are a wonderful resource for simplifying spaces. Again, I use different stagers for different clients, depending on their needs.

Most of us own at least twice as much “stuff” as we need. Not only does decluttering make a house present better, it makes the owner feel better – so much so that, on a few occasions, my clients decided they liked their home so much more they wanted to stay there for a few more years!

If you want to talk clutter, give me a call: 973-809-5277

Six Ways to Take a Prospective New Town for a Test Drive

You research the school system. You collect the train schedules. You drive around the neighborhood after an open house. 

Buying a house means buying into a community. So, of course, information about schools and transportation is important. However, a big part of what most of my clients are looking for is a particular vibe. And in my opinion, vibe needs to be evaluated firsthand. 

Here are my 6 favorite suggestions for taking a town for a test drive. Feel free to post your own in the comments!

1. Take a walk.

When you drive through town with an agent, they tend to take you through the nicest neighborhoods. So, if you’re looking at a particular house, in addition to circling the neighborhood, google directions to a nearby restaurant or school – and walk to it. Beyond getting a feel for the friendliness of fellow pedestrians, you’ll notice things that you’d never have access to inside your car.

2. Hang around after school.

Whether it’s the vibe of the school's neighborhood, or what your new neighborhood feels like when school gets out, you’ll get plenty of information about what your child’s after-school experience may be like. 

3. Take an exercise class.

Or a yoga class. Or visit the library. Or a church. Or a temple. Or the senior center. If there are things you love to do, take the opportunity to see what it’s like to do them in a new town. Obviously, walking into the Montclair YMCA was a different experience the first time I showed up there decades ago than it is now. I didn’t know anyone and, in fact, I got lost. But even then, the Y had an easy, welcoming vibe that made me feel instantly comfortable.

4. Go to the grocery store.

I spent a lot of time in the supermarket when I was raising my family. If that sounds like you, pop in and see what your home-away-from-home will feel like. Montclair has plenty of grocery options – I’m happy to guide clients to the 2 or 3 destinations that seem most right for them.

5. Take the train (or bus) in and out of town.

I have clients who do this as a matter of course – executing their entire door-to-door commute from a prospective neighborhood to experience it in real time -- and also to see what it will feel like. 

6. Check out the Saturday night scene.

Montclair has always been something of an arts and entertainment hub, a destination for people all over northern New Jersey. But there’s no better way to know if it will suit your own entertainment needs (or, at least, many of them) than having a meal, getting a drink, catching a movie, listening to a band. Meander down Bloomfield Avenue and see what speaks to you. There are plenty of restaurant options where reservations are not required.

Getting a clear feel for a town or a neighborhood helps buyers become more confident in their purchase. I regularly tell clients: You can always change a kitchen or an entryway – but you can’t change what a town feels like on a cool spring morning or after a quiet snow.

To me, taking a town for a test drive provides a buyer with more options. You may read things about Montclair or Glenridge or South Orange or Verona, but until you experience the town’s vibe, you won’t have information from the most reliable source: you. 

If you want some more ideas about how to test drive a town, don’t hesitate to call me: 973-809-5277

Photo: Montclair YMCA Large Pool 

How To Tour A Home

The other day during a house tour, a first-time buyer asked me, “What should I be looking for?”

This is such a great question.

As a buyer, you’re no doubt looking for specific things in a home: a certain number of bedrooms; a kitchen big enough to host brunch for your extended family every other Sunday; a backyard big enough that you can put up a swing set. Ideally, your agent would address as much of your “wish list” as possible when she provides listings. Or she may give you alternatives: “The yard may be small for a swing set, but the park is a block away.”

When the main items on your wish list have been satisfied, your next job is to imagine.

What does it feel like to be in this space?

Can you picture your furniture in the rooms?

Can you imagine family dinners here?

Can you imagine what it might be like to come back from a trip, open the door, and be home?

For some, it’s very important to have a feeling about the block or immediate neighborhood, for others, it’s important to have a yard with big, mature trees.

These are all things you cannot change, so if you don’t have the right feeling about a house, it’s probably best just to walk away. But if the vibe is right, you can (and should) consider proceeding to the next step.

Having owned many homes myself, I consider things like a squeaky door, a cracked garage window, or a drippy faucet “minor stuff” – barely worth discussing. A thorough going-over by a qualified home inspector will let you know whether there are important repairs needed on the home. The truth is, most of us buy houses that are “used,” but unlike shopping for, say, a used car, you don’t need spend your visit constantly on the lookout for little, easily-repaired things. I promise you: whatever house you buy will need a little something, if for no other reason than to make it what you want.

There’s no need to focus on what might be wrong with a house during a home tour — save that for the inspection! It’s much more important to tune into your gut and focus on what is right.

Hygge - You Know It When You Feel It

Living RoomPractically every time I open a magazine or click online these days, I am confronted with hygge. And my first thought is: Finally, someone is speaking my language!

Hygge is a Danish word that's started getting a lot more airplay lately, especially as winter comes upon us. Pronounced hue gah or hoog uh, it’s often translated as a kind of soothing coziness that, for Danes, is such a collectively held ideal it’s as if the concept is woven into their very being. I know this first-hand, as my mother was born and raised in Denmark. As a result, I grew up with the notion of hygge all around me.

There were some things my mother never quite “got” about living in the States – like American sandwiches. For example, she’d make PB&Js on rye bread. Or worse, she’d make peanut butter, butter, and jelly sandwiches! (Danes put butter on every piece of bread, regardless of what else is going to be added.)

But she did "get" hygge and, genetically, so did I.

The loveliness of hygge does not just revolve around warm fires and soft blankets – though that’s often how home design magazines illustrate the concept. It’s also tied to the profound goodness of being with people who nourish you. The deep pleasure and comfort that comes from hunkering down with the someone (or someones) you love.

I have always attempted to create a sense of hygge in the homes I’m selling. Not only because it makes buyers feel good when they tour the house, but also because it’s an idea that I feel so personally committed to. It’s even one of the reasons that I decided to make my home here. Montclair itself feels hygge to me.

Our clothing shops are hygge. Our yoga studios are hygge. Even our tattoo parlor feels hygge.

When helping people find their "right home," hygge is always a feeling I try to help someone identify (although I rarely ever call it that!). That space where they can truly sink into contentment. Their happy place.