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Enjoying Home

3 Things To Do To Your House For Spring

1.    Declutter

2.    Declutter 

3.    Declutter

No one wants to hear this, because it’s not an easy thing to do. But if you’re thinking of moving – particularly if you’ve been in your home for a while – this is the absolute best place to put your resources. 

Here’s my philosophy on this in a nutshell:

If you have the slightest notion that you may want to sell in the next five years, start the very liberating process of decluttering as soon as possible. If you end up putting your home on the market in a year, you’ll already be halfway to making your house ready to show. If you dont list your house for another five years, you can enjoy living in a calmer and more orderly environment. 

We’ve all just spent so much more time in our homes this past year, doesn’t a more serene space seem so very appealing? It does to me!

Decluttering isn’t easy for many reasons, most of them having to do with memories. Besides the physical toll, it takes a lot of mental energy to make decisions about all our “stuff.” This is why, when I need to declutter my own space, I call in the big guns: my associates Jodi or Linda. 

While my Scandinavian sensibility is very streamlined and spare, my actual living space veers from that ideal. Jodi or Linda can wrangle any kind of disorganization and clutter that may have crept into my space. They take what has become chaotic and make it make sense. 

I’ve turned each of them loose on my garage, attic, and the closet into which I’ve been stuffing the loot from too much Costco shopping. For my clients, they have made molehills out of mountains in an impressively short time. 

I know one obstacle to decluttering for many people is: How do I get rid of my stuff?

If you’re in Montclair or nearby, I just found out there’s a one-day Clothing Drive at Montclair High School (Chestnut St.) on April 3rd from 9AM-1PM. They’re taking clothing, shoes, accessories and household items like blankets and towels in good condition. (No furniture, only soft goods. Items must be in a plastic bag and you can drive through the circle and drop from the car.)

If you’d like me to send you a list of my regular top places to donate, drop me an email! Or reach out even if you just need a pep talk!  lina@walkablesuburb.com

 

The Value of In-Home Exercise Space 

I talk a lot about the benefits of living in a walkable suburb – the ease of meeting neighbors and the way you can really engage with a community when you’re on foot.

Talking with clients this past year about what they’re looking for in a house – or a in a town – I’ve had more conversations about mental well-being than I think I’ve had in the past 20 years combined. And the number one thing that comes up for practically everyone is not surprising: Exercise.

We all know that walking and being outdoors feels good and is good for your health. I love that there are exercise studios and programs in town that have moved completely outdoors during the pandemic, like the socially-distanced yoga class in Anderson Park or the Tae Kwon Do studio on Glen Ridge Ave that held classes in the parking lot. 

Unfortunately, those solutions don’t work as well when there’s a foot of snow on the ground.

Whether you are buying or selling, I recommend that my clients think about the space in their home with an eye toward exercise space. I wrote a post exactly a year ago, pre-pandemic, about seeing “extra” bedrooms as home offices or workout spaces (a post that seems especially prescient these days!). Now I add to that: basements, sun-rooms, garages!

[Small sunrooms make great workout spaces.]

[A simple basement set up.]

You don’t need much square footage to dedicate to a physical regimen, and it doesn’t need to be fancy.  After gaining a bit of weight late last spring, my own son set up a humble exercise area in the garage and lost over 50 lbs.

[My son's garage workout space.]

Of course, when the space is little fancier, it may be more inviting and more profitable. My colleagues and I have been surprised on occasion how much a house has sold for, and it seems like those with an attractive Home Gym area are particularly appealing. 

[Garage-turned-exercise studio.]

My background in architecture has come in quite handy, helping buyers and sellers envision a living space that focuses on well-being, indoors or outdoors. Call or text: 973-809-5277

5 Winter Things To Do With Kids That You Might Not Expect Only 12 Miles West of NYC

Oh, the winter is long when you have to entertain those little balls of energy -- otherwise known as Children. That’s why it’s key to find a suburb that offers a lot of outdoor fun even when it’s cold out. I’ve loved raising my kids in Montclair, and the prevalence of winter wonder is one of the many reasons why.

Here’s how we do winter:

Sledding at the Iris Garden Hill. This hill is long and not too steep, and the town closes the road when it snows to make it super safe. Also, there are plenty of other sledding hills all over town.

Ice Skating at Edgemont Pond. Of course, it has to be cold enough for skating, but this big pond is a magical experience – and free!

Snow Shoeing at Eagle Rock Reservation. Ok, I admit, I have never personally snow-shoed. But I have friends who have, and they've also gone cross-country skiing in this miles-long reservation at the south end of town. 

Nature Walks at Mills Reservation. My kids and I would make a list of stuff to find, kind of like a Scavenger Hunt, and spend a happy hour-and-a-half on the big, easy trail looking for “tee-pees” and “ice formations.” 

Laps at Brookdale Park. There’s a running track that’s great for “races” and a walking path where you can lap this whole beautiful county park. My kids would do bike laps or scooter laps or sometimes just run laps around the excellent playground. If they needed further tiring out, I would send them up and down the grand stadium steps or chasing after a soccer ball in the field. Brookdale Park in the winter is a gem.

If you ever want to hear about all the other reasons I’ve loved raising my kids in Montclair, please reach out. I love to talk about the town I love so much. Talk or Text: (973) 809-5277

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

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!