Enjoying Home

Confession: I Have Garage Issues...

Panza HouseI consider myself a very accepting person, but I also hold some very strong opinions. One of them relates to attached garages.

First, please let me say that if you have an attached garage, this is in no way meant to disparage you or your carport. But if I'm being honest, I've never really liked the way a garage looks when it's attached to a house. Whenever that big door is open it looks like a gaping mouth to me. Plus, philosophically, I've always considered houses a place for people to live in, not cars.

And yet, the house I live in now has just that amenity.

Last year, when I downsized, I made a list of the things that were important to me in a home. After looking for a while, I found a house that met virtually all of my criteria. I truly believed that buying this house was going to require some big concessions on my part, as the attached garage is quite a prominent feature from the street. I was wrong.

With my background in architecture, I am always brainstorming with my clients about change they might make to suit their aesthetics. But I also now try to impress upon them that if we give our aversions too much power, we run the risk of passing up a home that is actually pretty perfect.

Am I saying that I now like the look of attached garages? No, not at all. But I do love getting out of my car on a rainy day and taking four bone-dry steps into my house. And I'm grateful that I didn't allow my once hard-line garage stance prevent me from moving into one of the happiest homes I've ever owned.

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.

 

 

Is Montclair a Safe Community? Walkability Helps!

Anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows that I consider walkability very important to both the environment and one's general health, both physical and mental. According to an interesting post on the AARP website blog that I read recently,  walkable communities also tend to be safer communities. The author, Dan Burden, is the Executive Director of the unities Walkable and Livable Communities Institute.  His thinking is: In a neighborhood where residents barely see each other, how can they look out for each other?

In the post, Burden recounts his visits to gated communities and more open, accessible ones. Contrary to expectation, gated communities, built for seclusion and isolation, are not safer. He explains that "Neighbors in neighborhoods designed for inclusiveness watch over their streets naturally and consistently...They use the sidewalks and trails and open space as more than just a place to pass by in their cars  but rather as a way to connect, and yes, as a way to create natural surveillance of their neighborhoods."

I have to admit that before reading Burden's post, I had never thought of walkability as a boon to public safety . It makes a lot of sense, though, and also makes me even more glad that I live and work in Montclair, New Jersey.  

 

Just Say No to Suburban Sprawl (and Yes to Towns Like Maplewood)

Here's a short quiz:  What do the diner, the fast-food drive-thru, the turnpike and the mall have in common? Apparently, these icons of suburbia all had their beginnings in New Jersey. I  learned this bit of historical trivia from an interview with Dr. Richard Jackson published last week on NJ.com.

Jackson is a physician who believes that our environment, specifically suburban sprawl, is making us sick. Born and raised in New Jersey, he remembers when neighborhoods were arranged around downtown: a central area with schools, shops, and religious and civic buildings (towns like Bloomfield, Maplewood and Montclair). At some point however, the American Dream came to mean "getting away from it all."  Homes were built further and further away from downtown areas, which meant a new dependence on the automobile.

As Americans are driving more and walking less, Jackson claims, we are becoming heavier, which leads to complications ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes. We are also living further from each other - this isolation may well have something to do with the huge increase in diagnoses of depression over the past several decades.

Like any good doctor, Jackson has a cure for what ails us. He prescribes a return to traditional neighborhoods: "We need to stop making the car the first priority in everything we build." Sounds like a walkable suburb to me.

Airing My Clean Laundry

I'm feeling very retro these days. A couple of weeks ago my dryer quit after a long and useful life.  Engrossed in my washing, I hadn't noticed that the dryer was not keeping pace with the washer and so 4 loads later I found myself with 80 lbs of wet clothes. A quick run to Mr. Charlie's (aka American Royal Hardware on Park Street in Montclair) and I was back on track.

40 foot retractable clothesline:  $19.99 50-pack of wooden clothespins:$ 5.99 2 stainless steel screws:$.0.50

A basket full of dry, sweet-smelling clothes: Priceless

I find myself actually enjoying this activity which my mother did on a regular basis, every Tuesday, weather permitting.  Besides feeling nostalgic, I feel virtuous and thrifty for allowing the sun and wind to do for free for what I usually pay PSEG.  My 14 year-old son - not so much.  He's mortified that his friends might see his skivvies from Valley Road.

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.

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".

Browsing in Brookdale: A Blend of Old and New in Bloomfield

I'm a big fan of the Brookdale section of Bloomfield. It has charming, well-maintained houses right by Brookdale Park, as well as a great mix of traditional and trendy shops and restaurants on Broad Street. Italian food fans have two delicious choices, each open less than a year.  Bar Cara is the more casual sibling of Montclair's haute Italian restaurant Fascino;  both are owned by the DePersio family. On the other side of Watchung Ave. is Pizza Rustica, serving pizzas, pastas and the like. Literally next door is the popular Greek eatery Stamna, and right across the street is Boonsong Thai Cuisine.

Looking for something less exotic?  The IHOP is perfect for a traditional pancake breakfast, and Mastriano Prime Meats & Deli has been the  neighborhood butcher since 1966. After dinner,  Brookdale-ites often stroll over to Holsten's. Open since 1939, Holsten's was famous for its ice cream long before the Sopranos came to town.

The neighborhood is also home to several houses of worship. Among others, the Watchung Presbyterian Church is right next to the IHOP, and Temple Ner Tamid, a Reform congregation, is just a bit further south on Broad.

Clearly local shop owners are proud of their neighborhood: long-established businesses here include Brookdale Wine & Spirits, Brookdale Pet Center and Brookdale Barber.  Add Brookdale Elementary School to the north, Bloomfield Middle School to the east, and you have one of New Jersey's best walkable communities.

Find Your Community Walkability Rating

What Is Your Community Walkability Score?

 

walking in Montclair neighborhood

walking in Montclair neighborhood

 

I'm a big fan of the rating website, www.walkscore.com, but its algorithm relies mostly on the proximity of a house to stores and community resources.  But to find walkability rating, it's not just about distance -- it's also about the quality and ease of the walk.  Factors like wide sidewalks, shade trees, good lighting and flat topography matter a great deal in determining a walkability rating.  I downloaded this walkability checklist from www.walkinginfo.org and walked through my own Watchung Plaza neighborhood in Montclair.

Here's what I found, both good and bad.

What makes Montclair a Walkable Community?

 

Montclair NJ

walking in Montclair neighborhood

 

  • Lot's of large trees to keep the sun off your back
  • Most streets not to wide to cross
  • Most streets have sidewalks
  • Streets and sidewalks are free of litter and debris
  • No loose dogs
  • Curb cuts in many sidewalks (for strollers and wheelchairs)
  • Flat heading East toward the train station

Things to Improve...

  • Many sidewalks uneven and cracked from tree roots
  • Spotty lighting - some areas well lit, others not so much.
  • Steep hill heading West toward the "Mont" of Montclair
  • Tricky intersection at Park St. and Watchung Ave

How walkable is your neighborhood?  Download the checklist and let me know.

Visions of Granite Danced in My Head

Granite counters and stainless steel appliances sell houses in MontclairWe have a saying among real estate agents that  "Kitchens sell houses." At the mere mention of the words "granite" or "stainless steel," buyers flock to a new listing, imagining themselves preparing home-cooked meals for the family or having friends gather around the "island" while the host prepares a gourmet meal and offers a little kitchen theater.

So powerful is the pull of the granite kitchen that it can compensate for other defects in the house such as small bedrooms or too few bathrooms.  For many, the granite kitchen has become a symbol of the good life and of good times.  There's just something about family, friends, home, and kitchen that is inextricably tied together - despite our love of take-out.

Check out some of these Montclair homes for sale, and see if these kitchens match your ideals.

Do all of us have a strong interest or skill in cooking? No.  But even those among us who have never flambéed or sautéed love a great kitchen. Friend and fellow Montclair resident, Alma Schneider has even built a business around the incongruity between having a fab kitchen but not knowing how to use it.  "Overcoming Obstacles to Cooking" is the theme of her blog "Take Back The Kitchen." Here she offers tips, coaching packages, and classes.

Me, I'm still living with butcher block counters in my circa 1925 kitchen, albeit with new appliances, hoping that my friends and family will forgive my sin of missing granite.  What does your kitchen look like?