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Living In Montclair

One Year Ago

 

One year ago, I watched my beloved town close down. Like everyone else, I thought it would be temporary. Like everyone else, I was worried for my family and the people I loved. Like everyone else, I had no idea what to expect. 

A year ago, I couldn’t fathom the idea that we all would be spending a whole year figuring out a new way to do the things that we’ve always taken for granted. How would we do our work? How would we be with our friends? How would we take care of our kids?

Two fire pits and a case of hand sanitizer later, I have learned a lot. I’ve learned that you can get homes inspected without touching anything and that you can do closings from separate cars in parking lots. But the most powerful lesson I’ve learned is how much a community can truly pull together in a time of great unrest. 

I want to commemorate this “anniversary” by sharing some of the things that have moved me over this year. 

The many restaurants that quickly began providing groceries. Montclair Bread Company, Le Salbuen, Sal's Gastro, and Jackie’s Grillette all pop immediately to mind. I’m sure there were plenty others!

I remember there was a local woman who collected donations from residents in order to pay a restaurant to make dinner for all the healthcare workers. It was a great way to be able to support the restaurants and the local hospital in those early, unrelenting weeks. 

Local social media pages sprung up where people could crowd-source up-to-the-minute information on everything from Lysol Wipes to testing sites to which restaurants were offering easy, affordable family meals for curbside pick-up.  

I loved seeing how exercise studios and other group gatherings figured out how to make it work outdoors. How DFit erected a huge canopy in the parking lot and blasted workout music so loudly you could hear it across the train tracks. I loved seeing yoga classes in Anderson Park and the senior group’s knitting circle set up near Edgemont Pond.

We had protests and marches in ways that kept people safe, and still heard.  

I loved reading about kids making masks, and creating a program where teens were matched up with seniors and wrote them notes and letters while they were all alone. A group of kids launched Montclair’s first skate park in the early days of the pandemic. Others painted hopeful messages on rocks and placed them all over town.

I’m so proud of how this community was able to provide for each other. 

I remember a year ago, walking down Parkway and right in front of my old house (coincidentally), someone had chalk-written across the road in big, hopeful letters: We Got This!

One year later, I have to say: We really did.

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

Silver Lining Dining In Montclair

Here we are, well into September, and it's still a bit mind-boggling what we've all been through. The parking lots in Montclair's train many stations, went from packed to empty in a day -- then stayed that way for months. There were days, early on, when I wrote about all the precautions we, in the real estate business, had adopted. I really had no idea what my life would become going forward. 

It's no news to anyone that buying and selling homes has become crazy. It's been a blessing to be busy -- to keep my mind off all the things in our world that no one can control. But even in this busy-ness, I've had time to do what everyone else seems to be doing...walk.

One of my favorite walks was around Downtown Montclair recently. Church Street, Park Street, Midland Avenue -- favorite blocks were again bustling with people having dinner or just enjoying being outside. It felt like the "old days”…and in some ways even better. Restaurants  that had never offered outdoor dining now had tables set up on the sidewalk, and places the used to have tables outside had many more. It gives the whole town a European vibe and feels really special in a way that I think I’m going to miss once we all go back indoors.

#silverlinings

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

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!

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.

 

 

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.