Suburban Living

Why A Walkable Suburb Rules

I have to be honest: when I moved from Manhattan to Montclair, a part of me worried. I’d grown up in New York City – I was, by all accounts, a City Person – and I wasn’t sure I’d ever be happy living in the suburbs. I knew it would be good for my kids to live somewhere with a yard, and my then-husband had grown up here. There were lots of reasons Montclair seemed like a good idea. But it wasn’t “the City.”

I was surprised how quickly I took to the ease and convenience of suburban living. And I was even more surprised how happy I was.

Over the years, I started to pay attention to what exactly made me happy here and found it nearly always circled back to the same thing. The incredible sense of community.

I’ve always attributed the great community feeling here to Montclair’s walkability. It’s the main thing I talk about with my clients. So, I wasn’t super surprised to read this article in The Atlantic Monthly, "Having a Library or Cafe Down the Block Could Change Your Life," about a new study out that confirms all of it:

1, People who live in high-amenity suburbs – that is, a suburb where you can walk to the grocery store, a movie theater, the library, a park – are three times happier than suburban dwellers that have to drive 20-plus minutes to get anywhere.

2. People in walkable suburbs feel more trusting of their neighbors and more a part of their community.

3. A strong sense of community inspires local businesses to create more community-focused spaces and events, which strengthens that feeling even further.

Many of the towns I show are considered high-amenity suburbs – places like Maplewood, South Orange and Bloomfield that have vibrant downtowns with plenty of restaurants and shopping that can be done on foot. Even Glenridge, despite not having a big downtown of its own, has so much to walk to, it is considered a high-amenity suburb as well. 

Here in Montclair, the great focus on community has resulted in the creation of parklets, free outdoor music on Church Street, lots of al fresco dining, more work-share spaces, and one of my favorite additions, Cornerstone, a recently transformed building “uptown” that was designed with an eye toward inclusion. There’s an indoor play/party space for differently-abled young people, an art gallery, rentable event space and an incredibly fun “general store” (a great place for kid gifts).

Like so many others who have moved here, the owner of Cornerstone quit her day job and began adding to the fabric of the community. You see that here everywhere you turn.

I’m always excited to show houses, but please make time to let me show you some of the magical parts of Montclair or our neighboring towns. My office is right in uptown Montclair, and you can feel the “happy” even in a very short walk.

Park Slope to Montclair – It's so much easier to play with our kids! 

“Miro and I just moved from an upper duplex in Park Slope to Montclair Avenue last July. We wanted more space for ourselves and our two young daughters – especially outdoor space. My sister has lived in Montclair for the last four years and whenever we’d come to visit, she really talked the place up. So, after researching a few different towns in the area, we decided to start looking here. One of the many things I loved about Montclair was how it reminded me of the Pittsburgh suburb I grew up in – beautiful old houses and lots of trees.

Neither of us grew up in a city, so moving to a suburb was not a hard choice, but there were specific things we were looking for. Good public schools. Someplace where we could walk to parks and restaurants. And the most non-negotiable requirement – a maximum 75-minute door-to-door commute to Miro’s job in the Flatiron District. 

We learned about Lina from her Walkable Suburb site. After one phone call, we could tell she was very level-headed and knew her stuff – not only about the area but about how houses work. She let us know exactly what to expect when buying an old house, specifically, what types of post-purchase expenses we might encounter. Lina was unbelievably knowledgeable about how to restore the chimney of one house we looked at, providing a level of detail as if she were the contractor. 

`

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She also prepared us for Halloween on Montclair Avenue – at least as much as anyone could have. ‘Just to let you know, you’ll be giving out a LOT of candy!’ she said. The people we bought the house from left us a stipend of 300 pieces of candy and, because of Lina’s advice, we bought another 1200 pieces. Still, we ran out by 7 p.m., but our girls had a blast handing out candy on the porch.

There have also been a few surprises that we hadn’t anticipated. For example, how much easier it is to play with the kids when you can just run out into a backyard. But also, how many awesome playgrounds are around, many strollable from the house. We found a great preschool that’s also an easy stroll. And we found a favorite restaurant – Turtle and Wolf -- that’s easy to walk to. We also found that Montclair’s BYOB culture has brought our restaurant tabs way down. 

And then there’s the leaves.

One day, we woke up and autumn had happened! It was spectacular – like a crazy technicolor brochure for fall. It seems like a little thing, but when you’re coming home from the city, it’s really great to have your own leaves to jump into.”

--Jeremy, new Montclair resident

My First Visit to Cedar Grove Park

The other day, a friend invited me to join her on a walk in Cedar Grove Park, a beautiful expanse that I’d passed once while driving but hadn’t yet made time to visit. 

We pulled into the ample parking lot, made a quick stop in the immaculate restroom, wandered over to the pristine bocce ball courts and playground, and all I could think was: Why isn’t anyone here?

We were not completely alone. There were a few runners and a mom with her toddler on the swings. But if we’d been at Brookdale Park on this sunny morning, there would have been people everywhere. True, it was a weekday and the park is relatively new – only just completed in 2016 – but I started wondering how long it takes a public space like this one, slightly tucked away as it is, to become a regular destination. I lived across from Montclair’s Edgemont Park when its tired, old original playground was renovated into the kid magnet it has become. I remember it taking a little while for people to discover it and make it part of their lives.

How long? I don’t recall. But, like Edgemont, there are plenty of reasons to check Essex County's newest park out sooner, rather than later.

The park sits on either side of Fairview Avenue, which intersects Bloomfield Ave in Verona. On the east side: bocce ball courts, all-access playground, and club house – all brand new and all designed with plenty of shaded areas to sit. Beyond the parking lot (also on the east side) there’s a paved walking path that loops down and around a lovely landscaped hill. 

On the west side of Fairview Avenue is another walking path that meanders over foot bridges and past little “workout stations.” There’s even a place to enter the woods – we hiked for about 10 minutes on the wide dirt trail up to the top of the hill before turning back. We probably could have gone on for an hour, but we didn’t have the time. 

Although Cedar Grove Park is not a park that many can walk to, it's a wonderful environment to walk in. I also noticed a sign for a Farmer’s Market - Tuesdays from 10am - 3pm.! If you’re a runner, cyclist, or just like being outdoors, I encourage you to stop by. I predict that, like me, your first visit to Cedar Grove Park will certainly not be your last. 

 

Cedar Grove Park

199 Fairview Avenue

Cedar Grove, NJ

 

 

A Look At Maplewood

When I left New York City, I headed straight for Montclair because my then-husband grew up here. Coming from the city, this town was just right for me. But some of my New York friends wanted a smaller town feel. They headed straight for Maplewood.

The first time I visited Maplewood, I thought, this is what Montclair would feel like if it were a village. Vibe-wise, the two towns are nearly identical. 

I love the walkability of Maplewood – how, wherever you live, you’re never too far from downtown and the direct-to-Manhattan train. And also how peaceful it is to stroll through neighborhoods – walking the dog or pushing the stroller.

One of the things that was important to me when I left the city was to live somewhere that felt vibrant and creative. And Maplewood is that!

Words, one of my favorite New Jersey bookstores, attracts crowd-pleasing authors like Mark Bittman as well as up-and-coming local talent. There’s plenty of local music, including the annual Maplewoodstock – an all-weekend, family-oriented, art and music extravaganza that’s been taking place in Memorial Park since 2004. And the South Orange/Maplewood Adult School offers classes in everything from pottery to pickleball.

If you love the outdoors, nearby South Mountain Reservation is a force to be reckoned with. Spanning over 2,000 acres, this massive nature reserve includes miles of hiking trails, great sledding hills, and a magical waterfall. 

I love that you can hop on the train and catch dinner and a show in Manhattan. But I also love that you can have dinner and a show right in your own backyard. Downtown South Orange is close by and has a wonderful performing arts center, which has won the Discover Jersey Arts People’s Choice Award for “Favorite Small Performing Arts Center” for four consecutive years. Neighboring Milburn offers great theater at the renowned Papermill Playhouse. And Montclair’s Wellmont Theater is great for rock and roll or comedy, and is a quick half hour drive. 

As walkable towns go, Maplewood gets high marks. If you think it might be a good fit for you, I’d love to take you around!

Gratitude for Jodi Aishton (and Pie!)

As Thanksgiving approaches, I (like most) spend a lot of time thinking about food, but even more time thinking about all I’m grateful for. Work-wise, I immediately think of the people who have entrusted me to help them buy or sell their homes. (Thank you!) And my colleagues, who offer advice and guidance when I’m faced with a challenging real estate situation. (Thank you!) And, of course, the friends and former clients who refer me to people. (Thank you!)

But always at the top of that thanking list is Jodi Aishton. I seriously could not get through a single day without her.

My office-mate, Tamima, and I have “shared” an assistant for years. The woman who held that position previously was amazing – 30 years of real estate experience and the ability to anticipate our every need. When she left, we never thought we would find someone to fill her shoes.

Then, about eight months ago, Tamima happened upon Jodi at a fundraising committee meeting at their temple. Back in our office, Tamima said, “I met someone who would be a great real estate administrator -- if only she knew something about real estate.”

If you have ever bought or sold a home, you’re familiar with the vast number of details required to see a real estate transaction from contract to closing. Appraisals, inspections, paperwork sent here and there. Everything needs to happen by a certain time, and Jodi seamlessly manages it all.

She designs our postcards and brochures, gets them printed, coordinates photography shoots and attorney meetings. I am in awe of how she can set up six different Saturday showings that not only accommodate schedules of buyer and sellers, but also plan it all around the most efficient driving route. Working with her is like having our own personal 5-star app!

I know Thanksgiving is a holiday for “family,” but in the short time she’s been with us, Jodi has become family, and I am so incredibly thankful for that. Because of Jodi, I can serve my clients better. And because of Jodi, our office runs smooth as a pumpkin pie. 

(See how I moved right back to food?!)

And speaking of smooth pumpkin pie, The Pie Store on Watchung Avenue makes one of the smoothest.  

Happy Thanksgiving to you and those you cherish.

We All Walk Together

Walking on SidewalkEven though I’ve always inherently understood that “cities” tend to be more liberal than rural areas, I never really took any time to think about why. This New York Times piece was an interesting read on how liberals and conservatives tend to organize themselves geographically.

Montclair is a decidedly liberal town. We are a village that tries to welcome all residents with open arms, but the truth is, conservative bumper stickers on these streets are not very typical fare.

But the other truth is that we have plenty of conservatives living here – happily, I might add. I’d always wondered why a right-leaning homebuyer might choose this town (which is about as blue as they come). And, although I can draw plenty of conclusions from this article, I chose to read it as a kind of treatise on how walkability can be one of the great political unifiers. (I know, I know – I’m a walkability nut – but what else can explain the harmony we typically have here in Montclair besides the fact that we all really like that we can walk to Java Love for our morning coffee?)

Over the years, I’ve worked side-by-side with many of my more right-leaning neighbors – on the PTA, on boards, and even in the business of selling homes – and I’ve noticed that, for the most part, our ideals are far more similar than they are different.

Because the third truth is, it's simply a lot more difficult to have an “us versus them” stance when we’re all sharing the same sidewalks. (And bike racks. And train seats.) Or at least that’s how it seems to me. If you’re looking for a change – upsizing, downsizing, or a place to start a family -- I’d love to show you around my town; it can win the hearts and minds of practically everyone.

Montclair: One of the Best Main Streets in NJ!

Main-Street-Fights-BackIf, like me, you are a fanatic about walkability, you will love this article I came upon in Huffington Post. It's very comprehensive and includes almost anything you want to know about who wants to live in a walkable area and why. The biggest takeaway for me was neither revolutionary nor surprising: people who live in areas where they can easily walk to things are reportedly more satisfied with where they live than those who have fewer walkable options.

This makes sense. Walking makes people happy.

The piece cites a few things that you should consider when looking for a walkable area to settle in.

1. Well-connected streets. The smaller the block size, the more easily and directly you'll be able to get from one place to another. 2. Things to walk to, like movies, stores, cafes, parks. Part of the satisfaction, it seems, is having a destination. 3. Good infrastructure for safe walking. If you're looking for housing in an area that doesn't have sidewalks, there's a good chance there won't be a lot of pedestrian street life.

This seems the perfect segue for another article I came across last month: These 12 Towns in NJ Have the Best Main Streets.

Montclair is number two! Restaurants galore. Cute stores. Movie theaters. Activities.

This time of year - when people are all out and about doing their holiday shopping - is when I truly appreciate having options other than the mall. I might be crazy, but being able to do my shopping locally, on foot, makes the holidays feel more special to me.

Ok, maybe not that's not so crazy coming from a Walkability Fanatic!

New Listing: 101 Darling Ave, Bloomfield, NJ

darling BR

I have a friend who, whenever she moved into a new place, always took one of the smaller bedrooms for herself (and her husband), giving the master bedroom to her young daughter. Since I've known her, she's lived in three different homes and has done this each and every time. I thought it was crazy, but she'd always explain that her daughter spends so much time in her room -- she has friends sleep over and all her toys are in there - it's more practical. "I basically just read for 10 minutes and then go to sleep in my room. What do I need a big space for?" she'd say.

While this was never a decision I would make, I could sort of see her point. However, if she lived in this home, none of that would have been necessary.

At 101 Darling Ave, two of the three bedrooms are so spacious, they're both considered "masters." In fact, the whole house is much larger than what you'd typically find in Bloomfield (2400 sq ft vs. 1600!). The kitchen and baths are renovated, it has a brand new great room, and the house is light and bright.

However, the feature that truly speaks to me is the backyard. One of the most expansive in the area, the flat property boasts a deep lot that you can look out on from the main deck or the Juliet balcony off one of the bedrooms (perhaps this is the master relegated to the grown-ups!). The backyard truly feels like a little park!

With its quick access to both Route 3 and the Garden State Parkway, and the bus to New York City at the corner, you will be well positioned for both adventure and recuperation in this extremely "darling" home! To find out more about this or other homes, please don't hesitate to call: 973.809.5277

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!

So Proud

Montclair has long been seen as a destination for families of all shapes and colors. Those of us who have raised children here know that our kids all have friends with two momgay marraiges or two dads - as far as they're concerned, it's just another family. How heartening it is to think that soon that may become the sentiment in suburbs all across America.

The Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage last week has far reaching implications in so many sectors, and real estate is certainly one of them. Making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states makes it easier for LGBT couples to get approved loans as a couple - and in towns like Montclair, where lenders often need to see two incomes to qualify buyers, it can be a game changer.

My colleagues and I are so happy to finally be able to leave behind those particular obstacles for so many of our clients. Finding the right house for your family should be fun and exciting, not a series of hoops to jump through.

Will it be sad to one day wake up and realize that Montclair's inclusive nature is no longer its unique selling proposition - that towns everywhere have finally started to regard LGBT couples as just another family? No. It will be awesome!