Walkability

5 Things That Drive Me Nuts About HGTV

As someone obsessed with houses, I turn on HGTV all the time. And many of my clients spend time watching various shows as well. It doesn’t take long after stepping into a kitchen – whether with a buyer or a seller -- for the conversation to turn to renovations. And for the misinformation to take over.

Don’t get me wrong – I like HGTV. But many of those shows depict home buying and renovation in a completely inaccurate way. For me, these are the five biggest offenders: 

1. Renovation Costs Are Too Low – Believe me, I would love for a kitchen renovation to cost what’s quoted on Love It or List It. But the truth is, an older kitchen, gutted and being brought up to code, is almost always more expensive than my clients have been led to believe by the television show. Usually, by a lot.

2. The Value-Add Is Too High – I have clients who are convinced that if they spend $85,000 on a bathroom renovation, it will increase the value of their home by $115K. In my experience, the opposite is true. Unless you are a contractor or can do most of the work yourself, you will not recoup the money you invest on finishing a basement or renovating a kitchen. Of course, you should do the renovation to improve your home for you. But don’t expect it to be a money-maker. 

However, there are two projects that are always worth investing in: fresh paint and refinished floors. Even if they cost more than HGTV may suggest, newly done walls and floors make a house feel clean, fresh and inviting.

3. Project Duration (and Inconvenience) Is Underplayed – Through the magic of television, clients are lulled into believing that a renovation can be done in six weeks. Six months is more accurate, and even that is often optimistic. Again, this is not to say you shouldn’t create your dream kitchen. Just know that projects often take much longer IRL than characterized on TV.

4. Selection Process is Oversimplified – In House Hunters, a buyer is shown three houses and asked to pick one. The host never says, “I’m sorry, you’ve been outbid. Again.” In fact, there are no bidding wars at all – one of many TV omissions that make home buying appear more straightforward than it typically is. 

5. Agents Are Depicted as Simple-Minded – Although I try not to take it personally, there are way too many instances where real estate agents are depicted merely as the person who has a key to the front door. I would say about 20% of an agent’s job is showing houses. Most of the job entails working out problems related to easements, oil tank remediations, title issues, and closing logistics.

Finally, HGTV – as delightful as it is – doesn’t spend anywhere near the amount of time talking about the quality of life benefits you may want to look for once you walk out your new front door. For example, how living in a walkable suburb contributes to a person's good health and fosters a sense of community. I think I could host a show like that!

But in the meantime, I’m happy to just talk about it with my clients. If you’d like an amazing and realistic sense of what Montclair, Maplewood, Glen Ridge, South Orange, West Orange, Verona, Cedar Grove and Bloomfield have to offer, please reach out: 973-809-5277

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.

New to Market: 47 Ardsley Road, Montclair

OPEN HOUSE

Saturday 4/13 & Sunday 4/14

1 PM - 4 PM

Offered at $699,000

 

47 Ardsley Road is a walkable home at its best. Located on one of Montclair's prettiest streets and only 0.4 miles from the Walnut Street train station and business district, you won't be able to decide whether to relax at home or hang out at one of Montclair's venerable institutions like Egan & Sons, The Corner, Montclair Bread Company or one of the newer trendy bakery/cafes, Layers of Flavors.  In warmer months, the farmer's market is a draw where you can pick up organic veggies, local cheese and honey and then tote them all home in your wagon.

A standout in this quintessential center hall colonial is the sunny oversized kitchen with loads of counter space, separate breakfast area and easy access to the mudroom, back door and large flat backyard.

     

Other classic features include a formal wainscoted dining room, living room with wood burning fireplace and sun room which works well as your TV room, play room or library.

   

You'll have plenty of room to grow with four floors of living space to move right into. 

Please join us for our public open house on Saturday 4/13 & Sunday 4/14 or call me to schedule a private showing: 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 

Where a House Sits – Pros and Cons

Location, location, location - that old adage about the three most important aspects of a house. I always think of the first “location" as the town and the second “location” as the neighborhood within the town. I refer to both a lot when I talk about walkability – how close a home is to restaurants, errands, parks, public transportation. However, there’s a whole other conversation I have with my clients, which many buyers tend to pay less attention to.

Siting. This, to me, the third “location” -- where the home sits on the property and in relationship to its surroundings. 

Montclair, Glen Ridge, Maplewood and South Orange are all towns with big, grand homes on spacious lots as well as smaller homes on blocks that have more of a “neighborhoody" feel. Neither is better or worse, but each has its pros and cons.

Houses with a deep front yard

These homes often have a lot of curb appeal. However, if a house is set back on the property with a big front yard, sometimes that means you don’t have much backyard. If you have young children, that may mean your primary play area is out front. Also, that extra privacy from being far off the street may mean you have to make more of an effort to interact with neighbors. 

Houses that sit close to the curb

These towns are known for their beautiful trees, so even homes with a short setback and not much front yard still exude a lot of charm. Many find that this type of house siting makes it easier to interact with neighbors. I always find that houses with short front yards feel approachable and friendly. However, houses close to the curb can feel less “private” and more affected by street noise. 

Homes that sit far apart

If there seems to be a lot of space between two houses, be sure to ask whether it’s an empty lot or a double lot; you don’t want to move in to a house only to discover the lot next door has been subdivided and sold and that a new house is being built outside your bedroom window.

Homes that have close neighbors

Some clients coming from the city prefer to have neighbors VERY close by; it feels more like the brownstone or apartment they just left. Many believe the closeness of houses make for a stronger neighborhood community. However, if those neighbors are noisy – especially in summer when windows are open – you may have a challenge on your hands. Also, when houses sit close together, you may feel more “affected” by your neighbor’s landscaping or other exterior aesthetic choices. 

Houses on a corner

Corner homes can feel “exposed,” but they may actually offer more privacy as you have only one next-door-neighbor. The downside is, if the town has sidewalks, corner properties have more than most other houses, and all of it is the owner’s responsibility, which can feel like a lot when it’s time to shovel snow. 

Houses on a hill

Montclair and South Orange are partially situated on a mountain. (It actually took me a while to make the connection between that fact and the street names in Montclair: Valley, North Mountain, Upper Mountain, Highland.) If your house is on a sloping property, you’ll have to deal with managing rainwater. On the upside, the views from homes on the mountain can be spectacular; an elevated deck can leave you feeling like you’re living in the trees.

I’ve lived in three different homes in Montclair and have personally experienced practically every one of these “situations.” If you want to talk pros and cons – or if you want to take a look at the array of homes available – I’m always ready: 973-809-5277 

5 Things To Look For If You're Moving From The City

Montclair has been a popular destination for people coming from the city – New York City or any city – for a long time. But unlike most commuter suburbs, Montclair offers certain benefits that make the transition very easy.

Here are the top 5 things most of my clients are looking for – and find! – when moving from a big city to a suburb.

1. Train and Bus Lines into the Nearest City 

People who work in New York City have access to inbound and outbound trains throughout the day from 7 different stations. There are also trains to Hoboken. Two bus lines can take you to Port Authority almost hourly, with pick-ups throughout town. Access to both train and bus means even the occasional transit delay (sadly, that’s a reality) can sometimes be averted by simply going for a bus rather than a train, or vice versa. 

2. Public Transportation Options in Town

Montclair is a very walkable suburb, however, sometimes traveling by foot is not ideal. A bus runs through town, however most people rely on Uber, Lyft or local cabs if they don’t want to drive. In fact, I know a few people who have downsized to a single car for the family and now rely on bikes or cabs rather than pay insurance for a second car. 

3. Able to Walk to Restaurants

I would estimate that half the homes in town are within a 15-minute walk to a restaurant. That’s because there are so many distinct shopping hubs throughout Montclair. There are parts of town where walking is easier, and that’s part of the beauty of this town: there are plenty of choices for people who want a completely walkable lifestyle as well as for people who crave a bit more seclusion. 

4. Nearby Entertainment and Cultural Events 

There is always something to do here. There’s a big music scene -- from Outpost in the Burbs shows to Jazz at Trumpets, from concerts at the Wellmont to bar bands at Tierney’s. There’s a great movie theater and additional screenings from Montclair Film. There are live performances – local theater, opera, improv, and Montclair State University's Peak Performances series, which offer world renown dance and music in an intimate setting. Yogi Berra Stadium is also located at the college if you want to catch a baseball game. And the public library hosts a lecture series that’s often standing room only. All in town!

5. Close Enough for Friends to Visit

We are only 12 miles (as the crow flies) from midtown. Friends can take the bus out on weekends (or the train to Bay Street), or they can drive from most of Manhattan in under an hour. My New York friends still consider a trip out here like “going to the country.”

Comments

  1. PREETHAM on

    Montclair is such a vibrant suburb and for people who move from NYC, they are not going to miss the city vibe. Having lived here for 4 years now, I totally agree with Lina Panza's blog post.

    Shopping (on foot) In Montclair

    At the end of this summer, we moved to the heart of “Uptown.” By “we,” I mean Keller Williams Real Estate, and by “Uptown,” I mean the northernmost shopping district of Montclair’s five retail hubs.

    My office used to be on the edge of town – a perfectly nice place, but not nearly as walkable as most of Montclair tends to be. I was excited to move, not only because I would be able to easily walk to work, but mainly because I love being in a neighborhood where I can get most of my errands done – including my holiday shopping -- without getting in my car. 

    Our big, bright office space is steps away from Valley Road with its lovely boutiques like Jaffa Gems and Ampersand for home décor or gifts, and Marcel’s or Jackie’s for breakfast or lunch. There’s a Gap on one corner and a Williams Sonoma on the other. Pizza, bagels, coffee, jewelry, clothing, office supplies, sushi or ice-cream – it’s all a two-minute walk. There’s a toy store, a hardware store, a shop to buy scented soaps and another to buy baby gifts. I often stop at Gus’s for fresh fish and pop across the street for a bottle of wine on my way home. 

    And Montclair’s other retail hubs are just as vital, with new, fun shops popping up among older, beloved Montclair institutions.  

    The point is this: living and working in an environment where a car can be optional is a wonderful experience. You can spend time with your partner or your children walking and talking. When shopping is close to home, it feels easier to wander in and explore. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many local shop owners in this natural, unhurried way and I can say that few things make you feel part of a community more than walking into a store and being greeted by name.  

    If you want to stop by our new home, we’re at 237 Lorraine Ave. The entrance is in the back, and there’s a covered bike rack back there, too. We’re steps away from the bus and the train, but if you need to drive, no worries – we have plenty of parking behind the building. 

    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. 

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    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

    The Spirit of Glen Ridge

    Glen Ridge has always been an easy sell. Tucked between Montclair and Bloomfield, it has always felt like the sweet, quiet, sister-town – pretty and quaint, with old gas streetlamps, manicured lawns, and its own Manhattan-direct train station. But, to be honest, although it’s a wonderful place to live, it’s not usually a destination

    Many homes in Glen Ridge are super close to Montclair or Bloomfield restaurants, sometimes even walkably so. Their great town pool is a destination, but largely for residents. So, it’s especially fun and festive when all of Glen Ridge turns into The Place To Be, as it did last weekend during its third annual Town-Wide Yard Sale.

    Anyone who knows me knows I love a good yard sale. And on Saturday, there were over 100! 

    The event was created by the Glen Ridge Library as a fundraiser. Residents who participate are allowed to waive the town's yard sale permit fee if they make a small contribution to the library. The hub of the event also takes place in a big commuter parking lot on Bloomfield Avenue, where the library "sells" spots for vendor tables. A few merchants had professional looking displays, but most were just regular people who had some swag to unload. 

    There were kids selling lemonade and tables set up for local sports clubs. Someone was even selling a Glen Ridge-opoly game (which I did pass up, but not without second thoughts). And throughout the town, there was a yard sale everywhere you turned. (Truly! They even gave out maps!)

    The thing that struck me most about the event this year was when I asked the library director how she came up with the idea. She said they “borrowed” it from a neighboring town that tried it a few years ago. Apparently it was a flop there, but it has been a resounding success in Glen Ridge. 

    And that’s really the thing about Glen Ridge – it’s a town full of fierce community spirit, but it’s not an in-your-face kind of spirit. It’s more of a quiet, sustaining spirit that's woven deep into the old bones of this strikingly beautiful town.

    New to the Market, 75 Essex Ave, Montclair

    OPEN HOUSE

    Saturday & Sunday 9/29 & 30

    1:00 - 4:00

    75 Essex Ave, Montclair

    Offered at: $899,000

    If you or someone you know is in the market for a completely renovated quintessential Montclair “old home made new," look no further than my new listing: 75 Essex Ave in Montclair.  

    This inviting center hall colonial is ideally located in the Watchung Plaza neighborhood and is steps away from transportation, restaurants, schools, playgrounds and many of the walkable amenities that Montclair has to offer.

    On the first floor you’ll be impressed by a large kitchen with breakfast nook that overlooks a sunny family room.  Formal, wainscoted dining room, living room with built-ins and wood burning fire place plus a bright office with french doors complete the main level. From the lush outdoor landscaping with underground irrigation system to the finished 3rd floor carpeted loft/secret hideout, no detail has been overlooked.  There are enough bedrooms, bathrooms and shared spaces for a quiet retreat or to enjoy time with family and friends -- five bedrooms, 3 full and 2 half baths, to be exact.

                    

    One of my favorite rooms in this house is the master bedroom with en-suite bathroom, exposed brick wall, lighted tray ceiling and spa like bathroom.  Overlooking the back yard, this private oasis is a great place to relax and recharge.

            

    Come take a look and see for yourself. You won't want to leave, but when you do, stroll over to Watchung Plaza for a coffee at Bluestone Coffee, browse the shelves at Watchung Booksellers or pick up a sweet treat at The Pie Shop.  

    Open Houses on Saturday & Sunday 9/29 & 30 from 1-4 or call me to schedule a private showing: 973-809-5277.