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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.

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.

Montclair is Committed to Community

Early last Friday evening, on Montclair’s cobblestoned Church Street, I met an old friend for a glass of wine at Amanti Vino’s outdoor wine café. The wine was delicious, the night was clear and cool, and we were surrounded by hundreds of friends and neighbors. 

This area can get busy on a clear summer night, but Friday pulled a crowd that was sizable even by Church Street standards, with the entire block closed to traffic in order to host a community dinner –  the first of its kind.

The dinner was one of the launch events of a brand new, week-long local festival called “Bounce,” designed to celebrate resilience and optimism. There were dozens of long tables set up end-to-end, running the length of Church Street like a spine. Each “place setting” had a festival brochure listing all the events for the week – art exhibits, musical performances, dance, lectures, and tons of “experiential” activities for both adults and kids – as well as a simple, typewritten message of positivity that was taped to the paper table cloth. People could pick up a free sandwich and pasta salad at one of the serving tables or buy a to-go meal from one of the many area restaurants and eat family-style with others from the community.

It was actually very cool.

I was struck by many things that evening. One was that, even though I’ve made this town my home for 20 years, there were lots of people I had never seen before. Another was that, after making this my home for so long, it was great fun to run into people I use to work with on PTA committees or work out next to at the gym. 

I was also amazed – as I usually am – at how people in this town are continually motivated to put together yet another engaging community event. Since I’ve moved here, Montclair has launched a Film Festival, a Jazz Festival, an Art Walk, a town-wide Music Day, an outdoor public Dance Performance, a Farmers Market, a few Road Races and Garden Tours, and a host of other free entertainment offerings designed with a single goal in mind: creating a strong sense of community.

And, as far as I can tell, it’s worked.

There are always so many people here working hard on everyone else’s behalf. I love that about our community. There’s always something to do. 

If you’re interested in a vibrant town with direct NYC access and something for everyone, let me take you around. Beyond all our fabulous festivals, we have some pretty great houses for sale too.  

TALK OR TEXT: 973-809-5277

Open House Alert: 17 Bradley Terrace, West Orange

OPEN HOUSE

Saturday 6/1 & Sunday 6/2

2 PM - 4 PM

Offered at $399,000

Freshly painted walls and refinished hardwood floors are just the beginning in this thoughtfully laid out home.  Great flow between the living room, dining room and kitchen plus a nice family room and powder room complete the first floor.

  

On the second floor there are three good bedrooms and an updated full bathroom. The third floor is a blank canvas for a generous sized guest suite, den or office.

  

The partially finished basement with attached garage offers endless opportunities as a game room or hang out space. 

With privacy galore,  the deep backyard with wooded views will entice any nature lover or outdoor explorer.

  

17 Bradley Terrace has all that and then some. Offered at $399,000 this home won't be on the market for long.

With it's proximity to Route 280, Essex Green Shopping Center and dine-in Movie Theater, Eagle Rock Reservation and West Orange's Main Street, commuting and recreation are steps away.

Stop by for a visit and see for yourself. Can't make it to an open house? Call me and I will arrange a private showing: 973-809-5277 

Removing Your Oil Tank – Just Do It

I was talking to a potential client – someone who wants to sell next year – about how to get her home ready for sale. She was surprised when I advised her to remove her underground oil tank. “It was decommissioned,” she said. “I have the paperwork.”

Unfortunately, that’s not good enough anymore.

The problem with underground oil tanks has always been soil contamination, which is a big risk whether your tank is active or inactive. And mortgage underwriters no longer want to take that risk. In the past, you could do some soil testing around the tank and then decommission it, which entails cutting into the top, vacuuming out all the sludge, and filling it back up with sand or foam. However, if there’s a leak – even a small one – on the underside of the tank, it’s nearly impossible to test for. So, it has become common practice to have the tank removed altogether.

Active tanks carry special insurance, which can typically be transferred to the new owner. However, if a buyer is planning to convert to gas, there are complexities with oil tank insurance, usually requiring the owner to take an intermediate step of switching to an inside tank.

Oil tank removal itself is not usually complicated but, for many reasons, it can be stressful. Your yard will be dug up, which means replanting and restoring the area once the tank is removed. Beyond that, if there has been a leak, the soil must be remediated, and that can be an extremely expensive process as well as a lengthy one, as the Department of Environmental Protection must get involved.

Tank removal starts with a quote from a tank removal/remediation company. Some companies offer “a la carte” service. They’ll remove the tank for $2,000, but if a leak is found, you must pay to remove all contaminated soil. In other cases, you can pay a flat rate – maybe $12,000 – and in the event of a leak, the company assumes the cost of all soil removal.

If all goes smoothly, the removal itself – including securing permits – can be done within a few weeks. (In addition to any landscaping work, the homeowner may be responsible for any permit fees.) But if it is not smooth, remediation can take months – and sometimes over a year – so you want that over and done with before you put your house on the market.

My advice is always to do it sooner rather than later. 

If you want to talk about oil tanks, or anything else you may want to take care of in preparation for a future sale, please give me a call!

973-809-5277

New to Market: 12 Wilde Place, Montclair

OPEN HOUSE

Saturday 5/18 & Sunday 5/19

2 PM - 4 PM

Offered at $689,000

It doesn't get more walkable than 12 Wilde Place! Located on one of Montclair's favorite blocks, this home offers the best of urban and suburban living in a move in ready, authentic Craftsman Colonial.

A charming stone walkway leads you through specimen plantings and mature Japanese maples to an inviting solarium. Special details like a stained-glass transom welcome you into a well appointed living room with a wood burning fireplace and custom oak built-in shelving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This jewel box of a house has several bonus features throughout including the 2nd floor sun porch - ideal for your morning coffee and watching the sunset at dusk. The private backyard deck with under-deck storage is also not to be missed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just steps to Church StreetThe Wellmont Theater, Montclair Public Library and countless other downtown cafes, restaurants and shops you can leave your car in the driveway and start exploring all that walkable Montclair has to offer.  

Join me at one of the two public open houses on Saturday 5/18 & Sunday 5/19 or call me to schedule a private showing: 973-809-5277.

 

5 Biggest Client Complaints

It’s been a long time since I sat in Real Estate School classes, gulping down the many facts and rules and equations necessary to get my licensure. But like any job, many of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an agent were not taught in the classroom.

They were taught to me by my clients – buyers and sellers, alike.

Yes, agents have to know the most up-to-date information about oil tanks, and yes, it’s handy to have a list of great vendors for clients – from floor finishers to structural engineers. However, there are a few things that may be more important, and I know that because clients have come to me with these complaints about their previous agent. Here are the top five:

  1. "After we signed the listing papers, our agent handed us off to others." One client told me she never saw her agent again after her house was officially listed. Instead, she was assigned to a listing manager, a stager, and various office assistants. There is nothing wrong with having an assistant follow up on details. However, I consider my listings my direct responsibility, and I make sure to be in touch with sellers regularly throughout the marketing and sale of their home.
  2. "My listing agent would schedule house showings and then no one showed up." To be fair, buyers often change plans, even after a seller has filled the morning tidying, stashing kids’ toys, and relocating a pet to the neighbor’s. It's understandably annoying to ready a house that no one comes to see. If a buyer cancels, I consider it my first responsibility to let the seller know  – whether they are my clients, or theirs is a home was going to show my buyers. Having sold my own house recently, I am very attuned to the effort that goes into a showing.
  3. "The agent who was showing me houses didn’t know the town." It’s easy to show homes in your own town, especially if you’ve lived there awhile. However, if agents are showing homes in an unfamiliar town, they have to do their homework. A good agent should be able to tell you distances to grocery stores and have a working knowledge of commuter options. I live in Montclair, but spend a lot of time in Glenridge, Cedar Grove, South Orange, Maplewood and other nearby Essex County suburbs for the sole purpose of providing my clients with the most accurate information possible.
  4. "I felt constant pressure to increase my bids." Buying a home can be stressful and, in my opinion, an agent’s job is to try and reduce that stress. Not add to it. We should provide data, insight and knowledge. We should not make a client feel insecure about a bid (which, apparently happens a lot). My only agenda with my clients is that they find the home that suits them best. 
  5. "My agent never answered my calls." I will confess: I do not answer the phone while driving, but beyond that, I respond to my clients – calls, texts, and emails – immediately or, at least, quickly. That’s just good business.

So, as you can see, I’ve learned a lot over these 14 years. If you want to put me to the test, I’d relish the opportunity. Then again, maybe there are a few things I could learn from you too!

Call or text:  973-809-5277  If I'm driving, I'll call you back!

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!