Distance Makes the Heart Grow Suburbaner

 

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If you leave the city and move to the suburbs, will you become a “Suburban Mom”? Will you buy a minivan and go to Target every Tuesday afternoon after pickup? (Certainly not- the school bus traffic is horrendous at that time! Go during school hours, for sure!)

If you leave the city and move to the suburbs, will you talk to your girlfriends about the best way to make a bundt cake and how to pack healthy lunches for your little ones? Will you stress over the safest BPA-free containers for said lunches? Will you take yoga with your bestie and then have a cocktail with lunch afterwards at the local Applebee’s? Will you wait for your husband to get off the 6:10 train and have dinner waiting for him on the table? (The kids will, of course, have already eaten, because they’re hungry little scoundrels and you don’t want to keep them waiting!)

If you leave the city and move to the suburbs, will you be forced to join the PTA and become a Girl Scout troop leader and work on the annual fundraising gala committee, having to solicit funds from your neighbors? Will you become a cog in the machine? Will no one ever ask you where you went to college again because it doesn’t matter anymore?

Will you become… one of them?

The answer, of course, is yes. Because the suburbs are only filled with vacant, education-less mothers who desperately look forward to mom’s nights out and spend their afternoons having sexual fantasies about the pool boy.

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But what if you work a full time job?? If you keep your job in the city, and have to commute every day, will your children forget your name and start calling you “Lady”? Will all the stay-at-home moms at your kid’s school snicker behind your back for being a bad mother for having a career? Will the PTA sneer at you for never contributing one f*cking brownie for the bake sale??

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Mothers in the city are no different and no better than mothers in the suburbs. In fact, they WERE city mothers until they up and moved. Almost every single family we know in the Rivertowns used to live in the city. So basically, you’ll move up here only to be surrounded by Upper West Siders and Brooklyn-ites, but you’ll be waving to each other from your cars, instead of on-foot.

But does living in the suburbs change you? At what point do you become a “suburbanite?” Is it when you start saying “Oh, the city is so crowded!” Or when your husband learns how to clean the gutters? (By the way, you can pay people to do that.)

Who will you be if you don’t live in the city anymore?

The answer? You will be you, but maybe a little less stressed. You will be you, but maybe you’ll enjoy going to the playground because this one overlooks the river. You will be you, but you’ll have more space.

And P.S. Target rocks. Don’t be a hater.

Let’s Talk about Connecticut, Baby

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My husband and I never looked at houses in Connecticut. Why? A combination of proximity to NYC and, I guess, the (mostly) irrational fear of what it would mean to leave New York. But I now have two sets of friends who have left Dobbs Ferry for the Constitution State. Why? Taxes, baby. Taxes.

In Dobbs Ferry, and most of Westchester, you can expect to pay somewhere around $30,000/year in property taxes for an $800,000 house of approximately 3,500 sq. ft. In comparably desirable areas of Connecticut, like Darien, New Canaan, and Greenwich, you can expect to pay more like $7,000. That means you can afford more for less in Connecticut.

Why are the taxes so much in Westchester?? I’m no tax expert, but for the little I understand about it, there are a few reasons: many of the towns in Westchester don’t have a lot of commercial taxpayers paying the big taxes. For example, in Dobbs Ferry alone, Walgreens and Stop & Shop are two of the few big businesses in town. That means the property owners have to pick up the slack. It’s possible that Connecticut towns have more commercial taxpayers to alleviate a lot of the responsibility from the residential taxpayers. Secondly, a lot of the villages in Westchester have their own mini governments, fire departments, police departments, school districts, etc. That means little Dobbs Ferry has to pay for all of that on its own. And for whatever this means, 70% of our property taxes are for the school tax. Does that mean our schools are better? Or that there are more school-aged children in Dobbs than in Greenwich? I don’t know. But our schools are awesome. 😉  And Westchester spends more per student than towns in Connecticut…

So why look at Westchester at all if you can save so much on property taxes in Connecticut? Is it the distance? The average on-peak train ride from Greenwich (one of the closest towns in CT to NYC) to Grand Central is 52minutes, whereas the same ride from Hastings-on-Hudson (one of the closest towns in NY to NYC) is 40minutes. Hmm. 12 minutes seems worth saving thousands of dollars every year, does it not?

Hopefully, I’ll be able to do some Connecticut research for my little blog sometime soon. Until then, happy hunting!

Who Are You People?

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A friend of mine has decided to sell her house and move from one Rivertown to another, mostly because she feels like the people in her current village aren’t “her people.” From an outsider’s point of view, the residents of the Rivertowns* all look pretty much the same. And as history shows, that kind of a statement could be misconstrued as bigoted. But as birds of a feather flock together, we members of the human race also like to be with our people. For some, that means sticking with your race, ethnicity, religion, or age. But the way my friend means “her people” is something less tangible, less definable by a check-the-applicable-box standard.

To simplify this point, let’s use one of the greatest TV shows ever created. No, not All in the Family. Not MASH. Not Game of Thrones. No. Instead, we’ll look at Beverly Hills, 90210.

Andrea

Brenda, Donna, and Kelly were best friends. Sure, they were all white and they all had money, but that’s not what made them friends. They spoke the same language. And the fact that Andrea Zuckerman was never really a part of their posse wasn’t because she was poor or Jewish (thank you, Aaron Spelling for always playing the “Jewish” music whenever we visited her house.) It was because Andrea didn’t love shopping as much as they did. She didn’t drool over boys the way they did (her love for Brandon was always on a superior level, right?) And she always picked working on the school newspaper and helping the deaf kid at summer camp over lying out and getting a tan. She spoke a different language than Donna, Kelly, and Brenda did. Not better, not worse (well, maybe a little better.)

I could try and tell you the personalities, and likes and dislikes of the people in each town in Westchester, but who am I to make that deep of an evaluation on a population? Speaking of groundbreaking television programs, it is a known fact that the characters in Scooby Doo were based on the five liberal arts colleges in the northeast that make up the “Five College Consortium” (Scooby was UMASS, Shaggy was Hampshire, Velma was Smith, Fred was Amherst, and Daphne was Mt. Holyoke.) I’d love to make a snap judgment and, say, use the TV show Friends to tell you that Rachel is Scarsdale, Phoebe is Hastings, Monica is Irvington, Chandler is Dobbs Ferry, Ross is Ardsley, and Joey is Yonkers, but I won’t.

Scooby

That same friend of mine, when she was explaining their geographically small move to a demographically different town, asked me: do you feel like Dobbs Ferry people are your people? I hadn’t ever asked myself that question in quite the same way. But I’ll admit that since most of our friends were made from our daughters’ preschool, where the population comes from all over lower Westchester, that most of our friends aren’t from Dobbs Ferry. Now that our oldest has finished kindergarten in the local public school, we’ve gotten to know a few more of the Dobbs Ferry residents, and so far we like them very much.

I don’t want to live in a town of only Gwyneth Paltrows, but I also don’t want to live in a town of so few Gwyneths that the school system hasn’t been coerced into being top notch. If you’re hunting for a town to move to, how do you know if the people are like Andrea, or Scooby, or Monica? You can do a few things: first, read my blog 🙂 After that, you can go sit in a Starbucks and people watch. Are there a lot of baby carriages? Are there a lot of college students? Are there a lot of spoiled kids? Drive around the neighborhood and see if there are a lot of Bernie lawn signs, or a lot of Trump bumper stickers.

While no town is perfect, I hope you find the town that’s perfect for you. And if you buy in the wrong town, and you end up needing to sell it, just remember what my father says: “There are no mistakes in real estate.” Of course, he’s completely wrong, but hopefully you’ll catch his sentiment.

Happy hunting!

 

* “Rivertowns” refers primarily to the towns/villages of Irvington, Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley, and Hastings, with the occasional add-on of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

Compare Westchester Towns!

Here’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time: a comparison of Westchester towns. Using a few different resources, I compared as many towns as I could in terms of education of its residents, home prices, graduation rates, diversity, and train time to Grand Central. Happy hunting!

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Can I afford it?

How much will it cost to go from a New York City rental to owning in Westchester?

Let’s say you’re moving from a $3,000 apartment in NYC to a $650,000 house in Dobbs Ferry, and you work a 5-day/week job in the city. Let’s say you’re sending your child to a private preschool like the one we sent ours to on the Upper West Side for a 5-day 9am-3pm schedule and that you’re hoping to find a comparable school in Westchester. Let’s assume that you need the plumber to come every few months to do something to your plumbing that always costs about $400 (not that I have any experience with that.) And then let’s take all your expenses and list them by their monthly cost (for example, preschool in NYC could be $24,000/year, which is $2,000/month.)

Here’s a brief comparison:

NYC vs Dobbs

If your kids are going into kindergarten, are you in a school district in NYC you’re happy with? If not, then add in the tuition for private school. If you live in a town like Dobbs Ferry (or Hastings, Irvington, Ardsley, Larchmont, Scarsdale, Pelham, Rye, etc.) you’ll feel confident in the public schools.

If the cost of owning in a place like Dobbs Ferry is scary to you, think of the other ways you’ll save:

  • Babysitters cost a little less
  • Kids’ classes (ballet, karate, etc.) cost less
  • Christmas trees cost less
  • Target costs less
  • You can probably cut down on your therapy sessions now that you’ll no longer live in a city that’s making it increasingly hard to raise kids in.

Is Owning a Home WORTH IT?

Our house, circa June

Our house, circa January

Our house, circa January

Our house, circa February

Our house, circa February

While cleaning up ten gallons of water from my basement floor the other day, caused by a clog in our plumbing’s main line, with the help of my friend’s innocent husband, he said something I thought was interesting. He’s a guy in finance, who owns a house twice the size of ours, and makes plenty of money to spend, and he said, “Owning a home isn’t worth it. You’d save money if you spent your life renting.”

He might be right.

I like owning a home. It makes me feel like I’m putting money away (even if I might not be.) I also like that I can do ANYTHING to the house without someone’s approval (though if it’s the exterior, I need permission from the town, but whatever.) And you know what else likes owning my own home? My ego. My ego likes it a lot.

So let’s talk numbers…

A house our size, for rent, in Dobbs Ferry, NY, can go for $3,300-4,300/month.

A house our size, owned, in our town, can go for over $2,100/month in mortgage payments, plus $1,300/month in property taxes = $3,400/month. And all you have to do is put a little over $100,000 for the downpayment, right?

It would be that “easy” if nothing ever ever went wrong with your house. The two inches of water I was standing in in our basement cost us $220 of a visit from the plumber. Last month, we paid the plumber $850 to make repairs on our plumbing. And in December? $440. And FYI, when we bought the house “nothing was wrong with the plumbing”, so it’s not like this was something we accounted for.

"The Money Pit" - aka Tom Hanks' most awesome role ever

“The Money Pit”, and one of Tom Hanks’ best moments ever

All kidding aside, our house is certainly not a money pit. But is money falling through the cracks? A little.

We had a meeting with a contractor a few days ago to discuss all the awesome upgrades we can make to our new lovely little house. He had great ideas, all of which I was completely salivating over. Our house came with an unfinished basement and unfinished second floor. What’s an unfinished second floor, you ask? Picture an attic, with real stairs leading up, and a ceiling even higher than the one in your living room, and that’s an unfinished second floor. We want to make the upstairs an awesome master bedroom with master bath, walk-in closet, sitting area, and small office. We want to make the basement cozy and fun with a guest room and bathroom. We want to make the kitchen look goooood, and make a more open floor plan in the living room. We also neeeed to rebuild the deck, as it’s about to fall down, and the roof needs to be extended as rain and snow water is dripping off our roof and straight down into our doorways and into our basement (Mmmm… mold.) So there are gorgeous things we want to do, and simply necessary things we want to do, equalling a total of $250,000. Good thing I planted that money tree last summer! Too bad all this effing snow destroyed it.

Money tree

Needless to say, we won’t be doing all the renovations just yet.

So what if we just decided to do the necessary exterior stuff / deck and maybe the upstairs? Okay, so that’s only $150,000. But to take a line of credit from the bank for that amount? That would be $750/month in payments. And I was wondering what I was going to do with that extra $750/month that’s just been lying around!

Does it sound like I’m complaining? Yes. Am I actually complaining? No. I think I’m just doing it for effect. We feel very blessed to have what we have. Our house works. It’s small, and getting smaller, but it was built well, and it’s keeping a sturdy, though short, 10yr old roof above our heads. I’m aching to build our master bedroom with en suite upstairs, and I’m itching to move the girls into a larger room, and I wouldn’t mind having more than one bathroom for all of us. After all the visits from Douglas, the plumber (I swear, this guy is getting a Christmas card next year)… and after the $14,500 we’re spending on property taxes this year… I’m still glad we own the place. Why? Because eventually, we’ll be able to build the fantasy home the contractor told us about. Eventually, we’ll be able to sell it and automatically have the downpayment to buy an even better house. And of course…

My ego loves it.

Reason #2 to leave the city for the suburbs…

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The back porch. Granted, we don’t exactly live in a corn field, and a relatively major intersection is a mere two houses away, but the view of the trees and the sound of the birds while drinking my tea is a fine way to start my day. In Manhattan, the best I could do was sit on my living room couch with a view through the window of a tree and a building across the way. It was a lovely Manhattan view, don’t get me wrong, but the difference between that and sitting on my second story back porch looking at trees and sky while feeling the breeze on my skin is palpable.

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Please note: whether or not you have a back porch in the suburbs is irrelevant. The important thing is that you own some outdoor space.

Reason #1 to leave the city for the suburbs…

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The playgrounds are so perfectly small that you don’t need to chase your 22 month old all over the place in fear that she’s going to vanish. Here’s where I sat happily typing this post:

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Yeah, that’s my coffee. And in the brown paper bag? My warm muffin that I just bought from the deli a few steps away where they had recently taken it out of the oven.