Buyer’s Remorse?

Buyer’s remorsea feeling of regret or guilt after you have bought something you no longer want.

~ Macmillan Dictionary

Dionne: Dude, what’s wrong. You suffering from buyers remorse or something?

Cher: God, no! Nothing like that.

~ Clueless

We bought a townhouse in Reseda, California, just outside of Los Angeles, in 2010. The previous owner kept it very tidy, with classy and simple furnishings. So when we visited the house for the first time, we thought- “This is delightful! Sure, it’s not in the best neighborhood, but look how pretty! And we’ve been looking for such a long time, let’s just buy something already!”

Our very first night was Saturday night. As we lay in bed in our brand new house, filled with boxes, and our 3-month old sleeping across the hall, we heard it: our neighbors. We lived amongst a lively bunch who enjoyed staying up late, socializing, and keeping their small children up till all hours. While that was great for them, it wasn’t so much for us. But most importantly, we lived very close to the gate to the gated community that opened and closed every time a car needed to come in or out. Turns out, that gate was very, very noisy. On that Saturday night, we lay in bed, listening to the gate and all our friendly neighbors, and we thought, “Uh oh.”

This is not a happy thought.

My father, who is very wise, once said to me “There are no mistakes in real estate.” It’s quite possible I’m remembering this quote wrong, however. Maybe he said something like “There are no fatal mistakes in real estate,” or “There are no hot dogs in real estate.” But whatever it was, I feel it is somewhat true. Three years later, we sold that house and made $50K on it. Not too bad.

What if you search and search for a house, find something that’s pretty good, move into it, and then start having real estate envy? You look around and see all the houses you could’ve bought? Or you realize you really needed to live within walking distance to town, or you realized you actually needed six bathrooms, or that- what?? There’s no linen closet? Are you f*cking kidding me?? What have we done??

Worst case scenario, you wait a year, or two, and trade it in for a new one. Chances are, you’re not going to lose money on it (hey, how many times do massive housing crises happen in a century anyway, right?)

Our little house in Dobbs Ferry was practically perfect for us when we bought it. Sure, we could’ve used a little more room, and maybe another bathroom, or two. But it was just the four of us, and we wanted to live close to downtown Dobbs Ferry, with a flat backyard, and at least three bedrooms, so viola! But now we are a family of five, and that one bathroom thing is getting a wee bit, um, annoying. While this is not a case of buyer’s remorse, it is, more politely put, a change in our needs earlier than we expected.

How do you make sure you don’t make the wrong decision and buy the wrong house? How do you make sure you’re marrying the right man? Both questions, equally difficult to guarantee an answer. But just as in wedlock, we find something that checks the necessary boxes, brings us joy, and feels like home.

And if it doesn’t work out, you can always get a divorce.

Happy hunting!

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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.

Why Would You Leave the City??

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This is not a literal question. It is a rhetorical one. When people ask me this question, they don’t want my litany of answers as to why we’ve chosen to move our family out of our Manhattan apartment and into Westchester. Instead, it’s almost a judgment. Mind you, I don’t take offense, nor do they intend to offend. It’s just that when they ask, it’s because they belong to the other club. I’ve decided there are two clubs: the “I would never leave NYC” club and the “I would leave NYC club.” And the two really don’t understand one another when it comes to this topic.

Are you leaving because of the ridiculous school application/competition situation in Manhattan? Are you leaving because you’ve squeezed your children into a shoebox and you’re storing their legos in the broiler? Or are you leaving because of the noise? Or are you leaving because the cashier at the supermarket is, well, about as friendly as that meter maid who just gave you a $150 ticket for being parked in a spot that only a private investigator would know is illegal? Or are you simply leaving because of the general craziness- the acceptance of anger and impatience and “I was walking here, buddy!” that is commonplace among otherwise perfectly lovely human beings? A lot of the change people make from being part of the NYC club to the suburb club comes from having children. Being childless in NYC is great: you get to enjoy the city, jumping in and out of public transportation, going to the deli for a snack late at night, dining at cool restaurants, seeing shows… in other words, all the things you can’t do when you have kids. When you have kids in the city? The elevator at Trader Joe’s with a stroller becomes the bane of your existence. Applying to preschools and kindergarten becomes a kill-or-be-killed fight to the death. And if you get in to the preschool, it’s gonna cost you $25K a year and kindergarten’s gonna cost you $40K a year. Or you could pray to God that your kid gets into the public school, but oh wait, you’re not in the right zone. And lugging your children and the stroller and the scooter and the tricycle up a third floor walk-up leaves something to be desired. And don’t even get me started on how to do alternate-side-of-the-street parking four times a week when one of your kids naps at 1pm, the other kid needs to go to school at 1pm, and 1pm is when you need to move your car.

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I always thought I’d live in NYC forever (even when I was living in Los Angeles for ten years) and that I wouldn’t want to raise my kids anywhere else. But I’ve changed. My family has grown. My serenity has wained. And dang-it, I want a driveway to park in.

Introducing the newest member of our family…

Dobbs Ferry, NY

May I introduce to you… our house!

We haven’t closed yet, but the contracts have been signed, which in NY real estate terms means, “You can’t swoop in and take our house from us just because you’re offering more money, damnit!”

It’s got 3 bedrooms and 1 bath, but we plan to renovate the attic and the basement to create 4 beds and 2.5 baths… eventually. It’s a block away from the downtown village area, supermarket, drug store, and an 8 minute walk to the preschool and the elementary school. It has a back yard, front yard, deck, attached garage, and it sits on a pretty street with handsome houses all around.

The house is in the village of Dobbs Ferry, which is on the Hudson River, north of Yonkers, but south of Tarrytown. It’s only a 30 minute drive to Manhattan and a 35 minute train ride to Grand Central.

Next post? How to renovate with little to no money. Until then!

Katonah, NY

Katonah, NY

Katonah, NY

Population: 1,691
Median home value: $626,762
Median household income: $86,296
% of the population with white collar jobs: roughly 95%
% of the adult population who are college graduates: 61%
Individuals below the poverty level: 9.7%
Racial Makeup / Most prominent races: 87% White, 12% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 2.6% Asian, 2.5% Black
Residents would hang out with NYC folk from: Brooklyn Heights and the Upper West Side

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Katonah is a village in the town of Bedford in Westchester County

Metro-North train from Katonah to Grand Central Station: 60-75 minute train ride, depending on time of day

By car to Grand Central Station: 43 miles, or 57 minutes

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Looking to buy a house in Katonah? A 3 bed / 2 bath isn’t too hard to find in the $450K-$650K range.

With taxes, interest, and homeowner’s insurance, and 20% down, it’ll cost between $2,400 and $3,400 per month.

(Note: property taxes here do not include the local taxes, which could bring these numbers up $1K more per month. Oh yes. That’s $1,000 more. Per. Month. For exact numbers, ask your realtor.)

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Looking for schools? Here’s what GreatSchools.org has to say:

SCHOOL

GREATSCHOOLS.ORG RATING

COMMUNITY RATING

Katonah Elementary

9/10

8/10

John Jay Middle School

10/10

8/10

John Jay High School

8/10

8/10

So it’s an hour away. That’s it. That’s the only problem. This place is adorable. It has this real country kitchen feel, but with sophisticated people. (Boy, that really sounded like I’m insulting authentic “country kitchen” people.) What I meant to say was- it has a down home, rural feel with the interests and education of urban residents. Did that sound better?

Katonah, NY

They even have a Healing Arts Alliance- whatever that is!

Katonah, NY

I mean, look at their library! You would go read a book too, wouldn’t you?

Like all the other towns I’ve visited, it has a little downtown village area. This one consists of a sort of L-shaped, two-street village with a few real estate offices, restaurants, grocers, and the store Kelloggs & Lawrence, which seems to have pretty much everything.

Katonah, NY

This last store is one I actually went into, as it also touts “Tourist Info” on the sign. Well, the tourist info part of it consists of one spinning shelf thingie with some flyers and maps on it. But that was good enough for me. When I asked for info on the town (before I could see the overwhelmingly small spinning shelf thingie) three salespeople came to assist me. They were really friendly and helpful.

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Up the road from the village is a playground and public pool. My husband and kids played while I wandered the town. It’s a little hilly, with pretty adorable houses lining the semi-skinny roads. Some of the architecture is almost fun in how interesting it is. There are these “painted ladies”, which are a set of Victorian houses painted in purples and reds and green.

When I spoke to a real estate agent, she asked if we wanted a village house or one further out. No one had asked me that before. The choices are (1) close to the shops and (2) not close to the shops. I always opt for option 1 as I need good walkability. I want to be able to walk to get milk, if I feel like it, or walk to a restaurant. My husband feels the same way. Lucky for us, option 1 is also the less expensive option. Guess most people prefer to be further away. Sure, there are benefits to living further from the village: you get more quiet and more space. Though in a small town like this, I can’t imagine living two blocks from the village would be any noisier. But the “more space” would be nice: bigger property and more room between you and the guy next to you. But again, in a town like this, it’s not like a village house will be like a NY apartment building where your view overlooks a brick wall.

So let’s talk about the distance. I don’t really want to move this far away. However, there is an advantage, and that is that distance leads to difference. Katonah is far enough away that life really is different there. I don’t want the hustle and bustle and the crazy New York feel anymore. All I want from New York is the intellect and the walkability. That’s about it. I don’t go to bars anymore, I don’t party like a rock star. I have two small children and a business at home. I want to feel happy and at peace where I live. Katonah doesn’t even have a traffic light. Seriously. In a New York Times article about the village, a resident was quoted as saying “Living here is like living in a beautiful bubble.” But that’s not to say that tumbleweeds are tumbling their way across the street. There are tons of shops and restaurants, and people milling around. There’s also the Katonah Museum of Art and the Caramoor International Music Festival. For goodness sakes, Martha lives there!

The Metro-North comes right into the village, so you may even be able to walk to the train. And after a pleasant hour-long ride of reading your book, you’ll cruise into Grand Central Station (or in my case, probably hop off at 125th, since my family lives on the Upper West Side.) When we first started talking about moving out of the city, I felt so strongly that we had to be close enough to be able to drive into the city, let my parents babysit, go to dinner and a movie, and then drive home with the kids. An hour is just too far for that kind of evening, right? Right?? But as I learned from our last real-estate shopping chapter of our lives (when we ultimately purchased a town house in the g-h-e-t-t-o of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley) things that are oh-so important to you when you’re looking for a house may wind up being moot in the end. So, I want to be close enough to the city to go out to dinner? Maybe we won’t have any interest in coming into the city for dinner. Maybe we’ll love the restaurants locally and find a great (inexpensive) babysitter to watch the kids. Maybe an hour isn’t as far away as we think it is…

May I introduce to you… Katonah!

Dobbs Ferry, NY

Dobbs Ferry, NY

Dobbs Ferry, NY

Population: 10,949
Median home value: $554,418
Median rental price: $1,260
Median household income: $104,170
Median resident age: 41 years
% of the population with white collar jobs: 95%
% of the adult population who are college graduates: 54.24% 
% of the adult population who are high school graduates: 95.12%
% of people living below the poverty level: 3.8%
Racial Makeup / Most prominent races: 79% White, 10% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 7% Black, 9% Asian
Residents would hang out with NYC folk from: Park Slope and the Upper West Side

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Dobbs Ferry is a village in the town of Greenburgh on the Hudson River
Metro-North train from Dobbs Ferry to Grand Central Station: 34-52 minutes, depending on time of day
By car to Grand Central Station: 22 miles, or 36 minutes

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Looking to buy a house in Dobbs Ferry? A 3 bed / 2 bath isn’t too hard to find in the $500K-$800K range.

With taxes, interest, and homeowner’s insurance, and 20% down, it’ll cost between $2,680 and $4,230 per month.

(Note: property taxes here do not include the local taxes, which could bring these numbers up $1K more per month. Oh yes. That’s $1,000 more. Per. Month. For exact numbers, ask your realtor.)

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Looking for schools? Here’s what GreatSchools.org has to say:

SCHOOL

GREATSCHOOLS.ORG RATING

COMMUNITY RATING

 Springhurst Elementary

9/10

10/10

 Dobbs Ferry Middle School

8/10

8/10

 Dobbs Ferry High School

7/10

8/10

I’m realizing that you can tell how much I like a town by how many photos I take of it. Dobbs Ferry? Me likey.

We hired a sleep consultant recently to help with the baby’s non-sleeping routine. She lives in Dobbs Ferry. And she had only nice things to say about it. She said that the more kids they had, the more they realized it was time to leave the city. I was raised in Manhattan, and I never understood why anyone would feel the need to have a YARD in order to raise their children. I thought it was cliche and left for people who weren’t “real city people” or people who didn’t give the city the chance, or people who were small-minded and didn’t see how raising your kid in the city was the best place to do it. After all, I walked to school by myself in the 3rd Grade, and I don’t have a single memory of my parents needing to take me anywhere- I was always able to get there on my own. I still believe this fosters a great sense of strength and independence in a child. But I was being self-centered. Child-centered. Sure, a number of suburb-bound parents leave the city because they want the more quiet life for their child’s sake (my husband remembers playing in the yard and riding his bike for hours around the neighborhood and wants the same thing for our kids) but there are people like me who don’t just want it for their child. They want it for themselves too. You don’t understand CRAMPED until you have children in Manhattan- I don’t care how small your apartment is- if you don’t have kids in it, then you don’t know. When there’s egg on the floor, and toys in the kitchen, and the smell of poopy diapers in the bedroom, and not enough space in the stupid checkout lane at the supermarket for your stroller, and speaking of strollers… you’re lugging your stroller and both children up to a 3rd floor walk-up (full disclosure: I actually get to leave my stroller on the second level), and no one offers to help you with your stroller on the stairs (seriously, people?), and you have to pack everyone up with all your belongings JUST so that your kid can get some fresh air, and you want to go visit daddy at work when he invited you but you just can’t bear the idea of lugging the stroller and the two kids down into the un-air-conditioned subway so you stay at home instead, and taking the 30 minute walk 13 blocks to the bank in the middle of summer with one child strapped to your body and the other complaining in the stroller about how they don’t want to be in the stroller or how they want to be in the stroller and they’re not in the stroller will definitely leave you feeling angry and exhausted when you return and make you never want to leave the house with your children EVER AGAIN, and so on and so on… that’s when you know you’re cramped.

I want to move for me.

So back to Dobbs Ferry and all its SPACE! Okay, so Dobbs Ferry doesn’t actually have any more space than any of the other towns we’re looking at. It’s not like it’s in Siberia. Or Canada.

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When you drive onto Main Street in Dobbs Ferry, you see a sushi restaurant, a Celtic restaurant and the cutest little stationary and sundries shop called “Say Cheese and Thank You”. Main Street is sheltered by trees and lined with various shops, all of which I would probably patronize. There’s a frozen yogurt shop, a pub, an art gallery, a pharmacy, a few restaurants, and little make-your-own-pottery shop.

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At the end of the village, you get a glimpse of a view of the Hudson, which as it turns out is quite a bit lower than the village. A steep(ish) windy street will take you down to the river.

My ideal is to live within walking distance of the main street, so that I can walk to do basic shopping. A lot of people feel the same way, which is why real estate is usually more expensive the closer you are to the action. But while driving down the street that runs parallel to Main Street, I was surprised at how unfortunate the houses looked. Not what I expected for a street that practically overlooks the river (practically, not exactly) and is mere feet from the fun. Who knows… maybe that street is built on top of a former toxic waste dump site. I don’t know. But what’s odd is that it’s covered in what I’ll call “Upper Middle Class cars”: the houses are dumpy, but the cars are not. Makes you wonder if it’s that people-with-money are settling for an ugly place just so they can get into a house they can afford.

Want to judge a book by it’s cover? Come sit next to me. Ready? Here we go: the people looked nice. Friendly. Non-racist. Non-money-grubbing, Non-fancy-pants. Non-stupid. Non-helicopter-mom-crazy. Non-white-trash. (Granted, I saw a woman outside the elegant Half Moon Restaurant which overlooks the Hudson who looked like she should be on Jerry Springer, but you can’t win’em all.) I’m not saying the people looked perfect. But they looked like people who just might smile when you smile at them. They just might be cool to have coffee with. They just might help you carry your stroller up the stairs (even though you don’t have stairs anymore because you now live in an awesome Craftsman style house that only has, like, 3 steps).

I want my daughter to get her haircut at Happy Kids Haircuts. I want to go to the Summer Music Series. I want to “say cheese and thank you”. Damnit, I want make pottery!

What’s next for our journey across the small towns surrounding NYC? Moving on further up the Hudson, I think. My friend Neil suggested I check out Jersey. Hmm. Jersey. More on that later. First, I’m doing Westchester. Then maybe some Long Island and some of NY west of the Hudson, and then maybe, just maybe, Jersey.

May I introduce to you… Dobbs Ferry!