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. ūüėČ ¬†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!

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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.

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!

Nyack, NY

Nyack
Nyack, NY

Population: 6,765
Median home value: $416,951
Median household income: $47,979
% of the population with white collar jobs: 88%
% of the adult population who are college graduates: 40%
Individuals below the poverty level: 8.8%
Racial Makeup / Most prominent races: 63% White, 24% Black, 14% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 4% Asian
Residents would hang out with NYC folk from: upper, Upper West Side (90th-116th)

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Nyack is a village primarily in the town of Orangetown, with a very small western portion in Clarkstown in Rockland County, NY, on the west side of the Hudson River.

There is no direct train from Nyack to NYC. The recommended best route would be to drive across the Tappan Zee Bridge to Tarrytown and then take the Metro-North train. Minutes to Grand Central Station from Nyack: 15min drive to the station, and then a 41-62 minute train ride, depending on time of day.

By car to Grand Central Station: 27 miles, or 45 minutes, without traffic

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Looking to buy a house in Nyack? A 3 bed / 2 bath isn’t too hard to find for $410K.

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

SCHOOL

GREATSCHOOLS.ORG RATING

COMMUNITY RATING

Liberty Elementary School

6/10

10/10

Nyack Middle School

7/10

6/10

Nyack Senior High School

5/10

8/10

So we finally crossed the Hudson in our search. Every city and town we have visited has been on the east side of the river, but Sunday, we ventured over the Tappan Zee Bridge. My friend Jackie had told me that Nyack was one of her favorite villages outside of NYC. And I have to say, I agree. Plus, our friends, Michelle and Alex just moved there last weekend, and after doing some research of their own, had only good things to say. We spent the afternoon in Nyack, wandering the village, speaking with a realtor, picking the brains of a couple of moms I met in shops, and having a snack at the local pub.

O'Donoghue's Menu Not too pricey, right??

O’Donoghue’s Menu
Not too pricey, right??

As I’ve expressed in the past, the downtown area of a town or village is one of our top priorities. We want a downtown that has good shops, walkability, and friendly foot traffic. And Nyack has one of the best downtowns we’ve seen (great downtowns are also in Cold Spring, Dobbs Ferry, and Larchmont.) Almost all of the multitude of shops were independently owned, though they still had room for a Starbucks, much to the satisfaction of desperate coffee drinkers who all said, “Thank God for Starbucks”.

Nyack

Aside from the Starbucks, you almost feel like you’re in a small, country town… that is, until you have to pay for parking. Yes, Nyack has enough busyness and business to warrant some parking enforcement.

Sweet Spot

I stopped by The Sweet Spot, an adorable and trendy candy shop in town. I bought a hefty bag of all my favorites (raspberry gummies, Sour Patch Kids, and Swedish Fish) for a very fair price. The owner worked behind the counter, and I loved the idea that Nyack is the kind of smaller town people move to from the city and open up their own local business.

Now, let’s get politically incorrect. You ready? Here we go. I met a few mothers while we were in Nyack, and here are some things they told me about the area: Nyack is the most diverse of all the towns and villages in the area. Pearl River is nicknamed “Pearly White River” while New City is nicknamed “Jew City”. Tappan is almost all white, and surprisingly “red” (“conservative” for you political laymen) and very blue collar. Clarkstown, the town next door to Orangetown (again, Nyack is in Orangetown) is also very white and blue collar. Nyack has the most minorities- only 63% white. There is a relatively strong gay community, and it has the most NYC cosmopolitan types.

O'Donoghue's Tavern

Hey, it’s a gay-friendly pub!

However, while Nyack’s demographics are the most mixed, the schools are the worst of all those villages and towns named above. To summarize- you can either live with blue collar whites in a great school district with little-to-no downtown area, or you can live in the excellent and racially diverse village of Nyack with “meh” schools.¬†Regarding the schools more specifically, the feeling I got from the mothers I spoke to is that the schools in Nyack are “fine.” They’re not awful, or even bad. They’re just “fine”, though “some people do send their kids to private school.”

Nyack, NY

The housing prices are better in Nyack than they are in the Westchester towns right across the river, as are the taxes. However, the commute to Nyack from NYC is far less convenient. Nyack also does not have a direct train to NYC. You’d have to drive all the way across the Tappan Zee Bridge into one of the river towns to catch Metro North.

Tappan Zee Bridge (trivia: the widest part of the Hudson River!)

Tappan Zee Bridge
(trivia: the widest part of the Hudson River!)

 

Or, of course, you could drive to NYC instead of taking public transportation, which allegedly can take you 90minutes in rush hour traffic, each way. Ugh. I loved Nyack, but as the clock ticked on during our drive back into Manhattan (at 4pm on a Sunday when there was no traffic) my love for Nyack began to wane.

May I introduce to you… Nyack!

Pleasantville, NY

Pleasantville, NY

Pleasantville, NY

Population: 7,055
Median home value: $556,825
Median household income: $110,368
% of the population with white collar jobs: roughly 92%
% of the adult population who are college graduates: 63%
Individuals below the poverty level: 2%
Racial Makeup / Most prominent races: 86% White, 12% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 4% Asian, 4% Black
Residents would hang out with NYC folk from: I dunno, but not the Upper East Side and not Williamsburg.

Pleasantville, NY

Pleasantville is a village in the town of Mount Pleasant in Westchester County just north of where the Saw Mill and Taconic Parkways meet.

Metro-North train from Pleasantville to Grand Central Station: 50-59 minute train ride, depending on time of day

By car to Grand Central Station: 32 miles, or 45 minutes

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Looking to buy a house in Pleasantville? A 3 bed / 2 bath isn’t too hard to find in the $480K-$600K range.

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

SCHOOL

GREATSCHOOLS.ORG RATING

COMMUNITY RATING

Bedford Road School

10/10

10/10

Pleasantville Middle School

10/10

8/10

Pleasantville High School

9/10

6/10

Pleasantville did not get its name by accident. What a pleasant place with pleasant people. My husband had a shoot in Pleasantville last week, and met some of the residents, who were very pleasant and told him how pleasant Pleasantville is. Pleasantries all around. So we drove up to investigate.

Pleasantville, NY

Pleasantville is, for starters, much larger than I thought it was. I had no frame of reference for it, but it is significantly larger than all the other Westchester towns I’ve visited. It’s like Larchmont, without the beach and the money, or like Yonkers, without the racial discrimination and the poverty.

Burns Film Center

Any part of you that might want to think it’s a little “hick”-like, will be surprised to see all the cultural offerings of the town. There are dance studios, martial arts studios, and acting studios all over. And Pleasantville houses the very chic movie art house, the Burns Film Center.

Pleasantville, NY

 

They have a number of mom n’ pop businesses, including the fantastic and adorable toy store, Try & Buy. But Pleasantville is big enough to warrant some of the big guns too: Starbucks, McDonald’s, and a VW dealership. It’s small enough that you’ll run into all your friends at the post office, but you can still get a 99-cent Filet o’ Fish any time a day.

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It’s so cozy of a town that we even ran into the same woman who my husband met on his shoot. She told me about the other “moms” in the town. She said you can have as many playdates as you want, as the mom community is very active. Everyone’s up for playgroups and playdates. And a number of your neighbors will watch your kids when you’re in a bind. It’s just that kind of place. She said a lot of the mothers work, but a lot stay home too. “Barely any nannies”. I asked her the kinds of jobs people in town have, and she said every kind. Blue collar mixed with “a guy from the New Yorker” and “a trainer from the Mets teaches at the high school part time” (or something like that… don’t quote my quotes, please.)

All in all, I liked it. As it’s bigger than other Westchester towns, it’s nice to know that there’s a movie theater right nearby. But the larger size also attracts some anonymous tomfoolery, like when some guys in a car hooted and hollered at me as they drove by (good for my ego, bad for my desire to be in a cozy, friendly town.)

May I introduce to you… Pleasantville!

Croton-on-Hudson, NY

Croton-on-Hudson, NY

Croton-on-Hudson, NY

Population: 8,127
Median home value: $446,766
Median household income: $108,424
% of the population with white collar jobs: roughly 91%
% of the adult population who are college graduates: 58%
Individuals below the poverty level: 4%
Racial Makeup / Most prominent races: 87% White, 11% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 4% Asian, 3% Black
Residents would¬†hang out with NYC folk from: Bay Ridge? Upper West? There weren’t any people there to see!

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Croton-on-Hudson is a village in the town of Cortlandt in Westchester County on the Hudson River.

Metro-North train from the Croton-Harmon station to Grand Central Station: 47-71 minute train ride, depending on time of day

By car to Grand Central Station: 40 miles, or 52 minutes

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Looking to buy a house in Croton-on-Hudson? A 3 bed / 2 bath isn’t too hard to find in the $450K-$600K range.

With taxes, interest, and homeowner’s insurance, and 20% down, it’ll cost between $2,400 and $3,100 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

Carrie E Tompkins School

9/10

8/10

Pierre Van Cortlandt School

9/10

6/10

Croton-Harmon High School

8/10

8/10

I had great hopes for Croton-on-Hudson. When I attended Vassar College, I would drive over the bridge that carries the Taconic Parkway over the Croton reservoir and wonder how lovely the rest of Croton-on-Hudson must be. Well, I finally saw it. And… it’s fine. It’s small. It’s cute, don’t get me wrong. A mini farmer’s market was packing up as we arrived, there’s an adorable preschool called Children’s Space, and an ice cream parlor called The Blue Pig, which you really want to go to, just because it has a blue pig (a fake) standing guard outside. They have a wellness center, a frozen yogurt spot, and a few more childcare centers (you wonder if they have enough children in the town to fill these places!) Croton-on-Hudson has a number of locally-owned businesses, including the Black Cow Coffee Company, which was the first micro-roastery-coffee house in Westchester County! (note: I have no idea what micro-roastery coffee is.)

The Black Cow

As I was taking photos of the town, an older gentleman stepped out of his parked car and said, “Are you here to raise my property taxes?” Ha ha, I thought. He’s making a joke about how he doesn’t want me promoting his town so that tons of city folk are gonna move in, consequently making his taxes go up. Then I thought, maybe he’s not joking. Maybe he really wants us to… stay. out.

Downtown

Though Croton-on-Hudson is perfectly lovely with it’s heavily tree-lined roads on the way from the Taconic, there are barely any houses for sale and the town center is lacking a lot of standard necessities, which makes one wonder how far you need to drive to buy milk. It’s got one restaurant, a church, a bunch of childcare centers, yogurt, and a chance to get your wellness on. My husband and I just kept saying to one another, “This is it? Is there another part to it?”

So no, strange older gentleman, I don’t believe I will be raising your property taxes. It seems like a really nice place, but sometimes I just need to buy some milk, ya know?

May I introduce to you… Croton-on-Hudson!

Cold Spring, NY

Cold Spring, NY

Cold Spring, NY

Population: 2,017
Median home value: $380,142
Median household income: $69,306
% of the population with white collar jobs: roughly 88%
% of the adult population who are college graduates: 43%
Individuals below the poverty level: 4.53%
Racial Makeup / Most prominent races: 93% White, 6% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 2% Asian, .7% Black
Residents would hang out with NYC folk from: Upper West Side, Williamsburg, and Chelsea

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Cold Spring is a village in the town of Philipstown in Putnam County, NY, on the Hudson River.

Metro-North train from Cold Spring to Grand Central Station: 75-82 minute train ride, depending on time of day

By car to Grand Central Station: 56 miles, or 1 hour, 11 minutes

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Looking to buy a house in Cold Spring? A 3 bed / 2 bath isn’t too hard to find in the $460K-$600K range.

With taxes, interest, and homeowner’s insurance, and 20% down, it’ll cost between $2,170 and $2,760 per month.

(Note: property taxes here do not include the local taxes, which could bring these numbers up significantly. 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

Haldane Elementary/Middle

9/10

10/10

Halden High School

9/10

8/10

Hello low property taxes! In all the towns I’ve researched thus far, a $600K house will cost you about $700/month in taxes. But in Cold Spring, NY… $245. Per. Month.

Afraid of how far away it is? Okay, so am I. But if you take the Palisades Parkway, which seems counterintuitive, it only takes about an hour and 5 minutes to the city, they say. I buy that. If you’re commuting every day, this may be too far for you. If you’re only commuting a few times a week, like us? It may be doable. May be. Which is really silly, considering I know people who have about an hour commute to work just on the subway from Brooklyn!

So let’s talk about Cold Spring. We really like Cold Spring. It could be a smidge bigger and a bit closer in order to be considered “perfect” by my standards, but it’s pretty great. If it had its own movie theater, we might just have to say yes.

Cold Spring, NY

When we arrived, we pulled into one of the many available parking spaces on the main street, and needed to use the bathroom. We walked into the Silver Spoon restaurant, where we asked to use the restroom. When we came back out, we felt obligated to purchase something from them, in thanks for letting us use the restroom. So we chose a drink for our older daughter. The guy in charge, who seemed like he could be the owner, gave it to her. When I asked how much it was, he told us not to worry about it. So not only did he let us use the bathroom without being customers, but he then gave our daughter an orange juice on the house. (Think that would happen in Manhattan? Yeh, nope.)

Cold Spring, NY

There is the loveliest little playground in town, just steps from Main street. Dozens of hand-me-down’ed toys adorn the gated grounds for all the children to ride, sell imaginary lemonade from, drive, see-saw on, and bounce on. My daughter calls it the “new playground”, which is unfortunate since there’s something about giving a name to a place makes you want to go there again and again (and she doesn’t understand that an hour’s drive is too far just to swing on some swings.)

Cold Spring, NY

We’ve been there a handful of times and there are usually a few mothers, one or two fathers, and a grandparent, all chaperoning their little ones. We almost never see nannies, which says something about what the young family community is like there- it appears as though many parents work from or stay at home. We haven’t struck up a conversation with any of them yet, but smiles are shared when eye contact is made, and no one has a look of either “I’m too good to talk to you” or “I’m a sketchy creep that you wish wasn’t hanging around in a playground”.

Cold Spring, NY

While walking back down Main street after our jaunt down the ol’ playground, I noticed a few telling qualities of the town: (1) Cold Spring has cool lesbians. There was a hip-looking lesbian couple with their child, eating at a restaurant. (2) Cold Spring is worldy. There were VW’s, Volvo’s and other foreign cars that showed Cold Spring’s cosmopolitan-ness. Why do I consider that to mean “cosmopolitan?” Well, because backwards Amerrrcans only buy Amerrrcan cars. (3) Cold Spring is no debaucherous whore house. Main Street of Cold Spring, NY, has 6 antique shops and 1 bar. This means there are 6 kitschy¬†old ladies for every 1 alcoholic. Not a bad ratio. Though that’s assuming you prefer kitschy old ladies to alcoholics.

I spoke to an independent realtor in town at Preusser Realty, who has been in the business in Cold Spring for a few decades. She told me something I didn’t realize: Cold Spring is a big vacation getaway for city folk. Almost 50% of the town is people visiting their second homes. This means that in the wintertime, the place is, well, 50% empty. That’s a good thing if you like to feel like a superior local or if you don’t like living around a lot of people, but it may be tricky for someone like me who (a) doesn’t like living next to a bunch of people who don’t feel committed to or responsible for a town and (b) doesn’t like her stores closing at 3pm because no one’s around to go to them.

Cold Spring, NY

Right next to the Metro North train station at the end of Main Street sits a cute and family-friendly restaurant, the Cold Spring Depot. Supposedly, it used to be the old depot for the train station until that was moved down the tracks a few dozen yards. It’s pretty charming. We sat in the outdoor patio and listened as the train chuggled by every 10-15 minutes. We decided to ask the young, 20-something waiter what he thought about the town. He told us that, yes, Cold Spring Depot goes from ten to four servers during the winter months, and that the high school is so bad that only 55% of the graduates go on to a 4-year school, and the students are spoiled and mooch off their parents.

Hmm. This I did not want to hear.

Cold Spring, NY

So we went to Perry’s Ice Cream Parlor next door (which is A-Dor-Able) and asked a woman there if she raised her kids in Cold Spring. “Yes,” she said. “And yes, they’re spoiled. And they’re cliquey.” She said they’re so “cliquey” that she had to move her kid to another school in a neighboring town, Yorkville, because he felt so excluded.

That’s it, I thought. No more Cold Spring. 55% go to a 4-year college? Spoiled and cliquey? Screw you, Cold Spring, and your evil and uneducated ways!

But then, we thought again. Perhaps these two people are jaded, cynical, and angry that they’re in food service positions surrounded by people with more money than they. Who knows. I looked up Cold Spring’s report card on the official NY State website and found that, in fact, over 80% of the students go to 4-year colleges, and it’s in the town where the waiter lives that only 55% do. Hmm. Gar√ßon is losing his credibility. And as for the nice ice cream lady, she’s probably right. It’s probably really cliquey. But isn’t that because it’s a small town with one high school? Perhaps there is nothing so cliquey about Halden High School that you wouldn’t find in any other one-high-school town (it’s like a one-horse town, but without any horses.)

We’ll never know for sure unless we move there and raise our daughters there. And we’re not quite ready to do that yet. But Cold Spring is on our list. And who knows? Maybe I’ll start to like antiquing.

May I introduce to you… Cold Spring!

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!

Bedford Hills, NY

Bedford Hills, NY

Bedford Hills, NY

Population: 3,022
Median home value: $404,740
Median household income: $61,750
% of the population with white collar jobs: roughly 50%
% of the adult population who are college graduates: 31.65%
Individuals below the poverty level: 12.29%
Racial Makeup / Most prominent races: 74% White, 34% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 5% Asian, 5% Black
Residents would hang out with NYC folk from: Inwood and the Bronx

Bedford Hills, NY

Bedford Hills is a village within the town of Bedford in Westchester County
Metro-North train from Bedford Hills to Grand Central Station: 56-71 minute train ride, depending on time of day
By car to Grand Central Station: 42 miles, or 53 minutes

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Looking to buy a house in Bedford Hills? A 3 bed / 2 bath isn’t too hard to find in the $430K-$600K range (with plenty of others in the $1M-$3M range as well)

With taxes, interest, and homeowner’s insurance, and 20% down, it’ll cost between $2,300 and $3,200 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

Bedford Hills Elementary

8/10

8/10

Fox Lane Middle School

9/10

6/10

Fox Lane High School

8/10

6/10

When you Google “Bedford Hills”, before you can even finish typing, it gives you the search for “Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.” This is the largest women’s prison in New York State. Yeehaw!

But don’t worry, Bedford Hills isn’t crawling with orange-suit-wearing convicts. They’re all properly locked away. Instead, Bedford Hills is less expensive looking, less fancy looking, less elegant looking version of Bedford. Though as my husband said, it has more character than Bedford. And from him, that’s a compliment.

Little facts about Bedford Hills: it houses the Community House, built in 1919, which was originally meant as a memorial and a service for the needs of veterans returning from World War I. Potluck dinners and theatrical productions were held there. It remains, now offering meeting space for various local organizations, as well as dance and exercise classes! Bedford Hills is also the former home of Alcoholics Anonymous founder, Bill Wilson. The house now serves as a museum.

There’s not much in the downtown area of Bedford Hills, but the Metro North station, as well as a couple of restaurants, a bakery, a cleaners, a florist, and a few other shops. People in the town of Bedford (which includes the hamlets of Bedford, Bedford Hills and Katonah) do their main shopping at the A&P, the ShopRite and Target. But none of these monstrosities are right inside town, so the shops are all pretty much local.

Knowing nothing about Bedford Hills before going, I assumed it was the upper crust of the Bedford area, honestly just because it had “hills” in the name. However, it is just the opposite. You can see this by the lower housing prices. Most importantly, you can see this by the 12% of people living below the poverty level and 68% of people who are not college graduates. In 2010, when the last census was taken, it had an unemployment rate of 14.7%. This is compared to the 7.5% for the rest of New York State.

All that said, there is plenty of affluence and education in Bedford Hills as well. I was really surprised to see how many multi-million dollar houses there were. It’s no shlump of a village. Or a hamlet, for that matter. Plus, the shops are pretty cute looking. It’s just odd to me to have such low-income life surrounded by the affluence of the rest of Westchester County. Does a subway run through it? No. Is there a sewage plant up the street? I don’t know. Is it simply… the women behind bars? I don’t know if they have that much influence.

It’s worth checking out- especially if you’re looking for lower housing prices in a great school district and a naturally lovely area.

May I introduce to you… Bedford Hills!