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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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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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!

Dear Real Estate Websites: You Lied to Me

Westchester tax

I was wrong on the property taxes in Westchester. Oh, how I was so, so wrong.

I trusted Zillow. I trusted Realtor. I trusted Trulia. I was fooled. The taxes listed on all these real estate websites are completely and totally incomplete.

In every one of my previous posts, I listed what your property taxes would be if you purchased a home in one of these towns. If you didn’t already realize that I was absolutely wrong about the taxes in Westchester County, then I have some very, very bad news for you: for most of the towns I’ve researched, you need to add at least another thousand dollars to your monthly cost. That’s right. If I said $600/month, I meant $1,600/month. No, it wasn’t a typo. My mother’s guess is that there’s the base property tax (i.e. the $600/month) and then there’s the school and additional tax for the town you’re in (i.e. $1000/month.) All these real estate websites only calculate the regular taxes.

So when I said that a $600,000 house would cost you $3,100/month with taxes, mortgage, insurance combined, what I meant to say was: $4,100/month. Yeh, big difference.

But that’s in Westchester, rated #1 in cost of taxes compared to home value. In the country.

“What can I do?” you ask. Well, here are your other choices: buy a house at least an hour from Manhattan in Putnam County. Or Jersey. Or Connecticut. Or cross the Hudson into Rockland County. “So why would I, in a million years, opt to pay that kind of money in taxes when I could move to a different county and pay more like $800-900 in taxes? “Why”, you ask?

Why would you buy a house in Hastings-on-Hudson instead of some of the towns in these other counties? Because Hastings-on-Hudson is a 22-minute drive from the Upper West Side. Because it’s beautiful. Because the residents are (more or less) cosmopolitan, educated, intellectuals, Because it’s a 30-minute, $8, lovely train ride to Grand Central. Because the schools are top notch. Because it looks like a village, and not like a suburban strip mall. And because your children will poop diamonds.

(Well, the last part is an exaggeration.)

Ardsley, NY

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Ardsley, NY

Population: 4,484 
Median home value: $617,531
Median family income: $116,239
Median resident age: 45 years
% of the population with white collar jobs: 92%
% of the adult population who are college graduates: 70% (highest I’ve seen so far!)
Racial Makeup / Most prominent races: 85% White, 4% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 13% Asian, 1% Black
Residents would hang out with NYC folk from: Upper East Side and Staten Island

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Ardsley is a village in the town of Greenburgh near the Hudson River side of Westchester County
Metro-North train from Larchmont to Grand Central Station: 37 to 54 minutes, depending on time of day
By car to Grand Central Station: 22 miles, or 35 minutes

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Looking to buy a house in Ardsley? A 3 bed / 2 bath isn’t too hard to find in the $550K to $750K range.

With taxes, interest, and homeowner’s insurance, and 20% down, it’ll cost between $2,900 and $3,900 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

Concord Road Elementary

9/10

10/10

Ardsley Middle School

10/10

10/10

Ardsley High School

8/10

6/10

When I told my mother we went to visit Ardsley, she said concerned, “Oh, that’s very expensive.” To which I thought, “Seriously?”

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Maybe I missed the expensive part, but there didn’t seem to be much warranting expensiveness to me. The downtown area was very small, consisting of a few shops I did not need to go to and the highway cut right through it. There was a pizza place where three guys hung out outside like a scene from The Sopranos. Across the street, a kid with his pants falling off was heading to the food mart. And there was a Carvel. Again. (please note: I love Carvel. I just don’t need it in my downtown area.)

The residential streets were somewhat hilly, and very quiet. Some of the architecture was bizarre. Not bizarre in a bad way, necessarily. Just bizarre.

Does it seem like I didn’t like Ardsley? Yeh, I didn’t.

You’re going to think I’m backpedaling when I say that Ardsley isn’t bad. In fact, I say “Go ahead! Move there!” The schools are good, they have a festival called Ardsley Day, they have a great youth program run by Parks & Rec, they have a Carvel, and my mother says “It’s expensive,” which usually means “really nice.” But I’ve looked at a bunch of towns already, including Irvington, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on-Hudson, Larchmont, New Rochelle, Eastchester, and Tuckahoe, and Ardsley is the last on my list (except for Eastchester… oh and Yonkers- sorry, Yonkers.)

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But I have to give a shout-out to my husband, who loves (loves) model trains. Ardsley has a model train shop. We may have to move there after all.

May I introduce to you… Ardsley!

Tuckahoe, NY

Tuckahoe, NY

Tuckahoe, NY

Population: 6,532
Median home value: $497,348
Racial Makeup / Most prominent races: 75% White, 9% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 9% Asian, 11% Black
Residents would hang out with NYC folk from: Brooklyn Heights and the Upper West Side

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Tuckahoe is a village within the town of Eastchester in Westchester County

Metro-North train from Tuckahoe to Grand Central Station: 29-39 min (depending on time of day)

By car to Grand Central Station: 20 miles, or 33 minutes

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Looking to buy a house in Tuckahoe? A 3 bed / 2 bath isn’t too hard to find in the $500K-$700K range.

With taxes, interest, and homeowner’s insurance, and 20% down, it’ll cost between $2,600 and $3,600 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

William E Cottle School

9/10

10/10

Tuckahoe Middle School

10/10

6/10

Tuckahoe High School

7/10

8/10

As Tuckahoe is so small, NeighborhoodScout.org, where I normally find my stats for this blog, didn’t give as much info as it does for the larger towns.

You may have read in my last post that Eastchester left me feeling a little… disenchanted. Tuckahoe is a village within the town of Eastchester. However, Tuckahoe is no Eastchester. Though not exactly of the wealth and elegance of Larchmont, Tuckahoe is charming in its own teeny way.

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As we turned the corner to see Tuckahoe for the first time, my husband and I both commented that it has the look of an English village. The street isn’t terribly long, but it is adorned with charming retro turn-of-the-century and authentic architecture. The little village consists of a lovely town hall, the Cafe 72 coffee shop (which boasts the award for “Best coffee in Westchester”, though my husband said “it’s fine”), a Masonic temple, the Bubblemania laundromat, a Starbucks, a Thai restaurant, as well as a couple of other restaurants, a pilates studio, a cleaners, and a few other shops.

I spoke with a young woman who lives in Tuckahoe, and was raised there as well, and she had only great things to say. Among other things, she said Tuckahoe High School is wonderful (and keep in mind, she went there.) She said the teachers really cared and they have a great program for students with disabilities. She also said something that really surprised me, after what I saw of Eastchester, which is just next door, and that is that you can walk from the train station back to your house at midnight and feel totally safe. This says a lot about a town, in my opinion.

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We were there on Sunday, and they had a little farmers market going. The population looks very ethnically diverse. Some of the residents seemed blue collar while a number of others looked like Manhattan transplants who had a baby and escaped for Westchester County. Driving around, I noticed that the houses were on the less impressive side, but they’re also on the less expensive side, so it depends on your priorities.

I liked Tuckahoe. I didn’t love Tuckahoe. It’s the kind of place I’d consider moving to if we didn’t have any other options outside of Manhattan.

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Maybe it’s what I’ll call the “Laundromat Stigma”. A town with a number of laundromats implies lower income rentals. Tuckahoe only had one laundromat on the main street (though Eastchester seemed to have a few) and it was kind of cute, but still… that, mixed with the low college education of the town and the fact that it’s surrounded by Eastchester and Yonkers (again, sorry Yonkers) means it’s just too many things working against it to put it in the top 5. That being said-

May I introduce to you… Tuckahoe!