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.

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.

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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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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

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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.)