According to the NY Times, South Orange and Maplewood NJ, not to mention parts of Lower Westchester, are experiencing an influx of young families from New York City. Maplewood and South Orange (Or SOMa as its’ residents lovingly call it), in particular, has earned the nick name “Brooklyn West”. Young families and those needing more space who are finding themselves priced out of the City, are crossing bridges and traveling through tunnels to rediscover the American Dream.
For many of these urban dwellers, this migration is not without a certain degree of culture shock. Compared to purchasing a house, buying a condo or a co-op apartment is “home buying light”. There are so many other things to keep in mind: commuting, shopping, home repairs, local events, local culture. If you have children add things like schools, play dates, activities — maybe even pets, since there’s now room for one.
Before you getting caught up in the romance of it all, I have found there are certain things to be kept top of mind:
Not just the specific town you are moving to, but also consider where in town do you want to live. Many people from the city place a premium on being close to “where the action is” and want to be walking distance from shopping or the train station — (This is actually a new development, properties near high traffic areas were traditionally undesirable, and so less expensive.)
Often houses closer to town have less land and are smaller. A slightly longer walk to town, or a short ride to the train station, can result in a more house for your money. It can also result in a more "neighborly" feel that is less likely when close to town. My husband and I wanted to be as close to the train as possible, but we instead chose a home that was 1.5 miles from the station that a was larger, on more land. The local “jitney” or commuter shuttle turns out to be very convenient and in exchange for not being right in the middle of town, our children have a huge, beautiful tree lined neighborhood. They can walk, ride bikes and play in the street with the other kids on the block with very little fear of accidents.
Since money is a key reason why many are moving in the first place, it makes sense to plan this move accordingly. The cost of relocating only STARTS with the purchase price of the house you’re interested in. There are several other factors to consider:
- Have you sufficiently researched local taxes and fees? Every town is different, for instance there are property tax, water tax, and so on.
- Now that you’re commuting, what about gas and tolls, bus and or train fare?
- What about utilities? Basic utilities are something I think are a given, i.e. gas, water, cable, internet, but what about trash and recycling pick up? I always thought this was part of my property taxes, but in some towns this is not the case.
- Monthly maintenance? Think of this like you think of common charges for a condo. Depending on your property and location, landscapers are common place in Essex County.
- Are you planning to renovate? Would you be saving money buying a more expensive home that did not need much renovation vs a “fixer - upper”? I have often seen clients purchase a “fixer-upper” believing that the equity will compensate for the work. This is true in many cases. However depending on how much work you need to do and if you are handy to complete some of the work yourself, I advise people that the idea of a partially finished home is often times more money than expected. So take your budget and add 15-20%.
Which brings us to Renovation Considerations
Many people over estimate their own DYI capabilities, finding that the job is bigger than anticipated and end up having to hire help anyway.
Whatever the size of your renovation budget, be prepared to increase it — and budget monies to stay at a hotel, an air bnb, or with a friend or family for at least part of the renovation, especially if they are extensive. The quality of life when living through a renovation is very close to the drama of your favorite reality home DIY shows.
Don’t forget about furniture. If you are moving to a larger space, your old furniture may not work in your new home. The scale or color may not work in your new space. So when budgeting for your renovation, save some for furniture.
Consult a designer
A lot of home issues can be solved through creative furniture or small renovation solutions. That is where I come in. An Interior Designer can help you envision not just a beautiful space, but can help you allocate your total budget to what really needs to be done and where creative solutions are possible. So leave some money in the budget for help solutions.