Keeping It Real…
Moving On Up
Connecticut’s “Gold Coast” – a stretch of affluent towns hugging the lower Fairfield County coastline. Sailboats bobbing beyond a sandy beach. Quiet country lanes winding past manicured lawns, stone walls and white picket fences. Kids in the backseat playing a game of “Who Do You Think Lives There?” That’s what I think of.
The appeal of towns like Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien is enduring…beautiful homes and safe communities amid the quintessential New England landscape. Throw in the enviable proximity to Manhattan and it’s easy to understand why real estate in these towns commands a HEFTY price tag. For most, an unattainable price tag.
But these days, an increasing number of our clients – clients for whom it is attainable — are opting to say, “No, thank you.” And some who already own homes in these towns are asking, “What else is out there?” These value-savvy clients are “moving on up” – up the Metro-North train line, up the Merritt Parkway, up Route 8 and I95.
Getting more for your money. This is the new priority.
Could a move north be right for you? Maybe. But while you definitely get more house for your money as you get away from Manhattan, deciding where to call “home” is a more complex decision than a comparison of square footage and updated countertops. Here are a few things to consider:
If a daily trip into New York isn’t a consideration, you have lots of options. But, if you work in Manhattan, commutability should be at the top of your list. Be realistic about what you can do. Twenty extra minutes on Metro North is manageable and will get you more for your money. But if you are considering a farmhouse in Newtown and you plan on getting home from downtown NYC every Friday night to coach your son’s little league team, you need a reality check.
Does Size Matter?
What are your goals in moving north? There is no wrong answer here. Are you willing to max out your budget for the biggest house possible? Or do you want to bank enough savings to fund a family vacation each year? Keep your house hunt in check with your priorities. If your backyard wish list consists of “Must be big enough for a swingset,” that house on 4 acres might be overkill. Hidden maintenance costs can derail your long-term goals as easily as an overambitious down payment and monthly mortgage.
Don’t Get Schooled
Never underestimate the importance of a good school system…even if you don’t have kids. A strong school system does more than just educate children…it also protects your property values. When you take good schools out of the equation, potential buyers look elsewhere and property values decline. The great news is that Connecticut has exceptional school systems throughout the state. See here for 2016 Ranking of CT school districts.
Parks, running and biking trails, ball fields, beaches, and town pools — these vary widely from town to town. Even youth sports programs draw families to certain locations. Do you want a walkable downtown with shopping and dining options? Theaters and concerts? Look for a town that offers amenities that are important to your family.
A town’s millage rate tells you how much you must pay in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property value (this is different than selling price or appraised value). Mill rates can vary widely across neighboring towns. For 2016-2017, Westport just reduced its mill rate to 16.86, while Bridgeport is set at 54.37. Does that mean Westport is a better value? What if you have always dreamed of a home with water view? That home may be unattainable in Westport, but within reach in the beautiful St. Mary’s section of Bridgeport. But if living in Bridgeport means that you will send three children to private school vs. public in Westport, you need to decide if the value is still there. Point is…taxes are important, but they are only one piece of a complex equation.
MOST importantly, COMMUNITY…
The most important factor for making a place “home” is how strongly you connect with the community. What that means – and how you do it – will vary depending upon your phase in life, but its importance is the same. Whether you are buying your first home or relocating, get involved!
If you have kids, volunteer at school events or coach a team. Your kid’s friends’ parents will probably be among your closest friends — some for life. If your kids are grown, take a continuing ed class. Get to know your local restaurateurs by name, volunteer for a local charity, or take your dog to the local dog park.
There are great towns throughout Connecticut and amazing neighborhoods in every town. Find one that fits your lifestyle and life stage – and connect. Bigger homes tempt us. A poor school system might drive us away. COMMUNITY is what keeps us…and community is what YOU make of it.
Written By: Tara Forrest