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Old 02-07-2020, 10:12 AM
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After being in LA for almost 7 years for our jobs, it looks like we are going to move back to the NYC/NJ area in two months for our jobs. We lived in Battery Park/ Fidi for 6 years and loved it but now that we have kids we are looking for a suburb close our jobs - Secaucus and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. We also want to be close to NYC so we can take quick day trips in with our family or for date nights. The most important for us is really great public schools, and after finishing 7 years of renovations on my LA house, I don't want to spend the next 7 years on a fixer-upper in NJ. We are going to be leaving a city in Los Angeles County that has the number 11 rated public schools for the state, so I really want to find something similar in NJ. We live in a very small and sleepy rural feeling town now but I'm open for either sleepy or urban feel. I created a spreadsheet with commute times (I used google maps and set it for rush hour) and top 60 public schools districts these are what we have narrowed it down to about 9 options - Rutherford, Montclair, Glen Ridge, Glen Rock, West Orange, Millburn Township, Paramus, Westfield, Summit. We are looking for 4-6 bedrooms and at least 3 bathrooms for around 1 million. We have some flexibility but would like to stay around that price point. Below please find my questions.

1) What is the first thing or word that comes to mind when you think of these towns: Rutherford, Montclair, Glen Ridge, Glen Rock, West Orange, Millburn Township, Paramus, Westfield, Summit
2) How would you rank the towns best on best schools to the best schools?
3) At 1 million would be in the cheapest house on the block, in the middle or near the top range in these towns? (I have done some research so I think I have an idea of this, but I'm not 100% my finding are accurate)
4) Is there any other areas I've missed in my research that I should be looking at?
5) Are all of these towns safe?
6) There looks like there is a huge range of property taxes, who has the cheapest taxes?

Last edited by NYC_Cali_NJ; 02-07-2020 at 10:46 AM.. Reason: I wasn't finished writing my draft
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Old 02-07-2020, 10:52 AM
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Do me a huge, huge favor and post your spreadsheet commuting times, mostly to see if your/google calculations are correct or if they're kind of close but not really, which may affect some of your choices as well.

I'll also jump out and say these are all safe towns. Anyplace you're talking about spending a million dollars on a house it's a safe town.

I think you're right about being in the mid to upper tier for mos of these towns, but it all depends on if you mean 4 BR or 6 BR variants. It might be the cheapest 6 BR but the most expensive 4 BR.

All of those towns are nice and all of them are fighting for top 50 school rankings. Rankings are weird, sometimes they add diversity or lunches or look at another factor that another ranking system doesn't look at which skews a school this way or that. But they're all good schools, I think you'd be splitting hairs when it comes to putting Glen Ridge over Summit or whatever.
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Old 02-07-2020, 01:23 PM
Location: Hoboken, NJ
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Originally Posted by NYC_Cali_NJ View Post
1) What is the first thing or word that comes to mind when you think of these towns: Rutherford, Montclair, Glen Ridge, Glen Rock, West Orange, Millburn Township, Paramus, Westfield, Summit
Rutherford: Average, with a good commute
Montclair: Taxes, with a downtown
Glen Ridge: Taxes, without a downtown
Glen Rock: Almost Ridgewood, but not quite
West Oranges, Taxes, without a downtown or top schools (but less expensive)
Millburn: Rich, Pressure Schools
Paramus: Traffic
Westfield: Well rounded, but not on a direct train line
Summit: Well rounded, on a direct train line (and would be my top choice here)

Slightly tongue-in-cheek, but hey you said the first thing that comes to mind
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Old 02-07-2020, 02:01 PM
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Is a Brooklyn commute a great idea from Summit though? I commute in from South Orange and that commute (the real door to door commute) is long enough. I'm not sure I'd add a subway trip to Brooklyn if I could avoid it - but if I was further away like Summit I definitely wouldn't think about it. I see it as more time with my kids.

While you don't need to be adding more to your list, if you end up narrowing down to Montclair (which might as well include Glen Ridge) then you should look at Maplewood and South Orange as well as they're a similar vibe although not quite as built up. It's worth noting that these towns (South Orange, Maplewood and Montclair) are generally the 'progressive' suburbs. Most of the rest of the towns on your list are more moderately liberal (and you also have Paramus which voted for Trump). Useful to know even if you don't care about politics.

Also for West Orange your commute starts with a shuttle bus (or a drive) to either South Orange, Orange or East Orange. Most of the West Oranginas I know commute through South Orange, but they also live in the Gregory area which is near South Orange so it makes sense.
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Old 02-07-2020, 08:54 PM
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From the towns on your list that are near/next to the Short Hills Mall ( Summit, Millburn, and Westfield). For a million dollars you're not getting a new construction with 4-6 bedrooms and at least 3 bathrooms. All great towns though.
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Old 02-11-2020, 07:02 AM
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A commute to Brooklyn is pretty brutal. I would definitely cross off any towns that didn’t have a midtown train. I think Glen rock requires a transfer. Sub 40 minute train would be key. That pretty much leaves you with south orange and glen ridge. Montclair is slightly longer. That train line goes Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Then 4 stops in Montclair each adding another 3 minutes per stop. So the further north in Montclair the longer.

It took us a year to buy a house in Glen Ridge (we shopped in Glen ridge and Montclair). Those two towns for whatever reason are typically priced super lower to create bidding wars. It’s been like that for a very long time, however over the past 4 years it’s gotten more extreme. We saw 20 houses, bid on four, and eventually landed one. The bids for houses in good condition ranged from 10-25% over the artificially low asking price. It’s best and final, so if you don’t have the highest bid you have to move on....going through this process from Cali sounds near impossible unless you rent or get some type of month to month Airbnb.

That kind of leaves you with South Orange as having a quick train and traditional buying process.

My door to door from glen ridge with a sub 40 min train is still 70-75 min door to door. After accounting for time to get to the station, the morning train typically pulls in 5 minutes late, getting on lines in Penn to exit the platform, and a short 2 stop subway to midtown west. The commute to Brooklyn will likely be 90 minutes even if you live in a town with the shortest midtown commute possible (35-40 morning train). PS I’ve also heard the south orange morning trains typically pull in about 5 minutes late on average. And be prepared for a 2 hour commute maybe once a month due to some BS issue with NJTransit. The rumors are true, it is not the most reliable. There are occasional delays that are not weather related, such as lack of engineers not showing up to the job, etc. just warning you of the negatives. This is largely why top tier towns in NJ are at a discount to the top tier towns in Westchester.

Lastly, you need to compare EFFECTIVE tax rates (milllage rate X assessed value to market) between the towns. They vary. Montclair, Glen ridge, South orange are the highest. Say 3% x 85% = 2.7% effective. So 27k on average for a 1mm house. Most top tier towns are usually balanced out between home prices and tax rates. The market has pretty much dictated this. . So a house in Summit has lower taxes but is a few 100k more, and if you do the math the monthly costs between mortgage and taxes are somewhat similar. So adjust your budget accordingly depending on the town/taxes. Say you are prepared to have a 6k monthly budget, the splits between mortgage/tax would be more tax heavy in Montclair than say summit. It basicallly a wash, but the longer you live there, 20, 25, 30 years with rising taxes that house in Montclair would cost more than the house in summit. Conversely, the shorter you live there, the house in Montclair would cost less. For lower tax towns like summit you are effectively paying a premium on the actual house that is more or less dictated by lesser taxes during an average hold of say 7-10 years. The market has pretty much dictated that by saying the savings on lesser tax for 7-10 years means I could spend X more on a house in summit than Montclair. While it’s a wash, it’s really a wash on a 7-10 year average hold. So if you stay in Montclair for way longer, it will cost you more than summit. And lastly, know that one negative of a high tax town is that you likely would never want to retire into it. 27k prop tax today (which are my taxes in Glen Ridge on a house we purchased for exactly 1mm) may be pushing 45k+ by the time my kids get through the schools. I would never retire into my house unless I had some major financial windfall. If I ponied up more $$ to get a house in summit with lower taxes I’d have a better chance of retiring into it. Same math applies to say Greenwich where houses are twice as much and taxes are a third. The more you front load the housing cost for a low tax town, the longer you could live there.

Last edited by JaRuss01; 02-11-2020 at 07:49 AM..
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Old 02-11-2020, 08:10 AM
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I was going to mention that finding a good property in a desirable town is not going to be a quick process. We purchased in South Orange 5 years ago and we were 'outbid' on houses twice because we weren't paying cash (God forbid someone needs a mortgage for a nearly $600+ property!) We were actually in the attorney review period on one house and our agent kept showing it and ended up going with their offer since it was all cash before we could get them to finalize it. So don't expect a 'normal' real estate process in South Orange either. Generally a good property will have an offer over the list price the first week that something is listed.

We had previously been living in Upper Manhattan and were hoping that New Jersey would have less issues with competitive real estate, but we definitely did not find that to be the case.

We've had two friends sell one house and buy another (all houses involved in either South Orange or Maplewood) in the past 6 months and needless to say they both had an adventure.
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Old 02-12-2020, 08:40 AM
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I’ll just leave this here...you could see where the effective cost to own starts to go sideways in 20+ years. Comparing a house in summit at 450 PSF and Glen Ridge at 350 PSF. Matching the down pmt $ and including effective taxes. While your real world carry costs may be a bit higher on a monthly basis in a lower tax town, your effective cost to own is less (future sale less carry cost) given the higher home value is appreciating more. Which makes higher tax towns have a lower barrier to entry, but not as good of an investment in the very long term.

Overwhelmed with selection - Montclair, Glen Ridge, Westfield,-a75b8d88-6337-4876-8d96-90505719b94b.jpeg

Overwhelmed with selection - Montclair, Glen Ridge, Westfield,-cd753c1c-d125-4544-a93d-fc7f44709c42.jpeg

Last edited by JaRuss01; 02-12-2020 at 09:13 AM..
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Old 02-12-2020, 12:56 PM
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Due to the terrible commute into Brooklyn, wild card suggestion here, but what about Monmouth County? According to this ferry service, the trip from Monmouth County via water takes only 40 minutes to Wall St and then it's a short walk to the 2/3 to get into Brooklyn.

Then there is the NJT Coast Line train from that area that takes you into Secaucus.

Some other wild cards?

Secaucus itself.

Jersey City or Hoboken. The commute to Brooklyn will be much easier via PATH and the commute to Secaucus will be pretty simple. The schools are improving as many more people are choosing to raise young children in Hudson County. You'll have very easy access to NYC for all the cultural opportunities for your kids plus plenty of easy date nights for you two.

If you didn't have to worry about the commute to Brooklyn this would all be much simpler. But finding a reasonable commute for that partner will be difficult and I think ferry or PATH will be the best options.
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Old 02-12-2020, 01:10 PM
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yea, $1,000,000 in the better towns you mentioned is NOT going to buy you a nice new construction 4br house. Also look at what it takes to get a parking pass at some of these towns, it can be 4+ years. Brooklyn from NJ is going to be rough no matter where you live.
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