Those struggling to find a two-bedroom in New York City for under $1 million are not alone. We asked the experts to crunch the numbers, and in these inventory-strapped times, that’s one of the hardest categories for home-hunters come by. So we decided to conduct a little experiment, driving up and down the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95 to sniff out just what the same price—or considerably lower—can get you in the ’burbs. Turns out, it might not be all that dreary to have to catch the 5:47 from Penn Station—plus, you’ll have a washer-dryer.
The south Brooklynite will find no shortage of drip coffee in …
Pleasantville, New York
12 Grandview Circle
A 2,654-square-foot five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath Tudor with an unusual provenance: It was the home of DeWitt and Lila Wallace, who used it as the first headquarters of the magazine they founded: Reader’s Digest.
Agent: Loretta Chiavetta, Coldwell Banker Residential
A typical Saturday in Pleasantville will sound familiar to anyone who lives in a Heights or a Hill: Start things off with fresh-roasted brew and a Morning Glory muffin at beloved coffee shop Black Cow, while saying hi to your kid’s friend’s mom typing away on her MacBook. (Since the schools in this very walkable town are drop-off only—no buses—families quickly get to know each other.) Don’t forget to deposit your shirts at the green cleaners around the corner before stocking up on kohlrabi at the Pleasantville farmers’ market, the largest in Westchester. Grab some fish tacos and Maine-lobster rolls at the newly opened, New England–style Seahorse Seafood Shack. Take the kids to check out ecobattery-powered toy cars at Try and Buy, or prance at a creative-movement class at the Academy of Dance Arts. Play a few rounds of Ping-Pong at the Westchester Table Tennis Center—keep your eyes peeled for puzzle master Will Shortz, who co-owns the joint—and check in at the Village Bookstore, one of the few surviving independent bookstores in Westchester, where co-owner Roy Solomon is known for his spot-on recommendations. Before you meet your date for vegan vindaloo at Indian-fusion restaurant Bhog, get your tickets for a screening of Gloria, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s latest film, at the Jacob Burns Film Center. It’s the town’s crown jewel, housed in a circa-1925 theater, drawing viewers from the big city to its lectures by artists-in-residence and guest speakers. “Back in the city, we had sushi and saw art-house films all the time,” says screenwriter Rob Morton, who moved here with his family from the Upper West Side in 2010. “We still do all that here, and the kids get a swing set. And grass, crickets, and stars.”
Food co-op regulars will meet like-minded crunchy types in…
Sea Cliff, New York
61 Locust Avenue
An 1887 Colonial with plenty of period details, including hardwood floors and coffered ceilings, plus four bedrooms—all on a half-acre.
Agents: Katherine Cuddeback and Daniel Gale, Sotheby’s International Realty
Sea Cliff, a hippie pocket of Long Island 25 miles from Manhattan, is a former resort town where vaudevillians performed for city vacationers back in the early 1900s. These days, it gives off a more South Slopean feel. Everything about it is proudly eclectic: its Gothic revivals, stick Victorians, and painted ladies with distinctive color schemes. The funky main street runs the gamut from the peace-soap-and-incense-vending Dreams East to Wansuapona Musu, a sushi restaurant with irreverently named dishes. (Try the spicy-tuna-and-bonito-flaked Phish sandwich.) The town is populated by a mix of F.I.T. and Columbia professors, artists (like New Yorker cartoonist Arnie Levin), musicians (the all-female band Antigone Rising), and, of late, Wall Streeters. Its hills and winding roads lend the town an anything-can-happen vibe: You’re on a hike through the woods one minute, chancing upon a drum circle at Sunset Park the next. Come summer, there’s the all-town rummage sale, and planning for Sea Cliff’s October Mini-Mart art show. For an annual $60 fee, residents have access to the town’s small beach, where lifeguards will bring beach chairs and umbrellas to you, à la a private beach club.
Theatergoers will be culturally sated in …
Madison, New Jersey
240 Kings Road
Located on a third of an acre, this four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath center-hall Colonial has a back deck.
Agent: Donna Mattina, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage
With three local colleges nearby—and an active arts alliance, which meets Algonquin style for a Wednesday roundtable at the Nautilus Diner—Madisonites are bombarded with Shakespeare plays, musicals, operas, exhibits, and lectures all year long. (Ezra Klein faced a sold-out audience at the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts last week; Walter Isaacson and Barbara Walters are next.) The much-respected Shanghai Jazz club books world-renowned acts like Bucky Pizzarelli and the Russell Malone Quartet. (It also serves gourmet Chinese food.) The massive town library has free showings of indie films like Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said, while the Playwrights Theatre sponsors readings of plays by established writers and gives aspiring ones a place to hash out their third acts. House-hunters can pick from starter Capes and sweet Colonials on small parcels for under a million, and, if you can spend double that, mansions on a half-acre or more.
Red Hook–ers can still enjoy water views in …
218 Highland Avenue
A three-bedroom, two-bath clapboard Cape Cod with a separate dining room that leads to a large porch.
Agent: Susan Massey, Halstead Property
Despite its charming, weather-beaten shingled houses, views of bobbing sailboats, and one-stoplight downtown, Rowayton is actually part of Norwalk, a diverse metropolis of more than 87,000. You can easily get your city fix roughly three miles north in South Norwalk (a.k.a. SoNo), a hive of both hip and old-school pubs; innovative restaurants; and even an American Apparel. Or stay within Rowayton’s limits to enjoy what feels like a permanent beach vacation. Chat up neighbors—including bankers, boaters, business execs, writers, and academics—at the Rowayton Market, which sells groceries as well as prepared meals by French chef Marc Poidevin. On summer Sundays, head to Bayley Beach, where locals flock to see live bands and the Manhattan skyline in the distance. “It’s so easy to make friends here,” says Jamie Sydney, a chef who used to live in Brooklyn Heights. “Here, you’ll go on a walk and say hello to twenty people before you’re done.”
Helicopter parents will appreciate the great schools in…
Glen Ridge, New Jersey
33 Lincoln Street
This four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath features a wraparound porch and a large backyard.
Agent: Kathy Kulik, Rhodes, Van Note & Co.
New Yorkers have long fled the city for Montclair. But nearby, waiting in the wings, sits Glen Ridge, with its stellar schools—small enough so kids don’t fall through the cracks and easy to get into—that would make an Upper West Sider who’s angling for a G&T spot weep: The high school, which last year had a graduating senior class of just 137, was ranked third best by Inside Jersey in highly competitive Essex County, better than Montclair’s. There’s no official downtown, so it’s likely suburb-flockers have overlooked Glen Ridge, the way Park Slope hopefuls used to skip Prospect Heights just across Flatbush Avenue. “Glen Ridge is easy to miss because it’s so small,” says Prachi Parmar, a pharmacist who moved here in 2012. But its small size makes it welcoming, too. “During the holidays, we get together with our neighbors, and it feels like one big extended family.” Yet all the Anthropologies, Whole Foods, and Williams-Sonomas you need are a five-minute drive away in Montclair. Among Glen Ridge’s other features: maple-tree-lined street after street, lit by the town’s 600-plus trademark vintage gas lamps; and the biggest collection of pre–World War II houses in the entire state.
Reservation-chasers will dine well in…
Armonk, New York
7 Spruce Hill Road
This 2,688-square-foot French country-style ranch has three bedrooms, three and a half baths, and a pool on 1.63 acres.
Agent: Barbara Greer, Houlihan Lawrence
Armonk, a once-sleepy town primarily known as the home of IBM (and for being Chappaqua’s Clintons-less neighbor down the road), is in the midst of a culinary renaissance. Restaurant North, a farm-to-table boîte founded by two young Danny Meyer mentees, kicked off the boom when it opened in 2010. Moderne Barn, from the owners of Manhattan’s Oceana, followed suit. Last year, Fortina, with its refined wood-fired pizzas, opened shop. The locally sourcing Fattoria is set to open next. But the restaurateurs wouldn’t be here without Armonk’s bona fides: well-heeled long-timers who keep trading up, plus a new wave of young families moving from uptown neighborhoods. (Scan the parking lot of DeCicco’s, a high-end grocery store that opened last year, and you’ll see a parade of BMWs and Audis.) They’re lured by grand homes and public schools that hold their own against the Hunters and Daltons of Manhattan.
Loft-livers will dig the industrial vibe of…
Weehawken, New Jersey
578 Gregory Avenue
You can see Manhattan from the kitchen of this four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath cottage.
Agent: Laura Skolar, Century 21 Plaza Realty
Its sooty exit off the Turnpike, which you’ve likely encountered heading back from Ikea, doesn’t do this section of the Palisades justice. It’s a small, sinewy, suburb-meets-industrial 1.5 square-mile slice that feels a little like Gowanus—if it were draped on the side of a mountain. There’s not much commerce, but the joy of Weehawken is its seeming remoteness: peaceful streets on the bluffs and down the slope; stately Victorians with views of Manhattan. When you’re ready to be in the thick of it once more, 42nd Street is about a ten-minute car or bus ride or eight-minute ferry trip. Says Jada Fabrizio, a photographer who moved here last fall: “I can get to a 6 p.m. opening in Chelsea if I leave the house by 5:20.” The cat may be out of the bag, though, thanks to new construction by the river. Brokers are seeing more and more buyers, from Broadway types (since it’s so easy to get to Times Square) to bankers, professors, artists, young families, and empty-nesters.