To many New Yorkers, the suburbs are out there: an indistinguishable gray haze radiating outward from Central Park. “People just randomly do Internet searches and end up buying who-knows-where,” says Alison Bernstein, an equity-derivatives analyst who went through the process herself. Bernstein recently started Suburban Jungle Realty, a service that matches city dwellers with specific towns. She interviews clients to find out their must-haves and deal-breakers, and then, like other matchmakers, sets them up with a few places. (Unlike most yentas, she often tags along on the date.) “There’s no algorithm,” she says. “The community has to make sense for the clients. But it has to feel right. There has to be chemistry.”
Comedian and host of Latenet on dailycomedy.com
Where He Lives Now: A one-bedroom co-op in Greenwich Village.
What He Asked For: A house with lots of room for his dog, near a cycling path. He has to be near the city for auditions and gigs (an hour away is too far). “I grew up around a college town, and I like that kind of vibe,” he says.
His Budget: $3,000 per month.
What She Offered: Bernstein usually sends singles to Stamford and Greenwich, for their social scenes and direct trains to Manhattan. But they’re too far for Ellin, and besides, “I don’t think he’s ready to make that big of a change.” Instead, she recommended New Jersey’s gold coast—West New York, Hoboken, and Weehawken—where there’s a riverside hike-and-bike trail. The ferry ride is all of eight minutes.
The Verdict: Promising, but problematic. Door-to-door, the trip to a West New York house they visited took just half an hour. “Maybe it was just that day,” says the incredulous Ellin, who wonders about his social life. “Can you imagine saying, ‘Why don’t you jump in a cab, ride on the ferry, I’ll pick you up, and we’ll get a burger at the diner?’ And those boats could be delayed. I don’t think it would be acceptable to say, ‘Sorry I was late for the show—it was a bit too windy.’ ” He liked the dog-friendly mini-lawns in front of many townhouses; he’s not crazy about needing a car, though. Most of all, the ferry is infrequent after-hours, and for a comic, an impediment to late nights in Manhattan is a no-go.
Kate Pollock and Warren Symon
Schoolteacher, Financial Analyst
Where They Live Now: She’s in a one-bedroom in Prospect Heights; he’s in Gramercy. They plan to move in together, then get out of the city in a year or so. Maybe. “It’s not something we’re sure we want to do,” she says.
What They Want: A two- or three-bedroom house closer to Stamford, Connecticut, where Symon works, so he can trim his awful commute. “I don’t know anything about the suburbs here at all,” says Pollock, who grew up in Ohio. “I just know Riverdale.”
Their Budget: $600,000 to $900,000.
What She Offered: The couple ruled out Jersey and Long Island, because the commute to Stamford wouldn’t work. Bernstein ended up recommending Westport as a starting point, because the surrounding towns tend to be family-centric, and Pollock and Symon don’t have kids. Westport’s well-known bourgeois-bohemian tilt—Paul Newman’s organic restaurant–playhouse is there—means “there’s a lot for transplanted New Yorkers to do. If I’d placed them in Armonk, they’d spend all their weekends working on their house.”
The verdict: Probably not. Though Pollock allowed that the houses were beautiful, “it was like Pleasantville, a little too perfect, too cute,” she says, and not diverse enough. “We’re still very much feeling out the process,” says Symon. “It was good to see a town and use it as a basis for figuring out what we want.”
Melissa Gill and Mathias Lilja
Dermatopathologist, Financial Vice-President
Where They Live Now: A two-bedroom in Chelsea.
What They Want: A four-bedroom house with a yard, in a diverse town that’s “intellectual, not money-oriented.” Gill works in Teterboro; Lilja works in Purchase and often travels, so he needs to be near an airport. Good schools, too, because Gill is expecting a baby.
Their Budget: $900,000 to $1.1 million.
What She Offered: Bernstein focused on their commutes first, and zeroed in on Bergen County and the villages lining the lower Hudson. The couple had considered Ridgewood, New Jersey, and asked Bernstein to broaden their horizons. She rejected nearby Harrison, because it is too car-oriented. Lilja wanted some acreage for a pool, ruling out Scarsdale and Rye—the lots are too small there. So it came down to two areas. Dobbs Ferry, in Westchester, is smack between their jobs. And Tenafly (with nearby Cresskill and Closter as alternatives) is smaller than Ridgewood, with a multiethnic crowd and more houses within walking distance of town.
The Verdict: Pretty good. Tenafly was a pleasant surprise. “I saw a house on a half-acre a mile from town I could totally move into,” says Gill. “We’re adding it [to the list] for sure.” (Cresskill was too small, and Closter just turned them off—“so strip-mall-y.”) Lilja found Tenafly “cute,” but preferred Dobbs Ferry. “The first thing with me is the gut feeling, and I felt like I could live there,” he says. He’d thought Dobbs Ferry would be out “because the commute on I-287 would be awful,” but Gill and Lilja tried it and it wasn’t so bad.
Shari and Joshua Silk
Where They Live Now: A one-and-a-half bedroom in Carroll Gardens.
What They Want: A three-bedroom with a yard, and great schools. “We want our child to be able to move around!” Shari says about Benny, their 15-month-old. They only need to be at their Manhattan studio a few times a week, so they don’t mind a substantial drive, but they’d like some culture if they can find it.
Their Budget: $400,000 to $600,000.
What She Offered: Bernstein first suggested Weston, Connecticut, which has a relaxed, natural vibe and lowish property taxes, but the Silks specifically wanted to be within 30 minutes of Shari’s family in Westchester. Within that constraint, Bernstein thought houses to the north—specifically Katonah and Bedford—were much better bets. They’re greener, Bernstein notes, and besides, the couple shouldn’t “pay a premium for a great commute when they don’t need to,” say in Armonk or Chappaqua.
The Verdict: A winner. Katonah hit the spot. “It [was] quaint and New England–y … and there were lots of woods around. It’s nice to be secluded, in a good way,” says Joshua.