Introducing the Realtor of the Month feature!15

Posted by Deirdre // 10-07-2014


When I first created Bklyn or Beyond, I had in my mind that I would sell some ad space to like-minded brands in order to support my hosting and programming fees and maybe squeak out a little extra for myself. I quickly abandoned the idea because besides super cute and stylish or cool brands, I don’t really want them on my site! And my posts tend to come in fits and starts as you may know, which doesn’t always make advertisers happy.

the kitchen of dreams

While I don’t intend to turn this into a channel for real estate brokers to prey on desperate home-seekers, I do think that the right broker can go a long way in helping people find a great home. Especially for those looking in new towns, it’s pretty important to be able to have a broker with whom they speak the same language and can tell their innermost thoughts and fears (or something like that).

So I am launching a monthly feature in which I ask a realtor a set of questions that I feel are important to Brooklynites looking to move (within Brooklyn, the burbs and beyond), and give them a chance to sell themselves and their towns or neighborhoods – not just their listings. Let me know what you think and if there are questions that are glaringly omitted!

First up happens to be Maplewood and South Orange, and former Brooklynite Lisa Danbrot.

Pictured is Michelle Williams’ now on the market townhouse in Boerum Hill just for shits and giggles.


The Decision15

Posted by Deirdre // 05-03-2012


By Jennifer Van Santvoord

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you probably have lived, or currently live, in Brooklyn. And if you have lived or currently live in Brooklyn, I’m also going to assume that you probably have the same love-hate relationship with our fine borough as I do:  You love the accessibility to shops, restaurants, the city, the culture. But you hate the parking, the lack of apartment space, the unpredictability of the schools, and the overall feeling of suffocation that comes with having to brave 10 tolls and 45 minutes of traffic just to get out of said borough.

It is this love-hate relationship that has surely led many of you to this very blog, and caused you to ask yourself, “How do I decide where I want to live?” It’s a complex question, and everyone arrives at the answer in a different way: sometimes you find the answer, and sometimes, if you’re patient and willing to see the signs, the answer finds you.

I have lived in New York City for the last seven years, five of which have been spent in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I LOVE Park Slope, and was even nicknamed the “Mayor of Park Slope” by a family friend who grew up here. I would give tours of the neighborhood to friends who were considering a move to the area, and would gush with pride whenever asked about where I lived. One of the things I love most about Park Slope is that just about every business is mom and pop owned. I am a huge supporter of the local businesses here, making every effort to buy everything from soap, to appliances, to birthday presents right within my neighborhood. There is so much I love about this beautiful little corner of the world, but as life happened, so did my gradual frustration with my beloved Park Slope.

Since moving to the neighborhood, I have had two children, now ages 3 and 1. And there is arguably nowhere in the world quite like Park Slope in its family friendliness. But we also moved to the area prior to having children, without really thinking about schools.  I am not going to name names, but let’s just say I am not zoned for a school that is regarded as…well…good. And then there’s good old New York City apartment living:  We are four people sharing 850 square feet. And though it’s cozy and it works for now, it is certainly not our forever home, and the lack of outdoor space is quite confining when you have a little one who wants to run, and an even littler one who just wants to nap! And of course there’s the dreaded parking. My poor husband has to move our car twice a week so we don’t get a ticket, and is often gone for close to an hour just trying to find a spot. That is 104 hours (4.333333 days to be exact) per year that he spends moving the freaking car!!

With all this in mind, my husband and I decided that we needed to make a change. We used to always say that as long as we could get a 3 bedroom duplex with a backyard and parking in a good school district, we would never leave Park Slope.  But there are two problems with this statement:  1. We can’t afford a $1.5M apartment and 2. It really still wouldn’t be enough for us. We want a big yard, a whole house to ourselves, and the ability to just get in our car and go wherever we want, whenever we want. And we were craving a lifestyle change, something calmer than the hustle and bustle of New York City.

So about a year ago the decision-making (or shall I say lack thereof) began. My husband and I are probably two of the most indecisive people on the planet. While we make a great team in other aspects of our lives, decision-making is not an area in which either of us excel. “Where do we want to live?” became the million-dollar question, a question that seemed to have no answer, because we simply couldn’t imagine any place we wanted to live more than Park Slope.

In the early stages of our thought process, we realized that there were three main geographic areas we would consider:  New York City suburbs; Charlottesville, Virginia; and San Francisco.  These three areas are quite literally all over the map.  But there was a reason behind each of them:  My family lives in New Jersey, my husband’s family lives in Virginia, and San Francisco?  Well, as random as it sounds, it actually was probably top of our list.  My husband and I met in San Diego ten years ago, and although we ultimately moved back East to be closer to family, we always wanted to live in the Bay Area.  And my husband is in the tech industry, so career-wise, San Francisco is really the best possible city for him.

The Pros and Cons on paper

Being the analytical person that I am, I decided to make a weighted pro and con list. Each pro or con was given a 1-5 rating, with 5 being a really important pro, or a super negative con. Using this system, San Francisco won by a landslide.  At this point you’re probably saying, “Duh!!  Just move to San Francisco!”  But it wasn’t that simple for us, because family is so important to us both, and was the very reason why we returned to the East Coast in the first place. In the end (or what we thought was the end), it was for that reason we decided we would focus our search on the suburbs of New York City. We would spend time in each of the suburban towns that seemed promising, and if we could find one we were excited about, we would stay.

We were looking for a town that had all the qualities we loved in Park Slope, but where we could also afford a house, a yard, and a driveway, and have access to good public transportation and great schools. “Does this utopian community exist?” I thought. I posted this very question on the bklynvsburbs listserv, and I received so many wonderful and thoughtful responses from people who were truly passionate about their respective towns.  Many suggested Larchmont, Mamaroneck, the River Towns in Westchester, but overwhelmingly we got responses that raved about Maplewood, NJ.

New Jersey?

Ummmm…no, I don’t think so.

I grew up in Jersey, but after living in New York for seven years I became an anti-Jersey snob.  “Yeah I don’t think I can do Jersey” was my response.  “Yeah I don’t think I can either,” said my husband.

So we started in Westchester.  At least then we could keep our New York license and still feel like we were connected to the Empire State. Ah, yes, this was where we wanted to be!  It’s so beautiful here, and the towns are so cute!  But the taxes and home prices were outrageous, and in order to afford the kind of house we would want with the land we would want, we had to go to upper Westchester, which was going to make my husband’s commute hell.  But we rationalized it to ourselves:  It’s only 15 more minutes on the train each way. It’s not that bad.  Let’s do it!  We were convinced we were moving to Westchester. We emailed my cousin in Croton-on-Hudson, and exclaimed “Roll out the red carpet, we’re moving to Westchester!!” They were so excited! We were so excited!

But something about it didn’t feel right. In order to afford that house in upper Westchester, we had to give up something pretty huge: the ability to walk to town. This is something I absolutely love about Park Slope, and the thought of losing that neighborhood feel in exchange for more acreage scared the crap out of me. I stay at home with my two kids – am I going to feel completely isolated up there?

“Maybe we should try to check out New Jersey” I said to my husband.  “Hmmmph…Jersey.”  Was his only response. I pleaded with him to keep an open mind. I hadn’t given up on Westchester, but felt that we really needed to at least try to check out New Jersey. So we did a drive-by through Summit, Chatham, Maplewood, and Montclair.  They were all nice enough, but Maplewood?  I guess we must have driven the wrong way during that first visit, because we did not find a cute main street and we definitely didn’t find any of the beautiful homes we had heard about.

Maplewood Village via Ben Garrison's Around Town Video Tour

But I kept thinking about all those emails I got from people on the bklynvsburbs listserv regarding Maplewood.  Clearly we must have made a wrong turn, because what we saw did not match everyone’s glowing descriptions. So we finally decided to involve a real estate agent, Ben Garrison with Coldwell Banker, who had been referred to us by someone on the listserv. He was amazing! He showed us how beautiful Maplewood was, and made us so excited about the prospect of living in this idyllic little town.

We loved Maplewood – this was it!  This was the town we were looking for, a town with adorable homes that were a walk to town, a cute little main street with mom and pop shops and restaurants, close to the city, close to my parents, great schools.  This was a town we could get excited about enough to forget about San Francisco. We loved it so much that we put our apartment on the market. The plan was to sell first and then buy in Maplewood. Oh my God, we made a decision!!! Halleluiah!

So we put the house on the market, and three days before our very first open house, we got some news: my husband’s company wanted to open a San Francisco office, and they wanted him to be the guy to do it.

Umm…now what??

“Is this a sign?” we kept asking ourselves.

Our world was thrown into a tailspin.

It was hard for us to deny that a higher power seemed to be inserting Him or Herself into our decision-making process. And even though we thought we were moving to Maplewood, and even though all of our family is here on the East Coat, we had to take pause.  Should we stay or should we go?

If opportunity knocked on your door, calling you to live somewhere you always wanted to live, wouldn’t you want to open that door? To see what’s on the other side? Wouldn’t you always wonder “What if?” if you said no to such a serendipitous calling?

So we decided to say yes to San Francisco. Yes to opportunity. Yes to more space. Yes to homes that are within walking distance to towns and hiking trails, and are a twenty-minute drive from the ocean. Yes to a driveway and (gasp!) a garage. Yes to good schools.  But more than anything, we are saying yes to a major lifestyle change, one that we hope will make us happy.

And if not?

There’s always Maplewood.


Jennifer Van Santvoord is a photographer and writer who, through blogging, tries to find humor in her life as a stay-at-home-mom. You can read more about her parenting misadventures by visiting her blog.  She currently lives with her husband and two little ones in Park Slope, Brooklyn.