By Megan Maxson
When Alison Bernstein decided to move outside the city with her young family in 2005, she found a house in a beautiful suburb that everyone was buzzing about—Westport, Conn. But soon after the family settled in, Bernstein realized that the town wasn’t exactly a perfect fit. It was the ideal neighborhood on so many levels, but for a family that values a small-town feel and seeing familiar faces on Main Street, it was simply too big.
Several years later, armed with experience and a wealth of knowledge, she and her husband, Jay, decided to move to a different suburb. This time, it was Armonk, N.Y.—a town in popular Westchester County. Armonk was a great choice for them and they remain happy there today along with their four children.
From this real-life relocation, the idea for a specialty real estate company was born. With the goal of helping families making similar decisions, Bernstein, a veteran broker, launched The Suburban Jungle Realty Group in 2008—a company that acts solely as the buyer’s broker, representing city-dwellers who are ready to make the move to the suburbs.
“Most of our clients are at this wonderful stage in life where they have just had children,” Bernstein says. “They want a lovely place for their families to grow up.”
But with over 500 suburbs in the tri-state area to choose from, families can easily be overwhelmed.
Of course, many potential buyers from the city will start by looking at the most well-known suburbs, including Westport in Connecticut, Port Washington in Long Island, Montclair in New Jersey and Larchmont, Rye and Scarsdale in Westchester. But there’s a lot to consider beyond popularity.
To fully understand a buyer’s needs, Suburban Jungle first asks them to fill out a questionnaire before meeting. The company helps its clients sort through important considerations, like what kind of school the parents would like their children to attend, and even has a division dedicated to finding education options for special needs children. Moreover, Suburban Jungle encourages clients to consider whether a community is a two-parent-working kind of place or a stay-at-home mom neighborhood. And, by extension, whether it’s a creative-writing town or a sports town, a walking town or a driving town, and how long the commute to the city is—whether it’s by car, train, bus or boat. Furthermore, parents may even be asked if they plan to send their kids to camp.
“If you pick a town where everybody is sending their kids to sleepaway camp and you don’t believe in that…your kid is going to be the only [one] home during the summer,” Bernstein advises.
Adding to its niche appeal, Suburban Jungle gives buyers access to Town Consultants—ex-Manhattanites living in the suburbs who can say what it’s really like to live in a certain town. These representatives shed light on daily life in the community, such as how far you have to drive for milk at midnight.
Beyond such personalized attention, Bernstein’s company also has a complimentary interior design division. She explains that her clients are usually moving out of smaller apartments into larger homes and they can feel overwhelmed by decorating a much larger space. Suburban Jungle takes care of that.
“There’s nothing more incredible than seeing a family moving…to a town where they’re going to start their life,” Bernstein says. “You know this is a place where they’re going to be raising their kids.”
Megan Maxson, a lawyer, is currently working on a collection of short stories. She lives with her husband and daughter in Maplewood, N.J.
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