Suburban Jungle is an award-winning, first-of-its-kind service that has been featured in major media outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine and BBC. The company was founded in 2008 by former Manhattanite, Alison Bernstein after she moved her family three times before settling in Armonk. To help others avoid the same frustrations of multiple moves, she built a team of personal strategists, agents and locals to help facilitate community-centric moves, free of charge for buyers (they make a buyer's agent commission off of the home seller). Her group exclusively focuses on buyers relocating from cities to the suburbs.
I interviewed Bernstein, who has worked in the real estate industry for more than 15 years.
What are the trends for city dwellers moving to the suburbs?
Moving to the suburbs is appealing to the millennial generation, above all. In a survey based on responses from 1,506 people born since 1977, the National Association of Homebuilders found that 66% of respondents want to live in the suburbs. One of the main reasons people want to relocate from the city is that they would like to live in more space than they currently have (January 2015). Most want to live in single-family homes outside of the urban center, even if they now reside in the city. As people start families and look for more space, they seek the ideal fit of finding a town in the suburbs that fits their lifestyle - with the right personality. Another trend is that those moving out, tend to wait longer to do so (all based on the statistics that people are waiting longer to get married, and longer to have children.)
How have the trends reversed over time?
Today's 30- to 44-year-olds are heading for the suburbs at a significantly faster rate than in the 1990s, cites a U.S. Census Bureau March 2015 report. Over the last three years, people have started returning to far flung suburbs.
The days of staying in your home for 30 years are fading. Instead, people stay in their homes for 3-5 years on average, and then they put their homes on the market. When their kids head off to college, many relocate or go back to the urban lifestyle.
In the New York area, many families moved from NYC to Brooklyn for more of an urban suburban experience. They wanted more space and to spend a bit less. But many of these families are now realizing that they still don't have enough space, that they still need to figure out private schools, and they are simply getting priced out. They are relocating to all of the area suburbs, which have more affordable home prices, relatively speaking and towns with the right personality for them.
What are the biggest reasons people are making the move?
For many, it is the idea of how you would like to raise your children, and overall more space. The Suburban Jungle sees a spike in clients when a 2nd or 3rd child is born and there is no more closet space to convert to a bedroom. We also see a spike in questionnaires when the school application process begins. Also, many city families will try to keep the urban life and move to a larger family apartment or to Brooklyn, and we see a trend in calls about 2 years after that move when families realize that the initial move did not solve any of their true real estate issues!
Which factors still make people hesitate?
Mostly the fact that they are leaving the city and all of its comforts: the walkability, the diverse neighborhoods, the anonymity! Many of our clients are concerned about adjusting to the new life, driving, and overall living in a smaller town environment. (even though some towns are not all that small, however compared to the city...). They are concerned about missing the action of when they walk out the door, ordering food after 9 p.m., and being able to throw kids in a stroller and call it a morning. Many also never know where to start, and whether they are looking in the right places and even asking the right questions. That is why we exist. To take the anxiety out of the search process and confirm whether or not the move is the right thing for the family at this stage in their lives. Our strategy team, all of whom have made this move themselves prove to be a valuable way to learn about some options and truly understand the communities. Suburban Jungle created a laser-focused approach to the community factor, allowing our "locals" to uncover the inside scoop on the suburbs, helping buyers leaving the city find the town with the right "personality" to fit each family and their lifestyle.
Do you ever see people move to the suburbs then move back to the city?
Of course! The suburbs are not for everyone. Suburban Jungle really tries to help families decide if moving to the suburbs is even right for their family. We have met with plenty of couples, who after our initial strategy session, we recommend that moving out of the city is not the right choice for them.
How important is community?
Very. In fact is it is by far the most important piece to the real estate puzzle. Your overall happiness and the way in which you raise your family is fully dependent on the community of people and who they are-- not the number of bedrooms or town amenities.
Which towns are popular right now?
New York City Suburban Market: Scarsdale, Rye, Chappaqua, Montclair, Glen Ridge, Short Hills, The River Towns (Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Hastings), Port Washington, Westport, Greenwich.
How is your company innovative?
The Suburban Jungle is the first-ever real estate strategy firm built on the belief that it is critical for all home buyers to take a town-first approach to their search before purchasing a new home. The team's truly objective strategists are dedicated exclusively to helping families - free of charge - identify the best suburb for their lifestyle, and only after that do they begin the real estate piece. A real estate firm which dissects the real estate home search into 2 specific pieces: the town first, and only then the real estate, is truly an innovative approach to the industry. Providing true insight and insider knowledge on the lifestyle in each town, without the sales pressure of real estate agents trying to sell you a home has proven to be a huge success, and something that all buyers need and truly should have.