Sunday, December 20, 2009

Retirement reality

Before our son was born, my husband wanted to move to a house in North Jersey.

I didn’t.

All I saw was a long commute when I went back to work, endless carpools, and hours spent drive to do just anything, even just to pick up a quart of milk.

He was right and I was wrong.

Granted, living in the ‘burbs would have made our son’s teenage years much more challenging, since either we would have had to drive him everywhere or we would have had to trust him with a car (and I don’t know which would have been worse). But, on the other hand, tax season during his childhood would have been so much easier if I hadn’t had to take our son somewhere every Sunday for at least a month straight so that my husband could see clients and/or get some tax-return work done. And, if we'd chosen the right area, our son might have been spared the dubious privilege of being raised as the "token Jew" of his Jewish community.

But that’s all water under the bridge.

The problem I’m dealing with is both a current and a future one. Only in recent years has it occurred to me what I gave up by not having my own house. I think this may be partly because the house in which I grew was so small that about the only difference between it and an apartment was the lack of a basement for storing supermarket items on sale. But seeing the homes of some of my friends, I now realize that, if we’d bought a “real” house—one with at least one extra room for use as an office and another for the entertainment center and/or entertaining guests, a finished basement, and a back yard with a deck and/or patio (as opposed to a back yard that was just a driveway leading to a garage) :

• We’d have had a place for our son to run around indoors without catching heck from the downstairs neighbors, and I wouldn’t have had to get him out from under my husband’s feet during tax season. (We wouldn't have had the occasional "fun" with the downstairs neighbors, either--see the comments to this droll post by Mark/PT).

• We’d have a place to sit outdoors and read without worrying about being hit by a stray baseball in the playground.

• We’d have the option of cooking and eating outdoors in nice weather in the summer.

• We’d have a yard in which to build our own sukkah, something I’ve never done in my life, much to my regret. Now, I end up eating in a restaurant every night of Chol HaMoed Sukkot just so that I can eat in a sukkah.

And—big-ticket item—

We'd have room to entertain company year round!!!

From the beginning, it was difficult for us to invite more than a few people at a time because our living/dining room is so small. But since my husband retired from ___ and starting running an increasingly-substantial private tax and accounting practice out of the apartment, his file cabinets and paperwork have pretty much taken over the living room. It’s only gotten worse since he started teaching college accounting courses—now, not only are there client files all over, there are students’ homework papers and tests to be graded, too. It’s recently occurred to me that we hardly ever get invited by anyone anymore, no doubt because we hardly invite anyone anymore.

Unfortunately, my desire for a house comes way too late. Houses in Highland Park, NJ are currently going for not less than $300,000, from what I can see from a quick internet search. It’s highly unlikely that we’d make anywhere near that amount from selling this apartment, and we can't afford to retire with a mortgage hanging over our heads, assuming that any bank would even give us one in the current economic climate. Frankly, we would just remain in our current apartment were it not for the fact that there's not a single viable synagogue in the entire neighborhood, and even Ms. Schleps-to-Shul-by-Subway-on-Shabbat may think twice about traveling to synagogue by subway on the Sabbath—or any other time—when she's 80. It seems likely that we'll move from here to a low-floor rented apartment in the suburbs with a high concentration of viable synagogues within walking distance--assuming that we we're lucky enough to find an affordable place that matches that description.


Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

You need to decide what you want, before you rule out places. If you want an orthodox community, you may find your dollars go further in Elizabeth, NJ. In NJ, for the type of conservative community I think you want, you're really talking Teaneck or Highland Park. From a purchase perspective, Teaneck is likely substantially more expensive than Highland Park. Both, however, have attractive rentals, although I'm not sure the shabbat walk for Teaneck would be manageable, compared to HP. HP also has several condo buildings you might find an affordable compromise.
And the HP conservative shul has a brand-spankin' new sanctuary, with the rest of the building's rehab almost complete. Plenty of adult ed programs, in addition to those throughout the rest of the community. And, Shira, there's a big Israeli dancing scene here in central New Jersey. One of the leading local teachers is a member of the congregation. And don't forget about all the education programs -- including jewish -- available at Rutgers, literally a walk across a bridge away.

Sun Dec 20, 11:14:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous rejewvenator said...

I'm not entirely sure where you live, but even 1BR apartments in manhattan typically sell for over $400k. A year ago, the median price for a 1BR in manhattan was almost $700k! I suggest you look into what your apartment might actually be worth!

Mon Dec 21, 12:07:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Miami Al said...

In Deerfield Beach, FL, one of the retirement communities, Century Village, has a vibrant Jewish scene. The members there are largely Jewish (probably a majority, maybe a substantial majority), a Young Israel inside the community, and a Conservative one as well. I know that Deerfield Beach's conservative synagogue is in trouble, not pitching that as a solution for you.

However, while the Jewish retirement communities of South Florida are changing with the demographics, I presume that there are similar "active senior" communities in the greater New York area?

Here is the thing though, cheaper houses exists in less affluent communities. Less affluent communities are generally less educated (income highly correlates with education). Less educated communities mean less adult education, less activity, etc.

You have to decide if you want to spend your retirement in a community that is more affluent than you are, with the amenities that go along with that but probably a smaller home, or a nicer home in a cheaper community.

Mon Dec 21, 10:16:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a 3 bedroom house for sale in Highland Park for $259,900 at 117 Park Place which is near a modern Orthodox shul, a Sephardi shul and I believe not so far from the Conservative temple.
Miami Al,
The Conservative congregation in Century Village in Deerfield Beach FL recently voted to become Orthodox in 2012. There is no future in the C movement. It will be gone in 50 years.

Mon Dec 21, 10:32:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steve, Teaneck was one of the places that my husband was considering over two decades ago, but I haven't even bothered looking at real estate there because I'm sure it's beyond our budget now. We're looking for a viable Conservative synagogue, one that stands a good chance of still being viable in 20 years, as our next move after this one will be into a nursing home. A mixed Jewish community, with several viable synagogues within walking distance, has its advantages, as there's likely to be an eruv and kosher shopping where there are Orthodox synagogues.

"there's a big Israeli dancing scene here in central New Jersey. One of the leading local teachers is a member of the congregation." Hot sauce! You just sold HP to my husband, who's even more of an Israeli folk dancing fan than I am. :)

Rejewvenator, we moved to one of the outer boroughs over two decades ago, when living in Manhattan became a bit pricey while I was home with the baby. Now, moving back is out of the question. Even the neighborhoods that were still slums when we left Manhattan--such as Manhattan Valley and the area of Morningside Gardens east of Columbia University--are now gentrified beyond our reach. If we could afford to live in Manhattan, we would.

"cheaper houses exists in less affluent communities. Less affluent communities are generally less educated (income highly correlates with education). Less educated communities mean less adult education, less activity, etc.

You have to decide if you want to spend your retirement in a community that is more affluent than you are, with the amenities that go along with that but probably a smaller home, or a nicer home in a cheaper community."

That's an interesting point, Miami Al. I'm inclined to think that we'd be happier in a more active community--and by active, I don't mean one that's built around a golf course.

Anon, that house sounds wonderful, but our apartment won't sell for anything near that amount. :(

Mon Dec 21, 05:02:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Woodrow/Conservadox said...

Live in a suburb with a high walkscore ( Also don't forget the more Jewish outer borough neighborhoods- Forest Hills/Rego Parka maybe, or is that too expensive?

Tue Dec 22, 10:18:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Forest Hills wasn't much cheaper than Manhattan, when we were looking, and Rego Park's Conservative synagogue isn't in much better shape than the shul to which we currently belong.

Holy Moses, Woodrow, I just checked that site that you recommended, and it appears that Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth and the two Orthodox synagogues at which we davvened (prayed) when we visited the Lennhoffs, Ahavas Achim (Ortho--Ashkenazi) and Etz Chaim (Ortho--S'fardi), are all within about three-four blocks of one another! Memo to self: Look for an apartment near Raritan Ave. between the river and Woodbridge Ave., or on Woodbridge Ave. near the Raritan Ave. intersection.

Tue Dec 22, 11:11:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

An apartment near Raritan Ave. between the river and Woodbridge Ave., or near Woodbridge Ave. near the Raritan Ave. intersection, would be so close to the river that we'll need flood insurance.

Tue Dec 22, 12:58:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

>>near Woodbridge Ave. near the Raritan Ave. intersection, would be so close to the river that we'll need flood insurance.<< No, you won't. That's way uptown from the Raritan River, at least ten blocks.

There is an apartment building almost on the corner of Woodbridge and raritan. There are also several apartment complexes in the side streets south of Raritan, including a nicely managed complex immediately across the street from the HPCT-CAE.

But don't settle on renting until you've checked out houses for sale in the "academic triangle" -- streets named after universities and colleges, located in the north end of town between Woodbridge Ave and Rte 27. Prices can be attractive.

Another community near a very viable conservative shul is in northern nj, in essex county. Check out the community surrounding Agudath Israel in Caldwell/West Caldwell. There are some very nice rental communities in walking distance, and I believe there is a shomer shabbat cadre within the congregation. And they have outstanding kiddush on shabbat. Also a possibility is West Orange -- I think the C shul is Beth Shalom; plenty of rentals in the area and a huge O community, too.

Tue Dec 22, 09:52:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"That's way uptown from the Raritan River, at least ten blocks." That's "far"?! When the Mississippi floods, it floods for miles around. Call me overcautious, but I think flood insurance is a good idea for someone who lives within easy walking distance of a river.

" . . . a nicely managed complex immediately across the street from the HPCT-CAE." Great location! We're prefer to be within a 5-minute walk from a viable Conservative synagogue with an egalitarian service, and considering the fact that the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Anshe Emet's website says that they're currently undergoing major renovation, I'd say they'll probably be viable for at least the next twenty years. I think Larry Lennhoff said that one of the nearby Ortho shuls (with a glass-topped mechitzah--not so bad) had also just undergone renovation, so that's two viable & acceptable shuls within walking distance of one another.

House prices may be attractive at the north end of town, but the whole point of our move would be to put us where we could *walk* to a viable egalitarian Conservative synagogue (and an Orthodox synagogue or two with a reasonable mechitzah). Walking to Ahavas Achim and Etz Chaim (two blocks from the Conserv shul) from the Lennhoffs' house was quite pleasant on a not-too-hot summer day, but it would be quite impossible in wet and/or cold weather, and possibly out of our walking range once we get into our eighties.

Caldwell/West Caldwell and West Orange might be worth a look, if the locations are close enough to the synagogue and prices are reasonable.

Wed Dec 23, 08:42:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I confess to being rather partial to Highland Park, since, thanks to blogging, I already know people there. My husband and I have enjoyed the gracious hospitality of Larry and Malka Esther Lennhoff, in whose sukkah we met Leora and family, and we’ve also enjoyed sharing a Seudat Purim with Elie and Debbie Rosenfeld and their children. But I'll try to keep an open mind.

Wed Dec 23, 12:52:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

There are some other factors that we must consider in choosing our next home.

One thing we must consider is the availability of public transportation. For me, being within walking distance of public transit is a necessity. First of all, my original reason for wanting to stay in NYC was that I hate being completely dependent on a car. (I was raised in the South Jersey suburbs--been there, done that.) Second, I'd like to keep working until I'm 70 and can collect the maximum Social Security allowable--or until my hands give out, whichever comes first. I'd strongly prefer to be able to commute without being totally dependent on a car, even if I'm just driving or being driven to the train station. Buses, anyone?

Another factor to consider is our ability to care for a house, both fiscally and physically. Replacing a leaky roof costs thousands of dollars that we might want to use for other purposes once we're no longer bringing home any paychecks. And the thought of mowing a lawn and--much worse--shoveling snow is not going to be any more appealing to either of us when we're seventy-something than it is now. There are some advantages to living in an apartment building.

Wed Dec 23, 01:41:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you would find Highland Park and the Highland Park Conservative Temple a viable choice. First off, there is affordable housing here. Someone talked about the area called the triangle where there are nice houses at lower cost (although a longer walk to the shuls). One thing about HP is that we have more renters than owners. Unlike other communities there are dozens of houses for rental. Its a great way to "try before you buy".

The HPCT-CAE has two minyanim each Shabbat, one fully egalitarian and the other non-egal. Each minyan switches off week by week between the sanctuary and the chapel, so both groups get to spend the same amount of time as the "main" service. On the High Holidays the services are egalitarian with two alternate Torah readings.

If you are interested in coming down for a Shabbat I would be more than happy to arrange for home hospitality for your family.

Wed Dec 23, 03:13:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

On the bright side, my parents have CHOSEN to retire as renters, selling their house, so they don't have to deal with or worry about maintenance on a house, which can be its own hassle.

Wed Dec 23, 07:20:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Tzipporah, we, too, are concerned about the maintenance necessary for living in a house.

LongAndWinding, thanks so much for the invitation. We'd love to come for a Shabbat, but were wondering whether we might be able to visit after Pesach. It's difficult for us to arrive before Shabbat when sunset comes so early.

Thu Dec 24, 11:28:00 AM 2009  

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