The South Orange – Maplewood School District Ranks Highest on Music Education

You have probably been reading how the South Orange – Maplewood school district ranks highest on music education. Well its about time a school ranking measured something other than test scores to evaluate a district’s success.

pianoI have used my blog platform in the past to discuss the inequities of school rankings by third parties such as magazines and web based organizations. (view here). These rankings or “Best Of” lists basically just use test scores and don’t measure any intangibles like diversity. Test scores are important, but a quality education needs to be measured by more than a student body’s ability at test taking. For my kids, I wanted an education that went beyond what they learned in the classroom. Equally, or more important to me is learning to navigate with their social groups that were both racially and socio-economically diverse. I felt this would prove to be far more important in their adult years when they have to navigate the real world. That’s why we chose to live in a community like South Orange that has a very diverse population.

Unfortunately, the diversity of South Orange’s student body consistently works against the district when it comes to the ranking of the town’s school system by sub par, often salacious magazine articles titled “NJ Best Schools.” Well, now something equally important has finally been given attention by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAAM).

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 10.20.20 AMThe NAAM Foundation celebrates and promotes the intrinsic value of music education. They support active participation in music making across a person’s lifespan by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving and public service. They have an annual “Best Community for Music Education” list (see full list here) of schools across the country. It is comprised of multiple points to evaluate and rank schools on their music programs. It is no surprise that on this scale the South Orange – Maplewood School District gets the highest ranking. After all, music is a great equalizer. You don’t have to be rich or a certain color to be a good musician.

Why the South Orange-Maplewood School District Ranks Highest on Music Education

But more importantly, I salute the Board of Education and the generous parents in the community for their continual commitment to supporting the music programs throughout the South Orange – Maplewood school district. Many performing artists, musicians and singers choose to make South Orange and Maplewood their home (read more about it here). In my opinion, these vital community members, in turn, vocally and financially support the emphasis on music education for their children. Congratulation South Orange -Maplewood school district — well done!

First Time Home Buyers Give Me A Shout

First time home buyers give me a shout because I adore working with you. I find first time home buyers to be so incredibly appreciative of my services and truly grateful when the transaction completes. I always stay in touch long after the papers are signed and try to be a good resource as they transition to their new home and neighborhood.

There are a lot of real estate agents that don’t really enjoy working with first time home buyers, because they can be fickle and require much hand holding which in turn takes up a lot of time and therefore less profitable. Some of the really big agents just pass of first time home buyers to less experienced agents on their team. I believe this is a true disservice to the buyer.

Last week, the Goldstein’s closed on their new town home in West Orange.  It was such a great decision they will be happy with for years to come. I took them to see quite a few area developments to compare and contrast the values within the same neighborhood and surrounding areas.  I followed up with an in-depth market analysis to determine a fair market value of each property after we previewed them. This is what they deserved, and I was happy to provide it.

first time homes buyers

Additionally, house hunting in the suburbs can be quite a challenge if you are coming from a city (which most buyers do) and don’t have a car. Renting one can get quite expensive since the average buyer searches for homes for 6 months prior to purchasing one. So I extended my services to include picking them up and dropping them back off at the nearest train stations each time we went out. Time together in the car meant I could better familiarize them with the various neighborhoods and we got to know each other better, shared some very funny stories and well–became friends.

I’m not sure if I’ve just been lucky or have some sort of winning personality (ha), but I connect incredibly well with first time buyers. I guess in part it is because I can empathize with their position. It’s not so long ago that I too was a first time home buyer. And I would have wanted to be treated the same. Good luck Ashley and Aaron.




Amy Harris Real Estate To Help Build Homes for Families in Need

Amy Harris Real Estate official member of Give Back homes

Amy Harris Real Estate will help build homes for families in need by becoming a member of  “Give Back Homes.” I am so excited to finally marry my business goals with my personal goals.

Similar to the program at Tom’s Shoes, every time I sell a home, I have committed to donate money towards the cost of building a new home for a family in need in either in the United States or Central America. The network is tied directly to Habitat for Humanity which has successfully built thousands of homes for people in need all over the world.

The way it works is that in order to donate, I pay a monthly fee  to become a member of the network. These monthly fees are used to defray the cost of running the network so that all donations go directly to the cost of building homes. Hopefully, home buyers and home sellers who are in the market to purchase or market their homes will consider using a member of the Give Back Homes network to generate more donations to build more homes. Currently, they have projects going up in Houston, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Nicaragua, Denver, New York City and Las Vegas.

A cool element of the network it that it allows the real estate professional to donate directly to the project in the city of their choice and shows how much has been donated and how much more is needed to begin the project. See example below.

Give Back Homes current projects

You can view the full list here

Once there are enough funds, I will actually have the opportunity to help build the home itself. I love the combination of both the monetary as well as the physical contribution to making these new homes a reality. I look forward to making the program an integral part of my business. You can learn more about Give Back Homes here.

amy harris real estatejoins Give Back Homes

Millburn Short Hills Housing Prices Surpass Peak Values in 2006

Can you believe it? Millburn/Short Hills housing prices surpass peak values in 2006. It’s true. To understand how incredibly staggering this is look at the prices in the country as a whole. The US overall is still recovering with values still 12.7% BELOW what they were in 2006. New Jersey was hit especially hard in the 2006 market, with price still 22% below what they were in 2006 — which is 50% below the national average.















Here is the Millburn/Short Hills 2014 Values Comparison

                    Avg. L/P 2006    Avg. S/P 2006    Avg. L/P 2014   Avg. S/P 2014     % Diff.
Millburn          $1,322,000          $1,281,000          $1,348,000          $1,324,000       +3.3%

Source: Garden State Multiple Listing Service 

So when colleagues, friends and family members give you advise on residential real estate matters – remember location location, location.

Another Housing Bubble? Think Again

Another Housing Bubble?I’ve been asked by my home seller and buyer about the rising sale prices of homes in New Jersey, especially towns located along the Midtown Direct train line (South Orange, Maplewood, Millburn, Short Hills, Summit, Chatham and Madison).  Nervous home buyers especially want to know, are we on our way to creating another housing bubble?. I don’t claim to have a crystal ball, but I think if you compare the rising prices associated with this market contrasted to the outrageous prices that peaked in 2006, there are quite a few key differences.

In the previous housing bubble prices rose artificially. Lenders were underwriting mortgages with very little attention to detail. Buyers who had poor credit scores were given large loans with little to no down payments. They were basically taking a very high risk and in many instances it didn’t pay off.

Contrast that with the current rising market values. Sobered by the crash in 2007, new legislation was passed (Dodd-Frank) forcing lenders be more judicious in making loans. Additionally, many of the high risk instruments mortgage companies previously offered, were taken off the table (like no money down mortgages, and mortgages with low up front payments and then balloon payments required down the road). As a result, lenders carefully scrutinize applicants (maybe a little too much) to ensure the current home buyer has a good credit history and has a large enough down payment to make  a good debt to equity ratio. In a general sense today’s buyers are high quality as opposed to the high risk buyers of the previous cycle.

On the whole, while the prices are rising, the home sale prices in the state of NJ are still 14% below the peak in 2006 (per KCM). Here is how it looks by town

Town                    2006 List Price      Sale Price     2014 List Price      Sale Price           % Diff.

South Orange              $677,211                   $666,512               $566,619                  $561,515               -19%

Maplewood                 $551,228                  $544,590              $515,960                 $521,086             -4.5%

Millburn                   $1,322,000              $1,281,000          $1,348,000             $1,324,000            +3.3%

Summit                    $1,007,000              $1,018,000              $949,272                 $933,915                 -9%

Livingston                   $664,258                 $648,001              $639,000                $628,452               -3.1%
*Source: Garden state Multiple Listing Service

All of these towns with the exception of South Orange are doing better than the state as a whole. Millburn’ (which includes Short Hills) housing prices actually exceed the peak in 2006. So yes, it is an upward trajectory, but this time prices are being driven up with sound market conditions and as a real organic need.

Baby Boomers Guide: What’s Next

Leveraging the resources I have access to as a “Senior Real Estate Specialist,” I’ve created this Baby Boomers Guide: What’s Next. My goal is to inspire fellow Boomers who are wrestling with making a lifestyle change and feel overwhelmed at the thought of selling their family home, organizing a move and choosing a destination that will meet all of their needs.

Baby Boomers ( adults 50+) don’t see the options of previous generations as a good model. Instead, Boomers are redefining the idea of “retirement.” Retirement used to mean quitting work, and riding off into the sunset to play golf, cards and splurge for the “early bird special” at a nearby restaurant.

Since Boomers have redefined each life stage they have passed through (they invented the “helicopter” style of parenting)  it is no surprise they are redefining “retirement.” As healthy, engaged adults Baby Boomers don’t want to quit work all together, they want to continue to be active and intellectually stimulated. Another big difference is that they want to live amongst people of all ages – not just other “seniors.”

These trends are shaping the lifestyles choices Boomers have for their next phase of life. Instead of sitting back and withdrawing, Boomers view this life stage as an opportunity to take on new challenges, embark on new careers and volunteer for programs that are in tune with their beliefs. Most are seizing the moment for creating their “second act.”

This guide can be bookmarked, dowloaded and shared with friends for your future reference. It lays out many options with tangible solutions to help you determine what your “Second Act” might look like.

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Baby Boomers Are Heading Back to the City

Baby Boomers Going Back to the City

Photo Courtesy of

There’s a relatively new trend: Baby Boomers are Heading Back to the City. The latest research shows that cities in the US are growing in population while demand for the suburban lifestyle is declining.

Suburbia used to be synonymous with the American Dream. In the 1950’s suburban sprawl was the evidence of the middle class attaining a “piece of the pie.” In the New York tri-state area it meant a migration to Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey from Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs. Add an American made car in the driveway and indeed it was the dream come true.

As decades passed, the sprawl got further and the houses got a whole lot bigger. Once our kids fly the coup all that square footage can feel a bit useless. At the same time,  Baby Boomers are also able to return to a lifestyle so many of use were acquainted with prior to settling down and buying our spacious homes. Going out for dinner with friends mid week or taking off for the weekend spur of the moment  are once again options.

For these reasons many people age 50+ (yes technically Baby Boomers are 50+) are opting to return to cities where they can once again partake of the art, culture and ease of city living. At the same time, Manhattan real estate prices have never been higher. However, there are some really great options in Brooklyn, Queens, Jersey City and Hoboken.

Another trend is to stay in the suburbs and live in a smaller home close to a thriving downtown (like Maplewood, South Orange or Montclair) or in one of the luxury rental building these towns now offer. Want to know what your options are? You may find my Baby Boomer’s Guide Where to Move Next  a big help.


Read more about the research from here



7 Berkeley Road Maplewood, NJ 07040 – Update

7 Berkeley Road Maplewood, NJ 07040The spring is coming. At least in the real estate market it is. How do I know? Because several new, incredibly beautiful homes hit the market, and 7 Berkeley Road in Maplewood, NJ  07040 is one of them.

The current owners have an incredible sense of style and color so making a very traditional colonial home feel light, bright and modern. Every inch of the home has been updated. With a large formal living room, formal dining room, kitchen large family room and the quintessential Maplewood room on the first floor it can easily accommodate a family of 4 – 5 and is ideal for entertaining.

One of my favorite  improvements made to the house is placing the laundry facilities on the second floor. Let’s hear it for not having to run up and down two sets of stairs.

Beyond the house itself, this is a valuable property because of its great location.  It is ideal for commuters because it is located just several blocks from the Maplewood train station which serves both Midtown Manhattan and Hoboken.  The list prices is $649,000. No surprise the house received 4 good offers and went Under Contract the first week it hit the market. For more property details click here. I hope these pictures inspire you.

7 Berekely Road Maplewood Nj 07040

7 Berekely Road Maplewood Nj 07040














7 Berekely Road Maplewood Nj 07040

7 Berekely Road Maplewood Nj 07040

7 Berekely Road Maplewood Nj 07040

7 Berekely Road Maplewood Nj 07040

7 Berekely Road Maplewood Nj 07040

Maplewood Real Estate Market Strongest in 6 Years

The Maplewood real estate market was the strongest in 6 years, by the end of 2014. Its the story of a huge comeback – and who doesn’t like a good story about a come back?

Maplewood real estate market trends past 6 Years

In 2008 prices dropped precipitously as inventory started to expand. Maplewood was hit especially hard by the recession because a large percentage of its inventory is ideal for first time home buyers who want to leave the city. These young urban professionals were also the same generation facing enormous college debt, high unemployment rates, lower entry level salaries and major job insecurity (if they had one).

Real estate is a trickle up market. If the first time buyers aren’t out, then those who want to sell and move up to a larger home also have to stay put and so on. In 2011 Congress passed a short term stimulus bill for the real estate market titled “The First Time Home Buyers Tax Credit” which provided an increase in sales, but it went right back down after its expiration.

However, as the economy slowly recovered, unemployment decreased, and jobs became more secure the first time home buyer came back into the market and fueled the recovery organically in Maplewood. This is especially true in the last 2 years when the average sale price of a home exceeded its highest value in 2008- making it the strongest market in 6 years.

No one can unequivocally predict the future of a market like real estate since it has so many variables. Because it is a commodities market it is influenced by psychological factors as much as anything else. If buyers think prices are going up they will rush to get in now. And that’s my prediction for the spring 2015 market. Because the interest rates are still incredibly low, unemployment is the lowest it has been in years and the amount of inventory in Maplewood is incredibly low – price should continue on an upward trajectory.

Maplewood Real Estate Market Trends Past 6 YearsWhat’s your opinion? Let me know.