Hey everybody, I'm originally from Wisconsin and have been living in Jerusalem (yep, Israel) for the last 6 years. We have a just turned 5 year old and an almost 2.5 year old, and I'm in my 9th month with our third. My husband's company just annouced the closure of their Jerusalem office and made him what they call an "informal, confidential" offer to relocate us to their Newark facility. We know a few folks who live or are from Bergen County (Teaneck area?) but our Jersey knowledge and exposure is VERY limited (we live in Manhattan for two years, but my understanding is that NJ is an entirely different animal) plus we've never lived in the States with kids. So - we've identified (perhaps incorrectly?) Essex County as an area that is commutable to Newark, good public schools, reasonable Jewish community (not orthodox) and reasonably priced. Is that the case? Is it snobby there? What does our family need to earn to live there comfortably? Will I be the only stay at home mom around? Is everyone super fashion concious or is there enough diversity to satisfy my crunchy side? Can anybody shed some light? Many many thanks in advance.....
Essex County is quite commutable to Newark. I live in Nutley, which is two towns north of Newark. Of course, I like it here! :) I think it's kind of a hidden gem because it's not directly on the train line to the city. But it may not be exactly what you're looking for.
From Montclair/Bloomfield your DH can drive right down Bloomfield Ave. into the heart of Newark. I used to live and work in Bloomfield and it is a working class/middle class town with a lot of diversity. Unfortunately the schools don't have the greatest reputation once you get past middle school -- many families move or utilize private/religious schools at that point. There are plenty of stay-at-home moms and when I was the children's librarian (pre-babies) there was an active moms' group.
Montclair is also diverse and kind of artsy, but it also skews wealthier and will be more expensive to buy a home in. They have good public schools. It can be snobby, I went to a few "mommy and me" type classes in Montclair and felt a little shabby, but on the whole the artsy factor kind of balances it out.
Clifton is just over the border in Passaic County but still very commutable, with a large Jewish population (orthodox and otherwise). When I lived in Clifton in high school, we belonged to the YMHA. Clifton is pretty spread out with a wide range of income levels as well, so if you look there just pay attention to neighborhoods.
If you want to hear more about Nutley, too, just ask. I can't say there's a huge Jewish population here, not that I've run into, but there are many professional families (commuting to NYC) as well as working class. It has a lot of Italian families that moved here from the "old neighborhood" in Newark 50 years ago. There are a lot of nice activities for the kids sponsored by the town (preschool, sports, art classes). There are lots of SAHMs. A few of them look like Real Housewives of NJ, but that's the exception rather than the rule. ;)
Taxes are high in Essex County. Ours were $8k this year for a house valued at $340K, 1300 square feet. That will be the case all over north Jersey though. I can't really say how much you'd need to be "comfortable", but somewhere in the $75-100K range would do it. (You could get by on less for sure, but I'm talking about not scrimping or going without the little luxuries.)
Any other questions, ask away! :)
I would stay away from the oranges. Traffic in and out of that area can be quite unbearable during rush hour. Teaneck is commutable to Newark and does have a large Jewish population. Fair Lawn is commutable to Newark, has a large Jewish population, and is a bit more affordable then Teaneck.
Montclair is a great town but I know a fair amount of people who are moving out because it is incredibly expensive to live there.
I can't really say what you would need in terms of $$. It is expensive to live in NJ. Taxes are high, the cost of just about everything is high.
Orange and East Orange you probably wouldn't want to live in. The towns are unfortunately not gentrified and are a bit rough.
South Orange or West Orange are fabulous communities (we live in South Orange). South Orange is very closely aligned with Maplewood (two towns, one community). Both are very easy to commute to Newark. South Orange has I want to say a slightly larger Jewish population (there are 3 synagogues in town) and there are those that walk and those that drive (forgive me - I'm not Jewish, but we live near one of the synagogues). Both towns have really cute downtown areas, incredibly diverse populations (for a while we were the only white, heterosexual couple with children on our block) and are very welcoming to newcomers. We get A LOT of transplants from Brooklyn. Bonus here is that you can walk to the train into NYC to get the city feel in 30 minutes. Downside is the taxes. They're high. But a really good mix of SAHPs and WOHPs (we do have a fair number of dads that stay home, as well as many two dad or two mom families).
West Orange I honestly don't know much about, other than we have friends who live there. It seems to be a series of gated communities, a bit more suburban, but lower taxes due to higher numbers of commercial properties.
Livingston might also be an option, but it skews a bit more .... Real Housewives of NJ. And a bit more...suburban (by which I mean large yards with fences around the back, and everyone seems to get in their car, drive where they want and come home). You have to drive everywhere. As does Short Hills (which is part of Millburn). Millburn is nice, but the schools are INCREDIBLY competitive. Taxes are lower, but housing prices are higher. But similar to M/SO in the cute downtown part, close to Newark, close to trains.
I think you have to go pretty far south of Newark to get a town that you would want to live in. Cranford might be an option. If you go west (out Rte 78 if you're looking at a map) just know that commuting on 78 is horrendous because it's one of the main arteries into NYC.
Montclair is a wonderful community very similar to M/SO, but as noted, skews a bit more wealthy. I think it would be a trickier commute into Newark, but not impossible.
The hyper-local sites for Maplewood/South Orange is maplewoodonline.com (if you go to messages and click on latest discussions, you can search for 'moving to' and get a ton of additional information about the two towns as well as West Orange and Millburn, including realtors). Montclair's hyper-local site is baristanet.com (I do not use it so I can't say if it would help you or not). No idea if there are similar sites for any other towns around here.
Good luck - and welcome to NJ!
You might like the town I'm in, Springfield. It's a nice suburban town in Union county (more afforable) bordered by some swankier towns from Essex county. There is a lot of diversity in Springfield and a healthy diverse Jewish population as well. We have 4 different synagogues in our little town alone! We have many schooling options, a nice public school system which placed first in the (2,500 students and under category for top school districts in the US for technology. We have private schools including a Montessori school and there is a nearby bilingual school that does spanish or mandarin immersion. It's not snobby here and the mom's club is super nice. I live on a block with 3 SAHMs who are all super sweet!
Can you tell I love my town?
Hope you find a place to work for you!
Teaneck can be quite affordable too. Though my experience is a few years old from when we were looking for a house, I found that Teaneck had a wider range of house prices than Fairlawn. I would say, pretty much all of Bergen county has a "reasonable Jewish community." Though the orthodox community in Teaneck is most visible, there is also a sizable reformed and conservative population.
yes, the taxes are lower in Union county.
I am in Summit and it is quite nice, an easy commute into the city, but houses are quite expensive.
another nice and more affordable town in Morris county is Madison.
In general NJ is not as bad as many people think. There are also lots of European expats, including me, the big city is close and you have the boonies in West Jersey with its nice farms etc.
You can always find nice people!
I'm also an expat living in NJ who is coincidentally a real estate agent. I've sold to lots of crunchy families across northern NJ, and I relocate about 8 families a year from Europe, Australia and other parts of the US to NJ.
Personally I like Fair Lawn, specifically the Radburn section which is a planned community with central parks and common recreational facilities, all walkable. Balanced Jewish community.
There aren't many crunchy towns in Morris county any more, they are all very expensive and there is an element of materialism present in each one. I agree with a previous poster that Madison is nice, but disagree that it is anywhere near affordable! Kinnelon has crunchy knots of people, but the commute to Newark isn't ideal and again, the high school is good and can be very snobby.
Montclair is nice, with a walkable downtown, but Essex county's taxes are out of control. Verona is also pleasant.
The thing I like about northern NJ is that you can find crunchy people in pretty much any town - so you might want to work out what's more important to you: taxes, schools or commute and then within those parameters source out other issues like the Jewish community, parenting resources, access to farmer's markets or whatever else is going to help you feel comfortable with your lifestyle.
I hope that makes sense. If I can help more, let me know. I try not to waffle on too much in posts because it can be confusing to get so many opinions.
yes, you are right. Madison is not cheap, but more affordable than Summit.
I guess that was not clear from my post.