Reasons You’ll Hate Living in the Suburbs: Because you don’t need all that extra space!

Space.  It’s why people move to the suburbs.  They need space. Space for their kids,. Space for their dogs.  Space for all their STUFF.  More space.  People like this guy love talking about all their extra bedrooms, and their closets, and all their square footage.

But why?  How much space do people really need? For about 10 years, I lived in about 600 square feet. Then, for a few years, about 2,000 square feet.  And now that I’m in the suburbs, about 4,500 square feet.  But even with all that space, I’m not sure that my everyday life is all that much different.  Whether I’m in 600, or 2,000, or 4,500 square feet, I spend about 90% of my time in only about 300 square feet in total: kitchen, couch, bed.  I eat, I lounge, I sleep.  That’s my life.

Indeed, I’ve been reading about this new “micro” apartment movement – the proposal to create affordable sub-300 square foot apartments in Manhattan.  Think about what 300 square feet is – about a 20’x15’ room, including space for closets and a kitchen.  As long as there’s a wall where I can put a flat screen, I think that would be fine.  For me, I mean.  I’m not sure what I’d do with the kid and the wife. Or the dog.  Then again, if I suggested to my wife that we go live in a 300 square foot space, I’m pretty sure she’d divorce me and take all my money, so a micro apartment would be all that I’d need or could afford.

So a micro apartment might be a little extreme.  But on the other hand, so is 4,500 square feet. For example, let’s examine all the basically useless space in my home:

  • Living room.  It’s the nicest room in my home: lovely couches, a fireplace, floor-to-ceiling views of the Hudson, just gorgeous. And I’m never in there.  No TV.  I don’t spend a lot of time in rooms without TVs in them.
  • Dining room.  Big table.  Seats 10 people.  But we’re not 10 people.  It’s me, my wife, and my kid, and my kid sits at his own chair.  That’s like two-and-a-half people.  (The dog isn’t allowed to sit at the table, but try telling him that.)  So the dining room has pretty much become an expensive place to put the mail, at least until my wife agrees to my proposal that we eat at opposite ends of the table, like fabulously rich people with servants do in the movies.
  • Study.  Beautiful wood-paneled library/study with bookshelves and two separate desk spots, where I keep the desktop computer that I never use because 99% of the time I open up a laptop sitting on the couch.
  • Guest Bedrooms.  Two of them for the guests that we never invite over.  Part of it is that we dramatically overestimated the number of people who would be eager to visit us in the suburbs.  The other part is that I hate guests.  (If you’re a friend who is reading this and has stayed over at our place, let me make clear that I’m not talking about YOU, I’m talking about those OTHER guests).

You see my point? I have a lot of places in my home where you could hide a dead body, and I wouldn’t discover it for weeks.  For all I know, there’s a dead body in my guest bedroom right now.  I really should check.

And you know what you need to do with all that space? You need to fill it with expensive furniture that you’ll never actually sit on.  And you know how you get that expensive furniture? You hire a decorator/designer, most of whom like to be paid for their work.  So much for all that money you save living in the suburbs.

So why do we do it?  Why do we feel compelled to get a big home with all that extra space?  I’ll tell you why.

It’s to make all you city people jealous.

We need all that extra space so on the rare occasion when we get you all to come out to the suburbs, we can see the look on your face when you see that our closet is bigger than your bedroom.  The suburban shock and awe.  That’s what makes everything worth it.  “Look, I have a room just for my computer! Suck on THAT!”

Suburban space is the ultimate extravagance, the real estate equivalent to dangling a $25,000 watch on your wrist.  You don’t need it, but you get it and flaunt it because you want everyone else to envy it.  Suburbanites will never admit that we never eat in the dining room, or that we use our pools about three times a year, because we need to justify our move to the burbs.  If we left the city to get a perfectly usable and unimpressive 2,500 square feet, we’d never have anything to hold over the heads of our city friends.  All that extra space is the solace we take for not having good bars.

All that said, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: if you live in the city, and come visit me, you absolutely need to marvel and gush over all the space I have or you’re not going to be invited back.  It’s only polite.

Reasons Why You’ll Hate Living in the Suburbs: You Don’t Get to See Celebrities Out in the Wild

You know what you’re going to lose when you move to the suburbs?  Celebrities. You’re going to miss that moment when you’re on line at your local Starbucks and realize that —  HEY, the guy trying to order a coffee while corralling a couple of kids is John McEnroe!  Hi John! You’re getting a cinnamon latte?  Really?  YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS!  HAR!  See what I did there?

If you live in Manhattan, you can’t help but run into celebrities.  The city is lousy with them. Unlike LA, where celebrities live in upscale enclaves, Manhattan is incredibly dense and integrated, so even if you live in a 500 square foot studio walkup, you can still live on the same block with some zillionaire movie star. You don’t have to be a star-effer to feel a certain validation – “I might be a total loser, but I live right next door to Howard Stern.  I must be doing SOMETHING right.”

Now, I’m not talking about when you’re at some hot club and see Chris Brown and Drake throwing glasses at each other or Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg.  Or when press up against the rope line at some move premiere like  star-struck out-of-towner at Rock Center waving a sign at Matt Lauer so your cousin from Des Moine can DVR you.  No, it doesn’t count when you actually TRY to go see a celebrity, or when you run into them in their natural habitat.

Rather, the fun celebrity sightings are when you see them out in the wild, doing the same everyday crap that you have to do.  For example, I once saw Jerry Seinfeld walking down 83rd street toward Broadway.  That wasn’t particularly unusual, since he lived in the neighborhood (as did the “Jerry” of the Seinfeld show – COINCIDENCE?).  What was interesting was that he was carrying a Banana Republic bag, and there’s a Banana Republic store on 86th and Broadway. But he wasn’t coming back from the store, he was going TO the store.

In other words, JERRY SEINFELD WAS SCHLEPPING OVER TO BANANA REPUBLIC TO RETURN A SWEATER. I love that. I mean, seriously, wouldn’t you think that Jerry Seinfeld, when he gets a sweater that doesn’t fit, would just toss it in the garbage?  It’s like the old joke about whether it makes sense for Bill Gates to take the time to stop and bend down to pick up a hundred dollar bill.  You would think that it wouldn’t be worth 45 minutes of his life to save a few buck, but there he was hoofing it over to beg for his money back..  Good for him!

That’s one of the great things about living in the city. I used to live next door to Bobby Cannavale, who would sit out on his stoop chatting with the neighbors and couldn’t have been a nicer guy.  On the day after 9/11, I shared some hard-to-find copies of the NY Post with Billy Baldwin.  I once asked Barbra Streisand to move down a seat at the movie theater so I could sit next to my date (Streisand was NOT happy).  I hit on Jane Krakowski, back before she got Ally McBeal and got even further out of my league.  All very cool.

So I sort of miss that stuff now that I’m in the suburbs. Not to say that we don’t have our celebrities.  After all, I’ve made it my mission to catalogue the various celebrities who are rumored to joining me in suburban idyll, like Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Jay Z.  And just in my village of Nyack, we proudly count Rosie O’Donnell, Jonathan Demme, and Stephen Baldwin, who has been working very hard to keep my village free from porn. I’ve actually run into Bill Irwin on the streets and William Hurt on a golf course, where he thought I’d stolen his friend’s golf bag (I admit NOTHING!).

But it’s not the same. Really, it’s just because you don’t run into people as easily in the suburbs – whether those people are celebrities or commoners.  You’re in your car all day, you park in a lot, you come in and out of stores. You don’t really wlak the streets. And on top of that, you don’t go out as much at night. After all, I’m very unlikely to run into a celebrity when sitting on the couch in my family room, which is where I spend most of my time now.

So that’s one of the things that you’re going to hate about living in the suburbs. Unless, of course, you’re a celebrity, where you can relax in your suburban anonymity behind the blacked-out windows of your SUV and return a stupid sweater without some jackass writing all about it…..


Reasons You’ll Hate Living in the Suburbs: Losing Your Urban Identity

Everyone who moves from the city to the suburbs makes the same promise to themselves: I won’t become a suburban person, I’ll keep my urban sensibility, I’ll come into the city all the time.


Take, for example, this jackass writing about his decision to move from the city to the suburbs:

So I’ve convinced myself that I’m not leaving.  No, not me!  I’m just moving to a new section of Manhattan, a hot new neighborhood like Dumbo and Nolita and all those other acronymic (is that a word?) Manhattan neighborhoods that magazine writers or real estate brokers are always discovering.

I’m just moving to “Suma,” the “SUburbs of MAnhattan.”  Just like “Tribeca” is the “TRIangle BElow CAnal” or “Nolita” is “NOrth of LIttle ITaly.”   Just another neighborhod of Manhattan!  Really!

Suma is not a neighborhood per se, of course, but it’s a state of mind, the state of mind that I might be moving to the suburbs, but I’m going to retain my Manhattan sensibilities, pretentious though they may be.

I’m not going to give in.

I’m not going to get a cookie-cutter house.

I’m not going to become the organization man.

I’m not going to eat every meal at a franchise restaurant.

I’m not going to stay in on weekends.

I’m going to find my Suma.

That was three years ago, when I first contemplated my move to the suburbs.  And, of course, I’ve totally sold out.

Going into Manhattan.  I promised myself that I’d come into Manhattan often, at least once a month.  I’ve probably been to the city three or four times a year, at best.  Why?  It’s tough to explain.  We want to go into the city, check out a new restaurant, go see a show, hit a few lounges, but then the simple mechanics get in the way — the 45 minute drive, the potential traffic, finding parking, worrying about drinking when I need to drive us home. We think about it, and then it just seems so much easier to drive ten minutes to the mall to watch Liam Nisson growl and kill bad people. What amazes me is that I did that same drive every day for about eight years, when I was living in the city but working in the suburbs, but somehow what was once my daily commute now seems like an endless death march when I contemplate schlepping in for a night on the town.

Staying a city person. I promised myself that I wouldn’t become a suburbanite, that I’d stay a “city person.”  But strange things are happening.  The last few times I went to the city, I got disoriented by the little things. I walk uptown when I’m going downtown. I forget the order of the avenues — “is Park before or after Madison?”.  I forget which way the one way streets go.  Even worse, the last time I was in the city, I was walking to get a cup of coffee and I kept getting passed by people.  I became one of those people who clog up the sidewalks, walking too slowly for the rush of pedestrians trying to get where they’re going.  That was humiliating.

Keeping my “sophisticated urban sensibility.” This may be the worst realization of all.  You’d think that in the information age, you’d be able to stay in touch with what’s happening in the city. I read the Times every day. I surf the city lifestyle blogs.  But it’s not enough.  You just can’t stay in touch when you’re not actually there.  Reading about it isn’t the same.  In just three years, the city has changed.  Food trucks?  Really?  And what’s with these Vietnamese sandwiches everyone was talking about last year.  Are they still hot, or did I totally miss it?  Honestly, I have NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON ANYMORE!

Now, of course it’s easy to simply blame this on the suburbs.  Certainly, I like having something to blame besides the fact that I’m simply getting old and unhip.  Indeed, one could argue that it’s almost a little undignified for someone of my advancing years to bemoan the loss of an urban sensibility, when really I’m just getting cranky that I’m not 35 anymore.  Even if I was living in the city, it’s arguable whether I’d be any more tuned in than I am now, particularly since I’m now a father.  But it still hurts.

And here’s the worst part.  Slowly but surely, I’m starting to feel myself becoming a suburbanite.  I’m fighting it, but it’s insidiously working my way into my psyche.  I drive my new crossover into the city, and feel that twinge of superiority when I pick up my city friends who don’t own a car.  On those rare occasions when urbanites visit us in the suburbs, I silently bask in the sense of awe they have when they see my closet.  SO BIG!

It scares me how easily I’m being seduced by big closets and affordable restaurants and my guest bedrooms, how I find myself going weeks without even thinking about taking a trip into the city.  I’m getting — I can’t believe I’m saying this — used to it.

So that’s another one of the reasons that you’ll hate living in the suburbs.  No matter how much you might want it right now, and regardless of how many promises you’ll make to yourself, you’re going to find yourself going over to the bland side.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you….


Reasons You’ll Hate Living in the Suburbs: Property Taxes

No one who’s trying to get you to move to the suburbs tells you about the property taxes.  Oh, it’s so great living out here in the suburbs!  Look at the trees!  Look at my big house! Look at my closet!  Look at how my kid isn’t sleeping in that closet!  ALL THIS SPACE!

And all that’s true.  Pound for pound, living in the suburbs is a lot cheaper than living in the city.  Food is cheaper.  Clothes are cheaper. The dry cleaning is cheaper.  In particular, the housing is cheaper – generally running about $300-$400 a square foot, when pricing in the city is more like $1,200 a square foot.  So from a raw pricing perspective, housing in the suburbs is way cheaper than the city.

Except for the property taxes.  Property taxes in the suburbs are MURDER.  And the problem is that you don’t really pay attention to that when you’re looking for a new home in the suburbs. You’re looking at houses online, and all you see are these high-res pictures of giant houses with big lawns and actual foyeurs and humongous kitchens and OMIGOD LOOK AT THAT WALK IN CLOSET!  And then you realize that for the same price as your tiny 1,000 square foot two bedroom in the city, you could get a 4,000 square foot colonial in some tony Westchester suburb.  You figure out the down payment, you figure out your monthly mortgage payment, and you’re ready to go make an offer.

Not so fast.  Check out the taxes.  They’re on that listing somewhere, not all that prominent, buried deep in the fine print, and sometimes the real estate agent doesn’t even list them.  So keep looking…..looking……and….


It’s right.  Lucky you, if you’re looking to move to the New York City suburbs, you’re going to be paying the highest property taxes anywhere in the country.  Indeed, the local suburbs make up like three of the top ten highest-taxed counties in the nation.

Here’s the weird thing about property taxes in the suburbs. It’s not that they’re so high, it’s that property taxes in the city are ridiculously cheap.  I don’t actually know why, but it’s probably based on the density – there are so many people living vertically on every square plot of Manhattan soil that the property taxes don’t need to be high in order to fund what is, after all, a pretty expensive local government.

Put it this way – I used to live in a two-bedroom brownstone apartment on the upper west side, in a building that had four total apartments totaling probably about 6,000 total square feet of living space. All four apartments together are probably worth about $7 million today.  And the taxes on the building?  About $30,000.  Now, I live in a condo, about 4,500 square feet, worth probably about $1 million in today’s market, and I’m paying that same $30,000 in taxes.  It’s crazy.

In fact, I’d argue that housing prices in Manhattan are so ridiculously high precisely because the taxes are so low.  Think of it this way.  At today’s rates, you can borrow $100,000 for about $400 per month, or $4,800 per year.  If we round that up to $5,000, you can figure that for every $5,000 in taxes, you lose about $100,000 in property value.  So if you have a Manhattan apartment that costs $1.5 million, and has $25,000 in yearly property taxes, and on the other side you have a Westchester home that costs $1,000,000, but has $50,000 in property taxes, the yearly cost of owning those homes is roughly comparable.

That said, before you decide that your kid is fine sleeping in a doggie bed in your hall closet, let’s remember a few things.

First, even with the property taxes, you still get a lot more space for the money.  That apartment in the city costing $1.5 million?  It’s got about 1,200 square feet.  The house in the suburbs? More like 3,000 square feet. So you’re getting about three times the living space for the price.

Second, property taxes are deductible, so about a third of those taxes are coming back to you in tax savings.  That evens the playing field a little.

Third, you have to THINK OF THE CHILDREN!  Don’t forget that one of the reasons you’re probably moving to the suburbs is that you have kids, and you want them to go to good schools, and those good schools, with all the fancy computers and well-paid teachers and massive educational bureaucracy – all that costs money.  So maybe if you have school-age kids you can take comfort in knowing that your property taxes are going toward their fancy Ivy-League baiting education.

That said, when you’re like me, and you don’t have kids in school yet, it does make you wonder.  Like, can’t those little snots can get by with whatever text books they’ve been using all those year?   I mean, seriously, have there been so many advances in the arts and sciences that ten- or twenty-year old textbooks aren’t good enough for these kids?  What, has Nathanial Hawthorne come out with some new books recently?

Take history, for example.  History hasn’t changed much, and you never get to modern history anyway.  Ten year old history books are just fine.  When I was a kid, we’d start American History every year with about a month on the explorers – “Ponce de Leon was looking for the fountain of youth” is among the useless facts that I can never forget.  Then we’d idle along so that we’d get to the colonial era around November, so we could have a reenactment of the First Thanksgiving and wear funny hats. But if you spend three months on the explorers and Pilgrims, you end up compacting about 300 years of history into five months – by the end of the year, we’d be lucky to get to World War I, much less the modern era. To this day, I feel much more comfortable with my knowledge about Pocahontas then I do about Harry Truman.  So I don’t see why these kids need new history books so long as the books they have get them through, say, the Korean War.

Of course, when my kids are old enough to go to school, it’s entirely possible I might be singing a different tune.  WE NEED NEW MACS!  That does sound like me.

Until that point, though, I’m going to continue hating that tax bill I get every year.

And so will you.