Alison Bernstein’s prolonged property search in preparation for her family’s 2006 move from Manhattan to the suburbs not only led to settling into a home in Armonk, but planted the seed of an idea that later launched her specialized realty firm, Suburban Jungle Realty Group. Based in Manhattan, with a satellite office in Greenwich, Connecticut, the firm focuses solely on being a real estate matchmaker—helping young families make a smooth transition from the jungle of the City to the suburban jungle, one client at a time.
How did your personal experience lead you to focus on this targeted niche? I found my own house-hunting to be a very tough experience. Each town had its own personality, but it was nearly impossible to determine the pros and cons of each one. For example, a listing agent in Chappaqua, naturally, would say Chappaqua is the best town, but there was no one actually helping to compare towns and lifestyles.
How do you differ from a traditional real estate firm? We take a town-first approach. I’d rather see a family happy in a small house in a town they love than in a perfect house in the wrong town. It’s always easier to upgrade your house than upgrade a town.
What can clients expect? You begin by completing an online questionnaire to provide us with detailed insight into your personality, so we can provide services that work for your family. Next, we have a meeting, conference call, or video chat where the family brainstorms with one of our strategists. Then we take all the information we’ve gathered and meet internally as a team to create a search strategy focused on two or three areas that your family can compare, contrast, and explore. All of our services are free of charge.
What does exploring the towns involve? Beyond the house tour, it’s important to spend time in the town you’re considering. Grab some coffee. Go to the park, nursery school, a town parade, the beach, or an art show. Check out a kids’ craft activity. Each family works with a personal strategist to make sure they’re asking all the right questions and getting the right town exposure. Your idea of a sleepy town might be very different from mine. Once you start honing in on a particular town, you then work with our town consultants, who also have experienced relocating from the City, and can talk about the good and not-so-good aspects of each town you’re considering.
What makes a Westchester town appealing to a family coming from New York City? City buyers love a downtown—it’s hard for them to grasp a town not having a center. They’re also focused on the commute and towns with train stations, as well as the school-system ranking. We try to determine their definition of a good school—some like small and homogenous, others like big and diverse.
What made Armonk the right fit for your family? I just like a small town where everyone knows you. The coffee shop knows how you take your coffee, the pizzeria knows your kids’ names, and you’re a regular at the bagel place. We live right on the Greenwich border, so we have the best of both worlds.
Do you plan to expand your business? Yes. Next we plan to launch Urban Jungle Realty that targets suburban empty-nesters who want to downsize and move to the City. We’ve found that empty-nesters are still young, vibrant, and have the energy and resources to move to the city or the Hamptons. That’s also where their kids want to be on trips back home.
Alison Bernstein, (646) 666-8866, Suburban Jungle Realty Group, suburbanjunglerealty.com