Best Places for Starter Homes



Where to start your home ownership journey in Westchester County without paying an arm and a leg on your mortgage.

“Croton-on-Hudson is Westchester’s best-kept secret,” says Nancy Kennedy, an associate real estate broker at Houlihan Lawrence. “A lot of people don’t know about it, and it’s ideal for young families or couples starting off.”

For those who may not have a fortune to spend, Croton offers an array of affordable housing. There are townhouses on the river at Half Moon Bay, single-family homes in the village center, and houses slightly farther out with stunning river views—some for under $500,000. (The 2013 median home-sale price in Croton was $470,000.) Because it is located in the northern part of the county, “you get a lot of house for your money,” Kennedy says. You also get lower taxes.

While lower prices generally mean longer commutes into the City, the Croton-to-Manhattan commute is very manageable. In fact, the Croton-Harmon station is one of Westchester’s busiest, with both Amtrak and Metro-North using it heavily and running express trains that reach Grand Central in 50 minutes. The commute “is a draw,” says Nina Betancourt-Morgan, a Croton-based real estate professional with Sotheby’s International Realty. “The trains will skip over towns that are south of us.”

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The village sits on a natural landscape that exudes serenity, with panoramic water views in almost every direction thanks to its borders with the Hudson and Croton rivers. Residents surf, kayak, or paddle-board on the many shorelines and can join the Croton Sailing Club. And there are so many green spaces in the village, “it’s like living in a park,” says Kennedy. Popular spots for picnics, sports, and hiking include Senasqua Park and Croton Point Park. Croton is also home to the 300-year-old Van Cortlandt Manor estate, which hosts the popular Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze each October.

There are diverse dining options in Croton as well. ümami café, a family-friendly local hangout with a hip vibe, as well as French-Moroccan eatery Tagine Restaurant & Wine Bar, the well-reviewed seafooder Ocean House, Justin Thyme, and The Tavern at Croton Landing are a few local favorites. Boutiques such as Sunshine & Clover and Groovy on Grand dot the village center. And the town’s artsy vibe is a big draw for residents. Improv, acting, and digital filmmaking classes are offered at the Croton Academy of Arts and the town hosts one of the county’s largest annual events for the arts: Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival—the legacy of Pete Seeger, the festival celebrates folk art, music, and the environment.

Living In: Croton-on-Hudson Starter House

Four years ago, when their son was 15 months old, Tina Triburgo and her husband, Craig Balan, knew they wanted to move out of New York City. But they kept wondering, “Where do people like us go?”

Triburgo describes her family as “a little crunchy.” She runs the Ajna Center for Wellness & Community, and Balan is a musician who works in the independent-film industry. They visited numerous Westchester neighborhoods where they felt they couldn’t connect with the people, but got a different vibe in Croton-on-Hudson. “The village draws the type of people I feel in alignment with,” says Triburgo. “They seemed to be on the same page as us in terms of being a little more forward-thinking.”

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Her intuition proved correct: As soon as she moved to Croton, Triburgo began attending a book club and a breakfast group for parents who soon became her close friends and support system.

The family also was drawn to Croton because of the opportunities to be in nature. “We have the RiverWalk, and it’s so healing for me,” says Triburgo. “I love going down there with the kids.” The home lots in the village are not huge but offer enough room for jungle gyms and gardens. Some of their neighbors even keep chickens, Triburgo notes.

And even though the village is a haven, a place where the family can feel relaxed and safe, it is also close to New York City, where Balan still works, and where they like to take their now 5-and-a-half-year-old son and 9-month-old daughter. “It feels like you are in the country, but it’s so easy to get into the City,” she says. “Because it’s so far north, a lot of people don’t realize that.”

Other Starter-Home Hot Spots

New Rochelle boasts a quick commute to Manhattan and plenty of condos and co-ops.

Pleasantville is increasingly popular among young professionals, including many migrating from New York City. Why? Not only is it a friendly, picturesque town—with an “old village” dotted with lovely Colonials and Victorians—it also has a manageable commute (roughly 50 minutes to Grand Central), is centrally located (about halfway between Mount Kisco and White Plains) with easy access to roadways, and is largely a walkable community. In addition, there are cultural attractions such as the Jacob Burns Film Center, which shows the latest in independent films and holds special film series and events. The weekly farmers’ market is one of the best in the county, and “really like a community day event,” says Houlihan Lawrence’s Kennedy; locals and visitors alike come out in full force to enjoy the ambience and sample locally grown food. There are also excellent dining spots such as perennial favorites Iron Horse and A’Mangiare, French-inspired bakery Jean-Jacques’ Culinary Creations, new seafood eatery Bistro 146, and the Batonnage Wine Bar.

A varied housing stock and a just-over $500,000 median home-sale price make it a good fit for starter homes. “Pleasantville truly lives up to its name. This beautiful town continues to meet all of our expectations,” says Jennifer Napolitano, who moved with her husband and 21-month-old daughter from her parents’ two-family Yonkers digs into a fixer home in Pleasantville in January 2014. They chose the village for its great school system, low crime rate, and village activities.

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New Rochelle, just a 36-minute commute to Grand Central, pulls in the younger demo and first-time homebuyer crowd with plenty of affordable co-op and condo options. (The 2013 median home-sale price was $580,000.) The city boasts many amenities including a wealth of shopping, dining, and entertainment options, as well as easy access to major roadways. It is also home to residents of a broad spectrum of ethnicities and religions, says Jeremy Zucker, a Wall Street trader turned real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty. “There is a growing demand [for real estate in New Rochelle] because of its Jewish life,” he says. “I also just sold a home to a Pakistani Muslim who wanted to buy a house near a mosque.”

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