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My wife needs hot yoga and a Starbucks. I can’t live without golf and a well-stocked library nearby. We both want room for a garden and a short train ride into Manhattan—just some of the reasons we live where we do in Westchester. You and your significant other, though, may need a high-profile school for your college-bound teens or yearn for a home where you can step out your back door and onto a hiking trail. Can’t go without scenic views or kumquat martinis? French cuisine or Japanese gardens? There is a place for you in Westchester.

We searched the county’s six cities, 23 villages, 197 hamlets, and untold hundreds of neighborhoods to find places to fit just about anybody’s lifestyle. We also used website houlihanlawrence.com to check recent median sales prices for single-family homes to give us some value ranges. Then, after talking to dozens of realtors, combing through a mound of census data and real estate listings, and driving for miles and miles around the county to check out the sites, we came up with a dozen great places to live.

Best for Family City Living

New Rochelle
Median Home Price – $645,000

How can you argue with Business Week? The publication named New Rochelle one of the best places in America to raise a family last year. Having raised my own two kids there, I have to agree.

Here’s a hint as to how family-centric the city is: New Rochelle has not just a children’s room at the library but an entire building, the Hugenot Children’s Library on North Ave, devoted to books and activities for young readers. Business Week used school performance, affordability, and safety to make its selections from towns with populations over 50,000 and incomes between $40,000 and $100,000. But it also gave weight to cost of living, air quality, job growth, racial diversity, and amenities like local parks, ball fields, and recreation centers, all of which you’ll find in New Rochelle.

The multitude of ethnic backgrounds in the community is a big plus. New Rochelle realtor Tom Ralph, of Thomas J. Ralph Real Estate, recently sold a home to two doctors moving from San Francisco to Westchester. After looking at several places in the county, he says, “They chose New Rochelle because its diversity reminded them of the city they came from.”

The New Rochelle Public Library beckons book-loving families.

There is a little bit of everything in the rapidly transforming City by the Sound, much of it designed to appeal to parents with growing families as well as affluent two-income couples without kids. The downtown section has high-rise condos and apartments, offices, shopping centers, a medical center, and a state-of-the-train-station inter-modal transportation hub. Not far away are two college campuses (Iona College and the College of New Rochelle) and the high school-cum-lakefront park. Yacht and beach clubs dot the Sound Shore, while parks and nature centers thread their way through the residential neighborhoods in the north part of the city.

There are homes for pocketbooks large and small, too. Homes in Premium Point, a gated section of New Rochelle, go for anywhere from $2 million to $20 million. On the more moderate end of the scale is Bonnie Crest in the northern part of town. Ralph says it has two distinct neighborhoods: “The old section has turn-of-the-century center-hall Colonials and lots of Tudors built in the 1920s. New Bonnie Crest has split-levels and contemporaries built in the fifties and sixties. Pricewise, you can pick up a modest home in new Bonnie Crest for the low five-hundred-thousands.” In the older section, where homes are larger—three or four bedrooms up to 4000 square feet—prices, according to Ralph, range from $700,000 to $1 million or more.

Best for Commuters (West)

Ludlow Park, Yonkers
Median Home Price – $480,000

Commuting doesn’t have to mean an hour on the train stuck in a seat next to some cellphone addict jabbering about last night’s Jell-O shot drink-off to her hearing-impaired friend. For a shorter and, therefore, saner ride into the City, consider living in Ludlow Park in Yonkers, where you’ll not only find numerous options for your daily trip but some excellent home values as well.

“Ludlow Park is sort of like a mini Park Hill in that there are cute little three-bedroom Colonials as well as a handful of huge mansions,” says Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty associate broker Jane McAfee. “There are also a sprinkling of houses built in the fifties and sixties, when people sold off their lots. It has sort of a reputation of being arty. Many people move there because it’s close to the train; others because it’s near Riverdale.”

The ride to Grand Central from the Metro-North station in Ludlow can be as short as 27 minutes. You’re also a five-minute drive to the end of the subway line at 242nd Street, which is an excellent alternative for those who work anywhere on the West Side of Manhattan. If you absolutely have to drive into the City, it’s a quick hop on the Henry Hudson to the West Side Highway. Or, for a really cool commute complete with the best views around, the New York Water Taxi takes less than an hour to sail you from the Yonkers pier to Wall Street.

There’s a lot of home for your dollar to be had in Ludlow Park, too, mainly because of the neighborhood’s proximity to some of the old Yonkers industrial area on the river. Recent listings included a five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath single-family home for $465,000 and a two-bedroom co-op not far from the College of Mount St. Vincent for $150,000. Community tag sales and block parties organized by the Ludlow Park Residents Association give you a chance for some fun after those grueling hours in the City—and the commute is so short you’ll be home in plenty of time to enjoy them.

Best for Commuters (East)

Pelham
Median Home Price – $759,500

“Pelham is a unique, small gem of a place,” says realtor Scott Stiefvater, owner of Stiefvater Real Estate. “The commute is one of our village’s best attributes.” Grand Central is 29 minutes away, and the Pelham and Mount Vernon East stations are both options, putting most homes within easy reach of a station. Pelham isn’t an express stop, but there are only two regular stops, Mount Vernon and 125th Street, on the New Haven line before Grand Central. Parking can be problematic sometimes, with only 356 parking spaces at the train station for some 2,300 daily commuters, but walking to the train is a popular option.

Which is one big reason Pelham Heights is so popular now, according to Stiefvater. It’s in the very center of town near the railroad station, so the farthest walk to the station is probably 12 minutes. “You truly don’t need a car,” he says. “You can walk to the village, walk to the train, walk to the schools.” And for those who commute northward, you can take the train to Greenwich or Stamford, Connecticut, too.

“I love the commute,” says Pelham resident Tom O’Halloran. “It’s short, it’s easy, and it’s pretty reliable, too.” O’Halloran lives less than a half-mile from the station and walks there every day.

 

Lake Isle is Eastchester’s town-owned “country club.”

Best for Soccer Moms and Dads

Eastchester
Median Home Price – $669,500

I grew up in the Midwest, and Eastchester strikes me as a collection of neighborhoods dedicated to the raising of children, much like Iowa’s landscape is meant for raising corn. Places like Wilmot Manor, Leewood Park, Hickory Hills, Twin Lakes, and Bronxville Manor all have the small-town feel of a place where potluck dinners and trick-or-treating is the apex of evening entertainment while kids’ baseball, soccer, and basketball occupy the daylight hours. As Tri-Crest Realty broker Veronica Gargiulo says, “It’s a place where everybody knows your name.”

They probably know your kids’ names, too, if the school district’s record of having the county’s highest combined percentage of students scoring the maximum in state English and math achievement tests is any indication. There are two elementary schools in the Eastchester Union Free School District—Anne Hutchinson and the Waverly Early Childhood Center —plus the Eastchester Middle School, which is for grades six to eight.

The town of Eastchester has nine major parks and more mini-parks and open spaces than you can count. It seems like every corner you turn reveals a baseball diamond or soccer field, playground, or basketball or tennis court. Each summer, the town also operates three-day camps for kids age five through ninth grade. Eastchester families can also take advantage of Lake Isle Country Club, the town-owned golf, tennis, and swimming club that offers country-club amenities at “regular folks” prices—a comprehensive family membership is only $2,300 for the year.

 

Best for Chic Downsizers

Bronxville
Median Home Price – $1,801,000

For empty-nesters who want a Manhattan pied-à-terre but treasure the quiet ambience of Westchester, Bronxville offers the perfect solution. It’s minutes (31 to be exact) from Grand Central but also has a wealth of upscale shops and restaurants of its own.

“Bronxville is very walkable,” Leah Caro, owner of Bronxville Ley Real Estate, says. “You can easily walk to a friend’s house, the coffee shop, or the movie theater.” Not to mention Häagen-Dazs and Topps Bakery. The village is not only compact but charmingly well preserved. “The architecture here is very traditional with fine detailing,” Caro says. “Colonials, Tudors, Mediterraneans, Victorians for sure. There are not a lot of McMansions.”

Bronxville also contains many attached townhouses that eliminate all those pesky chores, like mowing the lawn and painting the shutters. Prices run from $800,000 to over $5 million. Caro points out that there are also 1,200 apartments in Bronxville ranging from $150,000 for a one-bedroom up to $2 million for a real luxury co-op home.

Best for Fine Arts Lovers

Purchase
Median Home Price – $1,400,000

Fine living and fine arts often go hand in hand, which is why so many people who love both live in—or aspire to live in—Purchase, one of Westchester’s wealthiest communities (average annual family income of $330,000) and perhaps the most conveniently located to our vibrant performing and fine arts scene. It’s a 35-minute drive to Lincoln Center, but you don’t have to go even that far to get a serious culture fix.

A home anywhere in Purchase is just minutes from the Performing Arts Center at SUNY, home to Itzhak Perlman and the Westchester Philharmonic, as well as dozens of music, dance, and dramatic presentations throughout the year. Also on the campus is the Neuberger Museum of Art, presenting 12 changing exhibitions annually as well as showing selections from its permanent collection. A sculpture fan? Just across the street is the Kendall Sculpture Garden at PepsiCo. Cinema your thing? Purchase is a 20-minute drive from both the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville and the Pelham Picture House.

The Kendall Sculpture Garden at PepsiCo is but one of many reasons art lovers love to live in Purchase.

Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty broker Charlene Tobin points out some other attractions in the hamlet: “The Purchase Community House provides a nursery school and one of the best day camps in Westchester. The town of Harrison recreation department has unbelievable programs that mix kids from throughout the community.”

She says single-family homes in Purchase start as low as $600,000 but go up to $20 million or more.

 

Irvington’s waterfront park gives its restaurant goers plenty of scenic space to walk off their meals.

Best for Foodies (West)

Irvington
Median Home Price – $790,000

Many of us enjoy a little walk after dinner to aid digestion and prolong the camaraderie. Residents of Irvington, the center of the five Rivertowns that stretch from Tarrytown to Hastings, have ample opportunities for both fine dining and fine strolling among some of the most magnificent scenery in Westchester. On the dining side, there is Red Hat on the River in Irvington, where the French-inspired menu competes for your attention with stunning views of the Palisades and the Hudson. Nearby Chutney Masala presents rather extraordinary Indian fusion. A favorite of Francophiles is Buffet de la Gare in nearby Hastings or, for the hearty cuisine of Portugal, head for Fernando Cabral’s Caravela in Tarrytown. Sophisticated residents are also attracted to daring new restaurants, like Dobbs Ferry’s urbane Italian gastropub, The Cookery, and local/organic Sweet Grass Grill and Comfort Lounge in Tarrytown and Hastings, respectively. 

You can take your post-prandial promenade in Irvington through scenic Hudson Park, Matthiessen Park, or one of the many other stops on the River Walk. Feel the need to burn off a few more calories? Realtor Therese Militana Valvano of Coldwell Banker points out the Old Croton Aqueduct trail runs through all five Rivertowns. “Much of it is shaded and unpaved,” she says, “so it’s a perfect place for running, walking, or riding your bike in the summer.”

Irvington has several unique areas where homes may be a little pricey, but the surroundings are priceless. One is near Matthiessen Park, where Tiffany & Co. founder Charles Lewis Tiffany once owned an estate. “There aren’t many homes there,” Valvano says, “but it’s very desirable. Most homes are on acre lots or larger, up to five or six acres, and both downtown and the train station are within easy walking distance.” A five-bedroom Colonial on an acre in Matthiessen Park recently listed for just under $2 million.

Best for Foodies (East)

Port Chester
Median Home Price – $470,000

If you’d rather put your money into a fine meal than into a mortgage banker’s pocket, Port Chester should resonate on your list of must-visit communities, since it scored more mentions in the Best of Westchester 2009 edition than any other place. The hottest restaurant ticket in the county is Port Chester’s Tarry Lodge, where star restaurateurs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich and their partners have set up shop, drawn by the wealthy diners in nearby Rye and Greenwich, Connecticut. Just a couple of blocks away is stalwart steak purveyor Willett House and down by the water is combo bait-shop-fishmarket-restaurant Ebb Tide, where the lobsters seem to jump off the boat and into the pot. And if you like a South-of-the-Border flavor, the choices in Port Chester seem endless, with everything from Tortilleria Los Gemelos to Copacabana Steakhouse, a Brazilian churrascaria, and dozens of small ethnic—Columbian, Peruvian, Mexican, etc.—places in between. The Kneaded Bread bakery is a must-stop, as is Q, the place for great barbecue.

Affordable homes in Port Chester are a pretty hot ticket, too, according to Houlihan Lawrence Vice President Kathleen Murray. “It’s a very good community, especially for first-time home buyers,” she says, noting that her agency is selling many homes in the $300,000 to $500,000 price range.  One of the more appealing areas is the Tower Hill neighborhood, which is roughly between King Street Elementary School and 20-acre Lyon Park, a popular picnic spot and location for open-air concerts on Friday nights during the summer months.  

Best for North County Empty Nesters

Heritage Hills, Somers
Median Home Price (Somers) – $600,000
Estimated Median Price (Heritage Hills) – $450,000

Active lifestyles aren’t exclusive to soccer moms and Little League dads. For ample evidence, check out Heritage Hills, the 2,600-unit condominium complex in Somers, where the median age is 52.4—13 years older than the rest of New York—but where most residents could use high-capacity Blackberries to keep track of the dozens if not hundreds of club meetings, social and cultural events, tennis, golf, and basketball games, swim meets, gym classes, and casino trips on their busy schedules. This is not an old folks’ home.

When it was started in the 1970s, Heritage Hills was age-restricted, aimed at a growing population of seniors who didn’t want to live in neighborhoods with kids. That changed, however, and now the community attracts young families and others eager to take advantage of the lawnmower- and snow-shovel-less condo lifestyle and price values, not to mention the five swimming pools, two golf courses, private library, art studios, and theater. There’s a new physical fitness center, too. Still, according to the last census, fewer than 20 percent of the households have kids.

Houlihan Lawrence licensed associate broker Gary Parker said recent listings showed 71 units for sale. Nine were one-bedrooms as low as $236,000, 48 had two bedrooms, and 14 were three-bedroom units, which run as high as $849,000 for a stand-alone condo.

While the town of Somers has a strong rural feel, services like healthcare are readily available. Four Winds Hospital is about six miles away in Katonah, Putnam Hospital is eight miles, and Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco is just ten miles away.

 

Teatown Lake Reservation is but one of several nearby outdoor options for nature lovers living in Croton-on-Hudson.

Best for Value Lovers

Croton-on-Hudson
Median Home Price – $520,000

Who doesn’t love a bargain? Especially when it’s a house, the largest single expenditure most of us make in our lifetime? The village of Croton-on-Hudson just north of Ossining not only has a plethora of affordable single-family homes, (remnants of the time when many of the village residents worked for the railroad) but some spectacular scenery to go along with them.

“We have the Hudson River on one side and the reservoir on the other,” says broker Cynthia Lippolis of River Towns Real Estate. “Then there is the River Walk, which is the most beautiful spot in Westchester.” A new three-quarter-mile section of the county’s River Walk, a pathway for non-motorized meandering along the Hudson River shoreline that will eventually reach from the Putnam County border to the Bronx, was recently added to the existing two miles in the village, most of which runs directly along the waterfront. The topography also includes the Croton River Gorge and a plateau on the northern boundary that reaches elevations up to 600 feet within a mile of the Hudson. A perennial summer highlight is the Great Hudson River Revival that takes place in Croton Point Park.

In addition to the ever-changing Hudson River, you’ll be near Van Cortlandt Manor and its fascinating gardens, Teatown Lake Reservation with its nature walks and programs, and the Croton Cortlandt Center for the Arts where you can indulge your passion for the visual arts.

Scenery’s great, you say, but it must cost an arm and a leg. Not so, Lippolis assures. “A number of homes have come on the market that would appeal to first-time buyers and others looking for value,” she says. “These include multi- and single-family homes, some of which just need a little sprucing up.” She mentioned a two-family home with Hudson River views in the village listed for $285,000 (it needs a little work).

Because valuations are low, taxes are low, too. By way of comparison, a recently listed 2000-square-foot home in Chappaqua carried a price tag of $989,000 and taxes of $22,613, whereas a comparably sized home in Croton was only $495,000, the taxes were $11,243—plus there was a pool and cabana!

Best for Hearty Partiers

White Plains
Median Home Price – $651,750

The itch to eat, drink, and be merry can be scratched in plenty of places in Westchester, but the cognoscenti of the good life congregate in White Plains, where both hot spots and living spaces for the night-owl lifestyle abound.

The Mamaroneck Avenue strip is the place to be during the wee hours. The Lazy Boy Saloon offers hundreds of beers from the tap, cask, or bottle, while the Lazy Lounge next door serves up live jazz and blues along with tiramisu martinis. A little farther down the street is the Black Bear Saloon. Just around the corner on East Post Road, you’ll find the Thirsty Turtle or, for something truly different, try Prophecy on South Broadway or book a rooftop party at Elements back on the strip.

You don’t have to drive home, either, with the many apartments and condos on the market in White Plains. Houlihan Lawrence associate broker Arline Lane reports there were close to 100 co-ops and condos for rent in White Plains recently. They run from a studio for $1,200 to a penthouse in the Ritz for $8,900. “Jefferson Place, a fairly new building, has two bedrooms with two baths and a parking space for twenty-five hundred dollars,” she says. All are within a 10-minute walk of both the train station and the nightlife.

The sleek new White Plains skyline has helped to redefine the city.

If you’d like to buy instead of rent, Lane says there are about 150 condos on the market. Prices in the Trump Tower, according to Lane, start in the high $600,000s, with “many others in less spectacular buildings” in the $300,000 to $350,000 range.

Best for Hikers, Bikers, and Birders

Cross River
Median Home Price – $730,000

If you’d just as soon be outdoors as indoors and like to have neighbors but don’t want to see them up close and personal all the time, Cross River is the community for you. The area along Routes 22 and 35 has about 500 single-family homes, a smattering of condos, and a business district you could miss if you blink while you’re driving through. You also might discover a ruffled grouse in your backyard some morning.

That’s because Cross River is home to Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, the largest park in the Westchester County Parks system, with 4,700 acres of woodlands, fields, and streams where you can watch the bluebirds and yellow-billed cuckoos during the summer and go cross-country skiing in the winter. In addition, there are 35 miles of hiking trails almost literally at your doorstep. “Ward Pound Ridge is probably the most bio-diverse area in Westchester County,” says Hudson River Audubon Society of Westchester President Michael Bochnik. “There is a phenomenal number of species of birds, butterflies,even dragonflies. Many of the bird species are ones you won’t find anywhere else in the county, including northern goshawks and scarlet tanagers.” Cross River is only 20 minutes from Acadia on Main in Mount Kisco, a great place for functional and eco-sensitive clothing, footwear, and outdoor gear.

According to realtor Sally Siano of Sally Siano & Associates Real Estate, the see-no-neighbor character of the area is the result of zoning and history. “Many of the homes were built on large estates that were divided up into four-acre or larger lots,” she explains. “They were originally hilltop homes with views of the Cross River Reservoir.” Recent listings in the community range from a two-bedroom Cape Cod on just under three acres for $450,000 to a four-bedroom, three-bath outdoor lover’s delight with front porch, pool, outdoor putting green, and a little more than an acre of deer-fenced property in a gated development for $1.1 million.

Illustrations by Michael Wandelmaier

Dave Donelson’s little bit of heaven is in West Harrison, where the foxes bark, the coyotes howl, and Starbucks is just five minutes away in White Plains.

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