Attracting New Residents to Westchester – We need to be more dog-friendly…

The Broadlawn - White Plains NY Cooperative
Christmas Lights in Westchester NY – The Broadlawn of Downtown White Plains
December 14, 2012
White Plains NY, Downtown White Plains, Westchester NY
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December 23, 2012

The battle for hearts & minds:

This is going to be a short series on ways we can win over the hearts and minds of potential new residents for lower Westchester.   Westchester’s population has seen a slow but steady decline and we definitely need to step it up with respect to encouraging the new generation of homebuyers – Gen Y.   This generation has a different set of expectations and needs and Westchester is not meeting them well enough.  Most in this generation and indeed in the latter Gen X generation are not as enamored with Westchester as the early Xer’s and the late boomers.  There are plenty of reasons for this and if we don’t work to rectify the situation, there are broad implications for home values and businesses alike.  Everyone should have a vested interest in making our county more user-friendly to the next generation.

The New York City thing:

Younger New Yorkers are staying in New York City or Brooklyn as long as they possibly can!  Previous generations sought out Westchester and saw it as a destination for residence.  The younger generation drags its feet about “going suburban” as long as it possibly can.  They prefer the beat of the streets in the city and all of the cultural variety and entertainment it has to offer.  Many are so determined to remain in the city that they struggle with 2 room mates in a space built for less than one person rather than make that northward move that would give them a less expensive lifestyle with about four times the space.  Westchester is not the moon, but many young people feel as though it is.  We have the advantage over other commuter locations with respect to an easy commute, but the resistance to making that final move is enormous.  It only comes when it can be avoided no longer.  When a family grows to the size where the affordable square footage in Brooklyn or NYC is no longer doable no matter what.

We need to change that – and we should take our cues from the place GenY really wants to be – NYC.


Dogs in NYCGet pet-friendly – NOW!!!!

For various reasons, I have had the opportunity to spend more time in Manhattan than I have in quite a few years.  Its crazy, because Manhattan is so close, and I worked there for a long time, but since I’ve been working in real estate, I have tended to stick closer to my home turf.  Being  back in NYC more often opened my eyes to some issues that we are having here in Westchester NY attracting people who want to settle here.

As a dog lover and a dog owner,  one thing that really sticks out is how much more dog-friendly Manhattan is than Westchester.  I see dogs literally everywhere.   The other night I was walking down Broadway with my trusty canon dslr and saw two people at an ATM with three dogs between them!  The few times I have taken my dogs into the city, they are welcomed with open paws – er  – arms.   When I walk into my friend’s coop building the doorman doesn’t tell me that I can’t come in – which is what happens 9 times in 10 in Westchester – instead, he asks me their names and bends down to get to know them.

Westchester has the distinction of being one of the most dog-unfriendly places you can imagine.  It was bad when I started as a real estate agent, but it is getting worse all the time.   Finding a coop or condo for someone who has a dog – ANY kind of dog – is often a herculean task.  Its so difficult, many agents gently suggest that the pet-owner find another home for their beloved family member when they need to downsize.

On the famous Garth Road in Scarsdale, there is NOT ONE dog-friendly cooperative.  Not one.  There was one, but it banned dogs about 2 years ago.  A board member sent me a proud email announcing that fact.  I was less than charitable in my response.  Banning dogs in an area where pet-friendly buildings are as rare as hens teeth is  a stupid idea, particularly in the worst housing recession since the Great Depression.  Giving people yet another reason NOT to buy your inventory is – being blunt – DUMB.   The no-dog policy kept a great deal of inventory on the market. If you don’t believe me, look at the stats.  Sales were slow everywhere, but the buildings that actually allowed dogs fared a good deal better.

The pet friendly issue goes beyond recalcitrant  condo and coop boards:

There are a lot of parks in Westchester – but very few of them are pet-friendly.  Most have prominent signs saying “NO DOGS ALLOWED!”  Yes, there are a few dog parks, but some are very tiny and crowded and in areas like White Plains, finding a nice place to walk your dog where he can have grass under his paws on a hot day is a rare thing indeed.  Downtown White Plains is notorious for this and its gotten to the point of being ludicrous.  Yes, some people won’t clean up.  You know what you do?  Provide bags in dispensers and have a few trash pails around so that it is reasonably easy to comply. Then have very high fines for violations. Its a small price to pay for enticing more people to move into the area.  Banning dogs discourages pet owners from moving in.  Those are new homeowners that choosing someplace else to live with their beloved pet.

Other issues include the need for more dog-friendly services such as doggie day care.  As more and more people are being pushed away from single family homes, and into condos, the need for such things as doggie day-care increases.  Having such facilities helps with issues such as barking while the owner is away at work. A well exercised pet in doggie daycare for 1-2 days a week is a quieter dog in the condo complex the other 3 days his master is away.   There are several such complexes, but they are rather sparsely scattered.  The demand is there, I can only assume that the zoning may be part of the problem for start-ups.

Who are we losing as residents with pet-unfriendly policies?

We are losing a vital component – the first-time condo/coop buyer in Westchester.  Young people today are delaying having children and many  fill that void with a dog!   This is vey common in NYC where dogs are welcome and where ancillary services for dogs are welcome,  well -established and convenient.  I have had several potential NYC relocations from the GenY age group opt out of Westchester because of the hassel that complexes and municipalities create for dog-owners.  They either stayed in the city or moved to NJ or CT…all of which are more accommodating to dog owners.   These are people who HAVE MONEY and are putting down roots for future purchases!  We are simply tossing them aside because they want to keep their pets!  How stupid is that?

We are also losing the downsizer.  There have been several coops that I had on the market during the height of the housing recession that would have sold tout suite to downsizers who  were local and recognized what good value the housing recession was creating.  These were long-time Westchester residents.  Empty nesters with only one thing left in their nests – the family dog!   One coop I had on the market for nearly a year.  It had everything a downsizer needed. Fabulous location, terrific amenities.   Quite a few downsizers were seriously interested – but they all had dogs!  So now we are tossing aside downsizers – who are also people with MONEY.

To be brutally  honest with everyone, as a dog owner – if I could ever afford the city, I would pick NYC over Westchester when it was time to downsize from my home.  Why?   My pets would be welcome.  That is even in the face of the fact that I really prefer the more open space of Westchester over the city and have lived in Westchester all my life…But at least my pets would be more welcome in a condo/coop  and public parks than a case of bubonic plague.

© 2012 – Ruthmarie G. Hicks – – All rights reserved.




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