Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J.: A tight-knit but welcoming community

Since then, Zawacki has taken off every Halloween from work to get ready for the big day.

Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J.: A tight-knit but welcoming community

Since then, Zawacki has taken off every Halloween from work to get ready for the big day.

“As soon as school gets out, everyone starts showing up — kids, their parents, people pulling wagons — and we are at the epicenter,” said Zawacki, 37, a sales vice president at Crackle Plus.

The Zawackis moved to the Bergen County borough of Ho-Ho-Kus in April 2016, after the birth of their son, when they realized they needed more space than their two-bedroom apartment in Hoboken provided. They bought their 1942 center-hall colonial for $750,000, and are now embarking on an extensive renovation following the recent birth of a daughter.

Zawacki was initially reluctant to give up her urban lifestyle in Hoboken, but said that Ho-Ho-Kus, about 20 miles north, immediately felt like home: “I loved the idea that the town was so small. I grew up on a farm in Iowa, where everyone knew everyone, and that’s how it is here.”

Eric Altamore was also drawn to Ho-Ho-Kus’ small-town atmosphere — as of the 2010 census, the population was just more than 4,000 — and to its natural beauty. The borough offered a stark contrast to his many years of renting on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

In 2014, he and his partner, Thomas Treadway, paid $549,000 for a four-bedroom 1960s split-level with an in-ground pool. They have since renovated the house into what Altamore, 46, called his “midcentury-modern dream.”

“It’s not pretentious, but it has everything you need. And what they didn’t have, we opened,” said Altamore, who started two businesses in Ho-Ho-Kus soon after moving there: a men’s salon and a vegan cafe. (He sold the cafe last year.)

Although welcoming to newcomers, Ho-Ho-Kus’ community is tight-knit, and many of its residents have spent their entire lives in the borough — growing up, marrying, raising children and watching them leave the house, only to see them return to raise their own families there.

Keith Rosazza was born and grew up in Ho-Ho-Kus and has served in the volunteer fire department for 23 years, alongside his father, George, who has been on the squad for 40 years. In 2011, Rosazza and his wife, Aja, bought their first home, in nearby Midland Park, New Jersey, but he continued to respond to fire emergencies in Ho-Ho-Kus. Three years ago, the couple moved back to Ho-Ho-Kus with their two children, buying a 1923 Tudor with three bedrooms for $775,000.

“Our whole life was centered around this town,” said Rosazza, 40, a real estate agent with Keller Williams who was named Ho-Ho-Kus’ fire chief last year. “My wife teaches at the school. My kids went to the Co-op Nursery, and we always wanted to get back to it. We were so happy to finally be able to call it home.”

What You’ll Find

Tucked between the larger Bergen County borough of Saddle River to the north and the village of Ridgewood to the south, the mostly residential Ho-Ho-Kus has a wide array of attractive houses and a picturesque downtown.

The 1.74-square-mile borough is bisected by Route 17, creating two distinct suburban settings.

On the west side of Route 17 are the borough’s public school, a commercial center and a train station. While the houses and lots tend to be smaller, the area is appealing to commuters and families with young children, who walk to school, as there is no school bus service.

On the east side of Route 17 are many of the borough’s largest homes, often on lushly landscaped lots of an acre or more, some of them abutting Saddle River or Brewster Pond. This side appeals more to second-home buyers and empty-nesters.

Downtown, pretty shops and restaurants line Sheridan Street and Franklin Turnpike (although there is no commercial activity along Route 17 in Ho-Ho-Kus, as there is in neighboring towns).

“Really, there’s not a bad neighborhood anywhere here,” said Caren White, an agent with Special Properties Real Estate Services who has lived in Ho-Ho-Kus for 40 years. Some areas, she noted, are more popular than others.

The Cheelcroft development, for instance — several dozen brick-and-stucco Tudors and colonials built on the west side in the 1930s by Harold W. Cheel — offers what she described as “the Cheel mystique.”

“You won’t find two houses that look alike,” White said. “They have smaller kitchens and bathrooms, but they command higher prices.”

What You’ll Pay

The point of entry in Ho-Ho-Kus is about $500,000, White said, which helps explain why young people often move away until they can afford to move back.

Of the 37 homes for sale in Ho-Ho-Kus in late June, the priciest was a 1910 Georgian-style house with six bedrooms and 5 1/2 bathrooms, on 4.4 acres with an in-ground pool, listed for $3.45 million; the least expensive was a three-bedroom, 2 1/2 bathroom split-level, built in 1956 on 0.29 acres, listed for $490,000. There was also one four-bedroom, four-bathroom town house for sale in the small Normandy Court condominium development, listed for $999,950.

The median price of the 18 houses sold between January and May of this year was $751,800, compared with a median price of $877,400 for the 15 homes sold during the same period in 2018, according to the New Jersey Multiple Listing Service.

Although typically larger, properties on the east side tend to offer better value, said Christine Doherty, another agent with Special Properties. Last year, with their children nearly grown, Doherty and her husband, Paul, sold their 3,000-square-foot colonial near the school for $1.4 million and bought a 5,000-square-foot ranch house with a pool on an acre next to Brewster Pond for $1.315 million.

“We saw it as an opportunistic time to move,” she said. “None of the big houses on the east were selling, while people were overpaying per square foot on the town side.”

The Vibe

Community events drive the social life of Ho-Ho-Kus, many of them organized by the Contemporary Club, an 80-year-old women’s group that serves as a Welcome Wagon to help newcomers meet residents. The group also holds Easter egg hunts, hospital fundraisers, progressive dinners, a 5K race and a Halloween parade.

For the past eight years, hundreds of ticket holders have strolled the downtown streets during the Taste of Ho-Ho-Kus event in early June, sampling the wares of borough restaurants like the 18th-century Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern, Cafe Amici and the Sicilian Sun. But much of the activity takes place in residential neighborhoods.

“It’s a town that pushes their kids to go outside,” said Alison White, who moved to Ho-Ho-Kus 11 years ago with her husband, Adam, Caren White’s son. “Everyone’s door is open, and someone’s always looking out for you.”

The Schools

Students in prekindergarten through eighth grade attend the Ho-Ho-Kus Public School, a 1936 brick-faced structure that feels more like a private school, with wood floors and a fireplace in the kindergarten, and Chromebook laptops for all 604 students. Many preschoolers go to the Ho-Ho-Kus Waldwick Cooperative Nursery School.

High school students attend Northern Highland Regional High School in Allendale, with 1,359 students. Average SAT scores for 2017-18 were 625 in English and 643 in math, compared with state averages of 542 and 543. The high school has 22 Advanced Placement courses and 60 clubs, as well as an award-winning newspaper and literary magazine.

Private high school options include Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington for girls and Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell or Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey for boys.

The Commute

Depending on the destination, commuters to New York City switch trains in Hoboken to continue to Wall Street, or in Secaucus to go to Penn Station. Both routes take about an hour.

The combined fare for the New Jersey Transit and PATH trains through Hoboken is $12.50 for a single ride, or $359 for a monthly pass; traveling through Secaucus costs $10.75 one way, or $310 monthly.

Short Line offers bus service to New York City from Route 17 in Ho-Ho-Kus; the trip takes about 35 to 40 minutes and costs $10.50 one way, or $255.90 for a 40-trip pass.

The History

The Hermitage estate, a 14-room house museum, has a history that dates to the Revolutionary War, when it welcomed such guests as George Washington, James Monroe, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. During one visit, Burr fell in love with his hostess, Theodosia Prevost. After the war, he married her there and they lived in a house on the property for a short time. The house was remodeled in the 1840s and is now a National Historic Landmark.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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