MONROE, CT — Monroe has high performing schools, a greenway and Wolfe Park with its lakefront beach, pool, ballfields and a new playground. These are among the amenities homebuyers are looking for in this town of nearly 20,000 residents.
The Sun asked three local Realtors what buyers are looking for, what Monroe has to offer and where the town falls short.
“One of the things Monroe does best is often not seen, and that’s coming together as a community to support each other, to support our students and to cheer on new ideas, like when the Monroe Farmers’ Market was new for example,” said Julie Avellino, a broker and Realtor with Coldwell Banker. “It really has a sense of neighborhood. Regardless of where you are in town, everyone does connect.”
Shannon Reilly, a Realtor with Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate: Gaetano Marra Homes, who grew up in town, also mentioned townspeople’s strong sense of community with a high turnout for annual events like the Monroe Farmers’ Market, Monroe Congregational Church’s Strawberry Festival and Sprint for Monroe, which supports charities like the Monroe Food Pantry and Project Warmth.
The level of volunteerism for Masuk High School’s Post Prom Party shows the support parents have for the town’s youth, she added.
“It’s still a small town with a really strong spirit of community,” Reilly said.
“Monroe has a good reputation for being an open minded, friendly community,” said Danielle Rownin, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty Partners.
Both Avellino and Reilly said homebuyers get more house for their money in Monroe than in lower Fairfield County, and Avellino said they also get more land. Rownin’s comments focused on the condition of people’s homes.
“Buyers coming into Monroe are typically coming into Monroe for the school system, bye-and-large that seems to be on the top of the list,” Rownin said. “With that, most buyers generally want a house with little to no updating.”
Rownin said there are two extremes, people who want to do a complete renovation and ones who don’t want to do anything, adding it is hard to find people in the middle who are willing to make some updates to make a house the way they like it.
“Many buyers do not have vision,” she said. “Many cannot visualize a space without all of the distractions of others’ paint colors and decor.”
Even though some realize changes can be made, she said people are often too busy or feel they do not have the time. “So they get tunnel vision and don’t see beyond the space, the colors the decor, which is a challenge for Realtors because sometimes a sale comes down to the cosmetics,” she said.
“People have settled for less than what wanted in the past two years when the market was at its peak,” she said, adding that now that it has slowed a little, the majority of buyers are willing to pay a premium for exactly what they want, while others expect to pay a lower price if they have to make it what they want.
Rownin said “by-and-large” Monroe is considered an affluent community and the majority of people keep up with maintenance and updates to their homes, so when it is time to sell most are “showroom ready.”
Rownin said more people are working from home because of the pandemic, so the commute is not as important. She believes it is a factor to the recent surge Monroe has had of new people moving here.
Because more people are working from home, Avellino said many are looking for different work environments that are close to home such as coffee shops, libraries and co-working spaces.
“We’re hearing a lot of people are looking for a sense of community, not only in their activities day-to-day with their children,” Avellino said.
She said people want gathering places where they can see their neighbors during daily activities without an extra fee.
“Also just having pedestrian community areas, where there are sidewalks and outdoor shopping,” Avellino said. “The farmers market is a wonderful example of a pedestrian experience that brings people together.”
“Monroe could use a community center,” Reilly said, adding that town officials are considering the former St. Jude School.
“What I think Monroe can do better is create outdoor pedestrian experiences similar to Quarry Walk in Oxford, where people can enjoy a cup of coffee, meet a new neighbor and socialize without having to schedule it,” she added.
Reilly, who serves as vice chair of the Board of Education, said Monroe has schools comparable to lower Fairfield County. “That’s a big draw for the town of Monroe,” she said.
“Monroe is community focused on all ages,” Reilly added. “The Senior Center is really active and well run. It’s very lively with a lot of resources there for seniors too. It offers a lot of fun activities.”
Wolfe Park has Character Nights for younger children and summer concerts for adults, Reilly said.
“We have the brand new playground and different activities for kids,” she said. “Wolfe Park is one of the nicest parks in the state. I think it has more acreage than many town parks. People love it. It’s a draw.”
Monroe has the Housatonic Rail Trail for hiking and biking, and the pool and beach for passive recreation and relaxation.
Avellino said she would like to see more offerings in the arts, such as live music and experiential art, “whether it’s theater or being able to enjoy a large outdoor sculpture.”
“Art and culture is important and many towns are embracing their residents’ desire for more immersive art in their community and I wish Monroe would add more as well,” she said.
Avellino said this is particularly important for retirees.
“We’re seeing many retirees looking for culture, food experiences, live music and easy access to transportation like trains and airports,” she said. “The retirees of today are young minded. They are agile and fit and they’re looking for activities that are mind, body and soul — the whole experience. They’re not the retirees of 30 years ago.”
“Food and foodie experiences bring people in for sure,” she said. “It’s not just fine dining, it’s good dining. It’s different types of experiences. A good wine list will bring people.”
Avellino said those experiences also bring in people from other communities, so they can see what Monroe has to offer.
“Another thing I hear a lot of requests for is a dog park,” she said. “Dogs, and pets in general, in the last decade have really elevated to family status, whether it’s a couple or person who hasn’t had their own children yet, an empty nester or someone who doesn’t want to have children, their pet is on a pedestal and they want to enjoy them.”
Avellino noted that the Monroe Farmers’ Market is a dog friendly venue.
Reeling in a big fish
“What Monroe can do better, and it’s no easy task, is getting the commercial retail sector up and running,” Rownin said. “We need more diverse businesses. Once that happens, I think our town will flourish even more so, because we will be able to offer more than nail salons, pizza places, gas stations and liquor stores.”
She said those are most of the businesses applying to come in, so the town will not turn them away. “Monroe is working diligently, pushing for more businesses. I applaud the effort,” Rownin said.
“I think it’s almost a running joke on Facebook that people want a Trader Joes,” Reilly said.
Rownin said the town does not have the volume of drive-by-traffic for bigger retailers to call Monroe home. But she said she believes once the town snags one, others will follow.
“That’s why Walmart was so important,” she said. “Personal feelings aside, it would have attracted other large retailers.”
“Once they get their first big fish, the others will follow,” Rownin said. “Everybody’s afraid to be the first fish. When Monroe is appealing to more diverse businesses, it will secure its place on the map.”
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