Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pictures of Sullivan County

Over the five years of selling real estate here in Sullivan, I have taken a bunch of photos. For whatever reason, I have saved all of them. Yesterday while transferring some old files, I came across a bunch of them, and in my--will do anything to waste time besides work--mode that I so easily seem to slip into, I wasted a half hour looking through them. Well to justify that half hour, I am going to use them as this weeks blog post. Actually some I think are pretty cool, and together they give a good snapshot of what our county has to offer.

This car is up above Roscoe on Old Route 17, along the Beaverkill. I always get a chuckle when I drive by it.

I took this from the Callicoon bridge just before the start of the annual Callicoon Canoe Regatta. The regatta was a tradition when I was growing up here, and I'm glad it is back.

My favorite driving range up in Fremont. Owned by a retired farmer, you hit the balls out into a hay field.

An old wooden bridge over North Branch Creek that leads to..

This boarding house on 50 acres. This was one of my all time favorite properties. I was bummed when I wasn't the one that sold it. The property also has a large old barn on it that was featured on History Channel's American Pickers. Very cool spot.

I took this while waiting for a client who owns 100 acres outside of Jeffersonville. This was beginning of Nov. last year when we got all the early snow. I didn't take the listing, but it is a nice piece of property. Land is a tough sell right now if you want top dollar.

I took this last spring while waiting for another client in Neversink. I ended up selling this property to him. Perhaps the fawn was my good luck charm.

View from the PA side of Kellams Bridge up above Hankins. My favorite stretch of the Delaware is from Long Eddy to Hankins. It takes about three hours in a tube, or an hour and a half in a canoe, and it has a great mix of rapids, and deep spots to hang out and swim.

I took this in Narrowsburg two years ago when a bald eagle decided to spend the summer in this big pine. I couldn't tell if there was a nest or not, but for that whole summer he just hung out in that tree.

View of Callicoon from another great house that I didn't sell.

We had 13 houses reported sold in the Sullivan County MLS. Click Here for listings

My pick of the week is a farmhouse in Smallwood listed for $299,000. It is a pre-civil war farmstead, with a huge (70 foot long) post and beam barn, and a separate carriage house, on 14 acres. For someone searching for an authentic old farmhouse, that has that "feel" this is Shangri-La. Yes it was built in 1850, so some of the floors slant, and the basement probably gets wet, and there is probably very little insulation in the walls, and all the other drawbacks that come with owing an old home, but it has that "feel" that is impossible to describe or duplicate. Homes like this one are rare, and for under 300K, ever rarer.  Smallwood Farmhouse

Friday, July 22, 2011

Zillow’s IPO and other Real Estate Sites

So’s initial public offering hit the Nasdaq on Wednesday (Z). The price was set at $20 a share and it closed at $39. A 79% percent jump.

I’m sure that anyone who has done any “real estate Googling” has come across Zillow. They are a company based in Seattle, founded in ’05 by some pretty bright minds that previously had a hand in Microsoft and Expedia. Basically they are a database that includes 100 million homes across the United States. And although current homes on the market are a big part of their search results, in addition they give value estimates of homes, by offering several features including value changes of each home in a given time frame (Zesitmates), aerial views of homes, and prices of comparable homes in the area. Where they can access appropriate public data, it also provides basic information on a given home, such as square footage and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Users can also get current estimates of homes if there was a significant change made, such as a recently remodeled kitchen.

They are currently in third place for the highest ranking real estate sites behind Yahoo and, and despite the fact that they have never shown a dime of profit, (in fact last year they lost 6.8 million) they seem poised to seize the online real estate market. There are others, like Trulia and Realbird, but the big players seem to be these three.

Doubters are calling this another example of the beginning of the Dot.Com Bubble 2.0, and in some ways I agree with them. What exactly is Zillow selling? Well information I suppose, and that is what brings me to my point, and why I have an issue with websites like Zillow.

Real estate listings are a sought after commodity for agents and brokers. It is the product that drives each brokerage. Besides the obvious that you need a listing so you can sell it and make a commission, listings are used to show other potential sellers how successful a company is, they are used to lure in buyers, and a yard sign with your name on it is free advertising screaming to the neighborhood “Look at me. I am a real estate agent.” Listings are the life blood of any successful real estate agency.

Well once you get a listing, the pressure is on to find a buyer. Sellers want to know that you are working hard on their behalf and shouting from the rooftops, so agents scramble around to advertise. However they do not want to spend a lot of money. That is where these piranha sites come in. They very generously offer to advertise your listings for free. The posting process is smooth and easy. Often times they will partner with your local MLS and it can be done automatically. It’s a chummy win-win situation.

Well as these sites have evolved, they have begun to get greedy. They have come up with ways to attempt to get money from real estate agents as well as advertisers. They now offer different programs where you can enhance a listing, or pay to have it bumped to the top of the search results or better yet sponsor neighborhoods or zip codes, all for a monthly fee. Suddenly another agent’s contact info is splashed around on your listing. And all the while they have SEO web people feverishly working to assure top Google placement, effectively beating out local agent’s websites that have freely given them the listings in the first place.

The National Association of Realtors has also efficiently set up so that it holds agents hostage unless they buy an annual enhancement package at an absurd fee. Listings are stripped of all but one photo, and all descriptions are also removed, unless the fee is paid. On top of that, they offer neighborhood sponsorships, and banner ads. The total can be in the thousands. To me this is the biggest travesty. NAR is supposed to be an association that agents join freely to help them do business better and more efficiently. Instead they have basically become a monopolizing bully. It is akin to the protection fee you pay a crew from Canarsie. I suppose you could operate with out it, but without the MLS, few agencies could survive.

I don’t begrudge the entrepreneurial. On the same hand I don’t like to see people taken advantage of, and I think unknowingly we agents and brokers are. And I don’t think most agents realize that we are in a position of power. We have the product, and we spend a lot of time and effort obtaining that product. To freely give to these companies who then turn around and charge us, and compete with us in search results makes no sense to me. If all agents and brokers got together and decided not to give away our listings, the top five real estate websites would immediately fold.

But for now Zillow is worth 950 million, without making one cold call or knocking on one door.

There were five sales reported in the Sullivan MLS this week. Click Here for listings.

My pick of the week is one of the sold listings. MLS 32165. I think this sale is an example of our market stabilizing and perhaps even picking up a bit. It is a nice early 20th century farmhouse with a bit of land, and some seclusion. This house would appeal to a lot of second home searchers. What caught my eye was the days on market, and the original list price. (165K and 103 DOM) A few years ago, a house like this would have been priced at 200 plus K, and would have sat at least a year, with begrudging intermittent price drops. This one was a quick, efficient--list it and sell it. I think this is a good sign.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

2% Tax Cap

"Statement from New York State Association of REALTORS CEO Duncan R. MacKenzie

Albany – June 25, 2011 – Today, a great victory has been won for New York State’s long suffering property taxpayers. Governor Cuomo, Majority Leader Skelos, Speaker Silver and the lawmakers who voted for the cap deserve kudos for standing up to the tax-and-spend forces that made this common-sense approach a political football. Tough times require tough decisions and Albany has delivered. This is also a significant win for the REALTOR organization. Residential property owners have no organized voice in Albany, so the 51,000 members of the New York State Association of REALTORS took up the cause and used every resource at its disposal to make the cap a reality.

New York’s REALTORS also praise lawmakers for including mandate relief opportunities as part of the cap effort. We have consistently said that the ultimate success of the tax cap will be tied to finding ways to help municipalities and school districts achieve savings from programs that have been passed down to them from Albany."

So what does this mean for Sullivan County? Nothing for the near future. Were this law passed in boom times, I suppose we would be able to see some relief a bit quicker, however with property values dropping, and tax levys here in Sullivan in some areas at a staggering 10% of market value, It could be years before we see any sort of change.

Massachusetts passed a similar law in 1980, making the property tax cap there 2.5%.  Since then, their taxes have gone up 23% compared with 56% in New York. No question this is a step in the right direction, and over the next ten years (if this law stays in place) our local municipalities will have to makes some major changes in how they spend the tax dollars. I am all for it. We have haphazard school districts, filled with 100+ K superintendents, principles and administrators. We have separate tiny hamlets, each with their own highway superintendents, building inspectors, assessors and dog wardens. Excess spending is blatant and is hurting our county.

There were ten sold listings in the Sullivan County MLS this week. Click Here

I don't have a pick of the week property this week. Nothing has jumped out at me. I have been super busy. It is mid-summer, and people are looking to buy.

Friday, July 8, 2011

100 to 125K Range

I put together two deals at the end of June. Both are primary home buyers and both emails were almost identical. They were looking for something in the 100K to 125K range, three bedrooms, and little bit of a yard, and they weren’t too picky about anything else.

An email like that three years ago, and I probably would have responded with a “Sorry can’t help you.” At the height of the craziness, even the 150K range was tough. But now things have changed. Once I started pulling up listings and sending them out, I was pleasantly surprised at the inventory.

Now in this range, you do have to expect some compromises. Both of these buyers wanted to see a lot of houses and between the two I showed around twenty-five scattered all over the county. It was nice getting acquainted with homes in this range again and I feel I have a pretty good grasp of what this range has to offer.

And if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be paneling. I am fairly certain that every house I showed (including the two that I have bids on) had some evidence of paneling, and some, the entire interior was paneled, from kitchen to bath to bedroom, walls and ceiling—A faux wood grain with fake knots and varying sized dark strips. And it all looks exactly the same. It is like everyone from 1975 to 1985 bought the same paneling from the same store.

I have seen people paint paneling which seems to work pretty well. Also unless it has been applied over plaster or sheet rock and attached with glue, it is pretty easy to remove and replace. Both of my buyers were pretty blasé about the interior. They understood that at this price range things are not going to be perfect, and really wood paneling is a small, easily changeable compromise.

But other than the paneling epidemic, I was really surprised at how much house you can buy in this range. All had three bedrooms, many had more than one bathroom, (a few had three) and I would say thirteen hundred square feet was the median. Some had garages, and outbuildings, and the taxes ranged from $4,000 in Liberty, to less than $2,000 in Fremont. It is nice to see that Sullivan County is affordable again. That is where we need to be to compete with our more glamorous counties to the south and east.

There were 14 sales reported in the last week in the Sullivan County MLS Click Here

My pick of the week is one of the houses I showed in the 125K range. It is in Liberty Township, so the taxes are a bit high at $4,000.  The outside of the house is a non descript board and baton sided looking ranch, but it is on a really nice lot, with great open views. And once you get inside, you forget all about the rough exterior. I would love to know the history of this house, because it is reminiscent of the Sears "Modern Home Starlight" series from the '20's and '30's (which is when this house was built). It has ten foot ceilings, a big kitchen, original doors, trim and windows. The downside is there is only one bathroom and it is tiny, but for a little second home getaway, it is hard to find something in this price range with this much character. Liberty Home

Friday, July 1, 2011

The 4th in Sullivan County

Summer is in full swing here in Sullivan County. The streets and sidewalks are busy with tourists and weekenders. The Delaware is dotted with kayaks, rafts and canoes. Life is preoccupied by gardens, barbeques and ice tea on the back deck.

There is a ton of stuff to do here in the month of July. The biggest dilemma is picking which event to attend.   Below is what I consider the highlights for the 4th weekend.

Narrowsburg’s 4th of July celebration. Running from the 2nd to the 4th, this three day festival includes an old fashioned fair with carnival games and inflatables, a spectacular fireworks display at dusk on Sunday, and at 3pm on Monday a traditional parade, followed by a take-out chicken barbecue. The fireworks display is really the best in the area. They are shot out over the water on the Delaware.

Roscoe also has a 4th of July parade on Sat. the 2nd. Thunder 102 will be broadcasting live from the route, and there will be numerous vendors and things for the kids.

The New York Philharmonic is playing Bethel Woods on Sunday the 3rd. Lawn tickets are still available.

Towns that have farmers markets this weekend are, Callicoon, Barryville, Jeffersonville, Liberty, and Roscoe. All Independence Day barbeques need a salad, and if your garden is a little short on ingredients, you can mix in a local farmers, without anyone being the wiser.

On Mon. the 4th, Liberty has an all day festival that starts with a classic car, motorcycle and tractor show at 11:00 am – Walter Moylan, the keyboard wizard at high noon followed by Walter Keller, Liberty's poet laureate at 12:05 pm (short set for Moylan). The parade starts at 12:30, followed by a hot dog eating contest sponsored by Garry’s Great American at 1:15pm. And to cap off the day, the Liberty Festival Talent Show with MC Jackie Horner – The Inspiration behind “Dirty Dancing” is at 4PM.

So if you are planning to spend this weekend here in the Sullivan County Catskills, there is more than enough to keep you busy.

There were eight properties listed as sold on the Sullivan County MLS. Sullivan County Solds

My pick of the week is a home that just went into contract in Lumberland NY, on Hollow Road. This house has been in the market for well over three years. It is an interesting custom contemporary, on over seven acres, adjoining Black Forest on the back. It is a big sprawling home-- 3600 sq feet, five bedrooms four baths, tennis courts, a swimming pool, totally secluded with a little bridge over a brook to get to it. It does have its drawbacks. It has evidence of 1987 splashed around, and the driveway when I showed it a few times had a tendency to get washed out easily Original list price was in the 700K range. Well it has finally gotten a bite, and gone into contract. It will be interesting to see what the agreed upon price was. But this is another house that if you told them three years ago that it would go in the 350K range, you wold have been told you were crazy. Lumberland Home