Real Estate Review

House prices are galloping along faster than the thoroughbreds at Saratoga. To see how wild the market has become, we decided to check out what's available around the Valley for $325,000. The answer might surprise you.



Real Estate Review

 

We all know that the Valley real estate market is surging like ¡ª well, like a house afire ¡ª thanks to low interest rates and city folks desiring their own piece of the ¡°country.¡± To determine just how crazy the market has become, we conducted a little experiment. We computed the average of the median prices for all 10 Valley counties, raised that figure by 25 percent, and rounded it up to $325,000. What kind of house can you get for that lofty amount? It all depends on the old adage, ¡°Location, location, location.¡± The good news? If you¡¯ve owned your house for some time, you¡¯re sitting on a gold mine ¡ª wherever you live

 

by Anne Eaton

 

ALBANY COUNTY

 

With the average sale price of a home in Albany County about $140,000, there are options galore in the $325,000 range. You just have to decide whether you want to live in the city or the country.

 

¡°The city of Albany generally has an older home stock, and the houses are on smaller lots. Once you get outside the city, into the suburbs, you get into larger lots and new developments with more amenities,¡± explains Doug Engels of Weichert Realtors Northeast Group in Albany.

 

Within the city, many houses go for a song, although the cheapest are often in questionable neighborhoods. A 10-room Victorian (with two fireplaces and a view of the river) on Delaware Avenue is selling for $310,000. Three-story row houses in some areas can be picked up for as little as $125,000; for $314,900, you can get a turn-of-the-20th-century five-bedroom, three-bath one on charming Lancaster Street.

 

Loudonville, one of Albany¡¯s choicest suburbs ¡ª it¡¯s close to the malls, the Northway, and Siena College ¡ª has lots of houses in the mid-$300,000 range. For $334,740, you can buy a 2,559-square-foot newly built Colonial with three bedrooms and two baths.

 

Another choice ¡ª and affordable ¡ª address is the town of Bethlehem, which is no more than 20 minutes from downtown Albany but has a real rural feel and many houses with lots of land. A three-bedroom Colonial on 60 acres with a barn and two ponds is selling for $329,900. In Westerlo, also not far from downtown Albany, a small, 1940s Cape on 188 acres is going for $325,000.

 

If you want some history and a downtown feel without being too downtown, Engels suggests checking out the old seaport village of New Baltimore. And if you¡¯ve a yen for the scenic, head for the hill towns of Berne and Knox, in the Helderberg mountains, where there is affordable lake property with beautiful views. In Knox, one currently listed house on 4.5 acres features 2,235 square feet of space, including four bedrooms and two baths. Its asking price is $248,900.

 

COLUMBIA COUNTY

 

You definitely can get something nice for $325,000 in Columbia County,¡± says Mary Bartolotta of Coldwell Banker Bartolotta Associates in Hudson. Last year, in Germantown, a 3,400-square-foot house built in 1850, with six bedrooms on three acres, in ¡°good¡± condition (which means it needed work) sold for around that. A newer house on six acres, built in 1983 in Hillsdale sold for $323,500, but it was only 1,200 square feet. And a 4,080-square-foot converted barn on five acres in Ghent sold for $272,500.

¡°Around here, we used to consider 2,000 square feet and upwards a big house,¡± Bartolotta explains. ¡°But the new people coming up here nowadays want houses that are much bigger than that. When they say ¡®big,¡¯ they mean 4,000 or 5,000 square feet. We don¡¯t even have houses like that.¡±

 

While prices usually dip in the cities, that¡¯s not the case in Hudson, says Bartolotta. ¡°Right now, the city of Hudson is the hottest thing in the Valley. I have yet to figure out why some of these places are selling for so much. On Union Street ¡ª at the heart of the gentrified area, with its brownstone row houses ¡ª we have a townhouse for sale, remodeled in the Bauhaus style, for around $350,000.¡± In Kinderhook, one of the Valley¡¯s most charming communities, a 2,900-square-foot Colonial on eight acres built in 1812 recently sold for $350,000.

 

Who lives in Columbia? Commuters. ¡°Columbia is definitely an exit community,¡± admits Bartolotta. ¡°Every day, people leave here to go to work elsewhere, in all directions. The northwest part of the county commutes to Albany; the northeast commutes to Pittsfield; the southwest commutes to Poughkeepsie and Kingston; the southeast commutes to Connecticut. Unfortunately, Columbia is virtually without industry.¡±

 

The county has also attracted its share of stars. ¡°We now have a lot of people living here from the theatre, the arts, and the movies. People are always spotting them in town,¡± says Bartolotta. ¡°I won¡¯t tell you their names because I really think they¡¯re here because we don¡¯t pay attention to them.¡±

 

 

DUTCHESS COUNTY

 

Go north ¡ª but not too far north ¡ª if you want the most for your money in Dutchess County. ¡°You¡¯ll get less in southern Dutchess for $325,000 than you will in northern Dutchess,¡± says Blake Michaud of Prudential Serls Prime Properties in LaGrange. In southern Dutchess, in the vicinity of Fishkill, at that price you¡¯re looking at a 20-year-old, 2,000-square-foot raised ranch with three to four bedrooms and two or two-and-a-half baths on about a half to one acre of land. In middle Dutchess, around Poughkeepsie, Pleasant Valley, and Hyde Park, you¡¯ll still get a raised ranch (which cost less because they¡¯re cheaper to build) and the acre, but about 400 more square feet of house. The higher prices in the south reflect the closer proximity to I-84 and jobs in Westchester and New York City.

 

Michaud admits that ¡°northern Dutchess is trickier. There are areas there, such as Red Hook, where you won¡¯t find that many raised ranches, because there never was a demand for them since it wasn¡¯t a bedroom community. There are places in Red Hook and Rhinebeck where $325,000 is going to get you an even older Colonial that might have 1,500 to 1,800 square feet, but it would be located in the village itself.¡± What you¡¯re paying extra for there, he says, is the ¡°charm and quaintness¡± of the villages.

 

Michaud thinks eastern Dutchess County is next in line for a housing boom.

¡°Accessibility to the city has just improved now that Metro-North has extended the Harlem Line to Wassaic,¡± he says. ¡°Dover is the next frontier, because you¡¯ve now got trains going into that area. As a result, we¡¯re going to see a rebirth in these town centers, and we¡¯re going to start to see property in those towns turning over.¡±

 

 

GREENE COUNTY

 

New house, old house, in town, or out in the boonies, you can live like a king ¡ª or at least a prince ¡ª for $325,000 in Greene County. According to Fran Clark of Unique Realty in Hunter, real estate in Greene is divided into two categories: residential properties closer to the river and the Thruway, and residential vacation-home properties higher up in the Catskills. ¡°People don¡¯t generally commute to Albany from the ski resort area,¡± but they do from the riverfront communities, she says.

 

¡°Coxsackie is becoming a bedroom community for Albany, and there¡¯s a lot available here for $300,000,¡± avers Wendy Flannery of Century 21 Heart Land Realty in Coxsackie. ¡°It¡¯s country living, but it¡¯s not like being out in the middle of nowhere. You still have stores and things like that. We also have the Hudson River, which is great in the summer.¡± A chalet-style contemporary with five bedrooms, four baths, and two fireplaces in the town is on the market for $290,000. Other options for history-loving homeowners are the old properties in Coxsackie¡¯s historic district, right by the river. ¡°People are rebuilding a lot down there, and there are grants available,¡± says Flannery. These homes are not that expensive yet, ¡°but they are selling quickly,¡± adds Flannery. Another choice is nearby Athens, which is equally quaint.

 

Up in the mountains, ¡°for $325,000, you could get a beautiful, brand-new home on, say, five acres in close proximity to the ski slopes or a beautiful country setting. Or you could acquire a 10- or 20-year-old home on 10 acres. It all depends on what you¡¯re looking for,¡± says Clark, who adds that Greene¡¯s ski resort area includes the communities of Hunter, Windham, Jewett, Ashland, Lexington, Haines Falls, Tannersville, and Prattsville ¡ª ¡°everything that¡¯s within a 15- or 20-minute radius of Hunter Mountain ski resort.¡±

 

Don¡¯t be surprised if prices soon skyrocket, both because of computers (which allow homeowners to work from what have traditionally been vacation homes) and recent upgrades in municipal services. ¡°New York City is putting in sewage treatment plants in all these little hamlets and towns. The sewage treatment plant in Hunter village should be completed in November 2004, and it¡¯s expected to bring in more business,¡± explains Clark.

 

At the moment, a three-bedroom, two-bath contemporary Colonial on five acres just a short drive from Hunter is selling for $325,000. For the same price, you could get a spanking-new three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath contemporary with a loft, Jacuzzi, and central hall fireplace (as well as privileges at a private club with a year-round pool). Clark also suggests not overlooking houses available right in the villages. ¡°You could walk down the main street and have your shops, your movies, your post office, and your library right there,¡± she says.

 

ORANGE COUNTY

 

Orange is now becoming very crowded, and housing has gotten more expensive as a result. People who thought they¡¯d like to live in Orange are moving up to Ulster instead, where there¡¯s still more new construction available at lower prices,¡± says Laurie O¡¯Jea of Coldwell Banker Currier & Lazier Realtors in Montgomery, which handles properties in both upstate counties.

 

Still, there are houses ¡ª albeit small ¡ª available throughout the county, although it¡¯s unlikely you¡¯ll wind up in one of the most popular communities, like Montgomery. (¡°It¡¯s a cute little town, it¡¯s considered a really good school district, it¡¯s close to the highways, and it¡¯s also close to the Galleria,¡± explains O¡¯Jea.) A good second choice would be Maybrook, which has all the charm of Montgomery but not quite the proximity to other attractions. ¡°It¡¯s a fluke that Maybrook never moves,¡± admits O¡¯Jea. ¡°The prices haven¡¯t gone up.¡±

 

For $325,000, O¡¯Jea says that you can expect a house with a maximum of four bedrooms, one of which will be ¡°really tiny. You can¡¯t put too much in those rooms. Maybe buyers seem to tolerate them better if they¡¯re coming from an apartment. A lot of times they¡¯ll wind up knocking out that too-small fourth bedroom to create a more dramatic entryway.¡±

 

Houses currently on the block for $325,000 include a cute four-bedroom Victorian with a beautifully landscaped front yard on a quarter acre in the village of Goshen and a three-bedroom ranch in the town of Tuxedo.

 

But blink and those houses may be out of your price range. ¡°Even in the past couple of months, we¡¯re seeing that the 2,200- to 2,300-square-foot Colonial that cost $325,000 last year is starting to jump up to $339,000, $349,000, and that range,¡± says O¡¯Jea. ¡°If you spend another $25,000 or $50,000, you¡¯ll find that the houses will be noticeably bigger ¡ª up to maybe 2,600 square feet.¡±

 

PUTNAM COUNTY

 

Three hundred twenty-five thousand dollars? That doesn¡¯t buy you much in Putnam County at all,¡± says Vincent J. Ficarra of Century 21 VJF Realty in Brewster. ¡°You¡¯re restricted to older homes, basically 30 years old and older, and you¡¯re restricted to the lake communities, where there¡¯s a supply of very small, converted vacation homes.¡±

 

¡°The average mean price for a single family home is $375,000 in Putnam County, but ¡ª except for most raised ranches ¡ª the homes begin at $400,000 and over. Even two-bedroom townhouses and condos will cost close to $300,000, and some of them cost even more,¡± he adds. (Brand- new houses are going as high as $800,000.)

 

Still, Ficarra admits that there is ¡°a good mixture¡± and ¡°a lot of inventory¡± of older houses selling between $250,000 and $350,000. A six-room ranch with a fireplace and lake rights on Lake Oscawana is going for $325,000; over in Philipstown, near Garrison, a five-room house on Cortlandt Lake is selling for $325,000. Homes like these, says Ficarra, will be snapped up by first-time homebuyers.

 

If you¡¯re in the market for a Colonial in the most desirable section of the county ¡ª in the town of Southeast, near I-84, Metro-North, and the Danbury Mall ¡ª you¡¯ll need a heftier down payment. Houses there regularly sell for well over half a million bucks.

 

RENSSELAER COUNTY

 

Nice houses are available for $325,000 in the rural stretches of Rensselaer; you just have to be quick on the trigger finger to get one. ¡°The MLS [Multiple Listing Service] shows 13 homes for sale at around that price in this area, on one to two acres, generally,¡± says Kathleen Weeks of the Real Estate Mart in Hoosick Falls.

 

At the moment, she adds, ¡°there¡¯s not really a lot of available housing in the county. There¡¯s a lack of listings. And if the price is right, the houses are generally gone as soon as they¡¯re put on the market.¡± Still, there are some fine bargains. A four-bedroom, two-bath Colonial on 50 acres in West Sand Lake is listed at $325,000, while an 11-room Colonial (with a whirlpool) on 1.7 acres in East Greenbush is selling for $329,900.

Weeks suggests checking out the village of Hoosick Falls, not far from the Vermont border. ¡°This is Grandma Moses country: it used to be all working farms, but there aren¡¯t so many of them now,¡± she says. ¡°Grafton is still reasonable, too, but it all depends on how new the house is and how much land is with the house. Once you get out in the country, that¡¯s when prices start going up. In the villages, where you have public water and public sewer, prices are lower. But you only get a small lot ¡ª 100 by 100 feet, perhaps. But the village of Hoosick Falls offers a lot for the money. There¡¯s a town pool, a library, and an ice skating rink.¡± (If you do find a country house in your price range, check out your neighbors: some folks who own large acreage hunt on their property.)

 

For those who desire more urban surroundings, Troy is a possibility. ¡°Troy has some beautiful architecture. Some of the older buildings there are fabulous properties, but the economics are not so great at the moment,¡± admits Weichert Realtors¡¯ Doug Engels. ¡°But recently, there have been a number of initiatives, with grants that have spurred on some of the restoration and purchasing of homes in the city, in certain areas around the College of Saint Rose, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. And the expansion of RPI has brought about a lot of demand for housing in the area.¡±

 

Some of that demand is being met with very reasonably priced new houses. Three-bedroom, one-bath Colonials are waiting to be built at a purchase price of $149,900. More historic houses are also available, including a turreted Victorian beauty with five bedrooms and three baths in East Troy for $200,000.

 

ROCKLAND COUNTY

 

For $325,000, you could get a very modest house ¡ª really modest. Small,¡± adds realtor Susan Kopec for emphasis.

 

¡°One of the most popular houses in our county is the high ranch. A house like that is selling well into the fours or fives right now. In our area, even $500,000 does not buy a luxury property,¡± she says.

 

The listings bear her out. A three-bedroom, semi-detached mock-Elizabethan home in Spring Valley ¡ª a town that has seen better days ¡ª was selling for $315,000. If you¡¯re willing to give up some space, you can find a few digs in tonier surroundings. In Suffern (¡°Very beautiful and very desirable,¡± says Kopec, who works with Weichert Realtors in New City), a six-room Cape built in 1935 was going for $329,000, while in Stony Point, not far from where lots of new mansions are springing up, a postage stamp¨Csized ranch on .11 acres is selling for $325,000.

 

Things have gotten so bad house-wise in Rockland that more people are going than coming. According to the most recent IRS data, from 1990 to 1999 some 80,000 people moved into the county, while 90,000 loaded up their vans and headed for greener pastures upstate.

 

ULSTER COUNTY

 

There seems to be a magic dividing line between Orange and Ulster counties. In the latter, you can pick up a much bigger house ¡ª and a lot more land ¡ª in a wide variety of settings.

 

What¡¯s popular at the moment? ¡°A lot of people are liking Marlboro, because it¡¯s on Route 9W,¡± says Coldwell Banker¡¯s Currier & Lazier¡¯s Laurie O¡¯Jea. ¡°And the hamlet of Wallkill is very quaint and cute. A lot of people want to be around that area.¡± A 12-year-old Colonial in Marlboro that¡¯s fully loaded ¡ª with four bedrooms, two full baths, two half-baths, three decks, and a fireplace ¡ª on 2.3 acres is currently selling for $327,777.

 

For a new house, O¡¯Jea suggests checking out Plattekill ¡ª but you¡¯d better hurry. ¡°When the land ran out in Orange County, Plattekill had a ton of land for sale. It was pretty cheap when it started out two or three years ago, but it¡¯s right up there now.¡± A three-bedroom, two-bath Colonial (with a Palladian window, fireplace, and two-car garage) built last year on 2.9 acres next to an apple orchard is marked at $329,000.

 

If a rural retreat ¡ª really rural ¡ª is your thing, O¡¯Jea suggests checking out Wawarsing, atop the Shawangunks. ¡°Wawarsing is inexpensive, but that¡¯s a whole other world up there. You¡¯re far from highways, far from stores. It¡¯s for people who want privacy. It¡¯s not a good place to live if you don¡¯t have a lot of time to drive to things,¡± she admits.

 

Still, you can find houses in the price range closer to civilization that offer lots of privacy. In the town of New Paltz, a 24-year-old raised ranch abutting the Mohonk Preserve with four bedrooms and two baths ¡ª 1,855 square feet in all ¡ª is going for $325,000. In addition to the closeness of the preserve, you get 1.5 acres to call your own, and the village of New Paltz, with all of its amenities, is a short drive away.

 

You can get a much bigger house at a slightly higher price if you opt to live in Kingston, which has made great strides in recent years. An 1890 Colonial with 6,000 square feet (including eight bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths) is selling for $340,000. Even more of a bargain is a mammoth Victorian overlooking the Rondout Creek. With five bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, and a wood-burning stove, it seems like a steal at $279,000.

 

The increased interest in living in Ulster is forcing communities to rethink their planning, says O¡¯Jea. ¡°Some areas in Plattekill are acre-and-a-half zoning. They¡¯re actually doing a moratorium [on new residential construction], and some towns are upzoning: one-acre zoning is going to an acre-and-a-half or more. Otherwise, you¡¯d have everybody on top of one another.¡± Small towns that rely on volunteer firefighters and skeleton police forces are also trying to slow down the growth. ¡°They are also reacting to concerns about overcrowded schools and increased traffic,¡± adds O¡¯Jea.

 

And unless you hire your own architect, expect your new house in Ulster to look pretty much like all the others, says O¡¯Jea. ¡°We¡¯ve got a few log homes, a few brick homes, but it¡¯s mainly just vinyl siding. People don¡¯t want wood because of termites, and they don¡¯t want stucco because it cracks and breaks.¡±

 

 

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

 

Associate Broker Al Vanacoro has two words of advice for folks hoping to plunk down 300 grand for a dream house in Westchester: Think again.

 

¡°If you do a search for homes in that price range, maybe three things will come up,¡± says Vanacoro, who works for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in White Plains. And chances are those few houses will have some kind of ¡°functional obsolescence¡±: their backyards will back up to the highway or a gas station, or they¡¯ll be next door to a commercial site.

 

¡°The word ¡®affordable¡¯ is starting to leave our vocabulary in Westchester,¡± he admits. Even in Mount Vernon, Peekskill, ¡°and the more affordable sections of Greenburgh,¡± he says, the $300,000 price tag is close to extinction. Vanacoro relates how builders are putting up homes in Elmsford ¡ª far from the county¡¯s most scenic village, but less than half an hour from Manhattan ¡ª that cost nearly a million dollars. ¡°There are stacks of $900,000 houses in Elmsford now,¡± he says.

 

The best bet in Westchester in the $300,000 price range is in one of the northern communities, such as Cortlandt Manor. But even there, Vanacoro cautions, ¡°you might have to settle for a house on a secondary road, one with a double yellow line.¡± If you don¡¯t mind city living ¡ª and city schools ¡ª small houses are still available. A 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom Colonial in Peekskill is selling for $325,000, while in Yonkers, a four-bedroom Colonial built in 1939 (and located on a 7,400-square-foot lot) is marked at $329,000.

 

Vanacoro says there is one other option: ¡°As you move closer to the city, you can get coops in very decent areas, or you can get older condos. Condo buildings, that is ¡ª not townhouses.¡± A one-bedroom coop/condo is for sale now in Greenburgh right at $325,000. ¡ö

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