On the Home Front

What are the Valley's latest real estate trends? We went right to the source- the folks who sell homes for a living- to get the scoop.



On the Home Front

 

Retirees aren¡¯t flocking to Florida, and chicken coops are being turned into houses for humans. These are just two of the Valley¡¯s surprising real estate trends 

 

By Valerie Havas

 

Jamie Adam Midgley bought a converted barn in the Ulster County hamlet of High Falls last fall. The circa-1856 structure sits on two and a half acres, within view of a 150-foot-long pond and a beautiful meadow. The location, steps away from the community¡¯s handful of shops and restaurants, was just what he was looking for.

 

Midgley may not know it, but he¡¯s part of a new breed of Hudson Valley homeowners. ¡°There is a continuing trend for unique houses,¡± says Amy Levine, a broker with Westwood Metes & Bounds Realty in Stone Ridge, Ulster County. In addition to barns, these new residences include everything from converted chicken coops and railroad stations to decommissioned churches and schoolhouses.

 

Despite the Hudson Valley¡¯s timeless beauty, it has always been a region of change. What¡¯s changing in the Valley today, in terms of housing and living styles? In an effort to find out, we asked a number of real estate agents and new homeowners throughout the region.

 

Another trend, it seems, is that older people aren¡¯t necessarily packing their bags and heading to Florida for their golden years. ¡°I¡¯ve noticed that most older people, 55 and above, are opting to stay in the area, to be around their children and grandchildren,¡± says Deborah Conti, a realtor with Prudential Manor Homes in Latham (Albany). ¡°A lot of older people are selling their large homes and buying smaller, one-floor ranch-style houses.¡± One Capital District developer, she notes, built a development that had ranch houses on one side, and Colonials on the other. While most of the ranches were purchased by older people, the majority of the Colonials were snapped up by families with children. The happy result was a multi-age neighborhood, with each age group having its own area.

 

Many older buyers, says Conti, are looking for houses or condos in communities with services such as snow removal and lawn care. ¡°They just want to enjoy their home and not have to deal with all the outside work,¡± she declares. Some of her clients are looking for developments with age limitations, so they can relax in quiet (i.e., child-free) surroundings. Despite the demand for such communities, she says, there aren¡¯t many around, and those that do exist rarely have vacancies. ¡°We need more of these sites for the older buyer,¡± she concludes.

 

Amy Levine sees a growing demand for townhouses. ¡°Prices have skyrocketed,¡± she observes. Some clients have also asked about gated communities, though Ulster County doesn¡¯t have any at this point. Like Conti, Levine has noticed that one-floor homes are becoming increasingly popular. ¡°The biggest change I¡¯ve seen is ranch houses. It used to be, people wouldn¡¯t even look at them.¡± Such buyers, she speculates, may be anticipating a time when climbing stairs will be more difficult.

 

One Stone Ridge couple recently bought a ranch not because they wanted a one-story home, but because it was relatively affordable. The wife (an artist) and her husband (a woodworker) quickly added a bright red tin roof in an effort to make the house more distinctive-looking. When their budget permits, they plan to add to the structure to give themselves and their 12-year-old son more living space.

 

Levine has also noticed that ¡°empty nesters¡± aren¡¯t necessarily trading their homes in for something smaller ¡ª perhaps because they¡¯re not sure that their nests are going to remain empty. ¡°The economy is unstable, and real estate prices and rents are high,¡± she observes. As a result, many young adults are choosing to move back in with their parents after graduating from college rather than striking out on their own. Another factor, she suspects, is that many of today¡¯s parents are giving their grown-up kids more freedom than parents of her generation did so these grown-up ¡°children¡± have less incentive to get their own places.

 

Among buyers, says Levine, farmhouses and barns are very popular. Jamie Midgley, a British-born photographer, calls his remodeled barn in High Falls ¡°the New York loft that I could never afford. I knew I didn¡¯t want to live in the woods or between towns,¡± he says. ¡°I loved the idea that I can live and work out of my home. I can walk to get a cup of coffee or to post my mail.¡± In addition, he says, ¡°I wanted something bold that reflected my sensibility and my work. This house does that.¡±

 

Old houses are also in demand in the upper Valley, according to Bert Freed, president of the Kinderhook Group, which has offices in Chatham and Valatie, both in Columbia County, as well as in Cambridge, further upstate. ¡°For the last four or five years, everyone has wanted the same thing,¡± he declares, ¡°whether they¡¯ve had $100,000 to spend or $1 million to spend ¡ª a house in the country, preferably old. They want privacy and they want views.¡± Waterside locations ¡ª by a stream, a pond, or a lake, or within view of the Hudson River ¡ª are definite selling points.

 

Not all the houses sold by the Kinderhook Group are old, of course. ¡°New houses do sell when they¡¯re interesting and well-built, with good attention to details,¡± Freed says.

In recent years, the trains leaving Hudson for New York City have been increasingly crowded. ¡°There are lots of people commuting to New York City; the train is packed,¡± Freed says. ¡°It happens more and more¡­. People buy something as a weekend house, and that lasts for a few years.¡± Then, he explains, they figure out a way to live here full-time, perhaps by switching careers, starting a business, or tweaking job schedules so they don¡¯t have to go to the city every day. He has noticed a tremendous increase in the number of artists, musicians, and writers ¡ª folks whose jobs aren¡¯t necessarily tied to a big-city office ¡ª choosing to live in Columbia County.

 

Looking at the overall real estate picture, Freed says that there has been a surge in land sales this year in Columbia County, and prices have gone up accordingly. Meanwhile, he says, the Capital Region now has about a million and a half people, and ¡°growth in Albany is pushing across the river.¡± While Saratoga County has been the fastest-growing county in the area in recent years, Freed predicts that Rensselaer County will experience the most growth in the years to come. Columbia County communities like Valatie and Kinderhook, he says, have already become bedroom communities for people who work in Albany.

 

Commuters are also helping to shape the real estate market in Dutchess County, according to Bill Lavery, the regional vice president for the Dutchess County office of Houlihan Lawrence. ¡°The overriding trend that affects the Dutchess County real estate market are commuter buyers,¡± declares Lavery. Many buyers wind up in Dutchess after being priced out of Putnam and Westchester. In addition to relatively affordable housing, the county offers commuters the Harlem and Hudson train lines, the two fastest growing elements of the Metro-North Railroad system. ¡°About 6,000 people a day use the Hudson Line,¡± Lavery notes. ¡°It is testimony to the fact that Dutchess County is established as the northern periphery of the metropolitan New York real estate market.¡±

 

The county is also increasingly popular with people looking for second homes. ¡°You can live your version of the life of the country squire here,¡± Lavery says, noting that the county has thus far retained a good deal of its rural character ¡ª something that ironically could change as a direct result of the boom in commuter and second-home housing.

 

Those two trends have nurtured a growing movement among current Dutchess County residents to limit future development. Conservation groups have joined the effort to protect the remaining open spaces by purchasing conservation easements and development rights.

 

In the lower Hudson Valley, Bruce Dollar of Houlihan Lawrence¡¯s Croton-on-Hudson (Westchester) office, declares that ¡°What¡¯s hot are older houses with charming character, 19th-century houses or earlier. Older with character¡­people in every price range want those.¡± To illustrate his point, he relates how one house, a beautiful Tudor, provoked a bidding war and went for $83,000 more than the asking price.

 

An old house is just what two of Dollar¡¯s clients, Jean-Marc Flack and Stephen Petronio, were looking for when they went house-hunting. Flack (who is president of Showroom Seven, a Manhattan-based fashion showroom and PR firm) and Petronio (a choreographer and founder of the Stephen Petronio Dance Company) had both lived in New York City for a long time, and were ready for a change. ¡°We walked into this house and put in an offer that night,¡± recalls Flack, referring to the couple¡¯s new residence in Carmel, Putnam County. ¡°It was immediate love at first walk-through.¡± The core of the house, which includes two stone fireplaces, a beehive oven, and a keeping room, was built in 1790, with additional rooms added in the 1920s. They love the house and the community, says Flack, who especially appreciates the fact that he can park right next to the train at a nearby station. ¡°We¡¯re still fine-tuning the commute,¡± he comments. ¡°We¡¯ve got it down to one and a half hours door to door.¡±

 

 

Dollar found another historic home for Tony and Bridget Spallone, who are raising four children in a 1748 farmhouse located in Westchester¡¯s Yorktown Heights. Tony, who owns the Grand Saloon restaurant in Manhattan, says that he and his wife began looking for a bigger house when they realized that they were expecting twins. ¡°We see a lot of generic McMansions all over the place,¡± he observes. ¡°We wanted something a little different.¡± The couple was undaunted by the fact that the house, reputedly once part of the Stephanus Van Cortlandt estate, needed extensive work. Says Tony: ¡°You just pick a project, stick with it, and prioritize.¡±

 

In addition to such ¡°antique¡± houses, new, big Colonials, whether in a development or not, are in high demand, says Dollar. His clients include young couples moving up from the city, families that already live in the area but are ¡°trading up,¡± and people who are looking for weekend places. As an example of the latter, he mentions a fabulous lakefront house in Cortlandt Manor (Westchester). Listed for $1.775 million, it comes complete with a billiard room and swimming pool ¡ª and is less than an hour¡¯s commute from New York City.

 

Dollar says that the high-end real estate market in the Westchester area was relatively quiet in the period leading up to the presidential election and the holidays. ¡°There was uncertainty over the economy, and the election was a big question mark,¡± he explains. Now that the election is over and Wall Street¡¯s end-of-year bonuses have been sent out, he expects that the luxury-home market will rebound.

 

¡°The problem,¡± he says, ¡°is with supply. There are not enough houses to meet the demand, and around here the land is pretty much gone.¡± As of press time, he was listing a nine-acre plot, located in the Teatown area of Croton, for $575,000. The relatively high asking price is a reflection of the quality of the site ¡ª near farms, lakes, and riding trails ¡ª and the scarcity of land in the area. Local zoning, Dollar adds, will allow only one house to be built on the lot.

 

So what are today¡¯s trends in Valley living? As always, Valleyites are busy raising families and jump-starting businesses, renovating and retiring, downsizing and upscaling, commuting and converting. Some are seeking a less-hectic lifestyle or a daily dose of artistic inspiration. More and more residents, apparently, are seeking homes in which they can age gracefully, perhaps with a little help. Whatever they¡¯re looking for ¡ª rustic retreats, urban townhouses, converted barns, comfortable Colonials, spanking new structures or major fixer-uppers ¡ªthey¡¯re finding them, here in the Hudson Valley. ¡ö

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