Monday, April 28, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

I've been asked several times today if I'm finding that things have slowed here in Skaneateles. One question came from a woman who would like to enter real estate as a second career, and another from an owner of a listed home. I replied that while the market is stable in Syracuse - I just had an offer accepted - and healthy, Skaneateles appears to have slowed down.

Currently there are 117 homes on the market in Skaneateles. This past week there were 13 new listings, 2 at least re-lists from the past. None sold last week, and there are now 15 closings this year. An old farmhouse on 5 acres was the most recent closing, and because it was priced right it went higher than the list price through a possible bidding war in a matter of days.

I was curious about the market as compared with last year. At this point (4/28/2007) we had had 25 closings with a price range of $75,200 up to two waterfront homes closing at 1.3M. Our range in 2008 is low $100s to $875,000, and again, only 60% of the number of closings as last year.

The average price remains at $546,700.

What does this really mean? Everything has to be priced accurately - the days of putting things on the market and hoping someone from New Jersey will show up without a Realtor are going, going, gone. There are simply too many active comparative listings, even with our unique village homes.

But we are nowhere near the despair that other markets feel around the country. We don't have vacant homes on every block - on any block, probably. We don't have homes built two years ago selling for 75% of value. We still have a wonderful village and town and incredible prices compared with the rest of the country.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Two Things to Do to Market Your Home

I don't generally do this, but I ran across a couple good ideas on Yahoo yesterday that made sense. I do think presentation of a home makes a great deal of difference. I have one family who has prepared their home like a model, checking out what makes a model so enticing and then copying it. Amazingly everyone who walks through says it "Shows like a model!" Mission accomplished - well, not yet, because it hasn't sold but it's still available for you to buy....!

Another family staged the home, complete with fake food on the table for Thanksgiving and a breakfast tray with croissants and tea things set invitingly in the master bedroom. That house did sell, and above the price I had thought privately we would get.

But this is what Yahoo says: "If you do only two things before showing your house, clean and clean some more."

Very, very true! I recently sold a home that had been supposedly cleaned but the new owners spotted grease on the baseboards and found left-over food in the drawers. The impression was "Ick!" and thank goodness they were willing to look beyond that. The agent agreed to having the home cleaned by the woman who works for us and RE/MAX. The new owners were then quite pleased.

I first realized the value of spotlessness and gleaming hardwoods when I sold a home years ago in Skaneateles. It was just a home - not new or old, but it fit to perfection the needs of my clients. We came back to it prior to closing, and with all the furniture out the owners had contracted a woman to give it one last clean for the new owners. I remember walking in and just being incredulous - what a gorgeous home, I thought. How could I have missed the beauty of it!

The current owner said it was just the cleaning. She said she felt every time the woman came that "God had visited her home."

That's the same woman who cleans our home now. She makes an incredible difference. For a time there every home she cleaned for me sold within a week.

She has a full-time job now and only works part time, or I would have her clean every home I list. She does a phenomenal job, but there are others who can do the same, as demonstrated by my "model" home that I discussed earlier.

The point to be taken from this that bears repeating: "Clean and clean some more!"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Beautiful Days

Yesterday I went to the Big M in Elbridge for groceries. I had intended to put them away and go back to the office to work on my mailing list. I love being in the village on a warm spring evening, the door open to passers-by.

I found myself taking the opportunity to buy cards to send to people. I needed two sympathy cards and two get well cards. As I stood in the aisle deciding on which cards to buy, I realized I should just go home and enjoy the day, walk the dogs, read in the sunshine, wait for Bob to come home.

One sympathy card was for the Woodcock family. Bob had worked for them for a few years off and on, and came to really like and admire Dr. Woodcock. Last Friday his plane crashed in Skaneateles due to engine failure. He was killed by a falling tree, the flight instructor left in critical condition. A friend called us Friday night to tell us after his name was released. He had just retired from his ophthalmology practice and looked forward to flying.

The other was for the family of Cheryl McDonald, whose husband Wayne died suddenly on Monday. If there was ever a "Hail fellow, well met!" sort of guy that was Wayne. Big, sweet, always smiling he catered with his wife - they did our wedding. He was a hockey and baseball coach for the kids, and lived just over the line in Sennett. Again, a friend told me of his passing - and that he and Cheryl had just three weeks ago had another boy. He was only 40.

The two get well cards were for friends undergoing surgery tomorrow for breast cancer. One is a biopsy, the other a lumpectomy for a malignancy. They will be fine, I know, but it's a scary time.

So I walked the dogs, read in the sun, and had dessert - Wake Robin Farm yogurt. And put off blogging until I gained some perspective and got back in the Cabrio to show another home.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day

Celebrating Earth Day is a great time to catalogue what our family has done to become "greener." It seems as if the world is on a "green" kick, and we're part of the process.

Of course, our main reason - perhaps - is to save money as well as the planet. Since we can accomplish both with the same actions we have a wonderful opportunity to double our pleasure.

One thing we do is drive economic cars. My Scion XB gets about 28-30 mpg whether it's city or highway. My husband's Element is in the lower 20s, but still so much better than all the pick-ups and SUVs most painters use for work. We each have convertibles - mine is the Cabrio (32 mpg) and his is an old Honda del Sol (maybe 34 mpg.) Last year I was able to drive the convertible well into October. This year I plan to sell it - interested? - and buy a mini.

I thought I was doing well with my mpg rating as a Realtor. I met an agent a couple weeks ago who complained about his big Chrysler - 14 miles per gallon! We drive about 20,000 miles per year and that's a heavy load. Today I ran into Peter Wynyard now with Keller-Williams. He still loves my "ragtop" as he calls it, but he's driving a Prius that gets 48 miles per gallon.

But we are doing better with fuel in the home. I finally got fed up with our oil bill for the boiler - $390 per month on the budget! And we were cold, keeping the thermostat at 58 degrees and huddling around the fireplace for warmth in the evenings. We had put in a Buderus-type water heater system on the recommendation of a home inspector and eliminated two electric water heaters in the process. We researched costs and decided to use a pellet stove instead. On April 13th, I think, we turned off the boiler for good.

It will remain in the basement in case we ever sell, and may also supply the apartment with heat next year during the holidays. But once the oil is gone, it will be gone.

The beauty of the pellet stove is that the wood it uses is all recycled wood - stuff that is left over at a sawmill and would ordinarily be thrown away. Not any more! We should be able to heat the main part of the house for under $1,000 next year. That's 2400 square feet of living space - that this year cost us almost $4800 to heat (poorly) plus an additional $700 for wood. The cost of the stove we've chosen is around $2,000. It will pay for itself by January.

Our wood for the fireplace will come from our acreage. Bob got a chain saw for his birthday last year and hasn't been the same since. Our woods now have paths and piles of logs. We have enough already for next year's fires - and they will be non-utilitarian.

We also buy locally. Since Essentially Bread closed I have had to either make bread, buy it at Wegman's, or go without. The Big M in Elbridge has a good seeded bread which I discovered a week or so ago. Our yogurt is from Wake Robin Farm in Jordan and is phenomenal. An article in the paper says they have eliminated their transportation costs - they go 700 feet from cow to processor.

Bob grows our veggies for the summer. From July until October we have fresh lettuce. He makes a great cold tomato sauce from his odd tomatoes and freezes it for the winter months. Zucchinis became a staple three years ago when we were overrun with them. And it's all good for you!

Our biggest energy savings came through our lightbulbs. A friend told me that she had dropped her family's energy consumption in a 2000 square foot home to about $35. Lights were bright throughout, it was winter, and there were kids in the home - how? All those fluorescent bulbs! They really did it!

We slowly changed them out and yes, our electric bill dropped. I stopped the budget plan when NYSEG owed us about $800. Now, even with the hot tub bubbling away on the back deck our bills come in around $70. It's hard to tell exactly - NYSEG insists on estimating every other month and they estimate high. We probably save over $100 per month with those bulbs. (We also charge each other $1 when we leave lights on in the hall or basement. Bob's fines usually pay most of the bill!)

So have a very happy Earth Day! On evenings like this it's hard to imagine that the planet could be in trouble, or that it won't always be as lovely as this a century from now unless we all make changes. I know, I sound preachy, but it's worth preaching about!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Here we go - flying into the springtime warmth! I had the Cabrio out and the top down - absolute heaven! Yesterday's open house up on Raspberry in Camillus was a great success. People came and loved the home, many asking if anyone lived there because it was immaculate and "showed like a model."

To Skaneateles: still the 14 closings since the beginning of the year remain on the record. None sold (as marked by contingent), but there were five new listings.

The most spectacular is waterfront, 150 feet of it with a 3700 square foot house. Hopefully it will be on brokers' open tomorrow - 5 bedrooms, 4 full baths, 5 car garage and a private setting.

The four other listings were split between the village and the town, with one a re-listing. With a little imagination there are bargains out there!

We have a much higher percentage of listings - now 106 single family homes - than closings this year. There have been 62 new listings since the beginning of the year which is easily worked out to be about 60% of our inventory. By contrast Marcellus has had only 26 of its 60 listings since January 1st and closed 14 homes. Camillus is much larger - currently with 150 listings, 110 new in 2008. They show 68 closings, and like Marcellus this is a higher percentage than Skaneateles' ratio of closings to listings.

Reason? I think we are more dependent on summer traffic. Many are waterfront and "the season" is just beginning. Our homes are more unique and therefore harder to price. Also, often Skaneateles owners are more able to wait with a house to get their asking price; the need to sell may not be as great.

Rates are still low, the sun is shining, the days and even nights are warm - go out and buy a house, close before summer, and sit back to enjoy it!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"The Realtor Thing"

Years ago I looked for houses with a family relocating to Skaneateles. We went through a lovely new home, built high on a hill overlooking the lake. Well, not exactly "overlooking." Close, but the only view of the lake was from the second story bedroom window if you leaned down and squinted a lot.

I demonstrated, and they howled with laughter. "You're doing 'The Realtor Thing!'"

I did it spontaneously, not really thinking it out and laughed at myself. I've remembered ever after to introduce moments like that as "The Realtor Thing."

Fast forward to this week - different price point, same family. They are now downsizing so we have combed the area for homes under $300,000. There actually are quite a few - trust me on that! We have seen almost all, I think.

Three of them had The Realtor Thing in the written listing:

1 - 'Two car attached garage' - except that only one car could go through from the driveway and the garage was open in the rear.

2 - 'Ranch with over 2200 square feet' - except that 800 of that is in the basement which is described as "finished" (picture game room, family room, extra bedroom) and it's just open space.

3 - 'Four bedroom home' - except that the fourth bedroom was an 8x8 room with no closet on the first floor.

These listings are misleading, and result in disappointment. What is needed is under promise and over deliver translations, as well as a Realtor willing to do The Realtor Thing at the site.

Back to the three offenders:

1 - 'One car garage' - and huge storage space that can be enclosed for your vintage car or boat.

2 - 'Ranch with over 1400 square feet' - and over 800 finishable feet in the basement ready for your needs.

3 - 'Three bedroom home' - and den or office space, just off the living room next to the half bath.

My clients walked away from these laughing (for the most part.) They felt their time had been trifled with and even though the mis-statements brought them in to see the homes, they would have seen them anyway with me. It's just that the emotional impact would have been different, and emotions sell homes.

Word to the wise Realtor - always under promise and over deliver!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

It's been a very busy week! I had a Tuesday brokers' open in a great home in Camillus, then offers to write after seeing properties, and a difficult closing which we all celebrated. This doesn't include looking for the perfect down-sizing home for a family, too! So much fun!

An agent we ran into along the way said he has had 13 showings of his property in the past week. While it's a function of price, he told us in his 31 years of real estate he knows that when the weather gets better, things start to jump off the shelves.

Not yet in Skaneateles. There are 14 homes closed since the beginning of the year and 5 new listings came on for a total of 101 single family residences in the multiple listing service. Of these new listings, two were re-lists and 1 isn't even in the area, but was placed in the Skaneateles area to catch attention. It caught ours! The average price remained the same as last week: $546,700.

And there are still 12 condos out there, too!

Selling this week was the 1874 renovated mission church in Skaneateles Falls. Currently used as office space, it is lovely and I wish the new owners well. There are several churches in the area for sale, some at unbelievably low prices. With time, this subject will be researched and blogged. The Falls church was listed for $699,000.

Looking at other areas to compare to Skaneateles - Marcellus just over the hill has 60 listings, many of which are "to be builts" in the new communities under development. Camillus has 157 listings, ranging from the lower prices (under 100K) to an incredible estate listed at almost 2 million dollars. Elbridge only has 31 listings - and those include the village and town of Elbridge as well as the village of Jordan.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

St. Joseph

It's been said that if you bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the back yard of the house you want to sell, it will be sold.

Yes, well....the only client of mine who will admit to burying St. Joseph in this fashion and for this reason, well....sold the house within a couple months.

The proponents of a St. Joseph statue - i.e. the company that makes them - agrees that he can help. "Can't Sell Home?" the package asks, "Ask St. Joseph.....He's Helped 1000's!" Then there's a picture of a man apparently burying something in his back yard.

Inside the package there are petitions to St. Joseph and a great thought: when the house does sell, remember the Pious Union of St. Joseph in Michigan with a donation, or give to a homeless shelter for all the people who are not as fortunate. I like that.

They also de-bunk the upside down, 12" deep, facing away from the house, etc., myths. The Way is more spiritual - ask, believe and trust through prayer.

My favorite paragraph is the last one:
For this practice to be fully effective, however...sellers must, of course, first do such practical, yet all important chores, as completing all necessary fix-up, properly staging the home and finally, adjusting the price so as to reflect true market value...then...Just watch St. Joseph make it happen!

For more information, go to

Monday, April 7, 2008

Declutterization - Part Two

On March 30th I wrote Part One - to get to it, do a search on my blog home page and it will show up. That blog ended: "Now, what do we do about it?"

Enter Mary Poppins - or should I call her Mary All-gone? (There's got to be something better than that...)

I will never get rid of the stuff. I have neither the time, the energy, or the ability to sort through it all and let it go. But it will be "all gone" with Mary.

Her job description: come into our home and spend however much time is necessary to go through every closet, shelf, drawer and display cabinet and make it all go away. She will use garage sales, e-bay, consignment shops, Salvation Army and her own wits to "place" everything. In exchange, she will receive half the profit. My estimate is that it will take two weeks of working long days to make it all go away.

The concept is this: When we renovated the camp, everything went out in order to have it gutted and re-built. It's a very small place with one tiny closet, so what comes back in is very noticeable. We therefore don't bring much back inside - disposables like food, yes, a few bits of furniture, but very few decorations. It's mostly windows anyway.

I want my home to be like that. The chairs I saved from my mother's home that are in the garage and in the basement - gone! The 3 foot long pictures my birthmother had that no one in the family wants - gone! All those coats my mother wore - gone! The books (except for my first editions) that I will never read again - gone!

"What if she makes a mistake?" my husband asks. Unless she puts him out or one of the animals, I don't see how she can make a mistake. What I am keeping will be listed: my grandmother's toboggan, the doll house I had when I was a little girl, the unpublished novels, the quilt that was stitched by my son's great-grandmother, etc.

This Mary All-gone is real. She is contracted to come to our home on April 26th for a week and then return in May some time. The people we've told about this have all said, "When can you come to MY house?"

My Mary is an old friend, doing this because she has some time and this is a good way to combine work with a visit. I know others for whom a job like this could be a real career, and I know that our generation could keep them busy!

What I also know is this - no matter what happens I will be thrilled and proud and feel so light and airy. I love my stuff, but as Earth Day approaches I see no reason for new stuff to be created in factories all over the world when old stuff could suffice. Someone will love my mother's size 14 black cashmere coat, someone else will read her Dickens and my Faulkner, the chairs will grace someone else's foyer.

When I explained to Alex what we were planning, he gave me a great quote from Chuck Palahniuk: "Don't let the things you own start owning you." Amen!

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

The spring season is upon us! Of the 5 new listings, 3 are waterfront. The roads down to the lake for seasonal cottages are passable, interest is there, and if you buy now you most likely will be closed in time to enjoy the summer. How's that for a sales pitch?

On the closed market there are now 14 in the multiple listing service for Skaneateles this year. Last week none sold, as marked by a contingency status. Remember, "sold" is not "closed." Closed means money has changed hands and more importantly the deed has been filed with the county. I learned that years ago from an agent who had been in the business since World War II and unfortunately at least once a month I am reminded of it in one way or another. Stay tuned to a later blog - I have a sad, sad tale in the works now (not mine, not here.)

Those condos I wrote about also could be listed as residential. There are currently 12 on the market and none have closed since the beginning of the year. However, there are only 5 rental properties on the market and 4 others have been leased since January 1st. Not all go through the mulitple listing service and I know of several others that have rented. It's a sign of the times - but also a sign that investors should buy up these houses with apartments or two family designations. There's a need.

Currently there are 98 homes in Skaneateles on the market. Of these, 79 are existing homes and the remaining 19 are "to be built" or "under construction." Of interest this week is one of the first listings in the new Parkside community off West Elizabeth Street. Years in the development, a few homes were built to resemble exisiting village homes. Inside were all the bells and whistles you could want. The current listing is almost 4,000 square feet and priced at $649,900. I want to keep an eye on that one - see how it fares as a new (2005) home in that subdivision.

This week the average price of a home in Skaneateles is $546,700, slightly under last week's average. That's all right - it's still almost $300,000 over the nearest competitor in the county!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Day Trip

Yesterday spring seemed to have sprung, and although it was still too chilly for the convertible (and Bernie has it in the garage anyway) I took off with my old friend Rebecca to explore Canandaigua with our other friend, Dodie.

We intended to go to the the Spice Shop and then Wegman's and north to visit my sister, but Dodie had other ideas. She thought we should see the New York Wine & Culinary Center ( She is the town supervisor for East Bloomfield and wanted to see it for herself, but also because Rebecca is an expert chef, specializing in gluten-free products and food design.

We were all thrilled with the place! We walked in to see a wine and cheese tasting seminar in the educatonal theater. Down the hall in the Viking Range Hands-on Kitchen a group was learning about sushi in a lengthier class. At the end of the hall looking out to the lake was their wine-tasting room. It felt as if we'd been transported to Napa Valley! Except, of course, all the products were produced in New York State.

Upstairs was the restaurant - every table at a window. In the summer they open up the deck and balcony for more tables. The bar was luxurious, dark wood and metal tables. It was just a beautiful building filled with wines, cheeses and beers from the micro-breweries around the state. In the summer there's an outdoor garden with native plants and over 70 fruit trees that grow in upstate New York.

This is truly a great destination for an afternoon, about an hour's drive west of Skaneateles.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mr. Trabold

I saw in the Post-Standard today ( that Mr. Trabold had passed away. Odd - I thought of him on Monday when I was in the village. I turned a corner and there was a gentleman who looked so much like him that I thought momentarily it was him. Then I realized I hadn't seen him in a while.

Mr. Trabold had the garage in town for 58 years. You know it now as "Joe's Pasta Garage" on Jordan Street, new since 2004 (?) Prior to that Mr. Trabold owned - well, owned doesn't really do him justice - presided over, maybe - the stone building complete with cars on lifts, dark passages, years and years of grease and grime. It cleaned up really well, though.

He was a "tough customer" as my father used to say. A crotchety old man when I knew him. My son was told to bring the car in "early." He showed up at 9:30 - early enough to a 17 year old - and heard what Mr. Trabold thought of lazy kids. He remembers that tongue-lashing to this day.

But I liked him for all that. He had a virtual photo gallery and many, many albums of pictures of the village and town. He could tell you about when the high school burned - he was born in 1917 - and what the village looked like as it changed over the years. I also found that if I brought him chocolate chip cookies my car got fixed quicker.

Somewhere there's a photo of him in his office, a hole in the wall at the front of the building. It was filled with memorabilia and probably just decades of saved papers, too. I can see him sitting at his desk, looking up at whoever was taking the picture. Maybe it's just a memory I have, maybe it's a photo somewhere in the restaurant, but it's so very stark and revealing I will remember it, and him, always.