Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

And that was the week that was...and I want it gone, removed from my memory! The ups and downs, the "Yes, we'll go ahead," the "No, I want to think about it" deals. Just like the stock market, and the Congress, and every conversation!

But here we are, a new update. The world keeps spinning and I keep writing - albeit with a heater next to me and the rain falling, but we keep going. Always.

There are currently 147 active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. There are 5 new ones: 2 re-lists, 1 country with Marcellus schools, and another with lake rights. The fifth is new construction - 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, 2300 sf. for only $349,000. Interesting.

Contingent sales show 10 marked as such with 2 new ones. One of these sold within a day of listing it and the other has been on the market for almost a year. Both were on the very low end of prices. One word of caution: with all the fragility of the market, some of the active listings could actually be contingent on financing. I doubt if any agent is totally comfortable if a mortgage is involved taking it completely off the market without at least a chance for a conversation with another agent.

There were no new closings this past week - 35 have been closed year-to-date.

I spent a pleasant half hour here looking at numbers which intrigue me. The following is a comparison of Skaneateles with three other westside of Syracuse towns: Camillus, Marcellus and Elbridge.

In the computer, 834 total closings show for Skaneateles. Remember, we have only 35 so far with 147 active listings. The median list price of the closed homes this year is $425,000 and the selling price is $387,500. This is a decrease of slightly under 9%. Naturally some of this is skewed if the orginal price (in another listing) were actually higher.

For Camillus, a much larger area and population, 2,335 properties were listed as closed. This year alone they have closed 213 homes with a phenomenal 192 active listings. However, the median listing price is only $139,900 but the selling price is $136,000, a decrease of 2.7%

Marcellus has 533 properties closed in the computer. Of these, 48 have closed this year and they have 82 active. The median list price was $159,900 and the sales price was $150,000. This is a 6% difference.

Little Elbridge has an amazing 44 closed properties year to date and only 41 active. Altogether there have been 502 closings during the time the computer has scanned. The median list price was a respectful $124,900 with a median selling price of $122,000. Like Camillus, the town is having a phenomenal year. I hope to add to that total and raise the selling price in the next month!

What's to come? Who can predict! My guess is that the market is like the stocks - prices come down and you begin to itch to get into the game, the deals are too good to pass up. As I watch Skaneateles grow before my eyes - the renovation and expansion of the Old Stone Mill, the condos coming into Jordan Street, the shops filling with so many, many tourists - I have to believe that the abundance will continue.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Day of the Eagle

Yesterday I took the dogs out for their very early morning walk up the road at the lake. Boo ran ahead with his friends, Koko lagged behind. Nothing different than usual. But as I passed a camp a few down from ours, I saw this huge bird flying over the water. "A heron," I immediately guessed. Then realized what I had seen.

I ran home to find Bob already out on the deck with his camera. I was chased down the hill by our dear friend Martha who was yelling to us to "Look! Look!" She was followed by her three dogs running circles around her and barking.

We all met up on the deck and she pointed him out to me. All I could see was a triangle in a far tree, but she assured me that was our eagle. He had first been sighted by my brother-in-law when he was out kayaking this summer. Martha and her husband saw him fairly regularly after that. We were never so privileged until just then.

Bob went down to get our kayak in the water and we were joined by an elderly woman who walks her three golden retrievers about the same time we're out there. Martha did the honors, then told us how she had launched herself one time to take a photo and tipped over, camera and all. So now we were four crazed adults and eight dogs - 7:30 AM, remember.

Bob got his photo - amazing! To think that one of those magnificent creatures lives in our neck of the woods. We saw the male - and by golly he looks just like an eagle! Martha says there's a female out there, too.

He flew away, Bob took the dogs home, Martha went off to work, and I was left to deal with all the mortgage and real estate woes of the past week. It was a gorgeous day - the lake was smooth as glass, the sun was warming, and shoot - why not? I put on a sweatshirt, shorts, took off my sneakers and trundled the kayak down to the water.

I paddled around the point and down the lake. The wind was coming at me from the south, so I knew I'd have an easy time returning. No one was around - no boats or people on shore. I paddled and paddled. About the fifth mile down I let out a breath. I was breathing again. I took several deep breaths and kept on.

My goal was a camp I had sold a few years ago. I still see the owners regularly, but it's barely accessible by car so going by water is the better way. But since it's at the south end of the lake, I hadn't gotten there in my kayak or before that the canoe. I made it - the camp looks great - and then I started back, feeling satisfied that I had accomplished one goal at least.

The rest of the day I spent at the lake, reading, napping, doing work as it came my way. "Have you heard anything yet?" was the phrase everyone used. No, nothing yet, was my reply. The world had stalled.

That night we watched the President looking scared and delivering a speech to tell us that we are in difficult economic times. He had plans for it all, however, and we needed to rely on him and his cohorts to save us from ourselves. That message wasn't going over well in my house.

But this is the country that embraces the bald eagle. Somehow having seen that bird, free and unfettered, I realized the hope I believe in was within sight.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

What a week it was! Somehow I thought the economic upheaval would have a fallout here, but it doesn't seem to have changed things much. We are still making progress, slow but sure.

There are currently 144 active listings in the Skaneateles area as defined by the Central New York Information Service (MLS). This is down from a high in the 160s a few months ago. Of course it could be seasonal, but this is a prime season in which to list and sell. The number of people on the streets and in the shops is a good indicator. The village continues to be filled with wonderful visitors from all over the world. Please see the comment under the blog "Communication."

We have five new listings this week - 1 waterfront, 1 village re-list (under the sales price of a year ago, I believe), and 3 homes ranging in value. Three properties were marked contingent - 1 new construction and 2 village homes, one of which just came on and found a buyer immediately! Well done!

There are 9 total homes marked contingent and 13 pending, just waiting to close. So far there are still 34 closed properties year-to-date and none this past week.

We lost the contingency status of 11 Onondaga due to the economic woes of Wall Street and the world. I hope the deal stays together, but in the meantime we must go on and look for back-up offers that could rapidly become prime offers. It will be open again on Saturday, 12:00 to 2:00 if you'd like to see it. I've heard tell that the attic is cleaned out and looks HUGE!

Rentals are proliferating. There are 16 current homes/apartments available. Of these, 8 are in the village. Their prices range from $895 to $7,000 on the water. The majority cluster around the $1,500 mark, but this could come down as winter approaches.

I think this past week promotes the belief that buying and selling need to be done in the moment, not drawn out. You don't know what awaits you or the world. Certainly I have heard the phrase "We thought we had a deal, but the economy........(and the voice trails off.)" It will be fascinating to watch this all play out - and enlightening, too. I am ever-optomistic about the future, both of the real estate market in Skaneateles and the fortitude of the people of the United States.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Contingent on the Sale of a Home

Many people find the home of their dreams before they've sold their current house. Living space is very important - they don't want to risk not having a wonderful home, so they don't list their home until they've found the next one. Some risk losing that house, but many place an offer "contingent on the sale of their home."

The offer is in place, and essentially this means they have "dibs" on their dream home. Usually the home inspection is done and negotiated. They don't want to find out that the roof is caving in and that funny crack in the basement leads to a sink hole, for example. Naturally they are not in the best position to negotiate - they are not ready, willing and able buyers yet - but they are in good shape. Price their current home with the market and they are ready to move on. It only takes a buyer to make both deals happen.

The agent writes in a recall - 48 hours to remove the contingency of the sale of a home or show they can financially buy the house or add an extra non-refundable deposit. The recall can be activated by the homeowner of the desired house receiving a bona fide offer in writing with few if any contingencies. Even if it's 5:00 on Friday evening, the clock starts ticking once the notification has been made. Someone will have bought the house by Sunday at 5:00 PM.

Now here is where it gets sticky. What if the original seller takes an offer contingent on the sale of the home from the buyer, and that buyer in turn takes an offer contingent on the sale of a home from another buyer...and on it goes. A couple years ago there were five (5!) houses in a domino effect here in Skaneateles. It was successful in the end, but it was also a last minute deal.

Today we are dealing with more and more contingencies. The buyers are afraid to buy a home and get a bridge loan because of the market. Getting stuck with two mortgages is not pleasant, even when the buyer can actually afford it. Volatility abounds. Take the safe route.

So I hear over and over - three e-mails today alone - about homes around here or in other parts of the country that need to sell. I am totally convinced that somewhere in the depths of Minnesota or Wyoming there is a little home that is on the market. Once that sells, it will trigger a great landslide of home sales.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I sat at my open house yesterday deep in misery, I admit. I had several deals pending in different stages of flux, which I suppose is a kind word, and the past week to remember while I waited for resolution. There must have been at least 10 people - agents, buyers, owners - who needed to call me in response to my messages.

A few did, but the majority didn't. And that is what drove me....drove me.....well... nuts.

Two people called me several times and I told them how much I appreciated their communication. It makes my job so much more pleasant. We can commiserate or bat ideas around or simply talk. But without a phone call the imagination takes over. Imaginations, I've found, generally tend to dwell on the negative if not downright disastrous. Look at the past week we've had economically!

Eventually the calls started rolling in, and frankly all the news was good. I was able to say that progress was being made - if only that the players were at least talking now. Throughout the rest of the afternoon the words got better and better. Hallelujah!

It still doesn't take away those few solitary hours that could have been used (mentally) more productively. I used to have a pact with Alex. We'd set a time to talk, or when he lived with me, to come home or call me. We called it "panic time." It was an absolute. If 5:00 was the panic time, then by golly I would hear from him at least by 4:59 because a minute later I would assume the worst. But up until 5:00 I wouldn't worry (or at least not as much). It was a matter of trust that we didn't abbrogate. It made it much easier to live with him - and I'm sure he would say the same about living with me!

When I have a deal that requires communication from a third party, I usually tell my clients when they will hear from me. "I will call you by noon tomorrow," I promise, "even if I haven't heard anything at least you will hear from me." This saves everyone from wondering if they missed a call or didn't get voicemail. It's a great system.

I think the best compliment I've ever gotten was from a client/friend - "Meg always calls you back!" Now I have to live up to that - I just wish everyone else did, too!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

...And Then Along Comes Mary....

"Mary" as I will call her - dear "Mary" decided to buy a home. She and her husband prepared for this purchase. Yes, they had a house to sell, credit to repair, but they wanted and needed a bigger house with some specifics not easy to find.

They looked for 18 months. Through the snows and the heat, all over Central New York. "It doesn't exist!" I'd complain to Bob. "They will never find it!"

But I kept looking and kept checking things out. Once I even told lovely Lisa in our office I was going to drive about 40 miles one way at night to not sell a house. "Where's your confidence?" she asked. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because they want me to - but this isn't the house."

But then it came on the hotsheet one day. Just what they wanted - exactly what they wanted and where they wanted. I called them and we hustled out there. They put in a full price offer and won out over the other people who wanted it.

The key was that they were prepared. They had done their homeowork, not just for the house but for their credit. They had a pre-approval in the bag and could buy without selling.

And good things come to those who prepare. While they searched, their own home was going through a transformation to make it highly marketable. They did what they needed to do - they had a home inspection so they knew the flaws, they took out piles and piles of junk, they decorated for the new buyer. They priced it right, too. After two open houses, it was sold.

Everyone closes in a couple weeks. "Mary" and her husband will have their new home, their buyer will move in soon after.

Key to this great tale is a willingness on everyone's part to be flexible - the sellers of the house "Mary" bought priced it to sell, "Mary" and her husband knew they had a good deal and were willing to make a concession or two, the buyer moved rapidly. Everyone delivered papers on time to attorneys and mortgage people and we will have a happy ending.

This is not a fairy tale. "Mary" is real. And she's not alone - there are many people out there doing the same thing, thank goodness.

So while I rant a bit about things not being easy, I must also speak glowingly about the successes - the deals that balance the hard ones.

Postscript - If you want to laugh and laugh, go to the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse's eastern premiere of "Church Basement Ladies." It stars the incomparable - and Skaneateles native -Maureen Quigley.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What a Week!

I have learned so much this week - about how to handle stress, mainly. And I know I'm not alone.

I've heard from several people who lament the passing of an art form - meet people, share houses over the internet, go see houses, check comps, negotiate briefly to buy the house of their dreams, have a home inspection that finds only a few issues, work out those issues, apply for a mortgage and get a good rate, get the commitment and update the abstract and have it surveyed and meet in an attorney's office to sign the papers. Ah, the good old days!

Now no deal is safe. It should be. Stocks rise and fall, but there's always the land. Nothing is so totally lopsided in Skaneateles, as it is in other parts of the country. Hold onto the property and it will increase in value.

Everyone complains about the bizarre market we're in. It's not just me, and it's not just agents. Anyone in the mix - attorneys, home inspectors, insurance people, mortgage processors and brokers - we all have our stories to tell.

So I walked a few miles today in this positively gorgeous fall weather, mowed the lawn the day before, talked and talked on my cell trying to work everything out and make my clients happy at least. It's going to be a few months or more before the good old days come back, but I have absolute faith they will!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

"Slowly I turn, step by step....."

Having lost a deal this week due to the mortgage mess and having gained a deal this week due to the mortgage mess, I think I am going around in circles instead of advancing or retreating.

There are currently 142 active listings in the Skaneateles area. We added 7 "new" ones this past week - 4 were actually re-lists and 3 were brand-new, first time in recent memory on the market.

Two properties were designated "contingent." One was in the town, another on the water (surprise!)

As of tonight, there are 8 "K"ed properties and 13 pending properties. One actually went right to pending - an eager buyer's agent found the perfect home for his people, talked the owners into selling for a decent price, and pended it immediately.

Only one property closed, and that was sort of in the Skaneateles area - but again, 10% under the original list price. There's a trend - especially for the homes priced for yesterday's market, not the current one.

About the mortgage mess: I lost a deal because people (not mine) were trying to buy a home with a credit score under 600 and a missed payment to boot in the past 30 days. Not the best idea. I gained a sale because frankly the real estate market, as Scarlett O'Hara would tell you, is what's real, not stocks on paper. When Wall Street has issues, real estate does well. It's a safer bet. So my buyer sold his stocks and moved his money into an investment property. As I said, it's time to invest in Skaneateles!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ernie Davis & Co.

Tonight is the world premier of the movie, "The Express," the biography of Syracuse University's Ernie Davis. He was an incredible running back and the first black man to win the Heisman Trophy. Traffic will be stopped, an orange carpet will be unfurled on Salina Street. Dennis Quaid, SU former football players, Newhouse graduates and honored guests will walk into the Landmark Theater.

Ernie Davis died of leukemia before ever getting to play in the NFL. I spent the morning addressing envelopes for a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and remembering him. Bob had read to me an article by Arnie Burdick, a local sports columnist, from the Post Standard last night, leaving both of us in tears. Davis was a hero to us as young kids growing up in Syracuse, and probably our first brush with inexplicable death.

I had attended football games with my father, and probably saw Jim Brown play and then of course, Ernie Davis. The games are some of my fondest memories - my father would buy me a corsage from a local florist with an orange SU on the flower and we would walk to the games through Thornden Park. It was our time together.

When I heard of Ernie Davis' death I was in church on the corner of Brighton and Midland, then Atonement Lutheran. Will Headlee, I believe, was the choir director. The word came over the radio and we all stopped, speechless. I remember crying quietly with everyone else. We were stunned. Just the year or so before we had watched him play, watched as he won the Heisman. And now he was gone...? I don't think I even knew he was sick - my parents kept "bad things" from me.

Forty-some years later we lost another young man, a boy who was my son's tennis partner and best friend here in Skaneateles, to lymphoma. I don't think Ernie Davis' death prepared us for this event - nothing does. It's all senseless.

The movie will be difficult to watch but the celebration of a young man's life - and efforts to combat the cancers that ended these lives - must and should continue. I am glad "The Express" is coming to town, to remind us all of how precious life and loved ones are.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Busy, busy week! It's been absolutely wonderful!

There are currently 146 active single family listings in the Skaneateles area. This is about a 10% decrease since mid-spring. And why? Homes are selling!

This week three new listings came on the market. Two were re-lists and high end waterfront and the other is a new village property, high end also.

Four properties were marked as "K" for contingent, among them my beautiful 11 Onondaga Street listing. Another village home, new construction and a waterfront round out the contingent designations.

This may be the first time in a very long time that the number of "K" properties in a given week is greater than the new listings, another sign of health.

Two properties were withdrawn, one possibly because it was rented. Five others simply expired, something that happens in this market unfortunately.

There was only one closing, an older village home in the mid-$200s. It had been reduced from its original price by about 14%. There are now 32 closed properties as compared with last year's 66. We'll make it up this fall!

There are currently 19 properties waiting to close. Add those to the 32 plus a few more that are still listed as active but have explanations attached to them and while it won't be a robust year it won't be as difficult as the first six months.

Syracuse itself was once again cited as one of the 10 most affordable markets in the entire United States. Skaneateles has a higher price point, but it is certainly much better off than many, many other places. We don't have the foreclosures or the entire developments standing empty. I saw a picture of mountain lions that had moved into one neighborhood out west and taken over a home that was vacant. Not here. Not ever.

So call your Realtors and make appointments before it's too late to take advantage of our slower market. I know people who have and they are thrilled. It will help everyone!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Now we're cooking with gas!

There are "only" 142 active listings in the Skaneateles area as defined by the multiple listing service.

This past week only two new listings came on - a re-list with a reduced price, and my gorgeous listing on Autumn Tree Court (open Saturday, $394,500). Sorry - had to do it!

The good news is that 5 - count 'em, 5! - homes were marked contingent this past week. Two were solid investment properties, two were waterfront, and the fifth was new construction (a great house, too - sorry to see it sold!) But things are moving!

Overall there are 11 contingent homes, just waiting to be pended and then closed.

I looked more carefully this week because of the reduction of active listings. Where did they all go? Three expired - two of these were waterfront. Two others were withdrawn. There's never a reason - whether they were removed to prepare for a different brokerage, or the owners just have stopped wanting to sell, or were leased is never spelled out.

There are still only 30 closed homes for this year according to the multiple listing service. Ten were closed in the first two months of the year. In the past 60 days 4 out of the 10 closings have been waterfront.

Change is in the air! September has always been a good month - people are back from vacation, the air is cooler and more invigorating, people want to settle in for the winter. I think we'll all have a good fall!