Saturday, May 31, 2008
I tried walking with the dogs. We stormed the trails until they headed for home with a "Forget you!" wag of tails. I mowed the lawn until the rain came - that didn't help but it got the lawn mowed at least. I tried to pay the bills, but that's hardly a calming gesture. So I'm blogging.
Writing has always been a solace to me. I've got a ton of journals hidden away in boxes somewhere. I've written short stories as inspiration attacks me, but they've begun to scare me a bit because years later they come true. That's another whole story.
The novels came out of loneliness and a need to create, to try to change my own life and live in a writer's life. They were intense. One was written for my own compulsion, the other formulaic for publication. Neither ever got close, except for a chapter/short story that everyone loved.
See how I'm avoiding talking about the Big Issue? And it's not my issue, I'm just the conduit, the person who as friend hears about these things.
I used to think that "doing" real estate was so much less important than teaching severely disturbed children. The sale of a home was not a life and death issue, was not as torturous as my kids' lives were every single day. The future of a sale was money; for the kids it was a question of mental hospitals or a decent job or family or prison.
I've begun to realize that shelter and how people relate to it is incredibly important psychically. Where we live determines how we live, what our lifestyles are, whether we are near friends and family or alone. It's not "just business." Selling a home means often the end of something - a life, a dream, a family, a chance for more memories. It's important.
I think I found that peace now. Not so much a comfortable, settling in peace, but the peace of acceptance. I've chosen to be part of this process, and by absorbing the emotion that swirls around a sale I am doing my job.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Bob and I discussed it going in to Syracuse later that day to his mother's house for the annual family gathering. I said that possibly people didn't take Sunday drives like they used to because of the gas prices (then about $3.65, I think) and he told me about life in the Czech Republic. There, the villages are closer together, people ride bikes, the amenities are not far. My friend Eva who is from Ehrlangen in Germany has always talked about the village life.
So what does that mean for the housing market? Does it mean that people won't drive as far from work? My cousins chose not to buy a home farther out of the city because it would mean driving more. They would have had to purchase another car and they didn't want that, but driving in 10 miles four times a day added up in gas costs.
But what will happen as people adjust? I met a man yesterday who went to the Adirondacks over the Memorial Day weekend and he told me Old Forge was like a ghost town - no perpetual line of cars winding their way up into the mountains as they had other years. People are staying home.
I've seen more people walking, especially around Elbridge. Bikes are becoming more noticeable on the roads. I've adjusted by driving slower, amazingly enough. But I also park the car and walk to places in the village, and think twice about running errands.
So at the same time the gas prices are bloating, we have an obesity crisis as well. Maybe our love affair with the car has something to do with that. I know that when I worked in the garden over the weekend I felt great and slept soundly. I ate more healthily, too. The week before I had averaged three hours each day in the car driving - and sitting.
This summer I see people cutting back on driving and eating and increasing their walking and biking. We are suited here in Central New York for the life of the Bavarian villages. Skaneateles actually has been compared to Ehrlangen. Maybe there's no Wegman's, but everything else is there and within walking distance. Elbridge, also! Park the car - get coffee at Creekside or The Red and White Creamery - and walk to P&C or the Big M. Sit by the lake, or marvel at the lovely old homes on Main Street.
And what happens to the homes like Raspberry, not in villages? They are still very, very close to the major highways and only 15 minutes from Syracuse. The subdivisions are excellent walking "trails." Take the dog, meet the neighbors instead of driving off to be with strangers in some other town.
The pendulum swings, always, and what might seem like crisis is always opportunity.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Our eagerness surrounded the Thibault home at the corner of Onondaga and East Street. It's the big brick mansion that presides over smaller, newer homes in the area. I had seen the sign on Saturday as I drove out to the lake and immediately pulled up the price on my palm: $989,000. How do you price these homes?
We walked in the circular drive and felt a part of history. The name was "Teaselwood" and built in 1838 by a Mr. Snook who brought the teasel industry to Skaneateles. There's a barn-like structure not far down East Street that was sold as the teasel barn a few years ago - an amazing home and beautifully remodeled.
But this home has not been renvated in the same way. The walls curve, and we especially liked winding our way through the second floor jack and jill bathroom. The stairway lifts you up to the second floor so that you are constantly turning. And looking up - tin ceilings abound, as do fireplaces and those lovely long windows.
The kitchen boasts a huge wood-burning stove, and as Janet pointed out probably never was the kitchen 170 years ago. In the cellar, where the laundry is now, there remains a brick fireplace, where the servants presumably baked and scrubbed and produced incredible meals for the owners and their guests. Remember the Masterpiece Theatre "Upstairs, Downstairs"? I expected to see Mrs. Bridges in command and what-was-the-name-of-the-butler emerge from another one of the many back rooms to consult with her.
On the third floor the servants would have lived in the angled attic rooms. Not "done," it still added to the living space. From the outside we could see the windows they would have peered out - it's doubtful that there were any houses around the estate at the time it was built. And what a view they would have had of the lake!
The second floor contained three real bedrooms and a smaller room that could have easily been a bedroom. Off the front room was an alcove, in under the eaves and serving as a long closet currently. A lovely touch - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came to mind.
The best part of the home in my opinion was the front enclosed porch with a window that opened into the parlor at some point in the past. There were other touches to the home - the wooden carved half openings in the sides for the front door wooden handles, the wrought iron trim above the bay window (Janet pointed out), and always the tin ceilings.
Should this sell at the asking price, there is precedent. The huge brick home out on Andrews Road sold for just under one million a few years ago. But other than that, the Falcone estate on Genesee Street, and another renovated home overlooking the water, all the other million dollar properties - 35 of them - have been waterfront.
Whoever does buy this historic home will undoubtedly make changes, but I hope they keep the integrity of the exterior - it truly is grand.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
There are still 17 closings listed for the year-to-date; last year by this time there were 31 closings. Yikes!
In bright spots, 2 homes were designated "contingent." One is listed in the mid-$300s and the other in the mid-$200s. Both came on the market last June, and while one took a break over the winter they each had original listings prices reduced. Of course, we won't know until they close what the selling price was. That number is totally concealed should anything happen with the sale and the house needed to be returned to the market.
So what happens to homes that don't sell? Of the 30 marked expired this year in the multiple listing service, about 65% have been re-listed either with the original agent or a different brokerage. In most cases the listing price has been reduced, if only nominally. Another few have been rented - people are looking and if a home can garner enough to pay the taxes and the mortgage interest for another year, the owners feel that it makes sense to wait. Others have just remained expired. It's not easy having a home on the market and if the response initially to the price wasn't encouraging, this year's response would probably be less so. Or so the owners believe, perhaps.
I really am looking forward to the week when everything changes.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
But my house choice - despite the excitement and praise of 11 Onondaga - is actually South Street. As I spent the time - 11:00 to 12:30 - in the kitchen and speaking with agents, I realized what a truly great deal the home is. I mean, here you have a large 4 bedroom home, but with new mechanicals, new septic, and mostly new windows! The front porch (the wicker helps, of course!) is lovely; the side entrance from the driveway takes you over an ancient marble step.
And with this rain and chill I was actually warm in the kitchen with the gas stove cranking out the heat. Being warm doesn't happen often - and you wouldn't think so in an old (1889) home, but it's also efficient (remember the new furnace and windows?)
Also, having had my mother live with us, I am always aware of in-law potential in a home. Certainly we all need that first floor bathroom, for those times when the stairs are impossible. But on the south side there are also two rooms divided from the rest of the house by the center hall, and these could easily be converted to a suite. One even has a closet, so if I overpromised I could have listed it as a 5 bedroom even. Privacy, plumbing, and preparation all equals potential. (Can you tell I wrote ads this morning?)
And the price! My "price it to sell" policy is in effect here, courtesy of the owners' realistic appraisal: $174,500. I challenge you to rent a home this size virtually anywhere for what the mortgage payment would be - including taxes, principle, interest and insurance with nothing down it would be approximately $1,700/month. And with ownership comes equity and tax write-offs.
So if broker's opens are to help agents get to know a home and spend time there, this one worked beautifully!
Monday, May 19, 2008
I hadn't brought any reading material because I thought I would be the late one arriving, so I was left with my phone to entertain me. That and the goldfinches playing in the high grass, the contemplation of a busy week ahead, the satisfaction of a great weekend behind....
I love math so I started doing some of the numbers of the data available to me on my Palm, courtesy of having the MLS information updated daily along with my key.
Results of interest (or so I thought as I waited):
- There are currently 3,104 agents in the multiple listing service. I've been told that when there are hard times in the market, this number is reduced tremendously - we'll see -
- Current active listings up to $500,000 - Skaneateles has 78, Manlius has 251
- Camillus has only one listing over $500,000 - it's gorgeous! - and 164 under the half million mark
- Onondaga has 108 of 112, Dewitt comes in at 120/148
- Auburn's highest priced home in the ML is $275,000 - and it only has 136 listings (time to check the internet, but Auburn is MUCH larger than most of the other towns). Seems an indication that in the lower priced markets in Central New York, houses are selling.
The agent arrived, we apologized to the tenants, then toured and talked, and I got to the office before the heavy rains hit around 7:00.
So now the real update!
Yes, there are currently 133 active listings in the Skaneateles area. Five new ones came on last week - a re-list of a spectacular waterfront property in the village under 2 million, two in the village and two more in the town. And none showed up as sold; there are still 16 listed as having closed this year.
I played around again with the numbers this morning, basically to get my facts straight myself for listing appointments and to simply know the numbers. There are 57 single family residences that have been listed over 100 days. Within the past 30 days, 36 new listings have come on the market in Skaneateles.
These numbers are not as accurate as they appear. Many of these homes are re-lists - they didn't sell last year and so they have come on again either with a different agent, at a different price, or simply to refresh their image. For some, the snow pictures have been replaced with spring pictures.
The village will be filled over Memorial Day weekend - the weather is expected to co-operate - and perhaps then the deluge of home-selling will occur. It will happen!
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Some background here. Saturdays were always the day that open houses were held in the Syracuse metropolitan area, I've been told. They are still the day in many other places; we noticed them particularly on the Cape. (We never go anywhere, so I have limited experiences...but that's okay.) But many years ago - probably in the 70s, Mary McNeill (our former broker/owner) who might have been with Eagan Real Estate then, began holding her open houses on Sundays. As the tale is told, the other agents had to fall in line because she was so successful.
The current situation. The owners of 11 Onondaga asked if we could have the first open on a Saturday because Sundays were reserved for family days. I thought it over, and realized that I had at least one other house coming on that would require an open as quickly as possible, and so agreed. I knew that the house and the price would be an attraction in and of itself, so the day shouldn't matter. I did a few quick line ads in the paper and a picture ad on Saturday morning, but the majority of interested buyers would be Skaneateles people anyway. They would see the sign and the flyer in the window and with word of mouth I thought we'd do well.
Another agent from another company also had her signs out for two opens the same day. I asked her about her success rate, and she said that in the past she had been quite happy with the response. She reasoned that out-of-towners would be in the village on Saturday and leave Sunday afternoons. That made a great deal of sense - flights home would require drives to the airport and early arrivals, or mid-afternoon leave-takings. These people would be less likely to go to an open house.
Cutting to the chase, because dinner (asparagus and spinach salad with walnuts blended with a blue cheese dressing...) is on the horizon (thank you Bob!) - I had people non-stop from 1:00 to 4:00. I finally had to go get my signs because the owners wanted to come home!
People came in with agents, without agents, on walks around the village, purposefully to see the house and others just out of curiosity. I had an agent call her clients and tell them to pack the kids in the car and hurry before I left! I haven't had such a successful open house in a while - and this in a market that has by all standards, slowed.
The house and grounds are spectacular, the presentation all but flawless. Problems with the home were corrected (e.g. the ceiling raised in the kitchen) and other issues confronted (e.g. no tenant in the carriage house.) The price is competitive. The weather was changeable - sun then rain then wind and rain then sun again - but the day was spectacular. Yes, I think Saturday, at least in Skaneateles, will be my preferred day.
Friday, May 16, 2008
I got in before 10:00 this morning to work on my flyers and postcards for my two new listings. I've been having fun designing my own cards and feature sheets with the help of the RE/MAX design center and Karen. I'm really pleased with how they came out. Less pleased to find out that they must take two stamps because the postcard 27 cent stamps aren't out yet, so I'm putting on 24 and 3 cent-ers. The "common buck-eye" is on the 24 cent stamp - my guess is you don't know what a buck-eye is in this instance. I'd forgotten, although it wasn't so long ago that I used them for postcards.
To return to excitement. So there I was sitting in the office in the front desk which I love, and a gentleman walked in after looking at the pictures in the window. He asked about my new listing at 11 Onondaga Street (open Saturday, 1:00 to 3:00, by the way) and then said his wife reads my blog and enjoys it. I cannot tell you how happy that made me. My goodness!
Then around noon one of my clients dropped in, continuing his search for a place to rent. He is building a new home, but his wife and children will be here before it's finished. We looked at places on the computer, made a date to see a couple after work, and I made a few phone calls. I think he's going to take an apartment that another client is going to close on in a week. It works for everyone - he has a short term rental and my buyer has good people immediately in half of his duplex. I love it when I can help people find each other!
In the afternoon several of us gathered in Doug's old dining room behind our current office. RE/MAX Masters has leased the lovely old brick building for additional space. The windows are great, and will present our listings definitively. SLJ Construction will have the shelves in by Tuesday, I hope. It's amazing what we've accomplished in our single office next to Doug's. We currently have the majority of Skaneateles listings over one million dollars!
Mary McNeill, our former broker/owner who has been in the business for many years, gave a class on representation out there. I never used to enjoy classes, preferring to just buy and sell rather than discuss the process. But her anecdotes are priceless, and I know I can always learn more. That was some more excitement, to be there and with Mary and other RE/MAX agents, eating cookies from Sam's Skaneateles Bakery....
Afterwards I finished copying the paperwork for the opens tomorrow and Sunday (204 South Street in Elbridge, also 1:00 to 3:00). I thought about the day and watched the people going to Doug's for their Friday night fish. Even though I knew that Bob had some marvelous dinner planned that probably involved asparagus, I had to blog before I left the office. To be read, to be heard, that's quite a compliment!
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
He had a huge ad in today's Skaneateles Journal (www.skaneatelesjournal.com) highlighting his properties in the area. One of the things he offers as an incentive is a free home inspection prior to listing. WOW! Now that should make him stand out and yes, he does have a ton of listings.
I also urge people some of the time to have an inspection so they know what the problems are in the home. I think it's an invaluable tool - plus if it hasn't been done there may be safety issues that have been overlooked and should be addressed anyway, whether it's being listed or not.
I like getting a very tough inspector both when I'm listing and when I'm selling. There are enough horror stories out there about issues that were ignored or just not seen. It's costly, and I hate to have anyone upset. I'd rather lose a sale than have anyone live in a home that was not as thoroughly inspected as possible. Knowledge is power.
After speaking with Gerry about his offer to pay for inspections, I was surprised to find that people have not taken him up on it! Incredible - I guess "ignorance is bliss" outweighs "knowledge is power"...?
What is that saying about the sincerest form of flattery? I will start offering pre-listing inspections, too. Thanks, Gerry!
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Back to broker's opens.....I picked up my friend Janet and we combined talking and planning with seeing homes. She is looking at homes for a friend, I am just gathering information and comparing properties. We saw a couple homes that "were what they were" - a village home in need of work (the hole in the wall in the front hall was a dead giveaway) and a surprisingly light and bright home along soon to be quiet Route 321.
But the one that knocked our socks off was a little camp in the true sense of the upstate New York word. Only 861 square feet, it promised evenings of playing Monopoly, bunking with the cousins, telling tales around the wood-burning stove, dealing with the tiny sink in the tiny bathroom. And living on the deck to soak in the view - up and down the lake, like a picture postcard, Janet said.
It wasn't the melting chocolate chip cookies served outside in the sun - honest, we each had only one! - or the ancient bedspreads that reeled us in. It was simply "camp," just "camp." Offered for $559,000 - and worth every memory you and your children will have!
So I tried "P" for pending. This means the homes have had home inspections, checks with the code enforcement office for projects the new owners would like to do, repairs designated, etc., and now all they are doing is waiting for the bank to set up closing. "Pending" is a good thing, in other words. There are only 5 homes listed in the system under Skaneateles in this category: 2 waterfront, 1 large parcel, 1 being built, and 1 regular old house.
But this week there are 127 properties for sale, with 6 new listings. Not surprisingly 3 of the 6 are re-lists ("Let's try again now that it's spring.")
I still say at some point the houses are going to sell, and then there will be a deluge. One of these new ones is coming on the market under the assessed value - and I believe this is the way it will play out. New houses will come on with "right pricing" and be snatched up. Others will come down or the owners will wait for the prices to catch up to them.
Whatever happens, it will be a fascinating next few months!
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
As I signed in to blogger.com tonight I saw that I had published my 100th blog last night. it occurred to me that I had started this journey about this time last year. I looked back in the archives and sure enough - amazingly - my first blog was May 7th.
I'm distracted by the number - 100 - that seems like so much. And yet that means on 266 (it's leap year) days I didn't write for one reason or another. My blogging mentor, Jill Hurst-Wahl, has chosen to blog every day and has succeeded for years. But that's okay - that's her choice and I am impressed, but I couldn't, or should I say, didn't.
I did write 100 times though. Wow.
And many of you read my blogs, thanks to my own self-promotion and www.skaneatelestalks.com and whatever word brought you here by serendipity. Thank you.
I hope to be here next year, in the same desk by the same open door. The listings I have now will have sold, people will have bought and moved into homes and condos, new houses will have been built. Bob and I will be a year older, God willing, and so will you.
An agent from Toronto stopped by last night inquiring about rentals on the lake and we got to talking. She asked if I knew how beautiful this village is, how very special. She pronounced it "The Most Beautiful Place in the Whole World," and she said she had traveled extensively. I agreed, and assured her I treasured its beauty, too.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Last week there were 8 homes on brokers' open. I made it to 5 of them and then stayed at one so the agent could see some of the closer ones. In such a short time span it's almost impossible to make it to everything, but I do believe it's important to know what's out there firsthand.
Starting today I want to use Tuesdays as "House of the Week" day. I like the idea because it makes me get out and see as much as possible, and also I need to think about what makes a home the chosen one. Seemed like a good idea this morning - but then I saw two houses and I had difficulty choosing.
I am going to pass on the 2.75 million dollar home with 150 feet of prime waterfront, the koi pond, the yards of granite and the very pleasant liveable home on the east side. (Wasn't that tricky?) My emotional reaction of "Oh, how wonderful!" belongs to a smaller cape down the road.
Down around the U or T firelane on the opposite side of the road sits a very sweet natural shake home with incredible filled window boxes. The air was redolent with the scent of blossoms from fruit trees - all along East Lake they were in bloom - and I looked for the ubiquitous white picket fence. Just a great setting.
Inside, I walked through a family room with wood-burning fireplace, a dining room and then saw beyond a screened porch, away from the noise of the road, overlooking the back acreage. The agent had chocolate covered cherries and sandwiches in the kitchen which did not detract from the granite countertops. With two bedrooms and a full bath on the first floor, I thought of one of my families who would have loved it for the mother who moved in with them.
But upstairs! Two bedrooms with a cute little something recessed under the eaves, as if elves lived there. Some child is going to be very happy to grow up here, I thought. What a great place to make memories!
And immaculate, too. Lovely presentation, easy to live in, not far from the village - $335,000 for 2200 square feet of very pretty home.
Monday, May 5, 2008
So these listings: 34 of them are legitimate waterfront (as in on Skaneateles Lake) listings. Several are more probably shared lakefront masquerading as waterfront. The price always tells the truth.
The most expensive waterfront listing is $3,420,000 on West Lake Road. This is actually a "to be built" right on the water, with an artist's conception of over 4,000 square feet of fabulous living space. The lot alone is valued at 1M plus a good deal.
The least expensive is at the south end of the lake, in the Glen Haven area. Only $279,000 - a virtual bargain!
This past week a house sold, as evidenced by being marked contingent in the computer. It was a small place, listed and re-listed, over on Fennell Street near the commercial area. The last list price was $149,900.
Still only 16 closings this year so far. I heard a very interesting presentation this morning from a man who had been in the business for years and years, Joe Meyer (www.joemeyer.com). His take on the real estate situation is that it all swings, and soon homes will start selling, and when they do they will really sell. Kind of like those superdelegates.....just waiting for the floodgates to open.....
Sunday, May 4, 2008
I put in an offer this week for friends and I'm waiting here on a Sunday evening at the office for a response from the agent. She's called me to ask about progress in our negotiations, and I communicated her sense of urgency, but of course now I wait. It's usually that way - and yes, patience is a virtue!
I did an open house this afternoon, thinking that the cool day and the annual Skaneateles Pet Walk would bring people into the village, they'd see my sign, walk in out of curiosity, and buy the house. Optimism was high. It didn't happen - but some good ideas came of the afternoon at least.
I went to a different area yesterday with a client and we arrived late to an appointment at a house. I apologized profusely, and had called the agent to let her know we were running late, but the owner refused us admission to the house, claiming he didn't know anything about the appointment. How interesting, we both thought. Here was an agent who had traveled 50 miles, a buyer ready willing and able who had also traveled 50 miles, but because we were 15 minutes beyond the time we were closed off. Needless to say the buyer scratched the home off his list. Karma and all that.
And there it is - the subject I've been trying to get to through this rambling process. Karma. I think some people have good relationships with real estate, and others simply don't. All the homes I've bought have been the first ones I've seen. Others can look for months and months and not find anything - and when they do buy, they settle for less than they want and are unhappy. Or is it that I've made my houses work - or that I'm not really that particular - ? Or is it that I buy in great areas - Seattle, Saratoga, Skaneateles and now rural Elbridge.
I do know that I have luck - and to wind this up, the couple who are waiting to hear on their offer do not share that luck. So I wait, in this beautiful village at the office with the late afternoon sun pouring in through the open door.