Saturday, August 30, 2008

House of the Week

Well, sort of.....

I didn't make it to any brokers' opens this week, why I honestly can't remember. Oh yes! I went to Moravia to meet a young woman interested in buying a home, but she was unable to meet me. It was a lovely drive, however - much recommended if you don't go that way a lot.

Last week I went to Saratoga to visit my good friend, Eva. I've known her since our boys went to school at the Waldorf school, Spring Hill. I was the administrator, and Eva and her husband were strong supporters. They had chosen to live in Saratoga because of the presence of a Waldorf school. Eva was originally from Germany and met her husband in Mexico.

Her house is the subject's a small ranch, and when they bought it in 1988 it consisted of two bedrooms, a living room and a galley kitchen plus a full bath, of course. The sunporch overlooking the Vermont mountains was there, too, I believe.

Since then they've taken the two car garage and turned it into a bright family room plus a full bath with a sauna. It's a step down from the kitchen, and heated by a wood stove. We used to joke that we couldn't visit anyone but each other in the winter because our stoves made our homes so warm, we froze elsewhere.

They've also added an above ground pool that sits on a hillside looking out at those mountains. A "summer chalet," actually a shed that Eva dressed up and now can't imagine putting a lawn mower into, is also on the grounds. And in the front is her perennial garden, a marvel filled with waterfalls and stone pathways set off by a brick wall.

But the house itself had undergone a transformation in recent months. I had seen the bathroom she and a friend created - as French as any that Mirbeau has. Stone and more stone. The living room already boasted red leather couches by the fireplace. But after her annual trip to Mexico this year she painted.

The screened in porch is that turquoise color found only - I swear! - in Mexico. The livingroom is now drenched in metallic paints that somehow work to create an incredible effect. Her friend Kathy, before she left for the West coast, painted her son Alexander's room with butterflies and dragonflies for Eva. Last year she did the small hallway in an indescribable green for her birthday.

The total feeling is of walking into another country. I've given Eva over the years several dancing ladies as seen in Imagine in our village. I love them - their colors and their delicacy, their uniqueness. They dance over the dining room table in Eva's little home and seem completely at peace at last. They've found their soulmate.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Home Inspections

This is not what I had planned to write about, so please forgive me if I theorize and cogitate while I'm writing. I honestly don't know where it will come out.

A few years ago I sold a house and we had a pre-inspection done on it. The inspector found a couple safety issues - critical safety issues - and the owner fixed them plus followed his recommendations up to a certain point. We ended up with an offer that accepted the inspection and the repair details - basically full price, too. No surprises because there was no inspection.

Also a few years ago my buyers brought in an offer on a property but the owner did not accept it and my buyers walked away. Several months later it still hadn't sold and the wood stove caused a major fire. It was taken off the market, repaired, and again listed. Unfortunately it is still on the market. The fire was not disclosed - the repairs were made and the wood stove deleted - but there have been a few offers that somehow don't materialize. The price is considerably less of course than what my buyers had offered. I have always wondered: if there had been a home inspection would the problem have been found and the fire avoided?

I do believe in pre-inspections for many reasons. I think it's important for buyers and sellers to feel comfortable with their "product." You receive assurances that the used car you want to buy actually does run and you ask about problems, then hopefully you take it to a mechanic who tells you that it is sound. Cars that are pre-inspected by a dealership are worth more than cars that don't have that seal of approval - it's a marketing tool, as well as a "sleep-at-night" guarantee.

Cars can be returned to the dealership - once homes are purchased they can't, except under very special circumstances.

As an agent, I like to know what I'm selling. The more information I have the better I can talk about the home. "The house is structurally sound." Music to my ears! "There is only one layer of shingles." Great! "No evidence of pests or mold." And they sign off on that - it's not just me!

Of course a picky inspector - the only ones worth paying - will find a ton of issues in an older home. Sometimes in a new home, too. The question is - will these issues impact the sale? In an older home, the buyer expects there to be issues. He/she is not buying a builder's perfect creation, but a home, a place that's been lived in, where memories were made. The ding in the windowsill probably has a story connected to it, the hot water heater has serviced countless dinner dishes and bath times. There's nothing wrong with that.

The inspector does the best he can to root out problems. When I bought my first house in Skaneateles, I was told the ceiling in the family room would probably fall in soon. It's been 18 years now. The boiler was very, very old - and I think it still is!

I loved the house - an 1840 cottage on two acres. I had come to town and asked my neighbor at the lake, Dave Schoeneck who had just started working for McShane RealEstate, to show me the 5 cheapest houses in the Skaneateles School District. I loved it and bought it. The great garden turned out to be great because it was planted over an inoperative septic system. Oops! That was inspected and new leach lines were laid prior to closing. I missed the garden.

I sold my pretty house for slightly more than I paid for it. The boiler was old, the ceiling might cave in, and the rest of the septic system had been replaced over the years. But the new owner loves it and has turned it into a very upscale cottage. She knew there would be issues, but falling in love with an older home was worth the issues. The inspector, to his credit, said "It's an old home." He told her what to expect and she has been there for six years now.

Inspections are important - I've learned that over the years. They give you the information to make informed decisions. And that's what I want for my clients - buyers and sellers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Here we go! It's the start of something big!

Currently, in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service there are 160 homes active on the market. This number seems to have held steady over the past few weeks, while the number of homes marked contingent or pending has increased slightly.

Of the 6 new homes that have come on the market, 2 are re-lists and 3 are waterfront. Waterfront continues to sell and do very well this year.

There are also 3 properties marked contingent this past week: 1 residential, 1 waterfront, and 1 for the die-hard investor who got a good deal, I think. The price had come down steadily - until it's last listing was about 60 % of the original price.

There are now 30 closed properties this year. The latest is a village property which sold at a reduction of 12% of its original price. Last week I wondered about reducing all homes by 10% to sell them - and I think this is in part a validation of that assumption.

I had a wonderful comment about the update and the trends, with a question concerning the use of the average price as a barometer. (Go back and read the comments - they are well-thought out and informative!) The suggestion was to use or explore at least the median price as possibly more predictive and accurate.

So here we go! This year the median price of the 30 homes that have closed so far is $470,000, certainly less than the average of well over $500,000 that the Post-Standard reports. There has been only 1 multi-million dollar home that has closed and only 3 under the $150,000 mark.

Last year during the same time period there were 65 homes that had closed. The median price - 32 higher and 32 lower - was $318,500. That's a sizeable difference! There were 7 multi-million dollar homes and 8 homes under $150,000. Fascinating, isn't it?

But change is on the way - I know of 3 unreported sales in the Skaneateles area, and I know there are probably a lot more happening behind closed doors. It's time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

House of the Week

I spent the Tuesday broker's open showing my new listing. It's a lovely cape that from the road looks very, very small, but when you see the rear of the house you realize that a huge addition has been put on and it's actually much larger. Maybe another 500 square feet or so.

That changes it from a two bedroom to a three bedroom with a master suite overlooking a private back yard rimmed with trees, and beyond is only a cornfield. The master bed/bath has two large walk-in closets and a decent-sized bathroom.

Downstairs is the "piece de resistance", as Dave Schoeneck of Realty USA pronounced it at the broker's open. It's a sunporch, 15 feet by 18 feet with windows on three sides looking out on the "park-like setting." I really enjoy that space! Even though it currently has no heat or heat source, I can see sitting there in the dead of winter with the western sun pouring in. I think I'd add an electric fireplace and camp out!

Like other homes of its generation, there are hardwoods throughout, even though the first floor is carpeted. It has a very solid one car detached garage with an automatic door opener. The driveway has been sealed and because of the turn-out is easily managed. The landscaping the owner did is so pretty - black-eyed susans, impatients, stones that create other gardens. I can see sitting in the patio and eating breakfast outside, unbothered by the world.

It is priced to get looks and sell: $205,000 and if you've been reading my blogs you know there are other homes in this price range. This one is in very good condition - move right in! 786 Franklin Street - open Sunday, 1:00 to 3:00.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

"The times they are a-changin'......"

I hear it everywhere - things are beginning to move! But not yet in the statistics:

There are currently 160 active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. This past week 5 new ones came on the market: 2 were re-lists, and 3 were brand new. Of the 5, an amazing 3 were waterfront properties. Must be that people are reading my blog and realizing that waterfront is still selling!

And selling it is! We now have 29 closed properties - 2 new ones this week. One was a lovely home, totally redone, with lake rights, and another was a very pretty country home that sold for over the list price of $599,000. Not so bad! Also, there is a new "K" - contingent sale - another multi-million dollar lakefront home!

So what else is selling? Not condos - no closed sales this year. Of the 7 lot sales 4 were in the Parkside development off West Elizabeth Street. Well, actually one was on West Elizabeth - take a look - you can't miss it! The other 3 were country sales - lots and just downright acreage.

So what else is happening around Skaneateles? Elbridge has closed 30, Marcellus has 36, and Camillus - so much larger in size - has closed 180 homes this year. We'll get there!

And the price of our homes is still up there - well over $500,000 as compared with well under $500,000 last year. People are just waiting, it seems: for homes to sell, for the election, for summer to end, for prices to come down. If every one of those 160 homes currently active reduced their list price 10% I sincerely believe that the vast majority of them would sell. I wonder what other people - homeowners, Realtors, interested readers - think of that proposition. I've read comments along those lines.....and here's a marvel - the average price of a home would still be higher than last year's average!

So why don't owners reduce the price?
  • Hanging in there and being unwilling to chance leaving money on the table, as they say.
  • The price has already been reduced - no more!
  • The market will turn around and they want to be poised to get their price.
  • There is no need to move - no urgency - the house can be rented or the owners can stay.
I'm sure I've left out other reasons. Please supply them! I would love to hear what others think!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Borodino Market

What a treat!

I had a few minutes a couple weeks ago so as I stopped to get lovely sunflowers by the side of the road I looked around. There set back from the road was an old schoolhouse with an open sign.

"What do you have there?" I asked the young woman who came to take my money (I had grown accustomed to the honor system at the stand).

"Oh, it's a country store," she answered. I am paraphrasing, because whatever she said did not do it justice!

The brochure states: "Purveyors of the Unique."

This is a store worthy of the most interesting of places - from Provincetown to Marin County, Saratoga to Skaneateles. It was wonderful!

"A rural rarity with gastronomic departures, confectionary treasures, nostalgic foods, local and global."

That's an understatement. I could have bought everything - and come back for more. What a treasure! It will definitely be on my list of places to spend time (and $$$) when I have an hour or two - or I want to impress and delight my friends!

"You'll be surprised what you find in the hills of Borodino."

But you have to find it - not an easy task! We've been going to Vernak's Country Store on East Lake Road in Borodino for three years now and stopping at the farmstand on Rose Hill on occasion. But I didn't know the schoolhouse store was even there. The owner told me they don't believe in advertising, so it sits behind the stand in the trees.

I sent Bob's family to find it when they stayed at the lake. They found Vernak's and liked it but didn't see why I was swooning. Next time I'll take them there.

So you don't get lost: Go to the corner of East Lake (Route 41), Nunnery and Rose Hill at the blinking light. Drive down Rose Hill past the church and look to your right at the houses. The farmstand should be apparent. The hours are Thursday through Saturday, 10AM to 6PM, Sundays 11AM to 3PM. Check out their blog at or find them at

Or if you want to, call me and we'll go together! You won't be disappointed!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

House of the Week

I have been debating all week whether to write about the house I saw on Tuesday when I should have been running around at broker's opens. I can say that my clients didn't reject it until Thursday, but that's not an excuse for waiting so long. I wasn't sure what to do, quite frankly.

The house is fantastic, a four bedroom, two full and one half bath newly built home in Camillus. It has a pool that will take your breath away. The interior painting brings the home alive - and the decorating is lovely. It sits high in a development and except for the lack of trees - please, developers, leave the trees! - it has a premium setting.

Here's the issue. The seller is motivated, with a capital M that stands for Money, that rhymes with "Bring an offer, honey!" My clients won't - they are waiting for spring - and I have no one else at the moment looking there.

And why is it still there? My guess: the owner started way too high a full year ago and got stuck on the price. There was an offer but it was contingent on the sale of a home and everyone apparently sat back and waited for the other home to sell, which it didn't. And then the mood of the country changed, and there they were. Sitting. Sitting on a beautiful home that will probably sell under the building cost and assessed price, a full year later than it should. And that year was filled with taxes and interest payments and mortgage payments.

The seller has asked that the listing text be filled with "MOTIVATION." But reality hits home - there are 48 listings in Camillus between $200,000 and $250,000 - the range in which this home is listed.

And yes, this beautiful bright and airy home with that gorgeous pool is my House of the Week pick.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

We are still creeping along here, but I see progress although not in the numbers.

There are currently 161 active single family listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service we all use. This week only 3 new listings came on: 1 in the village (looks lovely!), another in the town and actually Marcellus schools, and the last is a re-list. Rumor has it that the day before closing the buyers walked away on the advice of their lawyer - but not for any logical reason that the agent could see!

There have been no new contingent sales but one lake rights home has been marked "pending." And there was that beautiful closing of the property on Widewaters - for the reported price of 2 million dollars. The list price, I might add.

We now have 27 closed for the year - compared with 61 at this time last year.

But I wrote several offers this past week and a couple have come to fruition. I heard from an agent today that she was getting frustrated - properties are still marked active in the computer that have offers on them. She has taken her clients to see homes, gotten ready to write an offer, and THEN found out the properties were "gone." This happened to her 3 times! So this time she called first. Good idea.

One word to the wise: I did a free market analysis this morning on a home in Skaneateles. The owners had checked the "comparables" according to the tax information on the internet. The homes that were brought up were similar only in their square footage. They did not reflect what had closed in the past year, the conditions of the homes, or even the size of the land. This is why you need a Realtor in the trenches or an appraiser. And then, of course, the information on the property itself was inaccurate. You still need us!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Investors! Start Your Checkbooks!

This is it - this is the time - let's go!

I've spent the past week working with investors looking for deals in Skaneateles. And there are deals.

While we were finding properties, more people came into the office, again looking for deals. I just left a small group from out-of-state who asked me what the best deals were and I could show him a 3000 sf home on 3 acres for under 200K, a 40 acre ranch with a new home under 400K, and of course my lovely 11 Onondaga now for $489,000.

Under $200,000 investors have to be ready to put in some work. Many of the homes are vacant - amazingly - and waiting out the current market. Some are bank-owned or estates and in need of major renovation. Foreclosures usually mean unfortunately that the kitchen sink - quite literally - goes with the former owners. If they could have gotten the new jacuzzi out of the upstairs bath that would be gone, too!

But how pretty it all could be! Does anyone doubt that Skaneateles will continue to grow? Do you think people will stop vacationing "where Presidents vacation?" I think just the opposite will prove to be true. Instead of driving off to South Carolina or the Cape, upstaters and even downstaters will be more likely to come to Skaneateles.

Picture it - pretty little cottages in the village, fixed-up and ready to be rented for the summer months. Or like Saratoga, for the Season of the Skaneateles Festival. My professor in college who taught Irish lit came to Skaneateles for a week at the Sherwood Inn every summer. And that was long before Mirbeau or Rosalie's or Bella Blue and Cate & Sally. There's a reason the condos in the village are being dsold for over $500,000.

So investors take note. There are 6 pretty little homes under 200K in the village and another 17 just outside. Buy in to Skaneateles!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

House of the Week

So there I was, running around with a contract that had to be delivered then taking a listing in the afternoon. No time to say "hello goodbye" and starving to boot!

I landed at a broker's open house to hand over the purchase offer and was offered a sub by the agent, Bill Crocker from Prudential. I don't usually eat at these things, but the thought of a bit of food and some diet Coke sounded good. I did my turn around the house and actually really liked it. Only 5 years old, it sat back from the road with trees lining the driveway. Everything inside seemed light and airy, even the finished basement, really a lower level.

Upstairs I came upon hardwoods and more light, with an easy open floor plan. It was all more impression than really hard details - "just nice."

I chose my sub - turkey - and while Bill took a call I wandered out to the deck to eat. It was the first time in a long time I had stopped for food in the middle of the day. It felt good, and the setting was ideal for quiet contemplation. There was a good-sized yard and beyond that - corn. Rows and rows of corn up a slight hill. Not a house in sight.

I stayed sitting out there in the sunshine, happy as could be, until my cell phone rang. "Are you able to find it?" a voice I knew well asked tentatively.
"Find it...?" I was still meditating on the corn field and the pretty house.
"Where we're meeting," I was advised. Reality.
"Are you there yet?"
"There and done and...."
"Waiting for me! Oh no!"

I ran out of the house after a quick good-bye to Bill who had let me have a few minutes of peace and quiet. The house is located next to a cornfield on Jordan Road between Elbridge and Jordan. You can own the quiet for only $199,900.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Trying desperately I am to find something new to say - but there really isn't a lot of help out there, market-wise.

There are currently 163 active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. We have only 26 closings so far this year - the latest was, again, a high end waterfront property and I know of another that just hasn't reached the system yet. Even the one property marked newly contingent this week is a lake rights property. The village properties continue to sit waiting for the moment to arrive.

Six new listings came on - 3 were brand-new and 3 were re-lists. Notable was the fact that they are all in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. There are now 61 non-waterfront homes in that range.

There are people out there looking. There are deals to be had - but the owners need to recognize the value of a "bird in the hand." If a home is on the market for $300,000, for example, the taxes will be around $9,000 this year. If they rent, they may get $1,500 per month to offset their costs: insurance ($1,000?), carrying costs of a mortgage, even a small mortgage might be another $12,000 in interest that will be gone. That's $22,000 to hold on to a $300,000 home for another year, or until the economy turns. Hmmmm.......

But if they sell the home for 10% less than they are listing - $270,000 - they might take an immediate loss of $8,000. However! Pay off that small mortgage, invest the $170,000 immediately in a 5% account and make back the $8,000 with $500 as a tip. And have the peace of mind to move on. And hey! It's a buyer's market out there - if the market turns to a seller's market to give you the advantage selling your home - it won't be as pretty a purchase as now.

Life is short enough - have fun! Travel! Homes have appreciated a great deal in the past few years - cash in your chips!

And please - start the ball rolling!