Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Every week when I sit down to write this update I spend a few minutes getting the absolute latest information from the MLS. It usually takes about 20 minutes, then I'm off and writing. Today, between finding properties that had just come on that were right for my clients and some intermittent e-mailing, it's been over an hour. Good news I think!

There are currently 137 active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. Six are new this week. Three of them are re-lists - outskirts, lake rights and village - with new looks and/or new prices. There's also a gorgeous waterfront for 1.5M, a sweet village home with a rare under $275,000 price tag, and a country listing under $400,000. Is it allowed for me to say these prices seem reasonable?

Three homes were marked contingent this week - a multi-family, a single family and a waterfront. We seem to be covering all the bases.

We now have 38 closed homes so far this year. That compares with 19 last year at this time. The one new one that did close was waterfront at 20% off the original price and after 18 months on the market. It's that time of year!

I looked at the homes that expired within the past 30 days. There were six of them. Three have returned to the market with a fresh face and a new price. One is actually sold, but because it wasn't marked "pended" in the computer and it reached it's expiration date while marked contingent, it shows that it expired. Two have simply gone away - but may return when the renters leave or another brokerage picks them up.

Have a wonderful week! It's summer at last!

Monday, June 22, 2009


Saturday, after three days of rain, we went to the movies. "Up" was playing in 3-D at Shoppingtown Mall on the east side, so we had dinner at El Canelo - I wish they hadn't left Grant Ave.! - and then window-shopped for shoes for me for the wedding.

"Up" was amazing. It wasn't just a 3-D movie but a grand story that happened to be in 3-D. I thought it would have something to do with the play we had seen at Syracuse Stage this spring, about a man who tied balloons to his lounge chair and flew up into the clouds. Same title - vastly different story, much, much better.

I am still under its spell. But I won't ruin it by telling the story - just urge you to go see it.

One part that made me spin was the "passage of time" segment. You know - like when the candle burns down and indicating several minutes or hours have passed. In this case it was a mailbox.

I remembered other mailboxes. I have a good friend from high school who painted his box a brilliant fuchsia. I passed it for years down East Lake Road, and watched as the color faded. It's now white.

I remember Patience painting one of her lovely, delicate fishes on her mailbox years ago. I was at the house for something, and as I left I made a remark - rather snarky now I think - that if the greeting cards didn't take off, she could always paint mailboxes. The box is gone now, or re-painted a light green without a fish adorning it.

One of my favorite movies, "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (the movie, not the TV series) has a post stuck in the shoreline with initials carved in it. As the years go by and the ghost becomes only a fond memory, Mrs. Muir passes it on her walks while it weathers and bends.

Real estate. It pushes its way into every conversation, every story. Our lives are based on people, time and settings. And all change, no matter how much you want them to remain the same. And that's not always a bad thing.

Go see "Up."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Good news, bad news, sad news - it's all out there. I went in to this blog update without anything in mind as far as further exploration, but I ran across a small fact that will turn itself into an editorial before I'm done. But first the facts!

There are currently 136 active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. Three of them are new this week. I had a chance to see one on brokers' open - upper $500,000s in the town on a gorgeous lot. Pat made her chocolate covered strawberries and they draw me to her homes every time! There's also a lovely, lovely "new" - think 2006 - waterfront on the market for well over one million dollars. The third listing is actually a re-list of a very wonderful home built and remodeled for someone who likes views and contemporary architecture.

There were no homes marked contingent this week, but hold on, they're coming!

Two homes closed. One was originally priced in the mid $200,000s and slowly reduced until a sale occurred at $150,000. That would be about 62% of the original price. The other sale in the countryside also started in the same range, but closed at $114,000. This is slightly under half the first price of the first listing.

We now have 37 closed properties, as compared with only 19 last year at this time. Excellent progress! In 2007 there were 39 - but who's counting!? We will have a good year!

My editorial comment: The home that sold at under 50% of the price paid for it in 2005 was a dream home for a family, as I understand it. It needed work and they did some work, but then needed to rent it to make payments. The renters moved their animals inside out of the cold. In less than two years the home was almost destroyed.

I am not against renters. When I moved back from Seattle to Saratoga I lived on a great estate in the summer cottage. We kept the place as neat as my housekeeping skills allowed and stayed a very happy seven years. I've rented out my camp and found it cleaner afterwards than before. But somewhere along the line something happened and this house and the dreams of its owners were plundered. I feel a great sadness - I hate seeing homes and families hurt.

Back to the good news portion. That low offer I wrote about in my last blog may actually come together some day - I haven't given up and neither has the other agent. We'll see!

The May flies are ba-ack! They love a week in Skaneateles as much as the next bug!

Our RE/MAX TV show is a go! We start July 5th at 11:30AM on the Fox local stations. I've taken two spots each week, so if you'd like to see your home on TV, let's get it listed!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Low Offer

For the past couple weeks I've been working with a couple to buy a home. I won't go into specifics for reasons that will become obvious later, but although we didn't get the home they wanted, the process was a pleasure all around.

There are several homes on the market in the area west of Syracuse that have been available for a while. Every town has them. For whatever reason, they have not sold and have become "stale" on the market. Some started too high - "We might get lucky" or "They can always make an offer" - and then the real estate market fell apart in that price range. Others had problems in the cosmetic line, should we say. The cost of painting, updating appliances, removing that green and orange shag rug that roamed throughout the entire house, taking down the huge tree that blocked the view of the lake became overwhelming in an economy that did not guarantee jobs. The structure of the home might have prevented it's sale - in a sea of colonials, the ranch just did not make it.

Whatever, the house didn't sell. So houses like these sit.

We never would have looked at a home in this price range if it hadn't been for an agent calling and asking if the people who had looked at it originally were interested. They weren't, but the agent and I went on to conversationally discuss the realities of the market and this house in particular. My brain was prodded...what if? I had the right people for the house, but the price was not what they could manage.

"Make an offer," I was told.

I told my people and they were interested, as anyone would be if the right opportunity presented itself to get a home of seemingly more value than what they would buy it for. They were very realtistic. "If it works, then we are there! If it doesn't, at least we tried."

They went ahead and scraped up a bit more money and sold their house at the same time. They put together a pre-approval from a local lender and wrote the offer, knowing that it was a very long, long shot but one worth taking in their opinion. They even wrote a letter and included pictures of their family, detailing the reasons why they wanted this particular home and what it would mean to them.

Generally, if I bring in a low offer it is usually from an investor who smells a deal. I have been yelled at most of the time, shown the door at other times, and been generally abused by both the seller and the agent. I work for my buyer and as a buyer's agent, I am required to bring in the numbers he/she requests. Some agents refuse to do it - the yelling gets to them, I imagine - but I do it. For all I know the sellers could be on the brink of foreclosure and our offer may have kept them from bankruptcy. I could be an angel. Mostly I am not.

In this case the agent made time for me and accepted the offer without any acrimony. We were both saddened, I think, that it couldn't be more but it was an offer and it was recognized as such.

We had no answer from the seller for days, but throughout the waiting I heard regularly from the agent. No yelling, no upset. In fact, I was assured that there was no game-playing going on, that the offer was being taken as legitimate, which it was.

In the end, the seller countered quite realistically. He/she would take a loss, but after a few years on the market with another year or so to go possibly before another offer came in, this was the best that could be done.

My people accepted the premise that this was a final offer from the seller and as they had promised they could go no higher. The deal was not made and everyone went their separate ways.

But after 10 days of waiting and talking and thinking about all this I feel fine. We all - buyers, sellers, agents, mortgage people - took it as far as it could go. None of us reached our goal, but it was accomplished with so much dignity that we all have parted knowing we all did our best.

I wish every deal - or non-deal - would take the same course. Life is too short for anger and recriminations, non-communication and gamesmanship. My faith in humanity has been restored, if it ever really was gone!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Stay tuned for a quiz - you get the guess the most expensive homes sold in the following areas: Skaneateles, Marcellus, Camillus, Elbridge and Onondaga. Think about it now, write down the numbers, and I'll reveal the answers at the end of the update.

Currently there are 141 active listings of single family homes in the Skaneateles area as defined by the multiple listing service. There were seven new listings this week - 5 having waterfront somewhere within reach/access of the property. Only two were re-lists, which must mean that homes are selling rather than being re-listed. Two of the re-lists are waterfront well over one million dollars. There's a new one close to that, but not going over. Two others have lake rights and are priced under $500,000. If you hurry, a village Victorian is for sale, similar to my 11 Onondaga from last year, both in size, vintage and price. And then there's a tiny house with a smaller price in the low $100,000, a re-list with a reduction.

One home was marked contingent at the same time the price dropped 20% - which came first? Who cares as long as it's sold!

And there were no closings this past week - none whatsoever - to keep our total of 35 year-to date. This still ravages last year's total of 18 by June 10th. We're fine! The worst is over!

On to the most expensive property closings in the towns I mentioned. Ready? This all started thanks to a conversation with a friend who was looking at pricing. We thought a house was priced too high for the area, so I took a look. Imbedded in all this is the information - and more because it was so interesting to me once I got in to the statistics.

Marcellus. This was difficult, because "Marcellus" encompasses both some listings from the towns of Onondaga and Camillus, but they are placed in the Marcellus area because they are Marcellus schools. I was a purist and looked for the town only. That said - The most expensive house along with many, many acres to sell within recent memory (like 2002) was $500,000. The second most expensive was on Otisco Lake and sold for $460,000, an unbelievable sum to me as an owner of a camp there. But it went on multiple offers, above list price. There were 23 homes altogether that sold for over $300,000.

Camillus. I was surprised here. Only 8 homes sold for over $400,000. The most expensive closed last year for $617,500, but then there was a gap to the next most expensive. Once again, acreage and obviously a fantastic home were involved.

Elbridge. We are farm country, remember? There were 5 homes that sold over $250,000 with the most expensive being waterfront on Cross Lake for $279,000. My house might give this number a run, but like most of my neighbors we prize what we have and I'm not going anywhere.

Onondaga. Another surprise! I keep showing these absolutely gorgeous homes with views that go for miles up in the hills, so I think that there must be at least 100 that have sold for the list prices. But no - only 20 have sold for over $400,000. The most was $960,000 in 2008 and the next was $650,000 in 2004.

Skaneateles. I started my search at 2 million, but there were too many. Over 2.5 million there are 11 closed properties - and yes, this is the closed price. All, of course, are on the water. The most expensive is the beautiful home on West Lake Street which is undergoing extensive renovations but was purchased at 4.9 million. The most expensive non-waterfront home was 2.15 million and I bet you can guess which one on Genesee it is. It is followed by another Genesee Street property (lakeside, but no frontage or rights) and the pretty brick on Andrews Road.

Especially in Skaneateles' case many homes are bought or sold or built without passing through the multiple listing service. You can try, as my friends did, to search numbers out on - or just continue to read my blog even though it may not contain all the facts, all the time. Hopefully it's fun!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Village Exultation

I ran in through the back door of the office last week as a friend was coming through the front just to say hello. We ended up sitting in the conference room for over an hour, catching up on our lives from the winter months and just talking.

I had sold her and her husband a small village home last year so this was their first summer in residence. I ran into him on one of my early walks with Koko and he was ecstatic, if sweaty from his early morning run, to be in the village. Kathy was as well and proceeded to outline their lives here.

This is their second home. I reminded her of when she had called in to ask about my then-listing at 51 West Elizabeth Street. I had told her she was the perfect candidate for the job of revitalizing it, turning it into a sweet cottage to be used for weekends and grandchildren. I didn't hear from her for a bit - it was really a cold call on her part - and then she came in with her daughter who had recommended me. I love the history of getting to know people, bringing them into my life.

Kathy and Dave bought the house to come closer in to civilzation. They live way out - way out! - in the country and wanted to be near people, just not all the time. Their grandchildren live outside Syracuse, so Skaneateles was perfect for their purpose.

I don't think they expected to fall in love so very much with the village. Kathy tells me they walk everywhere - to the hardware store, P&C, to Doug's for ice cream and then they walk off the calories. They sit on the porch of the Sherwood and the wait staff bring them their drinks without their needing to order them. Then they walk home - no cars or designated drivers needed!

Kathy stayed recently to care for the younger of her grandchildren. They had a ball, she told me. There was so much to do and so much laughter. Meanwhile, back at the country home, Dave slaved away trying to keep the jungle back from the house. The lawn in the village was easily mowed despite its good size.

Kathy said her good-byes and went off to Riddlers to pick up the paper with the summer insert and grabbed some karmel corn which she returned to share. I thought how pleased I was to have been instrumental in bringing them here. Even the cat does the two hour trip now with barely a meow.

In the couple days that followed our visit I had similar experiences with three other people. Bob was told the same thing that Kathy told me when he went to do a job in the village - how absolutely thrilled the people were to have bought in Skaneateles, how eager they were to share it with their relatives this summer. Another woman is moving in again after being in the country. She'll miss the openness of the fields behind her house, the cross-country-skiing and the summer walks, but she's looking forward to opening the door and walking out with her dog.

Another young couple are trying to buy into the village, a difficult thing when the least expensive home is over $200,000. But the father wants to take his sons to the playing fields, walk to school with them, and then to his own job. He wants to go fishing on the bridge over the outlet, be available for evening sports. The homes we've looked at have good-sized back yards, large enough for pools and playfields. It's a village, not a cramped city.

And even if you live outside the village, as we do, you can still enjoy it with a simple drive in and easy parking. We left Seattle, Alex and I, when it became impossible to find a place to park at the piers. He couldn't ride his bike in the city parks because they were too crowded. Skaneateles is highly accessible.

A few years ago I met a couple who spent their weekends in the village. They lived in Syracuse and came out at least one day a week. There was so much to do - kayaking on the lake, the festival in August, Doug's Fish Fry on Friday nights, the antique boat show and sidewalk sale in July. And no need to travel far - half an hour brought them to this ever-changing vacation-site.

We are privileged to have the village, whether we live in it or simply enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Here we go again! I am so excited each week to check the listings and see what's sold, what it sold for (this was a week!), and what is new on the market. Things are happening out there. I've switched from listing agent (it seems) to buyer's agent. Last year buyers were hard to come by - now they are everywhere!

Currently there are 139 activing listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. Remember - the "area" can include Cortland and Cayuga Counties as well as Onondaga. If you can so much as get a glimpse of the lake listings come on the market in "Skaneateles." People do not search "Scott" or "Homer" - they do look to Skaneateles to be all-inclusive.

There were 5 new listings this week - two of them are re-listed waterfronts, and there's a new one, also. In the village a home around $300,000 has been re-listed with a price reduction (lovely arch in the dining room, I might add) and a new one with fantastic lake views in the mid-$300,000s has come on. But the prize must go to the tiny waterfront - low $200,000s! Right on the water - call me!

Two village homes were marked contingent, both with histories over a year (in one case almost 3 years) of marketing. Both homes reduced their prices along the way but are still well above $500,000, the average price of a home in the Skaneateles area this year. The price reduction - and I know there are many of you out there asking this question - was in the neighborhood of 15% off the original list price. But we don't know yet the actual closed price.

Altogether there are 15 homes marked either pending or contingent. Of these, 5 are waterfront. That's a good thing, considering that only 3 waterfront properties have closed so far this year.

BUT! We now have 35 closed single family residences this year. This compares with only 18 (!) last year by this time and 32 in 2007. Lest we become complacent, however, in 2006 there were 45 closed homes by June 3rd. We have a ways to go to beat that, but I wouldn't be surprised if that number was the high of all times in Skaneateles. I'll check at some point which year produced the most closings - and postulate as to why!

There were two new closings this past week. The numbers are clear indicators of the practice that starting too high does not pay off. It also opens up the door to the age-old question of how to price unique homes.

House #1 suffered from the increased price of gas over the past year because it is located about 6 miles outside of the village. That's my guess, at least. Plus it had odd bedrooms which made it really a two bedroom home although the agent and owners promised more. The sale price was almost 25% less than the original list price - but the new owners got a great view!

House #2 - alack and alas! Again it was down the lake, has a great view, and is unique. It needed some work as did the other one, but it was much larger. It closed at 64% of its original price, and only 66% of its assessed value. Ouch! The price per square foot comes in at around $80 - not that you can calculate square footage with any real meaning in our market.

Does this mean you can offer that type of a reduced price on other homes? Not everything is overpriced, but everything is a function of time and desireability. Being close to or in the village is big now - things sell because there is very little need for a car and village prices have stayed competitive. Condition matters also - pristine and well-staged are keys. Underpromising and overdelivering helps, too. The old adage that you "can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" rings true here. In 2006 maybe you could. Not now. And not with rates creeping up there - make your deals now - and that means both buyers and sellers!

Monday, June 1, 2009

An Open Letter to Governor Paterson

Dear Governor -

We were reading the morning paper today and saw the article about the owner of the cigar store who sold a 31 million dollar lottery ticket. He was so happy - he hoped that the buyer was one of his regular customers because then he would get a big tip and his store would be known as a lucky store. I think my take might have been how happy I would be for someone I had known for a long time, but then it occurred to me....we are talking about greed.

Greed is a great motivator.

So here's what I propose. We've got those pesky property taxes that won't go away and are extremely high. You've tried everything, and I give you credit for that, to bring them down or offset them with other taxes. The breweries won't let you do it, the soda people want their sugary drinks, everyone feels impinged upon. So why not offer the public something for nothing? Or very little....

We have the lottery for schools, and that's been successful. Why not a lottery for ALL our taxes that we pay to the state? Think about it - one super, duper mega lottery SEASON. We could hold it here in Central New York in the summer. Two weeks of daily - hourly - drawings to pay off everything!

The big prizes would be awarded to those who are here in person to claim them. That would mean they would have to stay in hotels and eat food - here, in Central New York! They would need to be entertained - here in Central New York! Talk about DestiNY!

Why here? Because we have gorgeous lakes and that mall that will someday be built with our tax money anyway, and because if you have to be here in person to win then you have to travel from somewhere, across the state either by Thruway or Seaway or Airway or Railway. Not so easy to just pop over from New Jersey... The ticket-purchasers would have to come and SPEND MONEY! A whole industry would spring up around those two weeks.

And tickets could be bought online, too. I hope it's legal, but then, the legislature can make it legal if it's not. They pay property taxes, too. All over the world people could pay our taxes for us!

Now why would they? Because they might get lucky and make money. Someone will win - a lot of people will win. And it's that chance that will bring them here. That glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, they will win $50,000 or $100,000 or a million dollars! All for a few bucks while they're having a good time. A GREAT time! Because it's summer and the Finger Lakes and the wineries and the Nationals will be in Syracuse and the Chiefs might win and they are running at Vernon and theaters all over have summer stock productions and it's 80 degrees and lovely! Not to mention Skaneateles' sidewalk sale and the antique boat! But most importantly, they might make money, more money than they make in their jobs all year!

So, Gov, if I may call you that, I hate to say this, but what have you got to lose? You've tried everything else, Andrew Cuomo is breathing down your neck, you seem to love upstate...and frankly it's not looking too good for a second chance. So throw the dice - make us all rich and famous - and get those taxes reduced so businesses will come in and my clients (and me) won't have to pay those property taxes.

I can see it all now - "breakfast and bucks" at Stella's Diner, the noon drawing at the Fairgrounds, the 6:00 pm drawing at the Mall, 10:00 at Alliance Bank Stadium (too bad it's not downtown) and then the fireworks. And do it the next day, and the day after that - different venues, new millionaires (who must claim their prize within 4 hours - "will they make it on time?") - and so much press in the slow time of the summer months. And money, more money than you ever thought possible, all flowing into the state's coffers. And not out of the citizenry's wallets for stupid things like taxes.

And all because you took a chance - you risked it all - to make the Great State of New York a tax-free state.