Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thoughts on Recent House Showings

In the past few weeks I've been showing many houses to my buyers. None of them have houses to sell, several are cash buyers, and overall sellers and their agents should be very pleased to see them coming. But over and over again, whether it's waterfront or investment or first time home-buyer-type properties, we are running into issues.

The main issue is foreclosures - yes, here in Central New York! It wouldn't appear as if they are out there, but homesellers apparently don't like to tell their agents that they've gotten into trouble until it's almost too late. The agents believe they are doing their best, but when the possibility of an offer gets real, the sellers then tell the agents about their dilemma. And everything just stops.

I was reading a Realtor journal that talked about agents making sure they have the financial discussion with their clients. It suggested probing deeply, because it is difficult for owners to admit that there is an issue. I remember years ago getting a listing and my buyer finding out that the auction was a week away! The owner's wife had no idea until I told her. The fur flew a bit. When the house was sold eventually by someone else to someone else, the seller took the kitchen with him - appliances, cupboards, everything!

Short sales are another issue hitting us. Owners try to negotiate their way through and lose as little as possible. It's hard to take a $30,000 loss, for example, on a $100,000 home. So they try to work it out while taxes and insurance bills mount and the property isn't maintained.

This is not everywhere and all the time. I hear it from other agents, that they've run into these situations, and if they are listing the property then a lot of swearing gets into the conversation.

Huge reductions in price are now becoming commonplace. Today there were 7 new listings and 12 reductions. Most were in the 5% to 10% range. Instead of dropping by a few thousand, homes are coming down more rapidly so people can sell quickly and can make it up on the buying end.

Yesterday on NPR there was a discussion about a couple who had worked and saved to buy a home, waiting until they had 20% to put down. They bought at the height of the market and then watched as prices around them fell. The reporter blamed the real estate agent, saying the comps brought to the couple were all from a community a ways away. If this were the case, I would think it would have been noticed. The sale also had an appraiser check properties and values, so the appraiser must have missed it, too. But prices just fall all on their own in this economy.

Then of course I went to Auburn to see houses with my first-time homebuyer. Of the eight houses we picked out, five had contracts on them so recent that the computer didn't reflect them. I asked someone why and she told me that it was a wild, wild week and everything sold. I am certain the prices - around $100,000 for a good 3-bedroom home - had a lot to do with it. The tax credit expires at the end of April.

So help me out if you can, please! I need a pretty and well-built 3-bedroom home in the $80,000 to $120,000 range in this area - Skaneateles, Auburn and Owasco primarily. My buyer is well-qualified and eager to enter into an agreement before April 30th. And if there's any lower-priced waterfront, that wouldn't be bad either (different family).

BTW - If you would like to read the articles referenced yesterday about the Old Stone Mill and 45 West Lake Street, plus the comments, check out www.syracuse.com.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Buildings

Recently there have been two articles about well-known properties in Skaneateles. They exist just a short walk from each other, and each can be seen from the other's windows, I believe. But their news is so very different.

The Old Stone Mill was revealed to be in foreclosure on Friday in the Post-Standard. The developer/owner was unable to meet his creditors' demands of 2.8 million dollars. The gorgeous renovation he had started, having purchsed the building for just over half a million, was stopped and the Old Stone Mill's future is left in the hands of a bank. The auction won't be before June, the paper reported. My guess is the place will sit again, just as it did for years before. Hopefully this time the developer/bank won't let the pigeons in to roost.

Down Genesee and around the corner to West Lake Street, then up the bit of hill is the second property featured, this time in Sunday's paper. Adam Weitsman's gorgeous "remodel" of Ginley's home took center stage. The house is an amazing project of stone, copper, glass, and old world artisanship. We met the landscapers last summer in the office when they came looking for housing for a couple years. They described the gardens, but the paper embellishes on them. Once done it will be the showcase of the lake.

Price tag - maybe 20 million - but who's counting?

The home has stirred up controversy. People in town love it or hate it, it seems. Most of the opinions cite the Ginley house history - how could anyone virtually tear down that lovely home? Speaking of tearing down, the Weitsmans also bought and removed the house next door, adding to their waterfront and space for the gardens. It will truly be an incredible home when it's done in two years - or so!

Skaneateles is changing, and like it or not, the long-standing properties will change. From my perspective, I like the fact that instead of building on postage stamp-sized lawns, the village is keeping the homes and buildings graceful on large lots. Next to go will be the building housing Imagine. But instead of falling down, it will be reborn.

I would love to see someone with vision purchase the Old Stone Mill. Someone who has the money to keep it going, to make it once again the focal point of the village. Please - step forward!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Snowberry Open House

I rarely push my listings through my blog, preferring quietly to mention them and then go on. But this one is different, and I wanted to get the message out because it seems to pull together some loose ends.

Last week I did an open house on West Lake Road and wrote about the staging of Lorrie White. The house had sold to the first couple who came through after it was staged, causing much excitement.

My listing at 109 Snowberry needed no staging because the owners, as one agent who saw it recently said, "took the time to present the house beautifully and made it a pleasure to show." And it is - they even went so far as to replace the old formica counters with granite that gleams!

However, as lovely as it was - uncluttered, tastefully decorated, minimally furnished - the basement eluded them. It was practically finished to accomodate a relative who then chose not to live there. It was neither an in-law apartment, a gym, a play area or an office. It was more a repository for old furniture - and frankly looked it. I realized that I had taken no pictures of this part of the house, despite the brilliant light that came in to the main area. I featured it on a post card - "In-law Potential" - but it never really lived up to it.

This week the owners took it upon themselves to change that. They tried to rent furniture, but without a great deal of funds were unable to get what they wanted. A friend (Intrepid Janet)stepped in to help, and with her assistance the downstairs (no longer the dreaded basement) has taken on a very new look and purpose.

I honestly haven't seen it because they just finished and I was out showing property well west of Skaneateles, arriving home only a bit ago. I've heard that it looks fantastic, and I can't wait to see it right before my open house at noon on Sunday.

Please join me! I will be there 12:00 to 2:00 with some special goodies. I would love your opinion - and to hear that you read my blog! The ML# is S222157 and it can be found on Realtor.com as well as REMAX.com. There is also an ad in the Post-Standard under Camillus that will have directions.

This is an exciting time for real estate! And for 109 Snowberry, too!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ah, What Might have Been....

"For all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" Whittier's words ring true, well over a century later.

SU lost last night to a better Butler team. (Butler? Yes, them and their coach who wasn't even BORN when Boeheim began coaching!) They committed fewer errors and hadn't lost since december of 2009. (Butler, who plays where The Hoosiers was filmed - that Butler.) The photos in the paper today of Wes Johnson with his shirt covering his face, the description of AO and others sobbing. What might have been.....

In a year of upsets, SU was upset instead of being the "upsetter." That should have been left to the Big Red, aka Cornell, that team without scholarships and with a lot of brains. They tried - Bob said to wake him up if they got close in the second half and they came within 6 points, but Kentucky swatted them away. Kentucky - who beat SU...etc. etc.

There in the first game at the Dome, the game we caught only glimpses of while SU was getting throttled, was the University of Washington, my team from back in Seattle days. They could have upset West Virginia, but they didn't. It would have been nice.

What a day it was! Jim at the post office wore his orange over a long sleeved red shirt, I wore orange and sported purple earrings for UW, Alex made it home just in time for the SU game and he and Rachel wore the brilliant orange striped and polka-dotted socks I had sent them. Even Koko wore her SU sweater. All to no avail.

What might have been was a National Championship which would have shown that a bunch of talented kids who have learned to respect each other and play unselfishly, and respect their coaches could be rewarded for their efforts. And maybe it still means that - Butler seems that way, and they earned the right to go on. What might have been was the sheer joy of cities and an area coming together to cheer on their teams - both SU and Cornell.

But that's all right. For some - Andy, AO, probably Wes - there is no other chance. The seniors on that Cornell team will be gone, too, to careers not involving sports most likely, as the NCAA commercials tell us. The players who stay will build on this experience. Maybe next year.....

It was a great year, one that will be remembered for a very long time, at least by this writer! I'll put it away for now, in some drawer of Orange memories, and take it out on occasion and then finally some day be able to think of "What Was" and be forever grateful that I was there.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

It's basketball day in Central New York - but I'll stick to real estate in this blog!

There are currently 2,026 active listings in Onondaga County. In the Town of Skaneateles, there are 104 and in the Village there are 27. Five "new" listings have come on, but in each case they are re-lists of homes that hadn't sold and had either expired, or the deal had fallen through. Some dropped their price (which makes sense) and one raised it.

Two homes in the mid-$200,000 range were marked contingent. Both had been on the market starting in the $300,000 range a while back and now have found buyers. Both are listed under their assessed value - take note!

Two homes closed, bringing the number of sold homes so far this year to seven. The good news is that they closed within 10% of their list price. One was on for a short time, the other had been there a bit.

I looked again at the number of homes over $400,000 to close in Onondaga County so far this year. It's risen to 4 - but compare that with 60 homes closing in Skaneateles in the past 24 months that were listed above $400,000. Ye-ow! I must believe that once the weather gets nice and people see the value of owning a summer home on the lake that the buyers will return.

So let's go, Orange!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I had the privilege this weekend of holding open a house in Skaneateles that I knew and loved. It had been on the market for a while (a ranch, mid-$200,000s), and now was being handled by a RE/MAX agent from the east side. When I saw that she had the listing, I e-mailed congratulations to her and suggested that if she wanted someone local to hold it open or show it, I would be interested.

The owners and the agent, Marie Henry, gave me that chance on Sunday. I heard that it was being staged and painted, so I went in late last week to see it. I'd always loved its lines - very contemporary, tons of hardwoods, an immense stone fireplace, and beams and more beams. I had heard that when the owners first listed it they had their Stickley mission furniture in the house. I had only seen it vacant and then later with tenants. I was eager to see what they had accomplished.

I got through the door and immediately reached for my cell phone. It was lovely! I called Marie and told her how beautiful it was, and how glad I was that the house looked elegant again.

The owners had hired Lorrie White to stage it - also to get it cleaned and painted. The place looked newly done - and who doesn't want that in a new home? The colors were muted and allowed the rooms to flow, and the hardwoods gleamed - not a rug in the place! The furniture and accessories Lorrie brought in were just the right touch, it seemed. Four couches, end tables, lamps and (fake) plants brought it to life. So THAT'S where the couch would go....a mirror there brings in the light from the windows....the small high table in the dining area makes it look larger...the shower curtain can be drawn.....

Lorrie has written me since and sent over ideas and testimonials. Part of what she does is decluttering, and you all know how important I believe that to be! I think I've also been more aware of the concept of staging, as in a staged set.

The open house was a success, and everyone who saw the house I believe was impressed. One couple took Lorrie's card, and they have a house to sell themselves. The house is most likely sold - an offer came in prior to the open house - and the new buyers came to revel in it with friends.

How important is staging? I had written about it in the past, in reference to Dina Pollitts McCarthy's work: www.sellinstyleonline.com. She impressed me with her efforts, and the affect she felt she had on the length of time it took to sell a house. Lorrie (dekitout2sell@yahoo.com) also believes that houses sell more rapidly, and after what I witnessed on Sunday I must agree!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

The sunshine is just pouring in and the NCAAs are about to begin - Spring has Sprung!

There are currently 2,021 listings in all of Onondaga County. So far 432 homes have sold, as compared with 441 last year by this date. As I started to explore last week, only 3 homes above the $400,000 list price have sold so far. This compares with 15 homes last year, of which 6 were in Skaneateles. So while the number of homes hasn't changed appreciably, certainly the price of homes has - so far!

In Skaneateles there are currently 105 homes listed as active in the "town" of Skaneateles and 27 in the village. I put "town" in parenthesis because any home that touches on Skaneateles in any way - not physically, but perhaps with a view of the lake or simply in the general vicinity, gets put into the town classification. It could be in another county - Cayuga, Cortland - but still show up in Skaneateles. Why not? This helps agents to search - and we are aware this happens.

This past week several homes came on the market. In the village a lovely home came on priced under $500,000. Two years ago it might have been over that mark, but for now - 3,000 sf, 5 bedrooms, 3 full baths, Victorian - it is under. Time will tell if that number is correct! Another home came on as a re-list - much smaller at half the price.

The town ones are interesting. Four homes were listed as "to be built"s in the mid $200,000 to mid $300,000 range. In other words, a builder purchased a lot and is giving four different options - and probably more - for you to build. They show up as 4 new listings however. A fifth listing is a recently-built, existing house - priced well over $600,000 and coming on the open market for the first time. Huge!

Three new homes have been listed as sold. Two are in the Marcellus School District, $200,000 range. The other is one that's been on the market for years, literally. The views from this home are spectacular, the interior intriguing. Congratulations to the agent for sticking this one out!

There are now 5 closed properties in the Skaneateles area. The latest is a home that listed in the high $500,000 and then suffered water damage. It sold for $325,000, it's list price. And it sold rapidly. When the price is right......there are people out there looking.

Last year at this time there were 15 homes closed in the Skaneateles area. Combining that information with the Onondaga County pricing information I think a case could be made for a price correction in Skaneateles and a slow down because of the average price of a home here. I do see it picking up - Skaneateles is a beautiful area - "town" and village - and protected for years to come from the rapid growth and commercialization of other areas. It will continue to be a desired place to live - for families, single people, retirees, and second home-buyers. Buy now!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Unless you're from this area or read the local papers, you probably haven't heard about the local school board president who faced very angry parents on Monday evening. She listened to their complaints and shouts and endured their threats, sometimes physical, while the board debated closing schools in Liverpool. After the board brought in their unanimous decision, she slumped over and passed away shortly thereafter.

I remember my days teaching, and even though I taught children who were diagnosed as severely emotionally disturbed and behavior disordered, their threats and anger did not affect me as much as the adults around me. Their parents - not a single one - ever spoke to me harshly. Some of the adults around me in the school were not as kind, to each other or to their students. They would have been the parents out of control at the school board meeting on Monday.

I genuinely treasure the civility I meet with in real estate on a daily basis. I appreciate the post office people who take my letters and boxes and mailings, offering to put stamps on when they see there's a pile of post cards to go out. My clients, I always say, are the best. They are usually under enormous stress and yet they find the humor in things and always greet me positively, even when I can bring them no good news. My sellers understand that these are difficult times and speak politely to me, noting that I do work hard and communicate with them regularly. Will they become the ranting and raging parents that might have hurried the death of the woman on Monday? I doubt it, even though they care deeply about their children's education. It's just not in them to treat others harshly.

This seems like such a blanket statement. I do encounter incivility on occasion, though not from my clients. Then I look inwards to find that turn of phrase to deal with it, both for me and the speaker. It's a work in progress - a lifetime goal.

But these days I look at houses not selling as rapidly as a few years ago, at obstacles - septic systems, banks, credit - further blocking sales and perhaps by-products of this economy, and wonder how my clients maintain their composure. But they do - they really, honestly do!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tear Down These Walls!

With apologies to Ronald Reagan, I want to explore and inform those of you not in the Syracuse area about a particular conundrum that the city and its many thousands of travelers are facing. On the north side of the city, right along Route 81, is a building that is crumbling. In fact, it is crumbling right on to Route 81 and threatens to topple onto the northbound lanes. The city, in its infinite wisdom, has therefore CLOSED that portion of Route 81.

This was done on an emergency basis two weeks ago, right before the Syracuse-Villanova game. You remember that game...? The one that was featured on Game Day, the one that was attended by the most fans ever to pack a stadium to see a regular college game? The one that broke the Gerry McNamara's senior day record? There were 34,616 fans in attendance to hear the announcer remind everyone that Route 81 was closed and they should seek another route home. Great press for Syracuse!

The building stands because the city is fighting with the state over who should take it down. It is the number one topic of conversation on the local news shows - both television and radio. Let's remember that it's been crumbling for a while, with no end in sight. The owner can't do anything - the demo job would cost about a million dollars, he figures, and if he had that kind of money....Also, the cause of the mess is probably Route 81 and its trucks - Interstate Route 81, that is.

Bob tells me this is a reasonable assumption. He tells me that St. John the Evangelist just south of the building reinforced its walls with steel cables years ago to prevent them from being damaged by the traffic up I-81. Good thinking!

But there it is, and today is Day 14. The Post-Standard welcomes your guess as to when the building will come down and who will pay for it. Write to letters@syracuse.com with your prediction. Hey, let's make a game of it! And BTW - more national exposure is coming in two weeks when the NCAA regionals come to town.

All this reminds me of a similar tear-down project years ago in Skaneateles. A house was built, as I understand it, on the waterfront without the town's permission. At that time the estimate of the worth of the house was around $300,000 - early 90s' pricing. But it came down, and nothing has been built on the property since.

The building by I-81 is old and was there long before the roadway. It needs to go - but I believe it is only the forerunner of other buildings that have seen better days and must be taken down. With the cost of everything going up - who does it? Opinions welcome!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Things are picking up with spring in the air. I sat outside yesterday for the first time with my chair in the driveway to catch the late afternoon sun. If you look really hard you might see a bit of a sunburn on my nose. I was bundled up, but my Gypsy Cold Care tea helped to keep me warm while I fend off a cold. My grandmother believed that fresh air and sunshine would cure anything.

There are currently 101 active listings in the town area of Skaneateles and 26 village listings. In the past week three homes have come on the market; all three are re-lists in the $200,000s. Only one home has been marked contingent recently, one of the lowest priced homes in the area. Another has gone from "U - under contract, do not show" to "C - continue to show." It's always good to have back-up offers.

Yay and hurray! We have a new sold property - a large, huge, amount of acreage with a house attached in the Jordan-Elbridge school district. That brings to 4 the closed properties so far this year. I am glad spring is coming!

I thought I'd check out all of Onondaga County's sales. There are 1,985 active listings that have produced 369 sold properties. That translates into a 5 month inventory. (I'm not calculating Skaneateles...) The most expensive homes that have sold, however, are in the high $400,000 range. Only 3 above $400,000. This is a case of good news/bad news. That's all they sold for - good grief! But then the fact that properties sell for less, much less, here than around the country accounts for our avoidance of the real estate slump. We are doing well, while other towns suffer from foreclosures. Syracuse and its environs are a great place to invest! We've held our value for the most part and are still affordable.

So let's make a promise that by this time next month we will have 10 sales - at least - and the 3 highest sales in Onondaga County. Come on over and do your part! Buy a house!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Short and sweet - it's been a marvelous week and there isn't a whole lot to say.

In Onondaga County there are 1,967 homes for sale. I'll watch the number, but it's been fairly steady.

In Skaneateles TOWN there are currently 99 active listings according to the multiple listing service. Of these, 8 are listed as village. Now in the VILLAGE there are 25 listings marked active. Two re-lists came on this week - one recent waterfront changed agents, and another very attractive village listing reappeared that was on a while back. While the exterior won't knock your socks off, the interior has been done for you - mid $200,000. The third listing is probably Skaneateles town, but is generally identified with Marcellus because of its location and school district.

Nothing new on the contingent or pending pages, but there is one closed property bringing the total for the year to a not-satisfying 3 homes.

A few things to note - the house that closed, and I must tell you I showed it countless times and my buyers chose not to jump, sold for well under the price for which it was originally built, less than two years ago. "Well under" means a good 20% loss. However, the owners chose to move on because they got a GREAT deal on their new home. It's all about choices.

A momentary rant, if you don't mind.....When building a home, consider if you will stay forever or might possibly sell. What appears to you to be a great decision may not be to the majority of buyers. Listen to architects and builders, please. They don't want to turn homes into cookie-cutter properties, but there are reasons for their objections. If you truly want something they consider "goofy," then go for it and know that you will pay a price at re-sale. And always upgrade the kitchen - make it high-end, or be prepared to do so for re-sale. As I heard several times this past week: "At a certain price point you have expectations of the quality and choices that are made." Enough rant....

To answer the contnuing questions on the Seitz Building from our anonymous commentor - the address will be Genesee Street for the condos, but that still is in the processing stage. Six of the condos are complete but there are four that could enjoy some input from new buyers. So go for it, AC - call me and we'll go look!