Monday, May 31, 2010

Out and About

I praised Auburn in my last post - now it's Marcellus' turn!

Specifically, I want to make you-all aware of a free class available at the new Natural Solutions for your health store at 6 West Main Street right in the heart of the village.

Nutritionist Rick McIntyre is offering a Free Weight Loss Metabolic Syndrome Class on Tuesday, June 1st, from 6:00 until 8:00 pm. To quote:

This class will stress the need to balance protein, carbohydrates and fat to lower inflammation and balance blood sugar....This diet is meant to be a life style not a short term fix. Each person will learn their individual protein and carbohydrate needs for the weight loss phase and for maintenance after they reach their ideal weight.

I would really love to go, but I have another appointment scheduled for that time. If you want to reserve a place, please call him at 673-3949. If you are like me and can't make it but would like to, please call and tell him because hopefully he can schedule another class just like he did with his free osteoporosis class.

While you're there, ask about high blood pressure and "natural solutions." Or check out the line of organic dog food he is now stocking. And the dog treats!

Don't forget - this upcoming weekend is Old Time Days in Marcellus, too! Lots of vendors, a parade, the stores will be open - a marvelous way to spend a few hours in a lovely little village just over the hill from Skaneateles.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

My New Favorite Place

For years and years and years my favorite summer movie place was the Westcott Cinema on the east side of Syracuse near the University. I grew up in the area, spent my quarters there on Saturdays for the 1:00 science fiction/scary movies, got spoken to, I am sure, by the owner's wife who patrolled the aisles. (I like to put my feet up.) As a teenager I went on dates there - I remember especially "A Man and a Woman," the French film with the haunting music. Since coming back to Central New York I've loved going there on hot summer nights, trying to eat at Alto Cinco and then finding success at Munjed's - the spanakopita! There was always a lecture by the owner...a good movie to be discussed over and over afterwards at a coffee house or on the ride home....what fun and great memories.

The Cinema has changed and now is more of a music venue. I've missed it tremendously.

But we've discovered Auburn Public Theater through the Patricia Neal rendering of Capote's "A Christmas Memory" last year.

Last night we went to see "A Serious Man," a Coen Brothers recent film. We both confessed that we thought we were seeing something else - A Sincere Man? - still don't know the name. But instead of drama, we got comedy, although a pretty dark one.

We went first to Connie's, a Mexican restaurant of the sort of self-serve variety in the shadow of the prison in downtown Auburn. I had the guacamole and chips, savoring them immensely.

Afterwards we drove over to Genesee Street. A bit early, we strolled down the street, looking in windows and just enjoying the warm night. We decided to "beat the rush" and went to the theater to get our tickets. A local group was putting on a show in one of the small theaters - lots of loud music and rap and high school kids. Energy!

The tickets cost $5 each. I could have gotten them for $4 online earlier, but I didn't want to open a PayPal account for it. I bought a diet Coke in a can for $1.

The theater was small, and the seats weren't the softest - but the airconditioning wasn't on and blasting me away (I bring a shawl). The people weren't talking, there was room for all 20 (?) of us. We had no one in front of us either - or on the side, or right behind. Bliss. I put my feet up.

The previews were brief. A film I do want to see is about hydrofracking and the consequences of it - June 13th at 7:00, with the director taking questions. Gasland. Go to for more information.

After we walked back down Genesee. People were still eating outside at Bambino's Bistro. A jogger passed us. Other people window-shopped. A horse whinnied from a trailer being towed.

We drove back past the hundred flags in Hoopes Park - quite a spectacle! Then on to Skaneateles, where the village was still alive and going strong. A sense of peace settled in - I felt like I'd come home again, to a new place but with great familiarity.

Thank you, Auburn Public Theater!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Things are beginning to move now. I've spoken with several people who have seen a definite uptick in their purchase offers and offers on listings. We all seemed to have buyers and/or listings, but no offers. It's changing!

Currently there are 130 active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. Twenty-five are in the village. We are creeping up again to the 150 or so we had a couple years ago when the market was just beginning to feel the pinch. The higher number seems to be the effect of people waiting to sell and now finding that waiting has not brought the change in the economy they had expected. So houses come back on, increasing the inventory.

Picking up on that theme - four homes have come onto the market. One is truly a new listing because it is new construction, under $400,000. The other three are waterfront re-lists, albeit one with a twist. A small camp was re-done and is now on the market at a higher price. it will be interesting to see how it does over the summer.

Of the 130 active listings, 39 are considered waterfront. Oh, for the good old days when a new listing would come on and everyone would tell their buyers "Fly in - hurry! - it will be gone, if it isn't already!" But we still have great deals out there and a most magnificent lake! Now you get a choice - that's all!

An agent gave me a great saying that she got from someone else - Each house is in two contests - one for best price, and the other for beauty. For something to sell, it needs to win both contests. Location is still important, but condition and price will win when there are many choices in the same location.

There is one newly marked contingent home. Listed for two years by another agency, this one seems to have sold, or at least is under contract. Over $400,000, too!

We do have excellent news. There are now 19 homes that have closed this year - four new ones this past week! The one thing they have in common is that they are either out of the Town of Skaneateles or in a different school district. New York is unlike other states - the districts spill over even into other counties. New 4 BR, 2.5 Bath construction closed well under $400,000. Two others - one a foreclosure - also closed around their list prices, selling within a couple months of their listing date. The last is waterfront, on the market through several agencies for several years, closing well under its original list price. (There are now three waterfront homes that have closed this year.)

Almost there! When we get to 20 homes I will publish the list with their sale prices as I did last year.

Lastly, I stand corrected! Please read the comment attached to the last blog - Moro's Bistro is not coming to Skaneateles after all. Intrepid Janet caught my error first and warned me, and then this comment came in for which I am profoundly grateful. See you in Auburn! (I promise to stop reading awnings!)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

Lovely, lovely day here! Slight breeze, warmth for the first time in a few days, brilliant sunshine. Made me realize that summer will be here very soon. "The fastest three months in the year," Bob says.

There are currently 129 active listings under the heading of Town - Skaneateles in the multiple listing service. Twenty four of these are in the village. One new camp came on (actually two that I know of, but one is listed in Niles) for around $600,000. Its location is unknown because the owners don't want anyone checking it out while they are living there and trying to enjoy days like this. Interesting device, but I believe sincere, not just a market ploy. There is a multi-million dollar "castle" for sale - sorry, no waterfront. In the town there are two re-lists, both around the $200,000 mark. Outside and a ways away is another one in the low $100,000.

We do have a newly contingent property - lake rights in the village, listed in the mid-$400,000. It will be interesting to see what it does close for and if the market is still supporting homes like this with lake access. There are also 9 properties listed as "under contract, do not show."

Fifteen homes have closed so far this year in the Skaneateles area. The latest is a pretty home down the east side, only two bedrooms, but closing around its list price of about $200,000. Beauty stull wins the day every day!

And yes, so interesting that there should be a comment about the Seitz Building when all the units have just been re-listed! Amazing coincidence! There are 10 units available, ranging in price from $299,000 to $562,000. Only one has a contract on it, but it can still be shown. There are other condos in town for sale - 2 in the State Street complex for around $200,000 and one on Jordan for under half a million. On Genesee Street there are two buildings listed as condos for well over a million. But remember, there are only 13 sold condos in the system and only 2 of these that sold in the past 24 months - one on Jordan and one in the State Street group. But I do think that the view is spectacular from the Seitz Building and now with Moro's Bistro going in where Morris's used to be, the building is coming into its own.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

We've been bird-watching a lot lately. I wake up every morning to the sound of those marvelous birds, a robin has built her nest over the light on the side ramp to the apartment, Bob has hung gorgeous birdhouses throughout the property. I have a large feeder just outside the window by my desk - a rose-breasted grosbeak visits regularly these days. We also have an occasional visit from a red-bellied woodpecker who likes the hanging suet. Bob brought back photos from his walk with Boo this morning of the pair of bluebirds who apparently have settled into one of our houses. I have seen a heron many times down by our neighbor's pond, and geese are nesting there now.

Currently there are 124 active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. Twenty-four of these are in the village. Over the past week nine new listings appeared, three of which are true re-lists, both with reduced prices. Another two came on that were on the market not that long ago, sold, and now have returned with increased price tags to take into account the work that was put into the houses. That leaves four new ones, brand new! One is a lovely ranch that is much larger than it looks, another is a bargain under $100,000 (and J-E Schools), a third is new construction - why not? the builder just sold his last house - and the fourth is a small village home where you can watch the world go by from the porch.

For all of you number buffs, we have a treat! There are 8 homes marked contingent, continue to show and 8 marked contingent, do not show, and (surprise!) 8 pended in the computer, just waiting to close. That adds up to 24, the number of village homes on the market.....but of course that has nothing to do with anything, just fun with numbers.

The important number is 14, as in the number of homes that have closed so far this year in the Skaneateles area. Two new ones were added this week - new village construction that came in fairly well under the list price (but we don't know all the reasons for this) and waterfront that sold at the list price quickly.

The range of prices this year is $150,000 to $800,000. The median list price was $295,000. One each of waterfront, lake rights and new construction homes has sold. Five were in the village which leaves 6 strictly town.

I wondered how this stacked up to last year by this date, and once again had fun with numbers. Almost twice as many homes had closed (27), but the breakdown was the same - 2 waterfront, 2 new construction and 1 lake rights with 9 in the village. The price range was at once higher and lower - $60,000 to 1.7M with a median list price of $280,000. Maybe the numbers are so small that a trend isn't evident yet - except that waterfront in the past (2005 - 2008) has made up a larger proportion of sales, so the disparity seems to have continued into this year. Or maybe it's just early!

So go buy a house this weekend - many are going to be open on Sunday in Skaneateles, especially some of the newly listed ones. The rates are low - I saw 4.8% for a 30 year conventional come in this week - HEY! 4.8 - that's divisible by 8 - wow!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Curb Appeal

Bear with me on this one - I promise I will get to the title eventually.

Last Saturday Bob's family and I threw him a surprise birthday party. He walked in thinking he was going to a "Jack and Jill" shower, complete with a gift certificate all prettily wrapped and his leek pesto. The bridal shower would have been for our niece, Christine. He consented to go if he could make his pesto.

You remember Saturday - 20 to 40 mph wind, with gusts to 60? Temperatures in the 30s with higher elevations getting snow? We were definitely in the wind tunnel at my sister-in-law's, and we certainly did see snow that evening. She had to break off from decorating to secure their screened gazebo from flying away to Kansas.

Most of us stayed in the house, warmed by their pellet stove and the throngs of old friends and relatives who showed up to surprise Bob. The rest of the crew went out to the barn, transformed that night into the Bob-aloo Cafe, complete with bar and tables and ambient (little Christmas lights) lighting. It drew everyone out there to see it - not that everyone stayed in the cold!

But now we get to the curb appeal. It's not talked about as much these days. The condition and price of a home will sell it faster. Landscaping is something that can be done afterwards, it seems. But it is still so very, very important. My in-law's place is an old farmhouse - a very old, meandering farmhouse. But it has a pond, trails, garden, gazebo, and the old barn. The kids play in an open field behind the house, a hot tub resides on the rear deck, a pool overlooks the Marcellus hills. Even when the snow and sleet came down, the place spoke of summer parties and full winter crosscountry-skiing.

They aren't rich by any means, but they took what they had and made it a fun place to be over the 20 or so years they've lived there. They aren't selling either.

A couple weeks ago the price of a house in Skaneateles returned to the market with a $10,000 increase. The list agent read about my comments in my update blog and e-mailed me that the owner had done extensive landscaping, hence the higher price. I honestly haven't been that way to see it, but with its location I can imagine it was probably money well spent because the house depends on its location - and incredible views. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of it.

Money these days is spent on granite and new appliances, interior painting and yes, staging. As well it should be! But not to be forgotten -the outside is the first introduction to a home - it should be welcoming and set the tone for the interior. As I do my open house this Sunday (1:00 to 3:00) up on Snowberry in Camillus I know the house will show better and bring more smiles because the trees and flowers are in bloom. The bushes and plantings were a labor of love, just as my in-laws have labored and will continue to love their home.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Stocks vs. Houses

I happened to turn on CNN this afternoon just as the stocks were flying down. I was washing the dishes, and I looked out the window and wondered if I were witnessing the crash of everything. Riots in Athens, earlier the flooding in Nashville, Great Britain possibly unable to form a new government, oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico near my cousins' retirement homes and lovely Fairhope, Alabama.

Buy real estate, is always the cry when stocks go down. Housing is considered the safer bet - and it is all betting. And as I looked outside I saw why - the grass and trees are real, you can see them and touch them. My stocks - such as they are - are on paper. I get a monthly statement and I send my financial person money in the spring to offset taxes.

Land is everything - I remember that incredible moment in Gone With the Wind, when Scarlett reaches down and picks up the soil. She knows the value of the land and will do whatever it takes to keep it. Stockowners do what - reach into the pantry for Proctor & Gamble products? Somehow it's not the same.

So as I leave the office now to go show - nay, sell! - a house this evening I am sure we will talk about the market, and I am sure I will voice my opinion that it's in real estate that investments should be made - both financial and emotional.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Skaneateles Real Estate - The Weekly Update

I just love those statistics! Even though the sun is shining, there's a cooling breeze, the pond is gurgling out my door calling to me, I am here getting ready to make some sense of my weekly research. I suppose I could have other obsessions....

Currently there are 117 (there were 118 when I started this afternoon!) active listings in the Skaneateles area of the multiple listing service. The Village claims 22 of these. The numbers are the same as last week - but the houses have changed, I can assure you.

There are a few re-lists, but only three and two of them are waterfront - the high and low ends of waterfront. There's really something for everyone - a Village beauty in the heart of the town for mid-$600,000, waterfront new listings upwards of and spilling over and above the million dollar mark. There's also the highly sought after country property and a HUD listing for under 50K in the Jordan-Elbridge school district.

The very good news is that there are 10 - count 'em - 10 properties listed as under contract, but continue to show. Three of these are new - so things are beginning to move in the right direction! Then there are the 8 properties that are firmly under contract, do not show. Not to mention the 7 pending homes. Hooray! Within a few months, if the stars align, we should have another 25 closed houses.

We continue on the slow side in that category, but we added another house, an under 200K town home that closed within 5% of its list price, 7 months after listing. Last year there were 25 closed properties by this time, but only 16 in 2008. I see a fast finish to the year!

I was asked several times this week if the shortage of closings held for other towns. I hadn't looked recently, so I checked them out. Camillus is about par for last year, but at 50 far behind the 85 of 2008. As rough a year as that was for everyone, Camillus did extremely well. Marcellus' bad year was last year, so their 17 closings is the same as 2008 and bodes well. Poor Elbridge has only 5 closings, as compared to twice that last year and the year before. Onondaga has exactly the same as last year - 33 - which is 75% of 2008.

Since Onondaga is larger but still a suburb, I thought pricing might be significant. Last year 5 homes listed above $250,000 had closed by this time, as compared with 6 in 2009. In 2008, however, 10 had closed. In all three years the majority of these higher priced homes were new homes, just built or custom built. That's always the difficulty with existing homes - the new ones, if they are priced competitively, are more attractive. Generally value of the existing homes comes from closed developments, mature landscaping and established neighborhoods. And there's a great deal of value in those qualities.

Onondaga County turned out to prove the point. In 2008 by this time 1,105 homes had closed of which 123 were listed above that 250K mark. Last year and this year were comparable - 15% fewer sales, but the same proportion of higher end homes. But looking at the $400,000 level the tale is told - 8 this year, versus 27 last year and 28 the year before. People are being more cautious with their investments.

But for everyone who is buying a house, this is all good news. I saw a 4.8% 30 year fixed rate fly through my e-mail today. Price adjustments are being made on the selling end so people can buy. The challenge is getting people in to homes, and price is a potent weapon these days.

I feel fulfilled. I am going to stir Bob's leek soup and then catch the last of the evening sun!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


At the last open house I did - an empty, soon to be completed house built by Kevin McCormick in Calemad, Parcell Woods - I had a few minutes to read before people started showing up. I usually bring Newsweek or Time, and always Realtor, published by the National Association of Realtors. Generally I find something inside that is interesting or informative.

I start at the back - I have no idea why, but I do this with most journals. The Last Word was a column about author Brad Blanton who is a psychotherapist. I was actually drawn to the article because his picture reminded me of a recent client - but I stayed to read the interview.

Blanton - Dr. Blanton? - developed a therapeutic technique he calls Radical Honesty. He suggests that most people rarely tell the truth, and fewer tell the truth all the time. He exhorts people to listen to what they say and realize that they are not being honest, either with others or even themselves. The withholding of information is also a form of lying; it takes "courage to be honest and have a relationship with others based on reality. Don't avoid the issues."

And, as we all know, there are always issues in real estate! How do you tell people the ugly wallpaper is ugly - and do you trust yourself to know that it's ugly? How can you be politic about it - isn't one man's ugliness another man's beauty? I remember a very orange sink in a high end house. Everyone hated it, as well as the non-matching green toilet. A buyer came in and loved it - said it reminded her of her old home before everything became less colorful. Not enough to buy the house, though.....

Interiors and exteriors are the easy part, though. Yes, I am not the expert and certainly not where design comes in, but that's not the main issue that Dr.(?) Blanton brings up. To quote:

Q: Why is it so terrible to withhold information, especially if it means not hurting someone's feelings?

A: Because it keeps you locked in the jail of your own mind. You have to remember what you told each person. You have to think about what the person's reaction might be, and you start manipulating information to control the outcome. Delivering the truth is easier, takes less time, and is less stressful. As a real estate professional, you'll have more time to reach more people - including buyers and sellers - if you're not spending time manipulating them.

And there, for me, is the key. Manipulation. I don't want to manipulate anyone, any time! But I do want to be honest, and asking people if I have their permission to be honest (about that purple passion wallpaper) makes it easier. I have one stellar client who has asked me to be honest quite pointedly, saying other agents have not been forthright. I have found her willingness to listen to my opinions and suggestions refreshing. I've told her I want to clone her - and she laughs!

I also remember years ago when I started to teach a supervisor saying it was okay to respond to a question with "I don't know." I believe all too often the agent becomes the proclaimer of answers, not the resource. I would no more tell people what a house will sell for than when it would sell. I can make an educated guess and provide my statistics, but I do not know everything. So I say "I don't know." It's the truth, though, that I wish I did!

Blanton's website is

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Good Weekend

Every once in a while things come together. This was one of those weekends - not that I saw it happening at the time. In fact, it started out rather roughly with my concerns about economics suddenly getting to me. But then.....

Friday Intrepid Janet and I met to go to a friend's house/studio/shop out in Cato. Bittersweet Cottage. We'd shopped there for Christmas presents, and it was opened for one weekend this spring. The owner is a friend who listed her property with me a while back and has the most wonderful antiques, pottery, jewelry and garden whimsies. She's just fun to be around.

I didn't buy anything, but Janet found the table we'd looked for for months for her newly remodeled kitchen. And we ate lunch and talked and caught up on each other's news. Friends are important - yeah, they are.

Before that I took a very pleasurable walk with a man who seems to know the woods in a way I never quite got around to. Mike showed me tulip trees that grew much higher than the one I had in Saratoga and the two I've kept at the lake to remind me of Saratoga. We talked real estate, of course, but our walk confirmed that giving is also receiving. A portion of his family's property will be used for campgrounds for the Boy Scouts.

He showed me leeks, a pulled one from the ground. They are vegetables similar to an onion or garlic in their bulbs and uses. The leaves look like tulip leaves; the plant grows wild and are ready now for harvesting. His wife made leek soup from a recipe in the newspaper a week or so back.

When Bob and I took a walk the next day I ran across a leek - who knew they were in our woods! That's all it took, and last night Bob made leek pesto:

Wild Leek Pesto

3 cupps fresh wild leek leaves (firmly packed)
4 large wild leek bulbs chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts (walnuts or almonds can be substituted)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup parmesan cheese

Combine all ingredients (except parmesan) in a food processor, and finely chop. Transfer to a bowl and stir in parmesan. Cover and let stand at least 2 hours. Enjoy!

This came from the internet - we also had leek leaves in our salad, I believe. It all goes with whole wheat pasta and Rosalie's bread. I am planning a leek quiche for later this week.

Saturday we went to the barn for a Kentucky Derby party. The women dressed up and all wore fancy hats. I pulled out my straw hat that I used to wear in the Cabrio and added lilacs to it. We drank mint juleps (now there's a hefty drink!) and ate finger sandwiches while we watched the race and admired each other's hats. Ben and Erica who run the stables set up a television under the tent and ran the cable from the house. So much fun!

Check out their place: It's across from the Inn Between on Route 5 between Camillus and Elbridge. Great place to take lessons or board a horse!

I learned this weekend that life is more than just work and money and while the economy impacts all of us, friends and family and nature and animals bring so much joy. I know that I love real estate because of the people I've met and had the privilege to work with and get to know.