The hunt for housing


The local market for real estate may have experienced a hiccup or two and certainly a seasonal blip, but it’s scarcely languishing. America’s fascination with the ups and downs of real estate continues. It’s alive and well in Ulster County, where even more people seem to spend a spring weekend looking at houses than going to church. Real estate is solidly entrenched as today’s civic religion.

Some 358 residential properties have sold for a total of almost $92 million since the beginning of 2014 through May 15 in the territory served by the Ulster County Multiple Listing Service (MLS). That compares to 380 properties reported as sold in the MLS data for the same four-and-a-half-month period last year sold for $87 million.
The top end of the market hasn’t been neglected. Partial data shows 28 properties changed hands this year for $500,000 or over (17 for $500,000 to $749,999, seven for between $750,000 and $999,000, and four for a million dollars or more).
According to data from the state Association of Realtors (NYSAR), the Ulster County market more or less ran parallel to state activity in the first quarter of 2014. At an increase of 1.3%, closed sales in Ulster County was marginally ahead of the state as whole, which recorded a 1.8% decrease in closed sales in the first quarter of 2014. While the median sale price in the state increased by 5.1% in the first quarter, NYSAR reported it dropped 5.3% in Ulster County.
Finally, Ulster County’s inventory of homes for sale slowed from year to year by 4.5%, whereas the statewide inventory fell by 7.6%. In 2013, NYSAR’s annual report said, closed sales were up 12.6%, median sales prices were up 5.6%, and the statewide inventory of homes for sale decreased by 10.4%. An active year.
Because of the small number of properties involved in the local data, none of the first-quarter numbers were statistically worrisome to the local industry. Harris Safier of Westwood Metes & Bounds Realty, the 2014 president of the Ulster County Board of Realtors, said he expects residential sales numbers and volume this year and next year to be “around what it was last year” even with rising interest rates. He cited data that showed a surge of serious activity in the last month.
Median listing prices for homes in the communities in Ulster County have varied in 2014. Asking prices have decreased in ten municipalities, have increased in nine, and haven’t changed in one.
There may be a further marketplace wobble or two in the future. We still live in a shaky economy giving out contradictory signals. “Consumers have been giving a better score on current job [and] economic conditions with each passing month,” wrote housing economist Lawrence Yum last month. “However, views of future economic conditions have remained stuck with no change. A worried consumer, even if the current conditions are improving, is less likely to spend on a major expenditure.”

Too expensive in Brooklyn
Attorney and local expert in real estate Jon Hoyt’s office is on once-again-fashionable Wall Street in the stockade district of Kingston. Many New York City young people calling his office these days tell him that Brooklyn is becoming a more expensive place to live. They’re being priced out.
They are planning to move to Kingston in a year or two, Hoyt said they tell him, and they want to live Uptown because it reminds them of their Brooklyn neighborhood. When they’re out looking at real estate, some bring the baby along.
Harris Safier doesn’t call urban refugees “second homers.” They’re “dual residents.”
That’s a different pattern than a few years ago, Hoyt continued, when middle-aged folks from the city wanted to buy retirement properties as deep in the Ulster County woods as they could find. Now young professional people and artists want to live in Uptown Kingston and commute (or telecommute) to New York City. They’d rather fix up an old city Victorian — if they can find one — than live in a weekend cabin.
These would-be Kingstonians are not yet numerous, though Hoyt said there are a surprisingly large number of them. It’s a new trend for Ulster County.
Then there are empty-nesters who are downsizing. They no longer need as much space. They don’t want to shovel snow any more. They’re ready to live in a small city, a hamlet or a village.
The buyers and the sellers are a-changin’.

Affordability gap
Noting that there have been very few new housing starts for many, many years, Safier predicted that sector would be picking up. With the inventory of existing homes decreasing, “We’re going to see more spec homes built,” he said.
The housing market has a low end as well. If Ulster County is going to have an affordable mix of housing for all its residents, the proportion of various forms of multi-unit housing must be increased. That’s going to mean more projects like Rupco’s Woodstock Commons and Kingston lace factory, the Birchez facilities, Jenny’s Garden in Marlboro and Elsie’s Meadow in Wallkill and various other examples of senior and workforce housing throughout Ulster County.
The affordability gap remains significant. It hasn’t changed much since 2009, when a pessimistic housing study partially financed by Ulster County concluded: “Overall, it is estimated that Ulster County had an affordability gap of 15,953 units (10,696 owner and 5257 renter) in 2006, which is expected to increase by 6079 units by 2020. Ulster County could construct 6624 units by calendar year 2020 in order to begin to address the affordability gap faced by its residents.”
It ain’t gonna happen. Most people will be paying a larger proportion of their income than ever before for their housing.


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