This is not your father’s real-estate market. There’s a new generation of buyers with different preferences and different lifestyle needs. But it’s still a marketplace, with the players needing to interact successfully to do business.
Jon Hoyt sells real estate and practices law out of an office a couple of doors up from my place of work on Wall Street in Kingston. He also lives in the same building. He and I were chatting last week about city people buying houses in Ulster County.
Hoyt told me about a recent million-dollar late-afternoon closing out in West Hurley in which he represented the seller. The buyers were a couple from New York City in their early thirties. I think he said she was a model and he a hairdresser to the stars. Or maybe he was the model and she the hairdresser to the stars.
The buyers had been renting a car to drive up from the city on weekends, getting familiar with the area. Now that they were buying a house, the female buyer suggested, maybe they should buy a car instead of renting. Her partner thought that was a good idea. He turned to Hoyt and asked him if he knew any auto dealers who might be open at that hour of day.
Hoyt said he was astounded. “It was an impulse buy,” he marveled. “They just thought about it, and they wanted to do it there and then. A car.”
Between December 1 of last year and March 16 of this year, 423 one-family residences on the Ulster County’s Multiple Listing Service sold at a median price of $215,000. That’s a healthy but not huge boost from the same period the previous year, when 395 residences sold at a median price of $182,000. But the price increase is quite significant. The market for Ulster County residential real estate has basically been flat for some time, and a significant upward change may be in the wings. We’ll have to wait to see what happens.
The pattern of residential sales activity between the three-and-half-month period in the county last year and this year was not entirely dissimilar in the city of Kingston. Between December 1 of last year and March 16 of this year, 53 one-family residences in Kingston sold at a median price of $132,000. In the same period in the previous year, 49 Kingston residences sold at a median price of $117,000.
The supply of homes in the Kingston market is tightening, too. This year, the median selling price was $132,000, $2000 above the median asking price, indicating competition among buyers. Last year, the picture was very different. The median Kingston asking price was $139,900, but the actual selling price was a whopping $22,900 lower. The median number of days houses were on the market was only 62 this year, compared to 96 last year.
I had thought the top tier of the market, the houses selling for $500,000 or more, was more active this year than the rest of the market. I was wrong, the real-estate statistics indicate. During the same period the year before, 25 such houses were listed as sold. This year there were just three more.
Let’s assume, Hoyt and I reasoned, that the New York City metropolitan area, the most important game in town as far as real estate is concerned, provides the mid-Hudson Valley with two big market segments: the mature professionals, retirees and business owners on the one hand, and the creative or tech-oriented and more moneyed millennials on the other.
Hoyt estimated that millennials currently constituted about two-thirds of the market that uses his services. In his experience, the older professionals to whom he sells are oriented to places like Woodstock and Stone Ridge. Perhaps a third of the millennials were, too. The others were considering a greater variety of communities: more densely populated ones like Kingston, New Paltz and Saugerties and intermediate ones like Rosendale, Esopus, Gardiner, Olive and Rochester, among others.
That’s a big change in behavior from a few years ago.
John Murphy’s office is on the other side of my office on the same block. John, owner of the eponymous Murphy Realty Group, has been a Kingston guy all his life. He sells a lot of Kingston real estate.
Murphy told me he used to recognize everyone on the street as his friends and neighbors, people he had known from his childhood. “I knew everybody.”
Though there’s a bittersweet quality to “losing your community,” seeing new people provide such a surge of vitality is heartwarming — especially to a guy who sells real estate.
“It’s amazing,” broker Murphy said. “I’ve been here so long. All these people who want to live in Kingston. Now it’s packed. It’s the place to be now. You know what it’s like, especially on Friday and Saturday night. It’s a whole different atmosphere. They love this stuff.”
By “stuff,” he meant Kingston. They love Kingston. And by “they” he meant the millennials.
Murphy told me that he used to try to get people from the New York City metro area to look at homes in Kingston, to see its advantages as a community, to get better value than they would out in the towns. No dice. “They just weren’t interested. It was too depressed, too downscale.”
That has turned around completely. “Now it’s the place to be.” It’s awesome. It’s beautiful, mimicked Murphy with a wan smile. “They light up when they see it.” They can’t wait to get out of Brooklyn. Kingston is the new Brooklyn. And so on.
Two weeks ago, Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress released a study called “Urban Action Agenda: A Program in Motion,” which made the case for an influx over time to the Hudson Valley from New York City “as the city becomes more expensive for some.” The revitalizing small cities of the region will benefit from this trend. “There is a Hudson Valley city to be found that will appeal to multiple lifestyle tastes,” Pattern CEO Jonathan Drapkin was quoted as saying.
These cities and urban areas, Drapkin is convinced, are coming back. “They will power growth across [the Hudson Valley],” he predicted.
Hoyt noted that home prices in Kingston are going up, but at no greater percentage than in other Ulster County places. Though he sees real-estate hot spots in both urban and non-urban locales where there’s greater activity and more speculation, he thinks places like Kingston, Saugerties and the other old mill towns are now holding their own against the cabin-in-the-woods crowd. For a long time, they weren’t. And the urban prices are affordable for any big-city buyer.
Harris Safier, owner of Westwood Metes & Bounds and current president of the Ulster County Board of Realtors, and his life partner Robert Tonner accepted an offer for their six-acre residence in Stone Ridge six and a half years ago. They bought a city house on a third of an acre in Uptown Kingston.
It was time, Safier said. They were getting to an age when they no longer found the deer and the woods that attractive. “We were ready to be done with it,” Safier said. “It was no longer a pleasure.”
They had been coming to Kingston almost every day anyway. Tonner worked out there daily, and they ate out five or six days a week.
The move has worked out well. The neighbors are congenial, and “we have a wonderful lifestyle.” There are a lot of restaurants to choose from. They don’t miss mowing the lawn.
Most of the immigrants to the hot-spot Stockade neighborhood, perhaps 85 percent, estimated Safier, are young, typically couples from Brooklyn with a baby and a dog. The action is spreading to include Midtown, too.
Safier sees older buyers in Kingston as well, like a pair of Stone Ridge friends, he a writer and she an artist, chomping at the bit to move. And not just local people are downsizing. Acquaintances like a couple from Manhattan are trading their summer house in the Hamptons for a home in Kingston that they plan eventually to move to. Another refugee from the Gotham rat race is counting the days until he can stop the stroll to the Trailways bus. Another local couple are still trying to sell their former home on Long Island.
Murphy’s been in Kingston all his life. Originally from Shandaken, Hoyt has lived and worked in Kingston for decades. Born in New York City, Safier came to Ulster County in 1978 and has lived in Woodstock and Accord as well as in Marbletown. Now all three reside and work in Kingston.
Basically, Hoyt, Murphy and Safier see the same Kingston, describe the same Ulster County. For them this is an optimistic time, a Kingston springtime.