Real estate and community

(Photo by Will Dendis)

According to data compiled from the local Multiple Listing Service, the median selling price of single-family homes in Ulster County was $212,000 in 2017, up 4.8 percent from the $202,175 recorded in 2016. That’s not far off the national increase of 5.6 percent for 2017.

It’s too early for Ulster County homeowners to break out the Champagne. What went up this year hasn’t always gone up. If the momentum continues in 2018, it will signal the first sustained upward bump in local real estate in twelve years.

According to the New York State Association of Realtors (NYSAR), Ulster County real estate hasn’t broken the $210,000 mark in residential median price since 2010. Since then, according to NYSAR, Ulster County prices have fluctuated in a zigzag pattern: $195,000 in 2011 and 2012, $205,000 in 2013, $200,000 in 2014 and $193,000 in 2015.

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That’s not the pattern to the south of us. According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, housing prices in the core New York City metropolitan area increased 60.1 percent since 2000. Gotham prices have dropped only 11.6 percent since that peak in October 2006.

Though housing prices in Ulster County went up a bit more than half that (31.6 percent) since 2000, they’ve dropped virtually all that gain — 31 percent — since prices peaked here in October 2005. In December 2016, median home value in the core New York metro area was $402,700. In Ulster County it was $191,600.

These are all nominal prices. Inflation-adjusted prices would be nine to 16 percent less, depending on the index one used. In real terms, Ulster County’s still got a way to go to catch up to pre-recession real-estate levels. Academic studies have shown that most people consistently overestimate the growth of the value of their own homes. In the long term, inflation, not price appreciation, is the main reason that prices go up.

When life gives you lemons, as the old saying has it, make lemonade. Local residential real estate has proven a lousy investment for the past decade and a half. But that doesn’t mean it’ll continue to be that in the future, the professionals in the ever-optimistic real-estate industry will remind you. 2018 will prove whether they’re right.

Through December 28 of 2017, according to the Ulster MLS, 1698 single-family homes countywide had sold for $448.1 million. That’s compared to the 1640 such homes selling for $391.6 million the previous year.

Did the same pattern of residential sales growth occur in different areas of Ulster County? We decided to take a closer look at four sub-markets. Woodstock, Hurley, Olive and Shandaken was one. Saugerties was another, and Kingston and the Town of Ulster was a third. The final sub-market consisted of New Paltz, Gardiner, Rosendale and Lloyd. Each of our sub-markets consisted of at least 220 transactions per year and no more than 370 — less reliable statistically than the countywide data, but fairly robust numbers.

When it came to average sale price and median sale price, all the sub-markets moved upward in unison in 2017. When it came to number of listings, average days on market and total price, however, the Woodstock sub-market took a distinctly downward move. The Woodstock area had 49 fewer residential transactions in 2017 than in 2016 (321 versus 370). Saugerties had eight fewer, Kingston 13 more and the New Paltz area 21 more.

The number of days properties remained on the market increased in Woodstock and environs while it decreased elsewhere in the county. It took 17 more days for the median house to sell in Woodstock in 2017 as compared to 2016. In the other sub-markets sales took an average of 18 days less to sell in 2017, indicating a stronger seller’s market. Total year-to-year dollar sales volume in Woodstock, Hurley, Olive and Shandaken decreased from $112.6 million to $107.1 million between 2016 and 2017, in large part because of the drop in number of transactions.

What might that marketplace difference in pattern mean? We don’t know. It bears watching. It might be merely a statistical glitch. It might signal a market readjustment, a temporary slowdown due to a change of expectations between a small group of buyers and sellers. It might be something pertaining to the uniqueness of the Woodstock brand in the eyes of the New York City marketplace. Or it could be connected to the changing style of home purchase by the increasingly important millennial generation. Or a combination of all these and other factors.

In recent years, growth in housing value has been concentrated in the largest, most productive cities. Post-Great Recession, areas contiguous to or near these cities — such as the Hudson Valley — are sensing opportunity. They want to be the next Silicon Valley. Or they want to become the next not-the-Silicon-Valley.

Just because real estate as an asset class has no magical properties propelling it continuously upward in value (“they’ll never make more land”) doesn’t mean that its fluctuations can’t offer significant investment opportunities. Real estate is a building block of a larger dream. It can deliver a sense of place.

Cheaper housing, better schools and a healthier lifestyle have been the eternal siren song of suburbia and the promise of exurbia. People want the best of both city life and out-of-city life. Vexed by escalating big-city housing prices, urban folks imagine an alternative universe: telecommuting, tolerating longer commutes, keeping those connections and that apartment in the city, building location-independent entrepreneurial businesses, joining the gig economy, and starting afresh in a vibrant new community.

It’s community that’s the link between real estate and the economy. If one is to move out of a world-class urban economic agglomeration with a universe of knowledge workers in a great variety of industries, one wants to know that there’s a group of like-minded people at one’s destination. That’s what Ulster Colunty hopes it has.

Jordan Koschei of Hudson Valley TalentBase

On December 14, about 150 people turned up at the Hudson Valley Tech Meetup at the Senate House Garage in Kingston for the kind of session that has proven appealing to the growing number of young tech workers in the area. One of the presenters, Jordan Koschei, discussed Hudson Valley TalentBase, a directory network that enables denizens of the creative economy to post their profiles, locations and skills.

Koschei recently wrote a piece for a series of articles about the tech economy in the Poughkeepsie Journal, in which he outlined the direction that he thought the region might take. “Ten years from now,” he wrote, “I won’t be surprised if the Hudson Valley is a byword for a startup culture with a particular ethos — small farms, slow food, good neighbors and thoughtful technology.”

And attractive real estate.

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