Kingston’s on fire again

Kingston’s burning, but this time don’t blame the British, embroiled as they are with Brexit issues. With median property prices increasing more than 20 percent in the first half of this year over last year’s first half, the market for Kingston real estate is hot.

The median selling price shot up from $156,750 in last year’s first half to $199,100 this year’s first half. Buyers of City of Kingston properties spent $20.4 million on 96 first-half transactions this year as compared to $15.8 million on 88 properties in the same half of 2018.

The burst of higher sales prices may have been accelerated by increased interest from young New York metropolitan area newcomers. But several other reasons were contributory as well. Greater household formation among Kingstonians may have been a factor. In addition, some longtime Ulster County residents, priced out of markets like Woodstock, Marbletown and New Paltz-Gardiner, may have decided they must buy in Kingston and other still-affordable municipalities if they wanted to keep living in the region. 


Meanwhile, countywide real-estate sales were not on fire. They kept at a level pace in the first half of 2019, according to industry figures. According to the data, the median property sale countywide increased in the second quarter to $235,000 from the $227,000 price in the same quarter last year — a little more than the rate of inflation. Total county Multiple Listing Service sales volume decreased from $110.4 million in the second quarter of 2018 to $107.5 million in the quarter ending June 30 this year. That’s a three percent gain in median price and a three percent loss in total dollar sales.

It’s the change in the Kingston marketplace in the past year that deserves the headlines. Modest starter homes are selling for higher prices. Though only a handful of Kingston properties sell for what would be the median price in Woodstock, Kingston properties in the middle range are selling well, too. 

On the lower end, 39 Kingston properties sold for under $150,000 in last year’s first half. With sales prices rising, this year that lower-end number fell to 22. In the first half of last year, only 13 Kingston properties sold for more than $250,000. From January through June in 2019, by contrast, 31 Kingston sales over $250,000 were reported. According to one industry wag, $250,000 has become the new $200,000 in Kingston.

The state trade association of brokers, NYSAR, reports slightly more optimistic recent numbers for Ulster County than did the local Multiple Listing Service. According to NYSAR, the median sales price in Ulster was $195,000 in the second quarter of 2016, $207,000 in May 2017, $213,649 in May 2018, and $235,000 in May of this year. NYSAR’s numbers have consistently shown Ulster County lagging the average statewide median selling price of real estate.

The half-year real-estate sales results show most towns of Ulster County reporting numbers falling in line with the countywide pattern of slightly higher median prices and slightly lower overall dollar sales. Kingston has been the outlier. 

With the smaller towns having fewer transactions, the conclusions reached based on the sales numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. The smaller numbers negatively affect the statistical reliability of the results.

The combined market of New Paltz and Gardiner reported a less than one per cent increase in the median price year to year and a decrease of about 20 percent in dollar sales volume in 2019. Rosendale and Marbletown reported a loss of sales volume, with the median price in Rosendale increasing and total prices decreasing, while in Marbletown both the median price and the sales volume markedly decreased year over year. 

Woodstock, still the Ulster County town with the highest median selling price, recorded a very slightly higher median price and a decrease in dollar volume of about ten percent. The combined other towns in the Onteora school district (Olive, Shandaken and Hurley), though, went the other way, markedly boosting their median price and their dollar sales volume in 2019 over 2018. 

Finally, real estate in Saugerties (town and village combined) had an almost flat median first-half price from year to year and an almost flat dollar volume as well. 

Like last year, most of the lower-end transactions in Kingston were for sales prices below the assessed value, usually indicating sales between relatives or transactions where one party was both a buyer and a seller. During the first half of this year, only three of the transactions in the top two price quartiles — reflecting mostly arms-length transactions — sold for less than the assessed value, and only three more in the third quartile did so. By contrast 16 of the 24 sales in the lowest quartile sold for less than their assessed value. Last year, when 88 first-half transactions were recorded, 16 of the bottom quartile sold for less than their appraised value, and an additional one sold for its exact appraised value. Four properties in the top half of the market sold for less than appraised value last year. 

Though Kingston assessor Dan Baker raised assessments ten percent pretty much across the board throughout the city in 2019, market prices this year have been going up faster than that. Despite numerous calls on Monday and Tuesday of this week to his office, Baker was unavailable for comment.

The state requires the attachment of a form called the RP-5217 for every real-property deed. The form, which is attached to the on-line real-estate transactions recorded on the county clerk’s website, is supposed to contain the address of the buyer. It’s not always reliable.

A cursory random examination of about half this year’s transactions show a mix of Kingstonian, Ulster County, Hudson Valley and New York City buyers. About a third of the buyers were from the Hudson Valley outside Ulster County.  It’s likely a significant number of New York-area people already have local addresses when they buy property. Kingston’s small-city vibe seems to be proving attractive to a wide range of potential settlers.