More than a half-billion dollars were spent by buyers on the 1,665 Ulster County properties recorded as sold in 2019 by the Ulster County Multiple Listing Service. The $505.7 million in real-estate sales represented an increase of 7.85 percent over 2018, when $459.5 million were spent on 1621 properties. The median sold price in 2019 was $250,000, up from $229,000 in 2018, according to the MLS data, a hike of 9.2 percent.
The real-estate industry tends to be cyclical, with its ups and downs, its booms and busts. For Ulster County, 2019 was an up year. The buoyant market wasn’t fading at the year’s close, either. Fourth-quarter data suggested the strength was carrying over into 2020, with $148.8 million in activity, up sharply from the $122.7 million recorded in the last quarter of 2018. (Not included are transactions in Marlborough and Wallkill and many in Plattekill and Lloyd, which are recorded as Orange County MLS sales.)
Shifts in prices create real-estate winners and losers. People who own properties benefit from rising prices. By and large, people who rent do not. In changing markets, housing patterns are destabilized. Without substantial increases in the supply of affordable housing, gentrification makes it harder in a period of rising prices for long-term residents of limited means to remain in their communities.
In addition, property values change more in some neighborhoods, some classes of properties and some price levels more than others. A rising tide is uneven.
In Ulster County, there were about 75 fewer listed sales in the under-$300,000 market in 2019 as compared to 2018, about 90 more in the middle market between $300,000 and $500,000 and about 20 more in the over-$500,000 segment. Many upper-end buyers had New York City addresses.
The rise in Ulster County property values in the past few years is not aligned with price shifts in the larger metropolitan New York City market. Except for certain hot neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, average median real-estate prices in New York City haven’t been increasing in the last few years, and they’ve been dropping in the high end of the Manhattan market. There has, meanwhile, been a modest-but-steady price uptick in the inner suburban counties of Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley. According to the trade publications, prices rose more during 2019 in exurban counties like Ulster and Columbia, and somewhat less so in Suffolk, Dutchess, Orange and Greene Counties.
Given the high home prices in the big cities, Anna Bahney of CNN Business recently reported, some first-time buyers are buying vacation properties at more affordable prices instead. Some people thought that investment was a good idea, and others didn’t.
In 2019, there were about two percent more sold properties in the MLS data for Ulster County than in the previous year. Some communities reported a drop in the number of listings sold. Others – the hot markets – experienced significant increases.
Kingston and Woodstock both recorded increases in sold properties. Woodstock, MLS said, reported 142 properties sold in 2019 as compared to 108 in 2018. Sold properties in Kingston in 2019 were 220, versus 176 in 2018.
When it comes to real estate, Kingston and Woodstock constitute very different marketplaces (some would describe them as different worlds). The median sold price in Kingston in 2019 was $191,750, up almost 20 percent from the previous year’s $161,700. Woodstock’s median sales price was $420,000 in 2019, a modest increase over 2018’s $403,500.
Kingston is a dense historic city with small lots and long-established neighborhoods with varying economic patterns. Except for its central hamlet and a few other places, Woodstock is an artsy small town of private driveways and homes guarded from street view by vegetation.
Different from each other though they be, both communities are proving attractive to newcomers these days, with significant increases in the past year both in real-estate prices and the number of properties sold. Kingston and Woodstock both recorded increases in sold properties. Increased sales transactions in each of these two communities in the past year accounted for the entire increase in sales in the county as a whole.
Price isn’t everything, of course, but it’s a significant part of real-estate transactions. With interest rates low and a good supply of housing available, there’s bound to be demand at various price levels. But can those who are looking afford what’s available?
How much choice do you have if you want to buy a Woodstock property for under $100,000? None. Only a single small one-story house on the Bearsville Flats sold for under $100,000 in 2019. That was better than in 2018, when there were no property sales at all under that level.
In Kingston, according to the MLS, 22 properties sold for under $100,000 in 2019, down from 26 in 2018. In 2019, 185 properties sold for less than $300,000 in Kingston, and only 33 for that number or above. In Woodstock, by contrast, the price picture was reversed, with 28 properties selling for under $300,000 and 114 for that price or above.
A generation ago, many young people pining away for a cabin in the woods to get away from it all might have found what they were looking for in Woodstock – or at least in one of the townships contiguous to it. Today, they’re more likely to settle for a Kingston home on a modest residential street, and to meet other people like themselves who are doing the same thing. In some dimensions, the small-city experience isn’t that different from the country experience after all.