You know every house listed on Zillow. You know what the values are, or at least what Zillow says they are. You’ve driven around, you’ve talked to your friends. There is nothing you don’t know about picking a town and buying an upstate house.
Maybe. Or maybe there are a few tips that might be new to you. Even more likely, there may be some really good advice that you’ve heard, but didn’t believe.
I won’t pretend to be an infallible expert. But I know some things. I grew up in the Hudson Valley. I’ve been a broker there as the market heated up and then went ballistic. Now the market is changing so quickly, and different areas have become so individual, that I’m calling in other folks who know, too. The hive mind is a powerful thing.
We all like lists. They’re easy to read and easy to remember. So, in hopes of helping you be the very best equipped home shopper you can be, I’m offering you some expert tips for choosing a community and getting the house you really want.
Our first expert is Sara Nelson. She’s a saleperson with Win Morrison Real Estate in Saugerties. And her advice is very practical.
1. Taxes! Taxes can vary greatly from one Hudson Valley town to another. Towns that border each other in the Hudson Valley can have vastly different taxes. Even homes within the same town can vary greatly if there is more than one school district in that town. Find an agent who will let you know what the taxes will be for a certain home and how that compares to homes in neighboring towns.
2. Amenities. Do you want a town that has a community swimming pool? Do you want to have an ice skating rink in your town? Do you want a town that has bus service to NYC or train service to NYC?
3. Do you want a town that is already popular with people relocating from NYC? For example, we call Kingston “Brooklyn North” because so many Brooklynites are relocating here from the city. Or do you want a town which is not as well known and more off the beaten path?. There are amazing hidden treasures ready to be found all over the Hudson Valley. I recently saw a home in Olivebridge with the most beautiful, majestic waterfall, which can even be viewed from the floor-to-ceiling windows of the property’s house.
Next up, Anne Rajs has some thoughts on the subject of communities. She’s a salesperson with Lawrence O’Toole Realty. She’s not into lists, but she’s got some good information to share.
“I have specialized in selling second homes in the Hudson Valley for the past 20 years. My buyer clients were generally all looking for the same thing. A less than two-hour commute from Manhattan and Brooklyn to get away from it all. What that meant for most is searching for a charming country home tucked away in the woods with privacy, views, a pool, and enough space to entertain family and friends.
“In the last few years trends have changed. Where most buyers at one time wanted complete seclusion, they are now asking for a home in town within walking distance to the bus station, local bars and restaurants and coffee shops.
“With renters in the suburbs being priced out of affordable housing, Kingston has become attractive. It has the urban feel of Brooklyn, a charming center of town with old brick buildings which are now artist lofts, music studios and bakeries. An artsy vibe. A reminder of home.
“The Brooklyn expats run into each other at the wonderful Saturday farmers’ market and shout a hello. ‘Hey, don’t I know you from the old neighborhood?’ It’s life on a smaller, simpler scale, with the same vibe.”
If you will, let me add my two cents. I’m an associate broker with Keller Williams Upstate New York Properties in Oneonta. That’s out past Delhi. It’s rural. Really rural. I used to be with Gary DiMauro Real Estate in Catskill. I’ve helped a lot of downstate folks find their upstate dream both in the Hudson Valley and out here, in the Western Catskills. Here are my tips for picking the right town.
1. Pick the area first. I’ve seen people fall madly in love with a house online. They come to see it, and then try to talk themselves into a town that they simply do not like. That’s not to say that a cool house might not lead you to a remarkable town. But for heaven’s sake, visit! When you come to look at the house, stay overnight, don’t just zip in and zip out. Airbnb makes it easy to experience any area, no matter how remote. See where you’d be buying your groceries. Meet some folks. And resist the wonderful house in the wrong location. It will break your heart.
2. Keep an open mind. You think you want total privacy. You may discover that true seclusion creeps you out. You think you need ten acres. One acre is a lot, if it’s surrounded by undeveloped land. And you won’t pay taxes on all that neighboring land. You want to be near water? First, I warn you that floods are a thing upstate in some areas. Second, the water you end up wanting may surprise you. A babbling brook can soothe the soul just as well as a sweeping reservoir view, and for far less money. And if you’re coming from the city, wandering a smaller city and feeling at home may actually be what you want.
3. Figure out what matters most. If you don’t drive, or don’t want to, there are entire areas of upstate that are a long haul by bus or far from the train. A simple rule that some visitors still don’t know – the east side of the Hudson has the train. The west side, after Orange County, is about the bus. If you want quiet, or dark skies, lots of trees, open meadows, the arts, or outdoor activities, we’ve got all of that. But not every one of them in every location. Figure out what calls to you. Find a house near that activity. You don’t want to spend all your time driving to what you want to do. You want to enjoy your upstate time.
Okay, you know what area you’re going to focus on. Good for you! Now on to the next step, and it’s trickier than you’d think.
Sara Nelson is up first.
How to get the house you want (particularly important in Kingston these days)
1. Choose a very experienced agent. I’ve seen countless bidding wars in Kingston in these last couple of years. An experienced agent will know techniques of how to bid so that you can be the highest bidder, but without overpaying for the house. I’m always happy to share my strategies with my clients.
2. Don’t wait! Go see the house as soon as it comes onto the market. When I have a client who is looking for a particular type of home, I can set up an email alert to be notified as soon as something matching those criteria comes onto the market.
3. Get pre-approved. You can make the offer fast, when you do find what you are looking for, if you’ve done this first. In this market, you don’t want to delay. It’s not uncommon to have offers on a home just a day or two after the house is listed. Sometimes you even have offers that same day!
I have a few thoughts on the topic, too.
1. Don’t put a million contingencies on your offer. Of course you want an inspection. And a clear title. But the less you demand, the cleaner the offer, the more attractive it looks to a seller. Particularly with a house that’s getting a lot of attention, the way to win the day is to make your offer simple and easy. And if you can pay cash in a competitive situation, do it. Cash always looks good.
2. Everybody loves a bargain. I get it. But don’t cheap out if this is the house you really want. Listen to your local broker and make an offer that is competitive. At the same time, don’t overbid, either. Offer a reasonable price that you can afford. And if your best offer isn’t good enough, walk away. There will be other houses. You will love the house best that doesn’t keep you up at night worrying about how to pay for it.
3. Be willing to do some work. Sure, we’d all love to bring our bags, unpack, and relax. But this isn’t an Airbnb. It’s a house that someone lived in. And chances are, there are things about it that you are really not going to like. If you like the house’s bones and you like where it is, don’t turn up your nose at some work. There are good electricians and plumbers and contractors in the Hudson Valley. Your realtor will hook you up. And maybe you’ll learn to do some projects yourself. There is nothing that will make a house a home faster than doing work on it. That’s what makes it yours.
Do you need to hear from someone who’s been there? You’re in luck. The last tips come from Jeffrey Ventura-Morell, who bought a house upstate with his spouse, Lyndel Urbano, and then dove into local politics. He’s in his second term as an alderman in the City of Kingston. The house they bought was a project. And it’s now a prize. If anyone knows about moving upstate the right way, he’s it.
1. Look for a house where you can upgrade things like kitchens and bathrooms, and even electric. In my experience those things don’t cost nearly as much as I anticipated. Focus on things like good solid bones, good room proportions, natural light and good flow. These are the things that are not easy to change. Don’t be distracted by things like paint color, window treatments, decor and clutter.
When you buy a completely redone house, you’re paying a premium for things that may not be 100 percent to your liking. The materials used may not be the quality you would have chosen. By taking on these projects yourself, you not only ensure that they are done to your own taste and standards, which will make you much happier in the long run, but you’ll also be building equity right away without having to wait for the market to go up.
2. Be realistic about how much space and land you actually need and how much is manageable. Every time I have to clean my 2000-square-foot house or mow my moderate-sized city lawn I’m grateful I didn’t go for the 6000-square-foot Victorian mansion just because it was in my price range.
3. Figure out what you like and look for properties that fit your style. For example, don’t buy a Craftsman-style home if you hate the look of natural wood or a Victorian if you prefer modern, open-concept floor plans and big windows. Sure, you can always paint wood or tear down walls, but by doing so you might negatively affect the future resale value.
There you have it. Some of the best tips from the people who know. That’s a lot of information. Maybe you knew it all already. But if that’s the case, consider this a little refresher. And if some of it was new, hope it helps! Good luck, and welcome to your upstate life!