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Competing for second-home buyers

February 27, 2013

I’ve been selling real estate in Sullivan County, primarily to second-home buyers from “the city,” for over a decade. It’s been challenging since the real estate market started tumbling, both here and around the nation, in 2007. Both the volume of sales and prices have fallen here about 30% since then. Second homes are a discretionary purchase, and during the darkest days of the recession, buyers were hoarding their acorns.

Last March, the tide abruptly changed. The economy was looking brighter, mortgage rates were low and there were two years of pent-up buyer demand, particularly among young families in New York City, for a country getaway. Talk to almost any realtor focusing on the second-home market here, and they’ll tell you they’ve been much busier over the past year than they’ve been in years.

So it came as a surprise, when I pulled sales data for 2012 from the two multiple listing systems serving Sullivan County, to find that sales were flat. The number of closed single-family home sales in 2012, 476, was just about the same as 2010 and 2011, as was the median sales price $134,000.

So far, that increased buyer interest hasn’t translated into a noticeable pick up in sales. There are lots of buyers looking here, but they’re also looking elsewhere. Six or seven years ago, most of my clients were only looking Sullivan County. We were the hot new country destination and got a lot of ink in the city press. A month wouldn’t go by without an article about Livingston Manor, Jeffersonville, Narrowsburg, Callicoon, Bethel Woods, The Chapin Estate or Catskill Farms. Sullivan was cool.

That’s not the case today. Second-home buyers are casting a very wide net, looking in Dutchess, Columbia, Ulster and Delaware counties along with Sullivan. It’s tough competition, as the torch of cool has passed to places like Roxbury, Millerton and Hudson. We need to embrace the second-home market as a significant industry and job creator, and compete with those counties for second-home buyers as fiercely as we compete for other industries.

One of the biggest issues we face right now is the spectre of fracking. Second-home buyers are afraid of it, and those other areas are seen as risk free, while Sullivan has a scarlet “F” on its back. Almost every realtor working in the western part of the county has lost buyers because of it, even in the towns with bans.