REGION — An unexpected effect of the coronavirus pandemic was a massive leap in the local real estate market. According to local real estate agents and brokers, that wave of homebuying hasn’t receded.
“The strong market continued through 2021 and into 2022,” says Debbie Jagel, owner of Cabins & Canoes Real Estate in Forestburgh, NY. “COVID struck, and it opened up a new generation of buyers; and because of omicron, we’re still feeling some push.”
Technology had a hand in it, as well, Jagel says: “The initial rush to buy homes around here was fueled by a newfound freedom unleashed in 30-somethings, who woke up to realize they could work from anywhere. This past year, those who didn’t purchase in the first wave may have felt left out, and they wanted to buy their own homes.”
“It is very busy right now,” concurred Joy Romano, from Malek Properties in White Lake, NY. “It seemed to get a little slower when COVID restrictions let up in the summer; it slowed down quickly as people wanted to enjoy themselves, get married, go on vacation, etc.... A month or two after that it got a little busier, but by January 2 it got very busy overnight, and has stayed that way so far.”
In the 58 years that Davis R. Chant has owned his Pennsylvania real estate business—with offices in Hawley, Lords Valley, Milford, and Honesdale—the business has seen peaks and valleys, but nothing that compares to this.
“2021 was our best year ever in 58 years,” Chant says. “People want to either commute to work in the city, retire here, or have a vacation/weekend home. They are highly motivated to get out of New York City and into the country. They’re willing to commute from Port Jervis on the train, or drive from any place that’s about an hour and a half by car.”
Tips for buyers and sellers
Local real estate agents’ best advice for this busy time
By JANE ANDERSON
“I would suggest that anyone seriously looking to buy should have their financials in order. Get a preapproval from the bank; if you look at a home and like it, if you are not ready to make an offer because you don’t have a preapproval or proof of funds, you can easily lose the home to another buyer.
“For sellers, I say list ASAP. Some sellers prefer to list in the spring, but people are looking now. There’s no need to wait, because you have less competition in the market if you list when the inventory is low.”
—Joy Romano, Malek Properties, White Lake, NY
“Buyers—be patient, get preapprovals and be ready financially to go. If you wait a week, the property you want might not be there.
“Sellers—If your house has been on the market for a period of time, it’s probably overpriced. If it’s polished up, clean, and painted, those houses are in high demand.”
—Tom Freda, Matthew J. Freda Real Estate, Callicoon, NY
“If you are looking to sell, I say get it on the market sooner rather than later. The market is strong now and spring inventory, as well as the imminent wave of foreclosures, will be competing soon enough.
“If you are looking to buy, you need to be prepared and act fast. I suggest having your prequalification in order and proof of funds ready. Making your terms very agreeable with the sellers’ desires is one sure way to strengthen your offer.” —Carol Malek, Malek Properties, White Lake, NY
“Sellers, choose listing agents who are available 24 hours a day; find out how many sales they’ve completed; and check how many referrals they’ve had. A good listing agent knows the correct price range for a house; educated buyers nowadays know what’s the best price. It is a sellers’ market, but not for a house with an avocado refrigerator or one that needs $50,000 worth of work.
“People don’t remember street names when they’re looking for a house. They remember the house with the green carpet, the house with five dogs. It comes down to location, price and condition—which can be adjusted with proper staging. You want people to feel at home and picture themselves living there.”
—Debbie Jagel, owner/broker, Cabins & Canoes Real Estate, Forestburgh, NY
“If buyers see something that interests them, they need to get in their car and see the home ASAP. Also, be aware that low-ball offers will not work in a sellers’ market.
“For sellers, get your home on the market because now is the time you’ll get the most for your home. And clean out your home beforehand, as less is more.”
—Caroline Akt, real estate broker and owner of Caroline Akt Realty, Mongaup Valley, NY
As buyers flooded the market, though, the availability of houses began to decline.
“Buyers are there with healthy budgets, but the inventory is not there,” says Caroline Akt, real estate broker and owner of Caroline Akt Realty in Mongaup Valley, NY. “I cover a large area; my listings range from Grahamsville to Narrowsburg and all towns in between, and I see it happening everywhere.”
Chant agrees: “This is a good time for the real estate market, and it would be a more active time, too, if more houses were available.”
Multiple offers, and offers that are above the asking price, are becoming more common. “I feel strongly that the anticipation of increased interest rates had a great deal to do with it,” says Carol Malek of Malek Properties. “It seems everyone is anxious about locking in their rate right now. Inventory is super tight so far this year. Not that many people list their properties in the winter months, for obvious reasons, and things are selling, so there is very little on the market, especially in the residential marketplace.”
Ripple effects have begun, some say. “The pressure is turned up on everything now, but a rising tide lifts all boats, and a strong real estate market will lift everything up,” says Tom Freda of Matthew J. Freda Real Estate in Callicoon, NY. “Towns are responding to the new life that’s being injected by the homebuyers. People who are moving in are opening stores and restaurants; they are really waking up the area.”
Jagel has noticed that trend as well. “If you sell a lot of residential property, commercial isn’t far behind. Livingston Manor and Narrowsburg already had a solid Main Street presence. What we’re seeing now are businesses being bought in towns like Barryville. The diner is redone, a general store is up and running, the local gas station was bought… We’re seeing similar action in Glen Spey, Forestburgh.”
“There’s an integration of people buying houses, but they still want to escape their four walls locally and have fun—so they’ll hit the Cochecton Pump House and then go to Narrowsburg or Barryville,” Jagel says. “Callicoon, too, has been amping up. We are all bringing a new synergy, and we’re not even in the middle of it. We have so many houses that need to be renovated, it’s like Aspen [Colorado] in 1974.”
With all of that interest from outside, are locals being priced out? “No, but the word on the street is that they are,” Jagel says. “There are deals out there. Buyers need a little shimmy to their vision. The house will never be perfect; the bones are important, but location is key. You can add a new kitchen, but you can’t add a river view to a house in the woods.”
Jagel notes that her most important role as a Realtor is educating her buyers and ensuring they have realistic expectations. “We can definitely give you country and Catskills, but sometimes we have to reel in what the buyers are expecting to get.”
Short-term rentals—like Airbnb and VRBO— are a good way for potential buyers to get a taste of the area, and for potential sellers to test out the attractiveness of their homes while gaining income. Many municipalities have restrictions regarding short-term rentals, so potential landlords are advised to check everything out first. But as long as rules are followed, “Airbnb gives people a very fluid way to experience life up here, and some of those visitors turn into straight-up buyers,” Jagel says.
What does the future hold? It’s hard to say, but most Realtors say this market can’t last forever.
“I believe we will see a strong sellers’ market throughout this year, but introduction of foreclosures and new home construction could level out the prices,” Malek says. “I don’t foresee the prices continuing to rise as they have in the past two years.”
“I think this strong market is going to continue in eastern Pennsylvania, New York and northern New Jersey,” Chant concludes. “I think we’re going to continue to see very nice growth. In Pennsylvania, especially here in Pike County, there are residential lots available that people will be willing to build upon.”
Freda agrees that the market won’t slow down overnight: “Take advantage of that market while it’s here,” he advises. But the beauty of the region will continue to attract buyers, no matter what the market looks like, he says. “You can’t deny the appeal of this area—I walked out of a café this morning and a bald eagle flew overhead. What price do you put on that?”
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