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Catskills lake community real estate
Smallwood in Sullivan County, NY

Smallwood, Bethel, NY

Smallwood is a largely second home community in the Town of Bethel, about 8 miles west of Monticello. Smallwood was mostly developed in the 1930’s and 40’s as an affordable summer getaway marketed to policemen and firemen from the city. The cabins and cottages were small, anywhere from 500 to 1,000 sq. ft., built for summer use only — uninsulated, built on piers and with water provided a community water system that wasn’t designed to operate during the winter months. The cottages were also largely on very small parcels, from 50×100 feet (that’s 1/8th of an acre) to 100×100 feet (about 1/4 acre.)

Smallwood today still has much of that original feel. The cottages are still mostly small, although many have been expanded or updated over the years. Many have also been winterized for year round use, with individual wells drilled for a winter water supply. But there are still many cottages here that are still seasonal for summer use only, and that’s a significant consideration for potential buyers.

About seasonal versus year round homes in Smallwood

The least expensive houses you’ll see in Smallwood (typically the ones under $75,000) will be listed as “seasonal”. A question I’m asked a lot is whether a seasonal house can be winterized for year round use. The answer in Smallwood is generally ‘no’. The reason is that seasonal houses do not have individual drilled wells, and get their water supply from the Smallwood community water system. The pipes for that water system were not dug below the frost line, so can only provide water during the non-freeze months. The water system generally operates from the end of April / beginning of May until sometime around Halloween.

Over the years, quite a few owners drilled individual wells to extend the season. Generally when you see a house listed as year round in Smallwood, that means it has a drilled well. Many of those wells were drilled before current regulations came into play requiring a minimum separation between wells and septic systems. Many of the wells in Smallwood don’t meet that minimum spec, but they’re grandfathered in. Most of the remaining seasonal houses are on parcels that are too small to get a well in with the required separation, so it isn’t possible to get the necessary permit to drill a well. So those seasonal houses are largely not upgradeable to year round use.

The seasonals in Smallwood are among the best ‘affordable range’ getaway values in Sullivan County, generally selling between $45,000 and $75,000. Comparable ‘year rounders’ with drilled wells sell for 40% to 50% more.

About real estate in Smallwood

Smallwood cottages that are largely in their original state are uber-charming, with stone fireplaces, stained plywood walls and ceilings, Douglas Fir flooring, half-log siding and screened porches. Some even have the original ‘Smallwood maple’ furniture that was often part of a turn-key package.

“Originals” that haven’t been remuddled over the years with paneling, carpeting and vinyl siding, are the most in demand here and carry the highest prices. A well preserved original year rounder can command as much as $150,000 to $200,000 in Smallwood, while a remuddled one on a similar size can be 35-40% less. Some of the remuddled ones, though, still have their original DNA underneath the ‘updates’.

Smallwood can be like catnip for budget range charm seekers, but you need to be careful. Most houses here, even the ones that have been remuddled with every 70’s decorating cliche, have been well maintained. But some have not, and often the least expensive houses on the market have have a structural or systems issue that can be costly to repair. The adage “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” holds true in Smallwood. That $25,000 seasonal or $45,000 year rounder may not be such a bargain at the end of the day.

There is a newer section of Smallwood, built out in the 80’s, with newer homes on about 1/2 to 1 acre, with homes that are generally in the $175K to $225K range.

Lot sizes and privacy

Smallwood is an older style vacation community with more closely spaced houses on smaller lots, generally 1/8 to 1/4 acre. There are some houses here with more land and privacy, but overall Smallwood is not a top choice if you’re looking for seclusion. Here’s a link to a Bing Maps aerial that you can zoom in and scroll around to get a feel for the community.

The flip side, though, like most older, denser lake communities, is that it’s a parents’ dream. There are lots of kids around, particularly in the summer, to play with, and there’s usually a neighbor who will take your kids to the beach to give you a break and vice versa.

Smallwood community amenities

Smallwood is organized somewhat differently than other communities with recreational amenities. There isn’t an overarching homeowner’s association with mandatory membership and dues.

The Civic Association of Smallwood owns Mountain Lake, the non-motorboat lake at the center of the community, as well as the tennis courts, ball fields and other outdoor recreation amenities. Membership is $150 per household per year, and almost everybody in Smallwood belongs because it gives you access to the lake. You can also apply to keep your kayaks or canoes at put in points around the lake, so you don’t have to schlep them back and forth. The association maintains a sandy beach area on the lake with life guards.

The Club at Smallwood is a separate entity, with a clubhouse with entertainment and activities and a heated inground pool. Membership is about $250 per adult per year. Club membership does not give you lake access.

Renting

Smallwood doesn’t have a homeowners association with covenants that limit short term rentals per se. But the Civic Association has a Catch-22 that limits the appeal of short term rentals here. Your Civic Association membership privileges, including lake access, only applies to your household and personal guests. If you rent your house, you cannot give your membership credentials to your renters. Renters can only apply for their own membership if the rental period is a minimum of one month. So you can rent your house out for a week or a weekend, but your renters won’t have access to the lake, which is one of the big reasons for renting a house at a lake.

Smallwood Quick Facts
  • Non-motorboat lake
  • Lake is private, no public access,. Community is not gated
  • Tennis courts, ball fields, basketball court and swimming pool available (various memberships.)
  • 94 miles from the George Washington Bridge
  • Parcel sizes: Generally small, 1/8 to 1/4 acre in original section, 1/2 to 1 acre in newer section
  • Rentals permitted, but no lake access for renters of less than 1 month.
  • House prices: Seasonal (non-winterized) cottages $40,000 to $80,000; year round cottages $85,000 to $150,000, with some classics somewhat higher. Houses in newer section $150,000 to $225,000.