Last week I learned that the developer of Eagle Nest Estates, an upmarket development with Delaware River views and lot prices in the mid $300’s, is looking to sell the whole development, lock, stock and barrel. The developer of Swan Lake Estates, with lakefront parcels starting in the mid-$400’s, has also put the whole development on the market. A number of builders have put up spec houses in the $450K to $600K range in the last year, and a lot of them are still sitting on the market.
In the last few years, there has been a lot of ‘upscale exhuberence’ here, following the stunning success of the Chapin Estate, the opening of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, and the general buzz about Sullivan County in the NY press. All the talk about the Catskills as ‘The New Hamptons’ went to people’s heads, and many saw a surge of million dollar buyers streaming up Route 17 to grab their spot in up and coming Sullivan County.
Amid all this heady self congratulatory backslapping, we may have lost sight of our knitting. Notwithstanding the occasional celebrity buy, we’re still firmly a middle class second home market — the role that Sullivan County has played for over a century. Affordability is the key to the success of Sullivan County — for middle class working people in the city, Sullivan remains the best second home getaway value within 2 to 2 1/2 hours of NYC. Sure, the work that the working people coming here has changed; mid-level creative professionals have greatly contributed to the resurgence of Sullivan County, along with early career financial types. But we’re still not the getaway of choice, for the most part, of the wealth class — the partners in the law firms, the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or coupon clipping trust fund babies. yes, there is the occasional J. Lo spotting, but Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood have yet to send crews here to track celebrities. And thank heavens we’re not on Paris Hilton’s radar. Frankly, we just don’t have the infrastructure yet for broad appeal to the very upper end. Sullivan County doesn’t have a gourmet grocery or artisan bakery, no luxury hotels and the landscape of better restaurants in still pretty thin.
While upper end sales have lagged here this year (its been 6 months since I’ve made a sale at Chapin), houses in the moderate price range have been flying off the shelves. Most buyers I’ve been talking to in the past few months have been looking in the $250,000 to $350,000 range, with some below that but few above that. Demand is absolutely there, but the key is affordability. For the right property, some of the buyers in the upper end of that range would stretch to $400,000, but they’re not going to $500,000 or above.
And that’s where I think that developers have midread the market. There’s tremendous demand for $300,000 getaways, plus or minus $50,000. Modest, interesting (e.g. not vinyl-sided modular ranches or capes) 1,500 sq. ft. houses on a few acres with privacy. The 30-something first time home buyers in this price range don’t have grand expectations; cozy, comfortable, cleverly designed with a fireplace and some place to stash house guests is the right recipe, not a 3,500 sq. ft. cedar McMansion with a media room.
A number of new developments are in the planning stages — the RM Farm subdivision near Livingston Manor, the Menderis Road subdivision near Youngsville and the New Turnpike Road subdivision in Cochecton. All the developers refer to their projects as upscale and luxury, which means they’re not targeted to that $300,000 buyer. Which is a mistake because, in my opinion, that’s where the market is.