Experienced house shoppers here know that there aren’t a lot of perfect places for sale in Sullivan County. We’ve got some so-so houses in great settings and some great houses in so-so settings, but not a lot of properties that are just perfect. Sure, there are some classic farmhouses in nice settings, some dramatic lodge-style contemporaries and the occasional mid-century jewel, but for the most part Sullivan County’s architectural style leans more to the ‘haphazardly eclectic.’ Many houses have been added on to (some more than once), updated and ‘remuddled’, with the result that form often took a backseat to function.
Until recently, most buyers I worked with had a pretty realistic view of the inventory here. Most understood that the perfect house here was as rare as the perfect storm, and were prepared to accept come compromises and do some work. I always said, "If you can get 70% there with a house — in terms of setting, size and style — you should consider buying it."
Lately, though, I’ve sensed a shift. A lot of current lookers have an ideal in mind, and have set a pretty high standard. For the most part, they’re not considering properties that involve compromises, or that with some work could be turned into their ideal, or at least close to it. A year or two ago I’d regularly go through houses with clients and talk about bumping out a kitchen, changing sliders into French Doors, adding a master bath, additional bedroom or new great room. I would venture that more than half of my clients did something major to a house to adapt it to their tastes and needs.
A lot of people lately have been making one or two forays into Sullivan County, look at some houses, decide they didn’t find exactly what they’re looking for, and move on. They come, they look, they disappear. Its not just me — I’ve been hearing that from a whole lot of agents. One factor among buyers may be a belief, with the real estate slowdown, that the market is flooded with inventory — which, here in Sullivan, just isn’t the case. In some property categories, like farmhouses on 20 to 30 acres set back off the road, they’re still as hard to find today as they were a year or two ago. Finding good properties here can still take time and patience.
But I think there may be another reason for this shift in expectations. Sullivan County has gotten a lot of media play in the last year. Coverage every few weeks in the NYTimes Escapes section, lumping Sullivan County in with destinations like Ogunquit, Maine as the ‘new wave of gay getaways’, the opening of Bethel Woods, and the construction of some of those trendy pre-fab modern houses here, all served to raise bar among those unfamiliar with Sullivan County. ‘Newbies’, not familiar with Sullivan in person, come here with very high expectations that often can’t be met. Overall, the housing stock here is not of the same quality — or price — as more mature and expensive second home markets like the upper Hudson Valley or the Berkshires. Rather than seeing us as we are — a very exciting, but still emerging market — many now expect a bargain Berkshires with all the quaintness and conveniences but at a lower price.
We face a real challenge here, balancing expectations and reality. In the B.H. era (before-hype), buyers were typically delighted — at how beautiful Sullivan County was, and how much they could get here for their dollar compared to surrounding areas. In contrast, many buyers now — with much higher expectations — see the glass half empty, with more disappointment than delight. The reality hasn’t really changed all that much — prices aren’t a lot higher than a year ago, and the inventory is similar. What has changed, though, it seems, are expectations.