The sharp run up in gas prices has real estate tongues wagging up here. The conversation starter, "What about them Mets?" has been replaced with "What about them gas prices?" (OK, I’m not that into sports and have never started a conversation with "What about them Mets’, but you get the point.) There is some worry that high gas prices will choke the New York second home market. But I have a somewhat contrarian view.
Once the shock of higher gas prices passes, and you get used to the sixty buck fill up for a Suburu, there could actually be some benefits for Sullivan County. The biggest plus is that Sullivan County, as a second home destination for New York city-ites, is relatively close compared to the Berkshires, upper Hudson Valley/Columbia County and far closer than the Adirondacks, Vermont and Maine. Wurtsboro, the closest village in Sullivan County to the city, is only 75 miles from the GW Bridge. (Hudson in Columbia County is 125 miles; Stockbridge in the Berkshires is 166 miles). The majority of our lakes are within 100 miles of the GW.
Over the past decade, the prime area for many second home buyers in Sullivan has moved further north and west to the more rural areas (think roughly of a crescent shaped swath from Livington Manor in the north to Barryville in the southwest) and led to the revitalization of hamlets and villages like Jeffersonville, Callicoon and Narrowsburg. Some of Sullivan’s more eastern hamlets, like Mountaindale and Hurleyville, haven’t fared as well. Higher gas prices could get buyers to rethink those areas, as they look to get 30 miles closer to the city. Their proximity could lead to a revitalization. Likewise, Emerald Green around Rock Hill, one of the closest lake developments to NYC, could see a rise in demand. (Younger 30-something second home buyers from NYC have tended to bypass Emerald Green due to its more ‘suburban’ style in favor of lakes further afield with a more rustic, ‘mountain lake getaway’ feel.)
There may also be some rethinking about ‘privacy and seclusion’, two of the most in-demand second home features that buyers I’ve worked with in the past few years have requested. In general, finding privacy and seclusion means being further from a village. Houses at the edge of a village or hamlet, on an acre or so of land (plenty for a nice sized garden) may become more appealing again — if it means you can take a short walk to pick up the Sunday Times rather than drive 5 or 10 miles.
I also expect that in the next year, airfares are going to skyrocket. Airlines are back in their old pattern of losing billions of dollars, and at some point they have to bite the bullet and raise fares. The era of being able to fly a family of four round-trip to Florida for $800 is probably past. As fly away vacations become more and more expensive, a close by drive away second home becomes more appealing.
I’m not saying that high gas prices won’t have a negative impact on the real estate market here. But as we retool to adjust to those prices, Sullivan County may fare better than some other areas. Already higher gas prices have definitely had a downshifting effect, from the size of houses people are looking at to the size of cars they’re considering to get to the house they’re thinking about buying.
I think that some parts of the primary home market are going to have a tough time. Remember a year ago those billboards on Route 17 touting a new development around Hurleyville that proclaimed "Drive 30 minutes and save $50,000"? Daily commuters who work in Middletown or Newburgh are going to think long and hard before they add 50 or 60 miles to their daily round-trip. For daily commuters, convenience to work and shorter commuting distances are going to become even more central to their home shopping.
So what are your thoughts about the possible impacts of higher gas prices on Sullivan County? Will we see more cluster housing? Will some of the unbuilt developments originally targeted to primary homeowners retool for second home owners? Will we get more frequent bus service between Sullivan County and NYC? Will Mountaindale become the new hotspot?