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Priced-out New Yorkers look north to Catskills.

Byline: Robert Preer

When young professionals who have been renting want to buy a home in New York City but can't afford one, they typically start to look beyond the city. Some wind up looking way beyond -- to the Catskills, a rural vacation land north of the Big Apple and west of the Hudson.

"We get young couples from New York and Brooklyn," said Joe Freda, a broker for Freda Real Estate in Callicoon in Sullivan County. "They are people who have good incomes, but don't have a million dollars for an apartment in Manhattan -- but they can buy a farmhouse for $300,000. They are buying their second home first."

The phenomenon of vacation homeowners whose primary residence is a New York City rental apartment is increasingly common in the Catskills, which is just an hour-and-a-half drive from the city.

"The second-home buyers are often first-time buyers," noted David Knudsen, a buyer's agent in Sullivan County.

While some Catskills properties do sell for over $1.12 million -- the average price of a Manhattan co-op -- most are in the $300,000 range, and some are even in the vicinity of $150,000.

And unlike real estate in the city, in the Catskills, there is plenty of space between your home and your neighbor's. For under $200,000, a buyer can find a modest house on a couple of acres, while $300,000 might fetch a farmhouse on five acres.

Knudsen said he tries to ascertain early in his discussions how much privacy buyers want. Some just want to be set back from the road, while others don't want to see another house. Still others want "run around naked in your backyard" privacy, Knudsen said.

"One of the selling points of the Catskills is that you get a lot more elbow room for your dollar," he noted. "The sweet spot now is five or more acres."

The Catskills area, which has long been an escape for city dwellers, is made up of several different regions. Ulster County, closest to New York City, is a mountainous area with good access to skiing and hiking. Sullivan County, which was home to many of the so-called Borscht Belt resorts, has lakes, rivers and farms, though not many downhill ski slopes. Delaware County and Greene County are to the north, farther from the city; they both have excellent skiing and quaint towns.

The Catskills used to draw its vacationers from the outer boroughs of New York City, as well as New Jersey and Long Island.

"The real shift is that the buyers have moved to being more Manhattan-focused," said Knudsen. "They are looking for something rural."

Mary Collins of Mary Collins Real Estate in High Falls, Ulster County, said, "People that come here have high-stress jobs. They want to get away and relax."

Of all of the traditional vacation spots for New Yorkers, the Catskills offers the sharpest contrast to city life for the least amount of money. For the price of a lot with a small tree in the Hamptons, a second home-buyer in the Catskills could get an entire orchard.

Yet like real estate in most places, the second home market in the Catskills has softened in recent months. Prices have slipped, homes stay on the market longer, and new construction has slowed.

"The market is inconsistent," said Randy Florke, owner of the Rural Connection, a real estate agency in Greenwich Village that deals strictly in Catskills properties. "The numbers are up and down. You can go days without a call; then on a good stock market day, you'll get a lot of them."

The Rural Connection specializes in Sullivan County. Second-home buyers in this area tend to look for old farmhouses set on good-sized lots, perhaps with ponds.

"Sullivan County is the most ‘farmy' part of the Catskills," said Florke, who is also the author of the home- decorating book "Your House, Your Home." "It's still a huge agricultural area."

In Sullivan County, a two-bedroom, one-bath ranch on two acres could probably be found for $175,000, Knudsen said. A 1,500-square-foot farmhouse on five acres, perhaps with a pond, would sell for around $300,000, he said.

"Our properties are all over the board," said Susan Doig, sales manager for Coldwell Banker Timberland in Margaretville, Delaware County. "You can buy a building site for $80,000 or a fabulous estate in the $1.3 million range."
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Title Annotation:rural vacation land
Author:Preer, Robert
Publication:The Real Deal
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jan 2, 2008
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