Thursday, June 22, 2017

Everything Old Is New Again

Real estate clients show up from Brooklyn with huge enthusiasm for this area and absolutely no idea why. That's what happens when an area develops “buzz.” They don't know why it's so great here, but they've heard it is and they're in love before they even get off the Thruway.

My job, as their realtor, is to show them why they're right. They want me to find them a house they can make into a home, but I'm also their advocate for the Hudson Valley. I'm their tour guide.

I grew up here; my dad's family has had a summer cottage in Rosendale for five generations and my family moved to Woodstock when I was nine. I've seen attractions come and go.

The rickety, death-defying trestle bridge over the Rondout Creek in Rosendale that thrilled my cousins and me when we were kids is now a solid, reliable structure. It links to walking trails that replaced the train tracks my grandmother and her parents rode upstate from the Bronx when she was a kid.

The railroad bridge beside the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Highland and Poughkeepsie is now the majestic Walkway Over The Hudson. My dad's favorite Kingston spot, Lawton Park, near Golden Hill on Route 32, is closed.

But some things stay the same: the eerie echoes in the Widow Jane Mine in Rosendale, the ice caves off Binnewater Road, the climbers crawling the rocky face of the 'Gunks, the Mohonk tower above them, the stone walls of the Overlook Mountain House in Woodstock, and the rattlesnakes that nest nearby, just for a few.

Then there are the attractions that have been here forever, but I never knew.

Just last year I discovered Kingston Point Park. I have no idea how I missed it. Blame the dodgey reputation the Rondout area had when I was a kid. That was a very long time ago. Imagine my delight when I wandered through those iron gates late last summer and strolled the paths to discover a beautifully preserved trolley car sitting on the tracks in a misty rain. I honestly thought for a moment that I'd managed to travel back in time. But no, no magic this time. That trolley runs every weekend in the summer.

The year before, I walked the soggy path to the Saugerties Lighthouse for the first time. I've been back several times since.

How about when that Viking ship with its crew of happy, young adventurers docked at the Rondout last year? Or when the Clearwater pulls up to the dock? The daily summer afternoon concerts at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston are worth a mention, too.

I happen to appreciate a good graveyard. Some of my clients do, too. You can't do much better than Kingston's Montrepose Cemetery, designed by landscape architect Calvert Vaux. It's so nice, he's buried there. Nearby Wiltwyck Rural Cemetery also has a real, haunted charm, with the lonely whistle of the occasional freight train adding to the atmosphere.

Sometimes it's not the outside attractions that appeal to newcomers. They want architecture. They want food. They want craft beer. They want music. We've got that covered, too.

I tell them they've got to see a show at BSP in uptown Kingston and try to get a peek at the old vaudeville theatre that hides in the back of the building. Talk about a hidden treasure! And it's a short walk to all of uptown's dining options. It seems there's a new one every day. Kingston City Hall is well worth a visit if you're an architecture fan. Too bad about the old post office up the road on Broadway. It must have been a bit more inspiring than its replacement, Planet Wings.

If they're foodies, I make sure to mention both the CIA, which we all know about, but also the amazing dining opportunities on Main Street in downtown Poughkeepsie. If you haven't checked out what's there, you've missed something. Maybe you can burn off all the calories by walking back across the Walkway to your car.

Breweries we've got. Not only the established favorites, but new ones, like the Suarez Family Brewery in Livingston, or something entirely different, like Kombucha Brooklyn on Route 28. Plus there's the Craft Beer Boogaloo, an annual event for the beer lovers from far and near.

Live music is coming back, too. BSP in Kingston has established itself uptown, but there are lots of smaller and larger venues, with the Colony Cafe in Woodstock just re-joining the list this spring.

There are some truly odd and terrific space reconversions that I point to when I confirm that something is, indeed, happening here. Joe's Garage on Main Street in Catskill is a remarkable reuse of a garage space into an event venue. The old lumberyard there is becoming home to a dance company. Then there's the remarkable Basilica in Hudson, a converted factory space. Kingston's Hutton Brickyard is getting a new life as well.

My experience is that the one thing our new residents aren't terribly interested in is history. They appreciate it, but they aren't excited by it. They want community, connection, and nature. They love old houses, but a day in a museum doesn't seem to hold much appeal. It's an interesting challenge for an area that's always been, let's admit it, a bit snobby about our historical significance.

For our newest would-be residents, the Hudson Valley has no county barriers. Hudson, Catskill, Woodstock, Rhinebeck – it's all the Hudson Valley. All they ask is what there is to do, what there is to see, and how long a trip it is back to the city. Because most of them keep a foot in the city for work. They've got to pay for that upstate house somehow.

First published in  Check them out!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Must Love Pets

I recently met Cujo.

I was showing a home to potential buyers. I'd been told the owners would be taking their dog out of the house while it was shown. They didn't.

I led the potential buyers down the basement steps, and a deep, ominous grumbling began. When the barking started, I almost fell off the steps.

It never stopped. Every time we went anywhere near his or her crate, which was buried in a dimly lit corner, the baleful hound lunged.

You look mighty tasty,” Cujo said. “And no one has fed me my breakfast. For days.”

I couldn't tell you if it was a he or a she. We didn't dare look too closely.

The buyers felt sorry for the snarling beast and so did I. He or she was probably scared to see strangers poking around its house. But it sure didn't help the buyers picture themselves living there.

It did, however, hurry us up.

Pets are a touchy subject these days. We don't own our pets anymore. That's not enlightened. We are “pet parents.”

Pet parents brag about their four legged child's irrepressible personality. They assume everyone will enjoy their little darling.

One client who wanted to sell her home had a hyperactive, stressed-out, little dog who leaped into the air and yipped, non-stop, for every single showing. No one could talk. The dog monopolized our attention.

The house finally sold while they were away on vacation with Little Yipper.

Good pet parents take their pets with them everywhere they go.

One woman carried her dog in her pocketbook. It growled in every house she looked at.

Poppy doesn't like this one,” she told me.

Poppy was very difficult to please.

Another couple brought their adorable young dog to every appointment. After several hours trapped in a car on the New York State Thruway, Bouncy couldn't wait to get out of the car, race in circles and then take off into the woods.

Bouncy came back eventually.

Yet another couple had three very lively Border Collies.

They threw open the car doors and invited them into every house they looked at. It didn't occur to them that the owners might have had pets of their own, animals who might not welcome the bumptious intruders. Not to mention the trail of dirty paw prints on a just-cleaned floor.

They'll have to live here, too,” the dogs' parents explained.

The look I got, from owners and dogs, when I suggested that the dogs stay outside, could have melted wax.

There are cats who try to escape every time an exterior door is opened.

I nearly had a heart attack as I started to say, “Watch out for the...” and the family cat materialized out of nowhere and bolted for freedom. Fortunately, Kitty didn't run quickly enough.

There are houses that smell so strongly of the animals who live there that I suspect nothing short of demolition will banish the funk.

But don't get me wrong. It's not all horrible.

Sometimes the family pet is one of the best things about a house. There are few things more enjoyable than watching a merry beagle race around in circles at the sound of her name. A sweet old cat on a bed or a calm dog looking for a little affection are pluses, in my opinion.

I like animals. I really do. But I have to admit it: overall, animals and real estate don't mix.

In case you're wondering, my dog stays home. She gets carsick.

(Previously published in Ulster Publishing - check them out at!)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Brooklyn North

Move aside, Hudson. The buzz has moved south and it's taking over an entire small city, not just one very hip main street.

Kingston's been rumbling for a few years, with the O+ Festival, the influx of young visitors lured by their friends and the growing availability of Air BnB rentals. But if you're not here yet, you've come late.

Don't believe me? Maybe you'll believe Vogue. Seriously. Vogue. Kingston is now the great little upstate destination for design lovers that you just must visit, darlings and dudes.

People who I've helped find homes here in the past couple of years are now thanking their lucky stars they got into the Kingston scene before Vogue found it.

What's so great about Kingston?

Well, first, there's the Uptown (Stockade - same place) restaurant scene. Surprisingly varied and plentiful for a fairly small city, you can have lunch at a minimalist Greek place and dinner at a locavore's favorite fantasy. Meat, no meat, pasta, no gluten, ethnic and American - it's all within a few blocks.

The shopping's improving, too. Antique shops, gift shops, art supplies, candy, coffee (sometimes several under the same roof), tattoos and even an upscale bridal boutique.

The live music scene has picked up in a big way and the tumbleweeds no longer blow down Wall Street at 10 PM on a weekend. Unless The Tumbleweeds are playing.

The Rondout area (the river end of the city) has been an arts enclave for years and now the city is on a mission to revitalize the midtown, Broadway area, which connects Uptown and the Rondout, with more restaurants, shops, galleries and watering holes.

Walk two blocks from the Trailways bus terminal and you're in the heart of Uptown.

It's car-less upstate living at its best.  But it's not a secret any more.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie Was Right

Woodstock lost its coolest resident yesterday; David Jones put out a new album, then said goodbye.
He was always able to see trends before they happened and I imagine he saw what was going on in our part of New York's Hudson Valley.

If we aren't changing, we're deteriorating. That's a bit of Eastern wisdom I remember from all my reading of Buddhist texts when I was trying to make sense of a world that was moving too fast for me. And this area where I grew up, nestled between the Hudson and the Catskill Mountains, is changing.

Look at uptown Kingston on New Year's Eve, photo from MidHudson News:

You undoubtedly don't understand how surreal this crowd is, but take it from one who has watched a crumpled up newspaper blow up this street at night with nothing else in sight - this is incredible.

These are people fiercely in love with their new upstate town. They're young and they're energetic and they're determined to create a real community here. In my opinion, they're a great addition to an area that's been moping since its main employer left town thirty years ago.

Brooklyn expats have created a new land - Kingstyn...a reviving city with a great vibe, lots of culture, and a belief that there's nowhere better. All they have to do is get the city to hack those shocking taxes down to size and they might just be right.

Then there's Woodstock. Big changes here, too.  Just a couple of years ago I really despaired of its future. Always a silly but endearing place, it felt like it was becoming a caricature, with aging hippies and New Jersey motorcyclists in tie die dominating the landscape.

But now there's a younger vibe. Many say it's because of Air BnB and I believe it. Younger people discovered it as an easy weekend getaway and have fallen in love with the streams, the mountains and the relaxed vibe. There are families with young kids. There are European transplants, particularly from the UK. There are artists and musicians and the same kind of creative people who made Woodstock something special back in its Albert Grossman-era heyday.

Phoenicia, snowy little exit off Rt 28, is now hip. Rosendale, an endearing blink of a village between New Paltz and Kingston, is hip. The other side of the Hudson may be rolling hills and manicured estates, but the west side of the Hudson is wooded, wild and funky- it's cool again.

Bowie was right again.



Monday, May 18, 2015

New York's Secret Garden - Otsego and Schoharie County

I spent every summer as a kid at a sweet little cabin my parents had built on farmland outside of Cherry Valley. My kids spent their summers there, too. I wish it was still ours, but at least it's still there. When I need to whisk my mind to a favorite place, that's where I go.

It's been a long love affair with that area for me. I was back today and when I first caught sight of a rolling vista of farmland, I got teary. I do that.

I pulled myself together and headed into Cooperstown. It's the prettiest little lakeside town I know. It's got it all; pristine waterfront, Victorian and Colonial architecture, a bit of life thanks to the baseball fans. Oh, that Otsego Lake. Thanks to the wealthy family with the foresight to buy up one shore and keep it from turning into a collection of camps. Generations have enjoyed it because of them.
Then I went to Cherry Valley. Part of my heart is always there.  It's an adorable little village that sometimes almost wakes from its slumber, then dozes off again. It appears to be dozing right now. But the townsfolk got together and restored the Lithia Spring in the middle of town about ten years ago. It looks wonderful.

I stopped at the great old market that doesn't appear to have changed in the past forty years. The old fellow behind the counter snorted when I asked him what was new in town. "Nothing," he scoffed. But when I left I found he was wrong. There's a new art gallery in Mr. Lafler's old plumbing business building. Someone else has started a lovely business up the hill; a lilac farm.

Cherry Valley and Otsego County aren't undemanding sweethearts; it takes sturdier folk than I to hang in there when the long winter roars in. It's snow country.

But there's nowhere sweeter in the spring, I'm thinking.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Welcome to Upstate - bring your mittens.

I don't mind winter. Really, I don't. Usually. I'm going to make an exception for this one.

It's too cold. Way too cold.

It got above freezing yesterday for the first time in a couple of weeks, then dropped to below zero again overnight. When I woke up it was nine below.


Violet Wiggins is permanently attached to her chair near the woodstove now. I will have to take the chair out for a walk when spring finally arrives so she can get some fresh air.

That hand on the left side of the pic? That's KB trying to thaw out. The woodstove has been cranking all day and all night since New Year's.

 Now don't get me wrong - I still prefer winter upstate to winter in the city. Winter upstate is easy on the eyes, anyway. Winter in the city is just several shades of gray and icy or slushy.

But I must admit, I'm looking longingly at pictures of warm places. Come on - a little hurricane now and again is a small price to pay for being warm, no? I want to go swim along after one of these guys...

The good news? Houses are selling. I'm busy. Really busy. Busier than I've been in two years. But I'm still cold.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Season's Greetings

This was the view as I drove across the Catskill Mountains from Margaretville to Palenville this week. Back home, near Woodstock in the foothills, there is no snow on the ground at all.
Elevation makes all the difference.

The long drive gave me a bit of time to reflect on the past year. It's been an interesting one, no doubt about it.  No trees through our roof (thanks again for that, Hurricane Sandy), new clients, new friends (often one and the same), a few insanely busy weeks but mostly steady work and time that skids by on greased rails.

The expat invasion from New York City continues in the Catskills, a surge that reminds me of ocean waves. It's been happening for generations, but sometimes the tide is higher and busier than others. Right now, the surge is heading for Hudson and Kingston (a much more affordable alternative), with the usual river to Woodstock and a growing stream discovering lovely but still struggling Catskill.

I find it interesting to watch both Kingston and Catskill.  When I was a kid (and that was a long time ago), uptown Kingston was cool. Midtown was okay and the Rondout, near the Hudson, was off limits. Artists have brought the Rondout and the uptown Stockade back to vibrant life, but that long stretch of Broadway in Midtown had become an economic wasteland. The latest influx of city expats is making inroads into that last, troubled business zone. There are new restaurants, new offices, new businesses springing up to take advantage of the last bargain retail space prices in the area.

Catskill, one of the more architecturally attractive small cities, is tippy toe-ing to the edge of big things. There is a surprising array of interesting businesses on Main St., but the project that's going to bump Catskill into its renaissance is still under renovation. It's a massive mill building on the riverfront that is going to house craftspeople and restaurants and become an arts hub for a city that's been waiting for its props for a long time now. So far, the only clear sign of progress is a food truck in its parking lot that draws lunch lines every day.

As someone whose business takes her into Columbia, Dutchess, Greene and Ulster Counties, I get a chance to see things from a bit of a distance, far differently than the view would be if I worked in a Main St. office everyday. The Hudson Valley and Catskills are in transition again. They're growing. And I can see it happening.  Elevation makes all the difference.

Happy holidays, dear reader. Best wishes for the coming year. May it bring you the very best of everything.