Monday, December 31, 2012

Here Comes 2013 - Predictions and Prognostications - And Pure Guesswork

2012 was interesting - quite interesting. Talk about an emotional roller coaster! I seriously think the best way to see this one out is with blankets up to your chin and a hot toddy.

Housing prices continued to be a bargain and interest rates were incredible, yet few people felt completely safe making any big purchases.

In the Catskills and Hudson Valley, reasonably priced suburban family homes languished; there are two great houses within a quarter mile of my own home that still haven't sold and there's no reason at all why they shouldn't.  It's just the market.

The surprise was an influx of cash buyers. With stocks looking shaky and interest rates low, real estate has become the investment of choice. It felt like old times; investing cash in a second home in the country is a way to turn cash into something tangible that is bound to appreciate in value. And there's the bonus of having a country retreat to enjoy in the meantime.

Hurricane Sandy did have one silver lining; it was a shot of adrenalin to the region's real estate market. The reality of flooding in the streets of New York City brought buyers to the area in droves.

I believe 2013 is going to be even livelier.  After all, according to the Mayans, it wasn't even supposed to happen! So anything's possible.  But here's what I'm predicting, from off-grid to 3D printing:

This 3 BR home, with 5.5 acres and a three bay, two story garage, is available for just $206,000!

1. More second home sales. We're not hurricane-proof anymore. Our beliefs about New York City and New Jersey got obliterated by Hurricane Sandy and I'm hearing a lot of city dwellers talking about the comfort of knowing they've got somewhere to go. The Catskills is a great area - not too far, not too expensive, absolutely gorgeous with lots to do. There's really nowhere else like it within a couple of hours of Manhattan.

2. More city transplants. With all of us connected via Internet and phone all the time, why do you have to live in the city? Freelancers, telecommuters, artists, musicians, writers and people who only have to be in the city one or two days a week are going to be making the Catskills and Hudson Valley their home. It's healthier, there's less stress, there's room to breathe and being in the country is good for the soul.

3. More off-gridders. (Check out Nick Rosen's book - great guy, great information!) Every day there's a new headline about some toxin or chemical in our water, our food or the things we use. Gas prices are high and aren't likely to come down. There's a growing interest in green building, alternative energy and growing our own food. I believe small parcels of farmable land with compact homes are going to be increasingly popular.

4. Low prices.  Sadly for sellers, I don't think we're going to see a fast turnaround on the long downward trend.This is, of course, great news if you're buying. But don't wait, expecting it to continue. I suspect we're at the bottom.

5. Low interest rates. Good news for buyers and sellers. So long as the economy isn't chugging along at full steam, interest rates should stay low to encourage buying.

6. Green homes. Whether you want to go totally off grid or you just are tired of paying a fortune to keep your house warm in the winter, green homes are going to be more and more appealing. Green homes don't have to be brand new: existing homes can be retrofitted with better insulation, solar panels, solar, tankless water heaters, even geothermal heat (though that's a big ticket item).

7. Innovative building. 3D printers are here. They are going to revolutionize everything.  Just everything. Mass production is going to change, design is going to change, technology will change. It's one of those giant-leap moments, and it's arriving without much of a fanfare.

8. Work at home. The Freelancer's Union estimates one in three American workers is a freelancer now, whether they're working on a contract, a gig, or they're between full time jobs. As cell phones and video conferencing make anyone accessible almost anywhere, there's no reason to fill offices and highways with commuters. And if you can live anywhere, that opens up a lot of possibilities when you're shopping for a home.

9. More extreme weather. I know nothing about climate science, but I've talked to the experts and I'm convinced. We're going to see hotter summers, colder winters, more hurricanes and blizzards and other weather extremes. Take it from someone who took a tree to her roof - houses surrounded by trees, particularly huge white pines, are vulnerable. Take them down if you can. If you live on a country road or at the end of a mile long driveway and you don't own a good four wheel drive vehicle yet, it's time.

10. More community. In the Hudson Valley, we have an annual event called the O+ Festival. It's a terrific event that trades health care for art. We've got thriving farmer's markets. Facebook communities trade rides to the city and connect people with service providers. Virtual and real community are becoming one and that's a good thing. From Woodstock to Saugerties, uptown Kingston to the Rondout, Phoenicia to High Falls and Rosendale, each community has a strong identity, a strong sense of local pride and growing internal network. I see it as one of the best things about this region.

At our house, we're declaring 2013 as the "No Crazies" year. We had enough craziness is 2012. 2013 is going to be different. I, personally, am determined to make 2013 the best year I've ever had. And why not? The only person who could stop me is me.

Best wishes to you and yours for the best year you'll ever have!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Moving Day

Ever since Hurricane Sandy dropped a tree through our roof, we've been living in limbo.  But something very exciting happened last night.  We moved into our HGTV-worthy bedroom!

As the tree groaned on our roof, we had to evacuate to a motel. Then we took shelter in a sweet little cottage owned by a friend who rents it out to vacationers.  If you're planning to visit Woodstock, I recommend it highly.  We felt snug and safe after a pretty significant trauma.

Only half of our house was habitable - the rest was under construction.  But last night, the contractors gave us the green light to sleep in our new bedroom - a beautiful, bright space that's better than it ever was before Sandy.

Before we could enjoy our new space, we had to move our stuff in. I missed my massive Eastlake bed - monstrous though it was, it was easy to take apart and move. Our spiffy modern bed is a nightmare of Allen wrenches and veneer.  The dresser draws have to be put back just so or they sit at a crazy cock-eyed angle and look demented.

Right now, fabric tacked above the windows serves as curtains. There's no artwork, my dresser is still in another room. And once the dresser's moved, I have to paint the office and move my stuff back into that room. Busy busy busy.

This is just the beginning.  The movers are coming next week to return all the things we had to have shipped out and stored while construction was underway.

"This is just like moving," KB observed.

It is. And we hate moving. But we're going to take this opportunity to decorate more thoughtfully, arrange our things more selectively and maybe, maybe, eliminate a little clutter from our lives.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pound Houses

Some of us are rescuers. It's our nature. We're drawn to people who need us. Our pets were all once abandoned. And when we look at houses, we see them as people.

"This could be a happy house," I have said more than once. "It just needs someone to love it."

I find myself drawn to the projects, the ones that would shine if someone just gave them a chance.

My name is Susan and I'm a Rescuer.

All together now: Hi, Susan.

The house I will always love best was a project. When we found it, it was a Victorian farmhouse buried behind delft blue asbestos siding, squinting at the sun through tiny, modern Anderson crank-out windows. It was horrible.

But it had a beautiful front porch, a massive carved oak front door, fish scale shingles at its peak and a beautiful yard on a tree lined street.  Room by room, we pulled it apart, found the treasures (and mummified mice) hiding above the dropped ceilings and gradually the lovely home it had once been came back to life.

That house loved us. We loved it, too.

I will always like old houses best, but I am beginning to realize that this simple seventies ranch we're currently putting back together should be one I could love. It needs me.

We bought a salmon colored ranch surrounded by trees with choppy little rooms and little interior light.  More than a year (and a huge tree through the roof) later, a charming house is emerging. The rooms are open and bright and have a little bit of flow, the trees have been pushed back and we can see the stars above us at night.

Every new coat of paint, every sanded floor, is letting this house be the best it can be within a budget. If I could blast out the ceiling and add skylights, of course, that would be amazing. But it's not bad as it is. In fact, I suspect it's feeling pretty full of itself.

"Check out my newly-shined wide board pine floors!  Huh?  Huh?"

These are the things you can't get a client to understand if they don't see it. A terrific spot and a house that is, as a friend once dubbed such things, "a pile of potential" could end up being the house they will love forever.

And if you're a rescuer, there's the added joy of knowing you've saved yet another being from a life of melancholy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A life in reconstruction

It's tremendously interesting, this life post-Hurricane. An opportunity to see just how I cope (or don't) and where my weak spots are. Those weak spots are bound to give way when the stress levels climb into the red zone.

A generic photo of construction doesn't really explain what goes on.  An audio file would be better - and I actually have one. I recorded the sound one day as one fellow ripped a straight line through floor tile, a second in the master bedroom drilled through damaged joists and the steady thunk thunk of a nail gun provided the beat.

We've held up pretty well but I notice I can't remember anything for long.  Particularly schedules.  I've missed an interview because I confused which day we were planning to talk.  I've shown up at the office when someone else has said they'd cover for me.  I've done that one twice.

"I'm kind of worried about you," KB said the other night.  "I always thought you were really organized."

Well, no.  But I used to be better than this.

It's the chaos.  This is apparently my response...I blank out.

Again, there's a lesson in this when I go out with clients.  So many times we see a house that is "almost perfect, but..." and we blithely discuss the "easy" changes that would fix it.

No matter how easy those fixes are, it's important to understand that construction turns your life upside down. The rewards are great, but you do pay a price while it is going on.

We had no choice this time: there was a massive hole in our roof and branches stuck through the ceilings.  But I will remember this, and be sure that I help my clients prepare for the tumult that will precede the creation of their dream home.

I just hope I'll remember whatever it was I was supposed to do tomorrow.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thanks, Sandy

We won't be forgetting Sandy anytime soon at our house.  At about 3 PM as she was just revving up on Monday, a massive pine crashed into our roof.  Bad luck, you say?  Nope.  Not compared to the alternative.  The branch pictured below missed by head as I worked in my office by about two feet.  I was very, very lucky.

So began an experience that will always make me sympathetic to people whose homes are damaged in storms.  First, there was calling insurance.  But nowadays it's not enough to have insurance. I'm persuaded you are wise to hire a public adjuster who will advocate for you with the insurance company you're paying for coverage. The insurance adjuster has one goal: repair the damage at the least cost to the company. That puts you, the one paying for the coverage, in second position. No thanks.

Five days in a motel with three cats is a test of any relationship, but we made it through with a lot of comfort food at the local diner.  We gained weight, but we're bonded.

Then there's the hunt for some kind of long-term temporary housing. It's not home, but it's better than a motel.

And the repairs begin. I'm hoping for our house back by the New Year.

Here's what I've learned that I will share with all my clients from here on:

1. Big pine trees near a house are bad news.  Get them down. They are massive but their roots are incredibly shallow. In a heavy rain or in poorly draining soil, they're a disaster waiting to happen.

2. Pay attention to drainage.  Flooded basements and homes are every bit as horrible as a tree through the roof - in fact, they're probably worse. If a basement tends to take on water, have a battery operated sump pump. If a stream is nearby, make sure it can't flood your home. We know these things, but in the first blush of love with a house we tend to minimize their importance.  Don't.

3.  Reinforced homes are really cool. Rebar is wonderful. Off-grid capabilities are amazing. At the very least, a generator and a woodstove are things you're going to want.  When the heat is out for ten plus days and there's a freak cold spell, you're going to really, really appreciate them.

4. Know contractors. Have a list of experts on hand who will come when you call. I cannot imagine having to look for contractors during the initial chaos after the tree hit. I just picked up the phone, called the good folks I know, and we were headed toward normalcy (someday soon I hope).  If you're buying, get a list from your realtor. If you need someone new and you're established, ask around. Have your arsenal prepared.

5. A bottle of wine and a coconut custard pie help. You won't feel very well, but you'll be comforted.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Here Comes Sandy

It was just a little over a year ago that Irene came to town. Her pal Lee followed right on her heels and the Catskills certainly haven't forgotten their visits.

The junk swept into the Schoharie and Esopus Creeks is still caught in the trees. Huge mountains of broken limbs are still piled along the banks, in places that seem impossibly high for our beautiful fishing streams.

We've got an awful lot of brand spankin' new bridges in the Catskills. It's not that we got ambitious all of the sudden - the old ones got swept away.

And now Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on us.

We're not the same people we were before last year. We're more cautious. When the forecast calls for an historic storm, we listen.

In our house, we've got our plastic bags of water in the freezer - a great discovery during the last storm.
First, the bags of ice keep things in the fridge cold for awhile. When they melt, you can drink the water.

We've got our mini-camper stove, a find I credit to my daughter, who spent a summer camping in the Adirondacks. The Pocket Rocket heats just enough water to make coffee.  Ahhhh. And we can heat soup on the woodstove. We'll fill the bathtub for plumbing necessities and we got a bottle of wine, just in case.

We know the local Holiday Inn will take pets. We evacuated there last year. It flooded a little, but it was a chummy crowd. We all sat on the back steps and watched the water rise til they had to shut the power off.
Then it got stuffy inside.

We're all facing this new storm with a combination of anticipation, dread and determination. There are long lines at the stores and all the batteries are gone, but people are laughing.  The bottled water is sold out, but we're joking as we look. One lady was buying clothesline - her old one is shot.

"I'm planning to use it on myself if the power's out too long," she joked.

We appreciate gallows humor more now. Seeing your home, or your neighbor's home, knocked off its foundation or filled with water will do that to you.

Our neighbors, the ones with the generator, have already invited everyone in the neighborhood to use their fridge, take showers, even sleep there. It could get crowded.

A new friend, whose home is in the mountains, has told us we're welcome there if we can make it, that the fires will be going and "the scotch will be neat."

We've told him he's welcome with us, though there's a higher risk of tree-thru-roof syndome at our place than his.

We're survivors. We made it through Irene. And we'll all be here when Sandy's gone. Whatever kind of guest she is, we'll clean up after her and keep on going.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Trend: Just a Little Bit of a Place

Small houses are big.  Really big.  Maybe it's the economy.  Maybe it's the cost of heat. Maybe it's just a predictable reaction to years of excess.  But I'm meeting a lot of clients who are looking for a small house.

"Nothing too big," they tell me.  "Just a little place where we can come and enjoy the country."

Our real estate office has all kinds of beautiful home pictures in the windows. But guess which ones generate the most excitement?

"Look at that little off grid cabin for $52,000!"

"Where's that little place in the woods?"

 I've seen a lot of them in the past couple of weeks, from a very rough, rustic place down a dirt road in the mountains to a small cabin nestled among similar neighbors near our artsy enclave of Woodstock, New York.

It reminds me of my parents' summer cabin near Cooperstown when I was a kid. They bought some farm land and then happily scrolled through plan books until they found the simple modified A-frame that was exactly what they wanted. It was a wonderful little two bedroom cabin with a massive A-shaped window that looked down the winding driveway and across to the neighboring hillside.

We'd arrive in the spring, throw open the doors, then vacuum up all the dead flies that had accumulated over the winter.  My mother was an exceptionally thorough housecleaner, but even she could get the cabin sparkling clean in a couple of hours. It was an easy place to be.

I love little places like the ones at Tumbleweed Tiny Houses and Tiny House Design.

I think my clients are really smart. The Catskills are best enjoyed outside - all your vacation home needs is a comfortable bed and the few necessities of life. Walk in, drop your bags and go!

If this is the new economy, it makes sense to me.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Don't Like the Weather? Just Wait...

It's a strange climate zone around Woodstock, New York. Neighboring Kingston sits solidly on the banks of the Hudson River - it's part of the Hudson River Valley. To the west, Phoenicia is most definitely in the Catskill Mountains. Woodstock's in the middle - nestled on the foot of the mountains, a bit above the river valley. And that means we see some pretty weird weather.

I was out in the country with clients last week, looking at homes they hoped might be their new weekend getaway. It was a lovely, warm, autumn day in the Catskills. And then it wasn't.

The clouds grew dark and heavy, rain started to fall, then, as we turned onto a country lane, the skies dropped buckets of hail in an unrelenting torrent.

Watershed Post hail video

We were just a mile from the house we were going to see; I decided to keep going. Behind me, the van carrying three teenagers and their parents was bedlam: Dad opened all the windows and let the hail pour in as the kids tried to yell above his laughter. A disheveled, laughing family fell out of the van when they stopped behind my car and I struggled to get the door open.

"Please, please, please let us in before it starts again," I muttered.

And then the sun came out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Abandoned Enchantment

I still fall in love with houses. It's not what most realtors do; they're used to looking at a property with a critical eye, weighing its assets and dismissing it if there are too many problems. I can do that sometimes.

But some houses strike me more like family dogs left at the pound. They're wonderful, they loved their families and they're increasingly sad. They don't understand why no want wants them anymore.

There's a house like that in our town, one that isn't my listing but I still very much want to see in the caring hands of a new owner. The picture above looks somewhat like it but it has ivy, wisteria-covered pergolas and charmingly curved doors. It is, quite simply, magic.

I've mentioned it before, and it still sits unclaimed.  It's breaking my heart. This was a house that was once a family's pride and joy. They gave it a name, they decorated it like something out of a fairy tale. It fairly glowed with love.

It's been empty more than a year now. The lawn is mowed but the gardens are overgrown, the ivy is encroaching on the windows. Inside, there's that musty air common to old houses which need their windows thrown wide, a fire built in the hearth, people, dogs and cats rattling around and making noise.

It's not owned by a family anymore, it's owned by a bank. And a bank can't love a house.

Friday, September 7, 2012


I met Larry LePage this week. He likes to sit on his porch, hoping for company. He's lonely. You see, he has very few neighbors anymore. They all had to abandon their homes.

Larry LePage lives in Prattsville, NY.

Prattsville is a tiny little burg in the Catskills just south of the Schoharie Reservoir. Before most of the town was wiped out, there were only about three hundred people there. There are fewer than that now. Last August, when Hurricane Irene howled up the Eastern seaboard, she bumped into the Catskills and dropped an unbelievable amount of water into the reservoirs. Experts say the water that rushed down the Schoharie and Esopus Creeks was more than the torrents that howl over Niagara Falls. The Schoharie Creek went 15 feet over its banks and wiped out the town.

What's left now are a lot of boarded up buildings. A few businesses have reopened. But many homes are still abandoned.

There's an effort underway to build a new, safer Prattsville, one that's above the flood plain. But it's years away. Larry's been in Prattsville since the sixties, since leaving his native Canada. He doesn't want to leave. His family had to talk hard just to convince him to leave temporarily after his home filled with water.

Larry LePage sits on his porch every day, hoping someone will stop by and talk to him. Many of the people who are still in Prattsville do. Three houses down from Larry's house is another vacant house, tilting on its foundation, its porch gone.  The sign posted near it, surrounded by stones, has one word on it:  Hope.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Nehapwa - Elegance and Good Energy

I don't just sell real estate. I write. And a magazine assignment led me to a place I will not quickly forget. Nehapwa is an historic, Arts and Crafts-style summer cottage - one of those rambling homes with fireplaces and endless porches where I still expect to see gentlemen in suits and ladies in long summer dresses drinking iced tea and playing croquet.

It's above Tannersville, NY, an area best known for Hunter Mountain and skiing, but once a popular Catskills summer destination.  The grand Catskill summer hotels are gone (though Mohonk, on the neighboring Shawangunks, preserves the tradition), leaving sweeping vistas, perhaps a step that once led to an entryway and, in the case of the Overlook Mountain House in Woodstock, stone walls and steps that offer an intriguing hint of what once might have been.

It's Romance with a capital R, and it's something I've longed for like a homesick traveler my entire life. Nehapwa felt like coming home.

It's a grand house, far too big for the couple who lives there. But after almost ten years of work reclaiming an abandoned house, they're opening the doors to guests.  Nehapwa is an intimate and inspiring bed and breakfast available for one night or a longer. There are four bedrooms, each with its own bath and covered sleeping porch.  There is an expansive living room and dining room as well as a cozy library. And there's the covered porch.  It extends the length of the house and around the side, facing a panoramic mountain vista, due east for sunrise and moonrise views.

The gardens are a study in colorful chaos and the grounds sweep gently away from the house on all sides, offering a meadow, a pine barren, a lovely meditation pool lined with bluestone or a path into the woods past a magnificent, soaring wooden Victorian water tower.

It's an escape for a life that is too busy, too frenetic, too "wired."  It is a place to breathe. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Hidden Catskills

There's been some discussion on the future of the name "Catskills." For some, it's still equated to a time half a century ago, when the southern Catskills were the summer home for entertainment.  Every big name in show business was booked at the Nevele, the Concord, The Granite, Grossingers. Its remnants were remembered in Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" - row after row of little clapboard cottages where you could escape the city for a weekend. It was the setting for "Dirty Dancing" - family resorts that were corny, hokey and slightly embarrassing.

But that time is long gone. And what the Catskills were, and still are, is incredibly beautiful. I took a drive earlier this week to preview some houses and clear my head. Thankfully, I took my camera.  The picture above was taken just a few miles outside of the sleepy town of Fleishmanns. I love Fleishmanns. Unspoiled Victorians, a library that sells books on the front porch on the honor system, a town that the highway passed by, which preserved it while presenting challenges for the people who live there.

I drove farther into the hills on a perfect late summer day and couldn't believe my eyes. Nothing that perfect could be real, could it?

Once I began, I couldn't stop.  First there was the road to Lexington, where I saw two old churches which shared a cemetery.
Then on to Lexington, where the Schoharie Creek, so frightening during last year's storms, has settled back into its lazy path.

Along the way there were remnants of the world I remember when I was a kid.

And new wonders that seemed too perfect to be something new. This is in Jewett.

Finally, I came back on the Platte Clove Road.  A clove, if you don't know, is a natural divide in a mountain range, a steep-sided low pass. In the Catskills, the cloves are incredibly dramatic. I don't think a photo really does it justice.

I was standing at a spot known as the Devil's Kitchen and wondered how many people who live in the Catskills visit these places. How many remember they're here? And I realized just how fortunate I am to be living in a place that offers all of this to anyone who is willing to look for it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More Good News ...But Remember To Think

The news just keeps getting better if you've been hoping to buy a home.  First, interest rates are incredibly low.  If you need some perspective, try this: when I was looking to buy my very first home (back in the pre-computer days of the eighties), the realtor gave us a little book that helped you figured out the monthly cost for every possible interest rate.  The lowest that book went was 9 percent.

"It'll never get lower than that," she said.

And she was right at the time. We financed at 11% and felt very fortunate.

Now interest rates are all below 5% and some rates actually start with the number three.

Absolutely incredible.

There's one place where the costs haven't been going down - that long table where buyer, seller, attorneys and the bank sit together and pass around the checks: the closing.

But that's changed.

According to an article published this past week, closing costs have dropped more than 7% since new federal regulations went into effect requiring banks to be more accurate about those costs.  It's no small news - on a $200,000 home, that's a savings of over $3500.

Sadly, my home state of New York still tops the list of most expensive places to close a real estate deal - $5400 for a $200,000 loan.  Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania also hover nearby.  For a deal, look to Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and Iowa.  Total closing costs there average about $3000 for the same loan.

Does this mean you should run out and buy a house? If that's been your plan, yes. The time is right and all factors are on your side.

Maybe a bigger house than you planned on?

If you can, now is the time. But listen to what's being said when someone tells you to "buy as big and as much as you can because it is never going to be this affordable again." Did you hear the words "AS YOU CAN"?

In the enthusiasm over your dream home, it's easy to rationalize.  Sure, it's the perfect house. The price will never be lower. Interest rates are at historic lows. Even closing costs are down. Why not??? So it's a stretch. You'll make more money, you'll pick up an extra job, you'll grow into the payment.

I've been there. I have been so smitten with a house that I got into a bidding war for it, going well over my comfort zone with a realtor whose response was, "Good for you!"

What proved to be good for me, though it broke my heart, was that I didn't get it. Because I was acting from emotion, not logic, and the fact is I'd never have been able to afford that house over the long run.

If you've been thinking about buying, now is a good time.  If you're looking, be realistic about what you can comfortably afford. This is your home and you're in it for the long haul. Fall in love, but fall in love smart.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Supermarket or Mom and Pop - Which One Are You?

I admit it; I've never lived in a big city. I grew up no more than a couple of hours from Manhattan, but I never lived there. I've lived in a small city, a sprawling suburb and small town. So I could be wrong. But I've known enough city dwellers that I have a good handle on what it's like. So here's the question - where do you belong?

City life is like living in a giant supermarket.  

Everything you could possibly want is right there under one roof. It's noisy, it's crowded and it's a long way to get from one end to the other, but the aisles are straight and everything has been done to make it as convenient as possible.

Supermarkets are full of go go go energy.  There's music playing, lots of ad displays to keep your eyes busy, a sense of urgency to find what you want and check out. Supermarkets in the city have the added jolt of humanity; a long line of buyers snakes through a maze before the checkout area, waiting tensely for the next cashier to be available, springing forward as a number lights up as though someone else will take their place if they dawdle. Everyone's in a hurry; keep moving!

My one happy memory of a supermarket is buying each of my kids a Little Golden Book at each visit. It kept them entertained while we shopped and built an impressive library. I never got to know the staff. Most of them were young kids making a few bucks until they got a better job. But it was fun to discover new products, to see the wide variety of ethnic products, to marvel at the sheer volume of food under one roof.

Country life is a family grocery store. 

The selection is limited but you're bound to run into someone you know. If you're in a hurry, you'll probably be frustrated.  The butcher wants to know how your son's doing in Little League. The cashier has a great new recipe for that eggplant you're buying.

Sheldon's Market was in a little white clapboard building in Sharon Springs, NY. I wish now I'd taken pictures. When I was a kid, my parents used to stop there on our way to our little cabin up the road. When I had kids of my own, I became a regular again. Myron was still behind the meat counter and he remembered me as a little tyke with a long ponytail. Jimmy, his son, was a soft hearted bear of a guy with a black beard. He gave my kids coloring books that had probably been on the shelves since I was a child. They blew the dust off old wooden paddle toys and plastic cowboys and begged to play with them. My kids delighted in swinging around the metal column in the center of the hardwood floor, just as I had. They pretended to be skating across a choppy ocean where the floor dipped and rose, just as I had.

Sheldon's closed fifteen years ago, but they still remember.

Here in Woodstock we've got a little bit of everything.  Neighboring Saugerties and Kingston have the big supermarkets. They're not big by Manhattan standards, but they're big. And we've got Walmart. (Don't get me started).

The Hurley Ridge Market right outside town and Sunflower Natural Foods are somewhere in the middle - plenty of variety but small enough that you get to know the people there by name if you try.

Then there are places like Sunfrost (you'll meet someone you know, guaranteed) and Woodstock Meats. Try and shop at Woodstock Meats more than once and not get to know Kevin, his dad and their staff. Just try.

Many of our homebuyers in the Catskills spend most of their time in a supermarket life. They're looking for a breather, a chance to slow down.

Sometimes, they like it so much they just stay.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Name Game

A recent client said farmhouse was his family's style. He was very clear. Farmhouses were it and everything else was out.

Yet something was wrong when we started looking at homes. Nothing seemed to be quite what he wanted. Farmhouse after farmhouse went by, and nothing struck him.
Then we showed him a house that might best be described as French/contemporary. More along the lines of the picture below.
He flipped.
"Yes! This is exactly what I meant! A farmhouse!"

And I learned something important.
What clients say and what I think that means aren't always the same thing.
In this case, a farmhouse was some vision he had of a country home with contemporary style and few accents that gave it a French feel.
So just in the interest of better communication, here's what I think of when the following styles are named.

Arts and Crafts. Craftsman.

It's a style that tends toward the square, lots of wood, an overall "amber" glow and lots of built - ins. Most Sears catalog houses were Craftsman style. Bungalows were a popular style, and big, block-y pillars and porches tend to be part of these homes. Gustav Stickley, William Morris, Rennie Mackintosh - that's Arts and Crafts.

Gothic. Gothic Revival.

This style makes me think of castles, fairy tales, medieval churches and Tim Burton. There should be arches somewhere, dark woodwork, a "vintage library" feel. It can be whimsical or it can be formal, but all Gothic decorating has a certain "Dark Shadows" feel.

Victorian/Cottage Style
These beauties range from over-the-top gingerbread extravaganzas to simple farmhouses with just a little bit of detail that makes them more than simply utilitarian. Ceilings tend to be high and windows large. I have a weakness for Victorians. I admit it. They're the dominant old houses in the Midwest - where they were the style of choice by the time the first settlers started moving west.

These are the grandaddies - the first fancy houses built by European settlers in America. There's a variety of styles depending on the part of the country you're in. Here in New York, there are a lot of Dutch Colonials - built by the state's original Dutch settlers.

MidCentury Modern

 This was the home of the future in the fifties and sixties. It was bright, open and generally low to the ground. After years of languishing, it's a style that's cool again.
I think with every style, the best of it comes back into vogue eventually.  And then it becomes a classic.


This may be the toughest style of all to pin down.  Contemporary means those angular wooden homes built in the 80s and 90s. But it means the glass-walled open concept homes, the steel and glass industrial style homes, just about anything you can imagine that's being designed now.

There are many more, and many variations on the basic themes.

I suspect this will not be the last time I get tripped up by a label.

Perhaps all my client really meant is he wanted a house on property he could farm.