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.