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.