…as Among Top Cities to Buy a House
On January 5, Kingston was in the national spotlight: it was one of 10 cities featured on MSNBC’s Today show as the best places where home buyers could get the most bang for their buck. The cities were selected by real estate expert Barbara Corcoran, who was interviewed by host Ann Curry.
“I thought it was terrific,” aid Michael Schneller, associate broker and general manager at Win Morrison Realty, on John Street. “It’s interesting that Kingston was being compared to bigger cities such as Minneapolis and Tucson. I live in Kingston and I love it.” The other cities cited by Corcoran were Portland, Maine; Topeka, Kansas; Miami; South Bend, Indiana; Akron, Ohio; and Trenton, New Jersey.
Local realtors confirmed that business is brisk for lower priced houses in the city, particularly among first-time home buyers. (A federal tax credit that was increased and extended to April was a factor in spurring this market.) In fact, the market has improved, with 148 houses sold in 2009 compared to 114 in 2008, according to statistics provided by Patty Conti, broker/owner at Patty Conti Realtor Group, located on Main Street. Almost all of those properties were priced under $300,000. In Kingston “you get more house and have all the conveniences, and you’re in the middle of the country,” said Conti.
Another strong market is second-home buyers from the metropolitan New York City area, said realtors. Mary Ann Miller, an agent at Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty, located on Fair Street, estimated that secondary home buyers make up 25 percent of the market. “They like Kingston because it’s central. It’s a few miles to Woodstock and to the train station across the river.” Plus, “we have Uptown buying and a downtown waterfront. It’s close to the Thruway and there’s a bus route.”
Although Miller said she’s had to work harder because of the downturn, “it’s been an excellent year. Kingston has such a large variety of houses to choose from, and the prices were great.”
Buyers from New York “love Kingston,” confirmed Schneller. “They love the architecture on Henry Street. The price range is good, and we have houses here that don’t exist in other parts of our area. We have Victorian-era homes with a lot of style and features you couldn’t build today for double the money.”
Other benefits cited by Nona McKeever, a broker in Paula J. Kitchen Real Estate, located on Ulster Avenue, were Kingston’s proximity to New York City, Albany and Stewart Airport. In addition, “we have good schools, good people and a low crime rate comparably.”
Maureen Finch, part owner of John Finch Realty, located on Wrentham Street, near the Armory, said other draws are “lots of opportunities for recreation. The river is close and the ski centers are close. It’s affordable here. It’s a very artsy community, and the health care is improving, with the two hospitals merging.”
McKeever said right now there are five houses priced around $100,000 that she “could sell tomorrow.” She noted that getting a mortgage from the local banks “is no problem if you fit the criteria. The banks here have been extremely smart. They have an extremely low foreclosure rate.”
“It’s the old way of doing business. You have to have money and income, and your debt ratios have to line up,” said Schneller.
Though Kingston has been impacted by job losses and price reductions, “we never felt it as much as other places because we didn’t overbuild,” said Conti. Conti is among those realtors who have an office in Uptown and love it. “It’s easy for everyone to get to, and afterwards you can get lunch or a cup of coffee,” she said. The location also allows for occasional walk-ins.
Ironically, the sample listing for Kingston that appeared on MSNBC–a raised ranch–wasn’t typical of the city’s housing stock, and it was actually located in Lake Katrine. Realtors also took issue with Corcoran’s assertion that Kingston’s strong job market and “relatively low” 7 percent unemployment rate made it an attractive place to buy.
The lack of good jobs is precisely the problem, said Schneller. “If we had the jobs the housing market would be fine. TSEC [The Solar Energy Consortium”] is working diligently to attract businesses to the area, the Ulster Chamber of Commerce is doing a great job to attract business, and companies are taking an interest in the mid Hudson area. But 7 percent unemployment is still pretty horrific. Another bigger factor is under employment–very qualified people who are doing menial jobs.”
Other worrisome factor is the escalating taxes. While high property taxes aren’t yet a deterrent for buyers, realtors said they could become a problem if they keep going up. “If the taxes get higher, people will leave,” said Conti.
What’s needed is growth of the commercial tax base, said Schneller. “If we had more business, then the burden would be spread out. We need to build the commercial businesses more and maybe tax not-for-profits out there.”