Ten years ago, when Main Street planned its first issue, we realized that readers wanted news about real estate activity, which was still suffering from the Great Recession of 2008. Initially our editorial focus was very specific, and monthly articles tracked the characteristics, performance, and trends in specific towns and villages in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Over time, coverage was broadened to include issues related to all things real estate including conservation easements, staging, and even septic systems. On this anniversary, at another time of economic uncertainty, we look at what has happened in three of the first real estate markets Main Street analyzed – Salisbury, a town in Litchfield County, CT, Millbrook, a village in Duchess County, NY, and Ancram, a rural town in Columbia County, NY.
Remember ten years ago?
Can you remember economic conditions ten years ago compared to today? In the somber days of 2013, there were still foreclosure bargains, and real estate prices remained well below the levels of the housing bubble, by some calculations 30% or more. Houses usually sold below their listing prices, and there were no bidding wars. It took a long time to sell any house.
Realtors wondered why the millennial generation was not investing in houses. Thirty-year fixed mortgage interest rates were 3.7% versus 6.44% today. Ten years ago, unemployment stood at 7.7%, and today it’s the lowest in memory at 3.4%. A gallon of gas cost $3.49 not so different from today’s price at the pump.
Nationally, housing prices were 32.3% higher in 2022 than in 2013 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The widely followed University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment poll, which is viewed as a leading indicator, declined to 59.7 in January 2023 compared to 72.9 in 2013. In 2013, the economy was slowly climbing out of a devastating recession, while today we may be on the verge of another economic turn down.
Home prices doubled in Salisbury in ten years
In 2013, the Town of Salisbury was the very first real estate market we covered. One house buyer recently described Salisbury as “perpetually overpriced.” It was true ten years ago and remains true today. The median price of a Salisbury single-family home rose from $348,000 in January 2013 to $805,000 in January 2023. This elevated level is above the highest median price in the last twenty years of $739,000 in 2007. Salisbury’s already high prices were boosted further by COVID demand and low interest rates and today are above the level of the previous boom years.
A home on Millerton Road between Lakeville and Millerton is a perfect example of the market dynamics over the last decade. In 2007 it was listed at $2,200,000 and eventually sold after multiple price decreases for $1,100,000 in 2009. It was for sale again in 2012 for $1,595,000 and sold for $1,117,500 in 2013. In October of 2022 it was listed and sold by Elyse Harney Real Estate for $2,443,000. “The buyers were thrilled with the newly renovated home with a pool,” said Elyse Harney Morris, who listed and sold the house. “There were multiple bids for the property. It’s amazing how the market reacted to the move-in condition home with character in Salisbury!”
Salisbury’s only condo community, the much in demand Lion’s Head, showed a similar increase in values. In June of 2013 a unit sold for $285,000, while in August 2022 a unit of the same size closed at the listing price of $585,000.
Everyone following real estate markets has heard about low inventory, and Salisbury is a shocking example. In January 2013 there were 71 homes for sale, and today there are only 26 single-family residences listed for sale. Condo availability has shrunk from seven listed in February 2013 to zero since July of 2022.
It took only 51 days for owners to close on the sale of their property in 2022 compared to 134 in 2013. Not surprisingly, in 2013 houses closed for 90% of asking price while today the discount averages a minimal 2% with most homes going for ask or above.
Where is the Salisbury market going?
Sellers in the northwest corner typically list their homes for sale in March and April, expecting to close before the end of summer if all goes well. Realtors report that current demand remains strong locally, although many buyers are just sitting on the sidelines waiting for warmer weather and less uncertainty. Sales are hampered by low inventory, poor selection, high interest rates, mispriced properties, and lack of buyer urgency.
Despite continued high infection rates, COVID buying has slowed and some realtors are even seeing Covid remorse as some early buyers regret their move to the country and consider selling. Nationally, interest rates, at least as this article is written in early February, appear stable around 6.5%, and hybrid working seems here to stay. With excellent public schools, private schools at half the price of New York City’s, no crime, a two-hour commute to New York, year-round recreational and cultural activities, and one of the lowest property tax rates in Connecticut, Salisbury will remain desirable, if not affordable.
Millbrook, NY, on the upswing
New York state has villages, which are separate municipalities within a surrounding town. In Dutchess County there are still eight independent villages. Millbrook, with its own mayor and tax base, is a village surrounded by the affluent Town of Washington. Most villages’ property parcels tend to be small, usually less than an acre, and the housing stock is older. Millbrook is an exception. Within its almost two square miles it includes mansions on larger pieces of land and a large number of condos.
Millbrook has benefited from old money since it was incorporated in 1895 by wealthy Gilded Age families with estates surrounding the hamlet. Today a major upgrade is underway with the creation of the Thorne Building Community Center. Originally built by the Thorne family as a public school, the elegant Beaux Arts structure has been vacant and in limbo for decades but is now undergoing renovation. When completed it will offer a state-of-the-art performance space, technology and co-working resources for entrepreneurs, an art gallery, instructional culinary space, and meeting rooms. Nearby, the abandoned and decaying Bennett College buildings were demolished in late 2021 and will make way for a 32-acre community park.
Sales down, prices way UP
The COVID real estate boom allowed owners of estates within the confines of the village to take advantage of the strong market to list and sell their properties. Unit sales in Millbrook actually declined in 2022 to only 13 compared to 28 in 2013, but the median price of a single-family village home jumped over a 100% to $558,000 in 2022 from $265,000 in 2013.
In 2013, the highest sale of a single-family village home was $600,000, and in 2022 there were at least three village sales above a million dollars as large homes with acreage at the edges of the village were listed and quickly sold. 17 Exmoore Lane, an imposing 7,700 square foot house on 1.37 acres, is an excellent example of the ups and downs of the village market in the last ten years. It was first sold in February of 2007 for $1,050,000 and then at $600,000 when it was the highest sale in 2013. In February of 2022 it sold for $1,250,000.
When Main Street interviewed realtors in May of 2013, real estate prices were about one third of the 2007 levels. At the time, Homer Guernsey of Guernsey Real Estate, now Compass, said that owners of properties over $400,000 who would like to sell were, “Just waiting for encouraging news.” They just had to wait for a worldwide pandemic.
Today you can count the residential properties listed for sale in Millbrook on one hand. There are only five houses listed at the moment and two are pending or contingent. The least expensive is on Haight Avenue at $550,000, and the highest priced is the just-listed 3440 Route 44 at $1,450,000 on six acres. In our 2013 article, there were ten condos and nine residences with a list value of $6.4 million for sale in the village. Today there are no condos available, and the list price of the three homes available for sale is $3 million.
Interestingly, it is not millennial buyers from Brooklyn that are driving the Millbrook village market. Of 183 sales over ten years, only 13 buyers listed a borough of New York City as their address, and only four of these sales were over $500,000. 88% of purchasers were from Dutchess County.
Ancram is the new hot spot
The town of Ancram and the hamlet of Ancramdale in Columbia County used to be considered beyond the range of second homebuyers, just a little farther from New York than Dutchess or Litchfield County. In the last ten years that has changed, and this agricultural town exploded in 2020 as buyers became attracted to its rural beauty, comparatively lower prices, and promise never to change.
Only 13 single-family residences were sold in Ancram in 2013 with a median price of $307,500. Until 2020 even on increasing volumes of sales median prices of single-family homes hovered between $200,000 and $300,000. By 2020 prices jumped to $374,000, and last year’s median was $415,000. Only one single-family residence sold for over a million dollars in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019, but six did in 2020 and seven did last year.
Unlike those in the Village of Millbrook, these buyers were not local. In 2013 seven of the 11 buyers listed their home address in New York City. Of the 37 buyers in 2020, 23 were not from Dutchess or Columbia County and included buyers from Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia as well as New Yorkers.
At the moment, unlike Salisbury or Millbrook, which have very few properties for sale, Ancram has 17 active residential listings at all price points – six homes under $400,000 and nine over a million, including the highest asking price of $14,995,000 for an 8,000+ square-foot contemporary home on 227 acres. Owners recognize that’s it’s a great time to sell.
Where are we going?
Whether in Millbrook or Ancram, where they have been does not predict where markets are going. Prices in our region seem to have plateaued, and over-all inventory remains extremely low. Because of COVID, just like after the 9/11 surge, new buyers have discovered our market. Elyse Harney with decades of real estate experience observed, “The prices generated by the COVID panic are here. Every time there has been a big jump in prices, there has followed an adjustment period but always ratcheting up. I have to say I have never seen a market like what we have experienced since March of 2020.The challenge now will be to keep our wonderful area the same.” •
Christine Bates is a registered real estate agent in New York and Connecticut with William Pitt Sotheby’s. She has written about real estate and business since Main Street Magazine’s first issue in 2013.