By Janet Reynolds
At least one sector of the Adirondack Park’s working world has done a bit of a happy dance right through New York’s pandemic downturn: real estate agents.
With plenty of open space, a generally low number of COVID cases and houses that are relatively affordable compared to New York City and other metros, the Adirondacks attracted home buyers in bigger numbers this summer.
The statistics show the upside — and the potential challenges — of this Adirondack real estate boom. Closed sales for the month of August were 14.8% higher than August 2019, according to a report compiled by the New York State Association of Realtors for the Northern Adirondack Board of Realtors, which includes members in the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake areas. In the southern region, extending from the Glens Falls area to southern Essex County, sales were up 6.9% over the same period.
Adirondack real estate boom
Median sales prices rose too, according to the association. In August, the median price increased 40.5% to $214,900 in the northern region. Prices increased 1.9% in the south, to $285,100 year over year.
“It’s insane is the word,” says Margie Philo, broker/owner for Berkshire Hathaway in Lake Placid and Keene Valley. “There are multiple offers coming in on properties. People are buying without even seeing them (in person). We’ve haven’t been this busy in 30 years.”
And that includes, Philo says, a mini-housing boom that occurred after the 2001 terror attacks. “Once 9/11 was over, it didn’t impact the way you have to continue to live,” she says of the current market. “With 9/11 those who lost loved ones’ lives were changed forever. With this, the whole world’s lives have changed.”
Multiple offers, sometimes within days, became the norm this year for many moderately priced homes, says PJ Whitbeck, real estate broker/owner at Coldwell Banker Whitbeck in Plattsburgh. “Certainly anything under $200,000 or $250,000 is getting interest from multiple parties and multiple offers,” he says.
Some of these offers are occurring without the buyer even seeing the house in person. Forget relying on photographs. Everything from FaceTime or Zoom tours to virtual reality technology in which the buyers wear gaming goggles and take a virtual 3D tour of the home is now common. “This would be very rare in the past but we’ve done a few this year,” Whitbeck says, noting that he used virtual technology to sell a house in Plattsburgh to a European family coming to work at a medical center. “They can see the grain of the hardwood floor, the brand of stove — anything they want, he says of the virtual 3D tours.
Shortage of inventory
That housing sales haven’t soared even higher is due to one constant — the lack of houses actually on the market. That chronic issue was exacerbated by the pandemic as owners who might have been considering selling their homes decided to ride out the pandemic in the park. Inventory levels in August 2020 were 44.2 percent lower in the north of the park over last August. In the south the number of houses available for sale shrank 33.7 percent to 1,957 units year over year.
“People who would be moving and retiring are not going right now. They’re not going to Florida, to North Carolina, to Arizona,” says Mike Coughlin, CEO of the Northern Adirondack Board of Realtors. “They’re staying put because they feel safe and secure.
“Others are looking at their home and thinking I can sell today and get more than it’s worth and they’re doing that too, but that’s fewer people.”
“If we had more inventory, we would probably be able to attract more people to the region,” Whitbeck says. “We’re becoming a little handicapped with our inventory. If they’re in a hurry to find something, if they don’t find it here, they will find it somewhere else.”
This general shortage would seem like a builders’ dream. Not so, says Luisa Craige-Sherman, CEO of the Southern Adirondack Association of Realtors. “Everyone is between a rock and a hard place,” she says. “It’s hard to get materials to build.”
Potential for growth
As brokers and eager buyers wait for more housing to open up, others in the region are thinking about their next steps. Getting people interested in becoming homeowners in the park — whether by extending their stays in new second homes or relocating more permanently — is just step one.
“The upside would be that there would be some population growth,” says James McKenna, CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST). “Also, if it helps the diversity of the population, we see a lot of upside.”
While some might worry this Adirondack real estate boom will place a burden on town services, McKenna isn’t among them. “I can’t speak for all Adirondack towns,” he says, “but a lot of them have services not at capacity.” Thanks to a general population decline in recent years, for instance, school districts likely have room for more students.
McKenna thinks housing will open up soon, too. Discussions and some plans are underway for projects that include market-rate housing in Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
“I think there’s a lot of stars in the sky lining up to take advantage of this new interest of some folks to leave metropolitan areas,” McKenna says. “What those numbers end up being, nobody knows yet.”