The Catskills Are Calling (Again). Get a local guide.

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No, that picture isn’t “doctored.” That’s what it looks like in upstate New York, and that’s the view a very lucky couple just bought.

They’re part of a movement, a wave of downstaters looking to buy a country home in the new reality of masks, disinfectant, and social distancing.

This happened before, after the attacks in New York City on 9-11. This time, the threat is a virus, and this time, it seems like the Internet is making people reconsider the allure of the metropolitan life.  A little space, a little privacy, a small town, are looking good to folks who once thought country life was far too sleepy to enjoy for more than a few summer weekends. And if they can work from home, why not?

Is it cheaper to buy upstate? Of course it is. But do not be fooled into thinking it’s cheap. Prices have been slowly rising and now that the demand outstrips the supply of available properties, there are bidding wars.  The days of livable fixer uppers below $50K are gone, at least within three hours of the city. But for $150K to $300K you can buy something pretty terrific, and still have high speed Internet.

That’s the other thing that’s changed – Internet has reached many areas that once only got dish service. Spectrum offers broadband in many rural areas in Delaware and Otsego County, and smaller companies like Delhi Telephone, Margaretville Telephone and OEConnect are running fiber optic lines. They may not be cheap, but they’re fast and they’re local.

If you’re considering a move upstate, please also consider this advice: get a buyer’s agent.

It doesn’t cost you anything. Upstate, unless you sign an exclusive buyer’s agent agreement (and most people don’t), the seller of the property you buy pays your agent at closing. But does it add value for you? Yes.

You get a local expert. Not a friend who just moved to the area, but someone who can tell you about communities and services, and even the arts and culture in a region. You get an advocate — someone who will give you frank feedback about properties that interest you, who understands what you are looking for and will guide you toward the properties that best fit your picture of the perfect place.

You’ll have someone who will offer you list of local service providers, from lawyers to inspectors, as well as plumbers, contractors, etc.

And you’ll get a savvy negotiator who will work to get you the right place at the right price.

I work for sellers, and I work for buyers. And I’ve worked for both — that’s called dual agency and it can work beautifully. But if you’re looking at multiple properties, you need an agent.

It’ll save you headaches, anxiety, and money. And it won’t cost you a dime.

Real Estate In a Time of Pandemic

New York became the epicenter of a global pandemic, and real estate in New York came to a screaming halt. Briefly.

Realtors were told to stay home. To avoid in-person contact. Even forbidden to solicit new business.

Strictly speaking for only myself, it was okay. I felt safer that way.

And then the Empire State Development Corporation, the state’s “let’s grow” division, notified us that real estate was an “essential” business, and we should get back to work.

But, they amended, we should stay home. And we shouldn’t do any showings.

Excuse me? That’s got a lot of us banging our heads on our desks.

I don’t know how this will work out yet. None of us do. But there have been a lot of questions, a lot of angry emails (some of them came from me) and a lot of differences of opinion.

Here’s what I know: my sellers aren’t keen to show their homes if they live in them. In fact, they will not do it. Yes, we have virtual tours. It’s not the same and we all know it.

Yes, there are a few rare buyers willing to buy a property they haven’t seen. There are inspectors still willing to inspection, appraisers still appraising. Banks are apparently still approving mortgages and lawyers are working, but everything is on a virus-aware timeline.

There are new clients asking me to list their homes. If the house is empty, I can see a way to do it without compromising my health, their health, or the health of our families. If the house is occupied, I honestly can’t.

I’m disappointed that the state (yes, Andrew Cuomo, I mean you) somehow was too blind to understand that real estate simply cannot function in isolation.

I have no income from real estate and I don’t anticipate any anytime soon. That hurts. But I, personally, think being dead or making people I live with sick would be a lot worse.

We will get through this, most of us. Business will resume. But let’s do it safely. Let’s be smart.

Greed never makes wise decisions, nor does desperation.

My clients would rather wait and be safe. My clients are very, very smart.