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


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.

Buying and Selling, a Virus, and You.

person holding thermometer

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on

It’s rural here in the Catskills. Really rural. That’s great when there’s a global pandemic. And it’s not great at all.

I’m in Delaware County, New York. We’ve got a lot of open land. And not so many people. I consider it nothing short of heaven, and so do a lot of people who visit here from urban areas. In scary times, it looks even more attractive. And safe.

But there’s a downside.

This county doesn’t have a hospital that can handle ICU cases. We have a screaming shortage of health care professionals. We have a pretty high population of older folks.

That’s all a bit worrisome.

The county government has put out a press release asking our weekenders and visitors to think twice before coming to the country. There’s a concern they’ll bring the virus with them. There’s a concern they’ll be less vigilant once they’re in the country, and there’s a huge concern that they’ll be an added strain on an already critical health care system.

I see both sides. I imagine if you’re in the city and your thinking now’s the time to get out of the city, you don’t want to hear that you should stay home. Particularly if you own a home here.

Then there’s the question of whether you can act on your desire to buy a home somewhere outside the city now. That’s where I enter the picture.

I want you to know how I am trying to walk that tightrope between helping my clients buy and sell properties, and taking stupid risks that might impact me, my clients, and my neighbors.

First, if you’re a buyer and want to see a house, this is the time the video tour is going to absolutely shine. You’ll see enough to know if you want to see more. And use Google Earth to view the neighborhood. Even if you can only do a satellite view, you’ll learn a lot. Weed out the maybe’s from the no-way’s before you ask for an appointment.

I’ll do as much as I can via video and phone. All realtors are trying to limit personal interactions as much as possible.

I’m doing listing appointments virtually. No need for me to haul whatever germs I may have into someone’s home to discuss listing their home. I can talk with them, answer questions, and hopefully convince them I’m going to work my butt off for them without shaking their hands or even walking through the door. My hope is they’ll appreciate that I’m putting their health first.

I’m giving my seller clients the option of showing or not. If they have reasons to be particularly vigilant, whatever they are, I respect that. I hope you do, too.

If we set up a showing, I’m going to ask prospective buyers to be considerate. I’m not showing if they appear sick. I’m not showing if I’m sick. And I’m not showing if sellers seem sick. That may mean a last minute change in plans. That’s just how it is right now.

I’ll be wiping down doorknobs and asking everyone to cover their shoes. It may seem like overkill, but better that than making anyone sick.

Realtors are being asked to limit interactions by lawyers, so I’m not going to closings. I’m limiting my presence at inspections, too, much as I’d like to be there. It’s not worth the risk.

Risk vs. Reward. Think about it. We’ll be here when this is over. There will be a place for you and a buyer for your home. Give it just a little time, let’s get everything under control, and then get in touch.



Five Tips To Sell Your House This Year


I’m thinking spring. No matter that today, on a late January morning, we’re having an ice storm. It will melt.

It’s time to get ready for the spring real estate rush.

Upstate New York real estate has always slowed down, at least a little, in the winter months. Sellers want to concentrate on holidays, and they’re not keen on strangers tramping through their homes with their slushy boots.  Buyers back off, too – unless you’ve got a specific reason that you must move and fast, it’s a lot more pleasant to look at houses when the mercury holds steady above forty degrees.

The red hot mid-Hudson Valley is the current exception to that rule. The area with Kingston at its epicenter has always drawn downstate buyers, but that market now resembles a feeding frenzy. Multiple offers are the norm. Buyers find themselves shut out of two or three homes before they finally win the bidding war.

Further to the west, Delaware County and Otsego County have been seeing an increase in activity as well. I sold two large properties just days before Christmas this year. And prices are going up.

So if you’re a potential seller, here are five tips to make the most of the spring market.

photo of an abandoned workspace

Photo by Sander on

1. Spruce up before you list.  You can add thousands in value and cut your marketing time in half.

Take advantage of the indoor weather to take a critical look at your house. What can you de-clutter? Be ruthless. Box up those beloved dust catchers. They’ll look great in your new house. Where could paint be freshened up? Are the rugs worn or dirty? Either clean them, or, if you have hardwood underneath, pull them up and clean the floors. There are a million how-to videos on home staging online. Watch a couple and try it.

Outside, make sure to optimize your home’s curb appeal as soon as the weather permits. Rake up the winter mess. Touch up outside paint and repair any damage. Power washing can do wonders for any home. Trim overgrown bushes. If you’re not a gardener, place some strategic potted and hanging plants, or plant some annuals.

Not sure what your home needs? Call in a professional. Any realtor worth his or her salt can give you free tips and point you in the right direction. Sellers willing to do what it takes to prepare a home for marketing are a realtor’s dream.

2.  Don’t wait for summer.

Buyers look all year long. They may get more active in March, but they’re already shopping online in January. They want to be in their new home by summer. If they have children, they’re usually hoping to move before a new school year begins. It takes time to find the right place, so they start early. Make sure your home is one they see before the late spring listing rush begins.

3. Hire a realtor.

Yes, I’m a realtor. Of course I’m biased. But I’m a realtor BECAUSE I know how essential this job is to help people buy or sell a home. What can a realtor do for you that you can’t do for yourself?  Everything.

A full time realtor is just that – a professional whose job is selling your home. We have the systems in place, the experience, the knowledge, and the time to do everything necessary to market and sell a home in today’s marketplace.

We know the community, we know what’s selling and not, and why. We have a long contact list of clients, former clients, and other agents. They will help spread the word about your house.

We understand the process of buying and selling homes, we can handle the paperwork, answer your questions, and save you hours of frustration.

We know how to negotiate. And good negotiations are essential for a good sale experience.

You want to sell it yourself? Prepare for hours online inputting data, researching websites to see if they’re worth the money they’ll charge you. You’ll pay for professional photographs or you’ll be investing in a good camera and learning how to use it to attract buyers. You’d better be a good writer, too, because your marketing information is part of what draws buyers to your listing. And if you get defensive when people are critical of your home, you’re going to hate being a For Sale By Owner. Buyers are always critical. It’s how they negotiate.

For a percentage of the sale price, you can have a professional guide you through the process and do all the work. Plus, because you’re the client, you can (and should) be clear about what you expect and be sure you get the service you were promised. If that’s not incentive enough, remember this: your realtor doesn’t make a dime unless it sells. That seems like a deal you shouldn’t refuse. Hire a good realtor.

4. Keep it tidy.

round robot vacuum

Photo by Jens Mahnke on

Your house is for sale. It looks amazing. Your realtor tells you you’ll get 24 hours’ notice before a showing. Nobody tells you the ongoing struggle to keep your house showing-ready once it’s on the market. I’ll be frank – it’s a pain in the neck. But it’s completely worth it.  Live like you’re visiting a cranky relative – keep it neat. And when there’s a showing, get the animals out of the house if you can. Some folks are allergic. Some don’t like cats, dogs, whatever. And even if they’re animal lovers, you’re trying to sell your house, not Fido. Keep the focus on the house.

5. Keep an open mind.

businesswomen businesswoman interview meeting

Photo by Tim Gouw on

There’s a fair chance you’ll get an offer that you think is too low. Don’t let it bother you. That’s today’s real estate market. Buyers want a bargain. But if they want your house, and only your house, that first offer is just an opening bid. Here’s where your realtor proves why you were smart to hire one. A good realtor will work to get those buyers to a number that works for everyone. A good realtor will explain to you what benefits an offer might have (a slightly lower cash offer can be much more attractive than a higher offer with a lot of contingencies and some tricky financing) and help you understand where there may be room for movement and where everyone is standing firm. A good realtor has been through this before. A lot. And the voice of experience is a real comfort in the heat of negotiations.

A final word on the entire process of buying and selling a house. Be realistic. It’s exciting, it can be fun, but it’s also stressful. Be ready for that. But use those five tips and you’ll cut down on the stress, and be well on your way to your next chapter.

Good luck!





Holidays in the Hills



Everything is ever-so-slightly different in Delaware County. We moved here a year and a half ago from Ulster County – Woodstock and Kingston – a bit closer to the Hudson River. Now we’re in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. Summers are a little cooler. The wind blows pretty much constantly through the maples in front of our old house all year long. Winter starts in November, maybe even sooner. And the farther you travel into the fifth-largest, and very sparsely populated county in the western Catskills, and the greater the sense of entering another world.

This will be our second winter and second holiday season in Franklin. Last year we learned that summer is all about socializing. Winter, however, is treated as a serious opportunity to hunker down and get creative work done. It’s a rhythm, kind of reminiscent of farm life, which is still hanging on by its fingernails here. People have to make a real effort to occasionally connect with the community. And they do. Business may go on as usual in nearby Oneonta or Delhi, but in the hill towns, things get very quiet when the thermostat stays below freezing.

This postcard existence presented me with some unforeseen realities. My visions of a big, bumptious crowd of family converging on our farmhouse have proven to be unrealistic, at least for now. Babies and puppies don’t travel easily, so we’ll be traveling to visit the people (and dogs) we love.

Franklin isn’t a wild town. This year finally saw the passage of a referendum to reverse the town’s 1899 ban on the sale of alcohol in restaurants. So it’s not surprising that we don’t have anything as wild and wooly as Woodstock’s annual celebration of Santa’s arrival. But Oneonta has a parade with Santa in November which I haven’t yet experienced. Santa then takes residence in a little cottage on Main Street for several weekends before Christmas. I can’t imagine what kind of trouble the elves get into while he’s sitting around in Oneonta.

There’s a parade with Santa in Cooperstown, too. If there is a more Christmas-y looking village than Cooperstown, I honestly don’t know where it is.

I hear the town of Skaneateles, which isn’t nearly as far from us as it once was, transforms into a Dickens village for the holidays. We may go see this year.

But we don’t usually go where the big crowds are. We moved to northern Delaware County specifically because I was longing for a smaller, quieter world. I look for the understated celebrations.

Last year we spent an unforgettable evening at the Farmers Museum.

If you have never been there, you have missed something. People in period garb mingle with visitors in an 1850’s village created by a collection of historical buildings from around the region, some from as far away as Greene County. There’s an inn, a mercantile, a blacksmith shop, a pharmacy, print shop, a schoolhouse, a carousel. There are houses ranging from grand to humble. And there are animals. For one night in winter, it is illuminated.

I’ve always wanted to go and it did not disappoint. The historical buildings were lit by hundreds of electric candles, and the paths were lined with candles, too. There was mulled cider in iron kettles over roaring bonfires, carols sung both outside and in the old church. And then, right as if on cue, big, fluffy, Hollywood-style snowflakes fell softly over the entire thing. It was magic. I think we have to do it again.

Sharon Springs, in not-too-far Schoharie County, has a holiday tradition that I’ve wanted to get to. Maybe this is the year. This is a participatory celebration, with folks showing up in Victorian garb. The village mayor, a born actor, used to read a poem called “The Christmas Chicken.” I hope he still does it. The local celebrities, the owners of the Beekman 1802 lifestyle brand, market the whole event like Victorian holidays have never been marketed before.

But we don’t really have to travel to get in the holiday spirit.

On December 7th, Franklin hosted its 18th annual Christmas Stroll and Holiday Market. It started at nine and ended at seven at night. The library had a story hour for children plus a book sale, the firehouse was full to bursting with various vendors, and the local shops opened their doors for the event. There was music, bazaars and food at the local churches and even the local auto body shop had a Kid’s Crafts Extravaganza.

This year, the self-guided tour of decorated homes was back, with one family displaying their extensive collection of Victorian decorations. There are some lovely old homes in Franklin.

My favorite part of the Franklin holiday celebrations, besides the library book sale, is the display of Christmas trees at the Railroad and Community Museum. The museum is a quietly remarkable thing all year long. Inside, there is a huge collection of memorabilia about our small town.

I’ve gone there to research the history of my house, and also to try to find out more about a wind storm in the 19th century that reputedly ended the town’s then-dominant industry, sheep farming. That must have been some wind storm. I picture sheep flying through the air and landing in a neighboring community, where they lived happily ever after.

The pride of the museum is an opulent, semi-restored Victorian honeymoon rail car. It’s a work in progress, as the patron who donated it died and the funds to complete it are still being raised. It may, in fact, be more charming because it’s not perfectly restored.


A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, my neighbor, Sue, creates remarkable displays of themed trees. Sue waves me away when I rave about her decorations, but I’ve seriously never seen anything like them. Last year among the trees was one decorated with books. Real books. It was lovely.

Each tree has a theme. I think there are other town residents who design the trees as well. They were all much better than anything I can create. But Sue’s stood out. Every tree that struck me as particularly unique turned out to be one of hers.

There is something about this town that has resonated with me in a way that nowhere else I’ve lived has done. I think it’s about scale. I feel embedded already. Our mayor, Tom, will be holding a holiday open house at his home. We got an invitation. During the holiday festival, Sidney the shop dog will be greeting everyone outside the antique shop where he works, while Neal, the man he owns, will probably sit inside and try to stay warm. The Franklin Garden Club’s barrels are already full of pine boughs and red branches, and I know that Diana, the artist who started the garden club, has checked to make sure everything looks just so. The Rotary Club, a lovely bunch of folks who meet once a month, share dinner and sing “God Bless America,” will have set up the annual display of Christmas trees on Main Street. Shana and Willem, the young couple who bought the huge house next to the park, will be out in the thick of things, where their little girl always wants to be. They’ll probably be caroling in the park, which their daughter has claimed as her own because it’s next door to their house.

The Franklin Farmer’s Market crowd, the folks from the newspaper, the Chamber, the artist group that meets for lunch every Tuesday, I’ll probably see them all. The other new people, the ones who opened the upscale antique, décor and bespoke fashion stores, will thrown open their doors. If we’re lucky, the owner of our new cafe will have the coffee pot on.

I am different here. Better. More relaxed, more confident. More open-minded.

This is a town that’s traditionally Republican. Most newcomers aren’t. And yet somehow, despite the hysterics I occasionally (often?) join in on on social media, I find that most local Republicans/Trump supporters here are nice people. Not just kind of nice. Really nice.

It’s mind-bending. Don’t tell me I’m deluded. I’m not. I don’t pretend to be okay with their political views. We disagree, very strongly. But we are neighbors first.

It feels like growth. And hope.

Franklin and I seem to fit. There are big personalities but they don’t seem overwhelming. There are quieter, more intense personalities, and space is made for them. Most of the people here seem to welcome newcomers who want to join in. There is diversity of race, religion, sexual orientation. Franklin is like the spaghetti sauce I was taught to make years ago; a little extra something is always fine – toss it in the pot. It’ll taste even better.

We’ve lived here a short time and we know enough people that it seems like a very good idea to throw a holiday open house this year and invite all the people we like. It’s going to be a crowd.

If it sounds like something out of It’s A Wonderful Life, that is because it is. It’s Bedford Falls on a very small scale, without, it seems, Mr. Potter.

And what could be more in the spirit of the holidays than that?

(first published in the Kingston and Woodstock Times/HudsonValleyOne)

Seasonal Affect


That’s it. Fall is here. Mrs. Violet Wiggins, anxious but loyal doggy companion, accompanied me on a walk to town on a gray, not-too-cold day and there is no denying it.

There were a handful of deep red Empire apples left on a tree in the yard of a home that will have a new owner by this weekend. No leaves, just apples. Other apple trees, wilder, less tended ones, are nothing but bare branches now.

We live on a hilltop town in the western Catskills. Winter is no joke here.  The wind is a near-constant presence. This is a town where, according to a history book I just read, the town’s entire industry of nationally-renowned long-hair sheep was wiped out in a vicious wind storm sometime in the last century. I cannot even imagine. But the locals switched to cows after that. Presumably they’re a bit more likely to stay on the ground in a heavy gale.

Yes, reader, I do want to know more.

Last year, even the locals were stunned when we had a twenty degree below zero night in November. The forecast for next week actually includes snow.

Mountain farming people are a self-sufficient bunch, but they also clearly know the value of social connections. When winter comes, the Farmer’s Market is over. But the artists meet every week at the local restaurant. The market crowd meets there once a week, too. There are social organizations, community organizations. Even the garden club meets all year. Winter meetings are about seeing friends and dreaming of flowers in the spring.

It’s also smart to have winter projects; things you enjoy that keep you occupied when the weather is so fierce that going outdoors unnecessarily is just plain stupid.

This year I’m going to find out about my house.

It’s a puzzle, this place, an architectural puzzle and an historical one. It’s known in town by the name of the people who most recently lived here longest – the Hillises. The people who bought it from them are already forgotten, it seems. They were only here five years.

But I want to know about Ernest and Flora Hunt. According to my deed, this was their home from the 1920s to the 1960s. My neighbor remembers Mr. Hunt as a gentleman farmer, someone with a small place, a few cows.

“He was a nice fellow,” he recalled. “Always there to help when his neighbors needed a hand.”

From what little history I’ve found so far, Mr. Hunt was a photographer. He owned a studio in a town that is about 30 miles away. That is quite far for those days. I wonder if it was the same person, or perhaps father and son.

I’d like to see pictures of the Hunts, and if I can find pictures of this house it would be amazing. The Hillis family modernized it and removed all the original woodwork and details. I’m sure it seemed like a wonderful thing at the time.

I’m hoping, in time, to restore this old farmhouse to the one Ernest and Flora would recognize. Until we’ve been here long enough to be remembered as the people who belong here, I think, for me, this is Flora’s house – the old Hunt place.