After a dreary couple of years, the North Fork real estate market is showing definite signs of life, according to local realtors. So, is now a good time to sell or to buy?
Sheri Winter Clarry, senior vice president with The Corcoran Group’s Southold office, believes both to be true.
“People are feeling more confident,” she said. “I’m noticing waterfront property is going and anything else that’s well-priced is going. And there’s quite a bit of interest in investment property. Sellers do need to be realistic about pricing, though, to attract buyers. On the other side, it’s a great time to buy, before mortgage rates start to rise.”
John Nickles of Lewis & Nickles agrees. “2010 was up on 2009, although things tailed off a bit in the last quarter. I think people are feeling optimistic, perhaps for the first time since the bubble burst in 2008.”
Mr. Nickles, too, thinks sellers have to be realistic about pricing. “It’s going to be tough to get over $600,000 if it’s not waterfront property. Correct pricing is essential. If it’s priced correctly, a property will move in 140 days,” he said.
Overall, although prices have softened considerably over the past couple of years, Mr. Nickles says our area did not suffer anywhere near as much as some other parts of the country. “We’re still basically a resort community first, a retirement area second and a year-round primary residence area third. We didn’t get hammered, because the area is fairly stable and there was no extensive development. In addition, you didn’t see many subprime loans out here, so there are not many foreclosures — something that depresses a local market.”
Tom Uhlinger of Prudential Douglas Elliman in Mattituck confirms the uptick in sales activity, “particularly at the high end and on bayfront property. There was also quite a lot of movement on properties priced in the high $300,000 range downwards when the $8,000 tax credit was available.
There’s a $2 million property in contract right now in Cutchogue.”
Mr. Uhlinger observes that all real estate is local and the North Fork scores high because it’s a destination that has a lot of understated wealth. There are other reasons why our area has the potential to slowly build momentum, notes Mr. Uhlinger. “Spec building evaporated and it’s now virtually impossible to get a subdivision approved. People did hold off on buying for a while and the banks and the mortgage process have slowed things down. Another problem is getting homeowners’ insurance. But I’m an optimist. The North Fork has room to improve and it’s still undervalued, in my opinion.”
Erica McKenzie of Andrew Stype Realty in Mattituck is also optimistic. She believes it will be a very busy spring and that prices will correct upward or stabilize at the very least. But Ms. McKenzie cautions that sellers must be smart when pricing their properties. “There are a lot of buyers out there and they’re looking for deals. They go to the Multiple Listing Service and look at recent sales, so they know how much to offer,” she said.
John Bagshaw of Coldwell Banker Bagshaw Realty in Riverhead has noticed an increase in activity over the last couple of months. “Mind you, the weather hasn’t helped, but even so, more and more deals are closing. I think we have turned the corner and prices are starting to stabilize, particularly for unique and waterfront properties. With inland houses you still have to be aggressive in your pricing strategy.”
Mr. Bagshaw also observed that inventory is starting to dwindle “even though there are a few foreclosures and short sales out there. Three-bedroom, $300,000 houses are competing against bank-owned properties; but overall the trend is toward slow improvement.”
Century 21’s Tom Scalia is seeing “a tremendous amount of activity in both sales and rentals.” As far as sales are concerned, Mr. Scalia observes that until recently the low- and high-end properties were the ones that were moving. “Now it’s evening out and we’ve had a lot of sales inquiries for all price points from about Thanksgiving onward.”
Marie Beninati with Beninati Associates in Southold thinks that 2009 represented the bottom of the market and that 2010 turned out to be a pretty good year. “Suffolk Research Services, which monitors the real estate market, did show an improvement in the five towns in terms of an uptick in dollar sales even though there was no increase in the median price.”
Ms. Beninati feels sellers are beginning to be more confident in the value of their homes. Buyers are also coming out. “We’ve had people coming out in the snow to look at properties. I think that bodes well for spring.”
Ms. Beninati attributes the recovery in part to the fact that the North Fork is a second-home market “and we didn’t have a lot of highly leveraged property out here that you’ve seen on the South Fork.”
If sales are improving, how about the summer rental market?
Mr. Uhlinger says the summer rental market has been great so far. “Even $40,000 seasonal rentals are generating interest,” he said.
“Rentals are much busier,” observed Ms. Clarry, and Ms. McKenzie has also noticed a lot of early inquiries for summer rentals “in spite of the terrible weather. We’re feeling upbeat.” Mr. Scalia confirmed that his office has also received a lot of early inquiries for summer rentals.
Mr. Nickles feels it’s a little early to get a real feel for how rentals will go this year. “People rent when they’re not sure about buying,” he said. “On the other hand, a summer renter may well return as a potential purchaser.”