The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Interest rates, values herald ‘magic moment’ for buyers


By EVE MARX
PHOTO COURTESY COLDWELL BANKER RESIDENTIAL BROKERAGE

The house at 147 Cantitoe St., which recently sold for $7 million, is a portent of strength in what realtors are calling a “magic time” for buyers.

 

Some brokers are saying northern Westchester is having a “magic moment,” which is good news for the area. After an unprecedented five-year slump in home prices and sales, things seem to be perking up this spring.

Sheila R. Gins, a sales associate with the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage office in Katonah, recently sold 147 Cantitoe St. for $7 million. According to the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing Service, the sale was the highest-priced residential property to sell in Katonah since 2007. (A property in Bedford, of which Katonah is one of three hamlets, recently sold for a reported $21 million.)

Ms. Gins, who worked with the buyers for several years, said, “It was time for them to buy, partly because of the market and partly because the house was everything they were looking for and needed.”

Set on 11.5 acres, the elegant Colonial offered approximately 8,700 square feet of living space, with eight bedrooms, eight bathrooms and six fireplaces. The home, which was built in 1903, features exquisite moldings and millwork as well as period details. A highlight of the lush grounds is an apple orchard, and a separate cottage provides additional space for guests or property caretakers.

But, at the end of the day, the sale wouldn’t have gone forward if the buyers hadn’t had confidence in the market. Alfie Rechici, sales manager of the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage office in Katonah, credited Ms. Gins for the sale, but also called it “a sign that confidence in the luxury real estate market has strengthened considerably.”

Magic moments don’t come around often and, when they do, the effects can be dazzling. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that nationally, prices jumped 9.3 percent in the 12 months through February while mortgage interest rates hovered near record lows. Meanwhile, there is also the simple equation of supply and demand. As many realtors can attest, locally, inventory is shrinking, while home prices are still relatively low. Combined with low mortgage interest rates, this creates a magic time to buy.

“We’re in the crosshairs of a very unique buying opportunity,” Ms. Gins said. “And people are recognizing that.”

Ms. Gins said she had been taking her buyers to look at properties for several years, and while they had seen homes they found attractive, they never made an offer until Cantitoe Road. The purchase process took a long time. Although for this transaction she represented the buyers rather than the sellers, she said as an agent she has to represent both. “The buyers are the ones who are pulling the trigger and deciding to buy; the sellers are realizing prices aren’t so bad and are more prepared to put their house on the market,” she said. “Other people have confirmed to me this is a savvy moment to sell and to buy.” She said that in addition to the Cantitoe Road sale, she has other $2 and $3 million dollar deals in progress.

“If we sustain this low inventory, prices will go up,” Ms. Gins said. “And if the government decides to raise interest rates, people will also be stimulated to buy before that happens.”

Christine Foster, an associate broker with Renwick Sotheby’s International Realty, said she also believes real estate is experiencing a surge, but maintained that “cash is still king.”

Ms. Foster said while banks are actually offering mortgages again, the process of securing a loan is still agonizing. “Now with more sales, maybe the appraisals will become a little easier,” she said. “Over the winter there were several cases of appraisals not being on the mark so the sellers would have to renegotiate. The buyers had to come up with more cash or the transaction fell apart. There were a lot of closings at the end of the year because of the change in capital gains. A small, classic older house on Mianus River Road and a gorgeous house on Guard Hill are two that come to mind; one closed in the beginning of December and the other on Dec. 31.”

Both were predicated on the premise that they had to close in 2012,” Ms. Foster added.

There is a perceived notion by some that Katonah, the hamlet with the most sidewalks, stores and services, is more desirable than other hamlets, especially to young families moving up from the city. “Katonah is always appealing,” Ms. Foster said. “After all, it is a destination; you can buy your groceries, get your prescriptions filled, buy that great wine for dinner, find the perfect hostess present, grab a meal or hop on the train for New York. It is like a Norman Rockwell town where everyone is friendly and says hello.”

She said she is finding that houses in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District, however, can be a little more difficult to sell. “It’s because the taxes are that much higher,” Ms. Foster said. “And we are lucky here because we have two great school districts to choose from.”

David Turner, an associate broker with Houlihan Lawrence, agreed that the market is experiencing a mood not seen since 2007-08. “Multiple offers, houses selling in the first weekend on the market and properties now selling that have been listed for years are just a few of the indicators that we are in a much improved selling environment,” Mr. Turner said. 

He attributes this to several factors. “Northern Westchester is now benefiting from the housing recovery that has been happening for a couple of years in New York City and lower Westchester,” Mr. Turner said. “Many of the buyers I am seeing up here are buyers who have now sold their homes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Scarsdale, Rye and Bronxville. In addition, I believe potential buyers are feeling more confident about the economy, their jobs and the housing market.”

This confidence, he said, has had a cascading effect on sales. “Brokers are also now armed with new and improved housing data that they are sharing with their clients. It all feeds into a better market.”

Another positive factor, he said, is that banks are lending. “They are much more conservative compared to the “go, go” days of the early 2000s, but I am seeing more and more loans getting approved,” Mr. Turner said.

How long can this magic moment last? Mr. Turner said only time will tell.

“National housing statistics are much stronger and increasing demand is sure to impact prices,” he said. “It’s clear the pendulum has swung, and if by the ‘moment’ you mean now is the moment to buy at or near the bottom, I think you are correct.”

Judging by the inventory and the unpredictable nature of how long interest rates will be low, he said, “In fact, that moment may have already passed.”


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May 10, 2013

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