Real estate and its steady climb to the top

On heels of national recession, north country home market sees stability, increased strength

Homes such as this one in high-demand areas like Watertown’s Paddock and Ten Eyck streets are selling more quickly than in recent years as the region continues to see sustainable recovery and growth in its real estate sector. Photo by Amanda Morrison/NNY Business

Renewed optimism is percolating in Northern New York’s real estate sector and Realtors are excited.

After more than five years of watching national home sales plummet and U.S. foreclosure rates rocket to historic highs, it has become evident that the north country’s real estate market has some top-notch insulation, especially in Jefferson County where an uptick in the single-family home market is most evident. Realtors throughout the county are noticing, and they’re singing the praises of a steady market with increasing demand for homes in the north country.

“I find the recession interesting because when you see what’s happening around the country, I keeping thinking that we are lucky to be where we are,” Lisa A. L’Huillier, broker-owner of Watertown’s Hefferon Real Estate, said. “In our county, we are not seeing as many foreclosures as other areas, which is positive. The unemployment rate is always steady, and we can attribute a lot of jobs to Fort Drum, the Air Brake, Stream, all of those big businesses that have settled here.”

Ms. L’Huillier, who has been a Realtor in Northern New York for 22 years, said that in other markets, big industries such as New York Air Brake, are what people depend on to drive business. Without those industries, stores wouldn’t be opening and homes wouldn’t be selling.

Much of the protection for the Jefferson County market stems from Fort Drum, according to Ms. L’Huiller; although, she’s not alone in that thinking.

“Fort Drum is obviously the biggest factor,” said Christopher Palmer, broker-owner of Brite Orange Realty in Evans Mills. “The numbers that I have heard, we have 350 people a month moving with Fort Drum, and about 25 percent of them buy homes. For a little area like Jefferson County, that’s a lot of transactions each month. That’s really good for us.”

Fort Drum’s impact on the market is two-fold, Ms. L’Huillier said. Not only are Army soldiers and their families purchasing and moving into homes, but they are driving the need for rental housing, and thus rental prices, higher.

“People, both local people and the military, are finding that a mortgage payment can be less than rent,” Ms. L’Huillier said. “We are still getting a lot of first-time homebuyers. Some of them are being pushed out of where they’re renting because their landlords are finding they can get more for rental income”

Even with major projects like Creekwood Apartments and Beaver Meadows, both located in the Watertown area, seeking to add rental housing, the decision to buy or rent is still there.

“Some of the new places that are being developed to fill the void in terms of rental shortage have rents in excess of $900 or $1,000 a month,” Ms. L’Huillier said. “People are asking why they’d pay that in rent if they could have the benefits of owning their own home.”

Mr. Palmer notes that homebuyers realize the long-term incentive that owning a home in the north country real estate market provides.

“People know that the military is going to be here, so even if people are moving they will opt to keep their home here,” Mr. Palmer said. “They can then lease and rent that property to people. I run into quite a few members of the military who do just that. They leave the area but keep a property here because they know there will be demand for it.”

In the communities that surround his office in Evans Mills, Mr. Palmer said there seems to be a shortage of homes to sell. He has a list of buyers he works with, but has a tough time finding properties to fit their needs.

“If you are looking in the $130,000 range in the Indian River School District, it’s just crap,” he said. “I drive around in Evans Mills or Philadelphia and there probably aren’t five homes for sale in either town. People who work on Fort Drum, or around Fort Drum, want to live in that school district but there’s no inventory. I drive through Watertown and I’m amazed at the inventory that’s available.”

Ms. L’Huillier agreed. She noted that in Watertown, she sees a lot of inventory come on the market in desirable locations like Ten Eyck Street.

“We’ve been complaining that we needed more listings because our properties have been selling so quickly,” she said. “That’s been a problem with some brokers. Their stuff is selling and they need new inventory. Sometimes the only things that are out there aren’t marketable.”

The median price for a single-family home sold in 2011 was $146,900, which is a 126 percent increase from nearly a decade earlier in 2002. The median price of single-family homes sold by members of the Jefferson County Board of Realtors is at an all-time high.

“In my ‘portion’ of the market outside of Fort Drum, we are looking at $170,000 and up as the ideal selling price,” Mr. Palmer said. “Good quality, lower-priced homes are hard to come by.”

Ms. L’Huillier said that homes in the Watertown area priced at about $150,000 consistently garner the most interest.

[Editor’s note: This is a truncated version of this story. For the full version, please see NNY Business in print or subscribe.]

Kyle R. Hayes is associate magazine editor for NNY Business. Contact him at khayes@wdt.net or 661-2381. Ken Eysaman is editor for NNY Business. Contact him at keysaman@wdt.net or 661-2399.