To Buy or Rent, That is the Question!

Lance Evans

A recent Watertown Daily Times article cited a study by SmartAsset comparing average rent to home prices by county nationwide.
    In New York state, Jefferson County ranked 8th in terms of being more viable to buy than rent. According to the study, the break-even point, the point when the amount paid in rent exceeds the cost of purchasing a home, is 1.4 years. For the comparison, SmartAsset used an average price of $222,146 for a Jefferson County home with an average monthly mortgage of $558 versus an average monthly rent of $1,492.

    A little lower on the list was Lewis County at 22nd with a break-even point of two years. The average home price used was $178,887 with a monthly mortgage payment of $464 and $1,066 monthly rent.

    Coming in at 33rd in the state was St. Lawrence County. Using an average home price of $138,283, a monthly mortgage payment of $346 and monthly rent of $1,105, SmartAsset estimated that the break-even point was a little over two years.

    For the analysis, SmartAsset assumed a mortgage rate of 4.5 percent, closing costs of $2,000, and a 20 percent down payment when it created the above comparisons. A higher rate, a lower down payment, etc. would change these calculations.

    A similar study, done by ATTOM Data solutions came out in January 2017 and noted that in about two-thirds of the nation’s counties, it is more affordable to buy a home than rent. ATTOM compared rents of fair market three-bedroom properties to the monthly payments on median priced homes in 540 counties. The calculations included the cost of mortgages, property taxes, and insurance. The report also noted that in about a quarter of the markets surveyed, rents are surging faster than home prices.  In fact it noted that, on average, rents for a three-bedroom property rose 4.2 percent nationwide.   

    While ATTOM did not look at St. Lawrence or Lewis counties, Jefferson County was included.   Like SmartAsset, ATTOM found that it was more affordable to buy than rent in the county. They estimate that a buyer will spend about 26.8 percent of the average wage when buying a median priced home ($129,000) in Jefferson County while it takes 44.8 percent of wages to rent a three-bedroom dwelling at a median rent of $1,492. ATTOM’s study showed that in other areas of the state, for instance many of the Hudson River Valley markets, it is less expensive to rent.

    The analysis incorporated recently released fair market rent data for 2017 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and public record sales deed data from RealtyTrac in counties with at least 900 home sales in 2016.

    A third analysis by realtor.com showed that in all three counties, it is less expensive to buy than rent. In fact, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties are numbers three and four in the state with Jefferson County buyers using twenty-two percent of income while renters used thirty percent. St. Lawrence County had a narrower gap of 6 percent with a buyer needing to spend 16 percent of income to buy and 20 percent to rent. Lewis County was also less expensive to buy with a 2 percent gap.

    Clearly, it is currently less expensive to buy than to rent in our area. So what should you do? Look at your circumstances including income and debt, consider the alternatives, and if you think you might be interested in buying a property, check with a mortgage professional and an area Realtor.

    Jennifer Stevenson, licensed real estate broker and owner of Blue Heron Realty in Ogdensburg, has been nominated as 2018 secretary-treasurer of the New York State Association of Realtors (NYSAR) a not-for-profit trade organization representing more than 53,000 of New York State’s real estate professionals.

    Ms. Stevenson, a member of the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors since 1989, has served in many capacities at the local, state, and national levels of the Realtor Association. She is a past president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors and served on the Association’s board of directors for over 25 years. In addition, she has chaired several NYSAR committees, and participates in the National Association of Realtors meetings. Locally she serves on the Ogdensburg City Council, is active in Rotary, and participates on St. Lawrence County’s Fair Housing Task Force among other activities. The elections will take place on September 27 at the NYSAR Board of Directors meeting.

Youth Philanthropy Council Program Successful

Rande Richardson

By: Rande Richardson

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” –Aristotle

Now in its eighth year, the Northern New York Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council program continues to thrive as more and more high school students learn about the north country’s nonprofit organizations and the way they impact the lives of us all. In addition to the way it helps engage the next generation within their communities, it also helps provide valuable insight into what way they want to make their mark and change the world. This is on top of the $20,000 in grants they will award this June.

    We also get a glimpse into the way they prioritize and make decisions. We see what resonates with them and what types of organizations they feel provide the most value, and those they don’t. Nonprofit organizations should take note as they will eventually need to effectively engage future generations to remain relevant and supported.  

    For some time, we have sought a way to begin engaging even younger students. As the end of the school year approaches, an initiative is being prepared to be launched when school resumes in September. Targeted at middle school students, this new giving challenge program will be a precursor to the current Youth Philanthropy Program and will help spark an increased awareness of, and interest in, the work of area organizations.

    The Community Foundation and Stage Notes Performance with a Purpose, who share similar objectives, will join forces for good, empowering area middle school students to identify the way they would like to see their communities enhanced. Stage Notes will dedicate $5,000 of their show proceeds this summer, combined with $5,000 from the Community Foundation. By the time we enter the season of gratitude and giving in November and December, a total of $10,000 will be awarded to area nonprofit organizations.

    Students will compete for multiple, various grant awards.  Although specific details will be forthcoming, the challenge will involve two major components. Seventh- and eighth-graders will be asked to write about what “community” means to them— their definition of community and what elements help make the place they live strong and vibrant. The students must then explain which nonprofit organizations they believe can best support their vision for their community in areas of both basic human needs and overall enhancement of quality of life. The winning students will visit the organizations, personally present their gifts and see with their own eyes how their sharing and caring makes a difference, recognizing that the generosity of others has made it possible.

    We hope this program encourages families to think about what others do to make the place they live better and the role they can play in encouraging it, today. As a society, we believe in the importance of educating the mind, and both the Community Foundation and Stage Notes want to continue to encourage fostering educating the heart.

    There is no better way to involve youth in making a difference than allowing them to be a part of the decision making process. We also reinforce that we are a community together and we need good citizens to perpetuate making that community the best it can be.

    Sure, the grants themselves will have a direct positive effect on nonprofit organizations and the work they do, but it is even more exciting to think about the long-term multiplier effect of encouraging this type of thought at a young age. We look forward to sharing the results with you.

    One way or another, our children’s vision for our community will become our vision for the community. These types of meaningful experiences will help provide inspiration throughout life and refine a more deliberate approach. We all have a responsibility to help ensure the community they inherit is one we all would wish for them so the phrase “good enough”  is never used for the place they spend their lives. We know summer vacation is just around the corner, but you can understand why we’re already excited to get back to school!

5 Reasons Why No One is Visiting Your Website

Joleene Moody

You want more sales. More visitors to your website. You want people hungry for your product to eat right out of your hand. As you sleep, you imagine your email list growing and growing, with an email open rate larger than your biggest competitor. You have everything you need to achieve this: the website, the perfect opt-in, a high-demand product, everything.

    Or doooo you?

    If your traffic is nil and your numbers on Google Analytics are making you cry, you need to find out why, most ricky-tick. Based on past clients who have struggled with this very issue, we have compiled the top five reasons why no one is visiting your website, and what you can do to turn things around.

1) Your Branding is Lackluster

Branding is often misunderstood. Ask someone about their brand, and you might hear them talk about their logo. This is because the traditional definition of branding is based on the color, shape, size, and font used to create a logo.

    But my friends, branding is so much more.

    While the logo is certainly an element of your brand, it isn’t the end-all, be-all. Branding is how you are able to control the way people think and feel when they see your logo or hear your company’s name. That means when they visit your site, they need to be pulled in by your message and your mission. One should know within five seconds of landing on your home page what it is you do. If this isn’t happening, your branding may be out of sync. Maybe even non-existent.

    Clear, crisp branding also makes you stand out like an expert. If you were to visit a website that lacked character versus a website that pulled you in with plenty of character, which site would you peruse?

    Get clear on your branding and invest in the change. The sharper you look, the more traffic you’ll see.

2) You’re Not Blogging

I saw that eye roll. I see it quite often, actually. Business owners think blogging is for the birds. Some are under the misconception that blogging is a complete and total waste of time.

    But what if I told you that a single blog post could be your ticket to a sale?

    Blogging is a highly encouraged form of inbound marketing that uses targeted content. Targeted content is the kind of content internet users seek when they sit down with Google. For example, if someone Googles the term “need website visitors,” Google will send out a bunch of bots to find legitimate, purposeful content that matches that search.

    By writing blog posts with targeted content, you’re essentially opening the door to your website to invite people in. The more you blog, the more you become BFFs with Google.

3) Your Website is Clunky

Think about the way you navigate a website when you land on it. You see the home page first, look for the menu bar second and click on your desired location third. Sometimes you might see an image you want to click on, so you head over to it. Other times you might get distracted by an opt-in, so you sign up for the offer and move on.

    No matter where you go or what you might get distracted by, the website you land on should be navigable at all times from all angles. It should be easy to look at and easy to search.

    If your website is poorly designed, doesn’t load quickly, and gets people lost almost immediately, you’re compromising one of the most important pieces of your business.

    The truth is, you have approximately seven seconds to grab the attention of your visitor or they’re gone. They’ll zip back out into cyberspace to find a website that is user-friendly, easy to navigate, and doesn’t look like a fifth-grader built it.

    Your website is most often your first impression. If it’s clunky, your visitors will think the work you deliver is clunky, too.

4) You’re Not Sharing on Social Media

Social media can be a bear. With so many social channels to choose from, it can be overwhelming for some. As a result, we resist sharing and eventually give up because we think it does no good.

    I encourage you to not give up.

    Creating a presence on social media takes time. But even if you have a small following, sharing and engaging with others is the secret sauce to your success. Start by choosing three social channels that resonate with the work you do. Decide to put a few hours a week into posting your content. But coupled with this, decide to like, share and comment on others’ content.

    Make friends with others. Play nice. Build relationships. If you stick to this strategy, you’ll soon discover that many people out there are on your side and happy to share your content. Before you know it, your Google Analytics numbers will increase, and you’ll be a happy camper.

5) You’re Using the Wrong Keywords

Keywords are tricky. We get it. Over the past 10 years or so, the use of keywords in web content has changed. Site builders used to use a method now dubbed as keyword stuffing, where they would stuff the same word (or series of words) over and over again into as much content as possible all over the site.

    Google won’t let you pull this stunt anymore. That’s why using long-tail keywords to help narrow down a search is where it’s at. This is because these keywords are associated with more qualified traffic.

    For example, thousands of search options will pop up if you use the words “cake maker.” But if someone is searching for a cake maker in Virginia, using keywords in blog posts like “cake maker in Virginia” will knock other prospects out of the way and shoot you to the top of a Google search.

    Using keyword research tools is helpful, too. Don’t go it alone.

Tax Breaks You Can Only Claim as a Homeowner

Lance Evans

There are many benefits associated with homeownership. The American Dream offers financial gain, stability, and many social benefits.   One of the biggest benefits associated with homeownership can be found when filing your taxes and, depending on your situation, there may be thousands of dollars coming back your way.

    “Homeownership is an investment in your future,” said Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors President Vickie Staie. “It is where we make memories and feel comfortable and secure, it strengthens communities, and it offers homeowners financial security. Tax breaks are just one of many benefits of being a homeowner, and even those who have owned a home for years may be unaware of all of the opportunities for savings.”

    As the deadline to file taxes approaches, the Jefferson-Lewis and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors want to remind homeowners of the many tax benefits, savings and deductions they can take advantage of simply by owning a home.

The mortgage interest deduction (MID)

    This may be the most notable and advantageous tax benefit that homeowners enjoy. The MID allows homeowners to deduct the interest paid on a mortgage debt of up to $1 million on a primary residence and one additional residence. It is especially helpful in the early years of a mortgage when the monthly payment goes largely toward interest.

Property taxes

    It is widely known that being a homeowner means paying taxes on your property to local government, whether it is the city, county or state. What you might not know is that these taxes are entirely deductible from your federal income tax, which is more great tax news for homeowners.

Mortgage insurance premium deduction

    Homeowners with incomes of no more than $100,000 can deduct their mortgage insurance premiums if they were required to obtain insurance as a condition of receiving financing for the home. With the current obstacles that prospective homebuyers face, such as student loan debt, the deduction is a benefit that can save homeowners a great deal of money.

    “If you are on the fence about buying a home, taking advantage of these tax benefits can help put your dream home within reach,” said Debbie Gilson, president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. “By working with a Realtor, a member of the National Association of Realtors, you can better understand the home-buying process and the many benefits that come with owning a home.”

    Congress is considering eliminating or curtailing some or all of these tax benefits.  Members of Congress from both Houses and both parties have expressed a high level of interest in reforming the tax system. Many Washington observers point to Republican-control of the House, Senate, and White House as the primary reason a version of tax reform may finally be enacted. Much work remains before any tax reform plan comes up for any votes. This ongoing debate places a variety of tax laws, including those affecting commercial and residential real estate, under increased scrutiny.

    Realtors are working to preserve these benefits.  American homeowners already pay between 80 and 90 percent of all federal income taxes. Without the MID, for instance, that figure could rise to 95 percent. It’s particularly troubling considering the fact that more than half of families who claim the MID earn less than $100,000 per year.

    The state and local property tax deduction is essential to homeowners as well. While paying property taxes is a part of owning a home, knowing that those payments to state and local governments can be deducted from their federal income tax brings some peace of mind.  Without that deduction, homeowners would get taxed on the income used to pay their property taxes. This is a form of “double taxation” that hits home for lower- and middle-income households.

    The value of these tax incentives is already figured into home prices, meaning there’s a very real likelihood that eliminating those benefits could cause home values to plummet.  Please contact Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and let them know that these deductions are important and need to be preserved.

Agriculture Gearing Up for the Event Season

 

Jay Matteson

   Warm weather is on the way! At least by July the snow will be gone and it’ll be time to get outside. If you visit www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com and click on the calendar tab at the top, you’ll be taken to our calendar of agriculture for Jefferson County and Northern New York. Here are a few of the many events, found on the website, which you can look forward to in 2017.
     On April 21, the annual Jefferson County Agricultural Development Conference will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown. From 9 to 10:45 a.m., Chris Lorence from Christopher A. Lorence PR & Marketing Services will provide a workshop on advanced use of social media for marketing and advertising in agriculture. Mr. Lawrence will take course participants on a journey exploring how to use social media for advanced advertising of products and services offered by farms and agribusinesses. The workshop is free, but participants must register in advance due to limited seating capacity.
     Following Mr. Lorence at 11a.m., Christine Watkins, executive director of Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation, will provide a presentation on the environmental stewardship efforts of our agricultural industry, highlighting the tremendous work and expense our farms put forward to maintain and improve the quality of the environment in which we live. Mrs. Watkins presentation will be geared both for the public and farm community. Following Mrs. Watkins there will be a light lunch for conference participants. During lunch, I will present my annual overview of our agricultural industry report, discussing the challenges and highlights from 2016 and looking forward into 2018.
     Our keynote presentation at the Agricultural Development Conference will feature a panel presentation from Nichole Hirt and William Stowell. Mrs. Hirt is the agricultural program teacher from Indian River High School and Indian River FFA advisor. Mr. Stowell is the South Jefferson High School agricultural teacher and FFA advisor. Together Mr. Stowell and Mrs. Hirt will look at agricultural education in our local area and across New York State and share with our audience their thoughts on how agricultural education in our classrooms relates to workforce development in the agricultural industry and the challenges and opportunities we face.
     While the Agricultural Development Conference is free, advanced registration is required by April 14. Those interested may register by calling 315-782-5865 or emailing coordinator@comefarmwithus.com.
     On Saturday, May 6, Old McDonald’s Farm Agricultural Education Center near Sackets Harbor will open its doors for the season, weather permitting. If you have not visited Old McDonald’s Farm, it is a real treat. As one of the largest agricultural education centers in New York state, it is a fantastic place to take your children to have fun and learn about agriculture. Visit their website at www.oldmcdonaldhasafarm.com.
     Planning has started for the Jefferson County Dairyland Festival and Parade on Friday, June 2. The festival kicks off at 9 a.m. at the Dulles State Office Building on Washington Street in Watertown. The festival is geared for children ages pre-school through sixth grade. The festival includes interactive exhibits, displays and demonstrations related to our dairy industry and agriculture. Schools may register their classes by visiting www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com and clicking on the festival link on the right hand side of the home page. Classes must register to attend before May 5. The second part of the exciting celebration is the Dairy Parade which kicks off at 7 p.m. The parade lines up at Watertown High School and proceeds down Washington Street, ending at the State Office Building. The judging stand is directly in front of the State Office Building, where our Master of Ceremonies provides live narration of the entire parade. The parade is full of exciting and fun entries, including marching bands, HUGE farm equipment, fire trucks, live animals, floats, youth groups and businesses. Anyone wishing to enter the parade may also visit www.jeffersoncountyagriculture.com and follow the directions on the festival page. Entry forms must be submitted by May 22. The parade is a “points parade” for local fire departments. At 8 p.m., the Jefferson County Dairy Princess and her court will dish out free ice cream sundaes in the Dulles State Office Building for everyone as long as supplies last.
     There are many more events, activities, workshops and meetings that may be of interest to you. Check the calendar on our website to keep track of what is happening that you might be interested in. There is a lot to do in our great agricultural community!

Jay M. Matteson is agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. Contact him at coordinator@comefarmwithus.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

April 20 Questions: A Rich Life of Giving

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS DPAO founder recalls service to community and lasting impacts

[Read more…]

Building the North Country Economy

Sarah O’Connell

The American economy has changed greatly over the last half century, and we’ve seen a lot of those changes right here in the north country.  Most of our paper manufacturers have closed down, national chains have changed the faces of our downtowns and our many small dairy farms have merged into just a handful of large agricultural enterprises.   Our largest employers now are the military, the hospitals, the various levels of government and educational facilities.

                So what happens when someone doesn’t fit into one of those types of businesses?  Maybe they decide to start their own business.   Every year we at the Watertown SBDC talk to around 700 would-be entrepreneurs.  Of those, many just want to kick around an idea or need some basic assistance with getting the business set up. Others decide to go forward and obtain a startup or expansion loan. 

                Many of the small businesses we work with are what the U.S. Small Business Administration calls “nonemployer” firms, meaning they are a one-person operation with no employees.  We could call them “starter businesses” – usually they are quicker and less costly to start, and also to close.  The median age of a nonemployer business is six years, about four years less than an employer business.

                Furthermore, startups are less likely than established businesses to create jobs, again because during those crucial first five years, the new business may be just struggling to find its place in the market, much less adding employees.  Less than half the jobs created by startups still exist after five years, while expanding, older businesses account for 60 percent of small business job creation.   The share of employment that microbusinesses (those with fewer than 10 employees upon start up) contribute has declined over the past 30 years – from 15% in 1978 to 11.6 per cent in 2011.  (SBA.gov).

                With all that being said, small businesses are very important to the local economy.  Besides providing employment for a local resident, new businesses may bring new ideas to the area.  They can provide support services or products that free up larger employers to do what they do best.    Small businesses also generate tax income through self-employment, payroll taxes and sales tax collection.  They can also be more reactive and flexible to market trends. Just look at the rise of the craft beverage industry in our area,  or ethnic restaurants and small niche shops; I think they make our community a more interesting and enjoyable place to live than large metropolitan areas that are just lines of chain store after chain store.  

                How about lawn care providers, plumbers, small contractors, or snow plow operators (shout out here to my guy Mike!)?    Small hardware stores, bakeries, crafters, web designers, our local news sources, and professionals like lawyers, insurance agents and accountants are here to provide us with their goods and services; they know their community and may even be our neighbors.

                So sure, you may find the Internet is quick and easy to search for something, order and pay for it electronically; it might even offer a cheaper deal than what you’d pay locally, and hey! – free shipping!    But at the end of the day, what is that doing to help your local economy?  If you want to support the north country economy, it starts with spending your money right here and creating growth and job creation, one local purchase at a time.

                For fiscal year 2015-16, the advisors at the Watertown SBDC serving Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego counties saw 735 clients, spent 5,174 hours counseling, helped them create 167 new jobs and retain 53 jobs and assisted 51 clients in obtaining financing for business startup or expansion in the amount of $15,166,933.

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

SARAH O’CONNELL is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu. Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.

NNY Healthy Women: A special supplement to NNY Business

[Read more…]

March 20 Questions: USO Fort Drum Karen Clark

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS

Her journey began on a path of educting the young minds in the classroom, but it wasn’t long until she found herself relocating from Florida to Fort Drum and reinventing her career from the ground up.

     Karen Clark’s passion exudes enthusiasm and compassion for those who serve our country abroad and at home.

[Read more…]

Morrison Street Warehouse Once Deemed Modern

WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES ARCHIVE

[Read more…]