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The luxury home market has been suffering...

People who follow the ebbs and flows of real estate sales will know that the luxury home market has been suffering. Those who have a high-end home to sell know this in their gut. That suffering hits them personally.

Here in Croton-on-Hudson, the picture is especially stark. As of early November, a month into the fourth quarter, Croton has a whopping 21 houses for sale in the million-dollar range*. Yet the total number of million-dollar houses that have sold so far this year is just four, one in February, one in April, two more in October. With just one other recently in contract, chances are slim of another closing in 2009. At that rate, we have a five-year supply of luxury homes for sale provided no more come on the market.

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Recent reports have noted an up-tick in sales activity that might portend a long-awaited turnaround in real estate. But that good news is offset by the fact that, while houses are selling in greater number, prices continue to decline. The freeze at the high end accentuates the overall drop in prices. Most of the sales these days are concentrated at the low end, spurred on by the federal stimulus program that offers substantial tax credits to first-time home buyers in 2009. But without sales of costlier homes to balance the cheaper home sales, both the average and the median home prices get driven down.

Croton has always had it's sprinkling of luxury homes up in Teatown, off Mount Airy, out the Post Rd., overlooking the Hudson. Still, sales of homes for over a million dollars used to be a rarity in Croton, limited to the occasional estate property or exceptionally large or luxurious house. That all began to change in the late 1990s just yesterday, it seems as builders started feeding a hungry market with the new big-box colonials for the first time locally. The Arrowcrest subdivision off the Albany Post Rd. was the biggest development of these houses, but prices there initially didn't approach $1 million. One Indian Summer Drive, the 5,000 sq. ft., 5-bedroom model for the development with Hudson River views and all the bells and whistles, sold in 1999 for only $753,000.

By the turn of the century, however, the market heated up enough to drive prices for high-end houses into seven figures. In 2000 an Arrowcrest house, one of the biggest in the development, sold for the first time for over $1 million. Two other properties, both older estates, also broke the million-dollar barrier that year. In 2001, four houses sold that had listed at over a million, then eight in 2002 and eleven in 2003. By 2006, that same model Arrowcrest house, the one that sold for $753,000 in 1999, was being offered for sale at $1,599,000! From 2002 through 2008, an average of eight houses a year, the majority of them newer construction, sold in the million dollar-plus range.

Then the bottom fell out. Or more precisely, since the subject is luxury homes, the top fell off. By the third quarter of 2008 the real estate bubble had burst nationally and the collapse of credit and the meltdown in the financial markets had hit the fan. The housing market had been softening and then slumping for a year already, but now it went into virtual hibernation. Buyers didn't want to purchase in a falling market, and sellers didn't want to take the losses the market seemed to demand. The Wall Street bonuses that traditionally fueled high-end sales after the holidays just never materialized.

Luxury home sales in Croton had an above-average year in 2008, when ten houses we're sold at a million dollars or more. But 28 other such houses on the market in 2008 failed to sell; 14 of these we're either withdrawn or expired without selling, the other 14 we're carried over as still active into 2009. Its even worse in 2009. Besides the 21 active houses, 10 others have already been taken off the market without selling, and a high number of the 21 remaining actives will likely be withdrawn or carried over into 2010.

What can be done? How can these houses get sold? Well, nothing can be done by sellers (or their agents) to change a bad market. They can't persuade reluctant buyers to come in and start scooping up what are some pretty amazing bargains. But there are ways to differentiate a house from the competition.

Pricing is one answer. A Croton luxury home that didn't sell at $1.4 or $1.3 million in 2008 was withdrawn long enough to update the kitchen and make other improvements. It was then returned to the market this year at $925,000, was in contract a few months later, and just closed at $910,000. Ouch! And, Hooray! The sellers we're able to approach selling their home as a hard-nosed business proposition. They decided to bite the bullet and get on with their lives.

But pricing isn't the only answer. Sometimes, after a series of price drops, it isn't even the right answer. A house can be too big or too sumptuous or too unusual for buyers in it's price range. The better solution might be to wait (if possible) for the right buyer, the one who appreciates the house and is willing to pay reasonably for it. Or wait (if possible) for the market to come back.

In the meantime, the suffering is bound to continue for luxury home owners, probably for the next year, maybe more. There is a sense among realtors of a pent-up demand among potential buyers, who have been putting their plans on hold but may be drawn back into the market by the undeniable bargains on offer. But that may be wishful thinking. Indeed, what buyers there are seem to be more intent on getting the deal of their dreams than the house of their dreams. Pretty cold comfort for sellers.

*Im counting as million-dollar homes any house that was initially marketed at $990,000 and above, regardless of selling price or final asking price.

Posted in Home Improvement Post Date 12/19/2017






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