The sign of a healthy, prospering city is when every leftover, spare lot, even in previously neglected or overlooked areas, is suddenly being sold and built out. There are an increasing number of instances of this in Saratoga Springs, NY, particularly on the west-side at the moment.
There also has always been a certain element of the local real estate market I refer to as “The Beverly HIlls Syndrome,” in which a home is purchased on a prime lot, and promptly knocked down to make room for a better one. Now it happens that both are occurring simultaneously in many parts of the city. I will provide some examples here– residential in this first part, and commercial on another occasion.
Let’s start with a vacant lot at 116 Church Street, between West Harrison and Park Street, just a couple of blocks west of Broadway. Tax records tell me this vacant 50′ X 140′ lot sold for a mere $20K in 1995, and just re-sold in August of this year for $100K even. A new two-story home is going up rather quickly as I write this, the first new construction in that stretch of blocks since before World War II, I would guess. The new owner is listed as Edward Barone, and it seems it won’t be long before his new-urban, close-to-street structure is done. I commend him on what I’ve seen so far. He is effectively replacing a missing tooth in the streetscape.
Next westside story of this sort involves a knockdown project at 31 Bensonhurst Street— a gaunt gray haunted-looking clapboard relic seemingly leftover from the Depression was purchased for $90,500. by McPadden Builders. The lot was roughly 75′ X 120′, just over 9000 sq. ft. but the area on that side of town requires blasting into bedrock to get deep enough for a full foundation, or else that price might have been higher. In any case, the old home is gone now and stray cats and vagrants will have to find another place to hang out– re-gentrification is underway via Mr. McPadden, and his Broker, my friend Val at Roohan Realty, who have combined to dress up this and other sections of the westside in recent years with his Stickley-cottage-like, urban bungalow designs.
In that same neighborhood, one street over, at 61 Newton Ave., there was a strange little brick cottage that looked like a goatherd’s hut or something for years, and its owner wanted $169K for it as I recall, having paid $100K for it back in 2005. I was surprised to find that it sold this year for a “mere” $90K, which information I believe to be suspect, frankly. The lot was listed as relatively huge, for being within city limits– 100′ X 115′– but the tiny 540 sq ft cottage was not worth keeping on the lot, and was quickly rendered into the dust of history. For the past month or two heavy equipment has been operating on the site, blasting away and removing huge chunks of Flintstone-quality bedrock. Bordeau Builders has a new 3BR, 2 bath home listed on the property for $625K, though strangely enough, the lot is now listed as 65′ wide, not 100′. The proposed home– 2000 square feet, with only a one-car garage– would be more than twice the price of anything that has sold on that formerly modest and unassuming street, but that’s how Saratoga Springs is growing, and going. You could say to the new buyer that he would be within easy walking distance to The Golf and Polo Club, just across Church Street, and they don’t have many pedestrian members in that neighborhood yet, I bet, though that too may be changing.
Now we should consider the case of 32 Greenfield Avenue, in the more pricey confines of the neighborhood just west of North Broadway, in the vicinity of Skidmore College. For those who don’t know Saratoga intimately yet, It should be noted that the North-side of the westside is competitive with the eastside in terms of architecture, value, desirability.
Here, until recently, on the diagonal slice from North Broadway toward the campus, there stood a totally nondescript 1968-built raised ranch which for most of the past 30 years had served as a rental property for Skidmore students. A local guy I knew named Pete Crowley owned it until 1999, and I recall him complaining at times about how the co-eds of that decade kept trashing the place, and costing him more and more in damages with each passing year. He sold it for $135K at that time, and it was flipped for $217,500. in 2003, a halcyon year for real estate around here. The Realtor who bought it then continued renting it until the market came back recently, and it was sold this year for $236K to a family named Pinhas. They are employing Dave DiPaulo of Bella Homes to create what I expect to be a beautiful new edifice on that site, much more worthy of its neighborhood than the relic of 60’s construction that recently met the wrecker’s ball. On an adjacent corner lot, facing Woodlawn Avenue, I had raised my eyebrows back in 2008 when a small, fairly bland 1950’s ranch sold for about $250K, which was also promptly demolished and replaced by a much more modern and tasteful structure. The “Beverly Hills” syndrome continues in cases like this, but only where the lot value transcends the value of the home that occupies the parcel.
You might wonder why it would happen on the westside of Saratoga Springs, instead of the more traditionally upscale eastside. One reason is that there is still oppotunity on the westside, whereas the eastside has been almost completely built-out. That part of the campground is spoken for, and not too many homeowners are prone to selling their homes at a price where you’d want to knock one down. Still, that may begin to happen as well. But on the eastside, renovation would be more likely than demolition.
On the subject of renovations, however, I would be remiss if I did not point out the home at 207 Woodlawn Avenue in the City, which was purchased this year, and quickly transformed by end of summer into what it is now– a Center-hall Classic restoration that improves on the original a hundred times over. The interesting thing is that the previous owner bought that original home (located on a magnificent 3/4 acre corner lot, formerly the site of an intown greenhouse operation) with the intention of knocking it down and building a 2-million dollar home on the site. People always wondered why an outdated, faded-blue clapboard colonial, considered unliveable by most buyers in this price range, would sell for $850K ?? That was called the peak of the market, my friends, but that owner fortunately stopped short of fulfilling his knock-down plans, and went through a few market cycles without a willing buyer at anywhere near what he paid. Even at a steeply discounted price from what the downstate seller paid, it was still technically a “fixer-upper”, with the lot value and location making it an estate-quality investment. The efforts of Bob West’s firm Old Saratoga Restorations and numerous subcontractors helped owners Barbara and Joseph DeVivo realize a vision that no one before them had pictured. The stone front and wrought iron accents, the radically-changed rooflines, complete rebuild of the garage and living area above it, and opening out the boxy-interior of the original floorplan, all make for a stunning upgrade from a forlorn-looking vacant home for sale, as if was just a year ago. The DeVivo’s should win a Preservation Award for 207 Woodlawn Ave., if I do say so myself, and thank them for involving me in the sale.
But what I would like to convey here is more than just a real estate price report. I would like to point out one of the things that struck me most when I got into the real estate business in the late 80’s, and opened up the Manual of Real Estate Practice… where I found that the very first sentence of that textbook was simply this:
Beneath all is the land.
Which is true, and in accord with my native American leanings. Before there was any mention of the business of attempting to make money helping people buying or selling property (which Mohawks would have frowned upon, I’m sure) at least there was this stark acknowledgement of what was under our feet, Mother Earth. I found that reassuring that there was reverence for that fact at the base of our profession, and in the official rulebook.
What is also true is that certain parcels of land within the confines of the campground called the City of Saratoga Springs are clearly worth a lot more than in most other places in upstate New York, and there is an underlying reason why people want to be here, invest here, live here. I first wrote about this in 1980, way before I thought about being in this business:
We want a place where worlds converge.
The vale of Saratoga was that zone for me, from the latter part of the 70’s onward. In the High Rock Review magazine my friends Dave Scavone and Elizabeth Skinner (both of whom were great photographers, plus more talented, solvent, and practical than me) put out that year, I got to write the Intro about why I wanted to live here:
There is a convergence of city & mountains: symbolically, geographically, & demographically. This is one of the overlap zones– where the upriver surge of human destiny spreads out against the foothills (or toes) of the fabled Adirondacks. The Palmertown Ridge is one line of these & actually tails out right above the head of North Broadway, only 1/2 mile or so from the crescent-like fault line that spawned the High Rock Spring & the rest…
(Wayne Perras c. 1980, The High Rock Review, Vol. 1)
Back in 1980, you have to realize, there was no real estate boom in sight yet. The City had emerged from the 70’s like a limping, roughed-up swell who had gotten caught up in street skirmish and could not deny his bruises. But there were clearly a couple of throngs of people who really believed in the town, not only some significant old-money patriarchs (& maybe more important, Matriarchs), but a healthy downtown crowd of perennial college students, bohemians, artists, musicians, and writers who found a way to live there. It was that odd coalition of conservative moneyed factions and liberally-inclined artists & free-spending local hedonists that revived this grand old City of Saratoga Springs, and helped begin its return to prosperity and prominence. The yin and the yang of those opposites, like the opposing poles of a magnet, make it spin. This town in back in spinning mode. Perhaps it can be a prototype for recovery, or perhaps it’s an lucky anomaly, we’ll see.
I’ll have more on this subject soon. Thanks for reading…
Wayne Perras, Copyright 2012