The Year in Real Estate 2013: Agents give their take on the market

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A house under contract on Ostrander Avenue in Riverhead. Home sales were up in the third quarter this year, but the median sale price dropped.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A house under contract on Ostrander Avenue in Riverhead. Home sales were up in the third quarter this year, but the median sale price dropped.

The North Fork real estate market was “on fire” this year, buoyed by a slowly recovering economy and increased publicity for homegrown wine and food, local real estate brokers said.

The groundwork for a strong 2013 was laid last fall, when the effects of Hurricane Sandy frustrated prospective buyers, delaying their search for homes in the area, said John Nickles, owner of Lewis & Nickles Real Estate in Southold. That pent-up demand carried into the winter, he said.

“This year, the unit sales are far ahead of last year,” Mr. Nickles said. “It was pretty much good all the way through.”

Mr. Nickles said fairly priced homes that were affordable for the market sold the quickest. Even multi-million dollar properties began selling faster.

Because the North Fork didn’t have much new construction, he said, the housing market was “somewhat inoculated” from the housing market crash in 2008. Now that sales are up, the North Fork’s inventory of available homes is being depleted — a good sign for sellers, he said.

Broker John Bagshaw, who owns Bagshaw Real Estate in Riverhead, also said he’s seen his supply of homes dwindle due to increased sales.

“At one point we definitely had about a two-year supply [of properties],” he said. “I would say we’re down to about nine months at this point.”

Mr. Bagshaw believes consumer confidence in a stronger economy is driving the spike in sales.
“I think people are starting to feel better about the economy so they’re willing to take a little more of a chance,” he said. “There was a time when people didn’t know if they were going to have a job or how long they’d have a job for.

Marie Beninati, principal broker and co-owner of Beninati Associates in Southold, said sales strengthened as the year went on, despite the bickering in Washington.

“In spite of the government, there’s a tremendous repressed demand and it’s showing,” she said. “There’s a demand and we can’t fill it enough.”

Ms. Beninati said lower-priced homes are practically gone from the market and waterfront homes are selling especially well. She added that while the market is becoming more favorable to sellers, buyers can still take advantage in a rebounding market.

“There are still deals out there, and now is the best time [to buy], because as houses come on [the market] in the spring, the prices will be higher,” Ms. Beninati said.

Investors played a key role in giving the North Fork market a boost this past year, said Valerie Goode, owner of Colony Realty in Jamesport.

“Investors jumped in and put their guys back to work,” she said. “That got the regular consumer off the fence.”

With investors came the return of the second-home market, which grew in the past year, she said.

Areas that are improving — like downtown Riverhead — have also been encouraging for first-time homeowners looking to purchase in the area, Ms. Goode said. Better economic conditions mean those who were waiting to invest are now “jumping in.”

But a recovering economy isn’t the only reason for the strong year, said Sheri Winter Clarry of The Corcoran Group in Southold She thinks recent publicity in national newspapers and magazines has made the North Fork a desirable destination.

“People buying have money and credit and the ability to afford things,” Ms. Clarry said.

“The North Fork is really becoming discovered and I think a lot of that has to do with the attachment to food and wine,” she said, adding that the picturesque surroundings of the Sound and Peconic Bay make the North Fork an even easier sell.

Sellers are also pricing their homes fairly, leading to faster sales, she said.

“Sellers are really anxious to sell and are being realistic,” Ms. Clarry said. “It’s really like a perfect storm.” She said she’s seen sales roughly double in the past year.

Realtors said they expect the strong sales to continue into next year, so long as interest rates remain low and the economy continues to improve.

“We’re looking at a potential increase in mortgage rates and stricter rules for lending,” said Thomas Uhlinger, a broker with Douglas Elliman in Mattituck. But he believes the North Fork is “undervalued” and will continue to attract more buyers next year.

“This has probably been one of my better years,” he said. “I’m certainly looking forward to next year.”