Just Starting Out: Dr. Jeff and Jenny Fox moved to Poughkeepsie last June with toddler Avery when Jeff assumed the position of executive director for Abilities First in Poughkeepsie, a nonprofit organization that serves people of all ages with disabilities in the mid-Hudson Valley.
Where They’re Coming From: The couple (she’s 31, he’s 42) moved from a Buffalo suburb. “We thought we were in our forever home,” says Jenny, previously a human resources and financial management specialist at a YMCA who now works at a local federal credit union. “But then this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came for Jeff. It was a quick move. We had approximately five weeks to sell our home. At the time, Avery was only six months old.”
What They Were Looking For: At first the couple just rented in the area, getting to know the Hudson Valley at their own pace. Having come from lake effect snow-land, they were especially delighted by the winters, which are not as harsh as what they were used to (even though we’d all say this past winter was pretty bad) and actually have sunny days. They also were struck by the hilly terrain (a contrast to the relatively flat landscape of western New York) and, of course, the great Hudson itself.
“We knew that there are so many different, unique places in the Hudson Valley, and we wanted to have our home in a place where we felt comfortable and confident raising a family,” says Jenny. “We looked in Fishkill, Wappingers, New Paltz — it seems as if every town has something unique.”
Once they had their rental, there was no big rush. “We started looking around very casually,” recalls Jeff. “We spent a lot of time evenings and weekends getting in the car, checking out communities, going to open houses.”
When they were looking at a home for which realtor Dianne Minogue of Houlihan Lawrence was the seller’s agent, they clicked with her and decided to work with her.
“At the time, we had decided we wanted something with a little bit of land, an acre or so, relatively private with a wooded area,” says Jeff. “We thought of buying land and building ourselves. What we ultimately realized was that there’s a lot of work and headaches coming along with that, so then we started to look for homes, not necessarily brand-new, but built in the last 10 to 20 years. We didn’t want old. Our last house was 60 years old; it was nice and we did a lot of work, but we wanted move-in ready.”
Realtor Take: Buyer Beware! “If you’re interested in purchasing a lot, and you’re not a professional who knows all the details, it could be a risk for sure,” says Minogue. “It has to be Board of Health-approved, there are a ton of ordinances and town zoning issues as well, so there can be unforeseen expenses. I have a buyer right now who was interested in purchasing a lot or buying an existing home. She wound up speaking with a builder who purchased the lot, and he’s building the price of the lot into the package. It makes it much easier.”
Coming Home: When the Foxes walked in the door of the town of LaGrange home where they eventually settled on two private acres, they knew they were “home.” “When you know, you know,” says Jenny. “It was just so perfect. Everything that we had hoped for on our list was there, all the non-negotiables. The ironic thing is it happens to be two lots over from the very first property — vacant land — that we looked at, so six months later we came back to where we started.
“Off the kitchen/dining area there’s a beautiful screened-in porch,” Jenny continues. “It’s spacious enough to use as another living space — like a three-season room that’s perfect for entertaining.” As a result, “we put in an offer that was about $15,000 below what they were asking,” says Jeff.
Realtor Take: How Low Can You Go? “Buyers always ask me, ‘Where do you come in?’ ” says Minogue. “The answer is: It depends. If the house is priced well, then you don’t lowball it, it’s priced where it should be.”
Statistics show if a house is priced well, it typically sells within five percent of the asking price. (Generally speaking, says Minogue, five to 10 percent below the asking price is about as low as you’d go in this case.) “Some people say, ‘I read you should come in 20 percent under.’ Maybe that’s true in crazy markets like Florida and Las Vegas, where prices have shot down 15 percent or more, but around here it’s not like that. It’s more stable.
“I always say to people, if this is the house you don’t want to lose and you really love it, then you want to be reasonable in your offer.” Of course, you don’t want to be so starry-eyed that you over-pay for a house: “You’ll always have to be concerned how the house is going to appraise, and if you’re going for a mortgage and it’s priced above the market price, that might come back as a problem.”
The Plot Thickens: After the Foxes put in their bid, they learned there was another offer at the same time. The owners came back and said, “Give us your best offer” and said the same to the other potential buyer as well. “So we said we’ll go as high as your full asking price,” says Jeff. “But if that’s not good enough we’re not going to get into a bidding contest.”
Realtor Take: To Bid Or Not To Bid: Bidding wars are not as common as they were back in 2005-2006 during the real estate peak, but they still happen, says Minogue. “Occasionally if a house is priced really well and it’s a great property you’ll see them. It’s all about supply and demand. I had a house in East Fishkill maybe a year ago where we had a little bit of a bidding war. What people don’t realize is that when there’s a bidding war, a lot of buyers will step back if they know there’s an offer on the table and say, ‘Let me know if that deal doesn’t go through,’ which surprises me. If you love the house, why not go for it? You never know. Maybe your finances are better, maybe you’re more qualified. Sellers want a bidding war, but you have to be cautious about telling the other buyer — it will scare them off.”
The Price Is Right: The couple got the house. “When you’re talking about $10-$15,000 over the long term, it’s worth it for your dream house,” says Jenny. They went with a 30-year mortgage. “We didn’t do anything crazy, we took the proceeds from the sale of our last home and turned it around.”
Realtor Take: Mortgage Strategies “Mortgages are an individual matter for each buyer,” says Minogue. “A lot of people like the 30-year mortgage because the bottom line is it keeps your payment lower, plus the average time a person stays in a house now is eight or nine years, so they say, ‘Why would I take it if I’m going to move?’ The 15-year mortgage has lower interest, but 30 years is the most typical. Also, your interest is a tax write-off, so most financial planners will say that even for an older person, keep your money in the bank and get a mortgage.”