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Friday, January 22, 2010

Looks can be deceiving as local real estate market is strong


By S. Alexander Gerould

WESTFIELD – James Woodruff isn't a real estate expert.

A member of the U.S. Army, Woodruff, a 2002 Westfield Academy and Central School graduate, has seen two tours of duty in Iraq while stationed in Hawaii. Shortly, he will be heading to Texas for additional training before moving to an Army base in North Carolina.

He's seen a lot of things and been to a lot of places. He's also someone who can tell you how Westfield has changed during the time he has been gone.

While driving with this reporter down South Portage Street on the way to Jamestown, Woodruff remarked on something which has affected most of the country recently – real estate.

"It seems every house is for sale in Westfield," he said, as we passed a house with a Howard Hanna Holt Real Estate sign propped up in the front lawn.

Woodruff may be right to some extent. While not every house in Westfield is for a sale, during a quick, 10 minute drive through the streets of the village, more than 10 houses and properties, along with several businesses, had "for sale" signs in their front yard.

However, looks can be deceiving, at least according to some real estate experts.

"I think what you're seeing right now is that there are some properties for sale on the major streets," said Steve Holt. A broker associate with Howard Hanna Holt Real Estate. "I think it's just been the location where they are that they stand out a little more."

Helen Baran, a real estate agent for ERA Real Estate, said, even if a house has a "for sale" sign in its front yard, it doesn't necessarily mean a house is for sale. She said real estate agents may keep signs up until the sale is definite in an effort to not scare other potential buyers away.

"At any time you have a house that has a 'for sale' sign on it, it might also be under contract," Mrs. Baran said. "There are a lot of them (houses) on the market, but there's also quite a few that are under contract right now."

While it may seem there are many houses for sale in Westfield, Nick Holt, Steve Holt's son and also a real estate agent, was quick to point out that 2009 was a really good year for his company.

"Despite what everyone has termed a down year, Howard Hanna Holt Real Estate had our best year ever in 2009, posting record sales with double digit growth," Nick said. "The truth is that, with the proper marketing, pricing and expectations, now is as good a time as any to sell or buy in this area, particularly when you consider how low interest rates are."


According to figures provided by John Rawlinson, Westfield Development Corporation executive director, Westfield had eight applications for new homes in 2008 – a lot for a small community, Rawlinson said.

But, in 2009, there were no applications.

"This, as would be expected, is linked to the general economy last year," Rawlinson said.

Meanwhile, the percentage of homeowners who cited reduced or loss of income as the top reason they were facing a home foreclosure steadily increased, according to the Chautauqua Home Rehabilitation and Improvement Corporation.

"I have been involved in foreclosure counseling in Chautauqua County for more than 15 years, and the types of customers seeking services, from income levels to sources of mortgages, has changed profoundly," said John Murphy, CHRIC executive director. "We used to see more low-income borrowers and those with sub-prime mortgages coming in for counseling, and now it is much more across the board. The economy and job loss has challenged so many more people in managing their debts, including making sure they don't lose their homes."

Mrs. Baran has also seen the economy's impact on real estate in the area. She said a good number of homes are selling at or below market price, while high-priced homes aren't priced as high as they were two years ago.

"It's a constantly rotating situation," Mrs. Baran said. "There are a lot of the old, historic homes for sale right now. We are experiencing some houses that are for sale in Westfield because people have run into economic hard times."

While other parts of the country have faced real estate meltdowns recently, Westfield and Chautauqua County has remained stable, and, in some cases, fairly robust.

"Prices in this market were never really artificially inflated, and local lenders were very good about avoiding predatory practices," Nick Holt said. "So, when the bubble burst, we didn't take the hit that other areas did."

"The smaller communities … fared very well," Steve Holt added. "We really didn't see what the rest of the country was seeing. Even the vacation home market was pretty strong. We didn't have the bubble. We didn't have the big up, and we didn't have the big down."

While local real estate experts have said Westfield and Chautauqua County were not hit as hard by the real estate meltdown as other areas, Rawlin said any impact on what the WDC considers its number one asset – the quality of the community's housing stock – can have some implications.

"We have, like the rest of the country, been hit by the downturn, but not really as bad as many locations," Rawlinson said. "In fact, Western New York faired very well in the overall housing market debacle."


Thanks to a larger Internet presence, Nick Holt said Howard Hanna Holt Real Estate has had inquires on homes in the area from as far away as California, Colorado and Florida. People, he said, come from all over looking for a small, quaint town to call home.

"I am always amazed at the interest people have in moving to Westfield," Nick Holt said. "There are very few old fashioned small towns anymore, with a downtown strip and good neighborhoods within the village.  We find people all the time who stop in and fall in love."

Steve Holt agreed, adding many people looking to relocate are looking for a change to their lifestyle.

"When they come to areas like here, number one they get a great buy for their money, and they're more apt here to truly pick the community they want to pick," he said. "Communities like Westfield are the ones that a lot of people are picking. It's because of the quality of the lifestyle. There are things going on, and it's that small town atmosphere where people want to raise kids and retire."

However, real estate experts and officials see one major issue affecting real estate in the area – taxes.

"The biggest questions I have (potential homeowners) are these really the taxes," Mrs. Baran said. "I have to say, 'Yes, they are.' You've got people that that doesn't mean anything to them and that's okay … but a lot of people are taking a look at their costs."

Rawlinson agreed.

"I don't see us having real estate issues," he said. "The biggest issue is taxes, which is really a state problem which influences us all. Until consolidation of schools and government is attacked and government bureaucracy reduced, we all suffer."

For more information on Chautauqua Lake Real Estate & Living visit:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Housing sales continue to climb in State & Chautauqua County

By DENNIS PHILLIPS Special to the OBSERVER In November, the number of homes sold in the state jumped 34 percent and increased 25 percent in the county when compared to 2008 statistics.
The increase brought housing sales numbers for both the state and county back to 2007 levels.
"While the jump in sales compared to last November is obviously a positive sign for the state housing market, the 5.5 percent increase compared to 2007 indicates a return to a typical November sales level,'' said Duncan R. MacKenzie, New York State Association of Realtors chief executive officer. "This is a strong indicator of the continued recovery of the statewide housing market.''
With the extension of the first-time home buyer credit in November and a new state program that went into effect at the start of the year, Jan. R. Murray, Chautauqua County Board of Realtors executive officer, said housing sales should continue to stay strong.
"It's just a great incentive to increase sales the beginning of this year,'' she said. "We had a really slow start last year. Hopefully these programs will continue strong housing sales.''
First-time homebuyers have been getting a tax credits of up to $8,000 as part of the economic stimulus package enacted in 2009. The program was extended with also a new incentive to include home owners looking to sell. Anyone who has owned their current homes at least five years would be eligible for a tax credit of up to $6,500. As continuation of the program, first-time homebuyers - or anyone who hasn't owned a home in the last three years - would still receive up to an $8,000 tax credit. Couples earning as much as $225,000 and individuals earning up to $125,000 would qualify for the tax credit. That was also an increase from the original $75,000 limit for individuals and $150,000 for couples.
Now the new state incentive - the Tax Credit Advance Loan - will help people who would have a difficult time paying for the closing costs and other up-front costs in purchasing a house.
"This program will particularly help first-time homebuyers who struggle to save enough money to cover all of New York's highest-in-the-nation up-front costs of purchasing a home,'' MacKenzie said. "Many will now be able to close that gap by utilizing the federal home buyer tax credit at the closing table through the advance loan program.''
Ms. Murray said strong housing sales not only helps the real estate market, but several other aspects of the national economy.
"The growth in the housing market helps the national, state and local economies,'' she said. "When you include purchases made for the home like appliances, movers and home contractors, you can see where people buying a new house helps the whole economy.''
State realtors sold 7,424 existing single-family homes in November, a 34 percent increase compared to the November 2008 total of 5,542. County realtors sold 91 houses in November, a 25 percent increase compared to the 2008 total of 73 sales.
For more information on Chautauqua Lake Real Estate & Living visit:


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Holiday Valley opens new club and hotel

Biggest investment into skiing in NYS ever

ELLICOTTVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) - Holiday Valley is giving skiers another reason to hit the slopes and stick around for awhile.
The Ellicottville resort is celebrating the grand opening of the new Tamarack Club Condominium and Hotel. Four-star amenities include a pool, spa, fitness center and restaurant. The $40 million expansion represents the largest investment in the history of skiing in New York State.
Richard Sandler, General Manager of the Tamarack Club, said, "We just opened our 79 unit, 138 room condominium hotel here at the foot of the slopes here at Holiday Valley. Wonderful construction. It's a ski in, ski out facility."
The new Tamarack Club has also created more than 160 full and part-time jobs.




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Saturday, January 09, 2010


Wine Trail launches new interactive Web site

Listed among the events is the trail's second annual Bare the Barrels White Sale" during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend Jan. 16 to 18.
For more information on Chautauqua Lake Real Estate & Living visit:


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

2-for-1 Nights at Holiday Valley

Upstate Farms Intense Milk 2 for 1. Pick up a bottle of Intense Milk at your favorite store, and bring in the cap for 2 lift tickets for the price of 1 valid on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday nights from 4PM - 10PM. Program starts January 11, 2010. You can get specially marked Intense Milk bottles at Wegmans, Tops, Wilson Farms, Kinney Drugs, Hess Gas Stations and other independent convenience stores

Looking for a new home? Visit our website:
C. Rick & Julia McMahon
Real Estate Advantage Realty 
716-483-3300  or  484-2020

Winter Hikes in Chautauqua County

Beginning January 2, 2010 Evergreen Outfitters will be hosting winter hiking/snow shoeing tours. They will choose a different location throughout Chautauqua County every other Saturday until April. Difficulty of terrain and duration of hike will be discussed once the trial has been chosen.
The cost is $5.00 per person if you have your own gear, $15.00 per person if you would like to rent your gear from Evergreen Outfitters. All hikes include a hot drink and some sort of snack.  They have been known to bring dehydrated meals to try and pastries from Farm Fresh Foods. yummie.
Please call the store at 716-763-2266 to reserve a spot and to get directions.
Dates for the hike are:
January 2, January 16, January 30, February 27, March 13, and March 27.
Evergreen Outfitters
4845 Rt.474, Ashville, NY 14701
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