Why Saratoga Springs Has Become Such An Amazing Place To Live

'saratoga living' interviewed builders, real estate agents and more on the upward trend in real estate.

Saratoga Real Estate
One of the Saratoga homes built by John Witt.

Certain parts of Saratoga Springs are “like a block out of New York City,” where all the amenities of day-to-day living—services, food, coffee, entertainment—are within walking distance of residential spaces, says Barry Potoker, executive director of Saratoga Builders Association. “You don’t have to go anywhere.”

Potoker terms it the “residential effect: people want to be closer to downtown.” The idea of living where you live—rather than commuting—is a national trend that finds plenty of examples in downtown Saratoga Springs. It is a different picture in the outlying areas of the city and in the neighboring towns, which are more traditional bedroom communities, but with their own strong real estate and rental markets.

A look at the real estate market in the region—including the suburban areas such as the towns of Saratoga, Malta and Clifton Park—reveals both the downtown trend Potoker cites as well as a varied outlook for single-family home purchases. For this overview, Saratoga Living interviewed builders, real estate legal and sales personnel, city planning officials and the Capital District Regional Planning Commission.

Kate Maynard, principal planner with the Saratoga Springs Planning Office, says the “walkability component” is both a continuing objective and a significant success of the downtown. In that regard, the Railroad Place and Market Center developments just a block from downtown provide a working example of what cities nationally are aiming at: mixed-use local neighborhoods; walking destinations; day and night activity.

“Destination and diversity of residential living has been a goal of the city,” she says. The American Planning Association has recognized Saratoga’s success at core downtown development that utilizes the “infill” and re-use or demolition of old sites to create localized, convenient communities.

John Witt is a builder with a hand in the various markets of the city and surrounding towns. Witt Construction’s projects include million dollar showcase homes in Saratoga County and the Capital District, but also condos and apartments that reflect a market changed by the recession—now growing again but a bit more modestly. Witt cites the Excelsior Park project near Northway Exit 15, now in planning and review, as an example of both recent history and the changing market. That was initially to be 200 condominiums plus a spa and commercial space. His company built 30 condos there by 2007, but the weakening market put a halt to that. Now he is redesigning the project to incorporate 108 apartments in three buildings, enhanced by a clubhouse. Rents are projected at $1,100 to $1,800 per month. Fifty condominium-type homes are also envisioned to sell in the mid-$200,000 range.

Witt says this plan is to “hit the affordability factor with great quality of life.” He anticipates construction to start this building season.

Price is the factor here, he says, noting that condominiums downtown begin at around $600,000, including some he is planning near East Side Rec, which will be in that range and above. But the shock the market took in the 2007-09 period left a lot of pricey downtown condos unsold still, says Witt, which is a reason for caution. He plans to build his condo project once he has purchase agreements.

Baby boomers—those now in their prime earning years but seeing a change on the horizon—have their own reasons for caution. Witt recognizes a somewhat different market posed by this demographic. He describes them as “saving for retirement and not wanting to put as much money in a house…a lot are choosing to rent and do other things.”

They may choose to rent or to invest in the more mid-range housing, Witt says, though this does not mean a lack of amenities. “They want to be comfortable so they can age in place.” Some, he said, are moving from “big soaking tubs to walk-in showers.” Such considerations are part of the attraction of apartments and condos, which leave the renter or owner without maintenance chores.

Charlie Goodridge, realtor with Prudential Manor Homes, deals largely with single-family resale homes. He sees “a stronger, healthier market” for both the in-city environment and the traditional suburban areas. “People want to be within walking distance of what downtown offers,” he says. “There’s a lot of demand for that.” There is also good demand for the region surrounding Saratoga Springs. He cautions that the buyer needs to be ready with the checkbook, due to the competition to close deals. “If they are not prepared to move quickly, the house is going to sell.”

But this period is not like the hot market in 2004-05, when there was “silly money being thrown at it,” with offers $20,000 over the asking price. Now, offers may be “a conservative amount over the asking price, but not an absurd amount.” That relates to homes in the $300,000 to $400,000 range and up. Goodridge says sales seem to follow a seven-year cycle. In what is essentially the Saratoga Springs Central School District—the city, Greenfield, Wilton and Northumberland—he cites the period ending in 2012 as the start of a resurgence, following strong markets in 2005-07 and low points in 2008- 09. In 2013 the market continued to gain and that looks favorable for 2014, he said. The rough patch of the recession saw home-buying stall but apartment rentals spike, partially driven by the economic push around GlobalFoundries, the Malta and Stillwater computer chip fabricating plant. But home sales are now going well. That is evidenced by the average days on the market, a statistic important to realtors. Stats show that in the school district market, the average dropped from 102 days on market to 87 between 2012 and 2013, while in the city proper the average dropped from 102 days to 84.

Looking a bit further back, according to Multiple Listing Service stats, in 2007 the average sale price was $324,344 in the school district, with 554 houses sold. The slump saw prices drop by an average of $35,000 and units sold drop by about 125. Then in 2013 the average price climbed to $325,083, with 602 units sold.

An array of statistics is available from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission for businesses evaluating the market, for planners, and for those simply seeking to understand the profile of various communities.

One of the most significant elements for the time being, according to Rocco Ferraro, CDRPC executive director, is the punch of the baby boomers. The boomers, defined as having been born from 1946 to 1964, are in the years of prime wealth and career standing. They are the wealthiest generation in this nation’s history, Ferraro says, as the first generation with many families having two incomes.

In Saratoga County overall, the boomers are the largest age cohort. In the 2010 Census, those aged 45 to 64 were counted at 65,768 out of a total population of 219,607. That lump will be passing along the python into the 2050s, when the county population is projected at 252,153.

In Clifton Park, the boomers totaled 11,393 in 2010 out of 36,705. In Saratoga Springs, they are 7,311 out of a population of 26,586. The city’s youthful profile is evident in these stats also, however, with the 15-34 cohort totaling 8,169 in 2010. They’ll be in the market a bit later.

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