Is the Hudson Valley Turning Into the Hamptons?

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For Amelia Sandell, the Hudson Valley was appealing because it was nothing like the Hamptons. Although now, she admits, that argument is getting harder to make.

“It feels like the amount of people from Brooklyn who are buying second homes here is growing exponentially by the day,” said Ms. Sandell, 43, who lives in a brownstone in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, with her husband, Rob Schlederer, 47. She is a founder of Red Lantern Strategy, a market research company based in Dumbo, and her husband is a broker at Compass.

The couple recently bought a small cottage with a wraparound porch, on property with a creek, in Stone Ridge, N.Y.

“We were up at our house recently at the grocery store, and we ran into people we know from the dog park in Brooklyn,” Ms. Sandell said. “Often it feels like we are even more social up there with our friends than we are at home.”

For generations, New Yorkers have flocked to the Hudson Valley to escape the pace of city life, often choosing it over the Hamptons for its affordability, as well as its relative lack of traffic, pretense and SoulCycle studios. But as more city residents buy homes upstate, that distinction is becoming less obvious.

Even in places like the Catskills, once known as the borscht belt. Recently, some have given it a new name: The Camptons. And the once-sleepy hamlet of Kerhonkson, N.Y., where a number of ultramodern million-dollar homes have been built in recent years, has been dubbed Kerhampton.

More alarming, for some, is the arrival this spring of a Hudson Valley version of the Hampton Jitney, the upscale bus that is a quintessential symbol of the eastern Long Island getaway. Line, a business-class bus service run by Trailways of New York, will ferry weekenders upstate for upward of $50 one way, offering them high-speed Wi-Fi, cappuccinos and locally sourced snacks.

Destinations on the eastern shore of the Hudson, like Rhinebeck in Dutchess County and Hudson in Columbia County, have long been in the cross hairs of New Yorkers on the hunt for second homes. But now lesser-known areas on the west side of the river, including the Rondout Valley in Ulster County, are entering the fray.

A sliver of land between the Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskill Mountains, the Rondout Valley is made up of hamlets like Kerhonkson, High Falls, Stone Ridge and Accord (pronounced AK-ord). Helping drive the area’s popularity are the many activities on offer, from hiking at the nearby Mohonk Preserve to drinking micro-brews at Arrowood Farms and shopping for pricey antiques at Field and Barn.

While some may find the spreading Hampton-ification of the Hudson Valley irksome, it has helped buoy the real estate market. In Ulster County, for example, home prices have been rising steadily in the last five years, although like those in many other regions, they were relatively soft in 2018 compared with the year before.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, the median home value in Ulster County was $221,500, compared with $192,000 in the fourth quarter of 2013, an increase of more than 15 percent, according to data from the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. And last year, sales of homes valued at $900,000 or more nearly doubled, to 39, from just 21 the year before, according to data from the Hudson Valley Catskill Region multiple listing service.

“Home buyers have discovered that their dollars go much further here than in other areas that are a similar distance from New York City,” said Jeff Serouya, an associate real estate broker at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Hudson Valley Properties. “The Rondout Valley has become a destination for a lot of creatives, because there are all these charming towns, but no throngs of day trippers, and there is a very young, organic agricultural movement that has taken hold.”

Real estate developers have taken notice, and several new projects are in the works. “Over the past few years, we have seen a large uptick in the number of applicants coming to the planning board for approvals for subdivisions or development,” said Timothy Sweeney, a broker at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Nutshell Realty, who is on the town board of Marbletown, which includes the hamlets of Stone Ridge and High Falls. Among the projects under consideration there are one 18-home parcel and another 14-home parcel, he said.

The area’s many attractions are partly what drove Jeff Park and his wife, Leslie Kim, to consider the Rondout Valley. The couple, both 32, live in a one-bedroom in Hell’s Kitchen, and were considering upgrading to a larger apartment. “We went to open houses for two-bedrooms, and it just felt like nothing was enough space,” said Ms. Kim, who works in education.

Instead, the couple began researching real estate upstate, specifically Hudson Woods, an Instagram-friendly development in Kerhonkson with 26 stylish homes featuring Scandinavian design and materials like local bluestone and white oak. The development, which opened in 2014 and is sold out, recently had its first resale. That home, a three-bedroom cabin on six acres with an in-ground pool, sold for $695,000 when it was brand-new in 2014. It was listed at $1.2 million late last year and closed in December for $975,000.

“It was a distressed scenario, because the owners had to move to London and were subject to tax penalties if they did not sell very quickly,” said Drew Lang, the developer of Hudson Woods.

In the end, Mr. Park and Ms. Kim chose not to buy at Hudson Woods, in part because of the proximity of the homes and their similarities in design. The couple chose Waterfall Properties, a nearby development that was begun in 2012 an

Every house in the development has a name: Cat Hill has a glass fitness studio that appears to float against the tree line; TinkerBox Guest House has an oversized garage, a wine cellar and a furniture workshop. The couple settled on Creek House, a three-bedroom home on seven acres, set on a cliff overlooking Mombaccus Creek.

“We decided to make the creek the focus of the house, because the site is very dynamic, set within the woods, and with the creek situated 100 feet below,” said Marica McKeel, 41, the architect and developer of Waterfall Properties.

“The house has all these interesting plays on facades and an open layout, with full floor-to-ceiling windows that cantilever out,” said Mr. Park, a financial analyst. “If it wasn’t for this house, we may not have pulled the trigger, but we loved the design, and it was within that two-hour radius from New York.”

The listing price was $1.2 million, and Mr. Park and Ms. Kim closed on the home late last year for $1.05 million.

Buying Creek House also made sense from a financial perspective. “One of our other thoughts was that the tax code change meant a lot of deductions were going away, but not for maintenance against rental income,” Mr. Park said. “So at some level, it raised the possibility of what an investment could look like, if we ever made this a rental property.”

In fact, Creek House was a rental property before Mr. Park and Ms. Kim bought it. The original owners moved to California and had listed it on Airbnb, which gave Mr. Park and Ms. Kim the opportunity to stay there for a weekend.

“We actually slept in it before we bought it,” Ms. Kim said. “We just wanted to experience it before we committed.”

The advent of Airbnb in the area is another factor pushing demand in the Rondout Valley, brokers said. “Airbnb is the biggest economic driver I’ve seen in 23 years in business,” Mr. Sweeney said. “It is huge.”

There are few laws in the area prohibiting short-term rentals — unlike in the Hamptons, which has imposed several rental restrictions — although some towns have begun considering it.

Weekenders renting homes through Airbnb is one reason Trailways of New York decided to introduce its new Jitney-like service.

“We saw a change in the type of traveler that was using our buses, with more New Yorkers coming up from the city for the weekend than people who were in the Hudson Valley traveling down to New York for work,” said Alexander Berardi, the company’s director of marketing and business development. And that created an opening for “a higher-class bus service, like the Jitney, in that it is synonymous with the same type of traveler and destination.”

As part of its marketing, Line, which began running last fall, has partnered with local businesses like Harney & Sons teas in Millerton and Cold Spring Apothecary in Cold Spring. And the service eschews typical bus stops, dropping passengers instead at hot spots like Sweet Sue’s in Phoenicia and Scribner’s Catskill Lodge in Hunter.

“We are stopping at places where people are connected culturally,” Mr. Berardi said. “It is more about the experience and the journey.”

For Ms. Sandell and Mr. Schlederer, Stone Ridge proved an ideal place to put down roots. “We have friends who bought in Accord, so we got to know the area through them,” Ms. Sandell said. “We looked for nine months before we found it, since the market is competitive.”

The couple paid $275,000 for their 700-square-foot cottage, which sits on five acres and includes a seven-acre plot nearby. They won out over three competing bids, made within 36 hours of the home going on the market.

The area’s popularity may be growing, but Ms. Sandell insisted that the spirit of the place and its affordability remain intact: “It is so relaxed, and the focus is on nature and calm.”

As far as she is concerned, she added, “the Hudson Valley is still the anti-Hamptons.”

Published in The New York Times, Apr. 12, 2019

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