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Year in Real Estate 2015: Market continues to rise


When the housing bubble burst in 2008, home prices across the country plummeted. The ensuing crisis slashed property values nationwide, and the North Fork and Riverhead were not spared. 

But despite lagging housing values in Riverhead, local real estate agents say the market has recovered — almost back to the heights of the mid-2000s. The North Fork’s housing market, in almost all respects, is back.

“It’s very close to back to where the market was in 2008 before the bubble,” said John Nickles Jr. of Lewis & Nickles in Southold.

Still, he cautioned, the market has changed. Retirement-age homebuyers now make up a substantial part of the market and a recent law regulating short-term rentals in Southold Town promises to shake up the area.

“The market’s never the same,” Mr. Nickles said. “If a river goes by, you’re never going to put your foot in the same place twice.”

Median home prices in Southold jumped from $490,000 in 2014 to $510,000 so far this year, according to real estate tracking firm Suffolk Research Service. This year’s median — calculated through the third quarter — is the highest home prices have been since 2008, and just $15,000 off the high of 2007.

Across the town line in Riverhead, median prices rebounded from $322,000 in 2014 to about $355,000 so far this year. Prices had dropped in 2014, but those losses were made up this year. Another encouraging sign was the total number of units sold in Riverhead, up more than 10 percent from 2014 at 383.

Those strong returns should hold through the end of this year, said Jerry Cibulski, a licensed associate broker with Century 21 Albertson Realty in Southold. Mr. Cibulski said a rise in interest rates has motivated buyers who were on the fence to make offers on properties in order to get mortgages while interest rates are low.

“We’re coming into the first quarter of 2016 with a good headwind,” he said.

Overall, buyers seem to be both more cautious and more educated in the North Fork real estate market than before, Mr. Cibulski added.

“There seems to be a lot of reality built into the market,” he said. “Maintenance costs, insurance, taxes. It’s not just based on price anymore. They’re looking to the overall price of ownership.”

So what kind of houses are hot these days? The same houses that have always sold well, Mr. Cibulski said: three-bedroom, two-bath houses with 1920s styling within walking distance of a beach.

But one difference between ideal homes of the past and those of 2015 are the amenities, he said. Homes that have been recently renovated are more desirable to the second-home buyers that dominate the North Fork’s market.

“A lot of the clientele is looking for move-in ready properties,” Mr. Cibulski said.

Carol Szynaka, North Fork sales manager and associate broker for Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, said the North Fork market could benefit from more homeowners renovating or purchasing houses to “flip” on the market.

“People who come out here don’t want to start remodeling,” she said. “It would be nice if people started putting money back into their homes.”

Waterfront homes are still hot sellers, Ms. Szynaka said. The best deals there can often be found in Riverhead, where lagging home prices make for excellent opportunities to get waterfront property for cheaper than in Southold Town.

“We don’t get a call for Riverhead waterfront as much as we do for the North Fork,” she said. “However, pricing is still advantageous if you look along the waterfront … It seems like you get bargains in Riverhead.”

Others from New York City prefer Riverhead because of its easy access from the Long Island Expressway, with homes along Sound Shore Road proving especially popular.

Ms. Szynaka also sees a shift in the market on the horizon, something she says would be a “game-changer” for the North Fork: the supposedly imminent sale of the iconic Claudio’s restaurant and the Soundview Inn in Greenport to new ownership.

“Not only will it increase values, but it’ll increase the number of people aware of the North Fork,” Ms. Szynaka said. She believes with a new, richer clientele, North Fork businesses will adapt to provide new dining options and services for the incoming audience, who will be seeking more expensive homes.

“When those properties change hands and get modernized, that will dramatically change the face of the North Fork,” she said.

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