Home sales up in county

Cheaper properties draw buyers from surrounding counties and other regions.


David Blatchley/contributing photographer
Brian Cummins of Cummins Real Estate, left, and Lewis Bogdanovic stand in front of 74 Greenbush St. to discuss reasons why Lewis decided to buy the house and move to Cortland, even though he works in Ithaca. A growing number of Tompkins and Onondaga residents find Cortland more affordable, real estate agents report.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Lewis Bogdanovic looked at about 40 houses in Tompkins County but finally decided to buy one in Cortland County.
“Cortland is much more affordable,” said the 33-year-old Cornell University lab analyst.
At the end of the month, Bogdanovic will be moving from Lansing to 74 Greenbush St. in Cortland with his wife, Emma, 40, and their son Duncan, who is less than 1 year old. The family is among a growing number of Tompkins and Onondaga county residents who are buying houses in Cortland County, local real estate agents say.
Agents also report a growing number of young people, downstate investors and minorities buying houses in Cortland County.
Growth beyond the border
Mark Skodzinski, a licensed real estate broker with Warren Real Estate in Ithaca, said that over the past four years, a growing number of Tompkins County residents have moved to Cortland County.
That’s because Ithaca is getting too expensive for them, he said.
“Four years ago is when the Ithaca market really took off,” he said.
Since 2004, the amount of single-family homes sold in Cortland County has increased 9.6 percent, according to a housing survey by the New York State Association of Realtors. In Tompkins County, sales have increased 0.9 percent over the same period.
Tom Cummins, co-owner of Cummins Real Estate in Cortlandville, said suburbs typically are desirable places for people moving in to Cortland, although those can be pricier than other locations.
For people who want to spend less money but still live in a nice location, many move to Cortland’s West End, he said.
Skodzinski said many people who work in Ithaca choose to buy houses just beyond the county line close to the Cortland County Airport, on such streets as Sterling Park and Hedgemore Drive.
“It’s close to Ithaca but Cortland prices,” he said.
Skodzinski is one of those people. He lives in Fercor Drive in Cortlandville.
“The house that I actually purchased for myself, the one that I live in, would cost more than one and one-half times what I paid for (in Ithaca),” he said.
Ithaca residents also like moving to Homer, which has a good school district, he said.
Peter Testa, owner of Testa Calco Real Estate in Cortland, said a growing number of people from Onondaga County also are moving to Cortland County.
Prices are cheaper and people are willing to commute to work, he said.
“We hear more about it more and more,” he said. “People are more mobile now. They don’t mind driving.”
The housing survey found single-family home sales in Onondaga County have dropped 4.5 percent since 2004.
Younger people buying
Testa said more and more younger people are also buying houses. Many of them are realizing that monthly rent payments can be just as expensive, if not more expensive, than monthly mortgage payments.
“When you look at the rental, if you’re paying $600, $700 or $800 to rent a two-bedroom apartment, it’s not far away to buy,” he said.
Houses in Cortland County cost as little as $50,000, $60,000 or $70,000, Testa said. If the buyer pays 1 percent of the house’s sales price on a monthly mortgage, which is often the case, buying a house can be a bargain.
The Internet helps young people find relatively inexpensive houses for sale, he said.
Young people also use the Internet to discover first-time homebuyer programs, he said. The programs, which are more common today than ever, allow new homebuyers to buy houses without a lot of cash down.
Bob Ferris, owner of Ferris Real Estate in Cortlandville, agreed those programs are spurring housing sales among younger people.
“There are more programs available: FHA, USDA — two residential programs,” he said. “Both allow the buyer to purchase with not too much cash. As opposed to when your parents bought, they had to have quite a big of cash saved up.”
More out-of-region people buying
Cummins said more and more people from outside of upstate New York are buying properties in Cortland County.
Those buyers include parents of students attending SUNY Cortland, he said.
“They’re buying houses up here for kids going to Cortland State,” he said.
The students live in the houses until graduation and then the parents sell the houses, he said.
Also, parents rent out rooms in the houses to other students attending SUNY Cortland. Parents end up making money on their purchase, he said.
If the house cost $75,000, for example, and the parents charge three different students $2,200 per semester — or about $450 per month, the parents earn more than $1,000 a month.
But on a $75,000 house, for example, parents only have to pay about $750—or 1 percent of the house’s cost — in mortgage a month, he said.
Cummins said not only are parents of college students buying properties temporarily but so are some college students themselves.
Skodzinski added that investors from outside the area who don’t have kids attending SUNY Cortland are also buying rental properties in Cortland.
They get a better return on their investment, he said.
Investors use different formulas to determine investment return; some take more factors into consideration than others. Gross rent multipliers are one way for an investor to find out how much he or she must spend on a property to get a certain amount of annual rent.
Skodzinski said New York City has a gross multiplier of at least 13, Tompkins County a gross rent multiplier of 8 or 9 and Cortland a gross rent multiplier of about 5. That means for an investor to earn the same amount of annual rent on a property in each location, he or she must spent at least $130,000 in New York City, $80,000 or $90,000 in Tompkins County and $50,000 in Cortland County.
Ferris said Cortland County has such a low gross rent multiplier because investors can get relatively high rents for low-cost properties.
“You can make money on a less expensive property here,” he said. “In place like Long Island and Ithaca you’re going to pay a whole lot money for property that doesn’t generate any more income.”
Skodzinski said the news media has gotten the world out about Ithaca being a relatively inexpensive place to buy properties, and people have looked a little farther over to Cortland as a result.
“There’s a lot of carryover,” he said.
More non-traditional, minority buyers
Ferris also noted a growing number of people in non-traditional relationships and minorities are buying houses in Cortland County than before.
Non-traditional relationships include unmarried couples and homosexual relationships.
“It’s more accepted in today’s society,” he said.
“If two men want to live together and buy a house today, they aren’t subjected to scorn as they were several years ago.”
In the past, people of certain ages, races, religion and colors faced discrimination when they tried to take loans out of the bank, he said. Now, that doesn’t happen, or at least by law shouldn’t happen.

“We have to subscribe to the (federal) Fair Housing Law (Act),” he said. “You can’t (disc


Cortland is seller’s market

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Brian Cummins, co-owner of Cummins Real Estate and president of the Cortland County Board of Realtors, said unlike many cities across the nation, Cortland’s housing market is relatively strong.
“There’s a perception in the nation, and it’s a national fact, the market has a bubble, and it burst, whereas Cortland is still a seller’s market,” he said.
That means that Cortland’s house prices continue to rise. A seller’s market is a market that has more buyers than sellers. High prices results from an excess of demand over supply.
Cummins foresees that Cortland will eventually become a buyer’s market — which has more sellers than buyers — like many of the cities across the nation.
Low prices result from this excess of supply over demand.
“I do foresee that it’ll change to a buyer’s market but it won’t be as drastic as it is for the rest of the country,” he said.
But for now, Cortland’s a hot place to buy property, he said. One of his clients, Lewis Bogdanovic, whose new house on Greenbush Street is costing him $128,000, agrees.
“This place is inexpensive,” he said. “And it’s still a nice place to live.”




Dryden man indicted in poison case

Staff Reporter

ITHACA — A Dryden man who was arrested in August for allegedly attempting to poison his landlord was indicted by a Tompkins County grand jury this morning on assault charges.
Henry R. Hanson, 51, no address given, was indicted for attempted second-degree assault, a felony.
Hanson was arrested in July for _allegedly putting pills in his landlord’s milk carton. Hanson was charged with the attempted murder of Herb Benjamin, 76, of 1 Brightday Road, Dryden, but Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson said this morning that based on the toxicology reports since the arrest, she did not feel she could prove the attempted murder charge.
“At the time the New York State Police filed the charges the investigation indicated that there was a substance in his (Benjamin’s) blood,” she said. “Now we are unable to tie him (Hanson) to the exact substance that was in his blood.”
Wilkinson declined to comment on what the substance found in Benjamin’s blood was, or what the pills were that Hanson allegedly put in the milk.
“To put it really clearly, I don’t think we can prove the attempted murder charge,” she said. “It’s a hard charge to prove because it goes to frame of mind.”
Benjamin said in July that he had not been feeling well for several months when he found 10 pills in the bottom of his milk carton. He said he had been renting a room of his mobile home to Hanson for eight months after Hanson came to him in fall 2005, homeless and looking for a place to stay for the winter.
Hanson became controlling and mean a few months into his stay, Benjamin said, so much so that he was attempting to evict him.
Wilkinson said this morning that sometime during the last few weeks Hanson had been taken to the village of Mt. Morris, in Livingston County. According to Livingston County Jail, he was arrested on unrelated charges of second-degree aggravated harassment.
He was being held this morning in the Livingston County Jail pending payment of $2,500 cash bail. His next court appearance is Oct. 11 in Mt. Morris Village Court.
As of this morning, Hansen’s next court date in Tompkins County had not been released.




Dialogue with Riverside Plaza owner opens up

Staff Reporter

At a Monday morning meeting between city and county officials and the owners of Riverside Plaza, the BDC/IDA asked the plaza’s owner to justify its receipt of Empire Zone benefits or risk losing them.
The Common Council asked Thoma Development Consultants to apply for a $20,000 grant on Sept. 5 to fund a strategic plan for the “gateway” area surrounding Exit 11 of Interstate 81.
The Riverside Mall has been identified by many as a primary focus of concern, including Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency.
Buffalo-based Bella Vista Group, which owns the plaza, has received $90,000 in tax benefits as a result of its Empire Zone designation, Hartsock said. The plaza has had that designation since January of 2003.
“We’ve asked them to put together and to show to us a comprehensive façade improvement program. We’ve asked them to document capital improvements that they’d done over the past three years … and a capital improvement plan for the next three years in order to maintain their Empire Zone status,” Hartsock said after the meeting.
The capital improvement plan also needs documented sources of funding, Hartsock said.
On the original application, $4.1 million in investment was projected over a three-year period, as well as two new positions — one full-time maintenance employee, and a full-time rental agent.
Hartsock said that only a part-time maintenance employee has been added and the investment has not been made.
“We’re asking them to document what they have actually invested in the property over that time period,” Hartsock said this morning. “What he did talk about yesterday was putting a new roof on P&C. Routine maintenance and tenant improvements don’t constitute capital investment projects.”
Outstanding code violations are also an issue, and Hartsock said the plaza could lose its Empire Zone designation if its owner doesn’t remedy these violations, which include building and grounds maintenance.
“His message to us over the years, has been our economy doesn’t warrant investment,” Hartsock said of Joe Cipolla, property manager for Bella Vista.
The years between 1990 and 2000 were tough for the area economy, Hartsock acknowledged, but she said the last five years have seen improvement for the city.
Cipolla had told the Cortland Standard in September that about 65 percent of the 190,000-square-foot plaza was occupied. One tenant, Advance Auto Parts, will move to a site under construction on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Pomeroy Street.