SCHENECTADY — City owned property sales have been picking up in 2018 as part of an overall improving housing market, according to the latest property sales reports.
Driven by the city's Home Ownership Made Easy (HOMES) program, sales of city-owned properties in the first six months of the year have already exceeded total sales from 2017 and 2016.
"The more owner-occupied properties we have in the city, the better we're gonna be," said Schenectady City Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, who is also a real estate agent. "On the council, we're gonna be looking more favorably at an owner-occupant than an investor."
Last year, the city sold 89 properties for a total of $1.67 million. So far this year, the city has sold 121 properties for $1.84 million. The city also has sales pending on 67 other properties, worth over $841,000, according to a release from the mayor's office.
This comes as part of a steadily growing housing market with rising prices and a reduction in supply.
The city moves to foreclose on properties that have not filed taxes for two years.
So far this year, sales have ranged from over $84,000 to essentially $0, with many sales falling in the low thousands. The goal is to chip away at the prevalence of abandoned properties, according to officials.
Demolishing homes is also part of the equation, which, coupled with improved market conditions and an increase in demand, allows for better home-resale values in many neighborhoods.
Along Eastern Avenue, for example, The Capital Region Land Bank has demolished 25 homes this year.
According to their executive director, David Hogenkamp, the combination of factors along with demolition has spurred home ownership in the long-neglected corridor.
“We’ve seen in the Eastern Avenue neighborhood that the demand for homes has gone way up as the supply of homes goes down," Hogenkamp said. "What we saw is that the 25 homes demolished by the Land Bank and the city has resulted in a drastic increase in the sale price of properties, so you remove the blight and get improved market conditions, and more people want to live there."
Zalewski-Wildzunas added that while much of the process can be convoluted, city residents can already see benefits in the ownership of homes while walking down the street.
"Immediately you're going to see that [the homes] are being taken care of with things like new roofs and landscaping," the councilwoman said. "The aesthetics are being addressed and that's going to improve real estate values in the whole neighborhood."
Buyers are generally given one year to revamp the property after buying it at a cut rate, and must own it for at least five years after purchase from the city.
Sometimes, however, buyers can get more than they bargained for.
"On occasion, we do end up having to extend [the deadline] because of internal rehab or unexpected expenses," Zalewski-Wildzunas said.
The program's homeownership coordinator, Matthew Smith, described the program as a "two-way street" that increases tax revenue and improves neighborhoods while helping homebuyers along the way.
"The properties vary from those that need a ton of work versus those that only need a few thousand dollars or are close to move-in ready," Smith said. "I think now with the housing market, with a very low inventory of housing, this provides people who are willing to do that type of work [and] are able to purchase a home [to] see good value."
Mayor Gary McCarthy did not return calls for comment, but stated in a release that the program's success is part of a larger pattern of Schenectady becoming a more desirable city.
“What these numbers show is that more and more people are looking to call Schenectady home,” McCarthy said in the release. “With so many ongoing economic development initiatives – the renaissance of downtown, our waterfront at Mohawk Harbor, the investments in our parks, and numerous community partnerships – it is encouraging to see that our efforts are producing real results.”
From a dual real estate and civic perspective, Councilwoman Zalewski-Wildzunas said, the benefits of the program are simple.
"More homes are back on the tax rolls, and the neighborhoods are looking better."