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Despite slump, Ontario County lures homebuyers

Despite a bumpy year for property sales nationwide, the last six months have been good for commercial and residential real estate in Ontario County, one local Realtor says.

Andy Griffith, owner-broker of Re/Max Properties in Canandaigua, says the housing market in Ontario County is doing pretty well, especially if a property is priced right.

Homes priced below $175,000 are doing particularly well, he says.

"There’s almost a lack of good inventory in those price points," Griffith says.

Griffith, like other real estate professionals in the area, is not surprised that Ontario County’s housing market has been able to hold its own for the most part despite a global economic recession and national housing slump.

In addition to being minutes from the business center of Monroe County, Griffith says, Ontario County has gained a reputation as a playground of sorts, with the Finger Lakes, skiing venues and many parks.

"It has the lifestyle a lot of people are looking for," he says.

Ontario County is one of the few counties in the region whose population has grown recently. Nearly 104,000 people live in the county, up 4 percent from 2000, federal data shows.

The increase is reflected in home sales.

For the third quarter of 2009-the most recent period for which data is available-297 homes were sold in Ontario County. That total was a 2.4 percent increase from the 290 sold during the same period last year, according to the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors Inc., and was up 36.9 percent from 217 in the second quarter.

The median home price for the third quarter was $129,000, down from $147,000 in the same period last year.

Ontario County has two cities, 16 towns and eight villages; real estate professionals say the Victor and Canandaigua areas are the hot spots for new construction, while other parts of the county see more resale of homes.

What is helping to drive new construction and sales of existing homes in Ontario County is the $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers, says Nick Glamack, broker-owner of Victor-based Glamack Real-tors, who sells homes in the Victor and Bloomfield areas.

For the tax credit program, the Internal Revenue Service defines a first-time homebuyer as someone who has not owned a principal residence for three years prior to the purchase.

Glamack notes that certain parts of Victor, such as the Cobblestone Creek subdivision, built around the golf course of the same name, are pricier and can drive up average home prices. But many homes are ideal for first-time buyers in the village of Victor and neighboring Farmington, part of which lies in the Victor Central School District.

Despite the federal incentives and increases in local home sales, Glamack says, it is still a buyer’s market.

"Buyers now are cautious," he says. "They are looking at all their options and seeking out the best deals."

He and others expect the recently announced $6,500 tax credit for move-up homebuyers to add to home sales, as well. Move-up buyers have owned homes for five consecutive years in the last eight and are now looking to purchase new ones.

Glamack, who also sells homes in Monroe County, says Ontario County has a number of assets, from being home to

Eastview Mall in Victor and part of the Finger Lakes region to having easy access to major thoroughfares and a country feel.

"All in all, it’s a very attractive place," he says.

Bonney Powers, president of Powers Real-tors Inc. in Canandaigua, agrees that the first-time homebuyer tax credit and the move-up credit are helping sales. Recent warmer weather also may be helping. Home sales typically drop in the fall, but it has been busier than normal, Powers notes.

Powers says homes under $250,000 seem to be selling better than higher-priced properties, although lakefront homes on the same side of the road as the water also sell well despite higher prices.

While she sells in all parts of the county, Powers says the Canandaigua area is especially attractive because its larger tax base translates to lower tax rates.

"That means a lot to people," Powers says. "Lower taxes usually mean more house."

While she does not specialize in commercial real estate, Powers also notes that the Main Street building where she leases space is at full capacity for the first time in several years and has a waiting list.

Re/Max’s Griffith agrees that the commercial market is healthy. He has been busy with office space in Canandaigua and is working with a national tenant looking for office space in the city.

Michael Manikowski, director of the Ontario County Office of Economic Development, is not surprised by the commercial growth.

The county has a number of assets that businesses would find attractive, he says. It has a strategic plan for economic development, and an open-access fiber-optic ring under construction will provide telecommunications services throughout the county.

In addition, Ontario County has four interchanges on the New York State Thruway, an active railroad line and a small general-aviation airport undergoing expansion to handle corporate jets.

Its assets earned Ontario County the 2006 designation "Best Place to Live" in the United States by Progressive Farmer, a magazine about country life, he adds.

"The county really has a superior location in Upstate New York," Manikowski says.

12/11/09 (c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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