Chappaqua prices dip slightly

<i>Sellers in Clintons' adopted hometown price closer to buyers' expectations</i>

It’s only natural that suburban enclaves within commuting distance of Manhattan are less susceptible to sudden real estate market downturns than their counterparts in Middle America.

Chappaqua, New York, home to one of the best school districts in the country, is no exception. The hamlet, one of the poshest enclaves in Westchester, has boasted former president Bill Clinton and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton as residents since January 2000. It also features large, often wooded, properties with equally large, older homes, set back discreetly from winding roads.

It’s hardly the place one would find a McMansion, and with parking spots guaranteed for all Chappaqua residents at the local Metro North station, commuters can get to Midtown in an hour.

As a result, the hamlet is considered a premier location for residents who want to raise their families outside New York City while still earning city salaries. Local real estate agents even report an unexpected bump in sales this past summer, often a slower time of year for the housing market.

But despite the fact that 145 homes have sold in Chappaqua already this year (12 more than at this time last year), Bonnie Golub, an agent with Prudential Holmes & Kennedy’s Chappaqua office, notes prices have fallen.

While many sellers still haven’t caught up with the less vibrant market of 2007 — compared with the boom of 2005 — and show no signs of taking into account the current credit crunch, Golub and other agents believe their clients are getting the message. Some are spending thousands of dollars to stage their homes — adding rented furniture and other interior design elements specifically for open houses.

And some are pricing their homes closer to what savvy buyers expect to pay in this changed market.

“Buyers can go online and compare houses. They know which houses have been sitting on the market for a long time,” says Golub.

Houses under $1 million are much more common than they were several years ago, according to agents, and buyers can even find homes in the $500,000 to $600,000 range. Pat Rochford, office manager of Houlihan Lawrence’s Chappaqua office, says the inventory in this lower price range is much greater than it has been in recent years.

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“The prices edged down a touch from last year — 2 to 3 percent,” she says. “The need to reduce prices was not huge, but I think they just came down enough for buyers to see value in Chappaqua.”

Still, not every broker agrees with that assessment. Preliminary third-quarter data from the Westchester MLS indicates that average home prices in Chappaqua are up over this time last year.

The hamlet, with its gently rolling hills and picturesque streams, doesn’t usually see much change in its housing stock. Most of the homes being bought and sold in Chappaqua are Colonials, with some ranches, capes, Victorians and Tudors in the mix.

But a proposed condominium development called Chappaqua Crossing could change that, bringing hundreds of units to a town dominated by large homes, although it is likely years away from happening.

The developers, Summit Development and Greenfield Partners of South Norwalk, Conn., recently presented a plan with 278 units for the former campus of Reader’s Digest, which sold the 116-acre property in 2004. The proposal is currently being considered by the New Castle Town Board, the governing municipality.

Residents opposing the plans are concerned that the community of 18,000 won’t be able to handle added traffic and that more children in town will strain the local school district and eventually cause a tax hike.

Certainly, parents of those children would want them to attend area schools. The local high school, Horace Greeley (considered Chappaqua’s most famous resident until recently), was rated the 49th best public high school in the nation by Newsweek magazine earlier this year.

Of course, Chappaqua’s highly rated schools burnish its property values.

“We had a house on a cul-de-sac, in perfect condition, that sold in three days for almost $1.5 million with multiple offers. There are houses that have sold in one week. There are houses that take three weeks,” Golub says.

But she cautions that it’s not rosy for all sellers. “There are houses that haven’t sold. It just depends on the owner’s realism. The whole key to selling in this market is realistic pricing,” she says.