The Springtime Market…A Real Estate Conversation

River Journal asked four top producers to answer a series of questions about the villages they live in and the allure of our Rivertowns.

Karen Stroub — William Raveis Legends Realty Group

1. You live in Tarrytown. What makes the Village special? Please be as specific as you care to be.


Tarrytown is brimming with Old World Village charm and a strong sense of community. A real Norman Rockwell vibe which is contrary to living outside of one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world.

2. (a) What draws people to Tarrytown (specifics)?

One of the big draws to Tarrytown is the vibrant Main Street. We have an eclectic array of great restaurants, an historic Music Hall, and community events and parades throughout the year. Other draws would be: access to the public walking trails of the Rockefeller property; the Tarrytown Lakes for walking, kayaking, ice skating and fishing; and access to the Hudson River for walking the Riverwalk paths, boating, kayaking, sailing and swimming.

(b) What draws people to the Rivertowns?

The proximity to NYC, and also enjoying the respite away from the hustle and bustle of a large metropolitan city which is only a short train or car ride away. Access to major highways, parkways and historic sites.

3. What trends do you see in your clients as far as ages, lifestyles, requirements, their past residences?

One of the biggest trends is downsizing. People today do not want the McMansions with a lot of maintenance and cost associated with owning them. Today the real focus is on living in a village on a smaller more manageable scale. Walking out your door to access shopping and restaurants is a big item on buyers’ wish lists when purchasing a home. Tembusu Grand CDL is close to shopping malls like Parkway Parade, Katong Shopping Centre and Tanjong Katong Complex.

4. What are newcomers looking for?  Feel free to differentiate with age grouping and differing generations.

a. Housing needs:  Regardless of age, taxes and condition, the subject property is always top on one’s list.

b. Environment and accessibility to services: Proximity to the Metro North train station and bus lines for individuals who work in Manhattan full time.

c. Schools – i.e. some seek diversity, others seek top-rated schools, etc. Still, with others the schools may not be that much of an issue: NY State Licensing Law prohibits me from commenting on schools.

5. What price points do the majority of buyers seek, and what are the ranges offered in the villages you represent?

One of the great draws to the Rivertowns is the various price points and types of housing available. We have something for almost everyone.

6.  If you feel you have a specialty in real estate sales what is it? Also, how do you specifically interact with buyers and sellers?

My specialty would be listing properties. One of my biggest professional strengths, having over 20 years of experience, is offering guidance in selling one of the client’s personal largest investments. Professional staging and photography, 3D video and virtual staging are some of the most recent cutting edge tools in the industry that I offer.

Buying a home can be one of the most stressful experiences if you don’t have a qualified, experienced agent to work for you. Before I establish a comfort level and outline the process of a buyer’s individual expectations, I establish a plan even before previewing homes, which includes financial guidance and a timeline.

Suzan Zeolla — Houlihan Lawrence

1. You live in Briarcliff Manor. What makes the Village special? Please be as specific as you care to be.  Also, please talk about Ossining as well.

I have lived in Briarcliff Manor for about 20 years, raised my two children, now grown adults, and I don’t have plans on leaving Briarcliff any time soon. I remember falling in love with Briarcliff as I was driving on Pleasantville Road passing the charming Colonials of the tree streets.  I think it was Fall, the trees were turning and I remember having this big smile on my face as I drove into the Village. That was the first time coming to Briarcliff Manor.

When someone asks me to describe our Village, the perfect word that comes to my mind is “quaint.”  We are a small town where everyone knows each other. What I find special is the friendly atmosphere where everyone also knows your children by name, smiles and says hello.  It’s a very close community where you feel you are at home. Everything you need is right in the Village. The post office, police station, fire station, restaurants, nail salon, clothing store, banks, hardware store, deli, seafood/meat, cleaners, stationery store, gift store and of course, the real estate offices all together on one little strip.  You also have the new library, Law Park with our town pool, pavilion (now being rebuilt) tennis courts and a playground.

We have golf courses such as the Sleepy Hollow Country Club and Trump National Golf Course. We have a bike path off of Routes 9A/100 and we also have the Rockefeller State Park Preserve.  We now have a restaurant named after our zip code – “105-Ten.”  You can sit at the bar or eat dinner at a table.  You can go with your spouse, date, family or by yourself. It reminds me of the “Cheers” bar where everyone knows your name.

Ossining is a vibrant community where residents want to be involved and connected.  It’s another place where the residents take pride in their community and enjoy the friendly down-to-earth atmosphere.

Here you will find more shopping, restaurants, super-markets, and parks. In Downtown Ossining you will see beautiful historical buildings dating back to the 19th Century, banks, restaurants and bars. There are plans for developing the riverfront already starting with a new rental building that has views of the Hudson River which is walking distance to the Ossining train station! It’s a short and direct commute to NYC with express trains that have views of the Hudson River that you can enjoy on your ride.

Ossining also has homes with river views, various Condo developments, and tons of things to do and places to visit including Veteran’s Park, Ryder Park, and Ossining Community Center where there’s an indoor pool and a variety of programs for all ages.  They have an annual Village Fair and a Farmers Market on Main Street on Saturdays. If you love nature you can go to the Teatown Lake Reservation where you can walk, hike, or have a picnic.

2.  What draws people to Briarcliff (specifics)? What draws people to the Rivertowns?

Close proximity to the City, easy access to County airports & all major highways. It’s the perfect place to commute to NYC, Rockland County, NJ, CT and upstate NY. We are about 15 minutes to White Plains where you’ll find more shopping, restaurants and hotels. You can hop on a train in Tarrytown that goes to Yankee Stadium. We have tons of recreational parks and fields, lakes, charming towns/villages, school systems, walking trails, and of course the Hudson River.  There are many restaurants along the river, a quick (about 45 minutes) and scenic view as you ride the train into NYC! It’s a perfect place to commute to work or enjoy the City in your spare time.

3. What trends do you see in your clients as far as ages, lifestyles, requirements, their past residences?

We see more buyers coming from the City as well as buyers moving from lower and upper Westchester and our surrounding areas. Some buyers are already living in Briarcliff and are looking to find a larger or smaller home. There are more people not moving out of Briarcliff and our inventory is so low this year!  I think people just enjoy living here so much that they’re no in rush to move once their children are out of school.

4. What are newcomers looking for? Feel free to differentiate with age grouping and differing generations.

a. Housing needs:  My clients are looking for the open layouts where the kitchen, family room and even the dining room are all open. People like to entertain and not be stuck in the kitchen while their guests and/or children are in different rooms. Many of my clients prefer not to do much work and that can be challenging for sellers. We try to get our sellers to paint, remove as much clutter as possible, redo their wood floors and even pick up carpeting if there are wood floors underneath. To me, a house is walls and floors.  If you update them, buyers seem to think there’s less work to do.

Most buyers would prefer level property, 3-4 bedrooms, larger updated kitchens, updated bathrooms; larger closets (for those coming up from NYC) close proximity to school, the City, shopping, parks, highways and trains. I love NYC buyers because a small closet to a Westchester County homeowner is a huge closet to a NYC person.

Most prefer Colonials with sewer, gas and town water.  These are “wants” and if you’re going to live here you may need to give some of them up or you’ll need to exclude half of the listings.

b. Environment and accessibility to services:

c. Schools – i.e. some seek diversity, others seek top-rated schools, etc. Still, with others the schools may not be that much of an issue: NY State Licensing Law prohibits me from commenting on schools.

5. What price points do the majority of buyers seek and what are the ranges offered in the villages you represent?

We have a large range for both Briarcliff and Ossining from $100,000 to over $2M.

6. If you feel you have a specialty in real estate sales what is it? Also, how do you specifically interact with buyers and sellers? What is your approach to working with both groups of people?

I believe I specialize in people. I worked in Human Resources during and after college, for Lehman Brothers and Philip Morris, dealing with people of all levels. I was also a nursery school teacher working with two-year-olds for several years – one of my favorite jobs!

I think being a realtor is a people job. It’s all about the relationship and earning your client’s trust.  They need to feel confident you will guide them in the right direction.  You will do your job to get them the best possible price, whether buying or selling a property, and you must be responsive.  That means answering emails and calls late into the night and while on vacation.

I never feel like I’m selling anything. Instead I feel I educate my clients about the market and guide them toward a successful result. I teach them about the market we are in, I show them our inventory and they learn what homes sell for, so they are well prepared when they are ready to make an offer. Agents need to listen to what a buyer is looking for and try not to waste their time showing every home that’s on the market. I once heard a realtor say she shows them every house so they get so tired and finally buy something.  My goal is not for my clients to buy something. My goal is for them to be happy with the home they bought.

On the sell side, I show them what homes sold for, what I think they should list for and how I reached that range. It’s important to look at what recently sold and know what’s on the market because those homes are your competition!   I’m always honest and never try to buy a listing – meaning I don’t give a seller a higher price just to get the listing.   That’s the worst thing you can do, and I have lost listings because I told the truth. Some sellers feel they should go with the agent who gives them the highest price.  I would rather give my honest opinion (because I believe it’s best for the client) and sleep well at night. Most of the time I see the listing come on for a high price and I watch it sit on the market until they reduce it several times before it sells.

My ultimate goal is for all my clients to be happy at the end of the process and know I did the best job possible to help them reach their goal. Realtors need to realize that it’s not the sale that matters, it’s the referral and repeat business you will get if you always do the right thing.

7. Lastly, please include one additional question of your choosing and answer it.

Do you love your job?

I’ve been a successful realtor for 19 years and have sold over $216 million of real estate since the year 2000. I am #1 in the HL Briarcliff office for 2016 selling over $26 million, and in the top 125 agents for HL for 2016. Do I love my job? It’s funny because at times I don’t feel it’s a job.  I feel like I’m just helping people, and it’s a great feeling especially when they appreciate all you do. People think realtors have very easy jobs and make a lot of money. Most clients I work with realize quickly this just is not the case.  I don’t even count how many hours I work but I can tell you, I’m never off.  Yes, I will go away for a week and have someone cover me to show a home but I’m working while I’m away. Is it healthy?  Probably not healthy but I really do love real estate.  I remember the first person that gave me a job. She said, “You will either love it and be consumed or you will hate it.” She was exactly right.  I loved it from the beginning and I’ll probably be doing real estate for the rest of my life.

What’s interesting is there is never a dull day!  There is always something new to learn and often a unique situation. And there are always new trends to master: the internet that brought a whole new way to do business, social media, digital photography, floor plans, drones, cell phones, marketing . . . I can go on and on.  I’m never bored and always excited.  You never know what will happen the next day.

One thing I learned early is important to mention. For all you new realtors out there or people who are planning to get their license … our hours are not as flexible as you think.  You must be ready to show a house when it hits the market and it can hit the market anytime.  Our market never shuts down!  Last but not least … it’s very easy to get that accepted offer, but keeping that deal together is the hardest thing to do.  This is where your people skills will come in.  The art of negotiating a deal and being able to deal with people is what will make you successful.  Of course this means you need to be honest and know what you’re doing.

Dalia Valdes — Julia B Fee Sotheby’s International Realty

1. You live in Tarrytown. What makes the Village special? Please be as specific as you care to be.  Also, please talk about Irvington due to your history with the school system.

My family arrived in Tarrytown from Cuba when I was 5, a short time ago, and I have nothing but the fondest memories.  I grew up in Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow riding my bicycle with friends and cousins everywhere, and traipsing through the “unofficial Rockefeller Trails” off of Route 448, the aqueduct, in and around Kingsland Point Park, and the “marsh” – now known as Devries Park. The days, especially summer days, were like a Tom Sawyer adventure (almost) heading home before dinner and then chasing lightning bugs in the evening.  Idyllic life? It sure was, yet it was my reality and that of those having the good fortune of growing up in the Villages of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow (which was called North Tarrytown back then). The beauty, though, is that time not only has preserved the richness of a small village full of wonderful historic sights and legends, but it has evolved into a destination spot for families to raise their children in a culturally charged and hip environment just 14 miles from NYC.

For commuters into Manhattan, the area offers easy access via train and multiple highways.  Although Tarrytown has always been autonomous, families living here are able to do all their shopping, errands and entertainment without ever setting foot outside of the Village and at times without even getting into a car or bus.

There also continues to be a strong sense of community, belonging, and pride, where folks you pass by on the street greet you with a nod and a smile. The vibe within is a “life is good” feeling. Add this lifestyle to an amazing backdrop called the Hudson River and no one could ask for nor imagine anything better.  The Hudson River is a constant presence in the daily life of the Rivertown locals.  Looking at it daily always brings a smile and a sense of tranquility whether the river is as smooth as glass or turbulent in a storm.  The mighty Hudson is captivating and grounding; couple it with an awe-inspiring sunset and boom, you are convinced, “Life REALLY is Good.”

I have the double fortune of intimately enjoying two Rivertown communities. My 3 children attend Irvington Schools, and though slightly smaller than our neighboring Rivertown schools to the north and south, it still offers the same sense of togetherness. Being ever so present within the various School and Village organizations and activities, my family and I experienced a full helping of each Village.   Through the years Irvington has also grown to be a destination spot for many looking for an exceptional Westchester school system as well as a culturally colorful and embracing community minutes from Manhattan.  I recently “surveyed” my kids and asked them, if they had a choice would they attend Irvington Schools again? My most critical child immediately exclaimed, “YES!”  Despite the challenges that come with being a teenager, she and my other two loved being part of the

Irvington family. All the positive elements more than outweigh any of the growing pains experienced by children.  Irvington Schools and Village personify the African proverb, “ It takes a village to raise a child.”  We have the advantage of having 2 Rivertown Villages and it is difficult to imagine life with one and not the other.

2. What draws people to Tarrytown (specifics)? What draws people to the Rivertowns?

I think I covered much of what draws people to Tarrytown in question #1.  In brief, though, I would describe Tarrytown as a culturally diverse Mayberry, not only in the individuals that make up the Village, but in the landscape as well.  You can enjoy the water and the many hills with hiking trails all within walking distance.  The sense of community is amazing.  The store owners, daily joggers, and/or village staff recognize you, and at times know you by name.  It is an “all for one and one for all” attitude.  Again, as noted above, it is a “Life is Good” everyday feeling.

3. What trends do you see in your clients as far as ages, lifestyles, requirements, their past residences?

I have been a real estate broker for close to 10 years, since inception, and as a result of the recessionary environment in and around 2009, the family dynamic has changed from mainly a one-working-parent to a dual-income family.  This difference alone changes the needs of a family and what they are looking for in a community.  Having always worked full time, balancing work and the needs of family and kids is a bit challenging.  However, the Rivertown community provided a very good support unit which is even more pronounced today. If I was running late to a little league game or could not make a teacher conference there was not only one helping hand but many; one parent went as far as to send me reminders of my younger daughter’s basketball games.  This is the peace of mind you get from living here that is priceless.   Most families moving to the area are looking for this, and through personal experience, I can certainly assure them of this amazing safety net families have.  In the last few years I have also worked with many empty nesters from the east side of Westchester County who are also looking for a strong sense of community.  Once they are exposed to the Rivertown lifestyle, there is no going elsewhere.  I encourage many clients to spend a day on a weekend exploring the area – walking, dining, or just chatting it up with locals to get the pulse of the town.  Once they do this, it’s a just matter of finding a home.

4. What are newcomers looking for? Feel free to differentiate with age grouping and differing generations.

a. Housing needs:  As far as housing needs, the majority – and I must stress majority – of non-empty-nester buyer clients moving out of the City want to live within walking distance to town and train, and want a home requiring minimal amount of work.  They are MOSTLY a dual-income unit and do not mind doing some updates to parts of the house but prefer not to deal with a full-blown renovation.  Most of my non-empty-nester buyer clients love the transitional look, it is classic with a twist.  Most of my empty-nesters would like a much smaller home, but not too small, as they may have a child return post college (I hear this often).  The empty-nesters’ desired style of homes varies, but the trend again is transitional with a bit more classic sprinkled into it.  An underlying denominator for both is a strong sense of community with some flavor and characteristic and a visually pleasing village, and that’s us here!

b. Environment and accessibility to services:   Most clients, regardless of the stage in their lives, are looking for charm and character in a village, and most clients ask about the trails we have and the access to the Hudson.  All buyers love the diversity in the landscape as well as the ease of the commute to Manhattan – another top request. Sometimes I will tell my NYC clients to take Metro North to the area and that I will pick them up.   Once you ride the Hudson Line on any type of day you cannot imagine going to and from work without the daily dose of the Hudson River view.  I have been on all 3 Metro North lines and by a long shot the Hudson Line wins for best picturesque views.

c. Schools – i.e. some seek diversity, others seek top-rated schools, etc. Still with others the schools may not be that much of an issue: All clients have different needs; that is the beauty about this career. It is ever changing and never boring. Clients without children focus less on the school district while those with children have specific educational needs. Westchester County has clusters of excellent schools, and educators at every turn.

5. What price points do the majority of buyers seek, and what are the ranges offered in the villages you represent?

Price varies a little among the villages; many factors drive pricing.  Schools, location, condition of house, access to NYC.   A very good client of mine, who is in residential and commercial acquisition in Manhattan, offered an interesting point.  He said he has noted residential real estate purchase is a good part subjective in Westchester County.  I say even with a crystal ball sometimes it is difficult to determine why a house will sell faster than another physically equal house. The majority of sales I would say range from $600,000 – $1.399M for buyers.

6. If you feel you have a specialty in real estate sales what is it? Also, how do you specifically interact with buyers and/or sellers? What is your approach to working with both groups of people?

I do not like to pigeon-hole myself into a specific segment of the real estate market.  If you look at my portfolio you will note I represented properties last year from a $11.5 million property to a $2000 rental.  All clients are different and their needs are specific.   I tailor each sale approach differently focusing always on building and solidifying a relationship of trust and integrity. It is a partnership in my eyes; I am being trusted to represent a transaction containing one of their largest assets.  So my specialty is connecting clients to the lifestyle and home at all price points and continuing my service beyond the sale.

7. Lastly, please include one additional question of your choosing and answer it.

You live and concentrate your real estate sales in the Rivertowns, yet you are physically located at the Rye office of Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s. Why?

Having previously worked for many years at an international company, I learned early on that many “expats” knew about towns such as Rye, Scarsdale, Greenwich and Larchmont. These buyers started their home search in these villages, not too dissimilar to the buying trend of Manhattanites.  Having connections to these villages provides me access to a larger pool of buyers for my listings; when buyers cannot find the desired home on the east side of the County I bring them over to the Rivertowns.  For example, last week I was having a conversation with a Rye broker who mentioned working with a high profile client in search of a large home in Rye.  I encouraged the broker to show one of my estate listings and she did!  It was great exposure for the property in Irvington; it put the home on the map not only with this particular client, but with the Manhattan and Rye brokers as well.

Gia Young — Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage

1. You live in Dobbs Ferry. What makes the Village special? Please be as specific as you care to be. Also, please talk about your history with the school system.

I have lived in Dobbs Ferry for 18 years now. I feel that Dobbs is special because of the community of people that it is inspired by.  In raising my family and being involved over the years in many different volunteer committees, I have always been impressed by the number of volunteer councils, committees and community groups that Dobbs Ferry offers – from all of the School Associations to the Village Boards, the Village Green Committee, the Waterfront Committee, all of the sports and Boy and Girl Scouts groups. That being said, in a community that encompasses a little more than 2 square miles, there is an endless number of people who support these groups with great enthusiasm and spirit.  That is impressive. That is the heart of our Village. Of course, the beauty of the Dobbs Ferry Village doesn’t hurt.

2. What draws people to Dobbs Ferry (specifics)? What draws people to the Rivertowns?

When I meet with people relocating to the Rivertowns and unfamiliar with these villages, the one question that is most common is, how are the villages different?  I answer that the villages all have a bit of their own individual character, however, they are more alike than different. I believe that each village has its own dynamic and beauty, and that each school system may offer different strengths and weaknesses, but they all offer beauty, history, small school systems with enormous parent involvement, quaint village businesses and the most beautiful Metro North ride to and from Manhattan.  I believe that one of Dobbs Ferry’s special qualities is that sits in between Hastings-On-Hudson, known as the artsy, intellectual and diverse Village and Irvington Village known for its history, large old estates and well-established banker types.  Dobbs Ferry offers a little of both of those aspects making it a very well-balanced community.

3. What trends do you see in your clients as far as ages, lifestyles, requirements, their past residences?

The common trends in the past 5 years or so is that most of my buyer clients are coming here from Brooklyn, NY.

4. What are newcomers looking for and feel free to differentiate with age grouping and differing generations?

a. Housing needs: Many of the “Brooklyn” buyers are looking for a house that has been updated and one that does not need a lot of work.  Another popular trend now

is the mid-century modern esthetic.

b. Environment and accessibility to services: Most buyers want to be within walking distance to the trains and villages.

c. Schools – i.e. some seek diversity, others seek top-rated schools, etc. Still, with others the schools may not be that much of an issue:

I see that most of our buyers with middle and high school-age children are looking for school systems that value and support their students with a challenging environment offering all of the courses needed to be successful in college and careers in the 21st century. I think that parents of pre-school and elementary school-age children are looking for schools offering a caring, diverse environment, with a strong basic core curriculum, early second language options, as well as arts and music options.

5. What price points do the majority of buyers seek and what are the ranges offered in the villages you represent?

We have buyers at all price ranges from co-op to mansions, but I believe most buyers are in the $700,000 to $1,400,000 price range.

6. If you feel you have a specialty in real estate sales what is it? Also, how do you specifically interact with buyers and sellers? What is your approach to working with both groups of people?

I feel that my special skill set is that I am detail oriented and a good listener. I remember clearly what my client’s goals are and I work very hard to meet them.

In terms of the very different goals between buyers and sellers, you really have to keep the client’s goals at hand and know how to achieve them. To achieve the best transaction possible both parties have to feel that they have met their goals; to negotiate that successfully you have to understand both parties’ motivations.

7. Lastly, please include one additional question of your choosing and answer it.

Where do you see the Real Estate agents’ role in the future with the many new options of technology for both the buyers and sellers?

I see more collaboration with our clients given the vast amount of information and misinformation in technology available to buyers and sellers. Real Estate professionals will always be the “boots on the ground” being able to read the market and trends in real time,  as real estate is a very fluid environment. Also, real estate agents are very connected to their communities and can offer vast knowledge to their clients.

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