A glance at the summer’s real estate transfers as recorded in the deeds of Sag Harbor Village might suggest that the number of sales in the quaint enclave has been going down, and quarterly property reports so far this year reflect that, too. The number of transactions fell in the second quarter from 14 in 2012 to 12 this year (a 14-percent decline), but their value, at $21 million, was up a substantial 49 percent.
“Looking at the transfers is like trying to detect light from a distant star,” according to Chris Chapin, an agent at Douglas Elliman who still lives in the Elizabeth Street house his mother, Monja Kulczycki, was born in. He rattles off a litany of steps that take place before a sale shows up in the recorded deeds, but the main delay, he said, is lawyers. “Things happen much faster upstate and in many other states,” he said, “where realtors are empowered to do the contract.”
And there’s another wrinkle, at least with this year’s transfers. The county is behind with its paperwork, according to Ernie Cervi, executive managing director at Corcoran, based in Bridgehampton, “after the rush to close at end of year to avoid taxes,” he said. “The county reported one sale for June across the East End,” he said. “Last year there were 45 during the same period, so you know they’re backed up . . . and they’re still playing catch-up.”
As Mark Twain famously said, there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” And the statistics quoted earlier don’t bear out verbal reports from real estate professionals who know the score. “Sales activity across the board is really up in 2013,” according to Cee Scott Brown, an associate broker with Corcoran based in Sag Harbor, who reports that many properties have commanded more than the asking price. “I’ve sold, myself, four in three months,” he said last Thursday. “And I have another closing tomorrow, and another going into contract so that’s six. . . . I’m sure there are others doing the same.”
There are. Jane Holden, a broker in the Sag Harbor office of Brown Harris Stevens, reported that “a lot of things are in contract that aren’t closing till September because tenants are in houses.” Ditto for several other agents.
“I would say when the real estate market is in a slump, Sag Harbor seems to hold its own,” said the village’s mayor, Brian Gilbride, a lifelong resident.
Let’s not forget about the Bulova watchcase factory. Mr. Brown, along with his partner, Jack Pearson, is the lead broker on the project, and it is selling like proverbial hotcakes, he said. Out of a total of 47 units ranging in price from $800,000 to $10.2 million in the still-being-renovated factory building (there are 17 units in new town houses), a whopping 30 are in contract, and the site has only been open for previews in the last six weeks.
There seem to be several factors attracting people to Sag Harbor, not the least of which is its authenticity. Paul Brennan, a broker in Bridgehampton who admits he is “not a Sag Harborite,” but is certainly a born and bred South Forker, sums it up nicely: “People love it because there’s a sense of place. . . . It’s the most New England of all the hamlets and villages out here,” its location being directly “on the sea.”
One thing is true, once a family is entrenched there, they don’t want to leave. “There seems to be a significant number of properties held in perpetuity within families, often with the intent to hold onto it from generation to generation,” said Scott Strough, the principal of Strough Associates, who has practiced real estate in the village for more than 30 years. “There are many properties within the village that have never come on the market, especially in the historic district.”
It stands to reason that a whaling captain’s manse, or even a fisherman’s shanty, would have more emotional resonance than an interchangeable McMansion built within the last decade or so — no matter how grand. What’s more, there are buyers on the lookout “for the last remnants of any property that can be fixed up and upgraded.” Lo and behold, “there still are some properties out there,” said Mr. Strough.
“There’s a community pride in the fact that it has retained a cultural presence as a hometown village, compared to the other villages. There is still a certain integrity as far as operating mom and pop — the 5 and 10, the pharmacy, Schiavoni’s. . . .”
Many residents play musical houses, skipping from one dwelling to the next, unwilling to leave the enchanting environs of the village. Ann Chwatsky, a photographer, and her husband, Howard, bought their first village house in winter for a song. It was on Jermain Avenue, and come spring when the traffic began to flow, they discovered why they had gotten such a deal. So they moved to John Street with its antique houses, and were content for many years until 2007, when they heeded the call to North Haven, with its ample bucolic lots. But missing village life, the couple moved back this summer, this time to Glover Street, very similar in vintage and character to John Street. “There’s just so much going on” in the village, Ms. Chwatsky said. “Nobody wants to leave. There’s a real feeling rather than some of the other towns that feel more transient.”
Elfie and Michael Eicke, who own the historic Christy’s building on Main Street that houses an antiques shop and gallery, have just put their sprawling European-style spread, hidden away on Bay Street, on the market for nearly $5 million. With their children grown, they no longer feel the need to navigate the rambling property and intend to move into an apartment over their shop. Once bewitched, “you’ll never leave Sag Harbor,” said Ms. Eicke. “It’s the best place to live.”
Everyone you speak to mentions the walkability of the village, a place where you can stroll from home to the movie theater to galleries, shops, and restaurants. They also mention the schools, a huge draw to families, especially the elementary school, which has a stellar reputation. “Sag Harbor is a place where people put down roots. They want to stay and raise their kids . . . because everything is close together, they know their neighbors,” said Mr. Chapin.
Even residents from other South Fork locales are trading in their high-maintenance acreage for a pied-a-terre at Bulova, where the concierge, porters, superintendent, landscapers, and pool attendants will be able to see to their every need. Many of the buyers Mr. Brown has seen are “people who have no interest in trimming their hedges anymore.” In Sag Harbor, he said, “you can treat the whole village as your yard and grounds.”