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Modern Homes are Light and Lean

Real Estate Trends


In terms of settlement, the tristate region is old. Settlement started in the 17th century and many remaining period homes date to the 18th and 19th-centuries. This presents a bit of a conundrum for 21st-century realtors selling to a populace with modern tastes.
“Generally, clients are looking for a minimalist look, clean and modern,” said Graham Klemm of Klemm Real Estate. “A well-kept antique will sell, but buyers are less inclined to take on a project.”

And McMansions seem to have had their day. “They are looking for smaller, rather than bigger,” Klemm reported. “Our clients are often weekend people and they don’t want a big living room they never go in. They want a kitchen that opens into a family room, a place where they can live in a much more casual way. All they want to do is come here after their work week and enjoy life.”

Liza Reiss, sales associate with Elyse Harney Real Estate, agrees. “In this area, people want quiet and privacy with proximity to amenities,” she said. “A mid-century house is possible with a modern, open concept. They are not looking for small rooms and dark woods.”

She said buildings from the 1950 and ’60s “tend to be quite popular because they can be renovated to today’s clean lines and open look. Those are definitely on people’s radar. But antiques will always be of interest to people if they have been brought up to speed so they are functional. People have done some really wonderful jobs upgrading kitchens and baths.”

The firm works with many second-home owners. “They are just getting out of the city for some quiet, down time,” she reports. “The more flexibility they have with their schedules, the more they want that. Now they can telecommute it is much easier.”

Chris Garrity of Kent, a partner in Bain Realty, said the market is typically composed “of families moving in or people who have established their lives to a certain point to where have discretionary income. Typically, on the arc of life, they are in their 30s, 40s and 50s.”

He, too, observes that this cohort is not interested in expending energy on renovating a house and he has a theory why. “I’ve seen over time that buyers as they enter the market have a changed perspective from obtaining a house, fixing it up and enjoying fixing it up—reveling in it, in effect. Today’s buyer is less enamored with that. Their desire is for newer homes, more modern homes and easier to maintain homes. Typically, the antique, which used to sell very quickly, has less appeal. If it is fixed up, beautifully renovated or a reproduction, that has a definite appeal.”

He said television shows about renovating houses have great appeal but do not translate to reality. “People are enamored with the concept but are alienated from the process,” he said. “They want a house that won’t be a burden.”

And, in his estimation, they want a house they can relate to emotionally. “If your grandparents or parents had a house and you had a good time there, that’s the sentiment. That’s why see we mid-century houses being so popular. Not because they love the style, but because they have fond memories. Will the ’70s become big someday?”

Similarly, modern homebuyers often don’t have the skills older homeowners had, making them less able to do work for themselves. “My father was handy, but I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t have to write a check to a contractor. I have seen that as people have moved away from the farm, where you have to have a creative brain and the physicality of fixing something, to today when we have to order what we need from Amazon, that we are losing rapidly the ability to solve problems in our own homes.”

He says that reality has manifested itself in how realtors show homes. “Before, we would go in the basement and point out the boiler and they would know about it. Nowadays, no one goes to the basement. That means that for the person who is afraid of the basement and fears mechanical components, what was $5,000 fix is now a $20,000 fix. When I hear someone say a house is a ‘money pit,’ that is fear and lack of knowledge talking.”

The realtors agreed that the market is stronger than it has been since the recession of 2008. “We have worked through the detritus from foreclosures and people who got under water,” said Garrity. “What moves the market is death, divorce and job change and those issues that create financial strain. Ten years ago, there were 75 to 80 listings available. Today there are 37. It’s a more balanced market.”

Garrity added that scarcity puts pressure on prices. “We’re not at the price point of 2005 and 2006,” he said. “Run-ups happen in periods of two to three years, but the market mends more slowly.”

Elyse Harney Real Estate said their average sale in 2019 is around $500,000, which in 2008 was the low-end of the market. “There are a lot of homes just over a million dollars,” said Reiss, “which averages out to $500,000 with the lower sales.”

Klemm said his firm sells in the million-dollar range. “What they are looking for is real value,” he said. “If a house sold for more than a million last time and they can get it for $900,000, that’s real value.”