Why Hudson Valley Land Belongs in Your Investment Portfolio

The stock market is up and everyone wants to know where the next good investment will be. I may have a vested interest in being bullish on land, but the optimism of an upside on land investment is founded on hard data.

Since the market crash eight years ago, land prices in Columbia County have remained flat, and for the past fifteen years or more land has been loosely valued at $10K per acre. That compares very favorably with land only 30-45 minutes south in Dutchess County, where land trades routinely at $12-20K per acre. Recent land sales in Columbia County have ranged from a low of $3K per acre to a high of $20K+ per acre, with both ends of the spectrum thinly populated. While land is possible to obtain at the low end, it is typically wooded or wet, not easily developed, and has other location deficiencies either from road noise, less valuable neighboring properties, or ease of access. Also the further north you go in the county, the lower the price point tends to be, with an extreme drop off in value north of I-90. On the other end of the price range, spectacular privacy and view of the Catskills, particularly on smaller (under 50 acre) parcels, has driven sale prices into the $20K range.

How long can such pricing last? History tells us that flat line raw land prices typically lead to rapid appreciation, as was seen in Dutchess County in the decade from 1996-2006. An under appreciated asset is suddenly identified by buyers as being such and then the run is on. I believe that period is here in Columbia County.

An added component to this valuation is that urban populations are increasingly aware of the value of fresh produce and organically raised meats close to home, and the resulting parallel growth of the farm-to-table restaurant movement. Everything from beef to mushrooms is being raised in the Hudson Valley, and Columbia County has more open land and better soils than any other county in the valley. Where else can you find several hundred contiguous acres with the ability to plant an orchard, raise bees for honey, tap your maples to produce syrup, raise grass feed beef and pork, free range chickens for organic eggs, and still retain the best twenty acres for vegetables?

The added values in this investment metric are the long term tax advantages of farm land ownership. Tax deductions and reductions abound, from putting land in conservancy, agricultural assessments for land in production which provide annual tax reductions, to the long term benefits of the NYS Forestry program 480A , which gives exemptions for forested land more than 50 acres.

Of course, the final benefit to adding land to your investment portfolio is in the day to day enjoyment. No one ever rolled down a hill with their children on their Alphabet stock, or watched new life emerge with a Fed bond. Enjoy your portfolio while you can, and know that this is one investment that truly lasts beyond a lifetime.

If you have questions about land acquisitions in the Hudson Valley, please call or email at 914-391-2373 or kjennings@houlihanlawrence.com.

Katherine Jennings
Licensed Associate Broker
Houlihan Lawrence

Skarship Farm: This is Why I Love My Job

On Thursday, we had our first real spring day. The sun came out with spectacular intensity, seemingly intent on burning off any tinges of the remaining winter. When I went to the barn in the morning, the horses seemed to know change was afoot. Blankets had been shed two weeks before, and we’ve been employing the shedding blades daily until they are looking almost glossy once again, but my guess is that they smelled the recently cleaned tack as I carried it in from its winter home in the house, and they knew.

When I tacked up Spring and Indy, they stood like rocks, for all intents and purposes they were doing nothing to delay going out on such a glorious day. When I pulled up the trailer though, they virtually dragged me from the barn, and Spring leapt onto the trailer and stood still, waiting to be on our way. This was one of those days that I love the best, when I get to blend my great loves: this gorgeous Hudson Valley countryside, great estates cultivated by people who have also loved the land, and riding my beloved horses across that land.

Thursday’s ride was on Skarship Farm, the 700+ acre farm estate created by the vision of Ole Skaarup who renovated the buildings and cultivated the land as he grew his great shipping company. The converted barn that is the centerpiece of Skarship Farm resembles a great vessel, and from the “bridge” that is the deck off the great room, one can look over the ocean of Skarship Farm’s domain. Topper Pond lies entirely in the foreground, and beyond the fertile fields of cattle pasture, hay fields and productive grain lands roll away with the Berkshire mountains as a backdrop.

I met Mark Cawley, a member of the Skarship Farm board, at the stables and we mounted up to explore. Our circuit began to the north of Topper Pond, which offers a second view over Herrington Pond as you wind along the pastures into the “Long Field”, a secluded pastoral paradise where silence and nature prevail. We picked up a trot and explored the manicured trails through miles of woodland and pine forest, crossing the beautiful trout stream that feeds the mighty Roeliff Jansen Kill. Looping back through the apple orchard and past the tennis court, pool, guest house and barn house, we passed to the west of Topper Pond and set a flock of geese into flight towards the island in the center. The horses were warmed up now so we crossed the road and picked up a nice hand gallop up the hill to the crest of the grain field where you could look back across the valley at Topper Pond and the hundreds of acres that provide the bounty of Skarship Farm.

Truly this is an equestrian’s paradise, and there is no better way to see it than from horseback. At every corner there is another spectacular vista, and another special spot unique to this land. If I could have days like this on end, I would have found paradise! Skarship Farm is available in its entirety at $6.5M for the lucky next steward of the land. See my website for further details: Skarship Farm

Is it Time to Retire Your Horse?

I get many calls this time of year from owners who are grappling with the effects of a long winter, and wondering if their beloved equine partner might be ready to retire. In fact, many of my owners contacted me long before they ultimately moved their horse here, and were able to get another season, or more, with their best friend before he began his retirement.

The most asked question I get is: how do I know when it’s time to retire? For you, the owner, it’s difficult to gauge, because you likely only ride your own horse, and sometimes the early signs of aging come on so gradually that you don’t really notice the change in your partner. A winter like this past one can make it seem as though your horse aged overnight. So here are some of the signs that your horse is ready for retirement, or signs that he may just need a fresh start with consideration for his age.

Age is a dominant factor. If your horse is less than 15 and doesn’t have any structural unsoundness issues (poor joint angulation or navicular disease are the two most common reasons for an early retirement), then a change in work may be all he needs to continue his job. If this winter meant that you were only able to ride once or twice a week, and your horse seemed unusually uncomfortable, then I would suggest giving him some time to get back into shape. A young horse gets into shape quickly, after ten it might take twice as long for him to return to the horse you have ridden in past years. Even with good turnout, horses didn’t get much exercise this winter. The snow was deep and they tended to “yard up” around the hay piles, self-restricting their activity to a 50 yard box. If your horse wasn’t ridden regularly or given free turnout in an indoor, then he likely is feeling as stiff as a couch potato would after three months of a sedentary life.

Many horses continue to compete well into their twenties, and most of those share two qualities: great conformational structure and an owner devoted to keeping them fit. As horses age, turnout is just as important to physical soundness as it was when he was young. With six hours or more of turnout on big fields and good slopes, horses can maintain their toplines as though they were working. Free work through turn out will keep your horse consistently mentally and physically sounder than any under saddle regime. However, regular under saddle work is also important, as he uses his body somewhat differently when ridden.

If your horse hasn’t been getting that this winter, then give him a few months to see how he improves before you decide to retire him; he may have many more months or even years to give you. On the other hand, if your horse has had more than two serious lay ups each year for more than a year, he may be telling you he can’t quite hack his workload any more. If he is “off” in a vague but uncomfortable way monthly, then he is likely heading to a change of work as well. Check his schedule, his farrier, his teeth, but consider if his work is really agreeing with him. Many horses simply can’t keep up their demanding work load, but return to complete soundness when they step down to a lower level of work, or a less stressful job. Think grand prix jumper moving to the juniors, or foxhunter becoming a trail horse.

So many times a retiree arrives stiffly moving off the trailer, only to return to complete pasture soundness two months later. The gentle hills at Broad Reach Farm and all day (or all night) turnout lend themselves to restoring soundness. Occasionally a younger retiree has been put back into work by their owner once they are back to looking right, but inevitably, unless the regime is changed, that horse has returned within three months. That horse has told his owner, “I feel great as long as I’m not working, but I’m just not up to the job anymore.”

Let’s hope we equestrians have paid our penance over the past two brutal winters, and we get repaid with a beautiful summer and benign winter next year. Both riders and horses should reap the benefits in being less stiff, and ready to go once again!

Welcoming Brumbie

Welcoming Brumbie
Somehow the Broad Reach Farm dogs tend to arrive on long trips. Percy the Jack Russell was picked up during a hockey tournament in Buffalo in 2000, Max the Giant Schnoodle joined us on our way to pick Brady up from American Ballet Theatre in Detroit during the summer of 2008, and last week we picked up Brumbie in Georgia “on our way” to the Women’s National Hockey Championships in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Brumbie has seized our hearts with her intense blue eyes and sweet tumbling affection. I probably say this with each dog, but I swear Brumbie is the smartest puppy we’ve ever had. She learned to sit in one day, at only seven weeks old, and she has already developed a signature whimper to let us know her bladder is bursting. Australian Shepherds are herding dogs, so I am certain she will soon be trailing Spring on trailrides in the summer sunshine. I am currently praying that sunshine couples with a description of “warmth” any day now.

Brumbie is also slated to be my real estate partner. I plan for her to learn to ride shotgun, which she is currently resisting in her endeavors to drive with me on my lap. I know she will be great at walking my big properties, and she has already joined me on my first walk through the snowy woods on a new property in Churchtown. With Faith departing for St. Mark’s in September, Steve and I will have our first empty nest experience, so Brumbie can fill the emptiness. Steve would argue that with Max, Mighty and Shady already in residence there is hardly any emptiness to fill, but I think Faith will leave a significant depletion in the household energy levels, which an Aussie ought to be able to diminish!

We hope that each of you comes to visit Brumbie this spring when the lingering March lion winds subside and sunshine brings a touch of green to Broad Reach Farm once again.

The Return of the Bald Eagle

“Look! Is that a Bald Eagle?!?”

Last week I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the road as my real estate client swiveled and marveled and almost insisted I pull over to view what has become a not-too-uncommon sight in Columbia County – the magnificent flight of our nation’s symbol. I’m old enough to remember an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom concerning the debate of whether our last remaining bald eagles in the wild should be captured to preserve them before their extinction. I honestly never thought I would see a bald eagle in the wild, and I didn’t think about it again for the next thirty years.

My first sighting was about four years ago while riding across my neighbor’s property, and just like my passenger last week, I was truly incredulous. I cantered my horse faster to keep the giant bird in view just so that I could verify again and again what I was seeing, a white head, white on the legs, and an unbelievably giant wingspan. When I returned to the house I googled the finding, and sure enough, I learned that there was a nesting pair not two miles from Broad Reach Farm.

A sighting is still rare enough to make me take extraordinary notice every time, but I’ve had enough of them now that I can spot them more readily. I haven’t been myself, but apparently there is a place on the Hudson River where you can often see a dozen of the mighty predators fishing in the confluence of a tributary with the river. It would be worth the trip, and I only wish that I could bring Marlin Perkins with me.