Rob Spillman and Elissa Schappell closed their home in Catskill, NY, an 1840 ranch on 6.4 acres, in the middle of a February ice storm. “We had to keep stopping to get the ice off the windshield wipers,” said Mr. Spillman, 57, a literary consultant and freelance writer who co-founded the now-defunct literary magazine “Tin House” with Ms. Schappell.
The couple, who had shared a brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with another couple for 23 years, paid $825,000 for their new home in Catskill — $25,000 below the sale price — and managed to avoid one of the bidding wars that set the standard. have become in much of the Hudson Valley. (They offered all the money to sweeten the deal, with plans to seek financing after the sale.)
Two days after their move, they were planning dinners in their 3,300-square-foot home. “Many of our creative friends are already in this area,” said Mr. Spillman. “We’ve sold half of a brownstone for $1,825 million — a million more than we paid for it — and we have so much more space.”
Catskill is a place where “people are excited about making art and investing in creating a culture that is not a microcosm of New York City, but its own thing,” says Ms. Schappell, 58. “The prospect of being a part of making such a community and all the possibilities it offers – new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing and living in the world – it’s a reason to become enlightened.”
The pair are part of an influx of New Yorkers discovering just how much further their money goes in this city of just over 11,000, without sacrificing access to culture. Once home to 19th-century landscape painter Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School art movement, Catskill has long been a hub for artists and musicians. But two recent investments totaling more than $20 million have enhanced its reputation as an incubator of the arts: Foreland, an 85,000-square-foot fine arts campus in three 19th-century factory buildings that opened last August, and the Lumberyard Center for Film and Performing Arts, a 20,000-square-foot, non-profit performing arts center that opened in 2018 on a former sawmill.
Foreland founder Stef Halmos, an artist, chose Catskill for the project because it’s an “unpretentious and friendly” place, she said. “Sweet weirdos, artists, farmers, entrepreneurs and everyone in between are on an equal footing in this city, which is an unusual and endearing quality.”
After moving to Catskill from Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in 2016, Ben Fain was so taken with the city’s potential that he invested more than $4 million in the purchase of 10 buildings on Main Street, including a defunct movie theater. which he hopes to reopen as an art-house cinema and music venue. His plan includes two adjacent net-zero buildings that will house a boutique hotel called Mr. cat; the hotel’s bar, restaurant and event space will be located in a third building. Left Bank Ciders, a brewery and bar, and C. Cassis, a liqueur distillery, currently occupy another building owned by Mr Fain.
“I remember walking through the village and feeling such a strong sense of community,” said Mr. Fain, a sculptor who has also rehabilitated buildings in New York City. “I felt like I had an opportunity to be a part of what was already happening on Main Street and bring some life to these buildings.”
While real estate prices in Catskill have risen sharply in recent years, homes are generally more affordable than those in areas to the south such as Woodstock, Kingston, and New Paltz. And they’re much more affordable than those in Catskill’s more celebrated neighbor to the east, Hudson.
“My clients say they want Woodstock or Saugerties,” said Deirdre Day, an agent at Taft Street Realty who worked with Mr. Spillman and Ms. Schappell. “I often say, ‘If you take that money to Catskill, you get something much, much better.’ What Elissa and Rob got in Catskill would have cost so much more in Ulster County.”
What you will find
In the 3-square-mile village in the heart of the 60-square-mile town, the architecture is a mix of styles. On the outskirts of town, buyers can find large multi-acre ranches—a testament to the small family ranches that once dotted the landscape—as well as former inns and guest houses.
Main Street is home to new businesses such as a cafe-gallery gift shop cheekily named Citiot; two breweries with taprooms, Crossroads Brewing Company and Subversive Malting + Brewing; Left Bank Ciders, which makes small batch cider from local apples; Mermaid Cafe, with farm-to-table tacos and ramen; and the mr. Cat hotel with 25 rooms, expected to open in January 2023.
Other new Catskill hotels include Camptown, a motel that is getting a $12 million makeover as a year-round resort, and Treetopia, a 42-acre campground that has been transformed into luxury accommodations with Airstream trailers, luxury cottages, and glamping tents.
Liam and Laura Singer moved to Catskill in 2016 from Long Island City, Queens, and opened the popular Catskill cafe HiLo the following year. “One of the things we loved about Catskill was the artistic energy,” said Mr. Singer, 40, a musician. In 2019, the couple added Avalon Lounge, a retro-style nightclub with live acts and dance parties from Wednesday to Sunday.
What do you pay?
The average price of a single-family home in Catskill has risen 77 percent over the past five years, although the number of transactions has fallen slightly due to limited inventory. In 2021, the median price of the 73 single-family homes sold in Catskill was $265,000, compared to $150,000 for the 75 sold in 2017, according to the Columbia Greene Board of Realtors. In 2020, the median price of the 71 homes sold in Catskill was $215,000. Dramatic growth continued into 2022, with 19 homes selling for a median of $344,500 in the first five months of the year.
Still, Catskill homes remain affordable by Hudson Valley standards. By comparison, the average price of a Hudson single-family home in 2021 was $400,000.
Catskill houses are also picked up faster. In 2019, the average number of days a home was on the market was 118; last year that number dropped to 50.
Low inventory is a problem in the Hudson Valley. According to the nonprofit research group Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, the number of homes for sale in Hudson Valley fell 52 percent from 11,777 to 5,657 between 2019 and 2021. In mid-May, Zillow showed 21 offers for single-family homes in Catskill ranging from $154,900 for a two-bedroom cottage in the village to $7,495 million for a six-bedroom estate on 17 fronted acres on the Hudson River.
The typical Catskill property tax is about $4,700 in the city and $6,800 in the village, according to the city’s appraiser’s office.
The sense of community that struck Mr. Fain is palpable in a city where everyone seems to know each other. “You can’t be anonymous,” he said. “That’s one of my favorite things about Catskill.”
Every Thursday evening from spring through fall, Left Bank Ciders hosts a market run by Nimble Roots Farm. “It’s become this community night,” said Dave Snyder, partner at Left Bank Ciders. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Residents also gather in the city center for the annual Cat’n Around Catskill, which is similar to New York City’s CowParade, but with cats. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, some 50 fiberglass cat sculptures pop up along Main Street, and the event concludes with a gala and auction in favor of the Heart of Catskill Association and its efforts to revitalize the business district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Catskill Central School District serves about 1,350 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the New York State Department of Education. The district is 66 percent white, 14 percent Hispanic, 12 percent multiracial, 7 percent black, and 1 percent Asian or Pacific Islander.
In the 2018-19 state tests, 87 percent of Catskill Senior High School students were proficient in English, 67 percent proficient in algebra and 88 percent proficient in geometry, compared with 84 percent, 71 percent and 70 percent statewide.
The high school graduation rate in 2021 was 94 percent, compared to 86 percent for the state.
Catskill is about a five-minute drive from Exit 21 on the New York State Thruway and less than two hours from the George Washington Bridge, depending on traffic.
Commuters can take the Amtrak train in Hudson, a 10-minute drive from the village of Catskill. Round-trip tickets to New York City cost $62 to $148, depending on when the ticket was purchased and whether it’s for peak or off-peak times. A monthly rail pass costs $1,008. A six-month parking pass costs $650 and an annual parking pass is $1,000.
Trailways offers limited bus service to New York City, with one departure per day from the parking lot at Exit 21 and long layovers in Kingston. The fare is $76 round trip.
The New York State Legislature formed the City of Catskill in 1788 and Greene County in 1800. As the region gained fame for its resorts, steamboats took tourists to the fashionable Prospect Park Hotel in Catskill, according to a history compiled by the Catskill Community Center. .
Thomas Cole first visited Catskill in 1825 on a sketch tour, said Jonathan Palmer, an archivist at the Vedder Research Library and deputy historian for Greene County at the Greene County Historical Society. Cole later made Catskill his permanent home, and his home is now a tourist attraction called the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.
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