October 26, 2008, Times Herald Record: Study: New services, resources needed to keep Sullivan second-home market vibrant

Study: New services, resources needed to keep Sullivan second-home market vibrant

MONTICELLO — The market for second homes in Sullivan County remains strong, but its future could depend on improving services like cell phone coverage and health care, and marketing to a new generation of buyers, according to a study by the county's planning division.

The study surveyed 1,379 second-home owners last year - 10,085 own second homes here - asking them myriad questions about quality of services, shopping patterns and reasons for buying in Sullivan. The results were compared to a similar study from 1997.

The survey uncovered many trends. Snowbirds appear to be a dying breed; those coming from Florida to summer in Sullivan dropped to roughly 2 percent from 5 percent. More second-home owners are coming from New Jersey, Long Island and Manhattan, while fewer drive from Brooklyn and Queens.

Second home owner general profile

The majority of second home owners in Sullivan County fit the following profile:

Age: 55-74

Race: White

Primary home: New York City

Family: No children at home

Education: Bachelor's degree or higher level of education

Employment: Employed full time

Income: $100,000 to $149,000

Source: County second home study

Most discovered Sullivan County through family connections or by vacationing in the Catskills. The majority decided to buy second homes here because of the scenery and proximity to their primary homes.

The second home market in Sullivan has grown steadily since 2001, but the survey indicated it might take improvement of some services and a new marketing strategy to sustain the momentum.

"The major issue we want to keep an eye on is demographic factors," said William Pammer, the county's planning commissioner. "As the baby boomers age, the question becomes to what extent will the next generation participate in the second home market to keep it vibrant."

Pammer wondered if the next generation will have enough money and credit to invest in second homes. The study says residents over 60 years old will usually sell their second homes based on deteriorating health or widowhood. That trend could hurt Sullivan because only 15.8 percent of the surveyed owners expressed confidence in local health care services.

Respondents were also worried about spotty cell phone coverage, a lack of municipal services like sewer and water, and rising property taxes.

"Many said they don't mind paying taxes, but they wanted to get services in return for it," Pammer said. That has led many second-home owners to locate in the county's budding hamlets, which have those water services.

Sullivan must respond to these concerns and target its marketing, using the power of the Internet, to keep the second home owner market strong in future years, the study said.

abosch@th-record.com

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