why are houses in Utica, NY so cheap?
December 30, 2007 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Why are houses in Utica, New York so cheap?

Hi all -
I've been looking on the internet at houses in Utica New York, and some of them are preposterously cheap. Does anyone have any idea why this is? Please don't sends answers such as "Utica sucks" etc. I've never been there and am genuinely curious. They're selling 4 bedroom houses for $60,000 and less. Is it built on a nuclear waste site? Are all the houses made of cardboard?
posted by arcadia to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to the quality of the houses you are looking at but Utica is in a region of New York State (most of upstate - that is, north and west of Westchester County) that has been financially depressed for years.
posted by bluesky43 at 12:26 PM on December 30, 2007

Yeah, supply and demand. The economy there is really pretty poor. Utica was an Industrial Revolution city that never made it to the Information Age.
posted by Doohickie at 12:31 PM on December 30, 2007

30 years of steady economic decline - and opportunities in places without long, dark, brutally cold winters - has driven a lot of people away from upstate New York.

The Census puts median income in Utica at >$25K, with a quarter of the population living below the poverty line - its population also looks to be slowly declining. My guess is these facts don't add up to a booming housing market.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:35 PM on December 30, 2007

You think Utica is cheap, check out Buffalo! The further away one is from New York city the more economically depressed the region seems to be.

Spitzer was going to uh, get on that.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:41 PM on December 30, 2007

One word: SNOW.

I know it isn't really as simple as that, but you could pay me to move and give me a free house and rename is BoomingEconomyVille and I still ain't going.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:44 PM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

same thing's going on in my home region of upper east tennessee. my brother bought a two-bedroom cottage in johnson city for 50K.

my mother nearly made me faint when she said that our family homestead (2 story, 4 br, 3 full bath, central air and heat, new windows) would probably go for about 125K, and expressed this with the wondrous tones of one given a trip to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. meanwhile, 125K buys a crappy condo here in chicago.
posted by patricking at 12:47 PM on December 30, 2007

Even in Buffalo, a 4 bed house for less than $60K would have something wrong with it, most commonly an undesirable neighborhood. As in, you can see boarded-up or just vacant houses from your lot.

Or maybe it's a rental property that's had the shit kicked out of it for the past 30 years by a series of student tenants who don't give a damn about it.

Or maybe the basement or foundation is bad and it needs a new roof. We saw one of these when we were looking in May.

Or maybe it's a foreclosure that's really been kicked in the nuts by the last owner. We saw one of these too. Hoo-boy.

Or maybe the house hasn't seen a lick of remodeling or repair since 1970. We saw several of these; you just know that someone's grandma died in one of the rooms. In some of them, they'd torn up a corner of the horrid wall-to-wall because they knew that nobody sane would keep it and to show the hardwood underneath.

I imagine that Utica is similar.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:53 PM on December 30, 2007

More people are moving out then in, and so there are 'extra' houses driving the prices down.
posted by voidcontext at 1:56 PM on December 30, 2007

Houses are cheap in Utica because after you buy one you have to live in Utica.

Dress it up however you like, that's the bottom line.
posted by Justinian at 2:29 PM on December 30, 2007 [3 favorites]

Utica is part of an area in upstate New York known as the "North Country," which extends from a latitude somewhat below that city through the Adirondack region up to the Canadian border. As other posters have pointed out, this area has been depressed for decades, having missed out on the economic boom times of the 80s and 90s. It's economy is comparable to that of places in the rural south, like certain parts of Mississippi and Alabama, in many respects. Yes, that's with the accompanying misfortunes of alcohol abuse, depressed real estate, and widespread meth addiction and meth-related crimes.

In short, it's not just the snow that puts people of off the Utica area, although the snow (largely "lake effect" snow caused by Lake Ontario to the north) makes for some of the heaviest snowfalls recorded in the US of A.

As an interesting side note, fans of the American version of "The Office" will recall that Stanley (from sales) used a potential transfer to the Utica branch as a bargaining chip in employment negotiations, to great effectiveness, if I remember correctly. Now, it's unlikely that a transfer from the (relatively) balmy clime of Scranton to Utica would be seen as a move upwards on the ladder by anybody, no matter what the pay increase.

If "The Office" were written by East Coasters, rather than the L.A. writing team, the boss, Michael, would have said, "A transfer to Utica? Be my guest!" and immediately called Stanley's bluff.

Scranton and Utica. Close on the map. Worlds away in terms of climate, culture, and economics. And real estate prices.
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:19 PM on December 30, 2007

I've been on Greyhound buses that stopped in Utica quite a few times (don't ask), and here are the two things I remember about Utica: first, it has one of those pretty smalltown downtowns, utterly deserted even in the middle of the day; and, second, when the bus stopped, there was always at least one recently-released prisoner getting on board. For a lot of upstate NY, prisons are one of the few growing segments of the economy.
posted by box at 4:07 PM on December 30, 2007

Then again, Gordion Knott, it could be that the writers knew exactly what they were saying and knew that a threat to transfer to Utica would carry a comedic undertone to those who know.
posted by Doohickie at 4:32 PM on December 30, 2007

As someone who's lived most of his life in upstate NY, I'm not sure I would call Utica part of the "north country" (for that, think Watertown) so much as the Mohawk Valley -- but I can fully nth all the folks talking about the long-time depressed economy there. The real regional term that answers the original question is that Utica is part of the "Rust Belt" -- Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Rome -- this line of Upstate NY cities have had hard times for quite a while now, losing lots of jobs and lots of population. The snow? Not so bad if you dress right and have good tires on your car. But no jobs? That makes people leave in droves.
posted by aught at 4:53 PM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Gordion Knott, does Utica really get that much lake effect?

Also, I think it's more Central New York than North Country. A quibble, yes, but one the people who live in the Plattsburgh area would make (I lived there for a few years). The North Country is like the poor second cousin to Buffalo's inferiority complex about "Upstate New York".

I think Uticais in the same boat as just about every place else in upstate that relied on manufacturing/blue collar jobs: screwed. Buffalo's "trying" but it's hard with Urkel as your mayor and a whole other host of clowns we call elected officials. But hey, we're gonna get all Six Sigma on county government!

Thankfully, we have city and county control boards to counteract the best efforts of our officials.
posted by jdfan at 5:05 PM on December 30, 2007

Following up on voidcontext's "more people are moving out in", this Wikipedia page says that the population has dropped from 100,000 in the sixties to less than 60,000 now, and still falling. That's led to a lot of services being cut back, which certainly wouldn't help attract new residents.

I'll also put in a vote for it not being quite "the North Country". My St. Lawrence county home cost a whopping $64,000 this year, so we must be doing pretty well compared to Utica.
posted by saffry at 5:09 PM on December 30, 2007

you can find homes for less than 60k in a LOT of areas, and as another metafite said, they're usually pretty bad

but not all are! i bought one and happily live in it now
posted by Salvatorparadise at 5:24 PM on December 30, 2007

It's simple: fewer jobs, more taxes and fewer people to pay them. Upstate's a great place to live, but it's not for everyone.
posted by tommasz at 7:10 PM on December 30, 2007

Think of it as New York's Detroit.

it's also what we call flyover country.

jobs are another trouble.

(didn't read all the posts, sorry if i'm repeating)
posted by KenManiac at 7:27 PM on December 30, 2007

I grew up about 15 minutes from Utica and I live in Syracuse now. Are you looking to move to the area? Yeah, houses in that price range (both in Syracuse and Utica and the surrounding areas) are probably fraught with sketchiness. In Syracuse, you can buy beautiful huge older houses in the 200k-400k price range. The suburban development McMansion-y stuff tends to go higher.

As everyone else has said, this is due to fairly long-term economic depression, etc. etc.

BUT, if you are looking to move to the area (and you have a job lined up), Central New York can be a really fantastic place to live. Utica especially has a very large immigrant and refugee population, so it's actually much more diverse than many people would imagine. Anyway, definitely not an area to write off although it does have its issues. Sorry if this is a little off-topic, but possibly addressing your underlying reason for asking the question.
posted by stefnet at 7:40 PM on December 30, 2007

Your post reminded me of this article in the Times. It's more about online sales and Buffalo in particular but the picture it paints of the city might apply to Utica.
posted by exhilaration at 9:07 PM on December 30, 2007

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