Rochester, New York, and its surrounding towns and villages are experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Between its natural beauty, rich history, top-rated schools and universities, and thriving business communities, this 200,000-strong city is a draw for both those Millennials beginning families and launching careers, and retirees hoping to settle down.
That means if you’re looking for a single-level house or a home at an entry-level price point, you’ve got a lot of competition from other buyers, particularly on the east side of Rochester and in the surrounding towns of Victor, Farmingham, Fairport, and Webster, among others.
We talked to experts in Rochester real estate, including Sandra Van Camp, a multiple award-winning agent, and Tom Sansone, who works with the home inspection service National Property Inspections of Rochester.
We also scoured popular neighborhoods from Canandaigua to Lake Ontario and did the math to find the best recommendations for your budget and lifestyle. Then we put everything together in this comprehensive guide to which Rochester neighborhoods are the best fit for you — and why it’s important to research what seems like a particularly good deal.
There’s something for everyone when it comes to Rochester homes
Rochester was incorporated as a city in 1834. Much of its architecture dates back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries and includes Victorian, Italianate, Craftsman, and American Foursquare homes. As the fifth-oldest metropolitan area in the country, Rochester’s housing stock is made up of nearly 60% pre-World-War-II-built homes, while in the suburbs and surrounding towns and villages, older homes top out at about 22%.
Most of Rochester’s housing stock is made up of single-family homes with an average price of $100,000 to $199,000 as of late 2019. Some homes are being revitalized and sold to a new generation of homeowners and can be found in the $50,000 to $75,000 price range in neighborhoods like the 19th Ward, bordered by the Erie Canal and Genesee Street.
With so many homes over 75 years old, there are challenges in keeping them from falling into disrepair. The Rochester Land Bank Corp, established in 2013, is just one of the entities that has been acquiring derelict homes, many of which are sold to developers. They, in turn, revitalize the properties and make neighborhoods more desirable to buyers.
One example of this lies within Rochester’s tiny house movement. Small, inner-city homes from the turn of the last century are a hit with Millenials looking for cheaper digs. In places like the 19th Ward, investors are buying up vacant homes and rebuilding them with open floor plans and sustainable materials that make the most of the space at hand.
The inner city is indeed on the upswing, but it does have a long way to go, according to Van Camp, who notes that a perceived good deal may be a bad sign when it comes to an area.
“Rochester is trying to give financial incentives for people to move in, but the crime rate in the inner city has escalated,” she explains.
“It’s just like anywhere else; condition and location are critical. This also ties into the school districts.”
School districts are so important, many families search outside of the city limits, where top-rated schools can be found.
A breakdown of Rochester’s hottest locales
According to Van Camp, everything on the east side of the city and in the towns and villages on its outskirts can resonate with potential homeowners.
Modern loft spaces in redeveloped office buildings are a hit with Millennials, according to Van Camp. Here, walkability is key, and downtown’s proximity to the historic districts of Park Avenue and East Avenue make the location good for those who like a high-energy environment, great restaurants, nightlife, and plenty of local culture from museums to festivals.
This area, however, is not conducive to young families, particularly as the Rochester Public School system does not get high marks from residents due primarily to recent budget cuts.
Once farmland, Webster, located at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, has seen much in the way of new development in recent years, yet continues to retain its humble charm. The shops of local craftsmen and eateries line its main thoroughfare, while new and larger homes in the $200,000-and-up range (as of late 2019) dot its landscape.
For families who enjoy summertime outings at the lake and want their kids to attend some of the highest-ranking schools in the area, Webster hits all the marks. Developments here feature luxury homes with granite countertops, two-story foyers, hardwood throughout, and large master suites.
Villages of Fairport, Victor, Canandaigua, and Farmington
According to Van Camp, bidding wars have taken place for homes in these areas, which are extremely desirable among those looking for quiet, safe neighborhoods. Properties are also in the $200,000 range as of late 2019 and tend to be bigger, with wide swaths of land around them.
These areas offer a real sense of community with a rural feel and are considered some of the most ideal places for raising kids in the area. “Their school districts are in high demand,” says Van Camp. “Families here typically settle on larger, newer homes, with three bedrooms and up.”
The changing tides of lakefront property
Homes on Lake Ontario were once a sure bet when it came to desirability. However, in recent years, buying lakefront property has become a bit of a double-edged sword.
The lake has seen record-high water levels and flooding, due in part to particularly wet winter and spring seasons. Another large factor though, is the 2017 change of plan by the International Joint Commission (IJC), a committee managing U.S./Canadian waterways to balance the needs of property owners while keeping the wetlands viable. Since then, some property values on the waterfront have flatlined.
“The northern part of Webster, Sodus Point, and Pultneyville have become a lot less desirable,” notes Van Camp. She reiterates that it’s not all doom-and-gloom for those who wish to live near the water, but that it depends on the actual location of a property itself — homes with rock breakwalls will have more value retention because the ground underneath them is solid. However, without a breakwall in place, properties are not safe.
Van Camp has seen firsthand what can happen. While checking out a waterfront home in Sodus Point for a client based in New York City, she explains, “The house had five to eight feet of grass in front of it, but there was no soil underneath. Without it, there was a 35-foot drop into the lake.”
Van Camp recommends waterfront properties located in Irondequoit Bay and the Finger Lakes region. But if you’re still interested in homes around Lake Ontario, make sure you do your homework first — your decision will have to be made on a case-by-case basis. “You really have to look at each home to judge,” she says.
Home inspector Tom Sansone agrees that some homes fare better than others in lakefront areas. “Moisture is an issue, which can not only cause damage to the foundation, but the furnace and electrical. Both need to be replaced when compromised by flooding.”
He adds, “The weather at the lake also tends to be nasty in the winter months, which is tough on the exterior of homes here. We see wind damage on the outside as well as moisture damage everywhere else.”
Tips for landing a home in Rochester’s competitive market
The biggest group of buyers in Rochester is Millenials, who made up 36% of sales in 2018, followed by Gen-X and retirees looking to downsize.
“I’ve got a number of seniors looking to find developments with finished basements and only one floor — they want places that require no maintenance,” Van Camp says. “Younger people are looking for homes under $200,000, like split-levels and raised ranches, which were popular in the ’90s. They tend to be less desirable in terms of design, but they’re selling because of the lower price point.”
So how do you beat out the competition? Here are some tips.
1. Make sure your financing is in order, and don’t look for something you can’t afford.
If you’re pre-approved for a specific loan amount, when searching stay within that range. Bidding wars have ensued for properties in Rochester, and buyers who have mortgage preapproval and proof of funds have a higher ratio of their offers getting accepted than those who don’t.
2. Be prepared to shop around.
Within the first 12 to 24 hours of hitting the market, a house can have multiple offers on it. Make yourself available, wherever and whenever you can, and if you see something, act on it. A house won’t wait for you.
3. Cut down on the contingencies.
The fewer contingencies you have in your offer, the better the chance that the seller will accept your offer — contingencies are often seen as possible roadblocks to a successful deal.
4. Go with the flow and be realistic.
In a seller’s market, know that you’ll have to sometimes offer over asking price — and be sure to show the seller you’re willing to work on their timetable, not the other way around.
5. Wait until the weather breaks.
The months from November to March tend to be slow due to the holidays and the weather, with February ranked as the quietest month for real estate transactions. As winter breaks and the region begins to warm up, the competition does, too.
Historically, buyers who put bids in over asking price in March and early April are still not winning their desired homes, as there is scant little in the way of new listings, but don’t get discouraged.
According to HomeLight’s Best Time to Sell Calculator, home sales in Rochester and surrounding areas hit their peak in midsummer. Sellers who put their homes on the market in April see them sell on average eight days sooner in July than if they list during any other month.
Work with a top Rochester-area real estate agent you can trust
Real estate is changing, which concerns Van Camp. She predicts a shift in how the market works with homebuyers and sellers in the next few years, particularly in light of Amazon’s move into real estate and the increase of homes that are for sale by owner.
“I fear that people underestimate the need for a good Realtor,” Van Camp said. “They may use an attorney instead of a Realtor in the transaction. Attorneys do not do what we do, by any means.”
If you’re ready to put down roots in the Rochester area, top local agents can help you save more than $20,000 on a home, according to data from HomeLight.
It’s time to find a top real estate agent who will help you find the perfect home for the right price. That way, even you can have somewhere to stop and smell the roses in the Flower City.
Header Image Source: (Corina Ardeleanu / Unsplash)