Reflections of an Adirondack Broker

I’ve spent a lifetime in real estate. I’ve seen and heard it all along the way. I’ve met the rich and the famous and I’ve been in places that few have ever had the privilege of seeing.

From the remote wilderness retreat of Sam Webb’s magnificent Forest Lodge on the shore of Lake Lila with its boundless hunting and fishing trophies to Marjorie Merriweather Post’s native American antiquities and Kate Smith’s private recording studio over her boathouse on Lake Placid, it has been both an intriguing and stimulating 40+ years.

It seems so long ago, 1973, that I graduated from St. Lawrence University and returned to my hometown looking for a reason to stay in the Adirondacks. Little did I know that Lake Placid was about to awake from a long sleep with the announcement that it was chosen to host the 13th Olympic Winter Games.

The real estate market would soon ignite with great vigor and enthusiasm. The miracle of the “Eighty Games” was to rejuvenate this small mountain village into an international sports community comparable to few others.

Once home, I joined a local real estate entity and was nurtured by, what seemed at the time, a seasoned school of sales piranha who had little tolerance for a new fledgling wanna-be.

On my first showing I made the mistake of asking my new support team how I might distinguish a particular parcel of land. In complete accord, they characterized it as a wonderful meadow with exceptional views extending along the easterly side of the roadway. It took my new clients only moments to decide that this was the property for them and they proceeded to make a full price offer.

Unbeknownst to me, I had just sold them the Town’s municipal driving range much to the great amusement of my real estate associates. In actuality, the property for sale was on the opposite side of the road with no view and few attractions. It was a memorable way to get my feet wet and the first of many important business lessons… be prepared and don’t ever rely on someone else. Needless to say, I never saw those folks ever again!!!

The 1980 Olympic Games brought an onslaught of variegated clientele from major corporations to move stars to ordinary folks from everywhere seeking a place for the night. It was a good time for real estate in the Adirondacks and it was a good time for local residents to “hit it big” by renting their homes. Prices for rentals ranged from $15,000 to $75,000 tax free.

It was likely the most memorable time of my real estate career. We rented well over 150 homes and apartments. The prices were exorbitant but everyone was thrilled to have a place. I never saw so many people so willing or so happy to consummate a deal! As it turns out they have memories that will last a lifetime. I guess it was a small price to pay after all.

There have been numerous anecdotes over the years, some of which I can tell, but most I can’t.

I do remember a particularly humorous time involving European royalty just before the 1980 Games. We were asked to secure appropriate housing “fit for dignitaries”, the caveat being that the royalty was seeking something of exceptional quality but unpretentious in nature. I attempted to communicate to each owner the need to “play down” any showing and to take a modest approach when opening their home.

But when we arrived at one particular front entrance the door flew open and the owner appeared in a floor length gown with a long black cigarette holder and exclaimed: “Hail to the King and Queen and welcome to our humble abode – We are just one ordinary American family!”

We never made it past the foyer.

On another occasion I remember a call from a young woman by the name of Eileen Edwards who wanted to visit an estate we had in St. Regis Falls. She was intrigued with the ownership of an entire lake. Her plane was delayed into Montreal so she ended up inspecting the site in the dark of night. The next day she and her husband re-visited the property and I recall them asking the long time caretaker if he would stay on if they decided to purchase. His response was… “Only if I like you.” As it turns out he did and Shania Twain and record producer Matt Lange moved to the Adirondacks.

I’ve had a mélange of agents over the last 40 years. My youngest being 25 and my oldest was 82.

A number of years ago, when my oldest agent was on floor day, a couple strolled in to inquire about lake properties. She was a young attractive woman with model like features and he was quite casually dressed with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his white tee shirt, black jeans and boots with numerous tattoos. After a brief conversation, the agent begrudgingly agreed to show them several million dollar properties. When he returned to the office he was asked how it went. “Well,” he said, “she was beautiful but he didn’t look like he could buy anything” “Did you get his name?” he was asked. He responded… “it was a funny name… something like John Cougar Camp…”.

Well if only John Cougar Mellencamp had been popular in the 40’s or 50’s, we would have made that sale!!

Yes, there have been so many interesting deals with well-known people, but most just wanted to go undetected and enjoy this special place that we get to call home just like everyone else. And regardless of a client’s station in life, it has always been so much more satisfying to help someone find the perfect place or make a needed sale. It’s been a good 40 years and Will Rogers was so right… “Buy all the real estate you can… they’re not making it anymore!”

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