A Run on the Catskills


Among the instruments of savagery is the increasingly popular escalation clause, a statement submitted with an offer that automatically raises the bid a specified amount above the highest competing offer, with a cap. As a result, the highest standing bid can be edged out by a tiny increment. One of Ms. Bellar’s clients was beat by only $500, she said.

So Ms. Bellar developed her own clause. When clients fell in love with a house, she recommended that they bid aggressively over the asking price and wrote into the offer the demand that the seller respond within 24 hours and not accept any other offers in that time frame.

“It worked,” she said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of creativity on how to do this.”

Some buyers appear to be driven more by the urge for victory in a heated bidding war than any true affection for a house. A modest two-bedroom Catskills cabin near a river was listed in May in the high $200,000s. It received five offers within 18 hours and was awarded to a couple who tendered a cash bid, sight unseen, of more than $20,000 above the asking price.

Then the deal fell apart. The listing agent said she was told the buyers’ representative had seen the house and communicated details about it to her clients. In fact, the buyers’ agent hadn’t crossed the threshold. After the offer was accepted and the buyers had a look, they backed out — without substantial penalty. By that time, the other four contenders had lost interest or bought elsewhere. (A couple who had been scared off by the bidding war stepped in later, and their offer was accepted.)

Even with the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, Catskills brokers were still describing frantic activity in early June.

“I am basically losing my mind,” Ms. Bellar said. “It is so insanely busy.”

A listing she put up on June 5 had 15 showings slotted for the next day, every half-hour, from nine to five. “It is nuts,” she said.

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