Finding Space with Sara Amrani

Photo by Peter Crosby

Hello and welcome to the third piece in our Finding Space series, a monthly chat with the relocated locals of the Catskills about what it’s really like to find some space of your own up here. Today HUTS had the pleasure of chatting with Sara Amrani owner of one of our favorite vacation rentals, Huckleberry House. Sara gave us a peek behind the scenes of what it takes to take care of an investment property. 

I know you guys own an Investment property and rent it through Airbnb and that’s pretty interesting, but can you tell me more about yourself? 

“I work in fashion, I’ve been in merchandising and buying for the last 12 years, and I’m now looking and trying to figure out what’s next. I’m hoping to move into more of a hospitality focus. Especially with the time that we spend up here getting to know the area, building out our understanding of the different places and different things to do – I have developed a passion for building the experience in travel. I bought my place in Margaretville three years ago – kind of at another height of a seller’s market. I had a lot of people telling me it was a terrible idea. Saying “What are you getting yourself into? You’re crazy” but I was really excited about it.” 

Was it a fixer-upper? 

“It wasn’t a fixer upper – it was actually a flip the sellers had done themselves. So there are some little quirks to it, but it was pretty much turn-key. It’s very compact, which was good for buying it myself. Not a lot of space to clean or upkeep. It’s on three and a half acres and it’s mostly wooded so even the lawn maintenance is minimal.”

Photo by Peter Crosby

Did you buy the property knowing you wanted to rent it or thinking it would be purely a weekend place? Were you automatically profitable from the start? Or was your goal just to cover the cost? How did that play into your buying process? 

“I knew that I wanted to rent it not so much from a profit perspective, but just kind of to share the space with people and make a little bit of income to offset costs. It was always meant to be a weekend getaway for us and actually we were renting cars the whole time, which I would not recommend! It made it a lot harder to take the last minute weekend trip up so renting the house just made sense. And luckily Delaware County has some of the lowest taxes in the state so the costs from the start weren’t crazy, which definitely played a role in where we were buying. We probably could have been more profitable if we didn’t block out so many personal weekends, figuring out the balance takes time.” 

What were some of the learning curves you encountered with your first house and investment property in the Catskills? 

“Well I definitely was pretty in over my head even with little things like trying to navigate taking trash to the dump – just trying to find someone who can pick up trash and realizing that doesn’t really happen here. And even though I knew I wanted to rent it, figuring out the best rental platform to use was harder than I thought it’d be. I actually didn’t start out on Airbnb because I thought it would be so much work. I wanted to use a local rental portfolio instead, but it was a learning process. I would say if anybody’s interested in an investment property and then debating on managing yourself versus a portfolio company, it’s definitely worth getting a really strong understanding of what they do and what they don’t do. For example is it mostly calendar management or are they more of property managers? Then speaking with references – homeowners that are on the platform and ones who might have been on and then chose to leave. That’s really telling. Also how much control of pricing will you have is a big question when going through a portfolio company versus on Airbnb where you have full control. But some people might like that guidance. Another big learning curve up here is getting help, for example cleaning people and handymen. More so because everything is so far and I found a lot of people don’t want to drive. I heard a lot of “it’s not worth my time driving”. That was shockingly hard.” 

Any tips for people new to investment properties? 

“Be selective on what you choose to splurge on because things are going to get damaged. My lacquer dining table was a dream, till I realized how easily it could scratch!”

Photo by Escape Brooklyn

So are you guys still commuting or have you now transitioned to being up here full time? And did you buy a car? 

“We did buy a car! On Black Friday actually! And we didn’t make the move up full time. We spent the first two to three weeks of lockdown in March here and unfortunately after that first week, I was laid off. That pushed me to think about what to do with the house. We could stay here and figure out what happens next or rent the property and supplement that lost income. Demand skyrocketed so that was the route we chose to take. It was a tough summer of renters though and being away from the house for so much time ended up leading to the decision to sell the house.” 

So what’s next for you guys? Is another property a possibility? 

“Actually we are in contract on two properties, one in Andes and one in the Margaretville area, but we are thinking a bit differently about it this time. Some friends saw what I did with Huckleberry House and want to become partners with us on the next round. It’ll be interesting how it plays out, but I’m really excited.”

Photo by Wayside Cider 

What are some of your favorite places up here? 

“Oh god I would have to break it down by town, but we spend a lot of our time at Wayside in Andes. Also Brushland in Bovina. Before buying our house we spent a lot of time at the Foster and Supply properties. Like the Arnold House, we’d stay there often and actually got engaged there in the spring. Woodstock Brewing I personally love. They have really great Nachos, which they took off the menu, but they do say that if they’re not busy, which they’ll probably kill me for saying this, they’ll make some for you. Foxfire is so amazing, we love The Pines too. We really spend most of our time just kind of exploring along route 28.”

Well thank you so much for sitting down to chat with HUTS and giving us some insight into what it’s like to own an investment property up here. We are excited to see what comes next from you guys! 

Some takeaways for those of you looking to build or buy an investment property: 

  • Things are a little different up here: It will take some getting used to and will most definitely require you to roll up your sleeves and get hands on with many aspects of home owning in a rural area. 
  • Do your research: Don’t think that you’re in the clear after you get through your renovation, build, or buy. Finding the right platform and figuring out how to manage your property as a rental takes just as much research and effort. 
  • Anyone can own an investment property: You don’t have to have a real estate background to own a successful investment property.