June 19, 2016

New buyers driving Vt. real estate market

Robert Layman / Staff Photo

Jim Watson of Coldwell Banker Watson Realty points at some houses on the market in his office in Rutland earlier this week.

Vermont’s residential real estate market continues its steady climb out of the post-recession doldrums this year, as more first-time buyers have come into the market. Many homes that have awaited buyers for years are finally selling.

Experts also said low interest rates, lower gas prices and more optimism about the overall economy have all encouraged a number of younger families and couples to buy first homes in the Green Mountains.

In May, closed sales of Vermont homes were up 3.5 percent over May 2015, while the median sales price had dropped by 4.3 percent, according to data from Vermont Realtors. The group also reported that closed sales of single-family homes went up 9.2 percent in May, compared to the same month in 2015.

Vermont Realtors CEO Isaac Chavez said the outlook is even better for this summer, noting that sales of single-family homes have driven the majority of the positive sales trend.

“We’ve cleared out a lot of inventory that was sitting around for several years,” Chavez said.

He pointed out that the warm winter helped the selling season get an early start this year.

“We’ve had Realtors making some money since March,” Chavez said.

However, Chavez also said the increase in early spring sales led to an unusual lull in some areas.

John Biondolillo, owner/broker at Barre-based William Raveis BCK Real Estate, said the year has been good, but it had a strange start.

“We were a lot busier in February than we normally are, but we were slower in April,” Biondolillo said. “Overall, it’s been better this year than last year, for sure.”

He said he’s noticed more younger buyers coming into the market.

“Some of the millennials are starting to come off the sidelines and actually buy,” said Biondolillo, whose company also has offices in Stratton, Stowe and Woodstock.

Jim Watson, owner/broker at Coldwell Banker Watson Realty in Rutland, said a number of buyers this year have been in the 30- to 50-year-old age range, with a lot of activity from people in their mid-30s.

“The majority of those are first-time home buyers,” Watson said of the latter group. “A lot of them have been renting for five or six years.”

Sales of second homes also have gone up this year statewide — a trend that was apparent in the Lake Bomoseen area in 2015.

“We’re starting to see some second-home activity again,” Watson said.

He also said there’s been “pent-up supply,” meaning that homes that sold last year were quickly followed by other homes coming onto the market.

“There’s been plenty of inventory, which has not been true in other places,” Watson said. He noted that the closer you go to Chittenden County, the less inventory you can find.

Biondolillo said Washington County typically benefits when people “get priced out” of the Chittenden County market; he said that’s happened more often this year with new buyers.

Biondolillo also said properties priced close to their value will sell fairly quickly now, particularly when they’re priced under $300,000.

“It’s really the middle part of the market that makes things happen,” Biondolillo said.

Nancy Larrow is the managing broker at the Vergennes office of Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty. She said the market is fueled by steady economic growth in Addison County and throughout the state.

Larrow said properties that are “priced right and in good condition” are selling quickly. With this increased activity, buyers can find homes more readily, and the housing inventory turns over more quickly.

“We’re now in that slow and steady growth (stage), which is ideal growth,” Larrow said.

Showing that steady improvement, in Addison County, the average price of a home sold in the past 12 months is $245,114, which is a 2.4 percent increase over the previous 12-month period, according to Tom Heney of Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty.

Sales are doing nicely in the Upper Valley, as well. Hal Sheeler, a Realtor with Century 21 Energy Shield Realty in Lebanon, New Hampshire, said both sides of the Connecticut River are looking strong so far this year.

“If you’re in Hanover (New Hampshire), the upper-end homes are doing pretty well,” Sheeler said. “Otherwise, in most communities, the mid-level and lower-priced homes are doing the best. Some of the higher-priced homes are still sitting on the market for a long time.”

Sheeler also has seen more young couples and families buying homes, some of whom are new to the Upper Valley.

“You find a number of people relocating to the area that are buying, rather than just renting,” he said, adding that, as in most areas, rising rents have caused more people to look at buying a home.

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