Low mortgage interest rates coupled with an improving economy and a declining inventory of homes for sale have local real estate agents optimistic that the spring and summer will be good for home sellers and buyers.
“It’s really good, very active right now,” said Tim Heney at Heney Realtors in Montpelier. “We’ve more than turned the curve on the cycle.” He sees good momentum going into the spring.
“People have a lot of confidence now,” agreed John Biondolillo at BCK Real Estate in Barre. A market that had languished in recent years is coming back, he noted.
“Vermont is coming out of the rut, houses are selling quicker, and there is more demand,” said Isaac Chavez, CEO of the Vermont Association of Realtors.
Sales are up across the state, and Washington County “is doing better than the state as a whole,” he reported.
“I feel like the market is coming back slowly, and last year was a good year for me,” said Sue Aldrich, broker/owner at Coldwell Banker in Berlin. She sees the county’s economy improving with hiring at Norwich University, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and National Life Group adding to homebuying interest.
Another plus for growth in the local housing market, according to Aldrich, is people who work in Burlington choosing to live in the Barre-Montpelier area. She attributed this trend to the “small town aspect.” These commuters like the Montpelier school system and the housing that’s less expensive than in the Chittenden County market.
Recent sales figures compiled by the Vermont Association of Realtors for the state and county show growth in sales. “So far in 2013 the volume of sold listings statewide is up 14.21 percent compared to last year,” said Chavez. The median sale price is up 7.76 percent, at $198,000. In 2012 that figure was $183,750.
In Washington County, according to Biondolillo, the median price is $195,000. That’s up from 2004, when it was $155,000 and more recently in 2009 when the median price was $163,250.
Another indicator that housing is moving faster is the average days on market. That indicator statewide is now down 20.83 percent to 171 days in late January from last year’s 216 at the same time.
The number of Multiple Listing Service residential homes listed in the county in mid-February was 620.
Contributing to the increase in sales are interest rates, which continue to be low. A 30-year mortgage can be obtained for 3.75 percent, and a 15-year rate is lower. “It’s like they are giving you the money for free,” said Biondolillo.
Heney categorized the current sales environment as “more of a middle market, not a buyer’s or seller’s market.” He has seen multiple bids on some properties of late, something he said was “unheard of a couple of years ago.”
Chavez reported that among the 1,600 Realtors in Vermont, “people say they are busier than in many years and January was busy.” He sees the public taking advantage of low interest rates, fearing that the rates may go up again.
While sales are expanding, some local real estate markets are better than others.
Heney sees “a much stronger inventory in Barre City, where prices are reasonable.” Currently there are “good deposits and contract activity.” As of mid-February nine homes were under deposit in Barre, 14 in Barre Town and a total of 48 for sale. Montpelier had six homes under deposit in the MLS listings and 31 homes for sale. Northfield had 41 homes for sale, with hiring at Norwich University a factor.
Biondolillo categorized Montpelier as “always popular.” He sees Barre as “a bright spot with good housing stock and affordability.” East Montpelier is coming back from the recessional housing slump with the median sales price there rising from $191,000 in 2011 to $220,000 in 2012, a 15 percent increase.
Aldrich agreed, “Barre is right on the verge of a big comeback.” She attributes the optimism to downtown revitalization, where Barre “will be the up and coming place to buy a house.” The perception of Barre, according to her, “is changing and there are really good homes and great prices.”
In outlying towns the U-32 school district remains strong “for people who want to be in the country,” she said.
What’s in undersupply in housing in Washington County, said Chavez, is entry-level housing and executive-level housing with a price tag in the $400,000 range. There is a good supply of $200,000 to $280,000 homes. He sees a need for “more housing for those just getting out of college.”
Even land sales are picking up, according to Biondolillo, with more inquiries and sales than in the previous five years. A trend emerged last year with buyers looking for large parcels in the 100- to 200-acre range as investment property. Those looking for land in this range are, according to Biondolillo, “Wall Street people in the market who saw land in Vermont as a good investment that is stable and holding its value.” Those buyers are interested in sustainable forestry and want to be “stewards of the property.” They do not want to subdivide or sell off the wood, preferring to “enjoy the property and be on it.”
Heney said the current sales environment is “a good place to be for the real estate market.”
“We will continue to see a decent healthy market,” said Chavez.
Aldrich agreed. “People are more optimistic about the economy. It won’t be a boom, but a good steady year for real estate,” she said
Added Biondolillo: “I feel the spring will be strong.”
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