Local housing prices holding steady

ADDISON COUNTY — Despite nationwide gloom and doom in the real estate sector and a drop in home sales in Vermont and Addison County, there is evidence that the values of the homes that most state and local residents own have held their own.
According to information on the Vermont Department of Taxes Web site, the median value of homes on 6 acres or fewer (described as R-I homes on property transfer returns) sold in Addison County through the first nine months of 2008 is $213,500. That represents an increase of about $6,000, or 2.9 percent, from the median value over the entire 12 months of 2007.
Statewide, the median sales price of an R-I home in the first nine months of 2007 — the price point at which an equal number of homes sold for either less and more money — was $206,000, an increase of $6,000, or 3 percent, from all of 2006.
Independent real estate appraiser Bill Benton of Vergennes said he is not ready to call that good news, especially considering that fewer R-I homes are selling this year in Addison County than in 2007. Through Sept. 30, 2008, 128 R-I homes in Addison County sold, while 252 R-I homes sold in all of 2007.
Benton said that sales figure for all of 2008 will be lucky to hit 150 this year, but he is happy to see prices hold their own.
“I’m not saying that’s definitely a positive trend, but I’m saying it’s at least stable,” he said.
National Bank of Middlebury President Ken Perine also sees stable values in the home sales his business is tracking, although he wouldn’t rule out a price drop of 5 percent or less. Perine said typically Vermont, including Addison County, does not see the wild swings in real estate value that markets elsewhere do. 
“We haven’t seen any significant declines in real estate values. And that really squares with our experience in the past; when we’ve hit some rough times, slower markets, generally speaking our real estate values (remain) level,” Perine said, adding, “The high-price sectors probably have some depreciation, but standard properties are probably pretty flat and we haven’t seen depreciation.”
Addison County real estate prices are probably more stable even than those of our neighbors immediately to the north.
“We never had the sharp appreciation (of real estate values) in Addison County,” Perine said. “Chittenden County saw maybe a little bit more, so we might see a little bit more of a correction in Chittenden County. But I don’t see that here at all in Addison County.”
The statewide data and Perine’s beliefs track well with third-quarter 2008 sales data from the Addison County Multiple Listing Service that was recently portrayed in a Coldwell Banker Bill Beck Real Estate newsletter.
Once a $2.5 million farm sale is taken out, the resulting median price for Addison County home sales in the quarter was $212,500. That tracks closely with the Department of Taxes median R1 sale figure for Addison County of $213,500.
That figure, however, is 4 percent below the 2007 median Addison County MLS home sale price of $220,000, according to the newsletter, which calls those numbers “pretty consistent” considering declining markets elsewhere in the country.
Basically, Benton said the values of homes that many buyers can afford have held their own. 
“It seems like values under $300,000 are holding up OK. You get above that, and you’re probably above your typical two-income family mortgage affordability,” he said.
Buyers are being choosy even in the low and middle price ranges, though, Benton said.
“People that are buying are doing their due diligence. They’re buying houses that are priced fairly that are in good condition that they can move right into,” he said.
For high-end or second-home properties, buyers are being much pickier. Benton said only “really special properties” with fair price tags seem to be moving.
“It’s really a buyer’s paradise” in the upper end, he said.
Some uncertainty lies ahead, Benton said. His appraisal business dropped off starting late in the summer, although his usual local sources of referrals have remained strong.
“The last couple months have been off,” he said. “The mortgage companies and the big banks have disappeared off of the face of the earth.”
Benton remains optimistic that the market will improve, but the question is when.
“Definitely the next six months are uncertain … If credit loosens up and the market comes back, we could be fine by next spring. But I definitely worry about the next six months,” Benton said. “I’ll be really curious to see how this plays out.”
Additional reporting by John S. McCright.

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