Area real estate market seen remaining stable

ADDISON COUNTY — No, local experts said, the county’s real estate market is not booming, an opinion that probably will surprise nobody.
At the same time, appraisers said the news is not all bad, especially for owners of homes in more affordable price ranges.
The latest data from the Northern New England Real Estate Network, according to Vergennes appraiser Bill Benton, show a median sales price in Addison County of $205,000, down just 2.4 percent from 2009 despite lingering economic woes.
Benton, also the town of Middlebury’s assessor, and Ferrisburgh appraiser Charlene Stavenow both see relatively unchanged values for homes that sell for less than $300,000.
“The lower and middle market … still appears to be moderately active,” Benton said. “In that price range, we’re still seeing relatively stable prices.”
Neither Benton nor Stavenow believe prices are falling, at least not in the market segments in which most buyers are likely to be active. The high end might be a little soft, however, Benton said.
“Whatever seems to be selling is under $300,000. If you do see a sale over that, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it went down in value a little bit,” he said.
Stavenow used the phrase “stable over the bulk of the market” in describing prices in Addison County. Like Benton, she looks at $300,000 as a dividing line. Stavenow also has noticed buyers on the market are choosier — homes are taking more time to sell.
“Anything over 300 is going to be longer on the market, and (owners) need to look at their listing price carefully,” Stavenow said. “Anything under 300 is probably going to sell, but it is probably going to be on the market a little longer.”
She said times on the market for homes under $300,000 that have sold have ranged from 40 to 210 days, while “in the high price ranges it has been well over 200 days in some cases.”
Benton noted most of the pricier homes that have sold locally in 2010 were sold earlier in the year.
“Sales definitely picked up from the late fall (of 2009) and winter. We had a number of sales in the higher bracket, half-a-million or higher,” Benton said. “But that was short-lived.”
Stavenow said some sellers have also gotten more creative in helping pick up costs for buyers or paying for repairs to homes as part of clinching deals.
“There have been more concessions,” Stavenow said. “If they are motivated, they will help by paying for closing costs and any other necessary expenses.”
And, of course, not all homes have sold.
“If they can’t get what they want, they take it off the market,” Stavenow said.
Still, according to Coldwell Banker Bill Beck Real Estate’s third-quarter newsletter, multiple-listed home sales have not fallen off a cliff in Addison County. In all of 2009, county Realtors sold 210 homes, while in the first three quarters of 2010 they sold 140. (That compares to a high of 326 sales in all of 2005, when the median sales price was $215,000.)
And the average sales price of those sales through the end of September ($236,800) actually rose slightly from 2009 ($234,600) despite the slight drop in the median sales price (defined as the price at which most homes are sold).
In the third quarter of 2009, Realtors sold 54 homes in Addison County, a 12 percent drop from the same quarter of 2010. The Coldwell Banker newsletter compared that decrease favorably to the larger drops in Chittenden (22 percent) and Rutland (20 percent) counties.
The overall decrease, the newsletter noted, could probably be attributed to the expiration of a federal tax credit offered to first-time homebuyers.
Benton said by the end of November sales were down by just 6 percent. He also pointed to newer data in from the Northern New England Real Estate Network that he said will help bring more balance to the market by reducing inventory: New listings have dropped by 17 percent.
“That bodes well for supply and demand,” Benton said.
Within the Addison County market, homes closer to employment in Chittenden County continue to sell better, as has been the case in recent years. Stavenow said Monkton has fared the best in the county’s northern tier, while Ferrisburgh has shown signs of life recently. She also pointed to Bristol as a bright spot, and said Vergennes saw strong sales earlier this year.
The county’s southern half continues to experience a less robust market, Stavenow and Benton said. As a result, Benton says it can be difficult to find a comparable recently sold property when appraising homes there.
“If I (appraise) something south of Middlebury I’m lucky if I have one comp,” he said.
Benton said the condominium market is somewhat soft, bare land sales have been few and far between, and that no one is building spec homes. Stavenow said sales on Lake Champlain have been “very slow.”
Overall, both expect the market to remain stable, but not exactly exciting, for the foreseeable future. Both said larger economic forces were to blame.
“I think it’s a fragile economy,” Benton said. “Even with the lowest interest rates in history, it hasn’t sparked that turnaround.”
Stavenow said until more companies start hiring and residents feel more secure about their jobs, the status quo will probably prevail.
“There has been a lot of unemployment,” she said. “If you’re afraid of losing your job, you’re certainly not going to go around looking to buy a house.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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