County home sales seeing an upward trend
ADDISON COUNTY — After years of stagnation, the region’s real estate market has in more recent years shown signs of life, according both to statistics and longtime Vergennes real estate appraiser Bill Benton, also Middlebury’s town assessor.
According to data provided by Benton, in the past three years — and especially in 2017 — the number of homes sold in Addison County has increased annually, as has the median sales price (defined as the most common price at which homes sell, not the average).
“The last three years have seen a definite jump in sales and the dollar volume,” Benton said. “Median sales prices continue to go up.”
In 2015, 311 county homes sold. That number rose slightly in 2016 to 319, and then jumped to 347 this past year.
In 2015 the median sales price of an Addison County home stood at $235,000. In 2016 that number rose to $243,000, and in 2017 it saw a more dramatic increase to $260,000.
Meanwhile, the average days on the market before a home sells has dropped each year, from 79 in 2015, to 77 in 2016, and to 68 this past year.
Benton is not pegging market appreciation at a dramatic number. Rather, he believes that with the recession that began in 2008 receding further in the rear view mirror, buyers — some from out of state — are more confident in looking at more expensive properties.
“I think pricier homes are selling,” Benton said. “The percentage of homes selling from $300,000 to $500,000 increased.”
Benton noted about half of the home sales are between $180,000 and $300,000, and about 20 percent between $300,000 and $500,000.
He also points to towns’ Common Levels of Appraisal, or CLAs, to support a more modest rate of increase of value than suggested by the most recent median sales price jump.
State officials calculate CLAs by evaluating sales to determine how town property assessments compare to fair market value. A CLA of 100 percent means a town’s assessments equal the market. If a CLA rises, property values are declining because a town’s valuations are too high. If a CLA drops, the town’s assessments are too low and market values are increasing.
Benton said local CLA increases align with his opinion of home values increasing annually, but by essentially the rate of inflation.
“Between median sales price and also looking at some CLAs across the county I would say values are up 2 or 3 percent annually,” Benton said. “In Middlebury we just got our report this last week and the CLA went down 2.5 percent, and the year before that it was 3 percent. So I think that’s probably in the ballpark.”
He described the market as “certainly better than it was five years ago,” when the state and nation were still mired in recession.
“In the prior years and the couple years before that the sales were still mostly under $300,000. This year we’ve seen a lot more sales in the three-to-five (hundred thousand) range, which is good,” he said. “I think it’s people that maybe are moving up (to more expensive homes) and maybe have the confidence to do that now, or maybe are moving here from elsewhere and they maybe have some money in their pocket. But there’s definitely more activity now in that upper-to-mid range, where that didn’t exist for a number of years.”
At this point, he sees a stable market that is largely balanced between buyers and sellers.
“I think there’s still a reasonable supply of houses, so you’re not seeing values going up. People are willing to sell houses at a price that is fair,” Benton said.
There are pockets, however, where sellers might hold more cards.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s an old house in Vergennes or Bristol village or Buttolph Acres (in Middlebury), people are really gravitating towards a walk-able community,” Benton said. “Realtors tell me they have lists of people who want to buy an old house in Vergennes, where they can walk places, up to around 250. And there’s just not anything on the market. And when they do come on the market they usually sell fairly quickly.”
Condition, however, is becoming a factor. In many cases there is enough inventory that buyers can be choosy. Fixer-uppers are passé, and even homes that need even cosmetic work or minor repairs are giving purchasers pause.
“I am finding that old homes, farmhouses in the country that need work that everybody wanted 20 years ago, they’re a tough sell,” Benton said, adding, “I don’t know if it’s just that buyers don’t want to deal with it, or that contracting and repairs are getting really expensive.”
And it remains hard to find a starter home.
“The real lower end is still pretty limited because there just isn’t that much out there,” Benton said.
And as has been the case for years the northern tier of the county remains more active than the southern end, largely due to the influence of Vermont’s largest county and job center.
“Most of the sales are north of Middlebury, due to proximity to Burlington, I think,” Benton said. “Rutland is beginning to get a little more activity, but you still don’t get that draw to Rutland that you get from Burlington.”
Looking ahead, Benton expects more of the same, at least for the immediate future.
“If I were to forecast anything, it would be a continuation of what we’re seeing,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to see boom or bust, but slow and steady is a good thing.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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