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Vermont Homes Are Selling Within Days Despite Pandemic

Vermont's housing market is jumping back from the pandemic without skipping a beat.

By HOM Editor
September 2020

Following quite the respite through the winter and over the peak months of the pandemic, Vermont’s housing market is back in full force. Homes in The Green Mountain State are in very high demand due to a variety of aspects that have hiked up the number of buyers while inventory is somewhat low.

After Governor Phil Scott declared a state of emergency in March, there was quite a decline in buying action through May, when residential closings decreased by ⅓ from the year prior. Considering most home sales close in 45 days, the decline in May is likely a delayed outcome from the initial lull in March and April. The busy selling months of June, July, and August make up 40% of annual home sales volume, and residual effects of COVID-19 didn’t stop those months from heating up Vermont’s housing market any less than previous years. Homes around Chittenden County have gotten handfuls of daily offers and are selling within days.

Laurie Mecier-Brochu, a Sotheby’s office manager, says, “My agents in Burlington have told me that there have been properties out there that have 10 offers, 19 offers; somebody told me there was a property where there was 35 offers.” With offers of that quantity, it’s no wonder homes are flying off the market within days. Real estate agents aren’t expecting their summer sales to deplete compared to this time last year but, in fact, the opposite. Leslee MacKenzie, president of Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman, for example, isn’t concerned with sales because of pent-up demand.

Buyers are aplenty in Vermont. Whereas sellers, not so much. “There is a backlog of people who need homes,” says an agent for Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman, Steve Lipkin. As of June 22, Lipkin says, “The last three weeks have been really busy with people making up for lost time. It’s been an uncertain time; people thought there would be massive layoffs and people losing jobs and maybe having to downsize or have a quick sale just to get out from under a big mortgage, but I haven’t seen any desperate sellers, really.”

Well before the coronavirus twisted cities into a new way of living, more affordable residential real estate was a large focus of Vermont officials. The pre-existing pricier homes weren’t very attractive to newcomers which not only put a damper on Vermont’s housing market, but their job market as well considering those seeking employment were turned off by expensive home prices. While buyers haven’t been slowing down during the busy buying season of Summer, sellers have been hesitant. Between the uneasiness that comes with welcoming strangers into your home for showings during a pandemic and lack of urgency to relocate, sellers have simply had more flexibility when it comes to moving. Many homeowners looking to sell have put a halt on their efforts to sell quickly while they wait to see how things progress with COVID-19.

When speaking of homeowner’s reluctance to have people strolling through their homes for showings, Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman president Leslee MacKenzie says, “Inventory levels were really impacted by that, and therefore you saw really a pretty high level of demand for buyers looking for property. We’ve continued to see that this spring.”

Another Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman real estate agent, Luke Clavelle, confirms that their firm is not seeing a flooded market, “We’re seeing more and more multiple-offer situations.”

An additional element that is encouraging buyers is extremely low mortgage rates. The Federal Reserve cut interest rates back in March which is captivating buyers from all over the country with various intentions. There are over 2,000 homes under contract in Vermont right now, claims Mecier-Brochu. While the median number of days these homes are sitting on the market is 34, many are selling in under a week. With the surge in remote work, many city dwellers are looking to relocate to a more affordable area such as Vermont, and the low number of COVID-19 cases isn’t a bad attribute either.

“If you told me four months ago that people would buy and close on things they haven’t seen, I would not have believed you. It’s crazy. There have been a lot of whole years that are not as busy as now.”

What may be the biggest source of the thriving housing market in Vermont are sales from out of state residents. The CEO of Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty, Staige Davis, took a look at internet search data in June to see that thousands of people who were looking at their 12,589 listings in Vermont and New Hampshire were being viewed by residents from cities all over the country, such as Boston, Richmond, and Brooklyn. One may think people are simply daydreaming of the countryside, but apparently this is not a common occurrence. Davis shares, “Before the pandemic, you wouldn’t see this; you would see something much different. The truth is despite the fact that we do a lot of advertising out of state and internationally, most of the buyers are in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, and then occasionally there’s an outlier like Florida. But there is a lot more from New York than it was before and all the suburbs, Brooklyn, the Bronx. You didn’t see that in the past.” Another employee of Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty, Gary Coger, shares that 75% of his business is now represented by out-of-state buyers. Similarly, Lori Muse of Lorie Muse & Associates discloses, “Usually it’s 75 percent local but lately it’s more like 50/50. It’s similar to the period after 9/11 when people wanted to get out of the city. They wanted to feel safe and secure.”

While many are relocating to have more space while working from home, there is one crucial thing to look for: high-speed internet. This will now make the list of top priorities when looking for new neighborhoods and many regions in Vermont have excellent connectivity as they are wired with VTel fiber optic. Vermont has an admirable balance between town and country, and the advantage of high-speed internet that reaches very far makes The Green Mountain State an ideal new home.

While so many factors come into play when analyzing the real estate slump across the U.S. during the COVID-19 outbreak, one of the biggest problems was that buyers couldn’t view a home, in a traditional sense at least. All showings switched to video due to restrictions surrounding state quarantine requirements and personal preference and comfort. Whether it was FaceTime tours or shared videos, potential buyers had to put trust in a video clip. This essentially eliminated out-of-state buyers considering they weren’t permitted to enter the state. This really slowed down the market until the end of May when the Scott administration reassessed their regulations and allowed buyers to travel to a property in another state if they had a signed contract. The thought of purchasing a home without seeing it in person may baffle many, but times are clearly changing and in turn, buyers are taking the plunge without even stepping in the door. A local broker, Betty McEnaney, expresses, “If you told me four months ago that people would buy and close on things they haven’t seen, I would not have believed you. It’s crazy. There have been a lot of whole years that are not as busy as now.”

Not only are houses flying off the market, but brokers are also receiving multiple offers above the asking price. On the very first day of some properties being shown, handfuls of appointments and offers are being made, some even made sight-unseen. Agents at William Raveis Real Estate Vermont Properties agree, sharing a story of a recent sale, “A house that’s new to the market and priced right can get multiple bids and even sell without a single showing. We have a closing coming up where the buyer had seen the house from the outside and bought it based on a FaceTime tour.”

Times are changing and it’s becoming more common and secure to view homes via video, while doors are opening for out-of-state buyers looking for a new home. While many states have lots to offer, no one does it quite like idyllic Vermont.


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