Business & Economy

Realtors say out-of-staters buying up Vermont homes online

Home sales
Vermont real estate agents say Covid-19 hasn’t stopped home sales, especially online. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

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Brattleboro real estate agent Kristen Ziter Taylor figured shelter-in-place orders spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic would stop sales cold. So imagine her surprise when out-of-stater after out-of-stater unable to travel nonetheless began contacting her office to buy southern Vermont homes online.

“They’re from all over — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, a few out West,” says Taylor, who found people clicking on the website of her company, Brattleboro Area Realty. “They’re not seeing them in person, but they’re really comfortable with us videoing.”

Peers statewide say public safety restrictions that have curbed in-person showings haven’t cut interest, with many properties viewed virtually selling in days with bids well over the asking price.

“As soon as Vermont announced it had the lowest growth rate of coronavirus cases, I got more calls,” says Mount Snow realtor Adam Palmiter. “A lot of people don’t expect this to go away anytime soon. I have a feeling as this progresses, we’ll see more looking to be here.”

Palmiter, one of the state’s top-selling agents based on industry statistics, sold more than 120 properties last year. Even with the pandemic, he’s well ahead of that pace.

“We saw a pretty big uptick after 9/11, and this is a longer-term event,” Palmiter says. “Whenever there’s something that causes people to reassess, Vermont benefits because it’s such a beautiful place.”

Agents report one difference between sales in the upper and lower halves of the state. In the north, most buyers are locals aiming to scale up from smaller apartments or downsize from larger houses.

“Rents are incredibly high and interest rates are low,” says Mark Montross, owner of Catamount Realty Group in Colchester and an officer of the Vermont Association of Realtors. “People look at homeownership as a good investment, and I think being in lockdown in confined spaces has solidified that.”

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Contrasting that in the south, proximity to cities such as Boston and New York is attracting more newcomers.

“I’m guessing at least 70 to 80 percent are out-of-staters,” Taylor says in Brattleboro. “They’re all different types, but they’re all saying they’ve always thought about living in Vermont and this time is motivating them.”

Second-home seekers who once were happy with a simple open floor plan for a weekend getaway now want more traditionally defined rooms, outdoor space and reliable high-speed internet. A few don’t understand why the wintry state doesn’t have more backyard swimming pools.

“I’ve had quite a few people say they want a place that’s suitable for full-time use,” Palmiter says at Mount Snow.

Home sales
A bulletin board outside a Brattleboro real estate office advertises property for sale. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

Central Vermont real estate agents are finding themselves in the middle, catering to both locals and out-of-staters who are buying either to change space or shift their money from shaky stocks.

“We’ve had places that were on the market a year or longer and suddenly we have 25 people looking at them,” says Sue Aldrich, owner of Coldwell Banker Classic Properties in East Montpelier. “That’s creating low inventory and a little bit of a seller’s market.”

Agents report some challenges, ranging from how to appraise a property if you can’t enter it to how to promote short-term rentals when visitors have to first quarantine for 14 days. But they’re taking advantage of technology to post photos and videos to a growing number of potential customers.

That, too, has its pluses and minuses. Andy Skarzynski, the incoming superintendent of the Windham Southeast School District, is seeking to move to its base in Brattleboro. But after two months of searching, he’s still without a home.

“It seems the prices started to go up pretty quickly, and every time you see something within your range, it sells within a day or two,” Skarzynski says. “We’ve had to adjust our expectations. To have a foothold, we’re going to rent until we can find something to buy.”

Real estate agents empathize.

“There’s not a ton on the market,” Taylor said recently. “If you want to sell your house, you should take advantage of this and do it now.”

That’s when Taylor was interrupted by a call from Pennsylvania’s 272 area code.

“When this first started, I said to myself, ‘We’re just going to take some time off,’” she says. “Little did I know we’d be this busy.”

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Kevin O'Connor

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