Market regains stability

Real estate pros like the direction

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On the high end, a $12.5-million listing on North Hill

The increased interest in luxury homes “shows there’s more confidence in our market and its longevity,” Coldwell Banker Carlson broker McKee Macdonald said, but Homes priced under $500,000 continue to dominate the market for both primary residences and second homes.

Home sales slowed down a little in the first six months of this year, compared to 2014 numbers, and median sales prices also took a dip.

Thirty-three residential units sold in Stowe during the first half of 2015, down 29 percent from the 47 in the first half of last year.

The median sales price — the price point at which half of homes sold for more and half sold for less — was $427,500, down 12 percent from 2014.

However, the average sales price was $576,000, a 7 percent increase from the same period last year. That indicates that high-priced houses are moving.

The real estate market in Stowe and nearby towns is moving in the right direction, said McKee Macdonald, a broker with Coldwell Banker Carlson Real Estate in Stowe.

“People are more excited about the market than they have been in the last five years, both from a selling and buying standpoint,” Macdonald said.

The first six months of 2015 has brought stability to the market that hasn’t been seen since 2008 in terms of steady sales and sales prices that mirror town-assessed property values, Macdonald said.

Pall Spera, owner of Pall Spera Co. Realtors in Stowe, agrees that a once-capricious market has stabilized.

“The future is solid,” he said, with a lot of buyer interest and an increasing number of transactions, “but it’s a very meticulous market, where you have offers and closings based only on methodical inspections.”

In the past six months, homes priced at up to $1 million sold for close to their town-assessed value for the most part, while those with selling prices $1 million or more sold for up to 24 percent above their assessed value.

“We’re long enough into the time after the most recent appraisal (2012 in Stowe) so assessed valuations are not the Holy Grail,” Spera said. In some cases, sale prices run ahead of the assessed values — but it all depends on the individual property. Does it have a pond, or lots of land, or views, or great finish work that adds value?

Statewide, 2,600 homes were sold in the first six months of 2015 compared to 2,241 in 2014, a 16 percent increase.

The median sales price rose from $205,000 to $212,500, a 4 percent increase.

What’s selling

Homes priced under $500,000 continue to dominate the market for both primary residences and second homes, according to Macdonald.

“Most of my (Stowe) transactions have been in $200,000 to $300,000 range,” said Teresa Merelman, a broker with Stowe Realty.

Nineteen of the sales for the first half of 2015 were below $500,000; 10 were between $500,000 and $1 million; and four were over $1 million, including one home that sold for $2.2 million.

The increased interest in luxury homes “shows there’s more confidence in our market and its longevity,” Macdonald said.

While more homebuyers are searching for properties in the $1 million to $2 million range, there’s a logjam of inventory. Buyers are typically searching for a home that meets very specific expectations, and homes that need extensive updates tend to sit on the market for a long time, especially if they’re overpriced.

The Stowe market is still being driven by second-home buyers, but there’s been an influx of families relocating here for the school system and recreational offerings.

“A lot of families have been renting for a while and now they can jump into the market,” Macdonald said.

Many such clients telecommute to jobs that pay well enough to allow them to buy expensive homes, Macdonald said.

While second-home buyers tend to prefer to live off Mountain Road, no one neighborhood stands out when it comes to real estate transactions for primary homes.

“There are no two houses that everyone will like,” Macdonald said. “Every house is unique and different. What it comes down to is whether a house meets a majority of their check boxes.”

Well-priced, updated homes sell quickly, he said. “If you have a lot of deferred, delayed maintenance and are selling it at an inflated price, it’s going to sit for a long time. Being properly educated on pricing and strategy is paramount for moving a house through our market.”

“You can’t just come on the market to sell; you need to be ready to sell,” Spera said — and that means putting your best foot forward.

Yes, you can stage a house so it presents well, Spera said; “in fact, we stage land. It’s that kind of important consideration — do some clearing, brush-cutting, road improvement. All properties now need to be presented so the buyers can see the value — current and future.”

Condominiums/land

Condominium sales dropped 8 percent, with 23 units sold compared to 25 during the first six months of 2014. The median sales price was $315,000.

Sales at Stowe Mountain Resort helped to drive both median and average selling prices upward by 13 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, Stowe’s inventory of condominiums declined by 24 percent.

“If you see an increase in price and a decrease in inventory, that’s usually a good thing for the market,” Merelman said.

There were only three land sales during the first six months of 2015, compared to nine for the same period in 2014. The median sales price was $185,000.

Inventory remains high, with an 88-month supply of for-sale land parcels. Despite the number of available lots, buyers are finding the cost of buying land and building to be cost-prohibitive and opting to buy and renovate existing properties.

“Land is dead,” Merelman said. “In Stowe, nine lots had been sold by this time last year. This year there have been three sales. That’s not good.”

Lamoille County

The Lamoille County real estate market outside of Stowe improved somewhat during the second quarter of 2015 after a slow first-quarter start.

“North of Stowe, they’re just hanging in there,” Merelman said.

During the first six months of 2015, 84 homes sold compared to 79 in 2014, a 6 percent increase.

While sales of homes priced under $300,000 remain the dominant segment of the market, there have been increases in the $300,000 to $400,000 price point.

Land sales remained virtually unchanged from a year ago, with 15 parcels sold. But the median sales price of $78,550 was up 35 percent from 2014.

Waterbury

Waterbury doubled sales in the first six months of 2015 — 26 homes sold, compared to 13 in the first half of 2014.

“Waterbury is killing it,” Merelman said.

Median and average prices also rose 22 percent and 18 percent, respectively. The median sales price was $307,250, while the average sales price was $319,930.

None of the homes sold for more than $600,000.

Declining inventory and buyer demand have helped to push all segments of the market, especially homes priced above $300,000, according to Macdonald.

Waterbury had two land sales in the first six months of 2015, compared to four during the same period in 2014. The median sales price was $215,000, a 139 percent increase from 2014.

Filomena Siner, a broker with Century 21 Jack Associates of Waterbury, has noticed a heightened interest in the town, especially for homes in the $400,000 to $500,000 price range.

Single-family homes under $200,000 are very sought after, but there’s not much inventory, she said.

“Now is a good time to sell,” Siner said. “Most people don’t have to modify their asking price much and people who took their house off the market a few years ago should consider trying to sell again.”

Many of Siner’s clients are relocating to Vermont for jobs in the Waterbury area.

Merelman recalls one client telling her, “It’s all about the beer.”

“Waterbury has become known as the beer capital of Vermont,” Merelman said. “Plus, it’s close to the Interstate and the state (employee complex) is coming back.”

Outlook

Looking forward, Merelman believe that the Stowe market could contract if the interest rates go up.

But she’s relieved that new mortgage laws that go into effect Oct. 1 will protect borrowers against unanticipated fees and make new types of loans available.

“I would advise buyers to use a lender, broker and attorney familiar with the new regulations,” Merelman said.

Macdonald is confident that Stowe’s real estate market will improve during the remainder of 2015.

He’s noticed an increase in buyers and home showings and more people have expressed interest in putting their homes on the market.

“Although there is a dip compared to last year, the showings and listings show that we’re positioned to have a stable year and that numbers will move in positive direction over the next six months,” Macdonald said.

“This isn’t a market that’s running away,” Spera said, not a situation where people will see instant appreciation in the value of their properties.

And, there’s a higher standard for sellers. “This is no longer a lackadaisical real estate market,” Spera said. “It’s far more professional. There’s lots of information; it’s ubiquitous. People in the Boston market are flooded with information. Some of it is factual, but you need to interpret it when you get to Vermont.”


Stowe Reporter intern Christopher Pelletier contributed to this article.

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