Vt. home sales: Sales up, prices down
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | September 02,2012
It’s a buyer’s market with low interest rates and attractive prices combining to spur a 14.5-percent spike in Vermont home sales this year.
Through July, 2,493 homes were sold in the state compared to 2,177 for the same period last year, according to the Northern New England Real Estate Network, which tracks multiple-listing sales (MLS) of homes in Vermont and New Hampshire.
For July, home sales were up 2.25 percent from a year ago, but were down more than 14 percent from June.
Sales of condominiums also posted solid gains. Condo sales statewide were up nearly 11 percent through the first seven months of the year. The median sale price of a condo was $182,700, a slight increase from a year ago.
Isaac Chavez of the Vermont Association of Realtors said home sales in the state are tracking what’s going on throughout the country.
Chavez, the VAR’s chief executive officer, said home sales nationwide are up 10 percent from last year.
He said sales in the state are up in part because prices have come down with the median sale price, not including condos, falling $10,000 from a year ago.
“A year ago it was $212,000, now it’s $202,000,” Chavez said, “so that’s better for the potential buyers out there.”
All counties in the state but one posted gains over last year. The exception was Grand Isle where sales declined 4.78 percent.
In Chittenden County, the most populous county, 577 homes were sold through July, up 17.5 percent from a year earlier. The median sale price was $268,000, down 3.4 percent from a year earlier.
Home sales in Washington County registered a 1.7-percent increase with 180 homes sold. The median price of $186,450 was down 8.6 percent from a year ago.
Windsor County posted a 14.75-percent increase with 280 homes sold through July. The median price was $196,250, down 7 percent.
In Bennington County, the 162 homes sold represented a nearly 15-percent increase. The median sale price of $210,00 was down 11.6 percent from last year at this time.
Sales in Rutland County were up nearly 13 percent for the year with 246 homes sold. The median sale price of $159,450 was down slightly from 2011.
Rutland appraiser Sean Sargeant said the Rutland market bottomed out earlier this year.
“Since April 2012, we’ve been on an upward trend,” said Sargeant, adding that the state as a whole has bottomed out.
He said the upward movement in home prices follows a steady increase in sales volume.
“So if you have a lot of people who want to buy houses, prices are going to go up,” Sargeant said, “and if there are only a few people who want to buy houses, prices are going to go down.”
With its preponderance of second homes, he said, the Killington market is a different story.
The good news is that prices in Killington bottomed out two years ago.
“The bad news for Killington is that volume has been very choppy,” Sargeant said.
Recently, he said, there have been encouraging signs with several mountain sales well in excess of $1 million.
The state’s property tax data uses different criteria from that used by real estate agents, but it still points in an optimistic direction.
Economist Arthur Woolf said the state tax data shows Vermont sales are up 7.1 percent from a year ago, with the data reflecting single-family home sales on less than six acres.
He said at this time last year home sales had also posted a nice increase.
When it comes to price, Woolf said, state tax data shows the median sale price of $176,000 is down 3 percent from a year ago.
“Sales are good, but prices aren’t going anywhere,” he said.
Barring any economic catastrophe, Woolf said, prices have bottomed out in the state and nationally.
As elsewhere around the country, home buyers in Vermont are taking advantage of low interest rates. Vermont has also benefited from avoiding the subprime mortgage and foreclosure crisis that engulfed many other states, especially in the South and Southwest.
Chavez said with interest rates creeping up, home buyers are entering the market before rates go much higher.
“I think people are looking at trying to lock in on the lowest 30-year, fixed-mortgage rate that they can,” he said. “And I think people are also trying to take advantage of what they see as really, really low prices at the bottom of the market.”
He said the bread and butter of the housing market remains homes priced in the $175,000 to $275,000 range.
“That’s what’s driving the market all across the country now,” he said.
Homes for sale in Vermont are on the market longer this year — 184 days compared to 179 days last year, according to the data posted on the NNEREN website. There were 7,025 homes on the market through July, 5 percent more than a year ago.
While Vermont has posted a robust increase in sales, New Hampshire has fared even better.
Home sales in the Granite State are up 20.4 percent for the year with a median sale price of $200,000 — down 3.3 percent from a year ago.