Real Estate recovering

MANCHESTER - Despite declines in the grand lists for both Manchester and Dorset, the housing market in Bennington County is on the rise.

Manchester's Grand List declined from $1,295,634,113 to $1,214,398,637, a difference of 6.3 percent between 2012 and 2013. Dorset saw a decrease from $7,220,560 to $7,197,319, which is less than one percent for the same time period, but down around three percent since 2010.

The Grand List for the towns have been created using housing sales over the past 18 months, according to Manchester Lister Pauline Moore. Therefore, houses that sold at a lower price than what they were appraised for prior to 2013 saw a reappraisal at a lower value, and lowered the total grand list. A town's grand list is a record of all taxable and tax exempt property in a taxing jurisdiction and their associated values.

However, according to brokers in the area, the Manchester area market it still seeing plenty of action.

"The Manchester and Dorset market seems generally hot right now," said Lisa Coneeny, President and Principal Broker at Vermont Country Properties.

She explained that what constitutes a good housing market is when a town, or broker, has a low inventory but a high demand.

"Right now, our inventory has stabilized," she said, adding that there may still be more inventory than demand, but it is beginning to reach an equilibrium.

According to figures presented by Lang McLaughry Real Estate, in June of 2012 there were 689 houses for sale in Bennington County; the figures for June of 2013 increased to 704 houses, showing a 2.2 percent change.

"But in Vermont it can still take one-to-three years to sell a house," Coneeny said.

The average time for a house to spend on the market in Bennington County is a figure that has fluctuated wildly from month-to-month since January of 2012, but the past six months has seen an overall shorter market time than the first six months of 2012. In January of 2012, the average time on the market was 296 days, and June 2013 saw an average of 230 days.

"Vermont has not turned around yet to the extent the other states have," said Coneeny of the increase in the housing market on a national level. "But everything seems to be moving at a good pace."

Coneeny believes that part of the reason for the amount of houses being sold in the area is a combination of location and pricings at fair market value; this is partly due to the recent reappraisal.

"Anything priced between $200,000 and $300,000 is moving fast," she said. "However, we are also seeing an uptick in $1 million-plus sales... in Manchester and Dorset."

Of those houses for sale in June of 2013, there were 35 in Manchester and 23 in Dorset that were under $400,000, within the range that Coneeny said were moving fast; however, only four were sold in Manchester and two in Dorset.

In an article published in the Boston Globe, Coneeny stated that Vermont Country Properties had recently sold eight of what they consider luxury homes, in excess of $1 million, which included a Dorset residence that sold for $2.5 million. She attributed this to the economy's continuing rebound in the past years.

Coneeny also said that there were 49 properties in 2012, and 36 so far in 2013, that sold over the $1 million mark.

"We are also seeing a lot of second-home sales," said Coneeny. "There are a lot of people buying houses as vacation homes."

In an article in the Vermont Property Owner's Report, Laura Beckwith, broker at Josiah Allen Real Estate in Dorset, also mentioned that she has seen a wave of home owners leaving their vacation homes in Stratton for larger vacation homes in the Manchester area.

Both Coneeny and Terri Hathaway of Lang McLaughry Real Estate have called this a buyer's market.

"Our agents also feel that buyers are starting to get off the fence as they fear a rise in interest rates," Coneeny said.

In her article in the Vermont Property Owner's Report, Beckwith mentioned seeing an increase in young families becoming involved in the housing market. However, these young families can see credit problems getting between them and their house.

"As a community lender we have alternative options," said Linda Bow, of the Bank of Bennington, "for those who do not have traditional credit."

Bow also said that while this is currently a historical low for Vermont's mortgage and interest rates, there has been an increase even within the past six weeks.

"It was stable for a long time," she said, "and it is still very low, but it is increasing. We hope it will stay within a somewhat stable environment."

She explained that the mortgage rate can vary from bank to bank, but they are all seeing the same increase, even though rates have hit a low in the past six years.

"I have heard from customers that they are realizing that prices are low and the interest rates are going to go up... they don't want to lose their buying power," said Coneeny.


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