Photo: Betsy Wadsworth is president of the Southern Vermont Board of Realtors covering Windham and Bennington counties. Courtesy photo.
by Bruce Edwards, Vermont Business Magazine It’s a tough time to be in any business these days including those who sell real estate for a living. Like many businesses real estate agents, appraisers and home inspectors were among many “non-essential” businesses shuttered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But real estate agencies and many businesses have been given the go-ahead by Governor Phil Scott to go back to work, with restrictions.
It means real estate agents can once again show homes in person – an absolute necessity for just about anyone looking to buy a home. Social distancing, however, remains in effect and individuals must wear cloth face masks.
“Very, very thankful,” was the reaction of Betsy Wadsworth, president of the Southern Vermont Board of Realtors.
“This will allow us to move property into closing, allow appraisers to go in unoccupied homes safely and inspectors to do the same, so we can move properties that are currently under contract to the closing table,” said Wadsworth, a broker associate with Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty in West Dover.
Wadsworth said statewide there were 1,300 homes in the pipeline (as of April 17) under contract.
She said agents can now photograph the inside of homes so those photos can be listed and shown online which is the “first showing” for most buyers.
According to the Vermont Association of Realtors website “Services operating with a single worker (such as appraisers, Realtors, municipal clerks, attorneys, property managers...) may resume operations so long as no more than 2 persons (service provider and client) are present at one time.”
Prior to Scott’s updated executive order of April 17, non-essential businesses including bars, restaurants and most retail establishments were ordered closed.
According to Wadsworth, Vermont had been one of only a handful of states that did not designate real estate as an “essential business.”
From the onset of the pandemic, real estate professionals in New Hampshire have been able to go about their business with some restrictions, said Wadsworth, whose group also includes Bennington County.
In fact, Wadsworth said all the states adjacent to Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts regard real estate as an essential business.
She said Realtors in the Brattleboro area have dual licenses, “so they can work in New Hampshire with guidelines.”
Wadsworth said, that left people in Vermont, who are in the process of buying or selling a home, in limbo. It also made it difficult if not impossible to even start the process since most buyers want to visit the home they’re interested in buying.
But she also said safety is the first priority and understood the governor was looking out for the interest of all Vermonters.
A snapshot of home sales in Windham County showed a decline in March compared to the previous year.
There were 36 homes sold in the county in March, down 12 percent compared to the 41 homes sold in March 2019.
New pending sales showed a bigger decline, 27 percent compared to a year earlier.
The median sales price was down nearly 19 percent to $182,750 from $225,000 the previous March, according to the Vermont Association of Realtors.
Year-to-date through March, closed sales were up 4 percent while the median sales price showed a slight increase of 0.5 percent.
Wadsworth said there has been an uptick in interest in the second home market. Condo and townhouse sales in March represented 22 percent of total residential sales in Windham County compared to 14 percent in February and 20 percent the prior March.
Anecdotally, Wadsworth said this time of year most resort properties are largely vacant. This year she said it appears many of those properties remain occupied.
Chris Campany of the Windham Regional Commission said one outcome of the current crisis could result in more people relocating to the state and other rural areas where the contagion was less severe.
As deputy commissioner of planning for Orange County, NY, following 9/11, Campany said there was a surge of people moving to the upstate New York community which rippled into adjoining counties.
He said that same ripple effect could be felt in Vermont and other less populated areas in the Northeast following the pandemic.
Campany said that in turn could result in “more land use pressures than they have seen in quite some time.”
“Already there is some anecdotal evidence that people are looking to buy homes in the area,” he said.
Another factor in the housing equation is climate change. As sea levels rise, Campany said rural areas like Vermont become more attractive for people looking to escape coastal areas.
Bruce Edwards is a freelance writer from Windham County. This story first appeared in the May issue of Vermont Business Magazine.