- James Buck
- Realtor Kara Koptiuch at a house she had listed in Shelburne
As a kid, Kara Koptiuch rode horses and carpooled to the barn with a prominent Vermont real estate agent. From the wheel of her stick-shifted Saab, the Realtor would take calls and pick up voice messages, writing on sticky notes as she steered, Koptiuch recalled.
Koptiuch thought the work looked exciting. After she graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in psychology in 2007, she joined the real estate firm of Century 21 Jack Associates in South Burlington. The franchise structure, though, didn't offer her the independence to create the kind of personal service she wanted, she said.
In 2016, Koptiuch and Bryce Gilmer, a colleague from another real estate office, decided to start their own brokerage in Burlington. They spent a couple of years building the business, Vermont Real Estate Company, then brought in other independent agents to work under that banner.
Today, the company has 23 agents helping clients buy and sell homes all over Vermont. It has additional offices in Montpelier and Woodstock and team members in the Rutland area, Northeast Kingdom and southern Vermont.
Koptiuch and her peers have never seen a real estate market as heated as it is today. High demand, low supply and record sale prices are leaving buyers frustrated — and sellers in a frenzy. Agents act as therapists as much as they do deal-making consultants. Koptiuch's psychology degree has served her well, she said.
"Buying a home is a very emotional process," she explained. "People want to be heard and listened to, and you really have to be a good listener to be a good real estate agent, because the biggest part of this job is caring about people."
Nest recently visited Koptiuch between house showings to find out how she helps clients through these tumultuous times.
Nest: What has changed since you got into the business?
KARA KOPTIUCH: I haven't seen a market like it is right now since I've been selling — how strong it is, how much cash is in the market, how competitive it is, the low inventory. There are no homes for sale in Shelburne right now that aren't new construction. It's crazy. Shelburne is my hometown. It's a really difficult market to be a buyer, and I feel bad for my buyer clients. We're going to find them something, of course, but I just feel bad [for them] having to go through losing out on deal after deal because they're up against either cash or other buyers who are able or willing to waive everything to get the deal.
What does this mean for someone who wants to buy a house?
If something does come up for sale, you've got a three-day window. People are putting the houses on [the market], allowing two or three days of showings, and calling for all offers. Some of these properties, you are only being allowed a 15-minute showing window to make a decision if you want to buy a property — not only if you want to buy property, [but] if you want to go in $50,000 or $100,000 over asking [price] and waive your inspection and your appraisal.
In South Burlington last week, there was a condo that came on the market, a very nice condo priced under [$300,000], and it got 30 offers. Yeah, 30 offers on a condo under $300,000.
What happened with your client?
My client went significantly over [$300,000, buying with] cash, and waived all the contingencies, and we didn't even make the short list.
How do you, as an agent, prepare people for that reality?
As a Realtor, you want to show people what the past sales were. You really have to put the ball in their court now, because our job is changing a little bit. We used to show the buyers what the [comparable homes] were and, in the previous market, maybe you came in below asking [price]. In this market, there's not even a scenario where you come in below asking.
So you're basically saying to the buyer, "I can't tell you how high to go, because you need to be comfortable. You need to put your best foot forward that you're comfortable with, that you're not going to regret tomorrow, but also a number that, if someone else goes $1,000 over it, you're going to be OK that you didn't get it."
What are your tricks of the trade to get buyers a winning bid?
There definitely is strategy. If you're not a well-versed, knowledgeable agent, you're not going to know how high to escalate their offer. You're not going to know some of the other tricks — like, this seller wants to live in their house until June; maybe you offer to close quickly and give them a rent-back option. There's a ton of small intricacies that can help make one offer look better than the other. I had one client be as creative as to offer a very expensive dinner for 10 people at a local restaurant just to set her offer apart from other buyers.
Did that work?
Unfortunately, no. But we were the runners-up.
What happens with appraisals in a market like this, with such high prices? Do houses even appraise for the amounts they're selling for?
Buyers are having to waive their appraisals. That means, if they're going $100,000 over asking [price] on a property, and if they want to get that property and they're up against 10 or more other offers, they're going to have to waive their appraisal, because that's a big risk for the seller to take an offer that hasn't waived their appraisal. What happens if the property appraises at the list price?
The appraisers are having a really hard time keeping up with hitting the numbers. The properties are going to such extremes, and [the appraisers] don't have the comparable sales to justify them. So when they go out and do the appraisal for the bank, that number isn't hitting the contract price. It's coming in low. This scenario happened to me last summer: The property appraised for $70,000 under what [the buyers] were contracted to pay, and they had to make up the difference with their own funds. That is hard to swallow.
How is it on the seller side?
We haven't really seen a ton of "for sale by owners" right now, or off-market [sales], because there is absolutely no advantage. You want to put your house on the market and put it in front of every eligible buyer out there — and there's a lot of them — and let the market do its thing.
Do sellers see the sky as the limit in pricing?
A lot of sellers say to us, "Should we price higher, considering the market?" And really, what we found is, right now, there's really no such thing as underpricing something, because it will just get that much more attention and that much more competition.
As long as you price it within a range that the market deems fair, even if it is still on the higher side, you will get a flood of activity. You will be booked for a three-day window of showings, elbow to elbow.
But if you do overprice it, if you do push the limits further than what the market is saying is a reasonable price for that house, then — even in this crazy market — you could still be faced with days on market, weeks on market, and ultimately price reductions and getting less than you would have gotten if you just came to the market with the right number.
Where do you see the market going from here?
It's a really scary time for buyers, because no one has a crystal ball. What's going to happen in three or six months or a year from now? Are the prices that they pay today going to hold? Are they going to lose money? Are the prices going to go up? We get this question constantly.
We hope and believe that our market will stay strong and that the prices will stay steady, level out. Potentially, more inventory will come on, which will help with the prices and help with the competitiveness. But we don't know what's going to happen for sure, and that's another piece of the job that makes this extra challenging right now.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and length.