- Illustration By Luke Eastman
Vermont in the summer is inspiring: a smorgasbord of festivals, farmers markets and endless activities in a picturesque natural landscape. It could make any newcomer think, I want to live here, while longtime residents might vow, I'm never leaving this place.
Winter, on the other hand, can be a harder sell. As the skies turn gray and the wind starts to bite, the modus operandi of the state's residents — aside from die-hard skiers and snowboarders — shifts from living large to hunkering down.
In many parts of the country, it's generally accepted that cold weather dampens the real estate market. Local agents say this is true of Vermont, too, but less so than in other places because the demand for homes — particularly in Chittenden County — is so strong.
"Traditionally, I would say, we do maybe 60 percent of our business April through October and 40 percent in the winter," said Katrina Roberts, a real estate broker at Greentree Real Estate. She said, however, that the agency has yet to see a significant seasonal drop in sales. "This year we're all kind of like, 'Wow! Is it going to slow down?'"
The latest market report on northwestern Vermont from Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman Realty verifies that the traditional robust sales of late spring have continued into the fall. Home prices, too, have steadily climbed in the state since 2014, according to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency — even though the national market has been uneven in recent years.
Roberts also works in Addison County, where she says the seasonal differences in home sales are more pronounced than in the Burlington area. A winter slowdown, however slight, offers agents the opportunity to take care of administrative tasks and consult with people who are considering selling their homes but haven't committed yet.
"When people want three or four hours of your time in May or June to talk about what pictures they want on the wall, it's a little difficult," Roberts said. "It's a great time in the winter to invite a Realtor into your home and have them ... give you some perspective."
If there are fewer properties on the market in the coldest months, there is also less pressure from other eager buyers.
"If you're a first-time home buyer, don't stay away from the winter," Roberts advised.
Erin Dupuis of Vermont Real Estate Company agreed that spring and summer this year were particularly hectic. "Most properties that I listed were going under contract within a week with multiple offers," she said. Some properties went for as much as $30,000 over the list price.
A few years ago, Dupuis noted, a house selling in 30 days was considered a success. Today, if three days go by without an offer, sellers start to panic.
If clients are flexible about when to sell, Dupuis said, she wouldn't necessarily recommend they list their house in the winter. Then again, worrying about the market shouldn't be a seller's — or a buyer's — biggest concern. And if people are looking to sell or buy in the winter, their circumstances might give them extra incentive to close a deal.
"There's probably fewer buyers out there looking, especially between Thanksgiving and New Year's," said Steve Lipkin, a Realtor at Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman. "But those tend to be the most serious, motivated buyers."
Accordingly, agents often advise sellers to be flexible about showing their homes around the holidays. Vermont has plenty of winter visitors and ski travelers who might want to take a look during their vacation.
That said, when the weather is bleak, a house might not be at its most appealing. If a yard is blanketed by snow, a potential buyer can't see whether it is beautifully landscaped — or not at all. Roberts said it's completely reasonable to ask sellers for photos of their yard from the warmer seasons. Lipkin said his office keeps lots of photos and videos of Burlington during the summer to remind buyers of brighter, greener days ahead.
Winter does offer some potential advantages for buyers. They can feel for themselves how well a house is heated and insulated. Lipkin pointed out that a roof covered with snow indicates a well-insulated house, because heat isn't escaping and melting it. The season also provides an opportunity to make sure a home's roof or basement isn't leaking.
Ultimately, if a house can catch a buyer's eye in the dead of winter, it will only improve from there.
"If the home feels light and cozy and welcoming in the winter, then you're golden," Roberts said. As she often tells buyers: "If you love this house in November, you are going to be ecstatic in June."