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VT Home Buyers Beware

by Rob Friesel

Fortunately, the good ol’ fashioned paper copy has a digital equivalent to link to… Given last year’s house hunting hemmorhage (for lack of any better alliteration), I was colored intrigued…

Their headline? Going, going, gone In a tight market, the $100,000 home is a thing of the past. Parts of it hit home right away:

Two houses would need to be gutted. Others needed new roofs and foundations. “They were nothing that we could see ourselves in,” says Jill.

Houses they did like were beyond their price range but still sold quickly.

Blammo! Sucker-punched!

I’ll be honest and admit that the particular couple they open the story on did little tear-jerking for me. Two income young professional household looking for a $140,000 house in Washington County? Boo-hoo. I’m sure they’re nice folks but it hardly does the point of the story justice. A walk around my block in Barre paints a pretty salient picture.

That being more/less beside the point– the article makes it pretty clear up front that about 57% of Vermonters are below the income identified in the article as necessary to “afford” home-ownership. Reading the article, A & I feel fortunate to be in our situation. It’s pretty mind-boggling to consider that vacancy rates in Vermont are among the lowest in the country and that the housing prices just continue to shoot (not creep) ever upward.

According to the housing report’s analysis of available real estate sales data, not a single new home sold in Vermont in 2004 was affordable to a household earning Vermont’s median income.

Realtor Marcus Ratliff of Norwich says his phone rings with buyers expecting to spend $50,000 on land and $100,000 on a home. He tells them: “There isn’t such a thing any longer.”

Shazaam! Cold-cocked right in the back of the head.

The article makes a lot of points about how (1) building is very limited and (2) there are a lot of out-of-state folks (/ahem) inbound and chowing down on the available real estate as vacation homes and investment properties. A & I definitely felt the sting last summer. One place we looked at was being sold be a Colorado man who’d bought it 2 years earlier, gutted it, and was flipping it in what can only be described as “now awesome” condition. It being at the upper end of our price range, it would have been awesome b/c then there’d have been no additional work (minus the roof replacement) that needed done. Everything we looked at after that was a laundry list of repairs just setting foot in the door. After one house hunting session, I remember A being nearly in tears saying that it was pretty much hopeless to find something in our price range that would be at least habitable right out of the gate. Things worked out OK in the end but there’s no denying that what isn’t built into our mortgage is coming out of pocket in card-swipes down at the local Ace and Aubuchon stores…

“I don’t think there’s a house in this town available for under two and a quarter. For people from urban areas, a house for $300,000 to $400,000 looks like a bargain, but if you have to pay for that on a Vermont salary, it’s astonishingly unaffordable.”

There are also social consequences of high housing costs, say experts. While many homeowners are seeing their biggest investment rise in value – possibly creating a nice nest egg for retirement – these climbing housing prices often can force others to move outside their community.

Whack! Like a 2×4 to the face. With a nail in it.

Seems like there would be (a) solution(s), no? Like a tax on houses ear-marked as camps or second homes? Or better, more common-sense deductions on the expenses that surround renovating, moderniizing, and improving older homes? Maybe my suggestion isn’t so crazy. If the VT government is going to limit the construction of new homes (which, all things considered, ain’t a bad idea) then it should at least make it worthwhile for the folks “stuck” with older homes to make sure those homes keep standing.

currently playing: Lamb “Lusty” >> Spylab “Breathe Easy”

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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