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Blog :: 2015

Stowe VT and the Unsettled Real Estate Market

Economic gurus and Wall Street Analysts are starting to forecast an economic and real estate market slow down for 2016.  The 3rd Qtr GDP growth come in at half the 2nd Qtr GDP growth rate, a shock to some and a reason for people to lift their collective heads and assess what is going on.  According to Investopedia (they have great market perspective) there are six indicators pointing to a slow down.  They are:

i) European economy is getting worse,

ii) China's growth has stalled (once you look past the Chinese Governments funny numbers),

 iii) unemployment isn't so rosy (yes, we are creating jobs, but we still have the lowest labor participation rate in 38 years.)

iv) We have a bigger than anticipated problem in student debt.

v) The Fed can't cut rates any lower without risking creating a recession themselves.

vi) The economic data now is VERY similar to the time period leading up to the last recession (retail sales, down - US Factory orders, down - Real  GDP, down - US Exports are weakening and corporate profits are dropping).

Please click here for the Investopedia article.

Bottom line, for those who do live here, be thankful you are in Stowe and Vermont!  This isn't just because Vermont is a great place to live, which it is.  This is because if anything has proven true about the Vermont real estate market it's that it never grows or recedes as fast as the national average.  As the mantra goes, our peaks and valleys are in the landscape, not real estate markets.  Why?  Because when the luster of the city wears off and people don't make money there, where do they go.  You guessed it.  People are more inclined to move out of the concrete canyons and pursue the things in life they have been sacrificing.  They become lifestyle buyers.  When the allure of financial gain goes away people embark on other pursuits.

Look at the couple years after the last recession.  Vermont outpaced the national average by 14% in one demographic, people between the age of 35 and 44.  In the last few years, as the economy has got better that segment's growth has slowed down.  If there is a recession that starts next year look for that trend to ramp back up.  If this recessions has anywhere near the vigor and sting of the prior one look for the lifestyle movers who held in here last time to say "NO, NO, NO, I'm not doing this again!!"

What does mean for Stowe, VT.  Given that Stowe is the preeminent lifestyle town in Vermont we should see a disproportionate share of new faces.  In short, it doesn't look like the demand side will fall all that much.  Stowe has the luxury of two major buyer groups - one, primary owners as the town becomes more of a bedroom community for Burlington, and, two, people who want their second/retirement homes here.

With that understanding of the demand side, let's look at the supply side.  Some Real Estate agents in the market here noticed a number of recent price drops on homes in the market and have concluded its time to cut bait and run, the market is already tanking.  Is that accurate?  The year 2014 was a record breaking sales year - yes, we benefit most from economic growth like everywhere else.  The market forces do reign supreme.  Then 2015 had all the ear marks of another record breaker (click here for the Stowevt.com 2015 Real Estate Outlook), but that didn't play out like we thought.  A brutally cold winter (yeah, awesome skiing!!) slowed winter sales.  However, the real issue was buyers were faced with a paucity of decent supply in 2015.  So sales pulled back regardless of the indication of ever increasing demand.  Supply was not there.  Where did that demand go? It's still there!  The majority of buyers are underwhelmed with  the product on the market.  Current owners saw houses flying off the shelf in 2014 and ratcheted their prices up in 2015 for less than desirable product.  Anything that was clean, presentable, functional sold and sold fast.  Further adding credence to this assessment is builders have some of the biggest backlogs of construction projects they have had in years.  People still want to be in Stowe and if they can't find quality they're going to build it.  See projects like Stowe Highlands (click here or details).

We are not saying an economic pull back will not affect the Stowe, VT real estate outlook, it will.  However, it shouldn't effect it like other places.  Just be glad you live here and that our peaks and valleys are really in the landscape and not in our housing market!  Stay tuned for the 2016 Real Estate Market Outlook coming soon.

If you would like to discuss the Stowe and Northern, VT real estate outlook, please feel free to call 802.585.1131 or email nick@stowevt.com.  Look for our 2016 Stowe Real Estate Market Outlook soon.

Stowe Vermont Real Estate Market Investment Advice

StoweVT.com is about superior investment advice on real estate in Stowe and the surrounding areas of Northern Vermont.  We pride ourselves on being the best real estate investment advisors in Vermont.  Really, we pride ourselves on making our clients money.  There is nothing worse than buying real estate without a plan and then suffering the consequences when you sell for a loss on your investment.  Whether its flipping properties, finding an undervalued house or being the winning bid on a trophy property, our goal is to offer our clients the clearest investment picture possible.  A great example of this was helping a wonderful family find a home in Stowe that allowed them to realize their dream of having a future retirement home in Stowe that would rent well as their second home.  Please click here for more information on 402 Cottage Club Rd in Stowe, VT.


After a focused property search it came down to two properties.  Based on the attributes of both buildings we offered the following advice to our clients.  Below is a recap of that narrative.


In the mean time, I wanted to offer my take/projections on the rental prospects of both properties.  These come with the caveat that they are projections and cannot be relied on - they are the best estimate we have with the information available to us.  My assumption is that both will be marketed via VRBO, etc. for short term rentals.  Further, your families use of the property would take away from the revenue potential in these assumptions.

356 Week Hill: This assumes you add a hot tub and make the study into an room that sleeps guests.


$44,000 - Rental Revenue (80 rental nights at $550 per night)


$10,200 - association dues annually

$10,108 - real estate taxes annually

$  2,000 - insurance

$  3,000 - heating (waiting for actual usage)

$  1,500 - electric ($125 per month)

$   2,500- cleaning

$     900 - rental ads

$  3,000 - cable TV

$     500 - hot tub service

$     450 - firewood (2 cords)

$34,158 - Total Exp


$9,842 - Net Operating Income


This is around a 2% return on investment - i.e. you would have to be contributing financially to cover the mortgage.


This is about standard for the market - kind of a break even prospect annually.  What hurt is the association fees.  If those drop to $4,000 per year if the town takes over maintenance of the road then this will start to approach a 3% return on your investment.


402 Cottage Club:


$84,000 - Rental Rev (105 nights at $800)


$14,643 - Real Estate Taxes (this will come down once the property is subdivided)

$  5,700 - heating (1,900 gallons (use last 12 months, at $3 per gallon)

$  2,200 - electric (assumes $180 per month average)

$  3,000 - insurance

$  4,000 - cleaning

$  1,500 - snow removal

$  2,000 - lawn care

$     900 - rental ads

$  2,400 - cable TV

$     500 - hot tub service

$     900 - firewood

$37,743 - Total Exp


$46,257 Net Operating Income - So say $45,000 per year.

That is about a 6% return on your investment (assume $750,000 purchase price), more than enough to cover a mortgage.


As you can see, this is a far better rental in my assessment from an return on investment perspective.


This lines up with what I am hearing from an owner we consulted.  He has two investment properties in Stowe - one with 5 bedroom and one with 6 - who is considering buying another.  He said "I can't stay in my house because it is rented all the time".  From what I am told the two were rented every week for the entire summer.


In the end this analysis proved conservative and the investment is performing far better than anything the owner expected.  It actually is performing so well that the owners are again looking for another investment property in Stowe, VT.  Nothing makes clients happier than exceeding expectations.  If you are looking for clear investment advice, that is what Stowevt.com prides itself on as the definitive real estate source in Stowe and the surrounding areas of Northern VT.


Please feel free to reach out anytime to discuss your property sale or purchase (nick@stowevt.com or 802.585.1131).  Let us help you make the right choice!




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    Past clients and now famous Stowe home owners

    530 White Gate Kitchen AfterIt was a pleasure to assist Richard Cherney and Ronda Diamond as buyer clients in their effort to find a suitable home in Stowe.  Like us, they were long time fans of Stowe. They enjoyed the town as their home away from home because of the life style Stowe caters to - skiing , Stowe Farmers Market, rec path, hiking and more.  Richard and Ronda were also very knowledgeable and understanding of real estate transactions and the available properties in Stowe.  That is, homes on the market in Stowe were largely built to suit the creature comforts of the people building the home - not to appeal to the masses.

    Many homes in Stowe, maybe even more so Vermont, have unique features that are revered by their owners, but just don't resonate with the pool of buyers today when it comes time to sell.  For example, indoor trout ponds, design layouts that are not functional or exhibit poor forethought, interior pools and designs that don't mimic the rustic Vermont landscape or the indigenous architectural vernacular.   Those would be McMansions that are more apropos the Pennsyl-tucky region of New Jersey than the hills and mountains of Vermont.

    In any market, this is called functional obsolescence.  A classic example is homes with one bathroom and more than two bedrooms.  These might be the hardest type of property to sell or lease.  The reason for the obsolescence is that today's home buyers prefer their guests not use their personal bathroom and use a guest bathroom instead.  When the owners of those homes with functional obsolescent become sellers, they often say "It only takes one" as the marketing strategy for selling their house.  For a host of reasons, the homes on the market in Stowe and Vermont will most likely not meet 100% of what you are looking for regardless of the market conditions.

    Richard and Ronda understood this.  As Richard said, "There are no perfect deals, but there are very good deals".  That is that mindset that I try pass along to my clients.  It is fairly common for house hunters in Stowe to look around at the properties on the market and say nothing is available that meets our needs, or it is priced too high for what is offered.  That buyer type, who waits for the perfect house, more often than not winds up renting in town for years, wasting equity, waiting for the perfect house.  Some buyers even build for $300 plus per foot in a market when 10 year old housing inventory is selling for approximately $200 per foot.  Those people then build their dream house, with their personal creature comforts and later on down the line have to sell the home into the prevailing real estate market conditions - often the end result includes a financial sting.

    There are areas of Stowe and segments of the market that currently prove out the feasibility of a construction project, click this link to hear about a few.  A recent article in the Stowe Reporter highlighted the resurgence of development in Stowe, from shops to apartments, because certain developments make financial sense now.  Building a new house is currently more expensive than buying and renovating a slightly older one.  With the trajectory of the market, this will not last long.

    Where someone can make money in this market is to buy a home and renovate the property.  Richard and Ronda did some real work looking for a suitable house.   After looking at a number of homes they finally found White Gates Lane, a desirable and convenient section of Stowe.  The sub-division has classic nose to chin views of Mt. Mansfield, is convenient to town and is removed enough to embody that sleepy Vermont feel.

    The interior of 530 White Gates didn't excite them.  However, the mid 2000 vintage house was very well constructed and handily passed a building inspection.  Richard and Ronda were able to get the house for $178 per sq ft - a bargain for the area and quality of the house.  Our analysis concluded that the offer would full value the lot and the structure, but zero value the interior finishes.  That meant Richard and Ronda could then rip out the interior and re-build it to have all they wanted in their new Stowe house.

    Instead of charging ahead and building a house full of their creature comforts, they enlisted the assistance of an interior designer - interior architect and design expert Tania Kratt.    Please click this link to view an article the Stowe Reporter did on the interior design - the interior is fantastic.  The look and feel resonates with the buyer pool today.  Their efforts and forethought instantly increased the value of the home and enhanced their investment.  Our opinion is that the renovated house would sell in the $250/ sq ft range - a price point already demonstrated in the neighborhood.

    It was a pleasure to help a client realize their dream of 1) having a place in Stowe and 2) that their purchase also made financial sense.  They could have blindly followed an agent - who added no value to the process, bought a house and been left with a marginal investment return.  However, being an engaged client who sought out guidance, assimilates facts and moves forward with deliberate purpose to create value benefited them greatly.  It is out goal with every client to help them make profitable real estate investments.  Those are clients that realize the value of Stowe - well beyond the lifestyle.  If Richard and Ronda decide to sell and move out of Stowe, their memory will not include the financial sting of selling a home that was built just for them.  Wouldn't you rather have your memory of living in Stowe not include the financial sting of a real estate mishap?

    Contemporary vs. Traditional Housing in Vermont's Counterculture

    Usually contemporary homes sell for less, on a per square foot basis, than more traditional looking homes.  This is especially true of homes in suburban areas around major metropolitan areas.  Generally, people prefer homes that looks like the typical setting for the All-American family.  Sometimes the price disparity between the two styles can be so great that builders will buy contemporary homes and then renovate them so the home becomes a traditional looking home.  The sever functional obsolecence in those markets is a result of people's changing tastes.  Like most things here though, we like to keep Vermont weird.

    Stowe and Vermont, saw rapid growth in the 1970s.  As VPR stated in a recent piece "Vermont's counterculture of the 1970s" marked a time a massive social change, and it continues to influence the state today.  It was a decade when the state's population increased by 15 percent, and communes and agricultural experiments proliferated, along with political and social activism."  [click here for VPR's piece] If history repeats itself, the State is well on its way to this type of population growth, political activism and sanctity of our agricultural system.  See GMO labeling law, projects popping up and Bernie Sanders.  The State just need to work on the population growth, although we wrote about how that might be changing, click here for the article.  Instead of changing and turning away from that legacy, it is celebrated.  The same can be said of Stowe's, and Vermont's, contemporary homes - they are celebrated in this reale estate market.

    A great example of this was a home Stowevt.com recently sold, 288 Pinnacle Rd in Stowe Hollow.  It was a 1970s contemporary ski chalet that had a dated interior and it exhibited years of use as a rental ski house, click this link to see prior photos.  The purchaser didn't turn away from this style house - one that is almost as popular as a more traditional home in this market - they celebrated the style in their renovations.  The house can be seen online at twocreekhill.com.  The purchaser had great vision, keeping the look, feel and lines of the original house.  They used that motif and combined it with sleek modern lines, lightly stained wood and - this is required in any renovation regardless of style - modern kitchens and baths.

    When these houses come to market they represent a chance for a buyer to reap the benefit of updating the property and making it more modern.  Another house that offers this type of opportunity is 475 Bouchard Farm Rd in Stowe VT - click here for info.  The house is immaculately kept and a new buyer would do well to make the house more modern while keeping the original aesthetic.  Abutting Bouchard Farm, the house benefits from two conservation easements which protect the view of the Worcester Mountain Range.

    Whether you will be living there as a primary residence or using it part time and renting it, the updated look and feel should increase value considerably.  Something else we at Stowevt.com recommend looking at when considering a renovation effort is the assessed value of your neighbors.  475 Bouchard Farm Rd in Stowe has the lowest assessed value on the road.  That is generally indication that improvements will be rewarded financially by the real estate market.  In the rising real estate market this house is ready to be renovated and could offer the new owner real increase in the equity value of the home.

    Celebrate Vermont's counter culture!


    2015 Stowe and Vermont Residential Real Estate Market Outlook

    The New Year brings reflection, assessment and strategy on all fronts, including real estate.  Lamoille County and Stowe, VT set records in terms of the number of residential real estate transactions in 2014 - the most units sold, ever.  This amount surpassed the number of transactions seen in the irrationally exuberant times of 2006.  So everybody proclaimed in 2014 that the real estate market was fully recovered (the Stowe Reporter said so six month into the year when the market only had 8 more units sold than the same time the prior year - bold move).

    Truth be told, the high-end market ($1.5mln) sputtered out of the gate and was a late arrival to the transaction party, almost all of the closing above $1.5mln started after September 2014.  The fuel of low interest rates, the Vermont lifestyle selling at a premium and a lagging recovery on real estate prices made 2014 active, very active.  This positive forward looking data seemed to go against the dower assessment of the State's economic condition as often written about by Art Woolf, a UVM associate professor.


    His premise was that the US Census data showed that Vermont's population was diminishing and this is the cause for us having the second lowest unemployment rate in the country - not job growth.  This loss of people would put greater pressure on those left to pay taxes, etc. and this would create an economic downward spiral for Vermont.  (Detroit, but with mountains and landscape.)  I largely agree(d) with his economic conclusion for the everyday resident.  However, we all know Vermonters like to keep Vermont weird (that is Vermont doesn't always comport with economic trends).  How could we be selling so many houses if the usual economic drivers of Vermont were failing (Vermont hasn't created a net new job since 2010 and has only seen decreases in the disposable spending of its population - come on Montpelier, get your act together!!).


    Then "it" came out.  Moving companies have some of the best data at projecting future trends in residential real estate.  United Van Lines conducted research on where moving company's moved the most people to in the United States. VERMONT WAS THE FOURTH MOST POPULAR STATE TO MOVE TO IN 2014!!  This isn't interest rate movement fueling demand - this is a structural shift in buyer mentality.  Vermont cool is selling at a high right now.  This begs the question, if we had enough activity last year to drive record sales then what happens when all the real estate search engines say Vermont homes searches are up over 100% from the same time one year ago (Stowe is up almost 200% from last year)?


    This is the kind of structural demand change that will buck modest and controlled interest rate increases - which are coming.  This is also the kind of demand change that moves prices.  Vermont usually never sees large gains or losses in real estate values; take the national average, divide by two or three and that is usually where Vermont finishes.  Add in factors like most all the reasonably priced houses were bought up in 2014 creating a lack of supply and it points to real estate prices increasing in the near future.  Therefore, our prediction is that home prices will increase 4.5% in Vermont this year with the premier areas experiencing even greater pricing increases.  Increasing interest rates will keep market pricing from accelerating at a greater pace.  We also predict that 2015 will set another high water mark in total transactions.


    If you would like to know where these buyers are coming from and what they are looking for, please call 802.585.1131 or e-mail nick@stowevt.com.  This buying trend is being fueled by the only population demographic in the state to outpace the national average.  These folks are flocking to Vermont!!