20200613_bta_Land for sale

A parcel of land for sale off Greenock Avenue in Montpelier on Thursday.

A land grab is under way.

Among the many unexpected twists caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been a spike in interest from out-of-state residents to purchase or rent homes in Vermont. The interest in strong but getting nonresidents here is difficult, even with the new rules that took effect June 8 that allow for limited travel to Vermont.

“We’ve had a big increase in interest from out-of-state buyers who just want to get out of Dodge,” said Bill Gilbert, owner of Gilbert Realty & Development, of Fair Haven. Gilbert, who has been in the business for 30 years, said he has seen more interest from out-of-state buyers this spring than ever before.

“Interest in Vermont properties has been across-the-board, from high-end properties to small camps,” he said.

Gilbert sold two houses this spring to out-of-staters who bought property based only on just a video tour. “This isn’t advisable, either, for the buyer or for the seller, as there are risks even when the property has been inspected, but it does happen,” he said.

John Biondolillo, owner of the William Raveis BCK Real Estate in Barre, also sold a property this spring, sight-unseen, to an out-of-state buyer. “There is definitely a lot of interest from out-of-staters, especially for houses with lots of land and space, they all want land, properties which are sometimes hard to come by,” he said.

According to Biondolillo, there also is greater interest from out-of-staters who want short-term, five- to six-month leases. “We’ve had a lot of calls from people who just want to get out of New York City,” he said.

Biondolillo said there was a similar increase in interest from out-of-staters following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon but the increase in queries this year is much greater than 2001.

Mark Montross, owner of Catamount Realty Group in Colchester and vice president of the Vermont Association of Realtors, said although sight-unseen sales are the exception, they are not new.

Two years ago he sold a property, sight-unseen, in Bolton to a buyer who simply wanted a house near a ski area and three years ago he sold a house sight-unseen to a military man who was relocating to Vermont.

“It is not common, but it does happen,” he said.

Catamount Realty has seen a significant increase in interest among buyers from out-of-state and Vermonters.

“I’ve seen more interest from home buyers this spring than I have in my 10 years in business. We’ve definitely seen an increase in interest from out-of-staters, from people who want to retire here or relocate to Vermont or just want to get out of the city,” he said.

Low-interest rates has helped spur interest as well, he said. “We’ve had more multiple offers this spring on houses than ever before and some houses are going for more than the asking price.”

Effective June 8, residents of New England and New York who live in counties that have a similar active COVID-19 caseload to Vermont may enter the state without quarantining. Residents from non-quarantine counties may travel to Vermont without quarantine restrictions if they travel directly here in their personal vehicle. This includes overnight travel, commuting for work, leisure visits and recreation. Prior to June 8, the state order was any nonresident traveling into Vermont for anything other than “an essential purpose” had to self-quarantine for 14 days which barred most out-of-state buyers from Vermont.

The new rules have had only a marginal impact, according to Erik Reisner, a managing partner for Mad River Valley Real Estate in Warren. The problem, Reisner said, is travel to Vermont is limited to people who live in counties with 400 or fewer active cases of COVID-19 per million, which doesn’t include Connecticut, Boston, New York City or others area where most of the out-of-state buyers live.

The increase in interest from out-of-state buyers caused by the pandemic isn’t unique to Vermont as New Hampshire and Maine are experiencing similar increases in demand.

“Although it’s hard to quantify exactly how much increase we’re seeing, Realtors in New Hampshire are definitely seeing a significant increase in demand from out-of-state buyers,” said Dave Cummings, communications director for New Hampshire Realtors.

Tom Cole, president of the Maine Association of Realtors, said Realtors in his state also have seen a spike in demand since mid March from out-of-state buyers.

“It’s very similar to what happened after 9/11,” he said.

One unexpected consequence of the pandemic, Cole said, is it has caused to the average home price to rise in Maine because there are fewer properties for sale now than there were prior to March. The two main reasons for the higher prices Cole said are: Maine had its strongest December, January and February in 20 years; and many sellers, in response to the pandemic, have removed their properties off the market.

“It’s simple supply and demand,” he said.

Also Vermont has seen a spike in home prices according to Biondolillo.

“Prices are definitely up, mostly because there are more buyers than sellers.” Biondolillo said. This June he has about 40% fewer listings than he had last year.

The newest change concerning how real estate sales must operate is included in the executive order from Gov. Phil Scott that was issued June 5 and took effect June 8. According to the order, all professional services should be provided in a manner calculated to minimize in-person contact. Operators must maintain a log of customers and their contact information for 30 days in the event contact tracing is required.

Those selling real estate shall not encourage out-of-state buyers to visit properties unless the clients have self-quarantined. However, if the out-of-state visitor has entered into a fully signed and accepted purchase and sales contract or rental lease agreement for a specific property, an agent or individual may accommodate a viewing of that property if the buyer/renter has not completed their quarantine under limited circumstances: The buyer/renter has entered into a legal purchase and sale contract or rental lease agreement for the specific address they plan to visit and the buyer/renter travels directly to and from the property and can do so without any nonessential stops along the way; and the buyer/renter travels via their own personal motor vehicle and is able to travel round trip to and from the Vermont property in the same day (no overnight stay in Vermont).

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