Stock market woes hit Stowe, Vt., second-home market

By Christine Dugas, USA TODAY

A population of haves and have-nots has created a two-sided housing market in Stowe, Vt., in Lamoille County.Stowe is a New England resort town that attracts affluent vacation home buyers. But the county also has small, rural towns where residents own moderately priced homes.

Home sales started to slide in July of last year, reflecting the economic downturn, says Tom Heney, a real estate agent at Lang McLaughry Spera. But for Stowe, the slide was much steeper.

Stowe has a second-home market that relies on executives from the financial services industry in New York and Boston. Because they’ve been hammered by the stock market collapse, vacation home sales have stalled.

Many second-home owners are putting their houses up for sale.

There are 221 properties for sale in Stowe, up from 179 a year ago, Heney says. Vacation home prices range from $400,000 to more than $1 million.

The problem is not worse because Stowe largely escaped the housing bubble. In part, that stems from Vermont’s strict rules for housing construction, which have prevented excessive building.

If the prices come down enough, buyers may be back, Heney says, because “at some point, Americans do love a bargain.” 

Stowe is still a popular vacation spot: Summers are lush, and in the winter, it’s known as the ski capital of the East.

Countywide, the market is so small that even a minor drop in sales exaggerates the percentage change.

In the first four months of the year, there were four home sales in Lamoille County, vs. 10 in the same period of 2006, says Jeffrey Carr, president of Economic & Policy Resources in Williston, Vt.

The county has a low foreclosure and delinquency rate.

“We’ve been lucky in that regard,” Carr says. “That’s attributable to the fact that our banks are more cautious and prudent lenders.”