This spring, the Economic Development Commission (EDC) conducted an analytic assessment and survey to examine the factors impacting the business landscape and economic growth in town. They presented initial findings from the first stage of their research at the Monday, June 20 Board of Selectmen meeting. GOOD Morning Wilton reported on the first part of the results, based on the survey of Wilton business owners and other key community groups. Today, our report on the second part, the Residential Real Estate Survey. Wilton realtor Lisa Bender puts in all in perspective.

The number one reason people move to Wilton is, drumroll please…the schools. It’s no news flash, but the results of the Wilton Economic Development Commission‘s Residential Real Estate Survey has the data to finally prove it.

The survey was administered to 500 agents who had a Wilton residential real estate transaction from April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016. Of the 500, there were 132 surveys that were returned.

The results show overwhelmingly that the biggest reason people have for moving to town is for the schools. From there, the lifestyle/quality of living, relative value, commutability and life stage of the buyers were reasons to call the hamlet of Wilton, home.

Buyers “…were looking for bigger property, living space needed for a growing family,” said one realtor.

Another reported that a “country lifestyle with excellent schools” was a driving factor in clients zeroing in on the town. Who can resist two-acre zoning with room to spread out, especially when there are excellent schools in the equation?

“Job transfer/change” is also a frequent response for moving to town. But overwhelmingly, the quality of Wilton’s schools was mentioned as the top choice for calling Wilton home.

On the flip side, however, is the impetus for placing a ‘For Sale’ sign in the yard:  sellers are empty nesting. Taxes (especially combined with no kids in schools) or changing jobs also weighed heavily in the decision to leave town.

More than a third of realtors say the top reason sellers move from Wilton is because their children are grown and no longer in the school system. While people move here for the schools, they’re also most likely to leave when their children graduate from high school and their tax dollars no longer pay for their child to attend school. Another 26-percent of respondents said clients who leave are downsizing, so this in combination with the empty nesters suggests that most people move when they enter a new life phase.

Which towns do realtors say is Wilton’s biggest competition? Buyers who look in Wilton but end up in elsewhere usually choose Westport, New Canaan, Ridgefield and other Fairfield County locations. Those who do choose another town do so because they feel Wilton’s property taxes are too high (60-percent) and the commute too long (43-percent).

Not surprisingly, Wilton realtors say a combination of the two⎯where the commute time to Grand Central Station is the shortest AND the property taxes are lower⎯makes clients most likely to chose another town: New Canaan (69 minute commute, 15.99 mill rate) or Westport (70 minute commute, 18.09 mill rate) vs. a mill rate of 26.83 in Wilton. The catch? Housing costs in New Canaan and Westport are also more expensive. This could be why the upper end of the market in Wilton is moving at a slower pace than the lower end:  If people can afford to spend more, they’re going to towns outside of Wilton because of the commute time and lower taxes.

Most of the buyers who choose Wilton come from elsewhere in Fairfield County or another state. What we aren’t seeing is the arrival of the much-desired and long-awaited millennials from New York City. Realtors say that prime segment has zoomed in on the mantra of “location, location, location,” and want to be close to an urban center as possible, as well as being more financially conservative than their predecessors.

The EDC survey also analyzed data from the Connecticut Multiple Listing Service (CMLS) to look at how housing value in nearby towns has changed since 2004.

Towns that have seen the biggest negative change in home values between 2004 and 2015 are those that have the longest commute times. Darien and Westport have had a 25-percent growth in that time frame (with 57- and 67 commuting minutes) while Wilton and Ridgefield have seen an approximate 12-percent drop of values on house prices (with 83- and 85 minutes, respectively). (source CMLS and Metro-North)

Sales volume in Wilton moved from sixth to seventh across the communities measured, and is now roughly half the 2004 value in nominal dollars. Realtors responded that the abundance of inventory and property taxes are the predominant reason prices in Wilton haven’t rebounded as quickly as other towns.

There are still plenty of bright spots in the report. Wilton’s speed of home sales is among the least impacted in the area. It’s actually down significantly from 2004.

Also, Wilton’s unemployment rate is the lowest amongst neighboring towns. And its cumulative population growth (vs. 2005) outpaces more than half of the neighboring towns, according to town financials.

Lisa Bender Headshot smaller

Lisa Bender is a realtor with the Wilton office of William Raveis and a regular contributor to GOOD Morning Wilton. She writes about the Wilton real estate market. She can be reached at 203.246.6986 or via email.