The data are undeniable: Wilton’s residential real estate market has been experiencing strong, steady growth since the spring.
GOOD Morning Wilton reported early signs of optimism in the market back in late April, once the initial disruption of the pandemic began to settle. Since then, on virtually every metric, Wilton’s housing market has shown significant improvement. Consider the sales data from this summer (June, July, and August) compared to the same three-month period of 2019:
- Unit sales were up 71%
- Median sale price was up almost 10%
- Inventory was down 21% despite a flood of new listings (up over 175%)
The latest data for the single month of August shows the median price of a single-family home in Wilton was $805,000, up 13% from a year ago. The number of days on the market was also reduced by 42%.
It’s no wonder sellers are jumping in.
“We’re swamped,” said Peg Koellmer of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services.
Kara Williams of The Fair Group at William Raveis Real Estate also admitted, “It’s a little chaotic right now.”
Explaining the frenzy, Marion Filley, team leader of Marion Filley Team Advantage at Compass, “[Wilton] moved rapidly from a buyers’ market to a sellers’ market… and when the market is unbalanced in either direction, it elevates the stress” for everyone involved.
And while prices are up, they have not yet returned to previous highs. Agents say sellers need to proceed carefully.
An Ounce of Preparation…
One reason for caution, Williams said, is that “Buyers are still discerning. The home still has to be ready” for what she called “the HGTV effect,” the expectation buyers have for a home to look picture perfect.
She noted that much of the buying decision process is now made online, with buyers viewing photos to screen homes and narrow their list of homes to see in person.
Filley says she is “a huge believer in preparation” when it comes to listing homes for sale. “I see sellers do so much better in dollar value and time on market when they de-clutter, [add] fresh paint, and [other steps to] make a great first impression,” she says.
One homeowner, who wished to remain anonymous, told GMW about her preparations to list her 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath colonial with a pool. In the last several weeks, she has made updates and repairs to virtually every room in her home, and outside as well, tackling everything from painting and landscaping to bathroom updates, upholstery changes, carpet cleaning, and more.
“[One] agent said I could spend another $50,000-60,000 and make it perfect,” she said, with improvements to the driveway, fencing, and hardware finishes throughout the house, for example. For the homeowner, it’s difficult to weigh the risks and benefits of investing more money in the house when future demand is always, to some degree, uncertain.
In the current market, agents are challenging sellers to consider whether they are truly prepared to move.
Sellers might want to take advantage of the current upswing in demand but may not have a plan for where they want to go. Since the rental market has also seen dwindling supply and rising prices, sellers are often faced with unappealing choices when they have to find new accommodations.
Filley recounted examples of sellers who backed out from their plans to sell (even after accepting a buyer’s offer) when they could not find acceptable new housing arrangements.
“The New York Phenomenon”: Will It Last?
What makes this market more unique, noted Filley, is “the New York phenomenon,” a well-documented shift among New York City residents during the pandemic in a search for more room and access to outdoor spaces.
Koellmer also senses the buyer dynamics are different from other boom periods she has experienced during her career. While there has always been a stream of buyers from the city, now it’s being driven by a sea change in live/work styles. “It’s not just [getting away from] the coronavirus itself, but the whole complexion of working from home, not going back to the office, so many things have changed.”
Williams points out the buyer traffic also comes from Stamford, Norwalk, and more urban areas of Westchester, not just New York City.
“Certainly people are looking to work remotely,” said Filley. “There is no rush to get back to work in the office.”
In the past, towns like Westport benefited from “main line” Metro-North service. But without the need to commute, or only commute occasionally, more buyers are able to consider Wilton as a location. “The commuting factor is out,” stated Williams.
Westport, which has seen home prices rise on a percentage basis even higher than Wilton, may attract more buyers, but Wilton is getting a “spillover” from that traffic, according to various agents. While Wilton does not have the same inventory to compete for the buyers at the very high end of the market, many buyers quickly realize they can’t afford what they want in Westport, where a comparable home may be several hundred thousand dollars higher than in Wilton.
Apart from value for the money, Williams is optimistic about interest in Wilton remaining high, because COVID-19, she believes, will have a lasting impact on the psyche of many New Yorkers. “COVID has impacted [New Yorkers’] mindsets, and that feeling will stay,” she said, referring to their discomfort both physically and mentally with remaining in a city that has changed so dramatically during the pandemic.
Koellmer cited the “absorption rate” or the months of the inventory supply as another key measure of Wilton’s market health. “Right now [the market] is great,” she said. “The market will normalize but I don’t see that any time soon.”
For Filley, that timeframe extends well into next year. “My instincts tell me this [market] will continue through the first half of next year.”
All noted that market momentum could be affected, either positively or negatively, by events such as a coronavirus vaccine approval, the upcoming election, or other unforeseen events.
But for now, the hectic pace continues. Koellmer says the challenge for agents is to do their jobs well, pay attention to details, and not get overwhelmed with the volume. She commented, “We’re seeing multiple bid situations, escalation clauses [offering an amount over another buyer’s higher bid], things we haven’t seen in a long time… even personal letters from buyers to sellers,” (which Koellmer emphasizes are against fair housing rules, but buyers sometimes attempt nonetheless).
Related Trend: Demand For Home Improvements
Whether people are buying, selling, or staying put, the coronavirus pandemic has forced them to take a closer look at their spaces and re-examine their priorities. Many are realizing they want to improve work/study spaces, outdoor spaces, and other areas where they are suddenly spending a lot more time.
The booming real estate market has added to the demand for home improvement services, both from potential sellers looking to do updates as well as from buyers putting their own stamp on their newly acquired homes.
Ross Clark, of Clark Construction, a design/build firm that has worked on hundreds of Wilton homes over two generations, says COVID-19 marked a dramatic turning point in the business.
Before COVID, homeowners made more decisions with resale in mind. “Now what we’re seeing is the complete opposite… with many people converting their summer homes to full-time residences, and people purchasing homes but ready to make major investments for whole-house remodels,” said Clark.
He continued, “People are focusing on what they need for their houses to really work for them. Everyone is spending much more time at home, which has shifted the priorities of what projects are important.”
“Hot projects right now include carving out space for a home office, a home school zone, overhauling the mudroom, or expanding outdoor spaces, as that becomes the socially appropriate place to entertain. Clients are asking for firepits and gazebos. We are creating more fully-featured outdoor kitchen spaces, not with just a barbecue, but sinks and dishwashers, too.”
Clark adds that comfort and safety are more top-of-mind, too. Sound-proofing between rooms, hands-free faucets and switches, and indoor air quality systems are among the examples he cited.
The other hot feature? A pool. Agents say homes with pools are among the most desirable for today’s buyers. Homeowners should be prepared for a long wait for pool design, installation and inspection services, or plan approval from the town.
Another homeowner, who wished to remain anonymous and who is currently listing her 4,500-square-foot home on a cul-de-sac, described what she experienced: “We had four offers the first week. One was contingent on [being able to build] a pool and the other contingent upon a tennis court.” Due to delays in responses to inquiries, those offers have stalled.
Most Recent Closings
The following transactions were recorded in the Town Clerk’s office from Sept. 4 through Sept. 17, 2020; especially noteworthy are six properties that had selling prices over $1,000,000, with the highest at $1,975,000.
For details, please read the document on file in the Wilton Town Clerk’s office.
171 Chestnut Hill Rd: $380,000
18 Thunder Lake Rd: $915,000
3 Brookside Pl: $540,000
84 Charter Oak Dr: $1,237,500
28 West Church St: $510,000
185 Signal Hill Rd: $1,080,000
270 Newtown Tpke: $799,000
42 Cavalry Hill Rd: $855,000
102 Hulda Hill Rd: $631,000
9 Forge Rd: $1,325,000
186 Sturges Ridge Rd: $1,150,000
Note: Other transactions involving 4 White Birch Road (two transactions of $8,000 each), 70 Cedar Road ($1,060) and an Eversource easement at 25 Seeley Road ($88,000) were also recorded during this period.