By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — Home sales in Brattleboro are down dramatically over the past year, according to recent housing data. The decline coincides with the exit of the region’s largest employer, Vermont Yankee.
For the first six months of 2015, sales of single-family homes in Brattleboro were down 16.2 percent year over year, falling from 37 closings in the first half of 2014 to 31 closings this year.
The median sales price on homes also declined over the same period, dipping from $194,000 in 2014 to $177,500 — a drop of 8.5 percent. The average sales price fell from $205,000 to $195,168, or 4.8 percent.
Brattleboro’s housing slump comes while the real estate market overall is experiencing a strong recovery.
“The entire MLS ranges from a median sale price of $200,000 in 2012 to about $225,000 in 2015. But in Brattleboro it has dropped, so things are not great,” John McPherson, president of the Southern Vermont Board of Realtors, told Vermont Watchdog.
As seen in the chart below, the median sales price of single family homes has risen statewide since mid-2013, trending up from about $210,000 to $225,000.
In Brattleboro, however, the housing recovery stalled in 2014, then dive-bombed this year.
The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which once employed more than 600 workers with high-paying jobs, closed its doors in December. The plant faced opposition from green activists, lawmakers and Gov. Peter Shumlin. Utility companies are now purchasing long-range nuclear energy contracts next door from New Hampshire’s Seabrook Station.
According to McPherson, the plant’s executive-level employees sold their houses early in the process, presumably to transfer to other nuclear facilities around the country. Further developments related to the plant’s closing continue to have a ripple effect.
“It’s not something where everybody woke up February 1 and realized, ‘Oh, I’m not getting the sales numbers I used to get.’ But it’s attrition over time as people wind up and leave — there’s a slack in the economy. It just trickles through everything,” he said.
Neighboring small town Vernon — the town where the nuclear facility is located — also got hit, McPherson added.
“Everybody predicted real estate prices would collapse and there would be lots of houses on the market in Vernon. That started materializing much earlier in the game, and it’s still evident. … It has been tough to sell a house in Vernon because of the shift, but not impossible.”
Dart Everett, owner of appraisal firm Everett Real Estate Services, said the region’s housing slump comes down to basic supply and demand.
“There are, I think, 140 or so houses on the market now, which is a large number,” Everett said. “We sell about 100 per year, so we have one-and-a-half year’s supply on the market.”
Everett, who has worked in the home appraisal business for over three decades, said the plant’s closing left a hole in the economy.
“We’ve lost our biggest employer and our highest-paying employer in Vermont Yankee. We don’t have people coming in who are replacing those who are leaving,” he said.
According to Everett, the only draw for skilled workers after Vermont Yankee’s exit is the hospital and the Brattleboro Retreat. The changing workforce means change for the real estate market.
“It was a very stable workforce. (It was) an educated workforce that wanted nice housing, and they paid for it,” he said.
“When over a short period of time you’ve got hundreds of employees leaving — and let’s say one-third are in the Brattleboro area — all of a sudden you have a hundred houses that went on the market. Some people just said, ‘I have a good offer to go somewhere else. I’m not going to fight for $50,000, I’m just going to get rid of my house.’”
He added that the closing also hurt local contractors and businesses that sell food and work materials to the plant and its employees.
“It really hurt us, and now Vermont is buying nuclear electricity from New Hampshire.”
Asked if he thought locals might reconsider their opposition to Vermont Yankee in light of economic consequences, Everett replied, “The people that wanted it shut down didn’t give a damn and still don’t give a damn. They’re delighted it is shut down.”
Contact Bruce Parker at [email protected]