Rockingham Selectboard hears report on residential housing profile

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Sept. 21, the Rockingham Selectboard discussed the town lister’s report on the Rockingham Residential Housing Profile with Paul Noble.

Noble said the listers were working on a data accuracy study to update all property cards.

He said they also needed to make a decision on whether to conduct a partial reappraisal due to changes of property values. Noble explained the Common Level of Assessment (CLA) is “a measure of how accurately [they listed] properties for tax purposes versus the sell price.”

The Coefficient of Dispersion (COD) is “how far off [the measured CLA] do the sales fall.” He said the CLA is a median number or range of the current sales prices and the range “is the market.”

Currently, the COD in Rockingham measures 19.8. Noble explained that in Vermont, the state demands a reappraisal if the COD is 20 or higher. A partial appraisal would “shrink the COD” and could save Rockingham costly fees, eliminating the need for a full appraisal.

Noble introduced the Housing Profile which “gives a snapshot of what’s going on” and the trend of new home sales in Rockingham over the last three years. In the five years before 2019, single-family home sales averaged $101,000. From 2019, they are now averaging $162,000.

He remarked that Covid was not the cause but instead accelerated sales. He explained that people found that by working from home they could still be productive without going to the office, and the “dream of living in rural communities” was realized.

Noble said in the last few months there had been a drop in sales but not the price. He explained inventory was exhausted and now there were only a cluster for sale in the $400,000 range and two around $700,000.

Noble said two-family homes followed the same trend, but “Historically, they were selling house per house 10% less than single-family [homes].” From 2019, 10 two-family houses sold and seven were converted into single-family homes. He said a dramatic shortage of single-family homes were reported throughout the nation, particularly statewide.

Sales trends and marketing have changed in the last 10 years, Noble said. Now companies like Zillow expose Rockingham sales nationwide and offers are coming in sight unseen.

He said there is a direct correlation of square footage with numbers of beds and bathrooms. An average 1,400-1,600-square-foot home has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and is what single-family homebuyers are requesting.

Rick Cowan referred to population drops in both Saxtons River and rural Rockingham. He asked, “Can we infer the buyers don’t have children and could be retired? Are there levers we can pull to attract young families?”

Noble said the information on the report was supported by the lister office, but some of this “becomes personal and it’s my opinion.”

He said, one problem is financing. He explained that the data assumes a standard deviation curve but what they were looking at was a skewed curve. Combining high priced homes with low incomes, people can not afford to purchase what’s available.

Noble had sent 50 questionnaires out over the last two years because he wanted to know the mentality of homebuyers. He was surprised to find, “None of them were interested in skiing,” and sidewalks were important, even for those living in rural Rockingham. Responses explained that they came to the village to walk in the wintertime.

Those surveyed also liked the outdoors, privacy, and wanted to be less than 30 minutes from work. They demanded high-speed internet and “interstate access was critical.”

Buyers converted bigger houses into single-family homes and said that “the extra bedrooms are for grandchildren.” Others were moving back home to Vermont, remembering “their roots.”

Noble said, “We think of Bellows Falls as a central hub and the city of Rockingham.” For new buyers, Bellows Falls is a “rural community that is out in the country.”

Noble explained that young families “want culture…when they find it they will pay a premium.”

Noble asked the board each to fill out the 27-question survey and answer “Why you are here?” He pointed out, “We’re not different than the other guy.”

Cowan thanked Noble. “We are lucky to have you in our listers office with your credentials.”

Paul Noble is a Vermont Master Property Appraiser, one of four in the state.

The Selectboard meets the first Wednesday and third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera House.

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