Schools drive competitive Fairfield County real estate market
Real estate — what draws or detracts potential buyers — was at the top of the Board of Finance’s agenda at its meeting May 21. The board invited John DiCenzo of Halstead Real Estate and Julie Carney of Julie Carney Homes-William Raveis to review the status of Wilton real estate, what’s happening and why.
DiCenzo provided the board with a printout of data for the first four months of the years 2005, 2009, and 2016-2019.
Sales ranged from a pre-recession high of 73 in 2005 to a low of 25 in 2009. The range for the last four years was:
- 2016 — 46.
- 2017 — 65.
- 2018 — 50.
- 2019 — 56.
While sales numbers rebounded somewhat since the recession, the median sales price for the first four months did not fare as well:
- 2005 — $900,000.
- 2009 — $775,000.
- 2016 — $805,000.
- 2017 — $730,000.
- 2018 — $790,000.
- 2019 — $650,000.
Fairfield County experienced much the same results with the following sales and median sale prices for January through April:
- 2005 — 2,466 — $530,000.
- 2009 — 1,060 — $425,000.
- 2016 — 2,086 — $429,000.
- 2017 — 2,106 — $450,000.
- 2018 — 2,124 — $455,000.
- 2019 — 2,037 — $420,000.
DiCenzo provided the same statistics for the state:
- 2005 — 10,119 — $299,000.
- 2009 — 5,091 — $249,000.
- 2016 — 8,845 — $247,000.
- 2017 — 9, 186 — $250,000.
- 2018 — 9,055 — $261,000.
- 2019 — 8,879 — $241,000.
“We’ve been moving sideways for the last seven or eight years in terms of value and units closed,” DiCenzo said. “Lack of sales volme has been our challenge.” Areas with lower price points have been doing better than Wilton, he added.
The information given, he said, is just a snapshot and the picture could change by the end of the year.
As for what home buyers are looking for, “schools are the driver,” Carney said. “The clients I encounter are looking at ratings data, mostly school ratings within Fairfield County,” she said, referring to such websites as niche.com.
Based on anecdotal data, she added, while people used to select a town and then look for a home within that town, she is now seeing buyers looking at multiple towns.
“Out-of-town brokers are bringing clients here,” she said. “There’s a lot of mobility within Fairfield County.”
Board member Walter Kress asked if people put a lot of stock into the ratings and reviews.
“It’s important to them they are in one of the top school districts,” she said. When it comes down to whether a district is rated number one or number six, then it becomes more subjective based on the opinions of the buyer.
Board member Peter Balderston asked if she sees many retirees looking to come to Wilton.
She said the numbers were not significant. “There are pockets of people who for a variety of reasons want to stay in the area,” she said. For them, the schools are not a big factor. They tend to be looking for smaller pieces of land and walkability. Pockets of Wilton are more affordable than New Canaan or Darien, “but they don’t want big pieces of property.”
To that end, for older and younger buyers, towns with more organized downtowns “are the hotter parts of the market.” In-town areas of Fairfield, Westport, New Canaan and Darien tend to be priced lower with small lots.
“As a broker, I’m looking forward to what they are going to do with Schenck’s Island,” DiCenzo said. He also said he is in favor of the Wilton Heights project.
Carney said the image a town presents of itself is also important, referring to websites where people make “snarky” and “sarcastic” comments about the town. “We should be celebrating the things that make us unique, like the Norwalk River Valley Trail,” she said.
Balderston also brought up Stamford, since Wilton is within commuting distance.
“I’m not feeling that kind of energy,” DiCenzo said. “We’re not consuming our inventory. We need job growth in Stamford.”
On the positive side, Carney said agents are beginning to see a migration north from Brooklyn.
Chairman Jeff Rutishauser asked if the talk of regionalization of school districts has died down since earlier this year.
“It was a really big factor and I think we lost people to other towns because of that,” but it has since died down. “You’ve got to move on,” she said.
“There needs to be more confidence among buyers with the health of Connecticut,” she said. “We need to establish confidence in the value of real estate in Fairfield County and Connecticut. It will go up.”