Amenities, convenience factor into Wilton real estate sales

The Board of Finance invited real estate agents Marion Filley and Dianne DeWitt, of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, and John DiCenzo, executive director of sales for Halstead Property in Wilton and Westport, to its June 20 meeting to discuss Wilton’s real estate market.

When the board met with agents last year, there was much emphasis on town taxes. Taxes, as well as schools, were mentioned again this year, but more attention was paid to amenities and convenience.

Homes in the $1.5-million range are “one of hardest hit” in Wilton, said Filley, while houses around $700,000 are “moving really well.”

“In 2007, there were 43 properties that sold in the [$1.5 million] price range and in 2015, there were 12,” she said, which “has to affect [the town’s] grand list and everything else.”

“The median is about $800,000,” said Filley, “so over $1 million is really struggling.”

Filley said it’s easier to sell homes in South Wilton than North Wilton because “South Wilton has a number of one-acre zones and convenience.”

In addition to schools, taxes and the homes themselves, Filley said, buyers look at amenities, commute, town centers and what they have to offer, as well as “vibe.”

“They’re going to go with what fits their lifestyle,” she said.

In the real estate market, there are “a couple of different towns” that Wilton competes against, said Filley.

For people who look at Darien, New Canaan and parts of Westport, Filley said, “budget is not so much a concern,” so Wilton will “lose” buyers to those towns.

People relocating to the area who are looking at homes in the same price-point as Wilton, said Filley, are probably going to look into towns like Fairfield, Ridgefield and Weston.

Filley said there are “several reasons” why Wilton loses buyers to surrounding towns — one being amenities.

Amenities and attraction

“People are conscious of the amenities that a town has to offer,” said Filley.

It’s “very important” that Wilton residents “want to stay” in town, said DeWitt, and “we need to give them a reason to stay.”

“Empty-nesters are departing, and understandably so. It happens in every town in the United States,” she said, “but what we need to do is help keep them here for a longer period of time.”

Marketing what the town of Wilton has to offer, DeWitt said, is “very important,” and Filley agreed.

Wilton has “a lot of great facilities” and “a lot of great things that go on, said Filley, that “just aren’t promoted.”

“We would love to see Wilton promoted so we can compete with Westport, Darien and New Canaan,” said DeWitt, “and that does take funds — be it private or be it public.”

DeWitt said she and other agents remind both buyers and sellers about things like the Norwalk River Valley Trail, Millstone Farm, Ambler Farm and Weir Farm, as well as Wilton’s land conservation.

“We’re not overbuilt, and that’s something we promote here,” she said.

Not only is Wilton a “quiet town,” but it’s also a “fun town,” said DeWitt, and with Wilton Center becoming “much more pedestrian,” she and other agents have been “bringing buyers downtown to show them the virtues, amenities and assets.”

DiCenzo said he thinks other towns have a “community branding advantage” that Wilton doesn’t.

“I know that we’re working on it and with what the EDC [Economic Development Commission] and the town’s trying to do, we’re on our way,” he said, “but we are behind.”

DiCenzo noted that Wilton is one of two towns in the area with a river running through its center.

“In the work we did with the EDC and its town analysis and survey,” he said, “we spent some time talking about Schenck’s Island [and] discussed leveraging that property when we can appropriately.”

If that were to happen, DiCenzo said, real estate agents would bring clients “racing to the center to show it off.”

Although it’s sometimes simply “a matter of geography,” DeWitt said, buyers “look at everything” before deciding where to buy a home.

DeWitt said she has “relocation buyers” who will be working in Stamford and are looking to buy a home in the area.

They looked at South Wilton, North Stamford, New Canaan and considered the lower part of Weston, she said, but loved Westport because of “the water, the downtown and the energy.”

Before Westport, she said, they also considered Fairfield because of the beach, downtown walking, restaurants, energy and the direct New Haven Line to New York.

“Even to get off at the Stamford station and either having to walk to your office or shuttle to your office … was very attractive to them,” said Dewitt.

Finance board member John Kalamarides asked the agents if they thought people would be “more inclined” to buy in Wilton and commute if the rail service was better.

It depends “how much better,” said Filley, noting the lack of frequent and direct train service to and from Wilton. Filley said Wilton doesn’t have as many New York commuters as it did in years past.

“As the surrounding towns depreciate somewhat in prices, it makes it more affordable for people coming out of New York” to live elsewhere,” she said.

“Time is precious, and they don’t want to do the commute from Wilton into New York. Even living 10 minutes closer is a big deal.”

Commercial property

According to First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice, the office vacancy rate of “space not under lease” in Wilton as of May 31 was 14.8%.

Office vacancy rates for area towns also in double digits were:

  • Trumbull: 25.4.

  • Stamford: 20.4%

  • Norwalk: 17%

  • Danbury: 13%

  • Darien: 13.9%

“If you look at space that’s leased but not occupied, space looking to be sublet or space that the owner knows is coming up,” said Vanderslice, “that’s 25% in Wilton.”

With “a lot of space to fill,” Vanderslice said, she personally doesn’t see commercial as a growth area for the town.