In Wilton, build baby, build!

The number of new homes built in Wilton soared in 2014, town records show, with a year-over-year increase of 136%.

Twenty-six new home permits were issued in 2014, compared to 11 in 2013.

Those 26 houses, says Kevin O’Brien of O’Brien Premier Properties, are mostly smaller than the “McMansions” of pre-recession Wilton. Detail has become more important than size for homebuyers, he said.

“The new construction in Wilton is getting more about being smaller and more detailed. People are looking to get more energy efficient than just a large house,” he said. “People have become much more cognizant of how much energy they’re using.”

While such an increase in new homes may suggest investors are becoming confident that real estate prices have stabilized in the area, Mr. O’Brien said Monday that Wilton is still “slumping in new construction.”

In Westport, for instance, there were 57 new homes built in 2014.

While he admitted land and zoning restrictions play a large part in new construction numbers, he said there were other factors playing into the difference between Wilton and surrounding towns.

“Westport has the name brand, and it has direct access to New York City. Nowadays, the schools are all about the same, but it also has nicer parks and golf courses,” he said.

Home sales

Nonetheless, says William Raveis agent Theresa Blinder, Wilton has a lot to offer potential buyers in the way of space and community.

“If you think about the lifestyle, Wilton has a group of shopping districts, and while there is some competition from Westport, Wilton has a lot more acreage per home. If you’re looking for the true suburban lifestyle, you’re looking at Wilton,” she said.

In the past year, market prices have stabilized in large part due to a lower number of foreclosure properties in town, Mr. O’Brien said.

“Prices have become more steady because there are less foreclosures on the market. Foreclosures bring prices down artificially,” he said.

According to Marion Filley of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, New England Properties, who writes the Closing Comments column for The Bulletin, the average price of homes sold in Wilton in 2014 was $924,051, up slightly from $919,044 the year before.

However, the total number of units sold in Wilton dropped from 259 in 2013 to 229 in 2014. Coldwell Banker of Wilton manager Eric Weitz says this kind of drop was common throughout Fairfield County, though surprising.

“Unit sales have gotten hurt throughout all of Fairfield County. Wilton’s unit sales were down 15%. If you look at Westport, Wilton, Weston, Norwalk, Redding, and Ridgefield, they averaged about 10% less sales than last year. That’s a little surprising, considering mortgage rates are very low and prices of rentals are very high,” he said.

One theory for this drop, Mr. Weitz said, is that young homebuyers have been “scarred” by the effects of the 2008 recession. Many, he said, have been left questioning real estate as a true investment.

“Homeownership at one time was 67%, now its 53%,” he said. “It may take a while to get back to 67%. My parents were scarred by the depression. Now generations are somewhat scarred by the crash we had in 2008. There just isn’t the ‘buy it today, its going to be up 2% tomorrow,’” mentality anymore.

What they’re looking for

South Wilton remains popular with commuters and families, both Ms. Blinder and Mr. O’Brien told The Bulletin, because of its quick access to Route 15 and Interstate 95.

“There certainly seems to be a preference for the southern part of Wilton,” Ms. Blinder said. “Anywhere is attractive to people, but being in the south saves you a little bit of time.”

Even within south Wilton buyers have preferences, Mr. O’Brien said. They especially want to be off the main drag, “but not that far off.”

There is still demand for homes in north Wilton, regardless of the south’s popularity, said Mr. O’Brien, especially for commuters who work in Danbury or White Plains, N.Y.

Ms. Blinder said homebuyers are looking closely at kitchens and living room space when considering a new house.

“Location will always be the number one thing people focus on. Beyond that, though, the most important thing is the kitchen. They want it to be an up-to-date, big, bright, beautiful kitchen. They really don’t want to be doing renovations when they move in, and there are enough choices in this town that they won’t have to do any,” she said.

If that big, beautiful kitchen is directly next to a living room, Ms. Blinder said, it’s even better.

“Having the kitchen adjacent to a big family room is also important,” she said. “That’s where most people spend 90% of the time now. They are a little less focused on pools or big yards. They still like them, but if the interior doesn’t reach their standard, it doesn’t matter what the property is like.”

In terms of pricing, Mr. Weitz said, the $700,000 to $800,000 range is really the “sweet spot” in Wilton, where starter homes are more popular than high-end builds.

“Once you get above $2 million, the market is very, very competitive, and it’s very slow to turn. Generally, you’ll see new construction selling at those numbers,” he said.

In terms of comparing the “sweet spot” homes, and the high-end offerings, he said Wilton saw 30 homes sell in the sweet spot compared to four on the high-end side in 2014.

Feeling the tax pinch

Mr. O’Brien said Wilton’s relatively high mill rate may be having a negative effect on real estate sales.

“The mill rate in Darien is 15… and its 26.51 in Wilton. You can get a much nicer house in Wilton for $1 million, but taxes are starting to pinch people here,” he said.

“Even in Redding, where you have no commercial tax base, the mill rate is 28. The tax thing is starting to slow up all of Wilton’s real estate. With a starter home in Wilton that costs $500,000, taxes are still a lot.”