Blog :: 03-2008

Building That Dream House Series: Part One

I have had several phone calls in the last couple of months from potential customers and past clients that have asked me about building. My standard answer has been, if you can find a home you like, it is better to buy than to build. But lately I have been rethinking this.

In the latest issue of Money Magazine (April 2008) there is an article (Dream It, Build It) about building your dream home. The article makes an argument stating that" now "might be an excellent time to build that home. It says that "behind the dark clouds hanging over the houseing market is a very compelling silver lining. The cost of building your dream house is coming down."

Why would this be? Well, there are many factors, but the main one is; the cost of raw materials has dropped and contractors are not as busy as they once were. In interviewing some modular home companies I have found that the demand for modular homes is so far down that some companies are running on a skelton crew. What this means to you the consumer is; dollars are not coming out of your pocket. Money Magazine states that framing lumber is 18% cheaper thtn 18 months ago and that drywall is selling for 40% less.

Not only are prices dropping in the construction area ,but also land prices have dropped in Vermont; in some cases 48% of the asking price from 2006. This is not as true in resort areas such as Stowe. The list price of land might not have dropped, but the actual sale of land has done so. We have seen the listing price of large lots over 25 acres being dropped while the smaller lots prices have stayed the same. Overall, large or small lots have not seen a record number of sales, and this has lead to lower sales prices.

Before one rushes out to take advantage of this slump in the market there are some essential rules that one should follow:

1. Hire a real estate agent that is knowledgable in land sales and land development. This could save you headaches and thousand of dollars. That agent will know exactly what you might not know regarding state and local permits, septic issues, well issues and what lies below the surface, both figuratively and literally. Each town and state has different requirements and it is necessary to know all about those before you start. For instance: your daughter has a horse that she is devoted to, you purchase a parcel of land only to find out that horses are not allowed in the sub-division. Or you wish to build a 1200 sq. ft. house and the covenants state that you can build nothing less than 1500 sq. ft. In Stowe, you might be subject to Ridgeline Overlay District. You have just purchased a parcel of land with a trememdous view of Mt. Mansfield, but there are trees in the way. Your intention is to cut them so you have an unobstructed view. Then you find out that you are in the Ridgeline Overlay area and you have to leave many of the trees to create a canopy around your house. Just as you would expect someone to hire you because you are an expert in your field, you will want to hire a real estate agent to advise you.

2. Get pre-approved for a construction loan. I have seen many people that have not done their homework before they start the process of building a home. If you do not have the cash to build your dream home, it is important to go to a lending institution to make sure that you qualify for a construction loan. A construction loan is similar to an equity loan. You draw down on the amount of money that you need, or that you are qualified for, until you finish the home and then you convert this into a permanent mortgage. Some lending institutions will do a construction to perm loan which locks in an interest rate at the beginning of the construction period. This protects you from rising interest rates.

3. Hire an architect, a designer or buy existing plans before you build. If you truly want to save money it is important to have plans before you start and not give your builder something sketched on the back of a napkin. There are many magazines that have plans available. However, unless you are building on a flat suburban lot with water and sewer available, these plans may not be suitable for the terrain of your lot. Site, views, terrain, exposure etc. are all important factors that must come into consideration. Designers and architects can save you thousand of future dollars because of their knowledge. This may be in the form of passive or active solar, green building, something as simple as the way the plumbing in the house stacks up from kitchen to bathrooms. Do not always rely on the builder to know these things. Their job is to contruct the house and they usually rely on the designer, or architect to have consulted with the experts on structural walls, plumbing and electrical. This does not mean that your builder would not double check any aspects of the plans and bring to your attention defects if he saw any.

In the next series I will discuss how to assemble a confident team to guide you through the process. Meanwhile, you might find my phamplet on " What You Need to Know Before you Purchase Country Property" a helpful guide to get you started thinking about a land purchase. You can call me at 802 253-7358 ext. 13 and leave a message with your name and address and phone number or you can email me at and I will send it to you immediately.

Readers: If You Don't Have a Kindle, You Need One

Check out the newest book from Amazon: The Kindle.

Amazon's new wireless reading device

If you don't have one of these you are missing the best thing ever. This was the only thing I had on my Christmas list and they are so in demand that I did not get it until the middle of February. I am an avid reader and when I go on vacation my suitcase is heavy because I take so many books. I never have enough books and many times I am in countries where it is difficult to get English books;when you do find them, they are what I call "airplane novels."

When I clicked on to order books for Christmas presents last December ,the above ad was on the home page. Shortly after that, I read a review of the Kindle by someone that bought one. It compared it to the Sony E book and the Kindle came out top over all E books.

Here are a few features that I find amazing:

1. You have a large selection of font sizes for every ones preference.

2.The books are sent to you over a cell line, not an internet line. This has advantages and disadvantages. As long as you are within cell service you can receive books, newspapers and magazines. However, the cell service that Amazon uses does not work at my house, even if my cellphone does. It does work in the village of Stowe so all I need to do is drive downtown, turn on my Kindle and whatever I ordered is there.

3. You can order subscriptions to magazines, and newspapers and they will automatically load into your Kindle daily or monthly depending on your subscription.

4. To order books, magazines, and newspapers you do not have to go onto your computer. Simply go to "My Store", click and Amazon is at your fingertips. Pick a book and within seconds it is on your Kindle. I might add, that books are half the price of regular books. This is a definite advantage over "Ibooks" where the audio books are the same or more expensive than regular books.

5. Yes, you can listen to audio books with the Kindle. I have not downloaded any. so I do not know the cost.

6.The battery lasts a long time. I went away for four days where there was no electricity and my Kindle lasted at least 12 hours of reading time. It charges by its own charger, you do not have to plug it into a computer.

7. If you want to reference a passage in a book you are reading, you can search for that information on the Kindle and read about it, and then go back to what you are reading.

8. If you want to highlight an article of interest and send it to a friend, you can do just that from the Kindle.

9. The Kindle can hold up to 1,000 books.

I don't think that the Kindle will ever replace my love for actually holding the printed words in my hands. I love the feel and smell of a book. Sadly, you can not pass the book onto a friend. So I will continue to buy books and ask for them as presents. But for newspaper readers and magazine readers this is a wonderful way to save paper and help the environment. And if you are like me, bringing a bigger suitcase to hold all your books, the Kindle is a blessing.

Oh, here's a another really good reason to own a Kindle;when you have to sit and wait for someone ( like the doctor) you can whip out your Kindle, read your book and everyone will think that you are hard at work on some project. I did forget to mention that the Kindle is the size of a paperback book and weighs less, so it fits conveniently in your pocketbook or briefcase.

The one thing I do not like about the Kindle is how you turn the pages. On each side of the "book" there is a bar you press to get to the next page or go back. These bars are right where you want to hold the book so when you hold it you end up pressing the bar for the next page. It is very sensitive, so it is annoying when this happens. This is a small price to pay to have an entire library of books at your fingertips. This invention is my dream come true!


  1. joe on

    I wonder if you have identified & tried any uses for the Kindle in your real estate biz

    How to Find Sugarhouses in Vermont


    If you are interested in finding sugarhouses in Vermont go to this website:

    If you would like to try another great maple syrup recipe, try this one:

    SUGARBUSH MOUNTAIN MAPLE MOUSSE 1 envelope plus 2 tsp. unflavored gelatin 1/2 c. cold water 4 egg yolks, well beaten 1 c. pure maple syrup 1/2 c. light brown sugar 4 egg whites 2 c. whipping cream, chilled Sprinkle gelatin on water; let soften 5 minutes, then set cup in pan of hot water. Stir until gelatin dissolves. Add gelatin to beaten egg yolks, mix into maple syrup and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and coats spoon. Do not let mixture boil. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar, blending well. Transfer to a large bowl and cool to room temperature. Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Whip cream only until stiff enough to hold its shape. With rubber spatula, fold cream gently into maple syrup mixture. Then fold in egg whites until whites no longer show. Spoon mousse mixture into a 1 1/2 quart mold that has been rinsed in cold water. Cover top with plastic and chill at least 4 hours or until firm.

    If you love this recipe, pass it on to a friend to try. Here is a way to win a jug of maple syrup:

    Tell your friend to make a comment on my blog and you both might win a jug of maple syrup. Your friend has to mention your name and you have to make a comment on my blog also. Oh and you have to try the recipe.

    I Want a Deal!

    The phone rings at least once a week with a customer who's first words, after introducing themselves, are " I want a deal." My first thought, which I do not say, is; " Then go to Florida or Las Vegas." Vermont has been fortunate to be insulated from the housing "bust" as reported in the Burlington Free Press dated March 1, 2008 by Mark Sutkosky:

    "Vermont is insulated from much of the housing crunch drama afflicting other parts of the nation, Allen said. Unlike some areas, especially places like Florida and California, Vermont does not have much of an oversupply of houses and condominiums for sale, Allen said. A large oversupply tends to drive prices down sharply.Also, speculators built a lot of housing in some corners of the nation, anticipating huge profits that failed to materialize, Allen said. Vermont experienced little speculative building, he noted.For those who can afford it, Allen said 2008 might be a decent time to buy. "Prices are high relative to historic standards, but there may be pockets of opportunity because the market is slow. They might find sellers more willing to make some concessions," Allen said. Torpy of the Champlain Housing Trust said programs to encourage affordable housing should remain intact and fully funded.

    But even with the high price of houses and condominiums, people with moderate incomes who are have done their research and are sure their finances are stable can buy a home, Torpy said. "If you go in the market and are an informed and wise consumer, you can find a good value," Torpy said.

    Most resort areas in Vermont have experienced a slowing of sales but the prices and the equity that people have in their houses remains stable. Properties over a million have been less affected because this buyer usually pays cash , or finances less than 50%. The slowest real estate sales areas are between $500,000 and $1,000,000. I beleive this is because that buyer would have used the equity from their primary home for a downpayment on their vacation home. Now they are reluctant to do so.

    Stowe's homeowners, in most cases, are not pressed to sell. They may desire to sell for a variety of reasons, such as down-sizing, retiring, lack of use, but it is not a necessity. If they are anxious to get income from the home, they can get very good rentals while they wait for a buyer. So the short answer to:" I want a deal ," is "there are no deals." But there is opportunity.

    Sellers know that the real estate news is doom and gloom. Even when all the statistics will tell you that resort real estate has remained stable, or has continued to climb in price, Stowe and other resorts get lumped in with the doomsdayers and naysayers. Because there has been a slow down country wide, there are people who want to sell and will listen to reasonable offers. This is where opportunity knocks.

    One of the perks that our Sellers are offering to entice Buyers is a home warranty program to our Sellers. Through Coldwell Banker they are able to put a home warranty on their house to insure against appliances, furnaces, electrical, and plumbing failures. This is a free warranty program for 18 months with no cost to the Seller until their house is sold. At the closing the home warranty is paid for by the Seller and it is transferred to the Buyer. It is good for one year. I have found that homes with a home warranty program attract buyers.

    In a study done recently by Coldwell Banker Carlson Real Estate, most houses today are sold within 5% of the asking price. Several years ago, homes and land were selling at asking price, or just slightly above. In rare cases there is a 10% drop. In the $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 price range you get the best dollar value for your home. Most of these homes are selling at below replacement costs when you take in the today's square footage prices and the current cost of land. Below I have linked to several properties where you can apply this formula.

    Click here for Peggy's Picks for Stowe Real Estate Opportunities:


    1. Ted Burrett on

      I can tell that this is not the first time at all that you mention the topic. Why have you decided to write about it again?

      March Madness

      I am sitting here watching it pour rain and thinking that March is one of the most maddening months in Vermont. It can be absolutely the best skiing of the year with the most spectacular sunshine and warm days on the mountain that you have ever experienced, or it can be like it is today - pouring rain. But despite the change in weather almost daily, it is one of my favorite months.

      Why? Because it is maple sugaring time. The sap has begun to run in the trees, you drive down one of the roads in Stowe and you see a trail of blue lines decorating the maple trees. When I am showing people real estate they ask me what the process is to make maple syrup. Most of them know the syrup comes from trees and that it taste good.

      Back in the day, as they say, the maple trees were tapped with a spigot from which a bucket was hung. Sometimes a tree could have three buckets on it at once. Oh, I forgot to mention that there are various types of maple trees but the ones that produce the syrup are sugar maples. Makes sense doesn't it? Anyway, collecting the syrup from a full bucket meant that you had to team up the horses or start up the tractor , then with a holding tank on the back of a sled, you dump each bucket into the holding tank. Taking the holding tank full of sap back to the sugar house, it is siphoned into a larger holding tank, that feeds into the evaporator. From there it goes into the back pan where it boils over chambers to the front pan where it boils through a series of chambers until it becomes syrup.

      Usually this is not a one man job because someone has to be at the sugar house to watch the syrup boil. But many times a farmer would collect during the day and boil at night, sleeping a few hours while keeping one eye open to the boiling sap. It is easy for the sap to get too hot and burn, when this happens you have lost a large production of syrup. Most of the sugar operations use gas but there are still a few who use wood furnaces. Because a "sugar bush" ( a grove of maple trees) needs thinning and continual maintainence there is wood for the furance.

      Nothing is more beautiful than coming through the woods on your snow shoes, a crisp clear starry night overhead with the sugar house nestled among the trees. The smoke is coming out of the chimney and the steam from the syrup is coming out the vents in the roof, there is a glow of light in the windows and all around you is peace and quiet.

      Nowadays, the sugaring is done by a blue plastic line connected to the tap. The syrup runs into the line, that line feeds to a larger trunk line and this line meanders down to a secondary holding tank or straight into the primary tank near the sugar house. At times it is still necessary to check lines to make sure there are no breaks or kinks in them, but now instead of horses, snowmobiles get there faster and easier. Still with all the new techniques, the end result brings the same old fashion taste of a luscious golden elixer.

      It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup. Syrup comes in different grades: Light Amber- is very light and has a mild, more delicate maple flavor. It is usually made earlier in the season when the weather is colder. This is the best grade for making maple candy and maple cream. Medium Amber - is a bit darker, and has a bit more maple flavor. It is the most popular grade of table syrup, and is usually made after the sugaring season begins to warm, about mid-season. Dark Amber-is darker yet, with a stronger maple flavor. It is usually made later in the season as the days get longer and warmer. Grade B-sometimes called Cooking Syrup, is made late in the season, and is very dark, with a very strong maple flavor, as well as some caramel flavor. Although many people use this for table syrup; because of its strong flavor, it's often used for cooking, baking, and flavoring in special foods. My personal preference is Medium Amber.

      I love maple syrup in my baked beans. Here is a recipe. I bet you have never had baked beans like this.

      Baked Beans with Maple & Rum

      4 cups dry navy beans 1 lb. salt pork or ham 1 cup maple syrup 1 cup maple sugar 3 qts. water 1 large onion 1 tbsp. salt ½ cup butter 1 tsp. baking soda 1 tsp. dry mustard 4 apples, cored & unpeeled ½ cup dark rum

      Rinse beans, cover with cold water, soak overnight. Pour beans and water into large pot. Add baking soda and more water to cover beans. Bring to a boil uncovered and boil until some of the skins fall off when you blow on them. Line a bean pot with thin slices of the pork or ham, pour in beans and water. Roll onion in dry mustard completely and bury it in middle of the beans. Pour maple syrup and salt over top. Bake at 325°F for 4 to 5 hours. At the start of the last hour, place whole apples on top as close together as possible. Cream maple sugar and butter together and spread over top of apples. Pour rum over top just before serving.

      Try this recipe and let me know what you think. If you are one of the first ten people to get back to me you will win a bottle of maple syrup. But you must respond to my blog.