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Vogel: Homeownership

For many years, I taught real estate courses at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and lately people have been asking if I think this is a good time to buy a home in Vermont. And my answer is a qualified yes. If you plan to live in the home for at least three - and preferably five years, and if you’re moving to a part of the state, like the Upper Valley, where the population is growing, then it’s probably a good time to buy. In fact, it may well cost less on a monthly basis to own rather than rent because of low interest rates.

In addition, in Vermont, the government and some nonprofit groups work hard to make homeownership easier, and affordable for a broad range of people, not just the well off. Through its Homeland program, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board provides down payment assistance to families earning up to 120% of median income.

The recently enacted Housing Bond Bill allocates special funds to promote homeownership for working people who couldn’t otherwise buy homes. And the State of Vermont supports five, nonprofit homeownership centers, which provide education and counseling to families, such as helping participants improve their credit scores.

Vermont also has twelve Habitat for Humanity affiliates, covering different parts of the state, with each focusing on making homeownership affordable for low and moderate income families. But they don’t just give homes away. Homeowners must invest hundreds of hours of their own labor called sweat equity.

Under professional supervision, these homeowners and community volunteers do everything from framing the house to installing flooring, hanging sheetrock and painting. Electrical and plumbing work requires licensed contractors, so that’s done by professionals. But the homeowner and volunteer labor keeps down the cost of the home and builds skills that will be useful once the family moves in.

With zero or one percent financing, even in expensive markets, organizations like the Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity are geared up to build three homes this year, and are looking for families with annual incomes from forty to fifty five thousand dollars.

So for Vermont families that can afford it, are willing to put in the work and plan to live in that home for a while, now probably is a good time to become a homeowner.

John Vogel is a retired professor from the Tuck School of Business. His tenure at Dartmouth began in 1992, where he taught Real Estate and Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector, among other subjects. He was named by the “Business Week Guide” to Business Schools as one of Tuck’s “Outstanding Faculty” members.
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