Looking for a New England

The open spaces of Vermont attract Americans and foreign buyers alike, says Graham Norwood
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The Independent Online

Think of New England and you may well regard New Hampshire as the quintessential state to see those famous autumn colours. Or Boston, Massachusetts, may be the best place to savour the region's history. But it is the small state of Vermont that steals the glory as far as Americans are concerned.

Think of New England and you may well regard New Hampshire as the quintessential state to see those famous autumn colours. Or Boston, Massachusetts, may be the best place to savour the region's history. But it is the small state of Vermont that steals the glory as far as Americans are concerned.

Its open countryside has always appealed to those seeking space and simplicity, but its property fortunes in recent years are down to two different disasters.

Vermont's estate agents say that after September 11 2001 the state benefited from an upsurge of New Yorkers wanting "getaway" properties in apparently safe rural areas just a few hours drive from the city. They joined investors who had already fled the Big Apple when they got their fingers burnt by dot.com stock market losses in the 1990s and instead invested in second homes. Now that influx of urban Americans is being augmented by foreign buyers who have discovered the state is only a three-hour drive from New York's airports.

At first sight Vermont seems all-American; it produces 500,000 gallons of maple syrup each year, more than any other state, with farmers' stalls lining country roads selling fresh produce. But there are already 30,000 non-US born residents in Vermont, accounting for almost 5 per cent of its population, and thousands of other foreigners have holiday homes where they live on a part-time basis.

Few areas near the US east coast have a higher proportion of second properties than the Green Mountain State, Vermont's nickname because of its 223 mountain ranges - mostly covered in forest - and its hundreds of streams, ponds and lakes.

There are scores of winter ski areas, such as Killington and Okemo, while the 120-mile long Lake Champlain is a summer favourite for walkers and sailors. Second-home buyers who want to avoid the most obvious tourist areas often target remote cabins deep in forests to allow them to commune with nature - and get near the bears, deer and moose that live there, too.

"We get a large number of visitors from the UK and 80 per cent of what we sell are second homes starting at about $200,000 [£110,000]," says Carol Mann of Vermont Four Seasons Realty. "We're in the middle of a great ski and golf area. Skiing lasts until late spring, and golf starts in April. Summers here are absolutely heaven."

"I get requests for information on land, homes and condos from all over the world," says Hal Sheeler of Century 21 Realty. He says the most popular homes for Europeans are ski apartments and large houses at places such as Quechee, a former mill town that is now a popular tourist area thanks to a vast gorge called the Grand Canyon of the east by locals.

One unusual property currently on sale is the 15-acre mini-estate owned by the Beach Boys' former manager and song-writer Jack Rieley. The five bedroom Italianate villa at the centre of the estate was renovated three years ago and includes an orangery, library, gallery and separate carriage house.

Rieley, who is credited with reviving the band's reputation in the early 1970s by encouraging them to make the successful Surf's Up album, describes the villa as "my big country bolt hole for the past few years".

It has a few celebrity ostentations like a media studio, internal telephone exchange, a sauna, extensive security and a five-car garage - all rather more LA than Vermont - but clearly the vibrations are not as good now as they once were, because Rieley is selling up for $3.4m (£1.8m) through Brattleboro Area Realty.

Like much of the US, Vermont's estate agents operate a buyer-friendly multi-listing system (MLS). Under it, a buyer registers with just one agent but gets details of all homes on sale through all other agents registered with the MLS - that is the vast majority, in Vermont's case. When a sale occurs, all the agents share the fee.

Property values have risen about 7 per cent in the past year, with the biggest rises in second homes and ski lodges. Even so, prices are a snip compared to holiday homes in the UK or much of western Europe - and as everyone knows, even the autumns in New England are beautiful.

Four Seasons Realty, 001 802 746 8518

Century 21 Realty, 001 603 643 2039

Brattleboro Area Realty, 001 802 257 1335

Let it snow, let it snow

* New England consists of Vermont and the nearby states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island

* Vermont has only 610,000 residents living in 9,250 square miles - but they are educated (24.3 per cent have a degree)

* The state has 223 mountains over 2,000 feet and 75 per cent of its land is forested; much of the remaining land is given over to 6,000 dairy farms

* Vermont gets about 80 inches of snow and 36 inches of rain each year

* Property prices range from about $30,000 (£16,500) for a very basic log cabin to $15m for the very largest houses on private estates

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