By Karen D. Lorentz
Twenty-five years is a long time, but in reality it goes by fast.
For agents at Ski Country Real Estate, it means having seen an amazing cycle of relationships with customers that has often come full circle.
“Over 25 years ago, we started out as new agents working with seasonal renters, who then turned into buyers. Then they had kids and then the kids grew up and the parents become sellers. Now their kids are seasonal renters and the cycle is starting over again,” notes agent Peter Metzler.
Of course, some pass their vacation homes on to their children or retire here, and sometimes their friends who visited become interested in Killington and become renters and/or buyers, also.
Either way, one of the keys to a successful business has been developing relationships that have continued over the years, Metzler adds.
“Our success has been based on loyal customers and clients who have worked with us over the years,” agrees Lenore Bianchi.
“When people first come to Killington, the first property they purchase may not work for them as their family expands and then as their children grow and have their own children. I have a home listed now whose owner was my first sale in 1979 when they bought land to build a home. They have purchased homes, land, built homes, and sold land and homes with me through the years,” she said.
“Another one of the keys to our success is learning what clients need and showing them what we think will suit them – we’re matchmakers,” Tricia Carter notes.
Metzler, Bianchi and Carter are founders and principals in Ski Country, which they opened in 1989 after having worked at another agency for many years.
From weekend warriors to workers
“We were all skiers,” Carter noted when asked how they came to work in Killington.
Bianchi’s family of seven came to Killington from New Jersey as “weekend warriors” from 1965 to 1973, when they moved into their weekend house permanently. She joined New Life Real Estate in 1979 and a few months later joined Century 21, working there until 1989.
“The best part of Ski Country to me is that everyone works so well together; there’s good team spirit in the office and it’s why so many of us have stayed for over 20 years,” Bianchi commented.
Carter was a skier from the Connecticut seashore area and came to Killington in 1969 as a member of a ski house. She decided to move up after she bought land and had a house built.
She noted that a factor in moving up permanently in 1978 was that “I had purchased a lifetime ski pass which committed me to the area.”
She worked at Century 21 and eventually became “their top producer in the Vermont Century 21 system for four years. Sensing the company might be sold, [it was] and loving the work as we did and getting along so well together, I thought it would be natural for us to form our own company,” she noted.
Metzler was a sailor in Maryland and came up as a skier and worked at Killington two winters in the tickets department in 1982-83 and 1983-84. He moved up in May 1984 because his girlfriend liked Vermont better. They lived in Burlington, at first. He had passed a real estate test in Maryland, but had to be a resident here for six months to get a real estate license. On a whim, he talked to a local Killington real estate agent and was encouraged to get into the real estate field there, which he did in January 1985.
Growing the firm
When Carter suggested that the three principals — and a fourth founder/partner Dewitt Woods who has since retired — form Ski Country, they became the first tenants in a new office building at 335 Killington Road.
“Location, location, location” quipped Carter, noting they would be “the first real estate company that visitors see when coming up the Killington Road.”
A year later Charlene Bowen joined as sales associate, and when Charlie Wise decided to retire in the early 1990s, his sales crew of Pat Linnemayr, Nikki Aponowich, and Tom Doon then joined Ski Country (the latter two have since retired).
Ski Country now has nine agents: Meghan Charlebois, Suzanne Ellis-Leonard, Daniel Pol, Eileen Godfrey, Megan Boyle, Linnemayr, Carter, Metzler, and Bianchi with Paulette Pagnotta having joined as rental specialist.
Carter noted, “We’re open seven days a week, nine to five, in recognition that this is a resort community and we need to be here when visitors need us.”
Services include: sales and listing of homes, condos, land, duplexes and condexes (a duplex that has been ‘condominiumized’) and long-term/seasonal rentals. Agents handle properties in Killington and as far north as Stockbridge and Rochester, east to Bridgewater, south to Plymouth, and west to Mendon and Chittenden.
“The business is about providing information so that customers and clients can make informed decisions,” Bianchi noted.
Changes and challenges
Over the years, the agents saw many changes, even in how they conducted their business.
“We didn’t have computers when we started. There were no lead paint laws, no water tests, no property inspections.
“We started doing personal property inventories because a seller said ‘everything is included except the snowshoes.’ They turned out to be snowshoe furniture, which surprised the buyer during a pre-closing inspection when they saw all different furniture. So not wanting surprises, we came up with inventory lists as a solution,” Bianchi said.
“We saw 16+ percent mortgage rates in the early 1980s. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 meant that the tax advantages of renting your vacation home were phased out for many, and that changed what people wanted to purchase. Now they wanted to buy for their own use rather than just for rental income so they wanted larger properties,” Bianchi recalled of those decades.
“The market plummeted in the early 1990s and started coming back in 1994 but through all this we remained the leading agency in the Killington region,” Carter added.
Among a host of challenges were new laws that require such things as smoke detectors and meeting a 1998 energy code for new construction as well as regulations specifying the size of windows for ingress and egress.
Then Fannie Mae rules changed and along with them the definition of vacation and second homes.
“After 9-11, the phone didn’t ring for two weeks, and then the huge run-up began. That started a huge demand, and we sold off the excess inventory by 2001 and 2002 and then started to build price in 2003. Both 2002 and 2004 were big years for sales volume, but in 2004 the dollars were higher,” Metzler noted. “That morphed into the easy money of 2003 and later; and mortgages were ridiculously easy and then that stopped with the crash of 2007-08. Things slowed for us as prices went up too fast and we saw a pause in 2005 with price no longer building. Right now, mortgage rates are historically low, making it a great time to purchase,” he added.
“Today, the internet is the major change — people are informed and better educated before they come to Killington, and we like that,” Bianchi said. “They do their research on their computers, so when they call they have an idea of what they might like or need.”
“It still requires us to give an overview of the entire area by showing properties and talking with clients to get a better feel for their needs and likes. When they see various properties, they sometimes change their minds from a condo to a home or from one location to another, and as we learn more, we find the property that suits them,” Carter said, noting it’s a good feeling to share the joy of the mountains that brought Ski Country together.
Open house, Oct. 11
To say thank you to their many clients and to celebrate Ski Country’s 25th anniversary, they are holding an Open House on Oct. 11 from 12 to 2 p.m.
“The public is invited to stop in for chili and cider,” Bianchi said, noting they look forward to sharing the joy of Killington with the many skiers and riders who will be in town over the event-filled weekend.
To help celebrate and share stories, Karen Lorentz, author of “Killington, A Story of Mountains and Men,” will be on hand to sign her Killington book. The illustrated coffee-table book traces the ski resort’s first 50 years and shares the stories of many who moved to the town to work in mountain-related jobs.