An exterior shot of the newly renovated Putnam Block in Bennington, Vermont

January 25, 2021

“It’s crazy,” says Abi Gregorio of Maple Leaf Realty. “It started in April, when the market reopened after being almost totally shut down for two months, and it hasn’t let up, never mind the challenges of buying and selling real estate during a pandemic.”

“A new listing creates immediate interest,” according to Jenifer Hoffman of Hoffman Real Estate. “It’s like horses lining up at the gate. A desirable property at an appropriate price will draw as many as a dozen bids in the first couple of days of showing, including from prospective buyers who have only been able to see the property online because of Covid. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Only four of the 31 residential units in the Putnam Block remain unleased,” reports Andy Paluch of TPW Real Estate, with reference to the apartments created by the major rehabilitation of the old Hotel Putnam and the adjacent Winslow and Courthouse buildings right in the heart of downtown Bennington. “It’s been really inspiring to see the tremendous collective effort by so many people, from investors to contractors, to get the first phase of the Putnam Block completed despite the challenges from COVID.  Our ability to lease these residential units so quickly really shows that there is demand for high-quality rental housing downtown,” says Paluch. 

“They hear ‘The Sound of Music’”

Jenifer Hoffman

What’s going on?

“It’s Covid, of course,” says Hoffman, “but the trend was already there. People are hungry for space, for places where they – and their children and pets – have room to roam. So many people have been cooped up in cities for so long that the idea of Vermont sounds pretty good – they imagine the mountains and hear ‘The Sound of Music.’ You get more land and more living and storage space for your money here. Bennington is within an hour’s drive of Albany, Troy, Saratoga, Manchester, and the Berkshires; New York, Boston, and Burlington are only three hours away. And Bennington has its own cultural and commercial life, which is getting a shot in the arm – so to speak – from the Putnam project, too.” 

“People want to be healthier and happier,” says Gregorio. “Many have discovered that they can work from home and that home can be anywhere, so why not Vermont? I’m seeing a lot of interest from creative people, people who want to be involved in a community, young people with energy and vision (I like to think I was one of them fourteen years ago, when I moved here and started an organic poultry and alpaca farm). I’ve had recent clients from Georgia and North Carolina and Florida as well as from the northeast metro areas. The 17 inches of snow we had around Thanksgiving gave some people pause, but others realized that they could ski out their back door.”

Local realtors report that the impact on local first-time home buyers has been challenging, as many out-of-state bidders come equipped with cash offers. But local people are not subject to the same Covid-imposed constraints in terms of visiting properties first-hand and may not be as risky as a long-distance buyer, as Hoffman explains. If you’re local, keep trying!

If you build it…

The main lobby for the new apartments in the Putnam Block in Bennington, Vermont
The main lobby for the new apartments in the Putnam Block.

Nowhere in Bennington are the stakes higher than for the Putnam Block redevelopment, envisioned as the anchor of a revitalized downtown. By the time spring arrives – and, hopefully, a lessening of pressure from the pandemic – Bennington’s town center will have been transformed.

The first residential tenants have already taken up quarters, and more are soon to follow. A number of commercial tenants are set to move in as soon as finishing touches are put on storefronts and offices. “The revitalized Putnam Block is attracting a broad range of people and businesses to the core of the downtown, just as it was designed to do,” says Andy Paluch.  “We see a very good mix of folks who are local, as well as those who are moving to the area. The historical character of the buildings has been thoughtfully and beautifully restored and revitalized. It’s so great to see these buildings given a second life and to watch people’s reactions when they step inside for the first time. It’s one of those places that make you say ‘Wow!’”

Abi Gregorio of Maple Leaf Realty

Andy Paluch of TPW Real Estate
Jenifer Hoffman of Hoffman Real Estate

– Phil Holland, a resident of Pownal, is the author of Robert Frost in Bennington County.