Elyse Harney Morris can check off any number of draws in the Litchfield Hills that have attracted New Yorkers during the pandemic, including Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall and a nearby venue in Salisbury that hosted the ski jumping and nordic combined junior championships this winter.
As for the region’s real estate market heading into a third spring after the advent of the pandemic? She likens it to that ski jump in Salisbury where her agency is based — gaining momentum right out of the gate, and anyone’s guess how far it will soar in 2022. Same goes across Connecticut, as suggested in Connecticut Magazine’s latest look at hot real estate markets heading into the typical prime spring season.
While Gold Coast towns like Greenwich and Westport drew many of the most affluent buyers from New York City, they saw ample numbers of people move within town as well, as they took the opportunity to cash out of houses at far higher prices than they could have gotten a year or two earlier. But the boom market extended for many towns into 2021, from North Canaan to North Stonington and parts in between. Nearly 50 towns and cities saw increased sales of single-family homes in both 2020 and 2021, according to data compiled by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties.
Here, we identify 15 hot real estate markets statewide, across five regions and three tiers of home prices within each — and dive into what’s driving their appeal for buyers, whether those moving to Connecticut or staying local after selling their home at a premium.
“In 2020, they didn’t care about the town — they were more open on where they were going to land because it was an urgency to get their families safe,” says Harney Morris, who co-owns Elyse Harney Real Estate with her mother. “Now, people are very specific on the town.”
LOWER FAIRFIELD COUNTY
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This Gold Coast town had its best month ever for sales transactions in July 2021 en route to its best year, according to Mark Pruner, a Compass agent who highlights market dynamics on his Greenwich Streets blog. The market hit a wall in the back half of the year, however, with many of the town’s attractive listings snapped up and too few coming on the market to replace them.
But the early signs are that plenty more will hit the market this spring, setting up a potential third year of strong sales as buyers line up mortgages ahead of expected increases in interest rates, and homeowners look to capitalize.
As is the case in Darien and New Canaan, which saw their real estate markets revitalized during the pandemic, Greenwich buyers eye long-term value in addition to the town or country lifestyle. Attractions include the town’s central shopping district on Greenwich Avenue and in historic neighborhoods like Cos Cob and Old Greenwich, as well as outdoor diversions at Greenwich Point, the Greenwich Audubon and other scenic areas. And the town’s calendar of events is jammed year round, highlighted by the annual Greenwich Town Party, which has featured music legends the Eagles, Paul Simon, Dave Matthews, Carlos Santana and others over its 10-year history.
“One thing we have in Greenwich is a fair amount of foresighted people — and those folks saw the coming increase in interest rates,” Pruner says. “In November and particularly in December, we saw a big jump up in sales even though our inventory was continuing to fall.”
Population: 63,518 (↑ 3.7% from 2010) • Median household income: $152,577
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $2.3 million • No. of Sales: 1,002 (↑ 16% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 59
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $790,000 • No. of Sales: 237 (↑ 33% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 70
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A decade into an apartment construction boom downtown and on its waterfront, Stamford’s home-sales market was jump-started by the pandemic as people who live and work in New York City saw their jobs go remote, giving them the opportunity to opt for suburban living with a commuter tether to Grand Central.
With a diversity of neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and waterfront access — along with an array of restaurants and entertainment — Stamford has continuing appeal. While some of the city’s traditions were put on hold the first year of the pandemic, they have since returned in varying iterations, to include the Alive@Five outdoor concert series and the annual balloon parade the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
But as the calendar flipped to 2022 there were still far too few property listings to meet buyer demand, according to Roxanna Bajra, a Berkshire Hathaway New England Properties agent and president of the Stamford Board of Realtors. In the final week of January, Bajra counted only 64 houses listed for sale — in a city of more than 135,000 people. She says plenty of people shopping Stamford blocks plan to move from New York, mindful of the unpredictability of any future variants of the virus.
“We have buyers — we have no inventory,” Bajra says. “For one of my listings, I had three appointments scheduled 20 minutes after I put it on. It’s just crazy.”
Population: 135,470 (↑ 9.5% from 2010) • Median household income: $93,059
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $715,000 • No. of Sales: 1,042 (↑ 6% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 41
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $330,000 • No. of Sales: 955 (↑ 41% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 41
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Bajra says Norwalk is a consolation landing spot of sorts for many buyers priced out of Stamford. But the smaller city is a draw in its own right with commuter rail stations, a top-notch restaurant scene, shopping, kids’ entertainment at the Maritime Aquarium and Stepping Stones Museum for Children, and Calf Pasture Beach which ranks on some lists as among the best in Connecticut.
While Norwalk has luxury enclaves on par with Stamford — it had more homes sell priced above $5 million since the start of the pandemic in Rowayton, Wilson Point and other pockets of its waterfront — it’s median price in 2021 was about $600,000, a relative bargain sandwiched between Darien, New Canaan and Westport.
Single-family home sales in Norwalk were flat last year, but the condominium market zoomed to its highest mark in more than a decade with just over 560 units selling for a 23 percent increase. And while Stamford and Greenwich saw declines in new condo listings last year, Norwalk listings climbed 15 percent from 2020, with the SoNo district recording sizable gains. Long one of the state’s trendiest hot spots, SoNo has mushroomed with apartments as well in the past few years, with new residents enjoying an array of dining and retail options including at the new SoNo Collection mall, and events like the Norwalk Oyster and multicultural NICE festivals.
Pop.: 91,184 (↑ 6.1% from 2010) • Median household income: $85,769
Single-family homes (2021): Median sales price: $602,000 • No. of sales: 982 (↓ 1% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 39
Condo sales (2021): Median sales price: $295,000 • No. of Sales: 562 (↑ 24% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 36
THE WESTERN HILLS
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After a feverish sales market in 2020, the Litchfield Hills did not sustain gains on balance a second straight year. But several towns soared on individual measures, including Roxbury in the uppermost price tier, with the price of the average home sold rocketing up more than 40 percent to top $1.4 million, and the median price surpassing $1 million. That had Roxbury edging Washington as the priciest market in the Litchfield Hills region last year. Harney Morris says affluent buyers will typically consider the two towns along with Salisbury in narrowing the search on where to live.
Roxbury’s main calling card is its natural beauty, having drawn its fair share of prominent residents over the years including Marilyn Monroe and playwright Arthur Miller, actor Walter Matthau and authors Frank McCourt and William Styron. The Roxbury Land Trust protects 10 preserves that measure anywhere from 100 acres to more than 700, along with a number of smaller ones with scenic vistas like the Brian E. Tierney Preserve and its water cascades.
“There’s so much land in conservation in Roxbury,” Harney Morris says. “It’s not a big town, but you can go right over to Washington and you are in a wonderful community with restaurants and farmers markets, or you can go to New Milford for big-box shopping. It’s got that balance.”
Population: 2,260 (↓ 0.1% from 2010) • Median household income: $118,971
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $1 million • No. of Sales: 55 (↓ 23% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 106
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Woodbury was among the few towns in Litchfield County to improve on its 2020 sales, with both single-family home transactions up 12 percent and condos up more than a third. The town’s median home sold for just under $500,000, ranking it at the top of the middle market of towns in the region. In the back half of the year, about 30 homes sold for between $300,000 and $500,000 versus only a small handful in that range in Roxbury.
At this point, Harney Morris thinks the flight to the hills is less about buffer space during the pandemic, and more about people having taken the opportunity to rethink the value of outdoors living and small-town charm — and making the move. “It’s a very young group, but they have money,” she says. “They got a taste of it.”
Buyers with a taste for the finer things peruse Woodbury’s many antiques shops to fit out historic homes they have purchased. Last year, Connecticut Magazine readers rated Monique Shay Antiques and Rustic Charm among the best in the state for antiques and home decor, respectively, and a dozen-plus more pepper the town, along with the Woodbury Flea Market open weekends starting in March.
Population: 9,723 (↓ 6% from 2010) • Median household income: $81,362
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $496,000 • No. of Sales: 171 (↑ 12% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 50
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $163,000 • No. of Sales: 71 (↑ 34% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 33
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In most every corner in Connecticut, multiple towns can make claims as the hottest in any price bracket. In Litchfield County, North Canaan had the biggest single gain in sales last year at 15 percent, but Thomaston was not far behind — and saw an accompanying increase in new listings, one of the few towns where the listing inventory grew. Thomaston saw modest increases in median and average home prices, and trailed only Bethlehem in the region for the amounts above listing prices that buyers were bidding to get to contract.
With proximity to natural settings and attractions all its own like ClockTown Brewing, a summer concert series and the Landmark Community Theatre at the historic Thomaston Opera House — spring shows include Love, Sex and the IRS and the Beatles-themed musical Let It Be — Thomaston represents an affordable pocket in the region, with the median home priced at just over $250,000.
“Most of it is at least an acre of land — nice sprawling neighborhoods, and the price point is good,” says Mary Ann Hebert, an agent with Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate Bannon & Hebert who lived in Thomaston herself for a decade. “We are seeing some New Yorkers, but we are getting a lot of people coming from Torrington, a lot of people from Waterbury.”
Population: 7,442 (↓ 6.0% from 2010) • Median household income: $68,539
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $235,000 • No. of Sales: 90 (↑ 10% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 30
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $123,000 • No. of Sales: 27 (↓ 29% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 25
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Like many towns, Old Saybrook sales edged up last year despite a sharp drop in listings from 2020. William Raveis Real Estate agents were fielding plenty of calls from potential sellers as the calendar turned to January, but it’s difficult to say whether that momentum would be sustained into the summer months, according to Brenda Garzi, sales manager in the agency’s Old Saybrook office.
“During the pandemic, there was a huge surge of people to the area,” Garzi says. “It’s a destination place, like Litchfield County. People come here for a reason — they love the shoreline, the closeness of the community, that small-town feel with a walkable downtown.”
Other attractions include the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center — named after the seaside town’s most famous resident — and a diverse restaurant scene highlighted by La Marea Ristorante and Mexican mainstay Cuckoo’s Nest.
In Old Saybrook’s residential neighborhoods, values were heading up last year, by 23 percent whether calculated as an average or the median home sold. Garzi says some sellers are electing to cash out at values they believed their homes were worth all along.
The values are still there, Garzi thinks, but many people are not ready to sell because they do not have a clear idea of where they would like to live next. “There are towns surrounding us that have only a handful of houses for sale,” Garzi says.
Population: 10,481 (↑ 2.3% from 2010) • Median household income: $83,132
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $484,000 • No. of Sales: 206 (↑ 7% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 28
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $445,000 • No. of Sales: 42 (↑ 14% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 14
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With 375 single-family transactions last year, Waterford trailed only Norwich and Groton in eastern Connecticut, and unlike the other two cities, registered an increase. It also diverged from the other two with a slight increase in new listings. The price of the median home sold was $307,000, up 12 percent from its equivalent a year earlier. A series of waterfront sales along the Niantic River and Long Island Sound helped push the average price above $350,000.
Buyers are looking at Waterford after being priced out of equivalent properties on the Rhode Island shoreline in Westerly, Charlestown or points east, according to Key Real Estate Services agent Tara Crossley. “There’s a ton of competition on anything under $500,000 in Rhode Island — it’s very difficult for a buyer to get into a house at that price,” she says. “It’s a numbers game — if you are in a situation where you are buying at a price point that has a lot of competition, you’re probably going to be submitting at least five offers before you get anything.”
Waterford’s main draw is waterfront access, Crossley says, with its low tax rate a major contributor to its appeal as well as the quality of its schools. Scenic attractions include Harkness Memorial State Park on Long Island Sound, Mamacoke Island where the town’s border jogs east to the Thames River, and part of the Connecticut College Arboretum that straddles the New London line. And just inland from New London’s Ocean Beach and Waterford Beach, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center has a summer theatrical season as well as workshops for aspiring playwrights and puppeteers.
Population: 19,571 (↑ 0.3% from 2010) • Median household income: $90,893
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $307,000 • No. of Sales: 375 (↑ 4% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 11
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $190,000 • No. of Sales: 63 (↑ 15% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 9
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As much as anything in the 2021 real estate market, Tom Sparkman was struck by how fast homes were selling as they hit the market in Lisbon, where he is first selectman, and other nearby towns like Scotland — in many cases in 10 days or less.
Sparkman says that Lisbon has appeal as an eventual landing spot for people who work in some of eastern Connecticut’s small cities like New London and nearby Norwich, as well as the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos. But through the Lisbon Fall Festival and other events, its place in the nationally recognized Last Green Valley, and its rural, small-town charm, the town creates its own sense of community. There’s also Lisbon’s claim of the first railroad tunnel in the U.S., cut in 1837 and still in use today.
Lisbon’s median home sale came in at just under $250,000 last year, putting the town in a price bracket blue-collar paychecks can support. Sales spiked more than a quarter, and new listings more than a third.
Sparkman says the town’s lower mill rate appeals to people mindful of property taxes. “You’re going to get a pretty decent house on a sizable tract of land,” he says. “If you’re coming from an urban area and you still want to have some shopping, we have Lisbon Landing and Lisbon Crossing which are two pretty big commercial retail centers.”
Population: 4,195 (↓ 3.4% from 2010) • Median household income: $91,125
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $259,000 • No. of Sales: 74 (↑ 25% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 12
CENTRAL & NORTH-CENTRAL CONNECTICUT
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While Farmington led the Hartford area’s highest-price areas in 2021 for gains in home sales, West Hartford generated a far higher number of new listings, setting it up for a potentially bigger year in 2022. Across a diversified mix of neighborhoods, buyers pounced on available listings, bidding 3 percent more than the asking price on average and with the median home sold in just over a week.
“Anything in West Hartford that lists is going to sell in 15 minutes,” says Nancy Newman, a Keller Williams Realty agent who represents multiple sellers in West Hartford. “It’s got such a hot, trendy downtown.”
In addition to easy access to downtown Hartford businesses and others on the Interstate 84 corridor, the town’s appeal includes a vibrant menu of shopping and dining, plus the sprawling Elizabeth Park and The Children’s Museum. West Hartford’s retail districts have thrived throughout the pandemic, according to Mayor Shari Cantor, bolstered by a string of prominent restaurants like Àvert Brasserie, Max’s Oyster Bar, Treva and Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen.
Multifamily apartment developers are taking an interest in adding to the town’s stock, she adds. “We have five commercial districts and we are seeing activity in absolutely all of those districts,” Cantor said last fall during an economic summit sponsored by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.
Population: 64,083 (↑ 1.3% from 2010) • Median household income: $104,281
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $365,000 • No. of Sales: 887 (↓3% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 8
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $238,000 • No. of sales: 194 (↑ 17% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 36
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Sitting squarely in central Connecticut’s middle market with an average sale price of just over $290,000 in 2021, Middletown saw sales jump 11 percent last year despite a slight decline in listings.
Raytheon Technologies runs one of Connecticut’s larger plants in Middletown, a Pratt & Whitney facility that builds and refurbishes jet engines. And with its central location between Hartford and New Haven, Middletown is able to draw residents who commute in both directions.
But the town has plenty of treasures for evenings and weekends, including along a Main Street that the National Trust for Historic Preservation included a decade ago on an inaugural list of five boulevards dubbed “most romantic” nationwide. And the Wadsworth Mansion — whose lovely grounds were recently featured on Antiques Roadshow — has public events throughout the year, including a July concert series and an open-air market and festival in August.
Elsewhere on the recreation front, Middletown has extensive frontage along the Connecticut River and shares Wadsworth Falls State Park with neighboring Middlefield. In nearby Portland, Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park offers ziplines and water diversions. And Wesleyan University hosts an array of talks and cultural events year-round.
“Just a great, walking downtown where you can park your car at one end and restaurant hop, bar hop, walk to a movie theater, to a brewery,” says Newman of Keller Williams Realty. “Middletown’s got a really diverse group of properties — you can get something downtown for just over $100,000 that needs a lot of work, or you can get something all the way up into the millions.”
Population: 47,717 (↑ 0.1% from 2010) • Median household income: $65,572
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $280,000 • No. of Sales: 502 (↑ 11% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 9
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $144,000 • No. of Sales: 216 (↑ 34% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 8
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The median home in Windsor Locks sold in less than a week last year — perhaps emboldening 24 percent more homeowners to list their houses for sale than in 2020, among the five biggest increases statewide. In the Hartford area, only Andover topped the sales gains of Windsor Locks by any significant margin, and Windsor Locks easily outpaced Andover across several other measures such as price appreciation and the number of days to land an accepted offer.
With easy access to Interstate 91 and Hartford, Windsor Locks has thrived as a residential destination despite air traffic at Bradley International Airport. But for those who can live with engine noise in the distance, luxury bargains can be had — a spacious four-bedroom house built in 2004 with an indoor pool and other amenities sold last summer for just over $430,000 — at least $100,000 below many comparable homes in upscale Hartford-area towns.
Amenities include the Windsor Locks Canal State Park Trail, Bobby V’s Restaurant & Sports Bar that hosts a sportsbook, and the New England Air Museum where exhibits include early seaplanes and helicopters designed by Connecticut aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky.
Population: 12,613 (↑ 0.9% from 2010) • Median household income: $70,067
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $235,000 • No. of Sales: 154 (↑ 14% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 6
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $187,000 • No. of Sales: 48 (↑ 12% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 10
NEW HAVEN-BRIDGEPORT REGION
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In New Haven County, the population centers extending west from the city of New Haven stood out for market gains region-wide in 2021. Among towns where median prices were north of $450,000, Orange had the region’s best momentum last year with a 10 percent increase in sales while matching or exceeding price gains of comparable towns.
Buyers zone in first on the Amity Regional School District that Orange shares with Bethany and Woodbridge, according to Pat Cardozo, a Coldwell Banker broker in the firm’s Woodbridge office. “A lot of times people are already in the school system looking to trade up from a rental to a house, or from a smaller house to a larger house,” Cardozo says. “We have lots of people from surrounding towns who want to get into the school system, because it is just that fabulous.”
Marking its bicentennial this year, the town also has appeal for events like the Orange Country Fair to the convenience of its bustling retail strip and easy access to New Haven and Bridgeport. It’s also home to one of Connecticut’s more offbeat attractions in the Pez Visitors Center.
While Orange did not have as many new listings in 2021 as Cheshire, Guilford or Madison among affluent towns in the region, it had the biggest increase of that group, and held its own on other fronts like price appreciation. “Anything we put on the market in Orange or anywhere in the Amity District, you can expect multiple offers and homes selling at or over asking prices,” Cardozo says.
Population: 14,280 (↑ 2.3% from 2010) • Median household income: $121,308
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $470,000 • No. of Sales: 171 (↑ 10% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 31
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $317,000 • No. of Sales: 30 (↑ 25% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 34
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Connecticut’s biggest city debuted the state’s most ballyhooed new attraction last year in the Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater, a downtown concert venue that was previously the home of Bridgeport’s minor league baseball team. The entertainment scene is getting even bigger this year with the Sound on Sound music festival, featuring Stevie Nicks and Dave Matthews, playing at Seaside Park on Sept. 24 and 25.
Bridgeport also amped up as a residential destination in 2021, with single-family home sales up 12 percent to keep pace with Waterbury and with new listings coming on the market at a greater rate. And Bridgeport condo sales shot up 44 percent last year, with average selling prices up 15 percent. What’s more, the sales momentum occurred across a diversity of neighborhoods, in an arc from the East End through the North End and through the hip Black Rock neighborhood bordering Fairfield.
Bridgeport officials continue to pin their hopes on the further development of Steelpointe Harbor, where outfitter Bass Pro Shops has its lone Connecticut location, and which could soon be in line for a luxury apartment building if the development’s owner gets needed approvals in place. “I was glad to see they’re ready to roll,” Scott Burns, co-chair of Bridgeport’s economic development committee, told Hearst Connecticut Media in December. “I think everybody wants Steelpointe to be developed.”
Population: 148,654 (↑ 3.0% from 2010) • Median household income: $46,662
Single-family home sales (2021): Median sales price: $295,000 • No. of Sales: 786 (↑ 12% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 37
Condo sales (2021): Median sales price: $137,000 • No. of Sales: 464 (↑ 45% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 37
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While the New Haven residential market also had gains in 2021, neighboring West Haven stood out with a 20 percent spike in sales that put it among the best performers statewide.
An easy hop to New Haven’s downtown restaurant scene, West Haven has its own eclectic mix of eateries including Zuppardi’s Apizza. And the town has natural draws as well, including Sea Bluff Beach on Long Island Sound and inland settings like Maltby Lakes which crosses into Orange.
Buyers were willing to put in offers above the asking price on average to get into West Haven, with the city’s median price up 18 percent to $267,000. But even within a block or two of the beach heading toward the spring market, homes were listed for not much above that — a bargain price next to most Connecticut shoreline stretches.
“West Haven’s got a lot of multifamily opportunities,” says Newman of Keller Williams. “The beaches are unbelievable, the waterfront is great.”
Population: 55,584 (↔ same as 2010) • Median household income: $62,985
2021 single-family home sales: Median sales price: $267,000 • No. of Sales: 585 (↑ 20% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 23
2021 condo sales: Median sales price: $145,000 • No. of Sales: 112 (↑ 4% from 2020) • Median days on the market: 21