Realtor Workshops on Water Quality Attract Record Enrollments During COVID-19
Water quality is closely linked with economic indicators in the Lake Champlain basin, including property values. A 2015 study of the economic value of clean water in Lake Champlain reported that “both single family residential and seasonal home purchasers associated higher water quality with increased selling price.” Real estate professionals can play an important role in helping to protect water quality and property values.
For a home buyer or seller, real estate professionals are often the first, and sometimes, the only source of information about water and land use regulations. Realtors can help ensure that homebuyers and sellers make informed decisions that conform with these regulations and protect their properties.
The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an increase in the number of out-of-state residents purchasing homes in Vermont. According to an April 2021 Boston Globe article, survey results from a 2020 University of Vermont/Vermont Futures project found that almost three-quarters of respondents came to the state primarily because of COVID-19 and Vermont’s positive handling of the pandemic.
Jessica Bridge, principal broker and owner of Element Real Estate in Burlington, noted that, “Vermont and its waterways are viewed by many buyers as synonymous with a ‘natural’ way of life. The role of the real estate professional as educator becomes especially important for out-of-state buyers who may be unaware of regulations that protect the very qualities these new homeowners seek. The responsible preservation and utilization of our natural resources starts with education.”
Lake Champlain Sea Grant has offered accredited education workshops to Vermont real estate professionals since 2015. Workshops cover topics related to septic systems, wetlands, shoreland erosion control, rivers and floodplains, tax-incentive programs for forest and agricultural land preservation and management, and online mapping resources.
After taking a workshop on wetlands, a real estate professional said, “I will use the [information] to help buyers/sellers identify the likelihood of wetlands, what that might mean for their plans, and to some extent, help them sense the importance of stewardship of the wetlands, as opposed to considering them only reduced land value area.”
Realtor education workshops create an important communication channel between the real estate community and state regulatory bodies. Workshop instructors include staff from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and myself (Linda Patterson) and Kristine Stepenuck from Lake Champlain Sea Grant.
One DEC staff member noted, “Realtors are a critical target for outreach and education because they are…gatekeepers to so much land use change and ownership turnover.”
Record enrollment, positive response
The COVID-19 pandemic required adaptation of the workshops for remote presentation. This challenge had a silver lining—with the ease of attending from home, a record number of realtors enrolled in the workshops.
From March 2020 to March 2021, 284 realtors in the Lake Champlain basin earned continuing education credits in septic system design and permitting, wetlands identification and regulations, river corridor and floodplain protection, and the Vermont Current Use program.
One workshop participant said, “I am better able to explain to sellers and buyers the importance of a septic system that is running properly and how it will give confidence to the buyer if all is good.”
Another commented, “My takeaway from the workshop: How to do the best things for waterway health.”
“Realtors can be the ‘source of the source’ of information about land and water stewardship,” said Jessica Bridge. “We must be familiar with the regulations so that we may point our clients to specific resources. This type of continuing education allows for a basic understanding of what the regulations are and why they are in place; it helps us to provide context to our clients and customers. Staying current enables realtors to play an essential role in protecting properties and nearby waterways. It has been especially helpful to me to be able to meet and dialogue with the experts that are teaching each session.”
Response to the realtor workshops has been overwhelmingly positive from both the participant and the instructor perspective. One DEC instructor wrote: “Our [wetlands] ecologists are receiving a lot of calls and requests from realtors, so it seems like this workshop has been effective from our standpoint. Thank you!”
Many participating realtors state that they learn material extremely relevant to their jobs. Others focus on new connections with state staff, greater appreciation of the ecological value of the regulations, and better understanding of on-line resources such as maps and forms.
With the success of the workshops in Vermont, Lake Champlain Sea Grant expanded its realtor education outreach to New York real estate professionals in the winter of 2020. Extending into New York helped to establish new partnerships with realtor boards in the southern and northern Adirondack regions. While the Vermont side of the Lake Champlain basin spans 4,611 square miles, the New York portion of the basin covers 3,046 square miles, with significant real estate value in both the residential and second home market.
The first New York workshop offering, “Septic Systems for Property Owners,” covered state regulations regarding septic system design, maintenance, permitting, and issues that can arise when buying or selling a home. Lake Champlain Sea Grant is developing an additional workshop in New York on the National Flood Insurance Program, identification of properties within floodplains and river corridors, and flood mitigation strategies for homeowners. In Vermont, based on participant evaluations, instructors are considering adding workshops on green stormwater infrastructure/low impact development and on Act 250.
If you are a real estate professional in the Lake Champlain basin interested in these workshops, you can learn more on the Lake Champlain Sea Grant website. Lake Champlain Sea Grant Educator Linda Patterson coordinates the workshops. You can contact Linda at linda.patterson [at] uvm.edu.