Does census data reveal out-of-state movement of residents?
The 2020 census results revealed the profound impact of Vermont’s changing population, with Chittenden County gaining more people than any other part of the state.
With closer examination, another trend emerges: ski communities and areas popular with tourists and seasonal homeowners have experienced mini-booms in population, with some reporting increases 10 times greater than the US average. State.
Communities that gained the most people as a percentage of their population included Killington, Stratton, Dover, Winhall and Marlboro. All but Marlboro had a ski destination within the city borders or a few minutes beyond.
But, in an unprecedented year for census data collection, it’s hard to tell how much of that boom was due to real and sustained population growth and how much was due to a whim of the calendar.
Most Vermonters filled out their census forms in April 2020, the middle of mud season. Census agents knocked on doors throughout the summer of 2020 to reach homes where people had not responded.
To show how the pandemic has affected population trends, VTDigger compared actual 2020 census counts with population estimates compiled before the pandemic based on births, deaths and migrations.
In Killington, the census estimated the population to be 751. Instead, it was 1,407, almost double the expected number.
Again, many of the communities that had higher-than-expected population totals were ski destinations or areas well-known to seasonal homeowners, vacationers and tourists, particularly in southern Vermont.
Mike Moser, head of the Vermont State Data Center at the University of Vermont, said it’s likely seasonal residents who aren’t normally here were “hiding” in Vermont and marking it as their usual home.
“Where are these people now is the big question everyone is asking,” he said by email. “How many people have gone home? How many people will stay here? How many more will continue to come here?
There are other data pointing to more permanent changes during the pandemic. Home sales to out-of-state buyers increased in 2020, and some ski resorts, including Stowe, Dover and Ludlow, reported an increase in these types of sales in 2020.
But KC Chambers, a real estate agent with Red Barn Realty in Stowe, said the pandemic had only exacerbated the trends of low vacancy rates and rising demand he had seen in the years before the pandemic. “The pandemic has only thrown gasoline on the fire,” he said.
Chambers agreed the higher-than-expected numbers could be tied to second-home owners who would normally be here on weekends or visiting during ski season, choosing to live in Vermont full-time.
“They just didn’t leave during those early months of the pandemic, and some never left,” he said.
There’s also a tendency for foreigners moving to Vermont to seek out tourist areas, he said.
“[They’re] used to a number of services and restaurants and that sort of thing,” he said. “That’s why having a place in Stowe, versus another non-touristy area that doesn’t have those services, attracts them.”
It is also a “cover” to move here permanently. If they can’t work remotely after the pandemic, they can keep their home as a seasonal property or rent it out, he said.
One of the downsides of having an influx of new migrants, or having people who no longer rent their seasonal homes, is the difficulty for full-time residents to find apartments.
“Finding a year-round rental is impossible,” Chambers said. “I have clients who try to do that, and I basically give them some advice and tell them I’m going to watch them.”
But that was true even before the pandemic. “Airbnb came along and made it so easy for people to rent their homes” on a short-term basis, he said, although a handful of landlords have actually switched from Airbnb to renting due to concerns about Covid-19.
When asked if he believed these new Vermonters were here to stay, Chambers replied, “My crystal ball is as murky as everyone else’s.”
Moser said it’s likely we won’t get a full picture of the pandemic’s impacts on the population for years to come, particularly because other census data products are likely to be affected by more pandemic oddities.
One thing is clear. Between April 2020 and today, the real estate market has only intensified.
“It’s crazy to say but, I mean, prices were going up in real estate where people who bought homes in Stowe last summer could make money off them this summer,” Chambers said. “The market is really accelerated.”
Want to stay up to date with the latest business news? Sign up here to receive a weekly email on all of VTDigger’s reports on local businesses and economic trends. And check out our new Businesses section here.