Some came, some stayed: Meet 2nd homeowners who made a tough choice about the lockdown

By Bob Behr
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Brenda and Todd really, really love Vermont. In the winter, they ride with the Andover and Chester snowmobile clubs. When it’s summer, Brenda takes long off-the-beaten-path walks, Todd putters around their Andover property, and they both feast on a weekly CSA share from the nearby Abundance Acres.

A number of second homeowners in Vermont have opted to stay at their first homes during the quarantine, although they miss Vermont.
Photo by Andre Furtado from Pexels

But they’re not enjoying Vermont’s bounty right now. Brenda and Todd are two hours away in Massachusetts. Like many others who call Vermont their home-away-from-home, they’re staying put at their primary residence. The Telegraph is only using the first names of those who granted The Telegraph interviews for this article.

Rich, a New Jersey resident, has been vacationing in Vermont with his family for 30 years – first as a renter and, for the last six years, as an owner. Rich is an active guy: he skis, snowmobiles, plays golf at Tater Hill, canoes at Lowell Lake. And he’s made friends here that he values. When an elderly neighbor died, he made the trip from New Jersey to attend her funeral.

When Covid-19 hit the East Coast, Rich, his wife Linda, and their children considered quarantining in Vermont; they knew they could accomplish their daily work and obligations via phone and internet. But, in the end, they chose to stay in New Jersey to be near extended family.

Rich says he’s “totally respectful” of Vermont’s gradual “turning the spigot”-style of returning to normalcy. But he does want the folks at the newly resurrected Rowell’s Inn to know he can’t wait to show up for some fuel for his active lifestyle.

He and Linda get bits information on Andover from Vermont friends and from Andover’s listserv, but he says that’s not nearly enough: “I can’t wait for life to feel normal again. I can’t wait to breathe Vermont air.”

2nd homeowners make up substantial base

Just how many second homes are there? A call to town offices garnered the following guess-timates. In Londonderry, 35 percent of the homes are owned by people who call another state home; in Chester, it’s about 40 percent; in Andover, it’s nearly 50 percent. And a 2019 study by IPX found that nationwide, Vermont came in 2nd for 2nd homeowners, at 17 percent, behind Maine at 19 percent and ahead of New Hampshire at 12 percent.

These are substantial numbers and, judging from license plates seen on the roads and in driveways, it’s clear that a few of these second-home owners have quarantined here in Vermont.

But a license plate is only part of the picture, because many part-time families are integral to their towns’ community life and culture. Some have been coming to Vermont for several generations, and a number plan on moving here full time.

A handful of Vermonters, a vocal minority, have spoken out on social media, complaining about the presence of out-of-state visitors during the current Covid-19 pandemic. And one went so far as to hack into a state road sign to air their views on out-of-staters.

Their concerns are that residents of other states – some much more “hot” than Vermont – will bring the virus with them and not practice social-distancing, will over-tax Vermont’s health system or will empty the state’s grocery store shelves.

In late March, a state sign along Route 11 in Londonderry was hacked to display one sentiment about second-homeowners. (Photo from Facebook.)

But others, including Gov. Phil Scott, have pointed out that second homeowners are taxpayers as well, often at a higher rate, that they consider Vermont home and contribute to the local economy and enrich communities with their presence.

They are also sympathetic with those who made the decision to quarantine in Vermont, like Chester Select Board chair Arne Jonynas. In early April he noted, second-homeowners “are just trying to do the best they can to weather this storm like everyone else.   … It’s heartwarming and it makes me proud that our town has a good outlook on them.”

In his press conference on Wednesday, May 13, Gov. Scott discussed an early May incident in which a Hartford second-homeowner and his 11-year-old son were flagged down and harassed by two men. The story was reported by Howard Weiss-Tisman on VPR. The men, according to the victim, a Columbia University professor who is African-American and who was driving a car with New York plates, told them, “You don’t belong here. You know, we can’t have people like you here … the governor was very clear we don’t want any of your kind here.”

Scott, who had already reached out and spoken to the man who was harassed, called the incident  “unacceptable” adding, “we can not let this be an us vs. them situation.”

In the same report, Weiss-Tisman detailed a situation with a New Jersey resident with a second home in Weston, who returned to her car from a shopping trip to find a “Locals Only” bumper sticker stuck on her vehicle.

Respect for Vermont’s self-imposed isolation

Not all second-homeowners pop in on Friday, hit the stores, recreate on Saturday and head home on Sunday.  Many who have quarantined in Vermont for months have done so without incident.

In mid-March, after heading up to Vermont for a usual weekend, Deborah and her husband decided to quarantine and work from their home in Weston instead of from their apartment in New York City. Their two sons, both in their 20s, joined them the following week.

Since settling in for this extended stay, neither she nor any of her family members has experienced any hostility from full-timers.  “No,” she says, matter of factly. “It’s hard to see evidence of it.”

A college professor and author, Deborah spends about a third of each year in Weston. She’s been a homeowner since 2006 but has deeper roots here. “I was actually born in Vermont, in Burlington, when my father was in medical school” at UVM.

Over the years, she and her family have forged tight friendships with full-time residents and they regularly take part in community activities in Weston and the surrounding communities. Her youngest son’s participation in a play at the Weston Playhouse when he was a child spurred his interest in acting, which he continues to pursue.

Deborah says Gov. Scott’s Stay-at-Home guidelines “make sense” and help to keep her and her family safe and healthy. Though her recent interactions with others in Weston and nearby towns have been limited, due to the Covid-19 crisis, she has, more than anything else, felt welcomed and she emphasizes again that “no, we’ve not had any negative interactions at all.”

She points out that, like anywhere else in America, the network of people and issues shaping a local economy is more complex than the single fact of full-time vs. part-time residence. “We feel strongly about participating in the local economy, both to support our neighbors and because what they produce is truly excellent,” she says.

“As second-home owners, we are not foreigners,” she adds, “We’re part of the community.”

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  1. Catherine Crawford says:

    My main home is off exit 5 of the New Jersey Turnpike. I vacationed in Vermont for decades before buying a home in Jamaica. It is a home; I never rent it out. After a thirty-year career as a senior health care administrator in Philadelphia I understand, perhaps more than most, the limitations of hospital care in Vermont. I had planned to come up in early April, instead, I have not left my NJ property since March 11th except twice to go through the Walgreen’s drive-thru and to pick up fresh veggies. I am going to come up to my home at the end of June and will stay for several months. Candidly, I am more concerned about catching Covid-19 in Vermont than I am in NJ. If people in Vermont are out driving around taking photos of license plates and not wearing masks…that’s a problem. This pandemic is unprecedented. We all want to stay well and alive.

  2. Imme Maurath says:

    We all need to be respectful to each other and let common sense prevail!