When Cady Goudreau and her fiancé started their search for a first home three years ago, they initially focused on Burlington. But even at the top end of their price range, all they could find were ranch-style homes that needed thousands of dollars in renovations.
"So we just said, 'Burlington is not an option,' and we decided to look a little further out," she recalled.
The young couple — she's an IT manager, he's an educator — went north. In Milton, they found a gleaming 2,000-square-foot condo with hardwood floors, updated kitchen and finished basement — all for about $215,000.
"There was no way we would have gotten that anywhere else, unless we went even further out to, like, Fairfax," Goudreau said. "You get a lot of bang for your buck and square footage compared to other places. That's the nice factor of Milton."
The not-so-nice factor: the town's unwarranted reputation as a redneck town.
"There's a lot of jokes," said Milton native Sherwin Westover, a manager at Burlington's Kiss the Cook, who is in the process of moving back to his hometown. The 39-year-old gay man reeled off some classics: The one about Milton being that place where you buy a used car on the way to St. Albans, or — worse — where guys date their sisters.
"When I say I'm from Milton, there's always this pause," Westover said. "I think it still has a reputation."
Meanwhile, good deals on starter homes are challenging the bad rap, which includes less-than-stellar schools. Talk to anyone who lives in Milton, and the town's relatively affordable real estate inevitably comes up in conversation.
Milton offers more bedrooms and yard space for the money than many communities closer to Burlington. For young families, the extra acreage matters — whether it's a large parcel in one of Milton's many new suburban-style subdivisions, or a more rural-feeling lot close the town's forests and farm fields.
Property values here are among the fastest rising in Chittenden County, according to the Coldwell Banker Hickok & Boardman Realty Mid-Year 2016 Market Report. The median sale price for a home in Milton is $253,250 — a 7.3 percent bump over 2015.
Goudreau and her fiancé topped that. After a few years in their starter condo, they're moving. The couple got multiple offers before accepting one for $248,000 — $30,000 more than they paid.
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Brad Fallon and Sherwin Westover
Diana Corkrum isn't going anywhere. The full-time mom lives with her husband, Kevin, and their three young children, ages 1 to 5, on a sloping lot in North Milton. They bought their house five years ago, partly because Milton was close to extended family in St. Albans and an easy commute to Kevin Corkrum's healthcare software sales job in Burlington.
"We call it, my husband and I, the best of both worlds," Corkrum said. "We can be in Burlington in 20 minutes and we can have our peace and quiet up here on the hill, with hiking trails right out our backyard. It's really just what we were looking for in a location to raise our family."
The town's many amenities and activities for families are a plus, too, Corkrum said. Her children love the annual autumn pumpkin carving and bonfire at Bombardier Park, as well as the events at Milton Public Library. "It's really, I'd say, improved just since we've moved here," Corkrum said.
The library is open until 8 p.m. four nights a week so working people can partake of its offerings, and there is no fine for late book returns — two ways the institution is trying to create a welcoming atmosphere, said Meghan Bellavance, the library director.
She tries to bring young parents through the door while their kids are still very young — with a baby book program, a bookmobile service that visits daycares and homeschool families, and summer reading events for children. Bellavance has offered Hunger Games-themed archery lessons outside the library, and partnered with local artists and dance instructors on movement and painting classes for kids.
The town parks department also puts out the welcome mat to youngsters with a full roster of youth sports leagues and installations such as a "story walk," which features mounted children's book pages along town trails at Bombardier Park and Eagle Mountain.
"That's really helped get families outside," said Kym Duchesneau, the town recreation coordinator. Milton has plenty of trails, parks and lakeshore.
The town's toughest sell is its schools.
"I think any place that's a little bit under-gentrified, people tend to make it out to be worse than it is, the school system in general, just because it's an easy target," Goudreau said. "But they are getting better." Her fiancé was a teacher at Milton Middle School and recently started a job as principal of Folsom Elementary in South Hero.
School data presents a mixed picture — Milton's graduation rate is higher than the state average, and the high school offers Advanced Placement courses, which can add luster to transcripts if students do well.
But Milton High School students who took AP courses in 2015 had slightly lower pass rates than the state average; SAT scores were similarly below the mean statewide.
Corkrum was concerned about Milton's schools and their reputation — but instead has been pleasantly surprised. Her oldest child last year attended preschool at Milton Elementary and the teachers, the curriculum and the emphasis on learning through play impressed her. Her son can't wait to start kindergarten at the school later this month, she said. "He just learned a lot and grew tremendously, just socially and academically."
Parents of high school students sound a similar note. Noting that some of the unfair stereotyping about the town spills over onto the schools, Victoria Georgakis said that many students, including her son, do well and go on to college. He graduated from Milton High School, then Merrimack College and now works as an IT manager. Her daughter, heading into her senior year at Milton High, is also getting a good education, Georgakis said.
"It's a nice community, it's a safe community," she added. "My kids were happy growing up here."
Those are among the reasons that Westover and his partner are moving from Essex to Milton. "I think people in the town are really good at taking care of one another," Westover said of the neighborly goodwill he recalls from his childhood.
The place isn't perfect, of course. Although there are plenty of other gay residents in Milton, Westover said he still hears inappropriate remarks from time to time in town, even from people he knows. Rather than get upset, he tries to educate people he hears using slurs: "You can't say that ... You have kids and you can't raise them ... to be 'Take Back Vermont.'"
But for Westover, roots trump rudeness. The couple has big plans to restore his family home on Arrowhead Mountain Lake, where his mother still lives — and her parents did, too. Westover said he's proud of his hometown. He holds out hope that "moving back there, I'm going to be part of something good."
The original print version of this article was headlined "Home, Sweet Milton"