When longtime Bethel Realtor Jim DiLillo says his firm has been “on fire” lately, it’s no great feat to take him literally as well as figuratively.
That’s because DiLillo Real Estate was one of the casualties of a July 2017 blaze that tore through a 177-year-old building at nearby 178 Greenwood Ave., leaving eight families homeless and the future of a number of businesses uncertain. Antiques shop The Traveling Wilder at 180 Greenwood ended up closing while The Giggling Pig children’s art studio – one of the spaces gutted by the fire at 178 Greenwood – was able to reopen at nearby 4 Library Place.
DiLillo, which was established in Bethel 17 years ago but had only moved to its current space at 162 Greenwood in March 2017, mostly avoided obvious signs of harm.
“We had to clean up some soot and there was some minimal smoke damage,” Jim DiLillo said.
The fact that the firm had to do without heat through the 2017-18 winter did not bode well.
“We were all using portable electric heaters,” he said, “and there were some days when we just couldn’t come in. We were freezing our butts off.”
Being closed for a number of days “really hurt,” DiLillo said, indicating that the company’s future was far from assured.
With the eventual end of winter and the return of gas to the building, DiLillo said he and his four agents were finally able to move forward — fortunate timing, he said, as Bethel is “one of the hottest markets in the county right now.”
The inadvertent humor of that remark is transcended by the truth it contains. Online real estate database Zillow likewise describes the town of about 20,000 residents as “very hot,” noting that at the end of 2018 the median home value was $312,500, up 1.9 percent over 2017, and that it was predicting a further 5.5 percent increase this year.
“We’re seeing an influx of people from Westchester,” DiLillo said, adding that some of that movement is coming from those looking to take advantage of Fairfield County’s lower tax rate. Also, Bethel’s median home value, while rising, is still significantly below those in nearby Newtown ($367,600) and Brookfield ($340,300).
Median home values may be less in the area’s largest city, Danbury ($282,100), but Bethel “still has that small town, neighborhood feel to it,” DiLillo said. “We have a real downtown, which not all towns around here do, and people are increasingly deciding that they can afford to live here.”
Not that DiLillo Real Estate is limited to Bethel. In addition to the aforementioned towns, the company is also doing what DiLillo described as significant business in south Norwalk and in New York state, where it is now licensed for residential and commercial transactions. DiLillo said he expected to add a couple of Realtors focused on New York and would likely open an office there this year. The firm will also soon add three more agents to its Bethel staff.
DiLillo said the firm totaled $6 million to $7 million in home sales in 2017 but racked up about $16 million last year. “If New York kicks in like we think it will, that should be good for another $5 million to $10 million this year,” he declared.
For all the bullishness and growth, DiLillo said he will remain a “small-town” Realtor.
“I’m not going to be William Raveis,” he said of the Shelton-based behemoth that has some 4,500 agents in 134 offices. “I’ll be happy with 10 agents that I can manage myself.”