Luxury homes such as this one in Redding are becoming more popular throughout New England. Connecticut is among the nation’s leaders in million-dollar home sales.

New England continues to get more expensive, as the percentage of million-dollar homes sold increased in states like Connecticut and Massachusetts in 2003.

Connecticut had the second-highest percentage of home sales over $1 million that year, with 3.27 percent of all homes sold landing in that category, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2003 American Community Survey. The state trailed only California, where 4.09 percent, or 29,270, of sales in 2003 were over $1 million.

Connecticut’s percentage of million-dollar homes sold has risen over the years, according to the survey. In 2000, 1.53 percent, or 12,926, of the homes sold were over $1 million.

The highest concentration of million-dollar homes is in Fairfield County. Greenwich had the highest number of sales over $1 million during the last few years. From 2002 to 2004, 1,412 homes were sold in that town for more than $1 million, according to statistics from The Warren Group, parent company of The Commercial Record. Westport and Darien also saw plenty of activity, with 612 and 547 million-dollar-plus homes sold from 2002 to 2004.

The highest price paid for a home in that time period was $16.9 million, for a home in Greenwich.

Massachusetts also has seen significant growth in the million-dollar market, with the fourth-highest percentage of home sales over $1 million, according to U.S. Census figures. The Bay State came in at 2.17 percent, or 34,042 transactions, just behind the District of Columbia at 3.25 percent, or 3,370 $1 million-plus homes sold. Statewide, the percentage of million-dollar properties has risen significantly since 2000 when only 0.84 percent, or 12,492, of transactions exceeded the $1 million mark.

Middlesex County contained the most million-dollar deals in Massachusetts between 2002 and 2004, with 1,799 single-family home transactions totaling more than $2.8 billion in sales, according to Warren Group statistics.

One home in Burlington, Mass., fetched a price of $26.3 million, the highest price paid for a home in Massachusetts between 2002 and 2004.

Rhode Island, the third and last New England state in the top 10, ranked ninth for percentage of homes that sold for over $1 million. The state saw 1.05 percent, or 2.73, of homes sold go for more than $1 million.

A Good Investment

In Connecticut, the high price of land has led to some of those prices, according to Barry Rosa, the New Homes and Land Division director and vice president at Prudential Connecticut Realty.

In places like Fairfield County, building sites are routinely sold for more than $1 million. Waterfront sites there can be closer to $2 million, Rosa said.

“That, in itself, means a home that is going to be in the multimillion-dollar category,” he said.

Many new homes are not particularly large, but buyers are paying more attention to design and details. They want more high-tech appliances in the kitchen and more attention paid to design elements such as the roofline.

“The feature mix is getting much more involved, much more detailed,” Rosa said.

But new homes are not making up most of the market in Fairfield County.

“That’s part of what’s driving the numbers, but it’s also resale,” Rosa said.

The $1 million-plus resale market is healthy in Fairfield County, but also in Hartford County, in the towns of Avon and Simsbury. Most of Hartford County’s sales over $1 million were new homes, Rosa said.

In Massachusetts, land values are also high, although some believe that property prices may be a byproduct of increased consumer interest in million-dollar homes, as opposed to a driving force behind them.

“Folks at the top end of the economic system, the upper 1 percent, are perceiving real estate as a good place to put their resources and prices are being driven by the demand for those properties, not necessarily by land values. Land values are following that demand,” said Joseph Carini, president of Wheeler & Taylor Realty, which has locations in the Bay State towns of Great Barrington and Stockbridge.

Carole Brousseau, manager of the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage office in Belmont, Mass., agrees.

“When people buy a home at this price, I think amenities and condition are important for people who are buying up,” Brousseau said.

Realtors who sell luxury homes have noticed the uptick in sales.

“I think the market has been extremely good over the last couple of years,” said Jim Michelove of Seaboard Properties in Stonington.

Along the Connecticut shoreline, secondary homes make up much of the luxury home market.

“Anytime there’s waterfront in Stonington, it’s going to cost well over $1 million,” Michelove said.

Many buyers in the area are willing to pay for a fantastic site with a view, even if the house needs a bit of work, he said.

The season for luxury home sales is usually from May 1 until the end of October. Michelove and his colleagues are hoping for another good year, but it is too early to tell, he said.

“It’s early to have a true gauge,” he noted.

For many towns close to Boston, particularly those in Middlesex County, million-dollar sales have recently become more the rule than the exception, according to Mikki Lipsey with Barrett & Company Real Estate’s Lincoln, Mass., office.

“There is almost nothing under $1 million on the market. You definitely see that happening in [Massachusetts], particularly in the western suburbs of Boston. The places I used to send people who couldn’t afford to live in Lincoln just aren’t there any more. I don’t know where all the money comes from,” said Lipsey.

At press time, the company’s Lincoln office had 37 listings, only eight of which were priced below the $1 million mark, the lowest coming in at $577,000. Its highest listing was priced at $7.9 million.

Although prices are high, that doesn’t mean that activity is low.

“There have been a lot of million-dollar properties and we’ve been putting them under agreement relatively quickly if they’re priced properly,” said Brousseau. “There are more $1 million homes on the market right now than there have been in the past. And the good news is that they’re actually going under agreement.”

The Massachusetts shoreline also has attracted a great deal of buyers willing to pay million-plus prices, with Norfolk and Barnstable counties having seen significant sales in recent years. Between 2002 and 2004, 1,088 $1 million-plus properties were sold in Norfolk County, home to Boston’s South Shore, and 657 were sold in Barnstable County, which includes Cape Cod.

“A lot of the expensive homes are near the water – places like [Martha’s] Vineyard, Nantucket and parts of Boston, too,” said Carini, who noted that most people are not purchasing those properties as their primary residence. “The second-home market is especially strong in the over-million-dollar range. Folks at the top end of the economic system in our society are multiple-home owners. [Luxury] real estate is a good place to put their money.”