We use optical-pump terahertz-probe spectroscopy to investigate the near-threshold behavior of the photoinduced insulator-to-metal (IM) transition in vanadium dioxide thin films. Upon approaching Tc a reduction in the fluence required to drive the IM transition is observed, consistent with a softening of the insulating state due to an increasing metallic volume fraction (below the percolation limit). This phase coexistence facilitates the growth of a homogeneous metallic conducting phase following superheating via photoexcitation. A simple dynamic model using Bruggeman effective medium theory describes the observed initial condition sensitivity. © 2007 The American Physical Society.