It’ll Boom as Long as the Boom Has Room

The early reports are in and it appears that housing prices on the Island aren’t going down, which is probably a surprise to exactly no one. Put another way, the home sale market on Martha’s Vineyard is on track to match 2017 numbers, with summer showings, rentals, and sales all characterized as “super busy” by realtors who entered the prime season cautiously after a stormy spring kept seasonal buyers away.

But pick up it did. Alyssa Dubin, a lead broker at Wallace & Co./Sotheby’s International Realty, points to sixteen properties under contract just in the second week of September. “That’s a big number for the beginning of September,” she noted.

Eleanor Wilson of LINK, the multiple listing service for the Vineyard, noted there were sixty-four properties with an offer pending or a purchase and sales agreement in hand in August. Of those listings, the median price was $739,000; the average price was just over $1.4 million. “What’s interesting to me,” she said, “is we haven’t seen any kind of downturn.”

So how do the summer numbers look? Ninety-four houses were sold this past June, July, and August, compared with eighty-eight during the summer of 2017. As of the end of August, the average sale price of a single-family home was $1,436,759, which is down slightly from the year before, but the aggregate numbers of the first eight months of 2018 suggest annual sales will equal or surpass 2017.

The main challenge remains inventory, particularly in certain towns and neighborhoods. Katama, for example, has become a sought-after summer destination, but listings there have been slim this season. Chilmark, too. “I don’t see a lot of available inventory in Chilmark,” said Russell Maloney, whose Chilmark real estate office bears his name. “I have more people interested in buying and not finding what they want.”

“The Cape and Islands region share the same problem,” said Cassidy Murphy of The Warren Group, which tracks real estate sales and trends statewide. “There’s not enough housing stock at any of the price points and building is very expensive.”

Still, Murphy sees a real estate marketplace that shows no signs of dipping. “I suspect the spring market will bring record-breaking prices and low inventory. At some point, it has to come down and homes will start to linger, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.”

Playing a supporting role to a strong seasonal housing market, according to Greg Kiley of the Massachusetts Realtors Association, is the expansion of airline and ferry routes to the region. He also credits extended restaurant and shop seasons with contributing to the lure of having a second home in the region.

According to Dubin, Vineyard Haven is one place where there has been more inventory and activity this season. And beach lots were a hit, she said, noting that a half dozen of those sought-after up-Island beach keys sold this summer. We’re talking $250–$300,000 for a key to unlock a gate to skip the line at Lucy Vincent Beach.

But everything between beach keys and housing under $1 million is a shrinking market. Realtors say you can find it, but you’ll also find the term “fixer-upper” doesn’t fully describe what’s required to make it a livable, comfortable home. At press time, there were ten houses on the market under $500,000, most of them not winterized and some not even habitable. There were six houses in the $500,000 to $600,000 range and just seventeen properties between $600,000 and $1,000,000.

“It’s just a smaller and smaller margin of the housing stock,” noted LINK’s Wilson. “It just seems to be getting impossible to break in at the entry level.”

As to what’s ahead? “Anybody who tells you they know what’s going to happen is lying,” said Maloney. “No one knows. You hope for the best. I’m having my best year ever after having my worst year ever last year and I have no idea why.”