Timothy Johnson


Real Estate: So You Found a Piece of Land

The speculation continues.

Mark Twain supposedly once declared, “Buy land, they aren’t making any more of it.” It’s a lesson or a screed that buyers are apparently taking to heart when pining for a home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Take up-Island, which Abby Rabinovitz, the owner and principal broker of Tea Lane Associates, watches like an Eagle Scout. The low point for land sales, she says, was 2009, when there were just six transactions for buildable lots spread across Chilmark, West Tisbury, and Aquinnah. From 2010 through 2013, up-Island land sales climbed into the teens, and by 2014 annual sales began breaking into the low to mid-twenties. In 2018, there were twenty-three land sales up-Island.

Island-wide, the number of land sales for 2018 was eighty-six, with an average selling price of $783,105 and a median price of $465,500. Of those sales, twelve topped $1 million and one was over $10 million. The figure underestimates the number of buyers who plan on new construction, however, as properties where buyers close with the intention of razing an older structure or cottage and replacing it with an often much larger home don’t show up as land sales.

“In terms of prices, here I kind of go with my gut,” says Rabinovitz. “Average sales price really doesn’t mean that much if you have a $10 or $12 million property in the mix.

“I would say prices are stronger, but it really depends on the niche. If you have a really spectacular piece of land with amazing views or waterfront access, it will command a premium. I think a beautiful non-water view parcel is selling stronger, but I’m not saying it’s going gangbusters.”

Stacy Ickes, senior broker associate at Point B Realty in Edgartown, echoes that buyers are beginning to realize that there’s only so much land on the Island and are coming to appreciate its value. However, she adds, “Most people are looking for new construction where they can walk in with their toothbrush and be done with it.”

So, what’s still open to potential development? According to a recent Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) report, 32 percent, or 17,809 acres, of the Vineyard’s land mass is already developed. The Vineyard Conservation Society puts
the percentage of “conserved” land in the mid-thirties, which includes not only true conservation land but areas that are currently deemed unbuildable due to regulations, wetlands, or the like.

That leaves about 6,600 acres, or 12 percent of the Island, that are essentially already zoned for more construction. Another 9,195 acres, or 16 percent of the Island, is deemed “potentially available” in the MVC report “Martha’s Vineyard Statistical Profile, 2019.”

So far in 2019, the pace of land sales appears to be slowing a bit. In the first quarter there were only seventeen land sales, and, according to Janet Leigh Scott of The Vineyard Life Brokered by eXp Realty, most buyers seem to be looking for smaller parcels in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven.

“I had a client who wanted a piece of land in Chilmark and then found out how long it would take to build the house and she said, ‘Forget it,’” Scott says. “Builders were telling her they wouldn’t even talk to her for six months, so she turned around and bought a house.

“Building is going crazy right now,” she added. “If you haven’t locked someone up and you’re on a waiting list and told you can’t build for two years when you were counting on rental income, you may not want to take that on.”