Real Estate Market Weathers Hard Times

By JONATHAN BURKE

These uncertain days are proof that for the most part the Vineyard real estate market thrives both in good times and bad.

"People see this as a safe place to be and a safe place to put your money," said Alan Schweikert of Ocean Park Realty.

Sharon Purdy of Sandpiper Realty said, "People want a safe haven and Martha's Vineyard is a safe haven. If you live in a place like a city and can retreat to a place like the Island, that is a really special thing to be able to give to your family."

A weak stock market may have hurt the sales of some high-end properties. But overall, according to Ms. Purdy, poor performances by the blue chips have only helped land sales.

"People have turned to real estate. You see very little inventory on the market because sellers have no place to put their money after the sale. We have more people calling for investment property than we did last year," she said.

The most powerful sector in recent months has been the $300,000 to $400,000 range.

"We've experienced quite a bit of sales activity, especially in the lower ranges, anything under $400,000. Just about all of the inventory has been wiped out. I think the activity decreases as you go further up the ladder. Over a million, it's a lot slower," said Mr. Schweikert.

Mr. Schweikert said lower interest rates have combined with less exuberant sellers to keep transactions flowing.

"It's not so much a softening. Properties are still coming on the market at fairly aggressive prices. What I've seen are sellers willing to make a deal, not just holding out for the full asking price. As a result things are happening," said Mr. Schweikert.

In spite of slightly more favorable conditions for buyers, the climate has not changed much for Islanders seeking to buy a home. Better conditions means less inventory, and the willingness of sellers to be reasonable has not translated into less competition.

"I think the only light is going to be with some really good affordable housing projects," said Mr. Schweikert.

Judy Federowicz of Landmarks said her company has done well in the low and middle ranges of the market.

"We have worked very hard at creating our sales inventory. We've been fortunate that we've had a healthy number of listings that we are selling. I would say the greatest focus is on $350,000 to $800,000," she said.

"It's becoming a buyers' market. It's not there yet, but it's definitely getting there. I'd say that the playing field has leveled out. The frenzy has gone away. There is more opportunity to negotiate then there was in the past," she said.

The prospect of war and the economy have taken more of a toll on the higher ends of the market, $1 million and up.

Debbie Hancock of Hancock Realty said, "It's pretty quiet." Her turf is mostly in Chilmark.

"There are some buyers out there, but they're waiting to see what's going to happen with the impending war and the economy," she said. In the deals which are going through, the buyers are paying asking price, no more, she said.

"The market is flat. But I would not say that there has been any drop in prices. Certainly not up here," she said.

David Thompson from Landvest, another dealer in high end properties, said the real estate market has been hesitant recently.

"It's a little early to tell. It's been quiet over the winter for the obvious reasons. Iraq, the economy, the weather. There is some activity in the high end now. We've got a few deals that are coming together," he said.

The mood in the rental market is similar. High end rentals, which run $25,000 per week and up, are a bit off. But there is solid demand in the rest of the market.

"A lot of rentals in the range of $25,000 per week still are not rented. People are not fighting for those any more," said Ms. Hancock.

Owners accustomed to obtaining those rents for their four and five-bedroom homes on Chilmark's south shore are having to readjust their expectations.

"There certainly are some houses where people had been getting very high prices for them. Now they are sitting open or people are lowering their rates," said Ms. Hancock.

Mr. Schweikert, who deals mostly in rentals around $2,000 per week, said, "We're doing pretty well on rentals. It started off a little slow, but it really built up. In the last month or two we've been experiencing at least as much activity as we had last year. We have a lot of returning people, and that's what has been really good."

Said Ms. Federowicz, "This year, particularly, we're seeing a lot of [rental] traffic from our web site. I think we are ahead of last year. However, I also think that is a direct result of our presence on the web."

Again, as with sales, owners seem willing to offer more concessions. Some owners, according to Ms. Federowicz, are beginning to lower prices. Others, she said, may agree to one-week rentals instead of their normal two-week agreements.

In general, Island land brokers are not worried.

"One thing about the Vineyard. It always comes back," said Ms. Hancock.