Vineyard Brokers Report Sales Up Across the Market

By ALEXIS TONTI

With the turn of the season from summer to fall there are signs that the Vineyard real estate market has turned also, picking up the pace as it rounds the corner after a slow stretch.

"Sales are absolutely up," declared Judith Federowicz, the owner of Landmarks Real Estate in Vineyard Haven.

"The market has been very good since Memorial Day weekend, and it is still going strong at this moment. And the biggest sale time, traditionally, starts now - from the beginning of the fall to the new year," said Julie Flanders of Flanders Up-Island Real Estate in Chilmark.

"It's been an extremely active market this year. There have been a good number and a good variety of buyers. I would say we are most definitely a seller's market," said Sharon Purdy, the owner of Sandpiper Realty in Edgartown.

Over the past three years, the events of Sept. 11, the weakened stock market and the overall downturn in the economy put a damper on Vineyard real estate sales. Properties on the market for less than $1 million found buyers, but anything pricier was slow to go.

In recent months, however, many Island real estate brokers say they have seen a surge in the sale of properties for $3 million to $5 million. And while the high-end market is still sluggish, they say business now is clearly stronger than it has been in awhile.

Ms. Flanders estimated that her agency will finish the year about 10 per cent higher than last year in total sales.

"Some of it stems from historically low interest rates. Even I say, ‘Where can I buy next?' You can't help it, it's like a shopping frenzy," Ms. Flanders said.

"It also shows that even in these times the Vineyard retains its appeal. Families feel safe and secure here," she said.

Ms. Purdy said Sandpiper Realty is up about 15 per cent in total sales over this time last year.

She said properties that are on the market for less than $1.5 million are still the quickest sells. She also said she has been surprised this year to see properties moving in the $3 million to $4 million price range.

Ms. Federowicz, who reviews reports about the Vineyard real estate market daily, said there has been a sharp rise in property sales in the $3 million to $5 million range this year.

"All indications are that the upper-mid market is definitely active, very healthy numbers," she said, adding that Landmarks is about 30 per cent ahead of last year in total sales.

Ms. Federowicz said that since January of this year 89 properties have sold for more than $1 million. She also said that there are currently 30 properties under agreement to be sold for more than $1 million.

"That really says something," she said.

Ms. Federowicz said she thinks the change means that the economy is regaining some of its strength.

"A year ago we were still suffering the after effects of Sept. 11 and NASDAQ. But now everybody is feeling more confident," she said.

"In general, the public is more accepting of the fact that we live in a different time and that terrorism is part of our lives - and they realize we do have to go on living our lives. They have a more realistic view," Ms. Federowicz said.

Ms. Purdy agreed.

"Quite simply, it's the economy and the war, and that's what impacts us as well. In other words, your client optimism is what fuels the market, as well as how other markets are performing, like the stock market," Ms. Purdy said.

She added: "But I can honestly say that values on the Vineyard have held very well. And in most instances, particularly in that lower price range again, we have seen some good appreciation."

By all accounts the most expensive properties still constitute the weakest part of the market.

"There's been interest, but no one has really stepped up to the plate to buy," Ms. Federowicz said.

"The demand for high-end properties still has not fully returned to what it was before the stock market change, and only time will tell whether it will," Ms. Purdy said.

Numbers from the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank support the trend.

The lank bank collects a two per cent transfer fee on most Island real estate transactions. The money is used to purchase public conservation land.

The land bank reports more than $2.46 million in total revenue so far this fiscal year, a 38 per cent increase over the same period last year, when revenue stood at about $1.54 million. The new fiscal year started July 1.

Sharp increases in land bank revenue sometimes are attributed to the sale of a few high-priced properties. But land bank executive director James Lengyel, who closely monitors property sales across the Vineyard, said this year's jump reflects a broad increase in sales at all price ranges.

"It is commonplace in the land bank chronology for large sales to pop up, but we really haven't noticed any cluster of those sales recently. It would appear that there are generally more [sales] across the board," Mr. Lengyel said.