Lessons from a New England paradise. What I wish I knew before I moved to the Cape & Islands

Ask the Expert Buying Cape Cod
Buildings along Nantucket Harbor are cast in the reddish glow of sunset. Cedar shake is the preferred building material on the Cape and Islands because it can better withstand the salty air and coastal winds.
Buildings along Nantucket Harbor are cast in the reddish glow of sunset. Cedar shake is the preferred building material on the Cape and Islands because it can better withstand the salty air and coastal winds. ADOBE

In the third season intro reel of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,’’ restaurateur and you-know-what-stirring diva Lisa Vanderpump purred at the camera, “Life isn’t all diamonds and rosé, but it should be.’’

There may be plenty of diamonds and rosé in America’s premier vacation destinations like Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, but actually owning a home in these hotspots can sometimes seem like a far cry from luxury.

The sea air lobs years off the normal life expectancy of building materials and metal cars. Need a quick home repair? They’ll try to squeeze you in next month. Amazon Prime can sometimes feel like just Amazon: “We’ll get there when we get there,’’ according to several delivery complaints made on social media over the summer.

But those who have spent decades in these beachy Shangri-Las say that while paradise comes at a price, it’s worth it.

“You have to be patient at times. It’s Cape time,’’ Marianne Alciati of Wellfleet said with a laugh. “People are juggling a lot of things, and your emergency may not be their emergency. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the people that have provided services for me. They’re very dedicated and hardworking. Many have become friends, and they’ve lived here a long time. I just ask them and find a good list.’’

Relationship-building is key to finding reliable repair teams to schlep all the way to the Outer Cape and Islands. The salty air can make home maintenance a second full-time job. Heck, sometimes in the off-season it can be hard to find a bottle of wine.

But that isn’t deterring the devoted.

“What makes Nantucket worth it is it’s an extraordinary island with extraordinary people, and at a time where there is a craving for openness and fresh air, Nantucket is hard to beat,’’ said Bruce Percelay — a longtime summer resident, publisher of Nantucket Magazine, and founder of the Boston-based real estate development firm Mount Vernon Co.

Nantucket — which sits 30 miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod — is nirvana to Percelay, who also owns the 21 Broad and 76 Main boutique hotels on the island. But that does not mean he hasn’t picked up a few lessons along the way while building and maintaining properties.

“Nothing related to building on the island is inexpensive, from labor to materials to representation,’’ he said. “You can expect a 25 to 30 percent construction premium over the mainland, and, therefore, you want to do things right the first time and select products that last.’’

“Island premium’’ is a very real thing when it comes to building anything on Nantucket, Percelay added. Not only is the cost of transporting materials to the island high, labor costs are also affected because workers are either forced to commute — via boat or plane — or rent expensive housing.

When Percelay was looking for an estimate to get his deck powerwashed, the price delivered was not much different than the original installation cost.

“It’s not the kind of environment where you can successfully go out and get many bids,’’ he said. “The ability to negotiate here is fairly limited given how busy the trades are during the summer months. It’s a big difference between here and Boston. The prices are what the prices are.’’

A little more than 20 miles to the west on Martha’s Vineyard, the situation is no different.

“It’s seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod, but it may as well be 100,’’ joked  auto industry executive and philanthropist (and seasonal Edgartown resident) Ernie Boch Jr., who has been a Vineyard regular since his early childhood in the late 1960s.

But relationship-building is key to at least making the process run as smooth as possible for those new to Vineyard home building and navigating the planning and approvals process.

“I can’t imagine going into it and not knowing the problems you would encounter. That’d be a nightmare. But most people know what they’re getting into,’’ Boch said.

It’s a similar story on Cape Cod.

“Creating relationships is really important on Cape Cod,’’ said Nicole Russo, a Boston-based public relations executive who has a vacation home in South Yarmouth, as well as a rental property in Dennis Port. “You want to make sure you have a strong relationship with all the services: a plumber, someone for heating, an electrician, landscaper — the list goes on.’’

The most vital relationship one can have in these areas is likely an architect and general contractor who knows the ins and outs of building materials and how they react to the weather and the salty air.

“You absolutely have to consider the salt air. I had a car I kept for 10 years on the island, and when I brought it back, it was completely rusted underneath,’’ Boch said. “When you build there, you have to think if something lasts 10 years, it will last five. Twenty? More like 10.’’

The cold, wind, and heat and humidity that make up a meteorological year in New England are particularly brutal on Cape and Islands architecture. Wood used in the shingle siding on most homes in the area tends to warp and expand with the weather, which is why it is crucial to use local timber over something exotic.

“Local woods will patina over time,’’ said Blake Jackson, an architect at Stantec specializing in sustainability. “Because they’re local, their natural or cut state can better handle fluctuations in the air, and the climate can at least accept that over something from a more exotic location like Alberta or Quebec hundreds of miles away.’’

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel or get too opulent with building materials, Percelay added. Painted surfaces and windy, salt air don’t have a great relationship.

That’s why natural cedar shingles and copper hardware for exterior features like downspouts and lights are prevalent on most styles of homes in the area.

While everything here from the paint to metal is in a hurry to deteriorate, patience must endure.

Municipalities on the Cape and Islands are known for stringent zoning boards, preservation committees, and approval processes that can make even a request to paint a front door a different color drag out over months of hue review, lest anything throw off the historic vibes.

So why put up with all the historic preservation committees, narrow list of acceptable building materials, high costs, and potential labor headaches?

“People migrate here from all over the country because the combination of physical beauty, fascinating people, and a real sense of community makes Nantucket one of a kind,’’ Percelay said.

It’s no different to the north in Wellfleet.

“I couldn’t see myself wanting to leave here,’’ Alciati said. “There are so many natural things you get here that are fulfilling in life.’’

Cameron Sperance can be reached at Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes.