The pandemic hasn’t decimated home sales on the Cape and Islands

Buying Cape Cod
6/27/2014 - Chatham, MA - This is the Chatham lighthouse. For Address section feature on Cape Cod town of Chatham, MA. Item: 070614LocationPics.  Dina Rudick/Globe Staff
Median sales prices were up 4 percent on Cape Cod in April, according to Chatelain Real Estate. Dina Rudick / Globe Staff

Cape Cod and the Islands real estate, for now, hasn’t plummeted like other segments of the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Sales volume on Martha’s Vineyard is up 45 percent for the year, and median sales prices are up 7 percent, according to Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Nantucket home sale dollar volume is up as high as 30 percent for the first quarter, Michael Passaro, a broker with Douglas Elliman, said. Closed home sales on Cape Cod declined 20 percent in April, the worst month of the outbreak, but median sales prices were still up 4 percent, according to Chatelain Real Estate

Real estate agents in these vacation markets see the numbers and say a pandemic won’t get in the way of house hunting as some may expect.

“You hear of all these people wanting to leave New York and other big cities,” said Bill Farmer, a broker with Provincetown-based Beachfront Realty. “Places like Provincetown may be the perfect place for them to come.”

Farmer noted sales are still behind where they would normally be this time of year, but the pandemic isn’t scaring potential sellers from putting their homes on the market. Sixty-five Provincetown condos were on the market at the start of April, and that number had increased to 80 as of June 6. 

There were 19 home sales totaling $55 million on Nantucket since the worst part of the pandemic in March and April, Passaro added, and sixty Nantucket listings came on the market in May alone.

Due to the lag between an accepted offer and a sale actually closing, it can take as much as 90 days for an economic factor like the coronavirus to reflect in the residential real estate market, Allison Cameron Parry, a broker with Douglas Elliman, cautioned. 

But she and other realtors expect to make up any spring sales drops over the summer, now that the Massachusetts economy is beginning to reopen and pent-up travel demand is expected. 

“It’s still tough to predict how COVID-19 will effect pricing, but one thing’s for sure — my phone is ringing, specifically my clients from New York City and Boston who are looking for space and privacy,” Passaro said. 

The transaction volume may remain strong, but potential buyers in these markets will still face a new home-scouting experience. 

A strong online home profile — including a 3D tour, videos, and extensive photos — will be a strong foundation to a listing this year. Homeowners in places like Nantucket don’t necessarily want a lot of foot traffic through their properties, and potential buyers are equally as hesitant, Passaro said.

“Someone may look at 20 to 30 homes online, and then narrow it down to three or four to go see in person compared to taking a day to look at numerous houses,” he added. 

During those showings, buyers will be asked to don personal protective equipment like masks and gloves. Only the broker would be allowed to open closets and doors. Once the possible purchaser left, everything would then get wiped down.

On Martha’s Vineyard, Parry said she is taking lots of videos at homes for potential buyers and renters. PPE and hand sanitizer are common at home viewings, while some owners are requiring 24- to 36-hour buffers between renters, she said. “Everybody has their own level of concern.”

Open houses are more prevalent in Cape municipalities with larger year-round populations like Barnstable and Yarmouth, said Bob O’Malley, a principal broker with Beachfront Realty, but Provincetown — with a year-round population of roughly 3,000 — sees more private viewings. 

In those instances, listing agents typically go in and turn on lights and then leave while potential buyers tour the property in PPE. Social distancing rules lead to altered viewings in smaller residential units. 

“These units are sometimes so small that you can’t really socially distance,” O’Malley said. “I even just leave and tell buyers to text me when they’re ready.”

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Correction: A previous version of this story gave incorrect data for Nantucket home sales.