For many, Labor Day weekend means the last trip out to the Cape for the summer. The end of sand, seagulls and soft breezes is also when the Cape Cod second home market usually begins. That's because now that they're done using them, many owners are listing their vacation homes for sale, and many Cape-smitten renters are thinking about buying.
But if the news of a national price crash has prospective homebuyers expecting bargains on the Cape, they might be surprised by what they find. WBUR's Curt Nickisch explains.
CURT NICKISCH: In a sleepy, winding street in the town of Brewster, realtor Marietta Nilson is walking through a vacation home she's listed. It's a modern, Cape-style post and beam house. She's running her hands over the bulky wooden beams.
MARIETTA NILSON: And it has a nice, cozy feeling. Kind of comfortable, kind of wraps its arms around you. You just want to linger here with a good book and peace and quiet.
NICKISCH: These days, the house has been too quiet for the sellers. They first put it on the market at $636,000.
NILSON: In November. And we didn't have any interest. No one was interested in the house.
NICKISCH: So after a few months, they lowered the price. Five ninety five. Still no interest.
NILSON: And then 550 I guess. So...
NICKISCH (on tape): Down almost a hundred thousand dollars?
NILSON: Yeah. But, it wasn't that the value came down, the value was never there. It was never worth $636,000.
NICKISCH: But the owners felt it was worth a shot.
Listing your house at twenty percent above market value is not something most people can afford to do with their primary home. Cape vacation homes are different.
BOB SHELDON: Because we're in a marketplace where very few people have to buy and very few people have to sell.
NICKISCH: That's Bob Sheldon. He's a realtor at RE/MAX Classic in Eastham.
SHELDON: And so if the sellers don't get the price they're looking for, they're not that unhappy to hang onto it and enjoy it another summer.
NICKISCH: That might explain why this summer, the number of homes that changed hands on the Outer Cape dropped 22% compared to last summer. And 2007 was already a slow year.
DOUB PAYSON: Any questions?
UNIDENTIFIED HOMEBUYER: We're just gonna look around.
PAYSON: Oh, okay! Well come on in, please.
NICKISCH: At this open house in Brewster, realtor Doug Payson admitted sellers are often unrealistic about their second home's value. But he says plenty of today's buyers are out of touch, too.
PAYSON: People are looking at the national news, or the regional news and saying, wait a minute! Housing prices are down! But real estate is local. It's a completely different housing market.
NICKISCH: No matter the economy, Payson says people still want to vacation on Cape Cod. And supply is limited. He says that's why second home prices haven't really dropped, despite what's technically a buyers' market here--lots of listings, and houses up for sale for a long time.
But many prospective buyers think they can win the staring match. Melissa Manzi has been in the market for a Cape vacation home for two years now. She's content to just watch prices over the winter from her primary home in Groton.
MELISSA MANZI: So there are like two houses that I'm eyeing. And I'm just gonna keep eyeing them, and just kind of sit back. You know, and see where they go.
NICKISCH: One of the houses she's watching has been listed for 450 days now. Manzi thinks eventually, the price has to come down.
For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.
This program aired on August 29, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.