Meet the Brokers – The Martha’s Vineyard Times

Nya Clarke, Broker/Owner
Martha’s Vineyard Island-Wide Realty

What got you started in the brokerage business on the Vineyard?

I moved back to the Vineyard from a career in design in New York City. In some ways I fell into real estate … I already had a retail background, working in the fashion design field for almost ten years. My grandfather bought some lots near downtown Oak Bluffs, built some houses and eventually sold them. He owned a painting company that serviced the town buildings of Oak Bluffs and many of the beachfront Victorian homes. It was somewhat of a family interest that drew me in. This year marks my 22nd year in brokerage!

Tell us more about your Island roots

My mom is part Wampanoag Indian from the Island and African American with siblings living in Oak Bluffs and Aquinnah. I was born in Brookline; my mom moved back to Oak Bluffs when I was 5. I grew up on the Island and graduated from high school here.

Your office was originally called, Century 21?

We were Century 21 – Island wide. The office has been in Vineyard Haven on Beach Road since the late 1960s. Sometime in the early 90s the owner decided to merge with Century 21 as a franchise business. When I took over the office, I kept the Century 21 name for a few years. But all of us in the office are full-time agents — year-round Islanders — and a lot of our business is referral from Islanders. We didn’t feel the need for the franchise name here.

Who are your clients?

Our business — the strength of our rentals and sales — has a lot to do with people we know. Many of our sales come from people who rent through us, and then decide they want to buy on the Island. Most of our business is residential sales with close to 80 percent of those bought as secondary homes. Especially right now with this market.

Have you seen changes in the business?

I have seen so many changes. When I started the business I had a good run; then 9/11 happened, and it got a little quiet … then we had the housing fallout in 2009. We have definitely seen some market dips and some incredible gains, like now as a high gain. We have navigated through the storms of real estate!

Today buyers do a lot of their research online. They call us when they want to get inside and see the house after they’ve researched the market. We do so much online now, even the contracts can be done that way, as clients may be in Europe or just about anywhere. Some of our sales, particularly during COVID, were done remotely, using Facetime with Facetime tours of the houses.

What are short sales?

We worked with the banks during those troubling market times doing short sales and foreclosures. These allowed  a lot of first time buyers to get into the market at low entry level price points. The 2009 economic downturn resulted in many foreclosures and we worked closely with the banks and buyers.

How has COVID affected your business?

Right now we are certainly at a high in the market — the biggest boom I’ve seen in my career. Obviously COVID created this market. People are able to work from home, wanting a quieter, safer place to live and work. Perhaps they always dreamed of living here but COVID pushed them to make that choice now.

We have also recently sold to a lot of Island businesses to secure housing for their employees who can’t find affordable rents. There’s a housing crisis for the lower end renter and buyer. My husband and I acquired employee housing several years back in order to keep our staff. It has been a challenging time for us all this past year.

Our rental market stayed steady throughout the year without a break, due to COVID. Some of my rentals that normally would be eight weeks moved to 12 weeks. One of our houses did weeklies through the winter at a much higher price rate. As people could work from home, coming to the Vineyard was still a safe trip within range. During the height of COVID most renters were from the Northeast … they packed up the groceries, found an oasis here on the Vineyard and stayed here. Vacation rentals have gone up as well; it’s all supply and demand. The inventory is down, the demand is high, both for sales and rentals.

Will this high point remain?

I think that these prices right now will remain; I don’t think there will be a drastic drop. The steady flow will hold the prices for a little while, as we all go back to normal life.

Your favorite thing about the business?

I love meeting new people and the Vineyard brings such an interesting, diverse mix of people. There’s that social aspect. And the business is ever-changing — very rarely is a deal exactly like the last one — there are always variables and different issues and challenges with house sales that you have to work through.

I also really love going into houses and seeing what people do with decorating and altering. A little color here, a little fluff. We can sit down and talk about changes and put together some ideas. I love working with clients that way as it’s a design aspect of the business I enjoy.

Any plans for the future?

I have plans to expand the office and we are moving to downtown Oak Bluffs. We are working with Island artists and artisans to feature their work in our office space. We’ll have somewhat of a local art gallery set up showcasing some special island artists and crafts. I’m excited about the new office and studio space!

61 Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs
508-693-3700
[email protected]

 

Doug Reece, Broker 
RE/MAX on Island

What’s your background in real estate?

It’s a great career — this is my 40th year. I started in 1980 in a little town in Southern Missouri called Ellington. I’m originally from St. Louis, where my grandfather, the premier tailor of St. Louis, retired at age 78 and got his real estate license to become a broker. He knew I was looking for a career at that time (my degree was in fisheries and wildlife; not leading anywhere without a PhD). He convinced me to enter the business. The rest is history.

My first sale was 400 acres for $40,000 ($100 an acre). Even back in Ellington, Mo., property values are now way, way up from where they were then . . . Hippies of the 60s, my wife Amy and I wanted to disappear to the Ozark Mountains and live off the land, so we moved down there and bought 200 acres. We stayed about three years, until we had kids and decided to move back to reality.

Why did you choose the Vineyard?

It actually chose me. When I proposed marriage to Amy in 1980, she said, “Yes, on one condition: you have to agree to move to Martha’s Vineyard at some point.”

Amy is a Vineyard summer girl. In 1926, her grandfather, George Oliver Curme, was a chemist with Union Carbide, looking to build a family vacation home: he tested the water in the Hudson River and it was pretty nasty back then; tested Long Island Sound, also nasty; the Connecticut coast, still nasty. He didn’t find clean water until he reached the Vineyard, where the water circulates and cleans itself out. So he bought land on East Chop.

About five years ago I was hired to list and market that property originally owned by Amy’s grandfather. I got to go in and experience the area where my wife spent summers as a little kid. That was one of my fun projects/sales. They are all fun, but that one was more fun than others.

What are the other fun parts of the business?

Meeting the people, especially on Martha’s Vineyard. I get to help first-time homebuyers, which is VERY rewarding; people getting their “piece of the rock” for a summer vacation home and extremely prominent people (like a superior court judge) to realize her Vineyard dream! On the Vineyard you forge friendships with almost everyone you deal with — that’s what’s fun about it. All these new friendships that wouldn’t happen otherwise.

With COVID, how has the market changed?

There’s not much out there. Inventory is low; people aren’t selling because they can’t buy what they already have. You’ll have to spend more to replace, so they are staying put and not moving — unless they are moving off-Island.

For buyers: You find a house that you like, you get excited, go to the bank and get prequalified, and there are three buyers in front of you offering over the asking price. It’s a bidding war. We put in an escalation clause … .of the last three contracts I wrote for buyers, only one was successful as others bid higher. It’s frustrating for agent and buyer alike. You see clients get discouraged — in 40 years I’ve seen nothing like it. Blame COVID? It’s definitely a part of it. When COVID hit, everything stopped. No one anticipated that people would move not only to the Vineyard, but to Maine, Vermont, to the Boston suburbs . . . with the ability to work remotely. And they need a five or six-bedroom house to accommodate a home office or two as well, so the size of the home is going up. It’s a very different time in real estate for everybody.

Why is the inventory so low and prices so high?

Prices are higher than they have ever been in the 23 years I’ve been here. Last year 2020 real estate was the busiest ever with 693 sales; the year before we had 512, and 579 the year before that. It reached a peak that will most likely never reach again due to the low inventory now.

Last year the total value of sales on the Island was north of one billion dollars: a lot of money. The average sale price at the end of 2020: $1.5 million with median price at $956,000. From Jan. 1 to today, the average sales price is up 14 percent in five months at $1.8 million. If that continues, we’ll be up 30 percent by the end of this year.

It can be a little bit scary to watch this continue. We have the very high end reaching $15 – 20 million, then the beach lots priced at $100,000 and the little “condotel” rooms at the low end.

The good news is that interest rates are staying low; right now the banks offer 3 percent on a 30-year conforming mortgage; 2.5 percent for a 10-year adjustable rate mortgage — a good opportunity for first time home buyers. (Please check with your local lender for current rates and APR).

Any secret answer to create affordable housing?

Zoning. The towns have to open their eyes and realize how to change zoning to allow for four-plexes, six-plexes, 10-plexes — to locate multiple dwelling complexes where there is sewer and public transport. Downtown Oak Bluffs, downtown Vineyard Haven — anywhere they can do that. They built Morgan Woods a few years ago in Edgartown, which took care of a large need in Edgartown. They need to do that in every town in areas not already congested: anywhere along the VH/Edgartown Road corridor, at the airport, on State Road in Vineyard Haven where there are easy ways to get around from town to town. That’s the place to do it. The first step is to change the zoning through the planning board in each town as they currently have no multi-family zoning options; then to the selectmen, then find financing. It has to start with zoning — that’s key.

What is the future for real estate on the Vineyard?

My crystal ball is still fuzzy. The educated answer from the national experts say that interest rates will stay low for another two years, and inventory will stay low for two years. As the stock market continues to do well, people will continue to pull money out of the stock market and buy real estate. Last year I saw more cash offers than ever in my career. Many were concerned with COVID, so put their money into real estate, as historically it’s been a good long term investment. Many people moved here full time because of COVID; will they still be here at the end of this year? Maybe. Many may decide that dealing with the Steamship and the everyday constraints of life on an island isn’t for them and may migrate back to city life.

For you personally, how do you see the next five or ten years ahead?

I expect the market to stay busy with strong demand and steady, slightly increasing prices over the next 12-18 months. At that point, history tells us that we should see a leveling of market prices and hopefully an increase in inventory. Many people ask me if we are in a real estate bubble? Nothing currently indicates that we are; however, recent studies show that consumer confidence in buying real estate is declining for the first time in a long time and if demand goes down, so does the market. Only time will tell.

Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven
508-696-3704
[email protected]

 

Alyssa Halisky, Broker Associate
Wallace & Co. Sotheby’s International Realty

Is Edgartown your main office and what areas do you cover?

This is our main office in Edgartown on North Water Street but we have another office in Chilmark above the Chilmark Tavern — a home base for up-Island.

We cover every town on the Island: sales and rentals Island-wide. We have ten full time brokers, a rental department, an office administrator and a full time finance manager/bookkeeper.

You are part of the Sotheby’s brand?

We joined Sotheby’s International Realty in 2007, an amazing company to be affiliated with. They have such a global reach and have revamped the brand which people recognize for their high level of service. We offer the same level of service regardless of home price range. We take everything on regardless of price. It’s all about the reach and every property deserves that reach. Our office has also invested a lot in local marketing but the Sotheby’s International Realty brand has complemented these marketing efforts with their worldwide connections and media partners.

How long have you been with the firm?

I have been with the firm for just over 15 years. I moved to the Island about 16 years ago; I have a master’s degree in biotechnology/biochemistry and did cancer research for a number of years before moving here. I couldn’t do research here on the Island, so I tried real estate. It’s great — as a mom of three, it’s a busy career but also has some flexibility: I’m able to pick up the kids from school, work a bit remotely — it’s been a good fit. I found organizational skills I used in cancer research and my mathematical background helped me with the analytical side of real estate.

What’s your favorite part of the business?

It’s hard to say one thing, there are so many sides to real estate that people don’t always see. The client relationships are huge: I love talking about the Island and the community. Seeing someone purchase their first home, or their vacation home they have saved for many years; then years later, going back and visiting them — there’s such a bond.

I manage the office and we are a great team here. We love working together, it’s such a positive work environment. It’s not a chore to come to work and it’s such a great company.

How has the relationship with the client changed over the years?

A lot of our business now happens through email and Facetime, and for a number of transactions this year I haven’t met the client until after the closing; or at the walkthrough when they come to see the property for the first time. That personal aspect has been missing during COVID; though once we move on a lot of our business may stay more remote. We have many digital tools that we have implemented this year to facilitate that: a lot of video and facetime showings. I really think the bond with the client has strengthened since they are relying on the broker even more when they aren’t physically here — you are their eyes, checking the details of the house: opening up the closet doors, etc. That’s a lot of responsibility and trust. Clients are grateful in the end.

Where are your clients from?

They are from all over: New York, Connecticut, California, Boston. We do get a lot of clients that reach out to us since they are affiliated with the Sotheby’s brand. Their expectation is that the level of service will be the same as we are one cohesive organization. We see a lot of international buyers and renters, though this year has been challenging with COVID and the travel restrictions.

How has COVID affected sales and rentals?

When things shut down initially no one knew what direction things were going and brokers didn’t know what would happen. But quickly we realized that the demand for a safe place was foremost. The Vineyard, as we know, is a safe place. Locations like the Vineyard — safe places that are easy to navigate — became top of the list. Right away we had a flurry of buyers who had always loved the Vineyard and had searched for years and now said, it’s time to buy. People wanted to get in right away and have a quick closing: They could work remotely, and their children could learn remotely. It checked a lot of boxes.

Instead of spending only July and August on the Vineyard, we are finding homeowners spending months in their home, as they’ve extended their season. The value of their home here is more meaningful. They take a step back and look at their home differently now: it’s valuable, it’s safe and it’s personal. People are investing in their homes; whether it’s the huge demand for outdoor furniture, or interior furnishings to make a home more comfortable. It’s nice to see things coming back to that.

Have sales increased?

Yes, according to LINK sales were up 38 percent, and inventory is at an all time low.

We are continuing to see sales up from last year. We have a waiting list for rental clients. People just want to be here: the Vineyard is easy to get to, and people are still uneasy about long-distance travel.

At what price point do most of your sales lie? 

Pretty much scattered all around — we are seeing buyers of all price points. In 2020, our average sale price was $2,315,511 with sales ranging from $295,000 to $13,000,000. There continues to be a huge demand for properties under $1 million with those properties typically going under contract within a week. For the ultra-high-end price point (over $10 million), your buyer pool is a lot less; buyers are not going to overpay; they are still very savvy. Sales continue to be strong in 2021, with sales up 51 percent compared to this time last year.

Any surprises?

There is huge demand for a finished product. Given the high construction costs and unavailability of contractors, it presents a challenge and certainly a turnkey home is more desirable than ever. That’s a change in this COVID time, highlighting the ease of getting right in.

What is the Martha’s Vineyard Community Housing Fund?

Through the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard, now called the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation, we established in 2019 an annual fund set up by Wallace & Co./ Sotheby’s International Realty to create a more formal giveback to the Island community. A percentage of our sales commission that we take in as brokers we put into this community fund. The mission is to give to organizations on the Island and help with the affordable housing needs. The Permanent Endowment has been amazing to work with. Each year they collect the applications that meet our mission to fund. At the end of the year we review the applications and we donate accordingly.

We feel strongly about the need for more affordable housing and our fund is one way to give back. All the brokers in our firm are Islanders, have raised kids here and work very hard to be here; we have compassion for the need and are involved with organizations giving back to our community in different ways. We are open to ideas, trying to figure out creative ways to do that to help the island.

1 North Water Street, Edgartown
508-627-3313
[email protected]

 

Karen M. Overtoom, Principal
Karen M. Overtoom Real Estate, LLC

Tell us about the history behind the current real estate market.

I believe three things caused this intense housing market we are now in. First, a generation of young people waited to buy homes since they were so burdened by college debt. Once they paid off their student loans, they had to start saving for a house down payment, which took time. Now they are looking to purchase their first home and that adds to the regular pool of first time home buyers.

Second, the financial crash of 2008 happened and a lot of builders cut back on the amount of homes they were building due to less demand. This left a lower inventory of new homes for sale. Third, we had the pandemic, people fled the cities to move into rural areas as they wanted to be able to get outside and still be protected against the virus. I believe that these three elements have been part of our current market rise.

Sellers definitely have the upper hand in this market. This sets up buyers for a very competitive process, as in today’s market there are usually several offers for each property for the seller to review. Most of the time, the seller will choose the highest price offer with the least amount of contingencies. If you have to make the purchase contingent on a mortgage you will have a more difficult time getting your offer accepted. We do our best to try to help year-round first-time home buyers. Interest rates may be low now, but still, there isn’t much available under a million dollars. If you are lucky enough to find a home for $650,000 to $800,000, the down payment that’s required is extremely large: 20 percent of the purchase price. Not many 20 to 30 year-olds can come up with that much money. Some sellers are sympathetic to this issue and choose to sell to year-round families.

How about the future? 

The market always seems to ebb and flow, which in turn should cause a reset to the current housing market. I’ve worked in real estate since 1985 and I’ve seen several up and down markets. We always ask ourselves, How could it get like this? When will it turn around? There isn’t a crystal ball so we never know but usually there’s a correction. Just like the stock market, it’s the same thing. It never goes all the way back to where it was, but it usually resets itself. For this past year, it’s been slightly different since people can work from anywhere. The news is saying that companies are starting to pull their employees back to their offices sometime between the end of June to September, when they expect children to be back in school. We’ll see how that changes the market if at all.

What got you involved in real estate? 

I lived in New York City from 1977 to 1980, went to the Fashion Institute of Technology and got my associate degree in fashion and merchandising. That was a great experience. Then I worked in insurance in NYC for two years, then got my BFA in textile art at Syracuse University. I came here for the summer and ended up staying. There was a real estate course at the Whaling Church that first fall. I took the course, passed the test and started working in real estate that January. My dad was an architect, so I grew up going on family road trips learning about different architectural styles. His training had a lot to do with my love of real estate. I started my own real estate company in May of 1993. We just celebrated our 28th year.

Do you have staff and which towns do you cover? 

We list and sell properties all over the Island. All the towns are beautiful, and each one has their own character. Once we understand what a buyer is looking for, we can hone in on which town would fit their lifestyle best. Some buyers come knowing exactly which town they want to reside in. It is always interesting to show people how different each town is on their quest to purchase a home here. My associates live all over the Island in different towns. Some associates have been with me for 26, 27 years, so we are like family to one another.

Explain the LINK/MLS multiple listing service.

Most real estate agencies are part of the LINK MLS — that is our Island Multiple Listing Service. Our website has every property listed on Martha’s Vineyard because we are part of this service. We are members of the Cape & Islands Board of Realtors, Massachusetts Board, and the National Board of Realtors. You can be a real estate agent and not join the Board of Realtors so every real estate company is not a realtor, they are just agents or brokers. Being a realtor is a higher commitment to education and integrity. I’m also a member of two additional multiple listing services that list our properties on third party platforms such as Realtor.com, Homes.com, The New York Times website, to name a few. I also have an extensive social media platform and a digital and print advertising platform. You can find my properties advertised in a lot of places. That’s what the seller wants — they want their property everywhere.

With COVID, how has the rental market fared? 

The rentals have been strong this year. Last year, because of COVID, it was a tough rental season. Some states were not allowing people to travel. We pushed some rentals to 2021; some people came, some cancelled, this year we waited to book any rentals until there was an approved vaccine.

Compared to two years ago, how much higher are house costs? 

Depending on town and location, there has been somewhere between a 20-30 percent increase on most properties. The quantity of available houses has shrunk dramatically. There are only 14 properties listed today under a million dollars and only 125 properties listed on the whole Island at any price point.

How will we solve housing for young people? 

My agency has always been a part of the affordable housing movement. In the very beginning we helped to build a small glamorous shed, kind of a luxury escape retreat with some other companies on the Island. This building was auctioned off twice and all the funds raised went to the affordable housing pool. Kitty Burke of Edgartown, started this collaborative effort, called Houses on the Move.

In order to help solve the current housing crisis, I believe the towns should get together and build a few dormitories near the airport, central to all towns, to help take the stress off the temporary housing needed for the summer workforce. Seasonal workers are only here from mid-May to mid-September. If there were dorms available, that could allow for the seasonal workers to come and work. They would have reliable low cost housing provided by all the towns cooperatively. The rent that the tenants pay could be used for the upkeep of the buildings. We also have a new town rental tax that should be used for affordable housing and also could be used partly for this. This plan could possibly help the year-round people who rent small apartments or guest houses during the winter months, to be able to rent instead on a year-round basis.

Also, any sale requires the buyer to pay a 2 percent Land Bank fee. It would be nice if the Land Bank could take a little less, and put a part to affordable housing. The Land Bank has done a great job, but maybe it’s time for the Land Bank to share some of that 2 percent fee with affordable housing.

Scotchman’s Bridge Lane, West Tisbury
508-693-7832
[email protected]