Alan Schweikert, owner and principal broker at Ocean Park Realty in Oak Bluffs, started selling real estate 40 years ago. He and his agents now sell more than a third of all homes sold in Oak Bluffs. We asked him a few questions about his four decades in O.B.
Q.: What year did you first arrive on the Vineyard?
Alan Schweikert: It was 1971. I got my MBA from BU [Boston University] and was living in Boston (I’m from New Jersey). My first job was at Brandeis University and the V.P. there had a connection on the Vineyard. He said “I have a guy who needs some help with management,” and they flew me down here and I went to work for Stan Snyder at Mattakeesett. I’d never been to the Vineyard before.
They offered me a job I couldn’t refuse — car, apartment. I was in charge of 25 18-year-old girls. I was probably 26 at the time. Stan Snyder said, “If we can reproduce this [Mattakeesett], we’ll put them in different locations around the country.” But there was a recession, so I went back to Boston, and took a trip around the world for a while.
When did you start selling real estate?
AS: Well, when I got back there was a note to call Peter Rosbeck. He said “I understand you know something about Martha’s Vineyard…” and I said, “Something.” He said, “Well, there’s a development down there that needs some help; will you go down there and represent me?”
So I went to Sengekontacket in 1973. I thought: here I am a striving MBA type; would I rather be selling Jello in the midwest somewhere, or down here clamming and fishing and learning how to do all the things I really love in life? So I just kind of mellowed out and enjoyed it here.
I worked for Peter — all I did was sell land for him — Island Grove and Sengekontacket. I built my first house there in 1976 — the year of the Tall Ships. I never sold a house until 1977. I thought: Jeez, this is fun.
How much did that first house sell for?
AS: The first house I sold here in town, I’ll never forget it. It was a Victorian over on Pequot Avenue, a block from the beach. And I sold it for $38,000.
The people — their deal was subject to financing. In those days everyone used Dukes County Savings Bank. So I had to meet their home inspector over there — guy named Carlisle Cronig. He came over and he looked at the house, and he looked at me, and he said “You sold this for thirty-eight thousand dollars!? You must be one hell of a broker!” It was funny.
Then I sold a campground cottage to a chef on the Island and we sold that for $19,000.
When did you go into business for yourself?
AS: You remember Tubby Rebello? We had R & S Real Estate. Tubby and I were living in Sengekontacket. And he lured me away. He said “You and I could be a great team. I run the town, and you’re young and ambitious…” So that lasted about two years. We sold some funny little houses. I left him and decided to go on my own in O.B. and I opened up Ocean Park Realty. It was incorporated in 1979.
What has been the biggest change in Oak Bluffs in the forty years you’ve been selling real estate here?
AS: When I was here in the 1970s, everyone wanted to buy in Edgartown. All of a sudden, people started looking at Oak Bluffs differently. Places like Sengekontacket, and Waterview Farms… It wasn’t a broken down honky-tonk town….it was up and coming. Then in ’81, ’82, you got Farm Neck and the golf course. We still have a fun crazy in-town town, lots of activity, lots of tourists. But O.B. has really come into its own. There are beautiful, multi-million dollar homes. This is something people never thought would happen here. O.B. became a popular destination place. But the one thing that never changed was the whole multi-cultural heterogeneity of it. It’s just such a fun place.
I got very involved in and committed to Oak Bluffs. I loved it, being a Victorian town, by the water, was just amazing — like fantasy land.
What would you say has changed most about your business?
AS: In the 70s and 80s we would get an offer; we would do it handwritten in short form, sometime on the back of a car. Then you’d have to mail it to someone to get the seller to sign it.
I was in the middle of a million-dollar deal up in Chilmark, and I got a call from Ron Rappaport and he said, “We have something new in our office” — this was maybe ’81, ’82. He said, “We have a facsimile machine. We can get the seller’s signature from New York City…”
So I said: Can I get one of those?
All of a sudden you could make a deal in one day and get two signatures. That changed the nature of the business for me. And when computer technology came in it was a long time coming before that got really sophisticated. Now here we are in 2013, and we try to keep our office at the cutting edge of everything — brand-new state-of-the-art website. I have a computer tech who I feel like is part of my staff. Search engines, the whole thing. Marilyn [Moses, another Ocean Park realtor] is really helping with technology. We have an Internet marketer we’re working closely with.
When you go to the website you can immediately search, along with key listings, and properties we’ve sold.
Any near disasters?
AS: I think one of the worst things I ever went through: I was selling a piece of land up in Gay Head, for a local. And I knew their attorney quite well, and had done many deals with him. The person who was buying the land was from somewhere in Boston. Maybe somewhere in the North End. He was sort of a no-nonsense person. So the attorney said, “I’ll hold on to the escrow money.” I’d done many deals with the attorney and thought everything would be fine. We all went to the closing, and the attorney didn’t show up with the money. Matter of fact he didn’t show up for about a month. He is no longer an attorney….
Then the guy from North End…the buyer?
AS: He looked at us and said, “Unless something happens quick around here, you’re all going to have cement shoes.”
What did happen is the seller ended up selling him the land, but didn’t get the escrow money. The deal went through. Since it was the seller’s attorney, they said “This is your issue.” I don’t know if he ever got it. And of course the attorney…pretty much gave up his license.
Any feel-good deals?
AS: Most of them were feel-good deals. You know, I never realized I was in the real estate business for a while. I just thought I was a businessman who helped people find things. I thought of myself as a country broker…and I did very well at it. That’s why I was so taken with this community, because it was so good to me. I had a philosophy that if you treat people right, and you take care of them, you’re going to make money. You never have to worry about it. It’s always going to come.
Over the years, I became a salesman, but I became one without trying to sell things. You just listen to people. And if you listen to them long enough, their questions, they’ll take you right to the right house.
Is most of your business still in Oak Bluffs?
AS: I’d say maybe 80 percent is in O.B. I don’t take listings outside of O.B., but the rest of the agents in my office do. I stick to this town. I do everything in this town — I swim in this town, I belong to Farm Neck, I shop at Reliable. This is the only town that doesn’t have traffic, and I refuse to get stuck in that.
Your son is in the business now?
AS: Yes, he’s trying it out. He’s been very helpful to me — I have almost like an assistant; he can learn it if he wants to learn it. He can do a lot of the stuff I just don’t want to do anymore. He’s got a couple listings.
How many people do you have coming to you who know nothing about the Vineyard?
AS: We do get some good walk-ins here, but from people who know nothing about M.V., they don’t usually buy right away. You talk with them, you let them have a good time here, then you keep encouraging them, sending them things. A lot of time people like that will come back in the fall and say we like this place, we’ve given it some thought and you’ve been staying in touch with us, and they come back and they buy property.
Marilyn Moses: I sold two campground cottages like that last year. From someone just walking in. I can share this: the longest I’ve worked with one client is seven years. They said I was part of their August family vacation! They bought a nice piece of land in town and they’ll be building a beautiful five-bedroom home. The key is to keep in touch with them.
Have you sold any houses twice? What’s the record number on the same house?
AS: I’ve sold some houses three or four times. It’s funny though, I’ve sold for people who are now deceased, and I’ve sold to their children, and then to their grandchildren. Which is just amazing.
Is there something about Alan that most people don’t know?
MM: Well, he’s an MBA, but he’s an athlete — an avid boater, golfer, fisherman. He was an A-flight Club Champion at Farm Neck. He was all-state in football from New Jersey and went to BU on a football scholarship.
Ever appeared in any movies? Jaws?
AS: I was not in Jaws. I guess my thirty minutes of fame was when I had a half hour program with Bob Vila. People called me up from all over the country and said, Hey! You’re on TV!
Bob Vila was looking to do a show on Martha’s Vineyard around 1996. His production manager heard about me and called me up. We did a half-hour segment on his search for a property to purchase. We looked at several options and discussed each one during the segment, and…he bought an old house on East Chop near the tennis courts, fixed it up, and I sold it for him a couple years later. He still owns a house up Island.
Sold to any other recognizable people?
AS: Grant Hill, a basketball star. Tom Clancy. We sold him the Gloria Swanson house, over on the water.
There was a “Gloria Swanson house?”
AS: Well, Joe Kennedy was having an affair with Gloria Swanson and he bought her the house. In the 30s or 40s. It’s over on Temahigan, one of those big houses overlooking the ocean.
Did you sell Spike Lee his land?
AS: I consulted on it. He was making a private deal, so Rappaport’s office called and asked is this a fair price…
I’ve worked with Peter [Norton] over the years.
I go way back with Mrs. White who used to own Cinderella Cottage [Peter Nortons' guest house, now sold]. I used to take her fish. I used to take a lot of my clients fish.
What has guided you through 40 years of success, beyond bringing your clients bluefish?
AS: Being on a small island you get to know a lot of people and see them all of the time…real estate became a “way of life” for me…no matter what I did, recreation, socializing… I was always a real estate broker at the same time and ready to talk about property…to the point where my clients became my friends and my friends became clients…and I continue to enjoy that way of life.
Check out the new website: oceanparkmv.com