A good year nevertheless
The Vineyard version of what is often described as the collapse of the real estate market nationally is a slowdown. The rocket propelled liftoff of real estate values over the past few years has decelerated, and fewer deals are getting done. Still, there is little evidence to support the view that the Vineyard has lost its appeal to the second home buyers of the East Coast megalopolis. Similarly, there's no support for the wishful conclusion that a retrenchment here will mean ready access to property ownership for modest-income Islanders. Values, though trimmed, remain high, especially for the most desirable Vineyard parcels, and as regards more ordinary property, the news is only slightly more encouraging for would-be year-round homeowners. The truth is, if you want a nice big house for $110,000 in a nice neighborhood, near an economy with jobs available, try Oklahoma, not Oak Bluffs.
It doesn't take Adam Smith to figure out why. Demand is high, geography is naturally limited, and zoning and development rules support high prices and prohibit growth of modestly priced housing.
What is not an important contributor to the high cost of real estate on Martha's Vineyard is the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank. As against the possibility that all of the remarkable places on Martha's Vineyard will one day be owned by private, non-profit conservation organizations, or privately owned and off-limits to Islanders, the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank, even in 2006, the year of the real estate slowdown, created or expanded 10 properties. It did so as revenue from its surtax on real estate sales declined about seven percent, or almost $900,000, from 2005. The Land Bank has millions to spend annually, and it has leverage to spend more, but a $12 million budget, despite the most energetic efforts, won't take significant acreage off the rolls of for-sale property.
James Lengyel, the Land Bank's executive director, told Times News Editor Nelson Sigelman that because real estate values did not increase and fewer properties were sold last year, the Land Bank must live on less.
Mr. Lengyel is the chief executive officer of the Island's best run, most financially responsible public agency. Throughout its history, the Land Bank's elected, appointed, and professional leaders have been strictly, and creatively, faithful to the legislature's charge when it created the agency in 1986.
Mr. Lengyel says that charge is to find Vineyard properties "that have useful conservation qualities and are reasonably priced." That is, the ones you and I would like to visit occasionally. The Land Bank sometimes finds that the asking price for a property is more than it can afford, or in some cases, the asking price is well above what the public agency considers reasonable, but not too high for a wealthy private buyer.
The Land Bank is now negotiating to buy various properties, all together worth $46 million. The public conservation agency won't be lucky enough to close every deal. As Mr. Lengyel says, "The Land Bank is used to having its hopes dashed...." The Land Bank won't come out on top every time, but every win accrues to the benefit of every Vineyarder.