Islanders ought to be cheered by the news that new house construction and old house reconstruction, important ingredients in the Vineyard economy, continue their longstanding, solid contributions, despite unnerving reports of housing downturns and mortgage mayhem in other parts of the country.
Here, writer Steve Myrick reports this morning, demand for new houses is higher than last year. Unsurprisingly, the numbers are highest in Edgartown, which is the Vineyard's largest and wealthiest town, with the greatest variability of available lot sizes and prices. Edgartown generally accounts for about 40 percent of Island real estate activity each year.
Most striking in today's report is the old news that new houses are often bigger and more valuable than in the past. Houses of less than 2,000 square feet, common in the past, are uncommon today. House size now approaches, or even exceeds, 5,000 feet. That's generally good news, if you subscribe to the view that larger houses, with greater assessed values will result in larger real estate tax payments into town coffers and more income for builders, landscapers, real estate brokers, and bankers, while consuming roughly the same amount of buildable land, on a lot by lot, not a square footage, basis.
And, as Tisbury building official Ken Barwick told The Times, our neighbors in the building and building maintenance trades are busy, and happily so.
"I don't have anybody in a scenario where they don't have work," said Mr. Barwick. "They all seem to be moving right along, job to job. They're doing more additions, more renovation than new homes."
In Chilmark, where property values are very high and the availability of permits is tight, growth of housing is capped, but not growth of property values, which have increased substantially year after year, keeping the town treasury well funded and the town tax rate low. So, the building caps have had the unexpected, and double-edged, effect of helping to drive land values up, as do so many of the regulatory impositions conceived by planners and adopted, often in a panic, by voters.
This morning's report also finds that, unlike the experience elsewhere in Massachusetts and other parts of the country, mortgage distress and foreclosure is restrained - modest numbers of foreclosures, modestly up from 2006.
What accounts for the relative health of the Vineyard housing market? Desirability, of course. The Vineyard remains a prized summer home location for well-fixed members of the Boston-Washington corridor. Then there's the island-ness of the place, generally diminishing in size, rather than growing, offering less and less land for sale, and still difficult to commute to and from - the they-aren't-making-any-more-of-it argument. And all of that, in turn, contributes to high real estate values that resist some of the pressures that drive values down elsewhere. For those Islanders who privately yearn for a housing recession to take the curse of success off the real estate market, dream on.
Of course, the Vineyard's is a success story with a tinge of discomfort attached. Much has changed, even for short-timers whose Vineyard tenure is just approaching 40 years. Some of the simple pleasures are more complicated now, or gone altogether. The opportunities for ambitious Islanders are harder to seize and the risks greater. The buy-in ante is impossibly high for many. Still, in general, the growth of the Vineyard economy, primarily because of the growth of the second home component of that economy, has made Vineyard lives better, richer, and more promising. One hopes that, despite earnest planning efforts, it will continue to do so.