Building not quite booming, but up in Edgartown

Ralph Stewart

An analysis of building permits indicates that construction of new homes, substantial additions, and the renovation of existing homes is on the upswing in Edgartown. Though it’s too early to call it a boom, according to those who keep tabs on the building industry, they are hopeful that the bust is over.

Existing home sales in Edgartown are also on the rise, according to local real estate executives.

For the period January 1 to June 15, 2012, Edgartown issued 12 new permits for single-family residences. The town also issued 35 permits for renovations or additions to single family homes. That represents a slight increase over the same period last year.

From January 1 to June 15, 2011, Edgartown issued 10 permits for single-family residences, and 28 permits for renovations or additions.

For all of 2011, Edgartown issued 31 permits for new single-family residences, and 67 permits for renovations and additions. Most of those permits were issued in the second half of last year.

Lenny Jason, Edgartown building and zoning inspector, said he does not perceive much of an increase in building activity. “I don’t get that sense,” he said. “I don’t feel it.”

Michael Donaroma, chairman of the board of selectmen, believes construction activity is on the upswing. “I think construction, building, has gone from slow to steady,” he said. “Everything has clicked up a notch, but it’s not time to jump up and down yet.”

Adaptation game

Bill Potter, owner and president of Squash Meadow Construction, Inc., is currently building two homes in Edgartown, and he completed two extensive renovations over the winter. He said his business has increased about 30 percent from the previous building season.

“I definitely think things are going to get busier,” Mr. Potter said. “Whether that’s due to the economy, that’s not for me to say.”

Weathering the challenging economy meant adapting to the times, Mr. Potter added. “We never really slowed down,” he said. “When the economy crashed, we changed our business model a little bit. We focused on green building, we started doing more modular construction. Budgets were certainly a lot more of an emphasis. It may have taken more management, or more creative thinking.”

Sales tales

Home sales are also on the upswing, according to local real estate executives and statewide data on property transfers. Property prices, however, are still flat at best on Martha’s Vineyard, and still falling in other areas of the state.

According to the Warren Group, the Boston-based publishers of the trade journal Banker & Tradesman, home sales increased 23 percent in the first five months of 2012, compared with the same period in the previous year.

“The spring market has been especially strong in Massachusetts,” Cory Hopkins, editorial director of the Warren Group, said in a news release. “We’re expecting home sales to continue to soar this summer, thanks to low mortgage rates and affordable prices luring buyers into the market.”

The median price for a single-family home in Massachusetts dropped more than three percent in May, compared with the same month last year, according to the Warren Group.

Here on the Island, however, prices are holding steady, according to revenue figures from the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission.

In order to assess trends in revenue, which reflect real estate transactions, land bank executive director James Lengyel watches the “per transaction fee” closely. With certain exceptions, property buyers pay a fee equal to two percent of the purchase price on any property transfer on Martha’s Vineyard. The fee is an indicator of the price of the properties sold, not the volume.

For the first five months of this year, the average per transaction fee was $17,885.

For the six-month period from July 1 to December 31, 2011, the per transaction fee was slightly lower, $17,536. For period from January 1 to June 30 of 2011, the average fee was $17,684.

“The market is really not moving up or down,” Mr. Lengyel said. “The fact that they balance out so evenly tells me there really isn’t any sort of trend.”

Mr. Lengyel said that figures for 2010 show essentially the same flat picture of the real estate market.

Selectmen Art Smadbeck, who is the principal broker at Priestly Smadbeck & Mone Real Estate, said the property market was strong in the first part of this year.

“We had four years of really slow, and then it seemed like right out of the chute — January, February, March — things were selling,” Mr. Smadbeck said.