Russell Maloney — real estate agent

Russell Maloney says that the Island's real estate boom during the pandemic is like nothing he's ever seen before. — Stacey Rupolo

I own Russell Maloney Real Estate; we’re located in Chilmark, and in 14 years in the business, I’ve never seen anything like this. The market took off last spring and summer, and then the fall was active, and now the winter is active as well.

A man from Brooklyn called me on Thanksgiving day, while I was in the middle of preparing dinner. He wanted to make an offer on a house. He had seen the property about a year and a half ago, but since that time, the house had been — not demolished, but the kitchen and the bathrooms had been ripped out, and he had not seen it in that state, so I went over to the house and did a FaceTime call with him and showed him what had happened since he last saw it. But he didn’t care, he wanted to buy it anyway. You never saw that kind of thing pre-pandemic — at least I never did.

And just yesterday a gentleman and his wife from off-Island called and asked if I would mind looking at two properties and then doing a FaceTime call? So I did, and lo and behold, he ended up writing two offers, so if he didn’t get one he’d take the other.

I have listings of my own, and brokers come and FaceTime with their clients, and I’ve received offers on those properties … I’ve never seen that.

On the other hand, we’ve never had that kind of technology before, either. Five years ago we didn’t have FaceTime, so maybe it’s a combination of the pandemic and technology.

However, having said that, I would never advise anyone to buy property without physically being there. There’s too much of an investment and commitment of capital — I think it’s too risky, however I understand how people are acting in a frenzied market, and they don’t want to lose out.

It used to be because we have such a short selling season, people were generally here in July and August, those were the most popular months, and it was not unusual to have a house on market for up to a year … depending on when you put it on market and how much inventory there is, but now there’s not any inventory, and interest rates are ridiculously low, and some people are panicked because of the virus and they want to escape from the city.

So the market time now — some properties don’t even make it to the market. A realtor will find out about a listing and call his client, and the property won’t actually make it to the market. We’re seeing some of that, not as much as a few months ago, but the properties that do make it to market get snapped up in a short period of time.

From a realtor perspective, there aren’t enough houses to go around — I’ve never had so many buyers looking in the 14 years I’ve been doing this, and I have nothing to show them.

In Chilmark right now, there is just one house available between $1 million and $2 million dollars. There are a few over $2 million, but just a handful. Some of that has to do with the zoning — you need three acres for a house in Chilmark. Down-Island, the zoning allows for more homes, so there’s greater inventory, but it’s still very tight.

When I read that these days realtors must be making a killing, it’s not what everyone is saying it is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing fine, but what you have to realize is that everybody on this Island has a real estate license — there’s a lot of competition.

Who are the buyers, and where are they coming from? We’re still getting a large amount of buyers from Boston and New York, and right now the focus is not necessarily on a vacation home — it’s an escape home. The mentality is that “I’m buying a vacation home, but if I have to work remotely, I might as well use my home and work on Martha’s Vineyard.” It’s a hybrid vacation home and home away from home in troubled times.

At the height of the concern about the pandemic, there were people coming here for the duration, working remotely, and putting their kids in school here, but I think that mania is calming down a bit as things are starting to get back to normal. That mania and fear and concern about the unknown is starting to diminish, especially as the vaccines become available. I think it also doesn’t hurt that we have a better president now, and that’s calmed things down — it certainly has for me.