With the spring home-selling season having finally arrived, prospective buyers and industry observers are busy looking to see what the biggest and brightest offerings are, and equally important, how much money they’ll fetch when the deal finally closes. Though real estate agents working with the state’s more luxurious homes have reported there’s a lot less inventory out there in the high-end category, they are still predicting a banner year for sales as the lack of supply has once again driven up prices.

In a number of Massachusetts communities, those same agents are predicting new sales records once the premier properties have finally changed hands.

There’s not a tremendous inventory out there, said Paul Grover with Kinlin Grover/GMAC Real Estate in Osterville. There’s definitely less available now than there was at this same time a year ago. In Cotuit, for example, we’re only listing two homes for sale. Last year we had six.

Still, the few homes that Grover has to offer have no trouble standing out among the smaller crowd.

For example, if the estate Grover has listed at 143 Bayberry Way in Osterville is sold for anywhere near its asking price of $11.3 million, it will most likely break the record for Osterville and the rest of Cape Cod.

The house, a traditional, shingle-style home, has almost 7,000 square feet of living space. Built in 1914, it was restored in 1989 by its most recent owners, listed in real estate records as Richard S. Leghorn and Peter F. Ryan. We were seeing a lot of tear-downs, but they did a beautiful job restoring this place, Grover said of the three-acre property with its own dock. The second-floor master suite includes a bedroom, sunroom, kitchenette, and his and hers bathrooms with Whirlpools, large closets, and dressing areas.

Other properties of note for sale on the Cape this season include a $4.9 million Seaview Avenue estate in Osterville with a private beach on Nantucket Sound, a cherry wood walled library, and a hockey court in the basement; a five-acre Barnstable Village property with a carriage house, fieldstone fireplaces and guest apartment for $3.5 million; and a $4.75 million dramatic waterfront home with its own deep-water dock on Baxter Neck Road in Marstons Mills.

The islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard should also see new record home sales in the coming months, if real estate agents’ predictions come true. Sharon Smith Purdy of Sandpiper Realty in Edgartown said her office is listing two homes at $12.5 million each that would break the island record for a home sale if either of the asking prices are met. Purdy’s office nearly broke the record recently when One Starbuck Neck in Edgartown was put under agreement for slightly less than $12 million.

It’s a very top-heavy market, Purdy said. What’s happening is that anything listed under $1 million is very hard to find, and when something comes in under $1 million – say for $300,000, $500,000 or $600,000 – it’s going very quickly. Homes in the 3s are gone in a few days.

One of the potential record-setting homes, Princess Meadows, is in West Tisbury. Located on 50-plus acres, the compound has a heated pool and spa, two ponds, two 18th-century homes and includes 10 pre-approved buildable lots. The other property – Tashmoo’s End in Vineyard Haven, has more than 500 feet of deep-water frontage, separate master and guest bedroom wings and a three-car garage.

On nearby Nantucket Island, a 65-acre property with the potential for subdivision is poised to shatter that community’s home sale record with an asking price of more than $22 million. George Ballantyne, senior vice president of Sotheby’s International Realty reports that interest in the property is very strong.

There are frustrations out there because there are very few stellar properties, Ballantyne said. That may change. We may see more, but there were more properties available last year than this year. Moving west from the Cape and Islands, Ballantyne said Sotheby’s is currently listing a brick Federal house on the waterfront in the upscale South Shore community of Duxbury that is on the market for more than $3 million. That will set a substantial new record for Duxbury, he said.

In wealthy Weston, Terry Maitland, a broker for LandVest, is listing the residence of Bill Bain from Bain Capital Management for $7.95 million. I feel confident that home will be sold this spring, he reported.

In the North Shore community of Ipswich, a 95-acre farm on the water with an antique farmhouse is set to come on the market in May, Lanse Robb, also of LandVest, reported. If an offer is accepted at anywhere near the asking price of $4.9 million, Robb said it will more than triple the existing high-price mark in town of about $1.5 million.

Further west in Berkshire County, Ballantyne reported the Foothill Farm estate in the upscale town of Lenox is being offered at $2.45 million. Nodin Farm in the southern Berkshire town of New Marlboro, a former dairy farm on 275 acres, is offered at $1.3 million. Though not record-breaking prices for the county, both stand out in the relatively lower-priced Western Massachusetts market.

‘Move to Cincinnati’
Thought the agents surveyed said there is no typical profile of this season’s home sellers, Robb said there is a trend of old selling to new.

A lot of these larger estates have been in a family for years, but they can only hold on to it for so long, he said. At first one person owns it, but it gets passed down and then pretty soon you have eight people owning it, and not all eight want to keep it, so they end up selling it or subdividing it.

In addition to multiple ownership, you’ve got the issue of the taxman who wants to get paid if it’s part of someone’s estate, he added. Also, he said the strong market is driving some owners to sell who normally wouldn’t.

It’s sort of like rare art. You wouldn’t put a rare piece of art up for auction unless you were sure you were going to get a great price for it. Couples that are out there thinking about selling their house are saying ‘Let’s do it now because there’s a market for high-end homes.

The buyers of these luxury homes, most agree, are younger. There’s a lot of high-tech money out there, Maitland said. He added that the reason inventory is lower than last year is because people have no place to go.

So many people are ready to sell their houses, but there’s no place for them to move into, he said. Also, if people are selling high, and then turning around and buying for a high price, where’s your margin? There’s no point to moving.

I tell everybody, and nobody’s taken me up on it yet, is to sell in Boston, and move to Cincinnati, he said.

Despite the lack of inventory, the higher-end home agents are expecting another stellar year in terms of sales dollars from their offices. Although the number of transactions is down, the increase in prices makes up the difference, they say.

Inventory’s not as high, but the prices are, Grover said. In May, our Osterville office will do $50 million worth of business. For one office, that’s outrageous.

Grover reported his company had 35 sales of more than $1 million in 1999. Just a few months into 2000, he said he has 40 properties already sold or under agreement for more than $1 million. Two of them have price tags of more than $6 million and two are for more than $10 million, he added.

Companies used to be pleased to have a $40 million year, Ballantyne said. Now they’re looking to have $40 million weeks.

Spring Sprouts Crop of Record Home Prices

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 5 min