Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cool Tool Available to Martha’s Vineyard NStar Customers

I just received a gadget that is being offered through an NStar utility partner, Blueline Innovations. It’s a wireless device that is not difficult to install or set up. Besides the ability to intelligently monitor power usage in your home, I think it can be a fun learning tool for children and the whole family to educate them about energy conservation. The Power Cost Monitor is available right now for $29.95 with a promotion code for NStar customers, BUT the price is expected to go up to $135.00US after June 30, 2007. Follow this link to learn more about the PowerCost Monitor™.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tear It Down or Renovate It: A Growing Dilemma For Home Buyers.

For quite some time I’ve been chanting that it’s time to let go --- let go of the notion that a 70-year-old house has enough charm and redeeming factors to be worth saving.

With energy concerns becoming more prevalent and the cost of utilities continuing to escalate, we need to change our thinking here on Martha’s Vineyard. Charm is a relative term and there is nothing charming or attractive about a tiny 70-year-old house with little to no insulation, cramped bedrooms, one bathroom with leaky plumbing and a tiny kitchen that is inadequate by today’s standards on a crumbling wet foundation.

Circa 1900 near Campground, Oak Bluffs

I’d even go so far as to say there is nothing charming or redeeming about some of the houses built during the last 20 to 40 years. We allowed some real junk to be constructed during the 1980’s real estate boom, and a lot of the circa 1970 construction is ugly and functionally obsolete. Aside from the emphasis today on energy conservation, modern high-technology in new homes is also important and advancing at a breathtakingly rapid pace. Today’s upscale consumers want that technology, but they don’t want the kinds of subdivisions typical of suburban America. They want the charm of the Martha’s Vineyard lifestyle because that is what attracts them. But they want that charm to include all the bells and whistles they are used to at home; they want the best of both worlds. The psychographic profile of people moving to the Vineyard is changing and that will make modern in-home high-technology even more important. No longer are we just a summer retreat or retirement community. People come here for a gentler way of life while simultaneously carrying on their off-Island careers.

It might very well cost you more to renovate an older house than to build a new home. So, what’s the answer? I think the eco-conscientious solution is to scrape them, raze them, bulldoze and remove them from the land and start over. Some people call this “Bash and Build”. It may sound shocking, but it’s been happening in other parts of the country for quite a while now. One off-Island builder who has worked on numerous teardown projects in recent years says, “In my opinion, it’s the hottest trend in real estate.” So how do you get this old house off of your nice lot? You can either have the structure demolished, lifted off the foundation and removed in one piece or deconstructed. The latter method which entails reclaiming lumber and reusable building materials will cost you more money and more time than just driving a bulldozer through the front door. Another option is to donate the old structure to affordable housing. It would then be lifted off the foundation and removed in one piece. This sounds like a good idea, but there is a backlog of inventory right now. Let your eco-conscience be your guide. You might also be eligible for a substantial tax deduction if you can donate the structure or the salvaged reusable materials.

Speaking of costs and savings --- it could cost anywhere from $20,000 and up to demolish and cart away the old structure. That cost doesn’t include the foundation, but the foundation material can also be recycled. When the site is clean, you can start from scratch building a new and possibly bigger dream home on that nice lot. In the end you may be paying more “all in” for the finished product, but you will be in a location you want, instead of next door to yourself in a new subdivision without the landscaping intrinsic to older quintessential communities like big trees (to provide screening and privacy). Remember, most of the best locations on this Island are already developed or in conservation. Another factor to consider is financing. If you’re not paying cash, the best solution is to acquire a two-phase loan for a project like this. The first part will be a construction loan which historically will be at a higher rate --- perhaps one-half to one point above prime. You will need a construction contract and approved plans in order to get the loan, but the plans don’t have to be set in cement --- no pun intended. The second part is for the conventional home mortgage. If you’re unable to get your ducks in a row for this type of financing you will end up paying closing costs twice.

We already have a number of cookie cutter subdivisions on the Island, but there are a number of mature small and medium size communities in great locations on the Island where the houses range in size and style unlike the uniformity of modern subdivisions. In off-Island communities it has always been understood one should never to have the biggest home in the neighborhood. But on Martha’s Vineyard that is not a concern. The teardown trend is starting to become more accepted, and inadequate and smaller houses are being replaced with more substantial houses. I am not talking about “McMansions”, nor am I a proponent of them. I believe smart buyers who have identified and moved into the older communities by replacing dilapidated homes with new homes will create an environment for more buyers to come in and build new homes. This will fuel a renaissance in these communities. The land on this Island is just too precious to pretend patch-and-paint houses contribute to the value of the land.

New architect design reproduction near Sunset Lake, Oak Bluffs

I do think it is critical for neighborhoods to be vigilant and take responsibility for their future well-being. It will be important for residents of these communities to establish home owner associations if they don’t already have them. They need to create covenants to ensure there are safeguards to prevent someone from coming into the community and building an enormous A-Frame glass tent or Quonset hut that doesn’t fit the general character of the neighborhood. Variety is a good thing because it gives character to the community and ensures more expensive homes will blend in visually and economically. This is all part of preserving the future value of your investment and the value of this magical Island we all love to live on.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Martha’s Vineyard is Living On The Edge

Living on Martha’s Vineyard we are all used to the threat of seasonal hurricanes and a steady flow of Nor’easters during the year. We take them pretty much in stride assuming that the weather forecasters are just creating drama and nothing much will happen. The last real storm damage anyone remembers was during Hurricane Bob and the Halloween Nor’easter in 1991. Actually the Halloween storm did more damage to the beaches and dunes than Bob did.

Once again a Nor’easter has slowly crept across the middle of the country and up the eastern seaboard hovering over the Martha’s Vineyard shoreline for days. Although the body of the storm moved out into the Atlantic, the effects of the storm are still lingering with high winds, rough seas and unusually high tides continuing an assault on our beaches and dunes. The final report card for this storm is still being written but severe errosion has been observed along the northwest coast and the Lucy Vincent Beach area.

Here is one report on the damage sustained to one of the most fragile and beautiful areas we lovingly covet and try to protect, albeit this is also viewed as a positive phenomena.

(Click here to view >) Norton Point Beach breached; crashing seas open channel

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Edgartown Adopts Strict BOH Regulations in hopes of Protecting Sengekontacket Pond

On March 7th, I commented on this article.
Click here to follow link > Septic Ban Points to Pond Protection

I spoke with Matt Poole the day before the Board of Health meeting regarding certain concerns I had about the proposed new health regulations governing Ocean Heights and Arbutus Park. Matt was actually working on completing the draft for the new regulation when I interrupted him. I told him I felt this could present a real hardship to current property owners who may not be able to afford the cost of possible mandatory waste water upgrades as outlined by the new regulation. Those with vacant lots may no longer be able to afford construction costs on their lots with the added expense of new utility systems. Matt said, in so many words, anyone who owns or purchases property in these areas should be able to afford the hookups. He may be right because there have been some pretty impressive houses going up in these communities lately.

Ultimately, this will be a good thing but I think it will be very interesting to see how the new regulations create a paradigm shift in Ocean Heights and Arbutus Park. I agree installing enhanced systems with the thought of evading the new hookup and as a permanent solution would be ill-advised because I believe the enhanced systems will have to be abandoned eventually. In my opinion enhanced systems are not attractive looking and I think they’re a band-aid for what has been and is increasingly becoming more and more a very serious problem -- the pollution of Sengekontacket Pond.

I think it’s unfortunate that Edgartown does not focus more on existing problems in developed neighborhoods before it allows major new construction projects in equally fragile areas like the Edgartown Great Pond. We need to control and limit density here, not increase it. This Island is already choking; we don’t want it to lose its vital signs.
Click here to follow link > Strict Regulations to Protect Sengekontacket Pond

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The times they are a changing --- on Martha's Vineyard

Septic Ban Points to Pond Protection is the title of a recent article in the Vineyard Gazette that outlines a new regulation affecting vacant land owners in Ocean Heights and Arbutus Park.

Water pollution is the #1 factor that’s going to limit the density and development of the Vineyard in all geographic areas. We’ve known this for years, and you don’t have to be Nostradamus to have seen it coming.

Last year the town of Edgartown implemented a “Wastewater Department Bedroom Regulation” that stated simply (?) will limit the number of bedrooms as follows: “Existing and future lots shall be allowed four (4) bedrooms for the first ten thousand (10,000) square feet of lot area.” The regulation goes on to outline guidelines for additional bedrooms, but I think you get the idea.

Our aquifer is essentially one large interconnected underground lake that supplies the entire Island and our numerous tidal ponds are very fragile. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out we’re at a tipping point. All you have to do during the summer when driving along Island byways and passing any number of these ponds is hang your head out the window of your car and sniff the air. Every year the BOH closes certain ponds at one point during the summer for recorded high fecal levels. That’s scary.

Read this article and keep in mind that buying land is going to require more than just a promise and assumption that you can build what you want on the land, even if the current zoning bylaws say you can. Rules are changing every day and I bet you’re going to see a great many lots in the Ocean Heights area coming on the market at fire sale prices, or being purchased by one buyer, combined, engineered and offered for sale anew at premium prices. I know of one group of lots in that area right now, not in MLS, available for $750,000.

Click here to follow link > Septic Ban Points to Pond Protection

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Land Bank does it again.

In the on-going race between the have’s, the have not’s, and the Land Bank for land acquisition on Martha’s Vineyard, the Land Bank has once again gobbled up some delicious chunks of real estate for the public in perpetuity.

(Click here to view >) Land Bank buys Aquinnah beach, Chilmark field

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