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A Watertight Investment
By North Cairn

From Cape Cod Bay to Nantucket Sound, shoreline homes remain hot properties

Luxury waterfront properties. They’re like diamonds. Or gold. Or fine art. They just never lose their luster.
Luxury waterfront properties all around the Cape are more than holding their own in these otherwise lean economic times. These homes and estates in many cases are increasing in value – despite the slowdown in the real estate market in Massachusetts and around the country, say Cape Realtors from Sandwich to Provincetown. In waterfront offerings that run from $2 million all the way up to a recent $32-million deal, sales are as good as – if not better than – they’ve been in the last five years.

“You hear all this negativity” in other areas of the real-estate market, says Jamie Regan, owner of Century 21 Regan Realtors in Mashpee Commons. But it’s not hitting the luxury second-home market. In fact, says Regan, “the thing I’m finding interesting is ... that the highs are higher than they’ve ever been.”

“I read all the gloom and doom and horror stories, but that is not what’s happening on the Cape,” says John Leaning, a Realtor with American Heritage Real Estate in South Orleans. “Virtually anything on the water, particularly salt water or a salt-water view” is always in high demand.

“There’s a flight to quality right now,” says Jack Cotton, manager of Sotheby’s International Realty, Cape Cod, in Osterville. Waterfront property priced from $5 million up is really hot, he says, and in contrast to other areas of the state that saw declines in real-estate values last year, luxury waterfront homes on the Cape enjoyed “a fabulous year.”

And that’s not the case here alone. High-end real estate in many markets worldwide has sold in record numbers and at record prices, according to a survey from Christie’s Great Estates in New York. “Recent news stories about housing prices have failed to report on the robust sales achievements in the luxury real-estate sector,” says Kay Coughlin, president and CEO of the firm, the world’s leading luxury real-estate organization. “The high-end category worldwide continues to outperform expectations.”

“Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely,” the Cape is a great place to buy property, says Bob Churchill, owner of Buyer Brokers of Cape Cod/Churchill Associates Inc., of Yarmouthport, which represents buyers exclusively. “The Cape has become a very sophisticated destination. It’s becoming a cultural center; the business community is very active; the towns are establishing growth-incentive zones.” All this makes the peninsula an outstanding place in which to invest in property and “will bode well for the future.”

Across the board – from modest homes to sprawling seaside mansions – in real estate on Cape Cod, says Leaning, “it’s not so bad here.” While other areas of Massachusetts and New England have experienced a more sluggish market over the last twelve months, sales − particularly for “higher-scale homes” on the Cape − have been bucking the trend. “That inventory is turning over all the time,” he says.

Luxury waterfront properties here reliably hold and increase their value. They are “like diamonds,” says Regan. “Because the stock market has been so unstable,” people with money to invest find that quality real estate is always worth acquiring.

Quality homes, located literally anywhere on the water on Cape Cod, are extremely valuable – especially because the inventory is limited, Realtors say. There simply isn’t much open or available acreage. “And regulatory forces are limiting the supply further,” says Cotton, through zoning and conservation. As a result, even properties in need of attention – whether renovation, remodeling or, as can often be the case now, demolition to make room for a mega-mansion – are well worth the investment.

Osterville and Chatham have long been synonymous with luxury in the real-estate market, but there are so many other desirable Cape communities with breathtaking waterfront or water views that a list of them would include almost every town here. East Orleans, for example, is considered “the crème de la crème” of the Lower Cape, says Leaning, but there are spectacular waterfront properties from Province-town to Falmouth. And in communities like Eastham and Wellfleet, there are properties available that would be considered exceptional deals compared to other traditionally pricey and prestigious addresses.

Overall, what people are looking for is beach frontage, particularly waterfront that includes a dock or mooring for boating and swimming. “Even waterfront that doesn’t have great access” is in high demand, says Leaning, especially those with exceptional sunrise or sunset views. In the home itself, buyers are seeking spacious, open, interiors, along with some surrounding property out-of-doors, preferably at least an acre.

Almost all of the buyers in the luxury market, say Realtors Cape-wide, are people buying second homes. “And it’s not always a second home,” says Regan. “It can be third or fourth homes, too.”

In addition, many buyers are looking for properties that will be “second homes today, but they’ll be retiring to them,” says Churchill. He is seeing “more and more younger buyers” as well as what he calls “a group that’s hard to identify,” the growing group of entrepreneurs – especially in technology – who can work at home and consequently are seeking that kind of double use, as a residence and office.

Realtors are noting increased interest from foreign buyers, as well, no doubt in part because currencies abroad are faring better against the dollar. “This is the place to be ... (and) now is the time to be buying,” Regan says. “The cost of money is low” and over time, demand will remain strong. Value is determined by supply and demand, he says, pointing out that 33.4 million people live within four hours of the Cape by car. Combined with the limited supply of luxury homes, the long-term potential gains from investment in real estate here are “very strong.”

“You cannot defy the forces of nature, and you cannot defy the forces of economics,” he says. “The underlying value is still here. This is the place to be.”