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House for Sale: Affordable Martha's Vineyard

House for Sale: Affordable Martha’s Vineyard
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More about Martha’s Vineyard:
Martha’s Vineyard, MA: Gardens and Markets

Weekend in Martha’s Vineyard

Would you believe there are around 750 properties for sale on Martha’s Vineyard this year? Real estate activity is still slow out there. That’s why we called a friend of ours, Jon Hartzband, who specializes in affordable island properties.


By “affordable,” we mean under a half-million dollars. Could he show us some? His response: “Sure, come on out.”

Not long thereafter, we took the Steamship Authority ferry out of Woods Hole, heading for Vineyard Haven. From there we drove to Edgartown, where harborside property goes for seven or eight million dollars, and settled ourselves for the night in a wonderful, if a tad expensive, place called the Harbor View Hotel & Resort. Early the next morning we were in Jon’s car heading for the town of Oak Bluffs and a full day of moseying.

“Oak Bluffs is where the bargains are,” Jon said as we drove along next to the ocean on one side and the golf course President Obama likes on the other. “And our first stop,” he continued, flashing a smile, “will be our house! My wife, Skye–she’s a schoolteacher now–and I built it ourselves just three years ago.” Jon has lived on Martha’s Vineyard for more than 10 years; he met and married Skye there and now informally partners with her father, Jesse Sonneborn, in the real estate business.

But that’s far from all he does. He’s also a building contractor, house caretaker, real estate buyer’s representative, and landscaper; he runs a home-cleaning business, does tree work, and tends bar two nights a week. Oh, and he also owns and operates, with his brother, Michael, the Oak Bluffs General Store.

Jon and Skye are offering their new eight-room Oak Bluffs house (#1), located within an easy walk to town and an eight-minute bike ride to beaches. “If this or any of the properties I show you today were on the water, add about another $400,000 to the price,” Jon noted as he pulled into the driveway and parked in front of a small storage shed next to the backyard deck. “Also,” he continued, “2 percent of the selling price of any property on the island goes to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, which maintains hundreds of acres of open land here.”

After oohing and ahing over Jon and Skye’s little boy, Greyson, we walked through the spacious downstairs living/kitchen/dining area, plus bedroom/office and full bath, admiring the bamboo flooring throughout. We also saw the master bedroom with full bath and another sleeping area upstairs, and then the carpeted sleeping area/exercise room and laundry room in the basement. All in all, an impressive and, for Martha’s Vineyard, very reasonably priced property.

But the next property we saw was even less. Also in Oak Bluffs, built 12 years ago with three bedrooms and two bathrooms plus full basement, this place (#2) is owned by a local bank. Needs a little cosmetic work, but it has a nice backyard; it’s on a dead-end street, with the beach an easy walk away. “A good deal,” said Jon.

On the way to another property, we stopped at Jon and brother Michael’s Oak Bluffs General Store, which also has a three-bedroom condominium upstairs, with a view of the harbor (#3). Jon’s price covers the property, the inventory, and the business. We bought a T-shirt in there advertising the place nearby where Jon bartends. “Ale to the Chief!” it said.

After our visit to the store, Jon drove us slowly by all those famous and colorful gingerbread campground cottages in downtown Oak Bluffs, most of which surround an auditorium they call The Tabernacle. Some of those charming little houses, jammed up right next to one another, are available, Jon said, for anywhere from $260,000 to $700,000. But although you can own the house, you have to lease the land it sits on from a Protestant nonprofit religious organization known as the Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association.

Although the next property Jon showed us wasn’t on the green surrounding The Tabernacle, it was nonetheless a “campground cottage” (#4). Only steps from Oak Bluffs Harbor, beaches, and the ferry, it has three bedrooms, one bath, and a spacious living area with a beautiful stained-glass window. In back is a good-sized deck. We found the “summer cottage” feeling about it to be charming.

The listing agent for the above as well as the next Oak Bluffs property on our tour wasn’t Jon; he’d represent the buyer. Rather, the listing agent was Marilyn Moses, who joined us, and who, like everyone else on Martha’s Vineyard, or so it seemed to us, knew Jon well. This was a four-room bungalow (#5), built in 1920, and also located within an easy walk to the ferry. The asking price includes the .14-acre lot. You’d have to upgrade the sewage disposal system, but otherwise it looked to be in good shape.

Our final Oak Bluffs property (#6) was a little pricier, probably because you can supposedly see the water from it. Sure enough, from the screened porch, through trees and shrubs, we could see “The Lagoon.” Built in 1960, the home has one bedroom (with outside space to add a couple more), one and a half baths, and an open living room with vaulted ceiling and exposed beams.

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