Understanding the Cape Cod Real Estate Market

Whether you’re thinking of buying or selling a home on Cape Cod this year, it’s important to understand the overall Cape Cod real estate market to help you prepare for and negotiate your own transaction.

Recent History

Before the most recent real estate crash that affected nearly all US markets, the Cape Cod Real Estate market (as a whole) had peaked somewhere around the summer of 2006.* It took 10+ years for the median prices of Cape Cod real estate to return to their highs of that time, with the “bottom” occurring near the beginning of 2010. We have just begun, over the past 1-2 years, enjoying median and average sale prices that are higher than those of the 2006 peak. Compared to the consolidated Massachusetts real estate market, our recovery here on the Cape has taken longer and has not been as dramatic as the whole.

All Real Estate is Local

The Cape, also known as Barnstable County, is made up of 15 distinct towns and each one has their own unique real estate market. For 2018, the median sale price of single family homes in Harwich was $433,250 while right next door in Chatham, the median was $746,200. And it’s not just the prices. The number of new listings in Harwich in 2018 was up 10% compared to 2017, while in Chatham, they were down 8%.

The Data

We all understand the terms median price and average price, with “median” being the most commonly used to compare market prices in real estate. Other important data points include Closed Sales, Pending Sales, Days on Market (DOM/CDOM), and Inventory.

Closed Sales represent the number of homes that actually closed that month. Those homes most likely went under agreement 6-8 weeks earlier. So a better statistic to examine if you are wondering when is a good time to list your home for sale would be Pending Sales. This is when the home actually went under agreement. A high number of pending sales in a given month is likely an indication that a high number of buyers are looking at that time.

Days on Market (DOM) and Cumulative Days on Market (CDOM) are also useful measurements, but may not be as significant as you think. First, the difference between DOM and CDOM is that DOM reflects the most recent listing of the home, whereas CDOM includes past listings of the home when it did not sell. CDOM is generally the more relevant. Buyers often believe that if a home has been on the market for a long time, it must be substantially overpriced. While this is often true, it is not an absolute fact. Some homes that are priced correctly simply have a smaller pool of potential buyers due to some feature (or lack thereof), which itself influences the home’s market value, although not always. Also, markets can change quickly. A sudden shortage of inventory can cause prices to rise quickly and the home may suddenly sell close to its asking price. The best indicator of market value is the RECENT sale price of SIMILAR homes in the SAME or SIMILAR neighborhoods. But DOM/CDOM should still be considered, at least to understand why the home has not sold.

Inventory is a very important statistic for both buyers and sellers. Low inventory typically favors sellers and list prices are likely to be higher during periods of low inventory. High inventory favors buyers since sellers are competing against a large number of players for your dollars. Here on the Cape, inventory was historically low through 2017 and 2018. It is definitely on the rebound, although still somewhat low historically.

Relevant Timing

When Realtors are analyzing and estimating the market value of a home for either a buyer or potential seller, we generally compare the home to other homes that have sold only within the past 6 months. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but that is a general rule of thumb. Sales older than that are oftentimes irrelevant because of changes in the market conditions since then.

For current Cape Cod real estate statistics at any time, view the County Report provided by the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors. For a report of a specific town and/or specific time period, visit the Faststats main page and make your selections. And of course, always consult with a professional Cape Cod Realtor who can help you understand the data and provide information that is not easily available to the public.  Please contact me, as I would welcome the opportunity to assist you with your buying and selling needs.