The Block Island Times

Block Island Real Estate picking up

Fall season “busy” this year
By Stephanie Turaj | Dec 07, 2013

The Rhode Island real estate market is making a recovery, and Block Island is also benefiting from the trend.

The Block Island Times asked eight Block Island real estate agents their thoughts about the state of the market. Most agreed this fall season was strong, and are optimistic for next year. According to the agents, sales are increasing, and selling prices of the properties remain about the same.

“I would say the way the real estate market is connected to the economy is that it shows interest in the island, and in Rhode Island,” said Rosemary Tobin, sales associate at Lila Delman Real Estate. “It’s what gets the ball rolling. After buying, you start having people painting, people doing work on the house, people cleaning.”

“The volume of sales has risen. There were a lot of closings in September and October,” said Gail Ballard Hall, principal broker at Ballard Hall Real Estate.

“The fall has been busy,” echoed Jennifer Phillips, broker at Phillips Real Estate. “Activity is based on weather, and especially this year, this fall, we’ve had a very active market.”

However, Phillips said July and August sales were “disappointing.” She explained that while Rhode Island is busy during the summer, the island “lags behind” the mainland.

“The mainland was just picking up [in the summer]. It took us a little longer to catch up,” said Phillips.

Cindy Pappas, broker for Sullivan real estate, has similar comments.

“To me, Block Island is a microcosm, a reflection of what happens in the larger market. We experience the same ups and downs, but we usually lag behind,” said Pappas. “Being an optimistic person, I’m hoping that it bodes well for Block Island and the country as a whole.”

The mainland market

According to national and regional reports, the real estate market is increasing from previous years.

An October 2013 RE/MAX national housing report said, “Home sales and prices in September were lower than August, but remained significantly higher than September last year. This makes September the 20th consecutive month for year-over-year increases in both sales and prices. September home sales were up 10.7 percent and the median price of $185,000 was 12.2 percent above the price in September 2012.”

RE/MAX is a national real estate franchise. Its housing report surveyed real estate listing data in 52 metropolitan areas.

“It’s really encouraging to see that both sales and prices remain significantly higher than this time last year,” said RE/MAX CEO Margaret Kelly in the housing report.

“The strong performance we saw this summer and throughout 2013 confirms we’ve passed the early states of a housing recovery and are now moving toward a sustainable marketplace.”

In Rhode Island, 806 single family homes were sold in Oct. 2013, compared to 679 in Oct 2012, according to real estate listing data provided by the Statewide Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The median price for homes sold was $204,000 in Oct. 2013, compared to $200,000 in Oct. 2012.

On Block Island, 26 percent of all homes that were listed this year have been sold as of early Dec. 2013, according to MLS data. The Multiple Listing Service is a searchable database of real estate available in Rhode Island.

Block Island sales

“Personally, I think it was a better year than last year,” said Tobin.

“It was definitely the strongest year we’ve had in a while,” said Kate Atwater Butcher, owner and principal broker at Block Island Realty. “I think people are taking advantage of the low interest rates.”

Butcher explained that mortgage rates have been “fairly low” over the past few years, but there have been predictions, particularly during the government shut down last month, that mortgage rates will rise. “I still remain hopeful that mortgage rates will remain low,” she added. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Beach Real Estate, in contrast, had its record sales last year, with 10 sales, said broker Mary Stover. However, she said this year also looks strong, with eight sales to date.

“I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic for next year,” said Stover. She said last year’s high sales were likely because of “pent-up demand” for housing. Nancy Pike, also a broker for Beach Real Estate, explained that during the economy’s recession, people were not purchasing houses.

“I think the buyers are suddenly ready,” said Pike. “When we had the recession, some people who had the money were holding off. They were reluctant to buy because the economy was poor.”

“It was a very solid year,” said Pappas, “People were ready, and consumer confidence was higher.”

“We have had an uptick in buyers looking and in completed sales, including a short sale. With this steady improving trend, it is a great time for buyers and looking very positive for sales,” said Robin Lewis, co-owner at Offshore Property.

Sue Black, co-owner at Offshore Property agreed, but she first thanked a longtime real estate agent who recently retired. “We are very thankful to Edith Blane for passing along her business to us at a great time,” Black said. “We’re really happy things seem to be picking up.”

Attwood Real Estate also agreed that sales were up this year. According to broker Susan Weissman, there were eight home sales this year.

“Considering I’m a small office, that’s good,” she said. “This year was fabulous.”

Attwood’s lowest year for sales was last year, with just one sale, Weissman said. She attributed this to the poor economy. She said that because of more restrictive bank regulations, it has taken longer for sales to close — for example, two of her sales this year should have closed last year.

On Block Island, Tobin said the housing market is unique, particularly because it is much smaller than the mainland market.

“Each property ends up being its own market,” she said, saying that location, size, and view make each house different, and it is harder to predict the housing market here.

Hall echoed these comments, and said the number of sales each year depend on what kind of properties are for sale. According to Hall, this year there have been some “really unique inland and waterfront properties.”

“They [buyers] always want views,” said Stover. Weissman echoed this comment, adding that homes without a view take longer to sell.

Tobin reported another trend: more people are looking for simple, “turnkey,” or ready-to-move-into, homes. “They want to be able to move in within the next week,” said Tobin, who said that people are looking for simplicity. “Block Island is kind of a perfect place for that.”


Most real estate agents said that list prices for homes have remained mostly stagnant, but they are not falling. Phillips, for example, said list prices were not dropping, while Stover said “prices are inching up.”

Tobin said most houses that sell are below $1 million, and above $3 million. However, she said the $1 to $2 million range is not as strong.

Butcher had similar comments, agreeing that the $1 to $2 million price range is the weakest. “The middle market remains a little soft,” she said.

“The most houses that sell are listed below $1 million,” echoed Mary Stover. She said this is to be expected, as homes that are less expensive move faster. Stover said more competition in the housing market accounts for the prices that are slowly rising — and this lower portion of the market has the most homes for sale.

“Some prices have risen, but most have stayed the same,” said Hall. “I think the prices will go up as the volume of the sales go up.”

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