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‘It’s mind-boggling’: On Cape Cod, soaring home prices create an unprecedented seller’s market

A home for sale on Main Street in Barnstable.
A home for sale on Main Street in Barnstable.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Tim Scozzari, a Cape Cod real estate agent, has been in the industry for 15 years. But he’s never seen a market like this.

In a single year, the median sale price for single-family houses on the Cape has skyrocketed. In Chatham, the median sale price was $1.78 million in April, a jaw-dropping 218 percent increase from April 2020, when the median was $557,500, according to the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors.

In Truro, the median home sale price jumped 97.9 percent from April 2020 to April 2021 — from $486,000 to $962,000. And Barnstable County as a whole saw a 42 percent increase in the median home sale price over the same period, according to the association.

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“It’s mind-boggling,” Scozzari said.

With greater flexibility to work remotely brought on by the pandemic, low interest rates, and summer approaching, demand is intense for homes on Cape Cod, and with tight inventory, prices are soaring. In such a fierce market, house hunters are going to extraordinary lengths to make their offers competitive.

One Connecticut man, with the go-ahead from his company to work remotely, began looking to buy a home on the Cape, putting in several offers and losing out on them all.

Undeterred, he found a house he liked in Yarmouth, this time offering $100,000 over the asking price. He also waived the home inspection, paid in cash, and put “no conditions at all” on the sale, said Scozzari, a realtor with Today Real Estate, who worked with the man on the deal.

His was one of 31 offers on the house. But he got it.

Aspects of this buyer’s experience have become more common on the Cape, multiple realtors said. House hunters are forking over full-cash payments, skipping inspections, waiving appraisal contingencies, and putting together offers after a FaceTime viewing — or without seeing the property in person at all.

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The dearth of homes on the market has buyers scrambling. While 154 homes were for sale in Chatham in April 2020, just 38 were listed in April 2021, a decrease of 75.3 percent, according to data from the CCIAR.

The trend repeated itself in Truro as well. In April, just three homes were on the market there, a 93.8 percent decrease from the previous April when 48 homes were listed. The small number of homes sold can dramatically skew a town’s median home sale price.

“Normally we have 2,000 homes for sale, pre-pandemic, which is still low for the Cape at any given time,” said Ryan Castle, chief executive officer of the CCIAR. “Now we’re down to about 400 homes for sale and have been for several months. We’re getting less new listings and more demand, which has shrunk inventory about 80 percent.”

In April, 54 percent of all homes purchased on the Cape sold for more than their asking price, according to Castle, a significant jump from just 20 percent in April 2020. Open houses are mobbed, and bidding wars are on the rise.

Alison Swallow, who lives in Winchester, started looking in December 2020 for a second home on the Cape to be closer to her parents. After putting in offers on three homes and losing out, she closed on a condo in Brewster in March and waived the inspections.

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“Getting into bidding wars at the top of our budget was stressful,” Swallow said. “And it felt stressful going to these open houses and seeing and hearing all the other people. You realize how competitive it is when you’re looking at it with everyone else.”

Doug Azarian, a realtor with Kinlin Grover Real Estate, said that in his 35-year career, “this is the strongest seller’s market I’ve ever seen,” with new listings going under contract in two weeks or less. Brokers will stop taking offers on homes just days after they are first listed. On a recent Sunday, he and a client waited more than two hours just to view an open house in Bourne.

“There’s little supply and a lot of demand,” Azarian said. “If somebody finds a house that fits the bill, they realize if they’re going to purchase it, they’ll probably have to pay more than they want to.”

The median sales price for a single-family home in Barnstable County skyrocketed to $653,500 in March 2021, a record high for the region and a 48.5 percent increase from March 2020, when the median was $441,250, according to data from the CCIAR. By comparison, the median sales price from March 2019 to March 2020 increased by just 4.7 percent, from $421,500 to $441,250.

In towns with more inventory, prices have also climbed, if at a slightly slower rate. In Barnstable, the median sales price was $553,000 in April 2021, up from $397,000 a year earlier, an increase of 39.3 percent. The number of homes for sale also dropped significantly year over year, with 277 available in April 2020 but just 95 in April 2021, a decrease of 65.7 percent, according to the association.

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Home prices are also rising across Massachusetts generally. The median single-family sale price in March 2021 was $460,000, a 14.4 percent increase from March 2020, when that figure was at $402,000, according to the Warren Group, a real estate analytics firm.

Inventory remains low across the state, with the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reporting that in March, the number of single-family homes and condominiums for sale fell to the lowest point since the association began collecting data in 2004.

One of the reasons fewer homes are available on the Cape is that people are reluctant to sell because they’re not sure where they can go with such a tight market, said Amy Harbeck, a Cape realtor with Kinlin Grover.

Concerns about moving were exacerbated by the pandemic, with people opting to avoid moving in with others or joining assisted living homes. For those who are looking to sell and downsize, there are few long-term rentals available on the Cape, she added.

“Whenever we’re talking about the market, we say things like, ‘It’s nuts, it’s crazy,’ ” Harbeck said. “We’re running out of adjectives because it’s difficult to convey how remarkable it is. It’s certainly unprecedented.”


Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.