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The Best of Both Worlds

Who are the Cape’s wealthiest second-home owners, and why do they love it here?

If you could travel back in time to 1950, chances are you would not recognize the communities of Cape Cod. Only 47,000 people lived here then, and almost everyone who had a home on the Cape was a fulltime resident. The local economy was still dependent on a robust fishing industry and fast-growing summer tourism.

Today, the year-round population has grown by 357 percent to 215,000 as of 2013. Sixty-five years after its heyday, commercial fishing is nearly extinct, and the population of this declining industry’s hub, Provincetown, has shrunk by almost 25 percent. The outermost town has gone from fourth most populous in 1950 to 13th today, ahead of only Wellfleet and Truro.

On the other hand, the town of Mashpee was almost totally undeveloped in 1950, with only 438 fulltime residents. Since then, it has exploded by more than 3,000 percent to more than 14,000—due in part to the arrival of gated communities like Willow-bend and New Seabury and mixed-use residential/commercial developments like Mashpee Commons.

But, there is much more to this story: the astounding growth of second homes on Cape Cod.

Many towns now have more second homes than fulltime residences.

Truro 60.7
Wellfleet 60.2
Provincetown 57.9
Eastham 54.1
Chatham 52.2
Dennis 51.0
Harwich 42.0
Brewster 40.8
Orleans 40.1
Mashpee 38.1
Falmouth 36.7
Yarmouth 34.5
Bourne 27.9
Barnstable 26.4
Sandwich 19.2
Average 38.2

Most of the newest second homes are not the quaint cottages of 1950, but residences worth from $1 million to more than $12 million—with open floor plans and state-of-the-art amenities like outdoor kitchens, home offices, entertainment centers and lush landscaping, including pools. The average second home on the Cape sits on close to a full acre, according to the Cape Cod Commission.

Once someone buys a second home on the Cape, they will spend more than another $5,000 on purchases for their residence here. Considering the wealthiest 10,000 second-home households, that comes to some $53 million—most of which stays right here. Sixteen of these second-home owners spent more than $100,000, with one exceeding $400,000.

How else do these second-home owners impact the Cape Cod economy? Consider that of the wealthiest 10,000 second-home households on the Cape:

  • Nearly 4,400 own boats—with some households having up to three.
  • There are nearly 4,000 golfers.
  • More than 85 percent are active investors.
  • More than 15 percent come to the Cape with a passion for the environment and get actively involved in nature.

Among the wealthiest second-home owners, more than 60 percent have their primary residences elsewhere in Massachusetts, mostly in the Boston metro area. Another 10 percent come from Connecticut and Rhode Island. About 5 percent of second-home owners have their primary residence in New Jersey, while nearly 6 percent live in New York.

As a result, for so many second-home owners, their Cape residence really is their “other” home, enjoyed year-round. Many will leave work Thursday night and spend a long weekend on the Cape, working by computer, tablet and smart phone—relying on high-speed, broadband Internet service, then returning to the office Monday morning.

Many now have their doctors and dentists, attorneys and accountants right here on the Cape. They join local houses of worship and work with local charities. They get their hair styled here and belong to neighborhood spas and gyms.

Many Cape Cod builders and designers work not only on the local second homes of these people, but also on their primary homes in the Boston area and elsewhere. They also offer a wide array of concierge services—from home watch and security to filling the refrigerator for weekend visits and even taking the boat in and out of the water when the seasons change.

Why did most of these second-home owners purchase their Cape residence?

  • 89 percent purchased it as a family retreat.
  • 80 percent purchased it because they believe now is a good time to purchase
  • 29 percent purchased it because it was a “good investment” opportunity.
  • 26 percent purchased it as a future primary residence.
  • 25 percent purchased it to rent to others.
  • 14 percent purchased it for tax benefits.

Who are these wealthy second-home owners? What kinds of homes do they live in? What are their professions? How many are retired? What do they like to pursue when they are on the Cape?

Value of all homes $1M+ Homes by Year Built (Top 5,000)

When home was built

Pre 180035
1800 184970
1850 1900236
1901 1949776
1950 1959261
1960 1969584
1970 1979304
1980 1989442
1990 1999558
2000 2010515

Age of second-home owners (top 5,000)

Under 3094
30-3995
40-49434
50-591,282
60-691,253
70-79933
80-89399
90-99105

Annual income of second-home owners (top 5,000)

$50,000 or less 600
$50,000 to $100,000 484
$100,000 to $125,000 1,515
$125,000 or more 2,802

Net worth of second-home owners (top 5,000)

$50,000 or less 138
$50,000 $100,000 72
$100,000 $250,000 211
$250,000 $500,000 247
$500,000 $1 million 360
$1 million $2 million 563
$2 million plus 3,013

Occupation of second-home owners (top 5,000)

Professional/technical 1,086
Administrative/managerial 406
Financial professional 247
Legal professional 159
Medical professional 273
Clerical white collar 377
Crafts/ blue collar 122
Retired 296
Homemaker 121
Self-employed 215

Other demographics

Working women 1,839
Active investors 3,262
Supporting the arts 2,274
Recent home improvements 4,151
Presence of children 1,833
No children present 1,735
Home owned in trust 273

In 2008, the Cape Cod Commission conducted the most comprehensive survey ever of second-home owners. While the results are somewhat outdated, the trends identified by the commission provide detailed insights into the motivations and expectations of second-home owners.

Here are some highlights of the commission’s survey

  • 72 percent purchased an existing home
  • 12 percent inherited their home
  • 15 percent built a new home
  • 8 out of 10 use their home in the summer
  • 6 out of 10 use their home in the spring
  • 6 out of 10 use their home in the fall
  • 25 percent use their home in the winter
  • Six out of 10 plan to use their home solely for themselves and family
  • 22 percent plan to rent it for some period of time
  • 20 percent expect to move full time to their second home within 15 years and live there for 10 months a year.
  • 4 out of 10 play golf on the Cape frequently or occasionally
  • 9 out of 10 use the beaches
  • 4 out of 10 use town boat landings
  • More than 6 out of 10 use local conservation lands
  • 65 percent attend local theater
  • 8 out of 10 attend music concerts
  • 7 out of 10 shop locally for their groceries
  • 6 out of 10 shop for their home furnishings on Cape
  • 7 out of 10 shop for their appliances on Cape
  • 6 out of 10 use local landscapers
  • 65 percent use local construction services
  • Nearly half use a Cape Cod bank for some services
  • 3 out of 10 use a property management company on the Cape
  • Nearly 4 out of 10 plan to work at least part time on the Cape
  • Another 18 percent hope to start their own business here

The continued development of community services, arts, and cultural and leisure activities continues to spur the interest of potential seasonal owners. The Internet and work-at-home opportunities have enabled some workers to live on the Cape more conveniently than ever before. This has also sped the transition of second-home owners toward becoming permanent residents.

With the stock market losing money in 2015 and volatility becoming the norm, many are viewing second homes as an increasingly attractive investment opportunity. A notably higher percentage of second-home buyers pay with cash. Families may not view this as an investment, but simply as the most attractive use of their savings. With it comes, the quality of life that is so special on the Cape.

With the majority of today’s second-home owners in their 40s and 50s—and the baby boomer market still motoring along—there should be plenty of demand for vacation and investment properties. Many Cape communities, particularly on the Lower/Outer Cape, skew toward an even older segment of the population.

The graying of America and the strong desire for a more rural type of lifestyle will continue to feed the Cape's second-home growth. Furthermore, the opportunity to own and enjoy a vacation home has become a lifestyle statement. According to NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, “the typical vacation-home buyer is making a lifestyle choice, with nine out of 10 saying they intend to use the property for vacations or as a family retreat.”

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