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.
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:
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?
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
Age of second-home owners (top 5,000)
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|
|$500,000 $1 million||360|
|$1 million $2 million||563|
|$2 million plus||3,013|
Occupation of second-home owners (top 5,000)
|Clerical white collar||377|
|Crafts/ blue collar||122|
|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
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.”