Why the South Coast housing market has been sizzling all year

The luxury market is exploding, as buyers leave the cities in search of Covid-friendly spaces — and amazing water views


Will Milbury started his brokerage firm more than 40 years ago in Beacon Hill, the Back Bay and the suburbs of Boston. Through four decades, he’s seen just about anything and everything in the economy and in the real estate market.

And then came 2020.

“I’ve seen frantic markets, I’ve seen down markets … This year, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Years ago, Milbury moved his business to the south coast of Massachusetts, and Milbury & Company now has three offices, locally in South Dartmouth and Westport, and in Cataumet on Cape Cod. By the time you’re reading this, they will have surpassed $100,000,000 in sales in a single calendar year for the first time in the agency’s history.

The wild, hard-to-believe, never-before-seen anecdotes are endless.

Milbury had a beautiful Colonial in South Dartmouth sitting on the market for almost three years. Then the pandenic hit and everything changed.

“We had three full-price offers in one weekend, and it sold for over-asking,” Will said. The sale price for an elegant, five-bedroom Colonial on an acre of land: $1,795,000.

That was early in 2020, and it was just the beginning. COVID-19 had a dramatic impact on the real estate market. Urban professionals who learned they could work effectively from home decided it was time to get out of their high-priced, highly congested city environments and find someplace to live with green grass, a little distance from the neighbors and a great view of the water.

The South Coast was suddenly wildly appealing — or more than ever before.

“It started back in January, with people from New York and New Jersey who were looking for a winter rental,” Will said. Those folks were seeing the very beginning of the pandemic and wanted to get out of Dodge.

In a normal year, homeowners would jump at the chance to rent their summer homes to guests for the winter season. Not this year. Because of COVID-19, everyone said no thanks.

“So then it quickly turned into people saying, ‘I’m working from home, the kids aren’t going to camp this summer, we’re not going to Europe or anywhere else … I might as well have two acres and a house by the water,’ ” Will said.

So those would-be renters turned into buyers, and the phones started ringing. From New York. From California. From Boston.

It’s almost like Will had the perfect career for this market. With decades of contacts and clients in the Boston area, he was the go-to agent for many folks living in multi-million-dollar Back Bay condos and sharing an elevator with six of their neighbors several times a day.

“There was a really strong, really quick reaction,” Will said. And there was more than just the virus at work. Many people who were suddenly isolating at home, stripped of most normal activities, had idle time to kill. So what to do when there is nothing to do? Click around the internet and daydream. And when the hectic pace of everyday life suddenly changes, focus can change too.

“People started considering life changes,” Will said. “They started thinking, ‘Maybe we should buy that beautiful house down by the sea, near the cow pastures … Honey, let’s start looking.’ ”

Back to the anecdotes about 2020 …

Milbury recently listed a modest Cape in Westport. In one weekend it had 28 showings and 16 offers.

The agency has sold four homes to California buyers. Two never even traveled east — they bought the properties sight unseen, including a waterfront property on Gulf Road in Dartmouth for $1.8 million.

Milbury and his agents meeting regularly, and the tenor of those meetings has changed dramatically this year. They normally share intel and talk about their new listings coming soon to market. “Right now we have 26 properties under contract,” Milbury said. “At this time of year, that’s unheard of.”

Instead of talking about new listings, they spend more of their time talking about their current group of buyers. They have plenty people looking to buy. They just need more people looking to sell.

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.