They thought their house would sell right away.
It is a common refrain and one that longtime Island residents Woody and Phyllis Williams, who put their house on the market last April, know all too well.
Mr. Williams, born and raised in Edgartown, is an Island native. Mrs. Williams moved here at age 19, after spending her childhood summers also in Edgartown. The couple met in 1981, got engaged one year later and married in Edgartown the following year.
Their daughter Vanessa was born in 1984 and for the next few years the family did the Island shuffle, unpacking and repacking their belongings every six months in order to find affordable housing. When Vanessa was five, the family moved into a rental home on Franklin Terrace in Vineyard Haven. It was the first year-round rental they lived in.
Five years later, they found a parcel of land, just under three-quarters of an acre, off of the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in Vineyard Haven. For $141,000, they bought the property and built their dream house on it. It is the first and only home the couple has ever owned.
They lived frugally and saved so Vanessa could go through four years of college without taking a job during the school year. They have taken one family vacation together, to Disney World. But last year, the cost of living on the Island became so prohibitive that they decided to move.
“We were able to pay our bills, but we had nothing left over to have fun with,” said Mrs. Williams, who works three jobs to cover the rising costs of fuel, oil and food.
Mr. Williams, who saw combat in the Vietnam War and collects disability insurance from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, read every book he could find on renting and selling homes. They hoped they could move off-Island and rent out their Vineyard home in order to keep it in the family. “It would have been nice, in a dream world, to have both. We tried every way we could to keep this and rent it out, but there was no way. There would have been two mortgages plus student loans,” Mrs. Williams said.
So in April of last year, Mr. and Mrs. Williams asked Vanessa, who lives in New York, to come home for a family discussion. “We were all sad, but we had to be realistic. We didn’t want to break the news to her,” said Mr. Williams.
“If she said no, we wouldn’t have done it,” Mrs. Williams added.
“I never thought it would happen to us,” Mr. Williams said. “The market was good. We had equity on our house.”
With their daughter’s consent, the Williamses enlisted three real estate agents, and on April 30 of last year, they put their home on the market for $589,000. They assumed the house, with a backyard, full basement and central location, would sell quickly. The couple began to box up their belongings (potential home buyers do not like to see a cluttered house their agents told them) and held a yard sale. Mrs. Williams sold her appliances and packed away her cookbooks. They took down the family photographs that hung on the walls. What they could not find space for in the basement, they put into a storage unit. The unit cost $70 a month, but the couple did not think they would have to use it for long.
At the end of April, Mr. and Mrs. Williams drove down to Parris Island, S.C. “I said, if I’m moving off this Island, I’ve got to be someplace warm,” Mrs. Williams said. Mr. Williams, who is active in veterans affairs and needs regular care from doctors, wanted to be near a military base and a health care facility. They found what they were looking for at Picket Fences, a gated community for military affiliates. The community has access to a swimming pool, tennis courts, fishing ponds and docks. It is a 20-minute drive to the Buford Naval Hospital. For $199,000, the couple can buy a plot of land and build their own house. Their mortgage will be $800 a month, compared to the $2,000 monthly mortgage payments they make on Island.
“When we sell the house, it will pay off the student loans,” Mrs. Williams said. “When we move there, we’ll be able to buy that house, pay the bills, have money left over to have fun with and I won’t have to work.”
Before leaving South Carolina, they put down a $500 deposit on a piece of land in Picket Fences. They had one year to buy it in full. “We told them, our house is on the market. By the time we get back, it will already have sold,” Mr. Williams recalled.
They returned to the Vineyard and waited for on offer on their home. When a few months went by without one, the couple repainted the walls and bought new appliances. A few months later, they knocked $20,000 off the asking price, replaced the septic system and put in a new driveway. Finally, they received an offer, $110,000 below the asking price.
“They’ve done all the things we’ve asked them to do to help them sell their house,” said Peter Cronig of Cronig’s Real Estate in Vineyard Haven this week. “They’ve upgraded their septic, painted the inside, held open houses, done tours, listed it with other agencies. They’ve done practically everything they can do. It’s just that the market needs to catch up, things need to get better.”
Mr. Cronig said Island families, unable to afford the high cost of living here, began leaving the Vineyard about 10 years ago. “I don’t like seeing local families move away,” said the real estate agent who was raised here. “It’s a situation where it’s tough to pay for your fuel, your food and your home equity. If the economy gets worse, more will happen. It’s becoming very tough for local families to afford to live here.”
At the end of last month, their one-year hold on the Picket Fences property ran out. They got an extension for six more months at no additional cost. “We got a God-wink,” said Mrs. Williams.
They have agreed to pay a bonus of $4,000 to one of their agents if the house sells by July 4.
For all the trouble, the couple remains optimistic. “We have a good product. We put our hearts and souls into this house,” said Mr. Williams. And, staying on the Island longer than expected has had its benefits. Mr. Williams, who has long been active in community affairs, is a member of the Dukes County Charter Study Commission, which will end its 18-month study of county government at the end of the month. “If we had sold the house, we wouldn’t have seen it,” he said of the final report the group will issue. “Now, I feel like I can get on the next boat and I will feel mission accomplished.”
This year the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department will install a flag for Mr. and Mrs. Williams’s grandfathers in the annual Memorial Day avenue of flags observance. Both Mr. Williams and his father already have flags in the avenue, but it will be the first time the grandfathers, both of whom lived in Edgartown, will be memorialized. “I always said I wanted to be here for Memorial Day,” said Mrs. Williams. “Maybe it’s fate that it happened.”