The real estate market on the Vineyard has swung strongly in favor of buyers, as record stocks of unsold properties force agents and owners to begin to heavily discount prices.

Figures for the first quarter of this year showed the total inventory of residential property up more than 40 per cent over the same period a year ago.

The median sale price also continued a decline which began last year. For the March quarter this year it was $688,750, compared with $705,000 in the same quarter last year and $702,000 at the end of last year.

According to the numbers provided by the real estate listing service Link, there were 549 properties on the market, compared with 391 for the first quarter of 2006. The number of unsold properties has risen rapidly over several years. At the same time in 2004, there were 242, or fewer than half as many unsold houses, and in 2005, 314.

The trend also is evident in inventories of land. In 2004, there were 59 parcels, in 2005, 73, in 2006, 97, and in March of this year, 115.

Further adding to the gloomy picture, foreclosure notices are sharply up and there is evidence that the slowdown is affecting other sectors of the Island economy, including construction and even the ferry service.

Eleanor Wilson, owner of Link, said while the real estate market was generally flat, it was not uniformly so.

"I'd call it an hourglass sales pattern," she said. "The stuff at the bottom end of the market is selling, the stuff at the high, high end is selling, but anything in the middle is being squeezed and is not selling.

"And that's where the bulk of where the inventory sits. It's not your once-in-a-lifetime, unique property and its not your starter home. You see a lot of sales above $2 million and you see a lot below $600,000."

The result, she said, is that people are being forced to lower prices. "In fairly large leaps and bonds on specific properties," she said, adding:

"A price drop of $100,000 is not unheard of. "It seems that the people who are keeping their places at a price they could have got a few years ago, are not moving them."

The rate of foreclosures has risen as the market has fallen.

Figures from the Dukes County Registry of Deeds show that from the start of the year until May 21, there had been 17 orders of notice of foreclosure. For the same period last year there were 13 and for the previous year just seven.

"They don't all go all the way to foreclosures," said Jessica Burnham of the registry office, noting that sometimes people work things out with the bank.

Of the 17 notices so far this year, five have gone on to foreclosure.

"I've been here seven years," Ms. Burnham said. "The first few years we maybe saw three or four notices of foreclosure. It seems like the last year or two, every week we get more orders of notice."

Building starts underscore the downturn. Tisbury building inspector Kenneth A Barwick said building permit applications are not only down, but show a change in the type of construction.

The number of building starts in Tisbury was 82 for the first four months of this year, compared with 90 last year.

"The permit numbers may be down slightly, but the value is very high end, both in terms of residential and commercial construction," Mr. Barwick said.

"Instead of doing a lot of medium, affordable-sized buildings, we are dealing with much bigger, more expensive buildings," he said, adding:

"The single family homes that I'm working on are typically now second or third homes rather than primary residences. And in terms of size they are far beyond the scope of the standard traditional, 1,400 or 1,500 square-foot Cape Cod style home."

Figures from other towns also show a flat building market. In Edgartown, there have been 36 housing starts this year, compared with 35 last year. But nine of those are part of an affordable housing project.

Other smaller construction projects, like additions, alterations and sheds also have declined.

The net effect of real estate slump on the total economy is hard to quantify, but one further indicator of the impact can be found in traffic statistics from the Steamship Authority.

They show that for the first four months of the year, the number of trucks, particularly small trucks such as those used by contractors fell sharply.

For trucks less than 20 feet long, traffic volumes were 14.6 per cent below those for the same period last year.