“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” said President John F Kennedy in his 1962 State of the Union address. With a price tag of $65m, buyers considering Red Gate Farm in Martha’s Vineyard, one-time estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, now being sold by her daughter Caroline Kennedy, will hope the maintenance is up to scratch.
Even by the standards of Martha’s Vineyard, the exclusive island enclave off the coast of Massachusetts, the particulars of the home are compelling. Landscaped by Bunny Mellon, who redesigned the Rose Garden at the Kennedy White House, the estate features more than a mile of private beachfront in its 340 acres. The main house, with five bedrooms and just under 6,500 sq ft of living space, was completed in 1981. In 1979, when Onassis paid $1m for the estate — which is near Aquinnah on the island’s western tip — the only structure was a hunting cabin.
In the US, connections to famous names can add a hefty premium, but is Red Gate Farm really worth $65m — twice the price of the island’s most expensive sale? Potential buyers should consider the state of the local market — which is complex.
In May, the average house price in Dukes County, which includes Martha’s Vineyard, was 2.7 per cent up on the year before, according to Zillow, lagging both the national average of 5.4 per cent and the 3.4 per cent gain in nearby Boston, from where a good number of the island’s affluent second-home owners originate.
The probable reason for the slow growth, says Jeff Tucker, an economist at Zillow, is the US tax reforms, which limit the amount of state and local taxes, including property taxes, that most Americans can deduct from their federal tax bills to $10,000.
Zillow puts local property taxes for Martha’s Vineyard homes at roughly 0.56 per cent. “By national standards, these are relatively low, but because prices in Martha’s Vineyard are so high, and buyers are very affluent — meaning they have large tax liabilities elsewhere — the tax reforms are having an impact,” says Tucker. The tax payable on homes costing more than $1.79m — which number 167 of the 344 registered for sale on Zillow on the island — would take up the $10,000 allowance by itself. In other second-home markets, most notably the Hamptons in the high-tax state of New York, the tax reform has been blamed for causing a sharp decline in local prices.
Red Gate Farm, a 340-acre plot with a five-bedroom main house, $65m © Laura Moss Photography
Martha’s Vineyard has many attractions. The remote island location — it is accessible only by boat and air — makes for pleasant summer temperatures, and beautiful beaches add to the appeal. Relative quiet is secured by local conservation easements, which consist of agreements between homeowners’ associations and the local government to limit development, says Tucker.
Edgartown is the biggest town in Martha’s Vineyard © Getty
A-listers such as Jackie O and Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal, were among a number of wealthy buyers who purchased vast tracts of land in the 1960s and 1970s, says Julia Wells, editor of the Vineyard Gazette, the island’s newspaper. This has meant little development on these plots in intervening years, which has restricted supply and helped keep values high. “Available land is rare and the few plots that come up for sale command high prices,” says Tucker.
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In Tisbury, in the north of the island, Sandpiper Realty is selling a three-bedroom house with a white picket fence and a back garden for $1.499m. In Aquinnah, the same agent has a five-bedroom waterfront house with a pool and private beach on Menemsha Pond for $5.8m.
The Kennedy connection runs deeper than the link to Jackie O. This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Chappaquiddick incident. In 1969, Ted Kennedy, the former senator and younger brother of John and Robert, drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, part of Edgartown, resulting in the death of his passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy fled the scene, failing to report the incident to police for 10 hours. The scandal haunted him for decades.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis © Ron Galella/WireImage
There are links to other presidential families too. The Clintons have been regular visitors, as have the Obamas. In 2017, there was even talk among the locals that the Obamas were looking for a home there. A spokesperson for the family has since denied the rumours — which probably rules them out of buying Red Gate Farm.
The median asking price for homes listed on Zillow in Dukes County, which contains Martha’s Vineyard, is $1.44mMultiple daily flights connect Martha’s Vineyard Airport with New York (1hr 10 min) and Boston (40min)There were 54 homes for sale on Zillow at the start of July costing more than $5m
What you can buy for . . .
$2m A three-bedroom detached house in Edgartown
$5m A three-bedroom waterfront house with private dock in Chilmark
$20m A five-bedroom waterfront house on Katama Bay
More at propertylistings.ft.com
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