Provincetown Lodging Information
TownOnline.com | By Steve Desroches
For many in Provincetown, home ownership is about as likely as finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That’s why Maria Marelli was so excited when she closed on a small condominium cottage in the far East End of town. Sure, it was only 400 square feet. But it was hers and she wouldn’t have to move every six months like so many in Provincetown do in search of affordable housing.
“It was the only thing I could afford,” said Marelli, who works three jobs. “And I could barely afford it. But the realtor I worked with told me I either buy this or I could forget about ever being able to buy anything.”
So she got a roommate to share not only the tiny space but also the expenses. And all seemed well.
But then she met her neighbors. They weren’t there when she and her roommate were the only year-round residents in the condominium cottage complex. But trouble soon began.
As more year-rounders move into condominiums, which are more affordable than single-family homes, the tensions are growing over divisions in class and community perceptions. Conflicts between year-rounders and seasonal residents in condo associations are not a new phenomenon, but it is a growing problem. Year-rounders complain that second homeowners want to do expensive and unnecessary improvements to complexes, ones they cannot afford to do. Snow removal? Forget it, say many year-rounders, as others in the association don’t want to pay for a service they aren’t there to use. Not every condo association is involved in class warfare, but sparring between residents who make a condo their home versus those who use them for a vacation spot or for rental income are getting heated. Some condo associations vote to have bylaws that preclude many year-rounders, like banning children or pets, or instituting hefty condo fees.
With real estate prices still hovering around the stratosphere, condominiums are often the only choice of home ownership for many Provincetown year-rounders that live in a town with one of the most inflated home prices and also one of the lowest median incomes. Year-rounders feel pushed into buying the few properties they can afford, but once they move in, sometimes feel unwelcome as they can’t afford to keep up with the Joneses.
“I got the feeling they didn’t want me there,” said Marelli, 37. “Most of the cottages were owned for years by longtime summer people. I don’t think they liked the idea of year-round neighbors, for whatever reason.”
That feeling intensified when her condo association shut her water off. Her condo association has a rule against winter rentals. She received word from her condo association president that he had been there several times in November and December and never saw her around, but met her roommate. He told her that she had broken the association bylaws and that she didn’t live there, and as such the water was shut off.
“I was like, I work three jobs and sometimes I spend the night at my girlfriend’s,” said Marelli. “And it’s not like we had pre-arranged meetings. It’s none of his business where I am.”
Attempts by The Cape Codder to reach the condo association president for a comment were unsuccessful. But e-mails saved by Marelli support her story. And the town’s board of health and building apartment agreed with Marelli and ordered the water turned back on, saying the condo association had essentially left “two people homeless,” according to e-mails Marelli received.
The whole experience has soured Marelli’s home ownership bliss.
“Sometimes I’m like, I’m just going to sell,” said Marelli, who was joined by several other year-round residents in her development since she bought, also complaining of poor treatment from summer residents. “But I can’t afford anything else. I love living here in Provincetown, but I don’t need this.”
With so few affordable options for Provincetown’s working people, it becomes a catch as catch can hunt for housing, explains many real estate professionals and affordable housing advocates.
“Unfortunately, here on the Cape it’s so expensive,” said Provincetown real estate agent Peter Karl.
While no one has ever called to complain to Karl about condo association problems, he is aware of them.
“We do give a head’s up, especially to first time buyers,” said Karl. “Once you buy a condo, you are sharing ownership with strangers.”
Years ago Karl had condo woes of his own. The association was mostly year-round residents. But one unit was owned by a wealthy couple from Washington, D.C., who would send letters of “demands,” such as expensive landscaping and other luxury items.
“We were lucky as they were always out-voted,” said Karl. “They eventually sold.”
Karl recommends prospective buyers talk to neighbors before buying, as well as request minutes from condo association meetings to get an idea of the priorities of the residents. Ask locals, too, for the reputation of different condo associations.
“Many have a wonderful experience, regardless if it is majority seasonal or year-round residents,” said Karl. But he does see the class divide that can sometimes pop up when year-rounders and summer residents live together in what is essentially a communal form of living.
Taylor Polites is well-aware of the difference in attitude between seasonal and year-round condo owners. For several years he used his West End condo as a source of income as well as a weekend get-a-way from his life in New York. But since leaving his job in finance and moving year-round to Provincetown to pursue writing, he sees things differently.
“My lifestyle has definitely changed,” said Polites, 35, the only year-round resident in his condo complex of seven units. “I need to consider cost a bit more.”
Last year the association voted to put new siding on the building, not because it needed it, but to increase the value of the properties. But now Polites would re-think such improvements.
“I’m less inclined to do cosmetic work,” said Polites. “Only things that are absolutely necessary.”
Nevertheless, he could be out-voted by his condo association and such projects could go ahead without his approval. But he does find that his association is sensitive to such concerns. While each association is different, Karl noted that some weigh votes according to square footage of a unit.
Polites feels lucky his condo association is aware and concerned about the lack of affordable housing and its subsequent effects on the community.
“They are all very concerned about maintaining a viable year-round community even though they don’t live here,” said Polites.
However, Polites notes that the neighboring condos sit empty most of the year. Owners either want to keep them just for lucrative vacation rentals or are afraid of the “wear and tear” that might come from year-round occupancy.
“They sit unoccupied most of the year despite a desire to see a viable year-round community thrive,” said Polites. “Which I find very interesting. Most aren’t aware of how intense the housing crisis is out here, because they don’t live here. And there is a bias against year-rounders.”
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