Cape Shores Real Estate

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IT HAPPENS QUITE REGULARLY IN OUR REAL ESTATE OFFICE: New clients who are looking for summer houses on Cape Cod insist that they don’t want a “condo.” Most often that’s only because they don’t yet know this local secret: Three-season condos on Cape Cod are actually stand-alone cottages, and they’re one of the most affordable ways to buy into the market.

“The word ‘condo’ to city folks means a big apartment building,” says Prudential Cape Shores owner and Broker Mandy Robinson, who has been a full-time Cape resident for 20 years. “When we say ‘three-season condo,’ it means a detached cottage.” Here are eight more secrets you should know about these sweet little homes.

Secret #1: Three-season condos have a long history on the Cape. Many of these cottages were built between the 1920s and 1960s by homeowners who had a main house on their properties, then decided to add multiple cottages to rent out during the summer for extra income. Over the years, says Robinson, most of these family-owned compounds have been converted into condominium complexes, with each cottage now having a different owner.

If you’ve driven through Wellfleet on Route 6, you’ve passed by one popular condo complex, Brownies Cabins, below, in South Wellfleet. Its 12 cabins were built in 1927; the condo association was established in 2002.

Brownies Cabins in South Wellfleet are typical examples of three-season condos on Cape Cod.

Secret #2. The locations are often fabulous. Surfside Cottages in Wellfleet, for example, has ocean views and its own trail to the beach at Maguire’s Landing. (Locals may remember that Maguire’s Landing was once known as Cahoon Hollow.)

Secret #3: The amenities can’t be beat. Use of in-ground pools and tennis courts may be covered by the condo fees.

Secret #4: It’s an affordable second-home alternative. Prices range from $100,000 to about $600,000, depending on beach access, views, and amenities. “A three-season condo is always the least expensive type of home in the market,” says Associate Broker Sue Peters. “It’s sometimes even less expensive than an empty lot because of the minimum lot sizes.”

Take this 570-square-foot, two-bedroom Eastham cottage, below, in the Whispering Pines complex, which was built in the 1970s. Sold for $217,000 in November 2012 by Peters, it’s significantly less expensive than nearby single-family homes.

This Eastham condo sold for $217,000 in November 2012.

Secret #5. They’re cozy. Don’t expect sprawling living spaces, but do expect between one and three bedrooms, a full bath, and oodles of charm packed into 1,000 square feet—or much less. One of Robinson’s current listing favorites is a 350-square-foot cottage. “You’re talking a dollhouse,” says Robinson of the 1945 cottage in Wellfleet. “It’s tiny, but it’s been renovated down to the studs and has a beautiful bathroom.”

Secret #6. They must be closed up in the winter. Three-season condos do present some limitations of which potential buyers should be aware. One is that these condos, by law, can’t be used during the winter, so they’re generally closed from November through March. This isn’t because the cottages aren’t habitable, says Robinson: “It comes down to infrastructure issues.” When the towns approved the conversion of these cottages into condominium complexes, they wanted to be sure that their usage remained the same. “The town said, ‘We don’t want the intensity of use increased because then we’ll have a need for more infrastructure, the schools will get more crowded, and it will be a burden on the roads,’” Robinson says. “The cottages were originally meant to be used only in the summer, and in order to prevent an increase in use, the laws are set so that they still can only be used that way. They can’t be used year-round.”

Secret #7. Fido may not be welcome. Some condo complexes don’t allow owners or tenants to have pets. That’s because of the close proximity of the cottages within a complex, which can make pets a burden to nearby neighbors.

Secret #8. Smart buyers ask smart questions. If you are looking for a three-season condo, you should work with an experienced Realtor who knows how to determine whether a particular condo association is well run, has a good reserve fund, and has any looming construction projects that indicate large future assessments. Through careful scrutiny of the condo documents, your Realtor can help pave the way to successful three-season condo ownership.

Intrigued? To find three-season condos currently for sale, simply select “condo” when searching the “sales” section of our website. Or rent a three-season condo this summer to see if these charming cottages suit your needs.