Cape Cod: The Quintessential New England Summer Retreat

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As a child, my family piled into the car for a summer beachfront vacation on the shores of Cape Cod. The drive from Chicago was as you might expect when two children and a dog are in the back seat.  The dog often stood between us looking out of the windshield while my brother and I took turns pushing the dog’s butt into the other’s face.  Ahh … youth before the iPad.

Our destination was a grouping of small weathered beachfront cottages in East Sandwich, Mass. Imagine my surprise when I saw that a few of those cottages were for sale.  At two bedrooms and one bath, these 400-square-foot retreats only lasted until teenagerdom made them uninhabitable for four adult-size people. At that point we moved on up to the deee-luxe 700-square-foot model.

While not the exact cottage of my youth, 195 North Shore Blvd., listed with Sand Dollar Realty in East Sandwich, is typical.  As you can see in the aerial view, along this part of the shore there are multiple homes on what might typically be thought of as a single lot.  Back in the day, working class Bostonians would go down to the Cape for their week of vacation and rent one of these small homes. Each home had children and instant friends were made. Meals were spent at each cottage’s outdoor picnic table.  When not on the beach, walks were taken to the local gas station (complete with girly calendar) for ice cream. If we were on a farm rather than a beach, you’d call it bucolic.

With 400 square feet and a $259,900 price tag, you don’t get a lot, but like many beach houses, it comes furnished.  You might think you’d knock everything through and have a nice-sized studio, but then you’d lose the rental potential, and that’s where these cottages shine.  Claiming to sleep six, a neighboring cottage rents from $700 per week in winter to $1,500 per week in summer.  In other words, just renting out the home for the summer covers your mortgage with a little left over for taxes and maintenance.  Picking up a few shoulder season weeks and you’re profitable. Changing the configuration to sleep one or two wouldn’t net you as much income.

While the tube TV dates the place badly, consider yourself lucky this home has covered the knotty pine that typically covers nearly every wall in these cottages. Yes, it’s tiny. But unless it’s raining, you’re outside at the beach located 100 feet away.

The kitchen has what’s needed to steam lobsters, clams, and corn on the cob. The fridge large enough for everything else you’ll cook outdoors on the grill.  As kids, whenever we got hungry (every 5 minutes) it was easy to run “home” and raid the pantry before returning to the beach to hunt crabs, pick up broken sand dollars (the whole ones are in gift shops), and splash around.

Those wanting a pinch more space and with a pinch more budget, we have 143 North Shore Blvd., a shell’s throw from the other listing.  Instead of 400 square feet, this home boasts 699 square feet with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It’s listed with Jane Bodrie of Sotheby’s Realty for $459,000. Before you ask, yes, beach cottages on Cape Cod use a lot of weathered shake siding.  A painted beach house would be as appropriate as a clown at a funeral.

What did I tell you about knotty pine?  If it bothers you, it’s an easy fix to either paint it (sacrilege to some) or re-stain it a less sallow color.  But beyond that, it’s a good-sized living room with a fireplace and a flat screen TV, I’d mount on the wall to free up floor space.

The kitchen it also a bit more spacious than the prior listing.  In back of the photographer is a four-person dining table.  You’ll note that between the kitchen and living room there’s an entryway from the front door.  I’d probably remove both walls for an open-concept living, eating, and kitchen area. At 699 square feet, you don’t want to waste an inch with useless hallways.

The first bedroom is a typical queen-bedded room that’s as spacious as a 699 square foot home allows.  This second bedroom has two twins with an unexpected built-in dresser plus a closet.  Nice ocean breezes supplied by that oversized window.

The other surprise here is the outdoor enclosed patio. You might be wondering why the walls are so high (or why they exist at all).  The answer is simple, sand.  When you’re literally building on sand surrounded by dunes, sand gets everywhere.  A gentle breeze can whip up to dermabrasion intensity. Also, as meals are outdoors, no one wants a gritty bite of corn.

Like the other home, it’s all about the rental potential.  The listing agent reports that the place is full up for the 2017 summer season with many vacationers firming up their 2018 plans before they grudgingly leave to return to their own rat race.

Small towns like East Sandwich have been welcoming more reasonably budgeted vacationers and owners for decades.  Sure, you can spend millions, but it’s more difficult to find free-standing homes on a sandy beach close to major metropolitan areas.  If the Cape is your thing, drop into the area and have a look. I won’t say you can go home again though.  I recall the anticipation of stopping for our first seafood meal at Sandy’s Restaurant at the foot of the Bourne Bridge for its 1.5-inch battered Haddock filets.  Since then, Haddock has been fished out, returning only thin filets and the reviews show a fall from grace.

But the beach is still the same beach I remember, without the dog’s butt being pushed in my face.

Remember: When I’m not stirring up trouble in Dallas, Texas or Honolulu, Hawaii for and, I’m off scouting interesting locations for a second home.  In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors has recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. If you’re a Realtor with second home clients who’d like me to feature their journey, shoot me an email