FALMOUTH – Harriet Dugan, who has been selling real estate in Falmouth for several decades, is rarely at a loss for words. But when it comes to the incendiary issue of wind turbines in Falmouth, she makes her point carefully.
Rather than take a solid stand on whether the two town-owned wind turbines at the wastewater treatment plant have negatively affected property values in Falmouth, she focuses on the lawn signs put up by those opposed to them. (See also, Don Quixote’s Hometown of Falmouth, an Essay)
The signs, which are posted on front lawns throughout town, say, in part, “Heal Our Town,” and urge voters to support Question 2 on Tuesday’s town election ballot. The vote would help to pave the way for the dismantling of the turbines, which have been the focus of such controversy since the first one began spinning four years ago.
“I don’t think Falmouth needs to be healed,” Dugan said. “I think it could have been worded better.”
Dugan worries about what summer residents and tourists will think when they see the signs and how her clients will react.
“Who wants to buy in a town that needs healing?” she said.
Realtor Nadine Krasnow of Falmouth Fine Properties said she has no doubt that the turbines have affected property values in the West Falmouth neighborhood with views of the 400-foot high towers.
“In my opinion, it’s had a noticeably chilling affect and it has definitely become more difficult to sell houses there; and the reason is, if people have other choices, which they do, why are they going to buy in a place where value has gone down and it’s unclear what will happen in the future?”
While she admits her information is merely anecdotal, she said she has noticed that in the neighborhood near the turbines, houses have stayed on the market longer and several were withdrawn after six months on the market. One she knows about sold for $200,000 below its original asking price: for $400,000, down from $600,000.
Krasnow said that slow home sales in the neighborhoods near the turbines seem to be an exception from the rest of town, which has rebounded well from the recession in recent months.
“The general market is much better and our inventory is being absorbed,” she said. There have even been a few bidding wars on houses priced well in Falmouth, she noted.
Krasnow said that for buyers who believe strongly in alternative energy, homes near the turbines may be especially appealing. Those buyers could potentially get a bigger house for less money, she said.
She said she had an architect client who was not at all phased by the view of the turbines, but she did not end up buying. “She bought some place else because of concern for the resale value,” Krasnow said.
Having heard the whoosh sound of the turbines, Krasnow was diplomatic about the health affects, like headaches and insomnia, that neighbors say they experience because of the turbines.
“I’m sure it is a problem for some people and I’m sure it isn’t a problem for others. But visually, it’s so over-whelming, it stops you cold in your tracks. It looms before you like some extra-terrestrial.”
Kevin O’Brien, a real estate agent at Jack Conway Real Estate, said he believes the turbines have made a difference in values.
“It seems to me that some of the housing prices have come down and they are having a hard time selling them.”
He said he was working with a client with a very fine “turn key” house on a street with views of the turbines and “they couldn’t get the price they needed.”
Perhaps the real estate agent with the most to say about the issue of the turbines is Annie Hart Cool, who with her husband Mark Cool have been among the most vocal opponents of the turbines.
“It’s the elephant in the real estate living room,” Cool, who works at Sotheby’s International Realty, said.
“People have said ‘stop talking about the wind turbines and it won’t affect the value,’ but ignorance isn’t bliss. They are there. They exist and they’re impacting us. Of course we’re going to talk about it,” she said.
Cool said she has done extensive research into the affect of turbines on the value of homes in neighborhoods across the country and believes it is severe.
“It drives prices down,” she said. She compared it with a “blemish” in any neighborhood, like an ugly warehouse or an unsightly parking lot.
“Values have gone down 20 to 40 percent,” she said of other neighborhoods with turbines. “It’s because of the unknown” of resale value, she said.
Gathering data locally has been problematic simply because of the few homes that have come on the market and sold, she said. There are nine to 12 on the market now, she said, but not enough sales to analyze trends.
“If they are considerably undervalued, they sell,” she said.
But the fear of resale value keeps many buyers away, Cool said.
She said she has represented a couple of houses in the Craggy Ridge neighborhood of West Falmouth where there are seven or eight properties “lingering on the market.”
“That was once a very hot neighborhood,” Cool said.
As a Realtor, Cool said she is bound by laws about full disclosure and she has no intention of skirting the issue about the turbines when she talks to clients. For that reason, she said, she has turned down some clients. “Some have asked and I’ve said, ‘Maybe I’m not the best person [to represent the home].’”
Cool said she lives on a beautiful two-acre property and can no longer use her back yard on a windy day because of the sound of the turbines.
She said the town has offered her special noise abatement windows and air conditioners, but she said that would not help.
“The vibrations get into the house,” she said.
Bonnie V. O’Neill, a real estate agent in the North Falmouth office of Real Estate Associates, said she has been struck by how wide the turbines’ impact is.
She was showing an expensive oceanfront property on Point Road out on a peninsula in North Falmouth, miles away from the turbine when a prospective buyer looked up and saw them.
“He said, ‘What’s that?’ He could see them and it turned him off.” The man did not end up buying the property and O’Neill can not speculate on his reasons, but she has no doubt the view of the turbine played into the equation. “It certainly impacted him,” she said.
She said she believes properties very close to the turbines where the machine is visible have had their values affected. But she said there is a flip side. “There are a few people who are very supportive and think turbines are wonderful.”
Others object to the presence of the turbines, she said, and certainly if they hear the turbines while looking at a property it does not bode well for a sale.
But she said the neighborhoods closest to the turbines are not the only ones affected.
“It has impacted the whole town I think because you can see it from so many places,” she said. “I’m amazed the distance that they are visible from. I didn’t think it would be that much.”
Joan Baird, a real estate agent with Donohue Real Estate, said she had a client looking at a house with a clear view of the turbines.
“We stood on the front lawn and they said, ‘It doesn’t bother us.’”
That particular client ended up buying a house around the corner but Baird said she believes the turbine was not a factor.
Other people, though, are bothered and she believes the area’s prices have been affected.
“I think it has a stigma now. I think in general it has impacted real estate in that area,” she said.
She said she supports those affected by the turbines and believes they have a right to speak out about the issue.
Baird said she shows a lot of vacation rentals and people have been curious about the “Heal Our Town” signs all around town.
Having recently directed the Falmouth Theatre Guild’s production of “The Music Man,” Baird couldn’t help but invoke the show’s signature dilemma. “People are saying, ‘What’s the matter with you? Do you have a pool table in town or what?”
–Laura M. Reckford