Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why Not Wait?

I was going to title this writing, And the Beat Goes On, because it is going on – and on and on. With over 800 properties on the market now, depending upon who’s counting, there seems to be no end in sight.

There are not that many foreclosures for sale and most of them are overpriced junk, but the number of properties for sale in the $1.2mm to $3.7mm range is staggering. Short Sales may be on the rise and some banks are realizing it is better to be reasonable, cooperate with the mortgagor, cut their losses and not go through the costly foreclosure process. However, Short Sales still present some risk to a potential buyer.

There are some great buys out there right now in water front properties; you can even buy a Lagoon front property for $950,000 that is attractive and in good condition. But there are still too many properties that are unrealistically priced for this market and the level of competition between similar properties. I think part of the reason for overpricing is because July and August are the months of hope for sellers when the wealthier vacationers are here and emotional purchases are at their highest level. Of course there is always the ‘we don’t have to sell’ test the waters mentality that wastes everyone’s time, foolishly spends the listing broker’s ad money and confuses the market in general not to mention the real estate agents out there who do need to sell to stay in business.

Although I do not see a significant continuation in the downward spiral of prices I can see that the game plan for many sellers is to price their properties very high to start and then reduce the price giving the appearance that they are radically discounting their properties. That strategy is working when selling to the uninformed buyers. On the other hand, those properties that have been priced sharply and ahead of the market are getting an immediate response and in most cases multiple offers are being presented on those properties and they are selling quickly. You will also notice a trend for the acceptable differential between asking and selling price to be about 6%.

I think this is a great time to buy if you find your ‘dream home’, but if you have not then I say why not wait? Every week I hope and expect that the number of new properties coming on the market will slow down or abate, but they just keep coming. This week there are very view price reductions but still 28 new properties are being introduced and added to the inventory. It's been like this for many weeks now as the inventory continues to grow. This is just in time for the beginning of the two biggest months for tourists and big spenders – or so everyone hopes.

Once Labor Day has come and gone, or actually after the 3rd week of August I think sellers who have not made a deal are going to start worrying. It happens every year. Those who ‘don’t have to sell’ will probably take their properties off the market – again, around Thanksgiving and try again in 2012.

There are 568 single family homes available right now and that does not include the 36 properties that are either being negotiated or under contract to close. Perhaps I have answered my own question and maybe I should have titled this commentary, Why Wait?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Benefits of Purchasing a Vacation Home Rental

I'll admit that this is a silly lightweight video but it still emphasizes the value of owning a vacation 'income' property that could be partially or totally carrying itself and one day transition into your retirement home.

Is your dream to live on Martha's Vineyard, and were you hoping to get here sooner rather than later? If the economy has rearranged your plans extending your timetable, but has not sapped all of your financial resources, maybe now is the time to put those resources into real estate on Martha's Vineyard. Market prices have not been better in decades and interest rates while still historically low are beginning to inch up.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that even five years after the real estate bubble burst, it has not shaken the confidence of the American public in the investment value of home ownership.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ssshhhhhhhhh, Martha’s Only Sleeping

Please, don't wake me, no, don't shake me
Leave me where I am - I'm only sleeping

Everybody seems to think I'm lazy
I don't mind, I think they're crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find there's no need (there's no need)

Please, don't spoil my day, I'm miles away
And after all I'm only sleeping

Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time

(Partial Lyrics to I’m Only Sleeping by The Beatles)

I had to laugh when I saw a recent article from the WSJ selecting Martha’s Vineyard as one of the ten AMERICAN GHOST TOWNS OF THE 21ST CENTURY, ranking Dukes County at number 7.

It’s true that Martha’s Vineyard has always been like the tides that surround her, with a population that comes in and goes out on a regular basis. I think that ebb and flow is part of what makes Martha’s Vineyard so special. It is that time between the supercharged high tide that gives Martha and her permanent year round citizenship respite to recharge their batteries and enjoy all the tenderness and calm that is the essence of Martha’s Vineyard. That’s why I am here. Ssshhhhhhhhh!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Does Martha’s Vineyard Feel About McMansions?

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) routinely reviews projects in accordance with its Development of Regional Impact (DRI) Checklist (standards and criteria used by town boards to determine when it must or may refer a development application to the Commission for review as a DRI).

On Monday, April 4, 2011, at 5:30PM, the MVC’s Land Use Planning Committee will hold a discussion on the subject of Large Houses, which is a euphemism for what we call McMansions or Trophy Homes. The discussion is open to the public at their Offices in the Stone Building, located at 33 New York Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

When is Big too BIG?

Here are some of the questions being considered regarding ‘LARGE HOUSES’:
1. What are the concerns about large houses?
     a. Visual impact and disruption of community character?
     b. Loss of habitat?
     c. Consumption of energy?
     d. Impact of construction process on abutters?
     e. Encouragement of teardowns and loss of affordable homes?
     f. Other concerns?
2. How serious is the problem today and the threat for the future? Does it merit further action by towns and/or the MVC?

3. To what extent can concerns be dealt with through increased review at the town level? Do the towns need additional powers through the DCPC (District of Critical Planning Concern) process?

4. What types and magnitudes of projects have a significant enough regional impact to justify MVC review?

5. What is the best way to define a large house? Should this vary by town or area?
    a. An absolute threshold, such as an Island-wide or town-wide threshold of total floor space or building volume?
    b. A relative threshold, such as one that exceeds the average size of houses in its neighborhood?
    c. A threshold based on performance criteria, such as exceeding a threshold of visibility (e.g. an angle of view as seen from a public way) or habitat clearance?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Where Do You Think You Are Going?

Last week, as is my custom, I was driving around locating and previewing as many new listings as I could. There was a property in Katama that I was trying to find. In doing so I drove down a named dirt road that transitioned into what appeared to be someone’s driveway – typical on the Vineyard. I was puzzled but forged ahead with the moxie that is typical in my profession. As I weaved my way along the cluttered road, all of a sudden standing in front of me standing firm in what I can only describe as a shooter’s stance was a diminutive white haired elderly figure of a lady with a very stern look on her face. She had her hands on her hips and I immediately scanned her person to see if she had a gun and was preparing to draw on me.

I stuck my head out of my window and with a big smile on my face I introduced myself and explained where I thought I was going. She replied, “That’s my property you are looking for”. With that she smiled and briskly walked over to the passenger side of my car, opened the door and hopped in like a young 20 year old girl. “Come on, I’ll show you” she said. As we crept along with me following her pointing the way she began to talk. (This is where the fun begins.)

She asked me how old I thought she was and when I guessed (wrong) she told me she was 87 years old and had lived here all her life. During WW II a local man asked her to marry him but she said no. “Why would I marry a man and have his babies when he was going off to war and might never return?” She proudly told me that she stayed single, worked hard and bought a huge tract of land with a house for $5,000.00. She eventually married her suitor when he returned from the war and had a family.

When we finished looking at her property and I was preparing to take her back where I picked her up, she asked me if I knew there had once been a herring packing plant in Katama. “The history books have it all wrong; they say it was an ice house. My sister used to work there.” I said, “Sure let’s go”. So off we went down Herring Creek Road toward South Beach. As we drove she explained how they would pack the herring there and then send them off Island along with the scales that she said were made into artificial pearls. We drove through one of the parking lots and she pointed to all that was left of the packing plant, a concrete foundation. “How many ice houses were there in Katama?” “Two” She answered before I could guess. She also made a point of telling me David Letterman lives on Herring Creek Farm and that she sees him often. She said one time she told him she had a present for him. When he asked her what it was she responded, “My tax bill.”

The next part of what was becoming a quiz was whether or not I knew about the Katama Hotel and where it used to stand. Off we went with her in charge as navigator and me totally enthralled. We drove down the Edgartown Bay Road to the bend in the road by the Land Bank property where there is now one lone Osprey pole. “That’s it, the spot where the hotel used to be” she giggled. She explained how the railroad from Oak Bluffs used to carry people from the ferry wharf along what is now Beach Road all the way to Katama and the Hotel. “Do you know what the original name for Beach Road was?“ she quizzed, “Paper Patch Road”. She shared all kinds of neat information with me, but I just couldn’t remember it all.

It was getting late and I needed to get back to my office. As I was driving her home she explained that she drove a taxi on the Island until she was 80 years old and she loved giving tours. She even teased me by beginning to tell me the ‘true story’ about who was really driving Teddy Kennedy’s car that fateful night on Chappaquiddick but she got distracted when we passed one of the many big houses along the road. She had two pet peeves: One was why on earth they decided to change the name of the area out by South Beach from Great Plains to Katama. “Look at it; it’s all flat like a great plain and it was all farm land.” Her other peeve was the big houses that nobody lives in more than few weeks in the summer. “Look at them; it’s awful.”

I think I will have to give her a call someday and ask her out for a cup of coffee or a soda. When we said good bye she told me she had not had this much fun in weeks. I responded, “Me too”.

After I got back to my office and I found this nice melancholy poem about the Katama Hotel in a book of poems titled "An Old Fly Book And Other Stuff" published in 1913.

Living on Martha’s Vineyard is still a wonder to me and what seems like a never ending ever changing adventure. I am glad that I don’t know where I think I am going.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Preserving Our History And The Magic That Is Martha's Vineyard

The other day I was reviewing my information about the environmentally sensitive areas down Island and the restrictions those areas impose upon the ability to build a home. That led me to thinking about our devoted and determined conservation groups like the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, the Trustees of Reservations, The Nature Conservancy, and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation.

There are two primary roads on the Island that I would still consider to be untouched and basically the same as they were 100 years ago. One is Middle Road and the other is the road I live on, Lambert’s Cove Road. In the mid-90’s I brokered a sale to The Nature Conservancy of a 103 acre estate known as the John Hoft Farm.

I was thrilled that TNC agreed to save this ecological one-of-a-kind property from possible development. The property includes meadows and peat bogs as well as woodland areas where rare flora and fauna thrive. The TNC Hoft Farm connects with properties owned by the MV Land Bank and VOLF.

VOLF, the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, under the tireless direction of Carol Magee has been working with little sleep and even less funding to reestablish one of the original cranberry bogs on the Island that happens to be located right on Lambert’s Cove Road just below the Wakeman Center and Cranberry Acres.

Every summer I have watched with fascinated interest while teams of volunteers labor in the hot sun hunched over plucking invasive weeds of all kinds out of the sandy soil. And all the time that hand labor is going on the original cranberry processing shed built in the 1800’s progressively sags and seems to be folding in upon itself as the ridge beam disintegrates.

VOLF’s plan is to resurrect the cranberry bog and harvest the berries as well as to restore the original cranberry processing shed, move their offices there and establish a museum to house all the artifacts representing an Island industry from days gone by. They already have architectural drawings from a well respected Island architect who cut his fees to assist with the project. What they are missing is money. Right now they are getting by on about $20,000 a year but they will need a lot more than that in order to see this dream come to life.

If you want to know what you can do to contribute to the Island you love, I suggest this could be one of the ways to keep your dream alive and pay forward what this Island gives you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Uninvited Visitors in Your Martha’s Vineyard Home, A Sign of Our Times

Home break-ins and burglaries are happening more often and it seems as if not a week goes by that there isn’t news of another burglary or home invasion. Because there are so many people out of work and facing increasing financial hardship I guess their desperation is leading them to extremes. Martha’s Vineyard is not immune to these violations in one form or another. There are many Martha’s Vineyard vacation homes empty for a good part of the year and located in remote isolated areas, which makes this Island a perfect hunting ground for thieves. Recently I learned of about three break-ins in the area near where I live in just the last month. Burglars can be very clever and calculating so it is a fact of life today that we all need to be more vigilant and “THINK’.

Here is a list of tricks of the trade that a burglar won’t tell you about:

1. He was the same person who cleaned your carpets, painted your shutters, cut your lawn, delivered your new refrigerator or repaired your TV service. Did you check references or his identification? Did you make a copy of his credentials or take his picture with your iPhone?

2. He was one of the landscape crew cleaning up your yard and he asked to use the bathroom. While he was there, he unlatched the back window to make his return a little easier.

3. Manicured opulent landscaping or fresh cut flowers around the house signal that you have good taste and money. You probably have a lot of nice expensive things in your home. All those big toys in the backyard and that huge outdoor play set says your children probably have expensive gaming equipment and electronic toys in their rooms.

4. Newspapers are piling up on the driveway or the mailbox is bulging with mail. That’s a clear indicator that no one is home. Make sure you tell your postmaster to stop delivery of your mail, even if you are only going to be away a short time. Your burglar might even leave a pizza flyer in your front door to see how long it takes you to remove it.

5. If it snows while you're out of town, get your caretaker or a good neighbor to create car tracks around the property and footprints up to the front door of the house.

6. If your entrance doorway has translucent or clear glass sidelights, don't let your alarm company install the control pad where your burglar can see if it's been set.

7. A good security company alarms the window over the sink. And the windows on the second floor, which often access the master bedroom which is where your burglar will first look for expensive jewelry. It's not a bad idea to put motion detectors up there too. More homeowners today are installing Security Camera Systems and they are not that expensive. Q-See makes a popular inexpensive system that is currently available at stores like Costco. Even if you don’t have an alarm system, if you can get a large security display sign from a local alarm system dealer, it will deter many would-be burglars.

8. Your burglar is not deterred by bad weather and like the mailman; neither rain, sleet nor snow will keep him from his task – robbing your home. So make sure you always lock your doors and windows.

9. Your burglar will always knock first and if you answer the door, he may ask you for directions to somewhere else or say he is looking for odd jobs. Don’t let him into the house and don’t hire him.

10. Once in your house, your burglar will check places like all your dresser drawers, the top of your closet, your night table or the medicine cabinet, so don’t hide your valuables in a sock roll or in one of those Aquanet Hair Spray Can Hidden Safes.

11. Your burglar will rarely enter into or rifle through your kids' rooms except to steal their gaming equipment.

12. If you have a safe for your valuables your burglar will not have time to break into it, BUT if it's not bolted down, if he can move it, he will take it with him and break it open later on.

13. Staggered lighting on timers in several rooms or a TV or loud radio can be a better deterrent than the best alarm system. If you're reluctant to leave your TV on while you're out of town, you can buy a $35 device that works on a timer and simulates the flickering glow of a real television. (Find it at )

Here is a list I found of secrets confessed during interviews with convicted burglars in various parts of the country.
In the burglars' own words:

1. Sometimes, I carry a clipboard. Sometimes, I dress like a lawn guy and carry a rake. I do my best to never, ever look like a crook.

2. The two things I hate most: loud dogs and nosy neighbors.

3. I'll break a window to get in, even if it makes a little noise. If a neighbor hears one loud sound, they'll stop what they're doing and wait to hear it again. If they don't hear it again, they'll just go back to what they were doing. It's human nature.

4. I'm not complaining, but why would anyone pay all that money for a fancy alarm system and leave their house without turning it on?

5. I love looking in the windows. I'm looking for signs that no one is home, and for flat screen TVs or gaming systems I'd like. I'll drive or walk through the neighborhood at night to pick my targets.

6. Avoid announcing vacation plans on Facebook. It's easier than you think to look up a home address.

7. To a home owner, leaving a window open just a crack during the day is a way to let in little fresh air. To me, it's an invitation to come in.

8. If there is no answer when I knock, I try the door. Occasionally, I hit the jackpot and walk right in.

Finally, here is one more neat security tip I had never thought about, and it is so obvious. Many security systems have panic buttons that are located in a primary bedroom at the bedside or in rooms most frequented by the home’s inhabitants like the kitchen or even in the garage. These security systems also may have a warning light beacon mounted in a conspicuous location on the house and/or a high decibel klaxon. A setup like this is a good idea even without a whole house security system. But did you know you may already have a security system setup similar to this? It’s your automobile.

If your car has an alarm system with a remote key fob, keep that remote by your bedside or on your person and in an emergency you can press the alarm panic button and if your car is within range your alarm system will be triggered, the lights will flash and your alarm will sound an alert. If you have a neighborhood watch group, make sure your neighbors or anyone close by that you trust is aware that your car alarm sounding may be a signal and a call for help. Times have changed and sadly we all must become more vigilant and aware. We no longer live in Mayberry, but Martha’s Vineyard is still a gentle and safe place to live. It’s just a fact of life that we all have to be more mindful and ‘THINK’.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Speak Softly And Carry A Big Bag of Cash

The National Association of REALTORS® revealed in a recent study that 28% of home sales were all-cash transactions in 2010, compared with 14% in a study done in October 2008.

Economists pointed out the obvious, the more depressed a housing market was, the more cash deals were transacted. Cash buyers are at a greater advantage and can actually save between 5 – 10% because cash deals close more quickly and there is no threat of a lender changing their mind in the eleventh hour.

Yes, that happens and that is why I tell my clients who require financing, after the Purchase and Sale Agreement is executed --- don’t even think about buying furniture, an automobile or anything that could alter your financial picture until after the Closing.

According to a WSJ article, “The jump in real-estate purchases made with cash is another sign of the revival of animal spirits in the U.S. economy.” Wouldn’t that be nice? A return to a more quiet jungle.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The House That Built Me

“The World is Too Much with Us” Has that thought ever come into your mind when the pressures of your everyday world started getting to you? It was during those times I would recall days gone by when I was a young boy growing up in the country sharing dog biscuits with my pet collie in the front yard and catching fireflies in a jar just before bedtime.  Back then we thought nothing of walking three miles to pick up the mail at the post office located at the railway station, and I remember the school bus frequently stopping to let a herd of dairy cows meander across the road going from one pasture to another.

Life was so simple then, and I felt so safe and secure in my family home – a little pink farm house on about ten acres of land with a red two-stall barn, sprawling fields and a spring-fed pool hidden in the woods at the end of a long path. I loved my childhood home.

I have childhood memories here too, but those memories are of my own children. I remember how pleased my youngest son was, now 30, when he could climb a little stepladder and reach a limb on an old scraggly oak tree in the backyard. I refuse to cut that limb, because I see him there every time I pass by that old scraggly oak tree.

I was reading an article about an interview with songwriter, Tom Douglas. He wrote a wonderfully haunting song titled “The House That Built Me”. It was voted Country Music Association’s song of the year in November 2010 and was performed by Miranda Lambert.

When Douglas remarked that he was aware of how fractured people’s lives have become today, and even with all our modern technology we are becoming increasingly isolated it made me think. What is the purpose of a home? Is it just 'a thing' and nothing more than four walls? Do we look at it strictly as an investment? A financial advisor I was speaking with recently said real estate is not just an investment; it is an ‘investment commodity’ because we use it. And hopefully, if we use it, it is a place where family and friends come together and memories are made.

Think about where you live and what you have. Then think about what you want and why you want to become a part of the lifestyle on Martha’s Vineyard. This tiny Island is still a place where dreams can come true, a touchstone where you can come, regroup, recharge; a place where you can put away all your technology and become whole again as a person and connected as a family. You can take part in all the simplicity in life that exists all around you here, on the hiking and biking trails, ponds great and small – perfect for kayaking and canoeing, fishing from dozens of fabulous beach locations or just kicking back with a stack of light summer reading. You probably won’t have to stop your car today for a herd of dairy cows crossing the road, but be on the lookout because most likely you will encounter a rafter of wild turkeys casually sauntering across the road.

Owning a home on Martha’s Vineyard can be so very simple and keeping it simple is what you really want. Don't you? After all if you think about it, that is your dream -- a simpler way of life.

Don’t lose sight of the house you loved when you were growing up and how that house built you. It’s not too late to build more great memories or create those memories you always dreamed about, but life never presented the opportunity. The opportunity is here for you now.

The World Is Too Much With Us
by William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

How Can You Buy What You Cannot See – You Can’t!

Here we are approaching what some believe is the end of the recession, at least as far as real estate is concerned. Although prices are forecasted to remain flat this year, and in some areas they may even drop another 5-7%, sales volume is predicted to increase by between 7-8% in 2011 after falling almost 5% in 2010. Buyers have been ready and anxious, yes anxious to buy for several years now, but they don’t want to pay too much and if there is any chance of the market going down more, they’ll wait; what’s another year going to matter. Exactly! What is another year going to matter and what is another 5% going to matter over the next 10 or 20 years? If you find the house you love, then now is the time to buy.

Of course you’ve been hearing that from real estate licensees for the past few years. Now is the time to buy. Okay, let’s assume that now is the time to buy. But how can you buy what they cannot see?

I have been trying to figure out how many properties have been removed from the market in the last three months, but our database system makes it very difficult to separate Off-Market from other status types. I think I was able to get enough information to conclude that there are between 100 and 200 properties on a winter hiatus, most likely to be relisted in the spring. It makes me wonder if sellers are really motivated or serious about selling.

Historically, the assumption is that winter is a slower selling season – ‘the off-season’. This recession has created another kind of historic market. There are legions of buyers out there ready and willing to buy. So the real reason this is a slower selling season is because there are less properties on the market.

In the Martha’s Vineyard real estate market, buyers are looking right now for properties they can own and enjoy during the summer season. They want to find it, buy it and get it ready making it their own in time for those precious few family vacation months. They have cash in hand or are approved for a loan at what are still very attractive interest rates – although they are starting to inch up.

Buyers are ready to buy, but they can’t buy what they can’t see. If they don’t see a property they have been watching they may assume it has already sold and they will move on to one of the properties currently available or just wait until the spring-summer selling season when there will be more competition on both sides. Based upon the idea of supply and demand, it is a fact that sellers may actually realize a better selling price in a market where the inventory is low and where there are fewer properties similar to theirs in style, location and price.

My advice to sellers is not to worry that your gardens aren’t in bloom or your lawn furniture is in the living room. Buyers are not going to pay a premium for a few bushes or pretty plants. Actually, overly landscaped properties may turn off some buyers because that means more maintenance costs for an absentee owner. Buyers can see past the umbrella in the living room. Matter of fact, most houses are more cluttered inside during the summer season than they are now, and they are more difficult to show, especially if they are rented. So sellers, stop playing the listing shuffle and get back into the game. Listen to your seller agent and do your part to make your property saleable. I am an exclusive buyer agent and I cannot help you if you do not help me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Martha's Vineyard Home Buyer Videos

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) partnered with the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) to produce three consumer information videos about the home buying process: Shopping for Your Home; Shopping for Your Loan; and Closing the Deal.

Shopping for Your Home

Shopping for Your Loan

Closing the Deal

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Vineyard Conservation Society Publishes New Guide to Martha's Vineyard Walking Trails

 Martha's Vineyard is an amazing place, very much like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to experience when you set out on an adventure. There are dozens of beaches and walking trails as well as miles and miles of bike paths and mountain bike trails.

Long Point Wildlife Refuge

A few years ago I was in Bunch of Grapes and spied this really neat little spiral bound pocket book titled "Walking Trails of Martha's Vineyard" by William Flender. It was the 3rd Edition. It cost me ten bucks, but I think it is worth every penny. It is well written, graphically clear and very well constructed. It's a must have book for anyone who loves Martha's Vineyard.

Here is a link to a news article heralding the introduction of the 4th Edition of "Walking Trails of Martha's Vineyard"

Friday, January 07, 2011

Foreclosures Rely on Lenders Having Clear Title

We've been hearing about this for well over a year now as many homeowners across the country threatened with foreclosure are challenging lenders to produce proof of clear title to their properties.

Here in Massachusetts, the question is being raised again as the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules invalidating foreclosures on two properties in Western Mass. Here is the article that appeared

SJC ruling may void thousands of foreclosures
January 7, 2011
By Jenifer B. McKim, Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today upheld a contentious land court ruling that puts in question the ownership of hundreds, possibly thousands, of foreclosed properties in the state.

The ruling challenges the way lenders have traditionally foreclosed on properties -- without having all the paperwork in place at the time a home is seized. It affirms a 2009 lower court decision that invalidated foreclosures on two Springfield homes because the lenders did not hold clear titles to the properties.

Cambridge attorney Paul Collier, who represented one of the homeowners in the case, said the supreme court ruling invalidates thousands of foreclosures, reverting ownership back to the homeowners who lost the homes, at least temporarily. In most cases, those property takings will have to be redone, further clogging an already bogged down foreclosure process that many real estate specialists say has contributed to the stagnant housing market.

"The banks and the investors are going to have to deal with those homeowners as to what happens to those properties," Collier said.

During the housing boom, millions of mortgages were packaged into bonds and sold to investors, a process that resulted in lengthy and tangled paper trails that can obscure ownership. Many lenders believed they could complete foreclosure transactions and later produce formal proof they held a mortgage. Today's ruling makes it clear that the practice will not be allowed in Massachusetts.

"We agree with the [land court] judge that the plaintiffs who were not the original mortgagees, failed to make the required showing that they were the holders of the mortgages at the time of foreclosure,'' the justices said in their opinion.

The decision will also have national implications at a time when lenders' foreclosure practices are being scrutinized by federal regulators and state attorneys general.