WELLFLEET — Nancy Lange wanted to sell her vacation house in Wellfleet to a local family instead of to the highest bidder.
So, she agreed to sell her three-bedroom, one-bath house at 29 Buck St. through Wellfleet’s buy down program as a deed-restricted affordable home for $464,200 — the highest price allowed under the program’s regulations for a three-bedroom.
Lange could certainly have gotten more for the house, which she bought in 1999 for $195,000 and which is currently assessed at $450,800. The buyer, Meghan Cox, received $175,000 from the town towards the purchase, reducing the price to $289,200. Cox qualified under the program’s income and asset limits for recipients.
It’s only the ninth home sale in Wellfleet’s buy down program, which began in 2010 to help low- and middle-income families buy homes. Because the houses are deed-restricted, they incrementally increase the town’s affordable housing stock.
For Cox, 33, Lange’s decision to sell her summer home at a reduced price meant being able to stay where she has lived her entire life. The single mom admits she was looking elsewhere before Lange’s house became available, but she didn’t want to move her girls, ages 12 and 13, away from all they’ve ever known.
“I was looking in other areas,” she said this week. “I didn’t want my girls to lose their friends. I didn’t want to move away from my friends and family. I’ve spent my whole life here, and everybody who is close to me is here.”
Cox started working for Mac’s Seafood as a teenager, scooping ice cream in 2006. She moved up to food service, working at Mac’s Shack in Wellfleet for 12 years, then management. Cox is now an assistant general manager for Mac’s. She credits company founder Mac Hay with helping her work toward home ownership.
“It’s great to have everybody rooting for me,” Cox said.
Wellfleet’s 2017 Housing Needs Assessment Plan reported that 62 percent of residents between ages 25 and 44 left town between 1990 and 2015, a trend that has almost certainly continued. The result is a severe shortage of both year-round and seasonal workers.
Gary Sorkin, treasurer of the Wellfleet Housing Authority and affordable housing trust, has been involved in all the buy down purchases since the program began. He said finding people willing to sell for a lower price is the biggest challenge.
“The key is consciousness that the need is great and to sell to a local qualified person is the best way to sell your home,” Sorkin said. “Desperate times call for generous measures and kind hearts.”
The buy down program has been funded through town meeting appropriations of community preservation funds. Qualified buyers are chosen by lottery to receive grants of up to $175,000 toward the purchase of a home. Applications for the next lottery will open this spring. The community preservation committee has recommended an appropriation of $185,000 for the program this year.
The hard part is finding the houses. One qualified buyer chosen in the lottery had to forgo the money because there were no houses for sale below the price cap.
The seller doesn’t just decide what the reduced price will be. It must be within limits set by the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and the house must not require extensive repairs. The current HUD ceilings are $376,000 for a one-bedroom, $399,600 for a two-bedroom, $464,200 for a three-bedroom, and $487,500 for a four-bedroom.
The difficulty in finding houses for buy down grants and the years of work required led some people involved to propose giving up on the program completely, said Kathleen Nagle, a real estate agent and member of the Wellfleet Affordable Housing Trust.
“One of the conversations that came up was, ‘Do we continue the buy down program? Is it sustainable, because there are no properties that fit the price point,’ ” said Nagle. “I said, ‘Of course we need to continue the program! We only need one house for each approved buyer!’
“Affordable housing is my jam,” Nagle continued. “It’s what feeds my soul, getting homes for local people, young families, people who grew up here.” She represented Cox in the house purchase but did not take a commission.
Lange, the seller, is a retired public-school teacher who lives in Cambridge. She said she bought her Wellfleet house as a vacation place for herself and her children thanks to a modest inheritance. But she always felt a little guilty about it.
“The more I heard about teachers and firefighters and fishermen who have had to leave because they can’t afford to live here, the more I wanted to put it back in the housing stock as a year-round house,” Lange said. “Sure, I could use the money, but I have enough, and there are people who don’t.
“You have to put your money where your mouth is,” she added. “People who have progressive political ideas need to step up and live their lives according to their beliefs.”
Like Nagle, Lange’s agent, Mandy Robinson, also didn’t take a commission.
Houses bought through the buy down program are deed restricted to remain affordable in perpetuity. Because the structures already exist, neighbors cannot delay sales by filing suit, a common roadblock in affordable housing development. Lange’s sale was completed in about two months.
“I tell everybody who asks how great this program is,” Cox said. “Nancy Lange made my dream come true.”
Information about the buy down program is at wellfleetaffordablehousing.org.