On a small stretch of Brant Point, one of Nantucket’s most iconic and exclusive areas, the neighborhood is in the midst of a $150 million facelift. From The White Elephant hotel to Coast Guard Station Brant Point, the harborside of Easton Street is being transformed as longtime summer residents have sold some of the island’s most expensive properties to new owners.
Eight of the 11 waterfront properties on that stretch have sold over the past three years, and most of them are now undergoing major rebuilding or renovation projects that have made that portion of Easton Street almost a continuous construction zone.
State property records and Nantucket Building Department files reviewed by the Current show that at least $150 million worth of investments have been made in this small area since 2020 in the form of real estate acquisitions and construction expenses. The true number, of course, is far higher. The money has poured in despite the properties being located in a high-risk flood zone that is susceptible to coastal flooding and storm surges.
At one point in early 2020, seven homes along that section of Easton Street were on the market or quietly for sale, according to Great Point Properties broker/principal Greg McKechnie.
“It led to questions like ‘what was wrong?’ And ‘why was everyone moving from this area of Brant Point’?” McKechnie said, while noting that many of the failed pumping stations in the area have since been fixed. “Compound this abundance of choice with a genuine flooding issue, and it gave buyers a reason to look elsewhere.”
But then in December 2020, the property at 22 Easton Street sold for $15.75 million to a limited liability company controlled by Raj Dhanda, a wealth manager for Ares. The sale kicked off a string of high-end real estate transactions in the area.
The flurry of activity was highlighted by Stephen A. Schwarzman, the billionaire founder of the investment firm Blackstone, purchasing 42 Easton Street in October 2021 for a whopping $32.5 million.
At the time, it was a record for the largest private home sale in island history. Several other Easton Street properties sold for more than $15 million in 2021 and 2022. The new owners include finance and investment executives, a retired publishing executive, and other blind real estate trusts.
“While he might not have been the first one in, when you see the chairman and CEO of The Blackstone Group invest in a $32.5 million dollar home on Easton Street, it tends to give one some confidence in the area as an investment,” McKechnie said.
The subsequent redevelopment of these properties are multi-million dollar projects that include demolitions, gut renovations, new guesthouses, gyms, and pools, all engineered to (hopefully) withstand the flooding that will inevitably come.
While new construction has become nearly ubiquitous around the island over the past two years - driven by the unprecedented real estate boom - the trend is perhaps best illustrated on this 300-yard stretch of Easton Street along Nantucket Harbor.
"If anyone is looking for a case study on just how swiftly ‘Nantucket’s high-end’ has changed since the pandemic, take a look at the Easton Street transformation,” said Fisher Nantucket principal broker Jen Shalley Allen. “Of the 11 waterfront properties located between the White Elephant and the USCG station, eight have sold within the last three years. These sales, and the ensuing renovations/new construction, represent a concentrated example of the broader trend we’re seeing in our local market. The high end is not only more active than ever before, but property values are rocketing to new heights. And many of these extraordinary values are being created by buyers who couldn't purchase such a property on the open market so they are developing exactly what they want.”
And the construction activity is not just confined to the private estates. The White Elephant hotel itself in the midst of “a multi-million top-to-bottom restoration and renovation of its 66-room and -suite Harborside Hotel and 11 Cottages."
The longtime summer families that decided to sell their properties along Easton Street include some familiar names: the Doubledays, the Gillespies, the family of Seward Johnson, along with the Cox and the Fowlkes families. But, as McKechnie noted, it did not mean they were leaving the island altogether.
“Many of these houses had been in families for generations,” he said. “These generational sales are not unusual as families grow, people move off-island or elsewhere on-island, or come to the realization that owning real estate with siblings poses a whole new set of challenges. In some cases, the values of these properties made selling irresistible. Interestingly, all but one of the nine families that have sold since November 2020 on Easton Street have remained on the island. The inventory glut was, in many ways, a typical sales cycle that occurred around the same time.”
The values of those properties - and other high-end homes at similar locations around the island - is something Shalley Allen has been tracking with a keen eye. During the last decade (2010 to 2019), she said, there were a total of seven residential transactions above $20 million. Over the past three years, there have already been 10 transactions above $20 million, including four above $30 million. The surge has been unprecedented, and Easton Street is a microcosm of that trend.
“Pre-pandemic, the market value for properties along this portion of Easton Street ranged from around $10 million to $20 million,” Shalley Allen said. “The new investment that’s occurring is quickly pushing that envelope to upwards of $40 million. That's the new price tag some are willing to pay to have the privacy, the estate properties with pools and on-site amenities, and the waterfront properties with immediate boating access.”
The Brant Point Association offered the following statement on ongoing transformation along Easton Street:
"Brant Point continues to be a very desirable location on the island and has seen considerable changes through the decades and generations," the association shared. "Many of the homes on Easton street are a century old and due to their very close proximity to the harbor have required extensive renovations. Like all areas on Nantucket, homes turn over and new owners invest in their properties. While the BPA appreciates the unique charm and history of Nantucket, and that of Brant Point in particular, we welcome the new families who’ve chosen our neighborhood and the vibrancy they’ll bring to the community."
How will the rising values and surge of investment in new construction change this area?
“For as long as I can remember, children have been organizing games of wiffle ball in the Brant Point circle, riding their bikes up and down Easton, and playing in the dunes at Brant Point beach learning to fish off of Brant Point beach,” he said. “A number of the last guard of Easton have sold for financial and/or personal reasons, and the new guard may be building larger homes, so the values have certainly escalated. Still, from first-hand knowledge of a number of the new owners, they are drawn to Easton Street for all the same reasons many of us have loved it for decades.”