Long Island’s North Fork winds east from Riverhead for 30 miles, with each hamlet marked with signs on both routes, Routes 48 and 25. Travelers get little more than a glimpse as they pass: a modest strip of commercial, a garden center, a white church with a bell tower, a red brick school, a fire station.
In between, there are vineyards, turf farms, farm stands, marinas. Some exploration is needed to discover the appeal, landscape and character of each place.
Cutchogue, a roughly 10-square-mile hamlet in the town of Southold, with a population of around 3,200, is perhaps the most emblematic of the property-feeding frenzy of the past decade, which has only been intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic. 19. Its attractions: walkable beaches; rolling farmland; waterfront properties on Gardiners Bay, Long Island Sound, and many creeks and inlets; low-key restaurants and shops offering locally grown foods; good schools; and a retirement community.
But buying a home in the North Fork has never been more difficult. “There are 70 houses on the market from Laurel to Orient,” said Thomas McCloskey, agent for Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “Five years ago there were 300. We have 10 to 12 percent of the inventory that we had 10 to 11 years ago.”
Cutchogue’s relative proximity to New York City (depending on traffic, the drive can take less than two hours) has attracted buyers looking for a weekend home. Affordable housing—there isn’t much, and plans to build more are in dispute—and land preservation are the most frequent headlines in the local newspaper, The Suffolk Times. The shortage of affordable housing has meant that the most recent generations of long-time Cutchogue residents have been priced out. Nancy Cervelli, an agent with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, was recently involved in the sale of a small two-bedroom country house listed for $525,000. She received five offers in one week.
Demand has increased, McCloskey said, as people have begun to see the North Fork as a lower-cost alternative to the Hamptons on the South Fork. But, he added, Cutchogue has more high-priced, luxury real estate than other villages: “There’s a million-dollar premium to walk to a proper sandy beach.”
Lisa Gillooly, a broker for Compass, helped Steve and Danielle Porto find the vacation home they bought last summer on Nassau Point, which has some of the most spectacular coastal views on the North Fork.
The Portos, both 37, grew up in Huntington, Long Island, and now live in Garden City. They have three young children and large extended families on both sides. Mr. Porto is an investor in renewable energies; Mrs. Porto is a psychotherapist. After a few summer rentals in the North Fork, they were looking for a year-round home where their families could gather and there would be “free space for kids to explore nature and run around with their cousins,” Ms. Porto said. After a long search, they closed on a five-bedroom, five-bathroom, shingle-style home with a pool and sweeping views of Gardiners Bay for $3.5 million.
Joey Clark, 35, and her husband, Brian, 39, were among the masses seeking more space once Covid hit. Working from her home in her West Village apartment, she said, “it felt like the walls were closing in.” They searched for a year and a half (and bid on another property) before buying a four-bedroom shingle-shingled Colonial home on a quiet Cutchogue street between two vineyards, the first home they’ve ever owned. The sale price was $1.275 million.
“It’s on a quiet street,” Ms. Clark said. “We have two dogs, and it will be great for them to be able to run.”
what you will find
Apart from the large and more modest beach houses at Nassau Point, a mix of modern and traditional architecture, Cutchogue has farms, ranches and cabins.
Additionally, Harvest Pointe, a 55+ condominium development, began building and selling two- and three-bedroom units in 2018. All but six have been sold, including models.
Connie and Vincent Monteforte moved into the complex after living in Southold for 20 years. “It’s a group of young, active seniors,” Ms. Monteforte said, praising the amenities that include a swimming pool, clubhouse and the inevitable pickleball courts. “I feel like I live in a college dorm without the exams.”
They aren’t the only North Fork residents who moved into the development after a downsizing. “We used to lose our clients when they got older,” said Mariella O. Ostroski, a local history librarian at the Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library, which is part of a complex of historic buildings on Route 25. Now, she said, “ they move to Harvest Pointe, and we still see them. It’s been great for that continuity.”
what you will pay
Between May 1, 2021 and the end of April 2022, 56 homes were sold in Cutchogue; prices ranged from $439,000 to $3.5 million, with a median sale price of $767,000.
During the first week of May, a Zillow search turned up 15 properties, including five in Harvest Pointe. One, a church compound with a six-bedroom home, was listed for $3.6 million. The others ranged from a three-bedroom farmhouse surrounded by farmland, listed at $799,999, to a three-bedroom creekside home with a dock, listed at $1.995 million.
Summer rentals can be found for $15,000 to $25,000 per month, although homes in Nassau Point have sold for $40,000 to $55,000 per month.
“We are coming out of accelerated rental prices during Covid,” Ms. Gillooly said. “People would pay a lot of money and it would go on for a long season and sometimes for a whole year.”
This year, as the pandemic has begun to recede, he added, “the rental market is off from last year. There are quite a few things that are not rented yet.”
Farming and fishing are the lifeblood of Cutchogue, and locally sourced foods are a huge draw for newcomers and longtime residents. Braun Seafood Company recently reopened its restaurant, with a new chef and a picnic table under a tent. At 8 Hands Farm, in an airy barn, patrons can buy meats, bread, soft custard and yarn made from the wool of sheep that graze in the back fields. During the summer, Friday is Burger Night at McCall Wines, one of several picturesque vineyards with tasting rooms. Wickham’s Fruit Farm has a popular farm stand, plenty to choose from, a cider mill dating back to 1902, and a family history dating back to the 17th century. Their donuts are standouts.
The white-sand beaches at Cutchogue, near Peconic and little New Suffolk, as well as on the causeway to Nassau Point, look out from Gardiners Bay to the South Fork. On the north side, Oregon Road, which cuts through vineyards and farmland, is a favorite with cyclists. The 51-acre Downs Agricultural Reservation, which includes Fort Corchaug, a 17th-century Native American settlement, is a National Historic Landmark. Gardeners pull painted wagons through a maze of outdoor walkways of annuals and perennials at Trimble’s Nursery. The village also has a King Kullen supermarket and a Christmas tree farm.
Jessica Kelleher, 39, a yoga teacher and food prep chef, grew up in Cutchogue. After living in Westchester, she returned to raise her three children in a house on land her parents bought in the 1970s. “It’s a lower tone here,” she said. “The big events are the Strawberry Festival and the Fire Department barbecue.”
Ursula XVII (pronounced Disset), //age?// who has worked as a pastry chef in renowned restaurants in New York, Europe and the North Fork, calls Cutchogue “a chef’s dream.” He recently opened Atelier Disset, a small chocolate shop in Cutchogue, down the street from the old Cutchogue Diner, a local landmark, and makes his high-end chocolates a few miles away in a small factory complex that share with North Fork Potato Chips. .
Cutchogue East Elementary School has 480 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Enrollment at Mattituck Junior-Senior High School, which serves grades seven through twelve, is 580. In 2021, the graduation rate was 91.5% and the average SAT scores were 559 in reading and writing and 601 in math, compared to the state averages of 526 and 531.
The Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District also has a pre-kindergarten program and is planning a class of approximately 27 students in the fall of 2022; students are chosen through a lottery.
Cutchogue is about 90 miles from midtown Manhattan, a two-hour or more drive, depending on traffic. The Hampton Jitney stops there several times a day; tickets are $29 each way, prepaid, or $36 on board.
The Long Island Railroad stops three or four times a day at Mattituck and Southold, on either side of Cutchogue; the trip to Manhattan takes about two and a half hours and costs $22.25 each way off-peak, or $30.50 in peak hours.
During the Civil War, the congregation at venerable Cutchogue Presbyterian Church split over a disagreement over slavery, said Ms. Ostroski, the local history librarian. A group of abolitionists left, becoming the Independent Congregational Church and Society; in 1862, they built a church of their own. After the war, the group returned to the Presbyterian Church. That 1862 structure is now part of the Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library.
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