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Beacon Hill Bargains

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 31, 2014 09:04 AM

Who says you can't get a bargain on Beacon Hill?

If you are looking to start a big family in the shadow of the State House, you are probably out of luck.

But barring that, you too can live on Beacon Hill for under half a million - provided you can squeeze into some fairly modest spaces.

Take a look at Unit 2 at 57 W Cedar Street, a rather typical looking Beacon Hill apartment building dating to 1900.

You can snag this 210 square foot "one bedroom"  - OK, lets be real, it's a studio - for $239,617.

The owner dropped the price by $10,000 on June 26th, for a 4 percent reduction, Trulia reports.

Too bad Sloppy Joe or Jane didn't bother to fix up the bedroom before posting this listing photo online.

It is after all, a pretty easy "renovation" to make. Thankfully the mess will go with the seller.

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Troy Rises Again

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 30, 2014 10:12 AM

OK, it may not be the lost city of Troy, though it sort-of bears its name - more on that later.

But the new Troy, taking shape where the South End meets Chinatown, may be the next best thing when it comes to Boston's booming apartment scene.

Mayor Marty Walsh and other big wigs gathered Tuesday for the topping off ceremony that put the last beam in place at the $185 million Troy Boston, set to open next year. Pre-leasing kicks off in August.

The project features a striking, 19-story high-rise connected to an 11-story mid-rise building at 55 Traveler St,, near the $500 million Ink Block now fast taking shape at the old Boston Herald site.

Rents have yet to be officially announced, but the 378 units are expected to fetch luxury rates, and we all know what that means. Thirty-eight subsidized units are included in the tally.

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God-Zillow: Online Giant Swallowing Rival

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 29, 2014 01:48 PM

It looks like the "God-Zillow" thing has been kicking around so not sure who coined it.

But it is certainly apt in light of the news that Zillow is getting ready to digest rival Trulia in a blockbuster, $3.5 billion deal.

Here's a Times story that claims the merger promises to be relatively free of the corporate bloodbath that typically follows after two similar companies merge. Under this theory, Zillow's mainstay is homeowners with its "Zestimates" of property values, while Trulia's niche is home buyers and sellers.

Not sure whether I buy that, though the one big happy family theory certainly seems like a happier prospect for Zillowites and Trulians than the alternative.

Yet even if does turn out to be one big happy corporate family, I'm not sure whether that helps consumers - in this case Joe and Jill home buyer.

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Home Prices Party Like it's 2006

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 29, 2014 10:03 AM

Bay State home prices are not quite back at their peak yet, but they are getting close.

The median price of a house in Massachusetts is now nearly $360,000 after a 2.8 percent jump in June, reports The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

You have to go all the way back to the height of the real estate bubble to find a higher price. The median price back in June 2006 was $350,000, according to this Globe story from way back then.

As prices rise, seller expectations are soaring as well.

The median asking price - what sellers are seeking as opposed to the median, which reflects what they end up with - hit $371,150 in the Boston area this June, according to the Department of Numbers.

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A Million to Spend but Nothing to Show

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 28, 2014 12:34 PM

So how crazy competitive is the downtown Boston real state market?

Well meet "Bill." A contractor who can spend up to a million on a condo, Bill can't seem to land anything he's ready to call home.

After selling his house in Winchester, Bill is renting a place in Charlestown to live in while he pokes around the Boston market in hopes of landing his waterfront dream pad.

But after a tough spring, Bill has decided to take take a break from intensive condo hunting this summer while he collects his thoughts and plans his next move.

Deep-pocketed foreign buyers and cash buyers were all over the market, making it hard to compete at times this spring, he notes.

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The Millennial Credit Trap

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 25, 2014 09:56 AM

First-time buyers in their twenties and early thirties certainly have it tough.

The job market for the young and ambitious has been the worst since the Great Depression.

That's led to a plunge in homeownership among millennials.

Added to all this, though, is the age-old challenge anyone just starting out faces when trying to buy anything, let alone a house.

If you don't have a record of taking out debt and paying it off, banks take a dimmer view, especially when it comes to applying for a mortgage.

It may be better to have mediocre credit than no credit at all.

Now along comes credit agency TransUnion, with a new initiative that could provide a boost to some millennial buyers - or at least those making the rent.

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Rich Towns, Bargain Homes

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 24, 2014 09:13 AM

You don't have to be a mega-millionaire to live in some Greater Boston's posh suburbs.

But if you want to get in for less than $600,000, you can forget about finding anything close to 2,000 square feet.

Want to get into Manchester-by-the-Sea for less than $400,000? Well you can - that is if you are ready to live in a micro home totaling 315 square feet.

Think older as well - anything built within the last decade is going to carry a premium.

Here are some starter homes with big price cuts in some of Boston area's fanciest burbs.

Let's start with that one-bedroom, one-bath cottage up in Manchester at 3 Ancient County Way.

The owners just lopped $21,000 off the price, bringing it down to $329,000. It hit the market back in March. It's being pitched for its location near the "village" center, and the possibility of expanding it into something grander - provided local zoning officials give their blessing.

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From Tabloid to Hip Condos

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 23, 2014 10:19 AM

Location, location, location - that's what real estate is all about. And the new Ink Block, taking shape where the South End meets Chinatown, has it in spades.

The glitzy glass-and-steel, six-building condo and apartment development is taking shape on Harrison Ave., where the big old brick red Boston Herald building stood until it was demolished last year.

As a reporter at the Herald back in the 2000s, the location couldn't be beat. Need to get to Beacon Hill? No problem, that's a 20 minute walk. Press conference in the Back Bay - be there in 15 minutes. Hungry? Let's head across the street to Chinatown. Or for that matter, around the corner to the South End, a restaurant paradise. No car needed - just you and your two feet. (OK, I'm tall and a pretty fast walker, but still.)

That location, which was great for reporters, will be even better for the residents of the $500 million Ink Block, with the city and its attractions literally at their feet.

A total of six buildings are planned, each featuring a unique design inspired by the South End and intended to be an antidote to the Boston's increasingly hard to tell apart bevy of new luxury condo towers, Ted Tye, managing director of National Development, tells me.

"There is so much being built in the city these days that is very generic - you can't tell whether you are in the Seaport, the Back Bay, or the South End," Tye says.

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Condos Gain Family Appeal

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 22, 2014 11:58 AM

Some families with young children are going condo, skipping the single-family with the big yard, the Globe reports.

It is part of the resurgence in the condo market we've been tracking on this blog. Here is a post from May on how condos have practically pulled even with homes in price.

Overall, condo prices in Massachusetts jumped 13 percent during the first five months of the year, compared to 6 percent for single-family homes, according to the Globe, citing Warren Group stats.

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Boston: Better or More Boring Now?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 22, 2014 08:33 AM

Boston is a better city in many ways, but is it also more boring? Ever higher home and condo prices mean only an increasingly narrow demographic of well-off renters and buyers can afford to live in a growing number of neighborhoods.

It is a question readers are arguing about on the comment board of this blog. My post about how San Francisco's crazy prices could be a sign of things to come in Boston got the discussion rolling.

"Bleacher seats to a Sox game were $3 in 1971," wrote Tom Murphy. "It was pretty provincial then as well. We're a lot more cosmopolitan than we were, and that comes at a price, financial and otherwise."

Certainly a lot has changed in the Hub of the Universe over the past three decades.

The old Combat Zone, that collection of seedy strip clubs and porno shops, is long gone, replaced by the Ritz-Carlton condo towers, the Kensington, and other luxury high-rises, as well as some spiffed up old theaters.

The days when Downtown Crossing was Boston's main shopping thoroughfare are a distant memory now, with the Filene's building preserved, but the store gone. Filene's Basement is gone as well.

Here too, as in much of downtown Boston, the rough edges are getting polished over with new luxury condo and office towers.

The girder underpinning the old Central Artery were recycled years ago, replaced by a new underground highway system, with the Greenway above. (OK, I am probably nuts, but I sometimes miss the rusty old elevated highway - the views of the city and the skyline were gorgeous.)

You can even swim in the harbor now. You would have been nuts to take a dive back in the 80s, when it was one of the most turgid and contaminated waterways in the country.

Still, it also cost a lot less to live in Boston then, with real estate prices not yet having gone into overdrive. (Here's the old Central Artery, since replaced by the Greenway.)

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We're Tops for Big Disasters

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 21, 2014 11:43 AM

Sure, home prices may be high here. But aside from a big hurricane every few decades, New England weather is fairly tame when it comes to big disasters.

That's what I've always thought. More than once I've given thanks for often dismal but reassuringly dull weather after hearing the latest house eating firestorm out west or the one of those heartrending tragedies out in tornado country.

But it looks like I haven't been paying close enough attention to all the real and potential natural disasters out there. At least that's my conclusion after reading RealtyTrac's "Natural Disaster Housing Risk Report."

Take a look at the color coded map and you'll see Massachusetts has two of the four, dark red splotches to be found in the entire Northeast representing areas at a "very high risk" of natural disasters.

Those two dark red patches represent Hampshire and Worcester counties, both of which were either in the path of, or very close to, devastating tornadoes in recent decades.

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Insane San Francisco Prices Offer Warning

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 18, 2014 10:10 AM

If you think home prices in Greater Boston are bad now, just look at what's happening in San Francisco.

We have a lot in common with that fellow innovation hub, from an economy driven by cutting-edge companies and research to restrictions on new home building that helps keep pushing prices to ever nuttier levels.

Well here's some pretty disturbing news out of our West Coast sister city: The median price of residential properties in San Francisco, both single families and condos, has just hit the $1 million mark, SFGate reports, citing DataQuick numbers.

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Clueless Agents Spoil Open Houses

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 17, 2014 09:00 AM

Open houses are supposed to give buyers a chance to check things out in person and quiz the broker about the property, right?

But that's kind of hard to do when the real estate agent at the open house gets stumped by questions beyond such basics as where's the bathroom or how many bedrooms.

Apparently we are starting to see a rise in the number of clueless agents at open houses, with the actual listing agent out drumming up more business or simply at the beach.

Here's an observation from a top Boston-area buyer's agent who has run into a couple of know-nothing brokers at open houses this summer and is none too happy about it.

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The $1.5 million Tear-Down

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 16, 2014 08:17 AM

OK, maybe it's not Downton Abbey.

Still, Southborough's Garfield House is pretty grand. The 13 bedroom, five-and-a-half bath stone mansion was built in 1850 by businessman and philanthropist Joseph Burnett. Founder of St. Mark's School, Burnett spent summers there with his wife and 12 children, with the house staying in the family until 1947.

There's even a chapel - Burnett also started the first Episcopal church in town as well - and some beautiful grounds with lots of old trees.

While it clearly needs some work, the grand old house on Main Street is considered a jewel of the town, the MetroWest Daily News notes.

They definitely don't build houses like that anymore. (Here's a great write-up by the local historical society, with lots of great old photos stretching back into the 1800s.)

But tell that to the owner. A local developer has spent $1.5 million to buy the old manse and its valuable land, with plans to level the house and build three English cottages in its place, the paper reports.

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July Last Best Chance for Sellers

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 15, 2014 09:06 AM

If you are looking to sell, now's the time.

July is the best month of the second half of the year to sell, at least if you are a condo owner in Boston, writes Hub real estate agent extraordinaire David Bates.

Roughly 9 percent of all pending condo sales in Boston back in 2013 closed in July, one of the highest totals for the year, Bates notes in his blog, the Bates Real Estate Report. (David was also kind enough to interview yours truly about my own vast real estate writing empire. Better yet, I even sound halfway coherent!)

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Goodbye Seller's Market?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 14, 2014 09:06 AM

For-sale and open-house signs have been popping up right and left. If this was April or May, it wouldn't be all that surprising. But we are now in sweltering mid-July, the dog days of summer and traditionally a dead zone for open houses and new listings.

Certainly the latest reports back up this anecdotal evidence, with the number of homes for sale finally starting to rise after a years-long drought.

So after years of fence sitting, some sellers are taking the plunge, hoping to snag a buyer while prices are still rising and the market is hot.

However, whether they know it or not - and here's betting most don't - sellers are hitting the market just as it starts to shift. Sure, it's still a seller's market, especially in Cambridge, downtown Boston and the pricey inner suburbs, but there's a lot of real estate beyond 128.

Home sales in Massachusetts and across the country have been faltering for months now.

Only the hangover effects of a years-long shortage of listings are keeping prices on the rise.

Yet, here's the rub: If the market is weakening, seller expectations aren't. In fact, sellers are still dreaming of hitting the real estate jackpot, egged on by a couple years of rampant home price inflation, a Redfin survey shows.

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A Hot Summer for Buyers

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 11, 2014 11:49 AM

This spring saw more than its share of crazed bidding wars.

However, if you struck out trying to buy a house back in April or May, don't despair. While other buyers are headed for the beach or settling into new homes, try hitting some open houses this July and August.

Sure, Cambridge and other hipster hot spots show no signs of cooling down. But the rest of the real estate market has shifted into summertime mode.

You might find less competition and, better yet, sellers ready to come down on their prices after failing to land an offer in the spring.

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Bubble Fears Escalate

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 10, 2014 10:50 AM

Bankers aren't exactly known for their bold predictions. Simply put, they are more likely to be behind the curve in their predictions, not ahead of it.

So when a bunch of bankers say they are worried about a real estate bubble forming, well then it could be a sign that we are already in some deep doo-doo.

A majority of mortgage executives surveyed by FICO - 56 percent - are convinced the real estate recovery has gone off the rails as home and condo prices soar.

In particular, the lenders expressed concern that "an unsustainable real estate bubble is forming," according to a press release by the Professional Risk Managers' Association, which conducted the survey for the credit score agency.

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Army Base Becomes Hot New Neighborhood

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 9, 2014 10:12 AM

Looking for green space galore? Miles of hiking trails, ponds, playing fields, and a couple of championship golf courses thrown in for good measure?

Well as it turns out, you can find all that, and more, at Devens, the old Army-base-turned corporate park just off Route 2, next door to Harvard, Ayer and Shirley, I discovered in this story I wrote for the Globe West.

Devens may be best known for the prominent role it played as a mustering center for soldiers across the country during various 20th century conflicts, starting with World War I, when it was carved out of farmland by the federal government.

After decommissioning in the 1990s, the old base got a new lease on life as a corporate park, with Bristol-Myers Squibb building a giant drug plant and numerous other companies moving into new digs on the old military campus.

But the town-sized Devens also has a small but growing residential community. The first wave of residents bought up the graceful old brick colonials and other homes that once housed the officers on the base. A cluster of modern, energy efficient homes was built a few years ago.

Now Lexington developer Evergreen Village Collaborative is moving ahead with plans for 120 homes and apartment. The 35-acre development will feature clusters of homes surrounded by woods and other green space.

But if you think the townsfolk of Devens are staring out at smokestacks and parking lots, well then you would be wrong.

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Gen X Falls for the Big City

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 8, 2014 08:45 AM

Gen Xers are increasingly ditching the suburbs to raise families in the big city.

And yes, it's happening in Boston as well.

Sean in West Roxbury, a regular on the comment board of this blog, is seeing the trend play out in his neighborhood as well as in Roslindale.

As I recently noted here, Trulia is reporting an increase in families with young children in cities across the country. Boston saw .6 percent rise in the pre-school set in 2013, outpacing the suburbs.

Both neighborhoods "have seen their commercial districts perk up with new restaurants and bars that cater to the 30s- 50s set, rather than the 20s," Sean writes. "And yes, it's mostly GenXers - folks in their mid-30s to mid-40s who are finally settling down but not wanted to completely abandon the city."

Here's West Roxbury's main drag, Centre Street.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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