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Towns with the hottest condo prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 16, 2014 03:47 PM

15 Taylor, beachfront Plymouth condo.jpg

Move over Cambridge and take a seat, Davis Square. You aren't the only condo hotspots here in Greater Boston anymore.

Plymouth, Lexington and Everett all have one thing in common: Double-digit increases in condo prices.

I took a look at towns where condo prices rose by more than 20 percent and where sales either went up or were at least basically flat. All numbers come from The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, and are from the end of July, the latest available.

Home of the Pilgrims and a growing number of upscale condos, Plymouth is the condo price leader by a mile so far this year, with a more than 50 percent leap through the end of July, according to The Warren Group.

(The two-bedroom beachfront condo in Plymouth seen above is yours for $569,000, the seller having knocked $30,000 off the price back in June.)

Plymouth's median price is now over $358,000, with 100 condos sold so far this year.


Luxury Towns

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 9, 2014 07:53 AM
Thumbnail image for 190 Pond Road, Wellesley.jpg

The luxury market is red hot right now. And the suburban epicenter for multimillion-dollar home sales in the Bay State can be found in the suburbs of Wellesley and Weston.

High-end sales have always been big in these two coveted suburbs. Now both towns are nearing the point where practically all sales are in the luxury price ranges, a new report by Wellesley-based Pinnacle Residential Properties finds.

A total of 274 homes were sold in Wellesley and Weston during the first seven months of 2014. Of these, just ten homes changed hands for $600,000 or less, with just three selling for less than $400,000.

By contrast, more than twice as many homes in the two W towns - 21 - sold for $3 million and up through the end of July, Pinnacle finds. (This five bed, eight bath manse, at 190 Pond Road in Wellesley, is now on the market for $5.2 million after a price cut of $100,000.)


Where the Students Live

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 2, 2014 11:28 AM

Maybe you are thinking of moving to Boston. Or maybe you already live in the Hub.

Either way, it pays to know where the students are, whether you want to join the party or do your best to avoid it.

Check out this ranking of Boston's top student neighborhoods, based on numbers provided by Devin Quirk, operations manager for the Department of Neighborhood Development. It includes both undergrads and graduate students as well as renters and those living in dorms.

One striking thing about the numbers is the fact there is no neighborhood in Boston without at least a couple hundred students.

Charlestown, for example, is dead last on the list, yet it still has 234 college students.

Still, some neighborhoods are more top-heavy with undergrads and grad students than others.

Like Fenway/Kenmore Square, shown above, home to Boston University and Simmons College, among others.

No. 1, Allston-Brighton: There's a lot more to this diverse and vibrant neighborhood than just college students. That said, it tops the list with 7,561.


Affordable Towns, Soaring Prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 26, 2014 09:33 AM
Thumbnail image for Medford Square, wikimedia commons.jpg

Bay State home prices are on a winning streak the struggling Sox can only dream about right now.

The median price of a single-family home in Massachusetts edged up 1.7 percent in July, hitting $355,000. That marks the 22nd straight month in which prices headed up, not down, over the previous year, The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, reports this morning.

A shortage of listings and a reviving economy are pushing prices up, even as the dearth of choices for buyers puts a dent in overall home sales, which fell 2.3 percent in July. (Condos followed the same pattern, with the median price rising 8.6 percent, to $315,000, while sales fell 6.7 percent.)

And as prices increase, the median home price in a number of affordable mainstays in suburbs across Greater Boston are now nearing or surging past the $400,000 mark, Warren Group numbers show.

Just take Medford, Franklin and Norwood, a trio of nice but no-frills middle class towns. (The photo above is Medford Square, a happening place these days.)


Greater Boston Bubble Watch

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 21, 2014 07:15 AM

What a chart! Tom Skahen recently shot me this provocative graphic in hopes of raising the alarm over what could be yet another real estate bubble.

Skahen, partner at Littleton-based PrimeTime Communities, points to the recent tear in Bay State home and condo prices and sees big trouble ahead.


Stocks, Bonds and Boston Condos

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 20, 2014 08:51 AM

Why buy stocks and bonds when you can snap up a downtown Boston condo and do about as well?

Plus, you will have an awesome place to live while you count your money.

Measured simply as investments, Boston condos match up pretty favorably with the performance of the S&P 500 and some futures commodities, such as hogs.

New condo versus pork bellies? No contest there!

The average condo price in Boston has risen more than 71 percent since 2000. At the start of the 21st century, the average condo price in downtown Boston was $438,000. By the end of last year, it has hit nearly $752,000, notes Kevin Ahearn, head of top Boston condo marketing, research and brokerage firm, Otis & Ahearn.


Great Schools, Lofty Prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 18, 2014 07:14 AM

Here's one reason home prices are so high here in Greater Boston: Great schools.

There's a direct correlation between awesome public schools and towns with high home prices, which tend to be double or triple the national average, writes Jed Kolko, Trulia's chief economist,in this blog post.

Moreover, towns with killer public schools have a relatively low percentage of families who choose to send their children to private academies.

OK, we kind of knew that already. But the communities Kolko uses to make his point are really interesting. Of the ten drawn from across the country, four are in the Boston area and all are in the western suburbs.

All get an 8 or higher on the GreatSchools rating system, with just a tiny percent of students option out of the local public schools, including Bedford, whose high school you can see above.


Coming Attractions: Big Apple Condo Prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 14, 2014 09:43 AM

Christian Science tower, rendering.jpg
Take a good look at the glimmering new condo and hotel skyscraper in this rendering.

This 58-story spire, slated to take shape next to the Christian Science Plaza in the Back Bay, is one of a trio of new towers poised to bring New York condo prices to the Hub.

The new $700 million Christian Science tower, recently approved by Boston City Hall, will feature the Four Seasons brand, with 180 super-luxury condos on the top forty floors. Construction is expected to kick off next year, with a planned 2017 opening.

The new Millennium Tower in Downtown Crossing, now under construction, will hit 56 stories.

And Don Chiofaro's proposed new harborside tower complex would top out at 55 stories, crowned by 120 multimillion-dollar units.


More Sellers Make Summer Sizzle

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 14, 2014 08:58 AM

Summer is typically a sleepy time for the real estate market, but not this year.

"For sale" signs are popping up across Greater Boston and other parts of the state, with a significant uptick in homes hitting the market, says Peter Ruffini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

That, in turn, is likely to mean good news for home buyers stressed over rising prices, Ruffini says.

Certain communities, like Plymouth, seen above, are particularly seeing a pick-up in listings.

Several dozen additional homes have hit the market in Plymouth this summer, providing a significant boost to the market, notes Ruffini, a regional vice president at Jack Conway & Co. in Hanover.

That's significant given the coastal town is often a bellwether for the South Shore real estate market, he says.


Boston Condo Goes for Record

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 13, 2014 01:44 PM

Four Seasons, luxuryboston.jpg

A condo sold at the Four Seasons came close to hitting the $3,000 a square foot mark.

That's the word from Kevin Ahearn, chief executive of one of downtown Boston's leading luxury marketing and condo sales firm.

Unit 1201 at the Four Seasons, fetched $10.5 million back in May in a quiet deal involving only a few brokers.

The final sale price weighed in at $2,908 square feet for the four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath penthouse.

That's the highest amount paid to date, on a per-square-foot basis, for a Boston condo, Ahearn believes.

"Big jumps in pricing are occurring," Ahearn said. "We don't see any slowdown, in fact we see an acceleration."


An Antidote to Cookie-Cutter Homes

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 12, 2014 09:35 AM
Thumbnail image for craftsman style home, Boston popular.jpg

Why do so many new homes look like big ugly boxes? My pet peeve is the big new house with no windows on one entire side. Nothing but a big, blank expanse of wall, too often grey.

What to do? Well if you want something that really reflects your tastes, you might be better off either buying a lot and picking your own house plan from a myriad of websites and services out there and then hiring a contractor to build it.

I chatted the other day with James Roche, chief executive of, which offers thousands of home plans for do-it-yourself builders.

The house above is a classic design straight from the early 1900s that is popular among Boston area buyers on The 1,925-square-foot home comes with three bedrooms and two and half baths - the price-tag for the plans is $750.


A Tale of Two Islands

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 11, 2014 11:31 AM

Hey, maybe having the commander-in-chief vacation on your resort island isn't such a boon after all.

President Obama is one Martha's Vineyard for his annual two-weeks of fun and sun on the resort island.

And the only thing slumping faster than the president's approval ratings are home prices in Edgartown.



Market Basket Towns: More Value for Your Dollar

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 7, 2014 03:56 PM
OK, calling it the "Market Basket effect" sounds a bit silly.

Still, there is an advantage to having two, or even three Market Baskets in town, and yes, there are some with three stores. Not only are the canned peaches and hamburger a bit less expensive, so are the home prices. 

OK, that's my super sleuth, back-of-the-envelope survey,  matching up the latest home numbers with a list of towns where Market Baskets are located.

I say you are lucky if you have one Market Basket in town. I was driving a half hour from Natick through Framingham center to the Ashland Market Basket before the latest chapter in the Demoulas family feud erupted, bypassing at least three other pricier chains. Maybe that makes me a Market Basket groupie, but it's also a very effective way of feeding a family of five and not going broke.

But if you have two or even three Market Baskets in town, well then you have really hit the jackpot, especially if you are house hunting and don't want to spend more than $350,000. The median price in most of these Market Basket towns is down around even more affordable $250,000 mark.

Amazingly, seven towns in Eastern Massachusetts have at least two Market Baskets, with three hitting a triple, Haverhill, Billerica and Lowell. Hitting doubles were Tewskbury, where Market Basket is headquartered, Westford, Methuen and Fitchburg.

Who knew?

Of these Market Basket towns, Billerica, has second highest median home price, topping out at $337,000 after a hardly stunning 3 percent increase over the first six months of 2014, reports The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

So what about towns with just one Market Basket? Some have lower median prices like those double and triple Market Basket towns, but others, like Somerville, Newburyport, Middleton, Wilmington, feature somewhat loftier prices in $360,000-to-$650,000 range.

Here's Billerica center, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Billerica center.jpg


Suburban Centers Get Hip

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 7, 2014 11:41 AM

Town centers across Greater Boston are far from the hollowed out, post-mall ghost towns of a decade or two ago.

In fact, once humdrum downtowns in places like Waltham and Natick have come alive with new restaurants, shops and other attractions.

So it makes only makes sense that developers are now figuring out that if people want to spend time in their local downtown, they just might want to live there as well.

There's a mini-boom of new condo and apartment construction in a number of Boston-area suburbs - I took a look this Sunday in the Globe West at new places to live being built in downtown Waltham, Natick and Wellesley.

Here's a rendering of the new Belclare taking shape in Wellesley center where the old Wellesley Inn once stood. More than 60 percent of the project has been pre-sold, with its 25 market-rate units ranging in price from $1.4 million to $3.2 million.

Belclare rendering, Wellesley.jpeg


No Cookie-Cutter Tower Here

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 6, 2014 12:57 PM
Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 2.24.06 PM.png
Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and ADD Inc.

Developer of International Place, Don Chiofaro is Boston's answer to Donald Trump, with an outsized personality and a penchant for big talk.

Still, whether Chiofaro will be able to build his latest plan, an intriguing twin-tower complex on the harbor by the New England Aquarium, remains to be seen. Check out the skyline rendering - Chiofaro's project is the sleek, 600-foot-tall tan condo and hotel tower in the middle, flanked by the somewhat shorter, silver-colored office tower next to it. (Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and ADD Inc. designed it.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 2.21.39 PM.png
Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and ADD Inc.

The good news for Chiofaro is that his chances have risen considerably since Mayor Marty Walsh took office earlier this year.


Hot Towns, Falling Prices

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 5, 2014 09:29 AM

Home prices just keep going up, right? Or do they? Yes, home values are soaring in most Boston neighborhoods and suburbs, but a few zip codes are bucking the trend with double-digit declines.

No ugly ducklings, we are talking about some of the most desirable places to live or buy a vacation home in Massachusetts. The numbers all come from The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

And leading the pack is none other than idyllic Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard, pictured below. Edgartown has seen its median home price drop to $619,250 through the first half of the year, a whopping 22.5 percent plunge from 2013.


Shipping Container Chic

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 4, 2014 09:07 AM
container house.jpg

Ready for shipping container living? You know the big crates piled high atop massive oceangoing ships. No joke, shipping containers are fast emerging as one of the hottest new trends in housing.

So says James Roche, chief executive of, an architectural firm that drafts and sells thousands of house plans for the DIY crowd.

You can buy one of these big containers for $5,000 - many have been used to ship an array of products and consumer goods from China, only to be mothballed after arrival in the U.S.

Basically, now you have your frame. The challenge comes in transforming it from a ten by ten by twenty foot metal box into a stylish-looking, modern home.

That's where Houseplans comes in, selling designs crafted by architects for everything from containers and modular houses to traditional, stick-built homes.

Here's a striking $1,900 container design by Minnesota architect Paul Stankey at Hive Modular.

"It can be hard to tell it was a shipping container," Roche says.

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.

Beacon Hill, 210 square foot condo.jpg


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.



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.

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

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