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Living well is the best revenge

Posted by Rona Fischman  January 22, 2009 02:43 PM

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I agree with readers who are unhappy with the assumption that any home worth living in costs more than $460,000. That is insulting to large numbers of homeowners and renters who live outside the toney suburbs. The jumbo limit is just not a limit that matters to large numbers of homeowners.

The jumbo limit plus a 10 percent down payment comes to about $460,000. Anyone who thinks that all homes selling for less than $460,000 are dumps or in slums is just wrong. Doing a little looking in the MLS, I see that 4969 homes sold in Massachusetts in the past year that cost $460,000 or less. I looked only at homes that had three or more bedrooms, six or more rooms, and one and a half or more bathrooms. That’s not counting condos, just single family homes. When I bring the limit down to $300,000, there are still 2945 of them. If I used Warren Group data, I could add more.

I want to show the readers of this blog that not everyone wants and needs a nearly half-million-dollar house. Those who bought for $300,000 or less have a story to tell. Heck, those who bought for under $460,000 do, too, if they need a big house. You have the right to crow. You made a good decision and it has worked out for you.

I am starting a series to run on Fridays. I call it "Living Well is the Best Revenge". I am looking to publish your stories of nice places to live well under the jumbo limit in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. If you want to tell your story in your own entry, write me. I can give you a by-line or I can keep your name private. I will be running this series until I run out of stories.

I got the idea for this series because Matt wrote me about being happy in his town. He lives in a town where houses sold last year for less than $300,000. I am indebted to Matt; his is the first story in this series.

Today: If you own a house that cost less than $460,000, tell the readers why you are happy with your choices.

Tomorrow: The first town description in the Living well is the best revenge series

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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25 comments so far...
  1. There may well come a time in the not too distant future when homes above $460,000 will be the exception not the norm. The bottom is still a long way off..........

    Posted by John January 22, 09 03:59 PM
  1. What town does Matt live in?

    Posted by pj January 22, 09 06:46 PM
  1. I'd love to hear about nice, cheap places where you can actually walk somewhere from your house: bars, restaurants, a dry cleaner, a post office, a grocery store. MA doesn't seem to have a lot of those outside the major urban areas. Northhampton is like that; so is Newburyport, of course. I'd be curious to know of any other such towns.

    Posted by Marcus January 22, 09 07:36 PM
  1. I live near downtown Ayer and can pretty much walk to the necessary place: post office, grocery stores, liquor stores, train to Boston, library, and we live right by the local rail trail, or bicycle/walking trail. . . and my charming old house was more or less 250k. It may seem small for some, but is perfect for my family. And we have a nice yard. Yeah, the house needs some work, but someday we will get to it when we can.

    Posted by sela January 22, 09 08:00 PM
  1. Northampton is not cheap..................

    Posted by bostonrunner January 22, 09 10:47 PM
  1. I especially look forward to seeing some responses that fit two criteria that many frustrated people are looking for: Decent schools and a reasonable commute to downtown Boston during rush hour.

    Posted by jak January 23, 09 08:45 AM
  1. Marcus,
    Maynard has most of those attributes. It's very affordable. I had a client buy there fairly recently. You can walk to Shaws just over the line in Stow. It's a short drive to the Acton or West Concord commuter rail. Maynard has the advantage of being nearby to nice shops and green space in neighboring towns as well.
    There are a number of artists there and an artist building, ArtSpace. The Mill Building houses several businesses including Monster, Inc. The library is newly renovated.
    There are some good restaurants downtown and a couple of bars that have music. Morey's has Irish Seisuns.
    I lived there for a while so I know a lot about it. Good town!

    Posted by Sally January 23, 09 09:31 AM
  1. Marcus, my wife and I spent about a year and a half home-shopping with those specific criteria in mind. We'd been living in the Back Bay (two of us in a studio!) for three years and we weren't about to give up walking everywhere. At the same time, neither of us exactly rakes it in, so our price range topped out at $300K. All else being equal, we wanted to live near the ocean if possible. And lastly, we had to be on the T.

    Our short-list of towns and neighborhoods emerged as either a condo in JP or Roslindale Village, or a SF in Wollaston (Quincy), North Quincy, Malden, Melrose, Beverly, or Salem (near the common). The last three fell out of contention because they were simply too far, and the expense of a monthly commuter rail pass for two of us outweighed the savings gained by moving farther out of the city.

    Admittedly, we had to look at mostly very old homes in need of at least some work. But I don't know why that's such a big deal to so many people - I've lived in crappy, creaky old apartments in every corner of this city since I graduated college, so it really doesn't bother me. In fact I kind of prefer the charm of an old house over the sterility of new construction.

    We ended up focusing more and more on the Wollaston area, and were priced out of a few single families before we were able to find a 2-family in need of TLC for under $400K. Becoming landlords wasn't an easy decision, but we had made up our minds on the neighborhood, and with the rental income our monthly payment is lower than it would have been for a $300K SF. In fact it's not much more than we were paying to rent our studio in the Back Bay. And we're loving it so far - I drive about as much now as I did in the Back Bay, which isn't much. We can walk to the Red Line, the beach, Hannaford's, the post office, library, the elementary school (when the time comes), and several bars and restaurants (with plenty more about a mile away in Quincy Center).

    That's my two cents. I think the stranger assumption many people make is not just about price, but about how much square footage you really need.

    Posted by Jon January 23, 09 12:15 PM
  1. Pittsfield and Lenox come to mind, though neither is within commuting distance of Boston.

    Posted by Liz January 23, 09 12:22 PM
  1. I love Reading. 25 minutes on the rail to Boston. Great schools. Good town services. Unfortunately they just closed the supermarket in the center of town that was in walking distance to many residents (Atlantic -- hoping something newer and better springs up in its place.). And I bought way, way, way under 460K. I doubt you'll find a SFH there for under 250K but I found this town to be an excellent compromise of all the factors that were important : price/distance from town/proximity to shops/school quality, etc.

    Posted by jayce January 23, 09 12:41 PM
  1. Fridays are going to be "living well is the best revenge" day for as long as I have towns to talk about. Readers, I need your help; please write me to showcase your town or neighborhood. Today, Matt will tell you about Dedham. Next week, we go north of Boston to B.H.R.'s town.

    Posted by Rona January 23, 09 01:10 PM
  1. Rona-
    I must admit, that this living well post is VERY subjective, as I can already see from the posts above.
    I say this only because many people who have already posted would not fit into "my living well" guidelines- as this is just merely a sales pitch for towns and what certain people like/don't like.
    For example- some people like diversity in their towns, some do not. To some, diversity= lower annual family income= lower property values.
    Some people above posted about towns that have a quite low annual family income- living in those towns, in my opinion is not really 'living well."

    I admit that there are plenty of areas that are great to 'live well' and live in a home that is under $460k, my home is above $460k. But please don't forget that location is everything. For example, properties bordering Ayer, have a much lower 'value' than properties bordering Harvard, MA. So where are you more likely to live well? I'd say bordering Harvard or IN Harvard for that matter.
    I mean, can anyone even argue the point that you'd be living 'more' well in Hudson or Ayer or Maynard than in Lincoln? It's all just opinion, as my living well is much different than someone who lives in Ayer or Maynard.


    Posted by Katt January 23, 09 02:00 PM
  1. My goal with this series is to give voice to the many who feel dissed by those who say there is no place worth living in for sale under $460,000.

    Of course the town descriptions we will see here are subjective. "Living well" is in the eye of the beholder.
    There are many places to live in Massachusetts that are not high-end. I want to support talk about those places and why they are places that support a good life. If it sounds like a commercial, that's just how it is. WHY you like living in a place is something I hope you will share.

    Posted by Rona January 23, 09 03:27 PM
  1. Northampton is not cheap..................

    LOL, you're right! Neither is Newburyport. I think I lost my train of thought halfway through writing that comment. Maybe I meant cheaper.

    Posted by Marcus January 23, 09 03:39 PM
  1. Rona, do you ever ask your clients what their absolute fantasy neighborhood would look like? I'm not talking about picking from existing neighborhoods; I mean describing what you wish you could find--the type and size of house, the neighbors you'd meet, the amenities nearby, how you'd spend your time. It can be an interesting question, as long as you can steer discussion away from pure money per se.

    Posted by Marcus January 23, 09 03:45 PM
  1. Katt, I agree that this is an extremely subjective topic (which is why it's necessary to describe precisely what living well means to you, and how or why a town is able to meet that criteria for you). But I have to disagree with you on one point -- saying you can't live well in a town/area with lower property values is like saying you can't get a good starting pitcher for under $10 million a year. It's harder to find, sure, but there are always bargains to be had - maybe a young, small-market unknown who can put up the same numbers for half the price. And isn't that the fun of it all? Any Yankees GM can shell out $20 million a year for established, name-brand talent, just as anyone with the means can find a nice home in Weston. Finding an undervalued asset is the real sport of it though.

    Wait, this isn't the sports blog? :)

    Posted by Jon January 23, 09 03:54 PM
  1. Rona -

    You CAN buy into almost any town in MA for under $460,000, including high end towns like Lexington, etc. So how do we answer what is living well? Is a small house in Lexington near nothing better than a large house in Medford (or vice versa) walking distance to down town medford? Doesn't it depend on what the person values and prioritizes in a house / town? What I consider living well might focus on good schools, tree lined streets, quiet nights, proximity to Boston. Singles and kid-less couples on the other hand want to be able to walk to bars, restaurants, etc. We go to a restaurant once a month maybe (kids and restaurants do not mix well). They want excitement and bustle (maybe). Schools may be irrelevant.

    Posted by bv January 23, 09 04:23 PM
  1. I suggested Maynard because there is a good quality of life there and it fits the criteria Marcus set forth. I also pointed out that Maynard is surrounded by tonier towns, from which you can benefit without paying the high rents or sale prices of those towns. I have financially well off friends there who could choose to live in any town but they like Maynard. The town does not rate very well on schools but I know kids who did well and went on to ivy league colleges. Some people in the town send their kids to private schools. It is worth checking out for the things that Marcus said he was looking for. It has a nice small town feel without being remote.
    I have lived in both Concord and Maynard. I prefered Maynard to live in. But I would visit Concord for some shopping, 10 minutes away. Good wine shop in West Concord!

    Posted by Sally January 23, 09 04:26 PM
  1. And I agree with others here that living well has almost nothing to do with having a large income. You can have a full and happy life without that. You just have to get creative with what you do have and use resources well. Being around great amounts of money were some of the worst times of my life.
    Living more simply and frugally have been among the happiest times. Go figure!

    Posted by Sally January 23, 09 04:39 PM
  1. I'm a little confused by your post. Based on some quick web research, the jumbo limit in Boston is closer to $460,000, not $417,000 (which I assume you're using). The limit is based on median home prices in an area, so you can't just assume that it's $417,000 everywhere. If you then put 10% down, you should be discussing homes over $500,000.

    Posted by Ellen January 23, 09 04:51 PM
  1. Ellen,
    Sorry I confused you. I was continuing an argument which erupted on this post. In the comments, the discussion was about the old jumbo rate ($417) not the new one ($465).
    Here's the previous post.

    Posted by Rona January 23, 09 08:25 PM
  1. Rona,

    Your blog articles about living well are just describing things to own or buy. I have seen many of your recent posts and you have recently seemed far from happy.

    Maybe if you look at what makes you happy rather than what you like to buy or what makes you commission you will understand the true meaning of living well.
    I think it is more about experiences and interactions that know no location.

    Posted by J. Brothers January 24, 09 09:04 AM
  1. Dear J. Brothers,
    I have made an attempt here on the blog to bring out the issues you are talking about. I believe that buying a home is about the community and the life you can make in the house. Many on this blog are focused on "winning" by making the most profit. I am hoping to turn the discussion onto "winning" by living in a place that suits your life and your budget.
    You can't tell whether I am happy or not based on what I write here. Thank you for your concern.

    Posted by Rona January 24, 09 04:59 PM
  1. Great Blog Rona! I understand the purpose of this point out that it's possible to find a nice liveable home in a decent community without breaking the bank. Real Estate is about choices. Finding the right home is about giving up some things in order to gain others. It's a balancing act and requires a long hard look at one's priorities in life. In my market, some people give up square footage or fancy kitchens in order to get their kids into one of the best school systems in the Commonwealth. Keep up the good work Rona!

    Posted by Sandy Tobin January 25, 09 11:24 AM
  1. We live extremely well in a 1800 sq. ft., 4 bedroom, 2 bath home on a large lot next to Clover Creek Preserve in Redding, CA (Shasta County). The home is only 11 years old and when we bought it 10 years ago we paid $126,900. for it . It is now worth about ~$300,000~ and while there are bigger, costlier homes in our area, we live like King and Queen of our own realm of happiness. It is nicely ample for 2 Senior Citizens and a Springer Spaniel, providing room for visitors , hobbies and office. We both do Volunteer work for the Naational Park Service, The Senior Center and the Plus-One Mentors at the YMCA.. What more can you ask for?

    Posted by Don SCHIMPFF February 6, 09 02:24 PM
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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