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More skepticism on starter homes

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 23, 2009 10:48 AM

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I guess my post on starter homes inspired Rona to revisit the issue.

Well her great post on Tuesday has got me worked up again on the issue of starter homes.

In theory, starter homes are great. You buy a say, a small ranch, and then as your family grows, you sell it for a modest gain and move to something larger.

But in practice, especially in the Boston area, there are some huge problems with this.

For starters, you may have noticed, builders are just not cranking out those beginner Capes and ranches as they were, say, in the decades after World War II.

Times have changed and so has the Boston real estate market.

The regionís economy has changed dramatically in the past three decades, with the growth of elite industries like high tech, finance and biotech.

High-paying jobs in these fields have drawn in a new and wealthier class of home buyers, helping bid up prices even as lower income and middle class folks have fled to less expensive areas of New England and the country.

These buyers are more likely to go for McMansions than a 50s style Cape, unless it is in a nice section of Wellesley.

Bolstered by these wealthy newcomers, the top suburbs, so to speak, have thrown up all sorts of zoning barriers to new construction, especially of classic starter homes.

I think of my own experience as well buying a fixer-upper in Natick with my wife Karen back in 2002.

It was a great home for a couple just starting out with one child. But as our son, David, was followed by daughters Kate and Tessa, we soon outgrew our tiny house.

But there was no way anyone was going to buy our fixer-upper off of us, either.

Instead, we decided to build on.

Looking back over seven years of work and countless dollars spent Ė and still to be spent Ė maybe it would have been easier to have rented and saved up for a home we could have grown into.

Then again, itís hard to make life decisions based on speculation on where the real estate market might go over the next few years.

But then again, maybe we should have just been smarter about it all.


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

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