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Looking for an alternative to Greater Boston prices - go south

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 25, 2010 07:19 AM

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I mean south as in Rhode Island, not foreclosure riddled Phoenix or Miami.

The "biggest littlest state in the union" sports some relatively reasonable home prices. And it's still within endurable commuting distance from the Boston market. (The line in quotes comes from a corny tourism campaign the Ocean State mounted back in the 1980s - one that has apparently stuck with me all these years.)

For decades now there has been a steady flow of home buyers into the relatively cheaper Southern New Hampshire market. It has effectively become a Boston suburb, with a steady stream of commuters crossing the border each morning and heading towards jobs in the Hub.

But I've heard far less talk of home buyers moving south to Rhode Island and trying a similar play by commuting to jobs along 128 or in downtown Boston.

Anyway, here's your chance - Ocean State home sales plunged 25 percent in September, according to a report just released this morning.

And Rhode Island home prices, after rising modestly last spring during the sales frenzy triggered by the home buyer tax credit, are coming down again as well.

The state's median home price is now $212,000, down from $227,000 in July, according to the Rhode Island Association of Realtors.

That's compared to the median Bay State home price of $330,000, as of this August. Greater Boston prices, when you throw in the wealthier suburbs, are considerably higher than that. (On a side note, the big sales drop in Rhode Island may provide a preview for the latest Massachusetts home sales numbers, due out Tuesday morning. Case Shiller stats are also set for release tomorrow.)

Why does Rhode Island get less attention as a viable alternative to Greater Boston?

Well for one, the unemployment rate, topping 11 percent, is one of the highest in the country. You could move to Southern New Hampshire and have a decent shot at getting a job locally - move to Rhode Island you had better hope your Hub employer doesn't bail on you.

Also, New Hampshire schools, especially in the state's prosperous southern tier, are pretty good.

Still, state boundaries in New England - and generations of tradition and ingrown ways of thinking - have effectively created separate real estate markets when logic and geography would dictate otherwise.

After all, you can reach Providence in about 40 minutes or less from many Boston suburbs, or about the time it takes me to drive from my home in Natick to downtown Boston.

And that's compared to an hour or more to reach most towns in Southern New Hampshire - traffic permitting.

What's your take?

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

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