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Condos the new starter homes?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 9, 2012 07:26 AM

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The classic starter home is an endangered species here in Greater Boston.

Long gone are the days of big new subdivisions of modest but affordable homes - you have to go back to the 50s and 60s for that.

The amount of new single-family construction has been on the decline for decades now. When builders manage to snag a valuable lot in one of the many hard-to-build-in towns inside 495, they go big and expensive.

That too often leaves buyers just looking to break into the market faced with a choice of oddball properties in need of work.

So the condo now has a new role - that of a starter home for first-time buyers.

Skeptical? Well In fact, condo sales and prices are outperforming the single-family home market here in Massachusetts. Year-over-year condo sales surged 23 percent in September, compared to just over 8 percent for single-family homes, according to Banker & Tradesman.

Condo prices across the state were actually up 1.5 percent year to date through September to a median price of nearly $280,000, B&T reports.

By contrast, home prices, year to date, have fallen 1.6 percent to $290,000.

Still, I'd argue it's not an ideal situation if you are looking to start a family - believe me, a yard becomes a valuable commodity once you have children.

Size is also a factor - two bedrooms will only get you so far. And some developments clearly aren't designed for families with children. I remember checking out a really snazzy condo in our price range when Karen and I were looking. It was built on the site of a former mill complex on the Dedham/Boston line with a picturesque stream running through it. In fact, the bedroom of the unit we checked out opened onto the sounds of gurgling water.

OK, we also didn't have children then, though we were planning to. After experiencing the joys and exhaustion of chasing a two-year-old around the house, I looked back in disbelief that we had even bothered to look at that unit. If you don't get it, that's OK, but clearly you aren't a parent.

Resale factor may be more of a tossup. Buy a fixer-upper and you may be working on it for years before anyone else would want to buy it. If the location is off, well then all bets are off.

But of course condos have long been viewed as a riskier bet than single-family homes.

Are you looking at buying a condo instead of house? What's your story?

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

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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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