As 2013 ends, we are within striking distance of pretty big real estate landmark.
By the end of 2014, if not before, Greater Boston will have recovered all the real estate value that vanished when the bubble burst and Great Recession hit.
Out in the Bay Area, with rents skyrocketing, groups of young professionals are teaming up to rent out old, turn-of-the- century mansions.
NPR did a piece on it this morning - here's a link to a blog post on it.
The story focuses on one group that is renting out a 7,500 square foot Edwardian mansion, complete with lots of beautiful common areas and a early 1900s bowling alley in the basement.
When you are splitting the rent twelve different ways, it apparently cheaper than getting stuck paying the median two-bedroom rent in the Bay Area, which is an incredible $3,200.
Everyone interviewed in the story was very careful, though, not to call it a "commune," which I guess I got a kick out of.
The word still has some negative connotations after all these years, and for good reason, in my view.
My then hippie older sister spent a memorable few months in a true commune out in Western Massachusetts in the early 1970s.
She shared some grim looking dorm with a bunch of other flower children on what amounted to a subsistence farm somewhere in the boonies off of Route 2. I say subsistence because everyone there had a semi emaciated look, except the small clique running the place, that is, who apparently enjoyed a different set of rules and privileges.
"Michael" ruled the roost in wall that means in such a situation. His status came from the fact he had some sort of rock band, though who didn't back then. I was a pre-schooler then and would tag along with my parents when they delivered care packages to Sandy, who apparently wasn't big on tending to the scraggly potatoes grown on the farm, or, for that matter, manual labor in general.
Always wondered what happened with that particular adventure in alternative living, the commune in the middle of nowhere in the woods off of Route 2.
Warren Buffett is getting into the real estate business big time, as I noted yesterday, having launched Berkshire Hathaway Home Services,
Buffett's growing real estate empire, which is talking a lot about targeting Millennials and selling luxury homes, will soon be doing business in the Boston area.
It's an interesting play that has a lot of implications for the various players in the business of helping Americans buy and sell homes.
Here's what I found most surprising: Buffett clearly believes the real estate brokerages and agents are here to stay, even if the business badly needs an injection of young talent and a much savvier approach to technology.
Mega billionaire and market sage Warren Buffett wants to sell you your next home.
Buffett's latest venture, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, is shaking up the increasingly aging and staid world of home sales and real estate agents.
And now Buffett's growing home sales empire is planting its first flag in the potentially lucrative Greater Boston market.
The outer suburbs along 495 have been the laggards of Greater Boston's real estate recovery.
But suddenly these late comers are the life of the party.
While some towns along the 128 corridor have already blown past their 2005 peaks, home prices have been slower to rebound along 495, from Marlborough down to Franklin and Wrentham.
But as home buyers are priced out of the 128 beltway, they are starting to reassess their options and take a second look at 495.
And that's sent both prices and sales soaring over past year along the 495 corridor, I find in this piece I wrote for the Globe West.
The Boston area has been anointed one of the "healthiest" real estate markets in the country by real estate website Zillow.
In fact, we weigh in at No. 6, behind only the top California markets and Denver, healthier than 75 percent of the hundreds of markets surveyed by Zillow.
And how did Zillow come to this conclusion? Apparently, we have a relatively low foreclosure rate - just one in every 10,000 was foreclosed on in October - while just 12 percent of homeowners in the Boston area are mired in the negative equity trap.
Overall, home values were up more than 9 percent in October to a median of $343,000.
I beg to differ.
If you had the terrible misfortune to lose your home to foreclosure, you may very well find yourself branded as some sort of deadbeat.
Sadly, there are a lot of ignoramuses out there these days.
But given the global wreckage caused by the collapse of the housing bubble, blaming the average homeowner for winding up in a jam makes about as much sense as pointing fingers at typhoon victims.
A nonprofit called Boston Community Capital is now turning that ugly myth on its head, helping homeowners who are struggling to make their mortgage payments get back on a stable track.FULL ENTRY
Here's a new twist on that old idea of writing to the seller.
A Topsfield couple recently hit the jackpot after sending out a mass mailing to a hundred or so homes in Topsfield and Danvers seeking potential sellers, the Globe reports.
OK, this wasn't some form letter. The couple, Dan and Meghan Keith, did a fair amount of research, narrowing targeted homes down to ones they could afford and would want to live in.
The letter included a family picture with their daughter and dog, the story notes.
The couple took the plunge after months of fruitless house hunting, unable to find anything on the market that fit their needs.
"Everybody thought I was crazy," Meghan Keith tells the Globe. "But it ended up working out, which is weird."
Home buyers and owners have certainly faced their share of misery over the past decade.
And the return of escalating home prices is fast undoing any minor increase in affordability created after the real estate market - and the world economy - tanked back in 2008.
But all is not well in Renter Nation either.
No, it's not the happy land of footloose and fancy free Millennial types we have all been hearing about, who are choosing to rent because it fits their evolving, earth friendly lifestyles.
Rather, renters across the country are increasingly finding themselves cash strapped, having to devote ever greater amounts of shrinking or stagnant paychecks just to keep a roof over their heads.
If you are looking for a deal on a house, better get moving then. The next month or two is probably going to be your best chance for the next year.
Why? Well the holiday season is here. And, as I recently noted here, sellers still looking for buyers at this time of year are more likely to cut prices and move on, having struck out in the fall or summer.
Just think about it. If you are trying to sell your house between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you clearly aren't messing around or fishing for your fantasy price. That is unless your idea of fun is having home buyers pop up on your doorstep the day after Christmas.
In fact, you can buy a home at a significant discount in some of the most coveted suburbs out there, with a growing number of sellers in some of the nicest towns slashing prices by 5 percent or more as we head into December. Sometimes a lot more.
If you have a thing for old homes, nothing is worse than seeing some beautiful old colonial or Victorian leveled to make way for yet another McMansion.
Enter Barbara Jones. The Needham contractor launched Little Pink Houses a couple years ago to provide an alternative to homeowners who want to sell but aren't keen to see all their memories bulldozed away to make way for some cold, grotesquely large and soulless box.
Jones aim is to hit the $600,000 to $800,000 end of the market in Needham where listings are comparatively scarce, while saving some of the town's graceful older homes from the wrecking ball.
So what neighborhoods in Boston draw the most eyeballs when it comes to online listings?
Trulia just released its top ten list for Boston - it's ranks various parts of the city based on most homes viewed online, not on sales or prices, though most these neighborhoods did just fine on those counts as well.
OK, it's pretty clear Isitfriday has big plans for his house.
A regular on the comment board of this blog, isitfriday is confident his house, presumably somewhere in over-priced Greater Boston, will be his meal ticket when he retires.
After 30 years of paying the bank, isitfriday says he plans to be live debt free and then cash in on the equity built up in his house. With home prices on the rise again - and Boston area prices roughly 70 percent above their 2000 levels - it can be a tempting idea to indulge.
Is anyone else planning on using their house as a means to retire? I'm figuring in 30 years my mortgage will be paid off, house will be worth a lot more, and even if reverse mortgages don't exist, I'll still be able to sell for a good bit, downsize and spend all my money on healthcare!
OK, I like the idea of living mortgage free - that's likely part of my own retirement playbook once Karen and I finish paying off our Natick fixer-upper sometime in the 2030s.
But I am not so sure banking on a big gain in home equity - and planning to live off of it in your golden years - is the wisest thing.
You may not find your dream home this time of year. Actually, I can almost guarantee you won't, especially here in perpetually overpriced Greater Boston, where even Watertown and Natick now boast million-dollar condos.
But amid the most competitive market in a decade, the slower pace of the holiday season could prove to be a gift from on high for frustrated buyers.
This is a time of year when only serious buyers and sellers need apply.
After all, with a month packed with company parties, family gatherings and the onset of serious winter weather, it's a tough time of year to be either showing your house or looking for one.
Yet for frustrated buyers ready to take the holiday home-buying plunge, this could be a chance to land a house at a more bearable cost.
If you think home prices are high now, well just wait until next year.
The median sale price of Massachusetts homes could hit $355,000 next year, up from just under $325,000 during the first ten months of 2013, Tim Warren, chief executive of The Warren Group, predicts in this Globe piece.
So what's the big deal? Well that would actually bring local home prices back to levels not seen since 2005, during the peak of the housing bubble.
As you may or may not recall, 2005 was a great year to sell a house, but not so much to buy one.
Fall is sliding into winter and the holidays are here, but the real estate market shows no signs of going into hibernation.
In fact, it still looks like a crazy fast market, with pressure - really too much pressure - on buyers to act fast.
Just under a third of homes across the country are snagging buyers within two weeks, according to Redfin.
But in Boston, buyers face even more of a push to act quickly - not the greatest thing when you are weighing what is likely to be the biggest financial commitment you will never make.
The number of Boston listings that sold under two weeks in October topped 40.2 percent, with the pace even picking up a bit from September, albeit slightly, from 40.1 percent in September.
Are sellers finally rushing to cash in on all those double-digit price increases?
The housing market recovery to date has been a buyer-driven affair, with sellers lounging on the sidelines, watching, waiting and worrying.
OK, now some would-be sellers may simply still be locked into homes they overpaid for during the bubble years, while others may have refinanced at rock-bottom rates and are essentially locked into place.
But with home prices rising at double digit rates, a growing number of Greater Boston homeowners are opting to roll the dice and plant "For Sale' signs on their front lawns.
New listings of single-family homes jumped nearly 11 percent in October across Massachusetts in October, to just a shade under 6,000, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports this morning.
That's means roughly an additional 600 homes hit the market last month compared to October 2012.
OK, there is no shortage of million-dollar condos and town homes in downtown Boston, Cambridge or hip parts of Somerville like Davis Square.
But would you lay out more a million or more for a town home or condo in Natick, Wayland or Watertown?
If so, here's a $1.1 million town home in South Natick that was built in 2002. That counts as brand spanking new in the Boston area.
Now South Natick is nice - it feels like an extension of Wellesley - but that's a lot of dough.
Maybe reading comprehension just isn't what it used to be.
Not sure what it is, but every time this blog delves into rising home prices, an increasingly problematic aspect of life in the Boston area, some of our more vocal housing bears on this blog automatically cry foul.
In fact, they see nothing less than a real estate industry conspiracy intent on revving up the housing market!
Not that home prices need any help right now, but the idea is pretty absurd.
A case in point is the reaction on the comment board of this blog to Thursday's post, "Hot fall market shatters records - and raises concerns."
If you really want that house, grab a pen and start pouring your heart out to the seller.
And above all, don't forget to gush. Shed that New England reserve and let it all tumble out about how you will cherish the seller's house long after they have moved on to that retirement community in Arizona.
Apparently, your closing argument should paint an idyllic vision of you and your family sitting by the fire in the seller's house, forever grateful to the generous, wise and bountiful sellers who gave you the keys to this man-made paradise.
Don't forget the cute photos of kids and pets as well, preferably your own, but really any will do.
Says Trulia: This should be the emotional punch line statement that bonds the seller to the buyer so much that they yell out - "I like these buyers and want them to live in my home!"
Wow, now that's a letter!
OK, I am only half serious here - still gushing seems to be a prerequisite if you want to write one of these letters, at least based on the advice being doled out to buyers on the many real estate websites out there.
Nearly 30 percent of all winning bids by Boston area buyers included a "cover letter" or personal appeal to the seller, according to Redfin's latest report on bidding wars in various metro markets across the country.