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City Living

A turkey at the open house

Posted by Rona Fischman October 8, 2012 01:48 PM

The listing agent told me something like this: “Turkey poop is not that easy to clean up.” I believe her. She had an offering from the local turkey in front of the condo she where she was holding an open house. This condo is very close to my home, so the listing agent was asking me about our local turkey.

My neighborhood is not unique. Turkeys have been moving into more urban areas for some years now. Mostly, they are not a significant problem. However, there are some moments that have been battles of will -- turkey versus human.

Around the corner from my house, the local turkey decided that he owned the street one day. He stood in the middle and held his ground. The confrontation went like this:

Car: honk
Turkey: Gobble-gobble.
Car: honk. honk
Turkey: Gobble-gobble.
Car: honk, honk
Turkey: Gobble-gobble. (louder)
Car: honk
Turkey: Gobble-gobble. Gobble-gobble. (even louder)
The car backed up down the street. We found it amusing.


Does Allston have what it takes to be hip?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 10, 2012 10:01 AM

Allston's living proof that jam packing a neighborhood with rowdy college kids doesn't necessarily make you hip, at least in an upscale, Davis Square kind of way. A bit of a student zoo, sure, but hipsters, at least those with a few bucks in their pocket, have been renting and buying on the Cambridge side of the river.

Not convinced? Here's an enlightening discussion about some of the current rental conditions in the neighborhood that appeared a couple months ago on Universal Hub, with decrepit, student-packed rentals a primary complaint.

But where others might be skeptical, developer Bruce Percelay apparently sees some true hipness potential in Allston, the kind that will prompt young professionals to part with significant money each month.

He's sunk $20 million into the first major new apartment project in the neighborhood in decades, The Element, with more to come. It includes a 2,000-square-foot roof deck built with recycled synthetic grass - where yoga classes are taught - along with a movie theater, a club room and 100 parking spaces with a car wash station.

It's what Percelay, with the blessing of Boston officials, is calling the Allston Green District, seven buildings owned by Percelay's Mount Vernon Company within a two-block area along Commonwealth Avenue, Griggs Street and Brainerd Road.

And he's basing the appeal of his stylish new apartment project on its eco-friendly lifestyle - what could be more hipster than that?


What does your real estate say about who you are?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 2, 2012 02:02 PM

I can’t get away from real estate, even when I try. My summer reading included a collection of short stories called Other People We Married by Emma Staub. In the story, this section hit a nerve for me. I have clients who think this way. I don’t think it is good for them. Do you agree with Claire? Do you think real estate is who you are?

… Before they moved to Cobble Hill, Claire and Matt talked about real estate as much as they talked about themselves. Who are they, they would ask: a one bedroom with an office. A half bath? Were they a decorative fireplace or a breakfast bar? When Claire got pregnant, things got more clear. They were a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath co-op on the garden floor of a brownstone. Rosemary [the cat] could lie in the sun, the bricks baking her black fur. They were a family of four. Everything was going to be perfect, just like in a magazine: gloss and impossible.

This kind of thinking leads to trouble. No real estate makes life perfect. There is no single perfect place for someone. I do, however, agree that criteria changes dramatically when there is an expected or already-born infant in the picture. Did that happen to you? Did you suddenly turn into a “two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath…”?
In a general way, identity and real estate are connected. Density is a personal choice based on matters of personal space and privacy. Some people are “city” some “country.” There are beliefs imbedded in these decisions about living close to other people, about what children need, and about what city living means for opportunity and class status. Many of my clients have a hard time making the transition from city to suburban. Some have problems from suburban to city.


Local civic associations play controversial role in Boston zoning

Posted by Rona Fischman August 1, 2012 02:09 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein discusses the influence of local civic associations on zoning.

If you have ever had to deal with zoning or permitting in the City of Boston, you have probably come across local neighborhood “civic associations” in which the fate of your project or permit may unwittingly rest. There is the Beacon Hill Civic Association, the Allston-Brighton Civic Association, and the St. Marks Area Civic Association (Dorchester), to name a few. Each neighborhood or district has them. They are constituted by various neighborhood activists, watch-dogs, and concerned residents, etc. Many board members go back decades and some groups unfortunately lack younger members representing the new generation of city dwellers.

You will rarely find mention of these groups in the Boston Zoning Code, however, their influence looms large. When you file for a permit or propose a new project in Boston, the City or BRA will tell you that you must first present your application or project before whatever local civic association has “jurisdiction” over the neighborhood. These groups sit almost as a second zoning board of appeals, except without any rules, regulations or guidelines as to what they may or may not “approve” or “deny.” Now to their credit, the associations typically have a good sense as to what’s appropriate for the neighborhood and these folks care deeply about their areas. But some members are outwardly hostile to new development and some are even obsessed with conspiracy theories of what developers have planned for their neighborhoods.


Trade houses, see the world

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 30, 2012 09:39 AM

Sure glad I didn't pay attention to the advice on the comment board of this blog when my wife Karen was exploring our first home exchange three years ago.

It was jumping the gun a bit, but at the time I blogged about how Karen and I were hoping to do a house exchange with a family in Europe.

OK, I guess must be thin skinned since I still remember the barb thrown out on the comment board by a self-proclaimed expert on the home exchange market.

No one is going to be interested in your lowly Natick fixer-upper - they are going to want to trade places with a family in some fancy Back Bay townhouse!

Pure nonsense, as it turns out.

I am happy to report that I just got back from a week of vacation in Quebec City with Karen and our three little ones, eating lots of delightfully rich food and walking around one of the most beautiful and historic cities in North America.


Is Brookline hip?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 19, 2012 06:46 AM

Apparently Coldwell Banker thinks it is.

Brookline is ranked in the top ten hippest places in the country to live, right alongside Manhattan, San Francisco, Seattle and Mountain View.

OK, to be completely accurate here, it is listed as one of the top ten cities for "social seekers." I initially read it and thought this meant social climbers, which makes a bit more sense, but no, that is not how Coldwell Banker defines the term.

Let's got straight to the press release.

The Best Places to Live for "Social Seekers" ... ranks places which are perfect for the hip, trendy and fun at heart - those who would rather go out than stay home any night of the week. The list was compiled based on a range of attributes such as, access to public transportation, high volume of bars and restaurants, happening nightlife and great entertainment.

Maybe someone got confused and meant Davis Square instead, I don't know.


Air conditioners and noise

Posted by Rona Fischman July 5, 2012 01:53 PM

In single family houses, the air conditioner compressor can be a problem for you or for your neighbors, depending on where you place it. If it is your machine, your windows will be closed when it is running, so it has to vibrate a lot before it will get on most people’s nerves.

Where houses are fairly close together, the next door neighbors may need to close up because of the racket caused by your condenser. That doesn’t lead to neighborly relations in the heat of the summer.

I had a client who had a fairly major confrontation with his neighbors over the condenser. Next door, there lived a child who was sensitive to vibrational noise. The machine was interfering with her sleep. Her mother promptly went to war (as mothers will do to defend their children.) My client felt like a heal for causing a problem for a young child, but how can a house get air conditioning without making a bit of noise? It ended up involving the town officials. He ended up spending a good bit to reduce the noise. This was about ten years ago.


City or suburb – where’s the best place to raise a family?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 13, 2012 06:49 AM

The old idea that suburbia is somehow an inherently better place for children is losing some of its power, but it's still with us.

The decision to start a family often prompts a search for larger or more child-friendly surroundings, but families in a recent poll were far more likely to choose the suburbs than the city.

One of the more provocative findings: 18 percent of city parents polled would raise their children in the suburbs if they had to do it over again.


Get ya mitts off my dish, Mistah Mayor

Posted by Rona Fischman June 5, 2012 02:09 PM

Can the City of Boston ban satellite dishes? Attorney Richard D. Vetstein looks at this question, from a legal angle.

Menino targets eyesore satellite dishes Consistent with his reputation as the “urban mechanic,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino, along with the City Council, want to pass a new ordinance to clean satellite dish clutter on residential properties in Boston. As reported by the Globe, the proposal would require the removal of all obsolete satellite dishes and ban new installations from facades and other walls facing the street, unless an installer can prove there is no other place to get a signal. Dishes would have to be placed on roofs, in the rear, or on the sides of buildings. East Boston Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who has spearheaded the effort, says that this ordinance will help “save the character of our neighborhoods.’’

Ordinance may run afoul of FCC rules
The proposed ordinance, however, may face legal challenge by the satellite dish industry and affected satellite subscribers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that state or local laws are invalid if they unduly impair the right of a subscriber to receive satellite programming on a one meter dish installed on property within owner or renter’s exclusive use or control. For a person living in a multi-dwelling unit, an area such as a balcony, patio or garden not shared with other tenants would be considered property within the individual’s exclusive control. Under the FCC rule, the only two situations where restrictions are permissible is if (1) the restriction is necessary for a clearly defined, legitimate safety objective; or (2) it is necessary to preserve a historic building.


Is a musician persona non grata?

Posted by Rona Fischman May 21, 2012 02:09 PM

Even in a single family house, a drummer can become unwelcome in a neighborhood – especially a neighborhood where the houses are close together. It is even worse when the drummer lives in a condo or two-family house.

One of the bidding war properties that my clients saw (and made an unsuccessful Offer on) had a music studio in the top floor. It was a great place for them, since their younger daughter plays drums. The attic was wired for music equipment and a sound board. It had double pane windows with an additional Plexiglas layer on all of them. The agent told me that the neighbors told her it still wasn’t really sound-proof.

I saw another studio last year that had baffles that fit in front of the windows. They were made of the egg-carton shaped foam of a studio and were mounted on movable boards. They were rolled in front of the window and rolled away when not in use. I liked that better, as a concept, because it didn’t block the air flow when not in use. I don’t know which worked better.


Getting around in Boston and near Boston

Posted by Rona Fischman May 18, 2012 01:51 PM

Things are changing fast for residents near the city of Boston. It seems like parking has gotten harder and parking tickets are getting more numerous. More and more of my clients are going car-free or reducing to a single car per household. When I have a client moving to a more suburban setting the need for a car or for a second car is a major deterrent to the move.

Are you in Boston, Somerville, Cambridge or Brookline? If you are, do you still have a car? If you do, why?

Boston is the third most walkable major city in America. Here’s the whole list. I know the walk score remains pretty high in the surrounding small cities, too.

Boston also boasts of being the fourth most bikeable city according to Boston Magazine's on line BostonDaily.

Do you agree that Boston, and nearby, are both walkable and bikeable? What are your objections to these high national rankings? Does it make you feel sorry for the car-bound elsewhere?


Bicycle storage built for two

Posted by Rona Fischman May 11, 2012 01:59 PM

Now that the weather is occasionally turning spring like (and summer-like), I notice that my clients are more aware of whether a house or condo has easy bicycle storage. This is an urban issue much more than a suburban one. In places where garages are common or lot sizes are big enough to add a shed, the bicycle storage issue is easy.
It is in the cities and towns close to the cities that bicycle storage is an issue, even for the weekend warrior. Some of the things to look out for are features that make basement storage awkward. These things include:

Basement doors at a stairway landing with stairs parallel to the outside wall. That makes it necessary for the bicycle to turn an impossibly tight corner.

Straight stairs work if they are ahead of the door. Basement stairs that have tight turns to save on space make bicycle storage hard.

I see doors that are no more than 3 feet high leading out of the basement to ground level. (I call them “hobbit doors” even though they aren’t round.) Even if a bicycle can get through them, a person and a bicycle will require some wiggling and giggling.
(However, these work great for kayaks if you set up a line to hang the boat there.)


Nightmare neighbor has Sherry desperate for advice

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 1, 2012 07:01 AM

Just call it yet another example of small condo association purgatory.

If you have a three-unit condo association, and one member is a belligerent jerk, you may just be stuck up a creek without a paddle.

That's the dilemma "Sherry" and her husband find themselves in as they try to repair their condo building near Boston.

The lady in the unit next door is on board, but the gent who owns the remaining unit is a problem. Instead of forking over his share of the repair bill, he's turned out to be a rogue handyman, trying to fix things himself and instead making a complete hash of things.

How lovely.

Sherry is tearing her hair out and is looking for some good advice.


Election Day, yard signs, and flying witches

Posted by Rona Fischman November 4, 2011 01:48 PM

Election day is next Tuesday.
While walking in a residential area of Cambridge, I came upon a corner where there were three opposing candidate’s yard signs posted. Granted, in Cambridge there are 18 people competing for 9 seats. Cambridge has proportional representation, so a voter can vote for all 18, as long as each one is ranked with a unique number. (If two are ranked #15, neither gets credit for that vote.)
At first glance, I expected “So and So, vote #1,” “Such and So, vote #2…” Instead, they all said “vote #1.” It made me curious about the meaning of the three signs.

A. Was there one person who supports all three? Was he/she hoping that voters would choose all three for positions 1, 2, 3? Was he/she getting the favored candidate’s names out for as many voters as possible?

B. Were there three people living at the property who support different candidates? Were the signs competing?

It is the latter -- three people with different ideas – that brings me to the real estate questions of the day. In a two or three family house or condo, who has authority to decorate the yard? That would include electoral yard signs, but also Halloween, Christmas, and Easter decorations.


We’re number two

Posted by Rona Fischman October 28, 2011 01:37 PM

Happy Halloween!

When it comes to trick or treating, Boston comes in number two, on a national study by Zillow. The criteria were:
Median house price, walkability, population density, and crime. San Francisco came in first. Boston was number two.

Zillow reminds us, trick or treating -- like real estate in general -- is hyper-local. Boston’s best neighborhoods are Beacon Hill, Back Bay, North End, South End, Kenmore. Based on their criteria, I see it. These are high-median-priced areas with high density and good walkability and low crime. But, are they the best places to trick or treat? Where is your favorite place?

In the Huffington Post, there were also shout-outs for East Cambridge and Waban (a village in Newton.)

Looking at the criteria, I have some questions. Were the four factors weighted evenly? I hope not.


Walkability is great, but having a Walmart nearby is better

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis October 11, 2011 08:55 AM

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has been an unflagging cheerleader for urban life, overseeing an explosion in new condo development downtown.

But his decision to effectively bar Walmart from setting foot in Boston - and in particular Roxbury - raises one of the major drawbacks of urban living.

Yes, if you trade in your suburban home for a condo or house in Boston, you might just be able to ditch your car as well.

And for someone who hates cars as much as I do, that's an attraction.

But carless or not, you are then stuck with a limited array of shopping options, of which the lack of a Walmart is just the tip of the iceberg. Major grocery stores are hard to find, and, with a captive audience, the prices are invariably higher at the few that have managed to squeeze their way into the city.


Green commuting, is it a trend?

Posted by Rona Fischman September 29, 2011 01:44 PM

Tomorrow is a last Friday of the month. That means it is Walk-Ride day. Initiatives like this are part of a growing consciousness about the use of automobiles. Are you more aware -- and care more -- about the amount of time you spend in your car and how much gas you burn?

In the past five years or so, I have had an increasing number of clients who bicycle commute to work. One of the features that is becoming do-or-die for my clients is an easy way to store bicycles on a daily basis. More and more of my client base are commuting by bicycle at least part of the year. When I started in real estate, it was rare for a condo association to have dedicated bicycle storage areas, Now, I consider it commonplace. Is bicycle storage a do-or-die for you? My clients want to get into the basement via a full-sized door, with a few or no stairs and no sharp turns. Garages are even better. Is that your criteria, too?

I also find questions about bicycle routes popping up about a third of the time, among my clients. An increasing percentage do not own a car. They get around via public transportation as well as bicycling and walking. Since the very beginning, I’ve always worked with an MBTA bus-route map handy. Now I keep bike maps, too.


High-end Dot Ave condos a great deal now?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 8, 2011 06:22 AM

I guess that's for you to decide. One thing is for sure, though, the prices at the DNA Lofts have certainly come down.

The Davis Cos., a veteran local developer, recently acquired the downtown-style condo project on Dot Ave after the builder lost it to foreclosure.

The new owners are now putting up 25 of the remaining DNA Loft units up for sale at an auction on Oct. 6. The condo project is located at 944 Dorchester Ave., where Dorchester meets South Boston.

Minimum bids range from $115,000 for a 665 square foot studio, to $275,000 for a roughly 1,600 square foot penthouse. The penthouse had previously been on the market for just under $500,000.


Do you trust your neighbors?

Posted by Rona Fischman September 1, 2011 01:56 PM

A study by Eileen Bjornstrom, an assistant professor of sociology in the Missouri University College of Arts and Science shows that people who trust their neighbors report having better health.

Do you trust your neighbors? Do you know them? Do you interact with them? Would you prefer to have nothing to do with them?
Do you remember your neighbors from where you grew up? Did they influence you, for better or worse?

Guess who distrusts their neighbors more, people at the financial top or the financial bottom of a specific neighborhood?

Dr. Bjornstrom’s study showed that people toward the top of the financial level of a neighborhood were less likely to respond that “their neighbors can be trusted.” If one is near the top, trust goes down. Is it that if your relative position is higher than your neighbors you fear theft? Is it that people who have more than their neighbors are more aloof and independent by nature?
The study also showed a correlation between rating low on “neighbors can be trusted” and reporting good health. In this study, it seems that harboring distrust wears on an individual’s sense of well-being.

Do you intuitively agree with this or not?


They are definitely here

Posted by Rona Fischman August 26, 2011 02:12 PM

This weekend, my nephew Dan arrives in Boston to begin his Ph.D. program. We were planning to celebrate with a walking tour of Boston. Student Season is coming in like a lion, this year, thanks to Hurricane Irene. We will probably skip the walking tour. Dan and thousands of others will find themselves moving in the rain. What's the worst weather you ever moved in? Can you beat the stories this year's emigrants will tell?

In general, I am not celebrating the beginning of the school year because it is the beginning of traffic season. All summer, I have been enjoying relatively easy parking and generally lighter traffic. Since I am in the car a lot, I notice this. Do you? But, I am a generous person. Therefore, I refrain from taking it out on the new arrivals, as they drive badly – being lost – on our convoluted streets.

My first undergraduate siting of this season was last week. A young woman of the right age was drifting down Highland Avenue in Somerville at about 15 mile per hour. She was relieved to see me waiting on the sidewalk. I stepped out and gave her directions to I-95 south.

It made me wonder. What are the best directions: the most direct way or the way that is least likely to get one lost? Last week, I chose the latter, because the young lady from Foxboro seemed a bit frazzled.

Our road system is not one of the high points in the greater Boston standard of living.


Does a short sale in the condo complex lower all prices there?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 10, 2011 02:11 PM

Mike wrote to me with a question that is on the mind of anyone who owns a condo in a building where there is a short sale or foreclosure.
He asked:

To give you some history, back in 2006 during the boom I was thinking of jumping into the real estate market out of fear of being out priced. I settled upon a condo in the newly built ….[condo complex in a north shore town]. I made an offer on hand’s down the nicest 1 bedroom in the building… The original owner bought it preconstruction and got every conceivable perk added. Huge granite island, granite in the bathroom, California closets. The unit was phenomenal…My offer at the time was $340,000, which got accepted, but I got cold feet and backed out of the deal. I still follow the buildings sales out of curiosity and I recently saw this same unit go on the market in a short sale for $240,000 and was eventually sold for $220, 000. Before this even the worst 1 bedrooms in the building were selling for $300,000+. It seems to me that this sale will be used as a starting point for all future sales in the building, immediately putting every other one bedroom owner at least 100k under water.
Did the bank just literally cripple this building and its tenants?

In general, a single distressed sale in a condo complex is not going to drag down the value of every unit like it in that building. It takes three to tango, for appraisers. Appraisers are aware that a comparable property is distressed, and takes that into consideration. Unless there is an epidemic of distressed sales in a building, a new, low price-point has not just been established by this one, low sale.

Looking a little deeper, Mike really dodged the bullet by having cold feet. There are two sales in that building in the past year and a half that indicate declining prices that could put other owners underwater. Only one of these was lender-involved; the other owner did not owe much on his unit.


Transit speculations

Posted by Rona Fischman August 4, 2011 01:55 PM

Surprise, surprise! The MBTA extension of the Green line in Somerville and Medford has been delayed, again. This time, they are projecting 2018 as a finish date, with the Medford stop possibly being delayed until 2020.

I am on record here at BREN for being skeptical about the on-time arrival of the Green Line. I wrote about it in 2007, and 2008 that I do not think that buying in anticipation of the Green Line is a good idea.

In 2009, I drew on lessons learned during the Red Line extension in the 1980s for an understanding of just how long it takes to see profit from that kind of community change. Here’s what I said then. I still stand by it, except now I am pushing my projections back four years.

C., a client of mine, asked me this question:

… I was also wondering if you had any opinions on the proposed Green Line extension. Personally I think I'll be dead by the time it's done, but was wondering if you'd heard anything to the contrary. I do know about that lawsuit that said it was supposed to be completed by the end of 2014. But I'm not holding my breath.

Moving out to the suburbs?

Posted by Rona Fischman July 14, 2011 02:05 PM

The ‘burbs, revisited
Doug Most shared his musings on the adjustment of moving from JP to Needham.

Many of my clients spend time musing over the same thing. Young adults often see themselves as urban people. They have come to enjoy the restaurants, shops, and urban lifestyle. Living in the city, especially one as studenty as Boston, is a fairly easy transition from a suburban adolescence. Many young adults come here for college and stay. They fill apartments in Boston, Cambridge, Brookline and Somerville. A few venture into Arlington and Watertown.

Yet, when they start to have children, many migrate toward the ‘burbs. Is it a notion based on their childhood, or maybe too many reruns of The Brady Bunch? Is it safety? Is it schools? Is it snob appeal?



Posted by Rona Fischman June 16, 2011 01:38 PM

I was asked by a friend of mine whether I would take a listing on a house with a level-three sex offender* next door. Since I don’t take listings, I got to dodge the question. Since then, I’ve been asking listing agents. Some say that the person next door has done nothing wrong. That owner should be allowed to hire help to sell his or her house. Some say, they couldn’t sell a house with an offender next door.

When a level-three sex offender is released from prison, neighbors in the immediate area are informed. However, there is no requirement for the police to inform people who subsequently move into the area.

What brought my friend to call me and ask such a question? There is a sex offender living around the corner from this friend. The house next to the offender is under agreement to a family with little girls. My friend was driving past when she saw the new buyers were at the house with their buyer’s agent, and the listing agent. The little girls were dancing around (apparently invited) on the lawn of the level-three sex offender.


Whose neighborhood is this?

Posted by Rona Fischman June 7, 2011 01:58 PM

The kerfuffle over the Whole Foods store in Jamaica Plain is an age-old Boston area battle, revisited.

The question of whether gentrification is good or bad for a community is in the eye of the beholder. What do you behold? Gentrification brought us the housing bubble. Or is that the other way around, the housing bubble created gentrification? Does Whole Foods cause gentrification or is it capitalizing on gentrification that is already there? Does loss of a “normal” local grocery store toll the death knell for working-class families in a neighborhood?

David Taber, writer for the Jamaica Plain Gazette reports that there is evidence that the presence of a Whole Foods as a precursor to condo price increases in the neighborhood. He quotes a 2007 study that showed that urban amenities attract people who will pay price premiums for housing. That 2007
Johnson Gardner study of urban amenities said this about groceries like Whole Foods:

Specialty Grocers (+17.5%): Price premiums for being nearby a specialty grocer are estimated to range from as low as 5.8% to as high as 29.3%... Accordingly, the calculated 17.5% premium is likely robust, as anecdotal evidence is strongest for specialty grocers.

My office is in Cambridge. I don’t think the three Whole Foods are the cause of gentrification there. I also work in Medford, where the Whole Foods sits quietly in its parking lot, not hiking property values around it. But, the facts above are facts. What do you make of it?


One page about real estate, and he got it wrong

Posted by Rona Fischman May 11, 2011 01:43 PM

My last licks on How We Decide address the single page that is dedicated directly to real estate.It starts near the end of page 144. I think Mr. Lehrer and the psychologist he quotes got it wrong.

On page 144, Mr. Lehrer has just explained that emotion-based decisions are the best for things like choosing a poster or strawberry jam. Subjects who are asked to mentally evaluate their decision over-think it and choose one that is less satisfying. Lehrer writes:

The more people thought about which posters they wanted, the more misleading their thoughts become. Self-analysis resulted in less self-awareness. [Emphasis by Lehrer]… This isn’t just a problem for insignificant decisions like choosing jam for a sandwich or selecting a cheap poster. People can also think too much about more important choices, like buying a home.

Lehrer then quotes our friend, Dr. Dijksterhuis, who calls the act of concentrating on the wrong thing a “weighting mistake.” Lehrer writes:

"Consider two housing options: a three bedroom apartment that is located in the middle of a city, with a ten minute commute time, or a five bedroom McMansion on the urban outskirts, with a forty-five minute commute.”People will think about this trade-off for a long time," Dijksterhuis says. "And most them will eventually choose the large house. After all, a third bathroom or extra bedroom is very important for when grandma and grandpa come over for Christmas, whereas driving two hours each day is really not that bad." What's interesting is that the more time people spend deliberating, the more important that extra space becomes.

Walking the ‘hood. The houses.

Posted by Rona Fischman February 25, 2011 01:56 PM

Today, I write about what the houses looked like in that in an urban neighborhood. What a buyer should be looking for are signs that the neighborhood are doing their best to take care of their property.

Exterior condition says a lot about a homeowner. Generally, the most expensive repairs are on the outside. So, people will delay repainting, deck repair, and window replacement as long as they can. The cosmetic look of a house fails long before the exterior begins to functionally fail, in most cases. So, deferred maintenance on the outside means that the sellers either don’t care how it looks or don’t have the money to repair simply because it looks worn.

Paint: In this location, exterior upkeep was spotty. Some houses had mono-colored exteriors with no shutters or contrasting trim. Others had high-end 3-5 color custom paint jobs. One custom paint job was peeling; many simpler paint jobs were peeling, too. About three-quarters of the exteriors had paint that looked recent-enough.

Wood and decks: We saw fancy Japanese-style decks, old porches, and wooden archways. Again repair ranged from recent to falling apart. Recent and acceptable were the norm.

Windows: there were high numbers of double-pane replacement windows on the block.


Walking the ‘hood. The people

Posted by Rona Fischman February 24, 2011 01:48 PM

Last weekend, I showed a single family house in an urban neighborhood that my clients did not know well. You can learn a lot about a neighborhood from walking around talking to the neighbors and looking at the houses. It was a pretty day, so we took a stroll.

The next-door neighbor was eyeing everyone coming and going from the open house. He has his motorcycle running in his front lawn. He said it was a great neighborhood. He lived there all his life. The lady next door was in her 90s. She knew his parents before he was even born. The only thing wrong with the neighborhood was the students who come and go and don’t care.

My clients listened politely and remained pleasant and positive. Then, he said he goes to work every morning at 4:30 and rides a Harley with no muffler during the better weather. This bike is his winter bike, which is smaller and quieter… I took the encounter as hostile. My clients were not daunted. What do you think? Hostile or a friendly warning?


Unleveled playing field for cell tower appeals

Posted by Rona Fischman February 23, 2011 01:54 PM

Whatever you take on cell towers, Richard D. Vetstein tells you about the legal wrangling about them:

With the proliferation of cellular/wireless service and coverage, Massachusetts town and cities have been bombarded in the last several years with applications for zoning relief for new cell towers and related equipment. These applications – especially in residential neighborhoods –raise the ire of local residents who don’t want cell towers in their backyards. Local zoning boards’ ability to regulate cellular/wireless facilities, however, is significantly circumscribed by the federal

Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA) which provides that local zoning decisions cannot unreasonably discriminate among providers, have the effect of prohibiting service, or regulate on the basis of the effects of radio frequency emissions.

The TCA has spawned a decade’s worth of litigation with wireless servicers’ slugging percentage in the David Ortiz range. The most recent smack-down is T-Mobile Northeast LLC v. City of Lawrence.


Infrastructure woes, again and still

Posted by Rona Fischman January 13, 2011 02:01 PM

Like many people, my street was impassable between 9 AM and 12 noon on Wednesday. As long as I didn’t lose power or the internet line, there was no need to be anything but grateful.
My neighbor who drove to work this morning at 8 AM had a plowed road to do it on.
My friend who drove from Groton to Mass General on Wednesday for an 11 AM meeting said the roads were clear in Groton. The highways were not bad. She drove on inches of snow and slush from Fresh Pond into the city. She arrived at 10 AM.

Many people can set up at a home computer and soldier on, some can’t. Where did you work on Wednesday?

What does a metropolitan area need to be safe during natural emergencies? Here in New England, we need plows and sanders, trucks, and skilled workers to drive them and to repair utility connections. We need emergency medical responders who can get to their posts and get to those in need. Do we have enough?

I would like to take a quick poll. What grade do you give the snow infrastructure in your town? Name the town, the grade and why.

Infrastructure, in regard to snow, includes snow removal, emergency parking, emergency shelter, emergency response during the storm, electric, gas, water, and cable service.


Overhousing and the suburbs

Posted by Rona Fischman January 11, 2011 02:07 PM

When I wrote about the choice between cities and suburbs, centerfielder wrote this:

…Without getting into much research on those various schools… I'm glad to hear that some of the surrounding towns are making strides towards a better school system. I hope Boston pays attention and sooner than later decides to do some something about the problems they have with their schools. In the end it benefits everyone directly and indirectly. It is probably for the most part, but not in every case, the advantage to living in the suburbs over the city.

This comment came in at the end of a thread; it needs some air! Are suburbs primarily about the schools? Really?

Don’t people want bigger houses, yard space, privacy, and peace and quiet that they can’t get in the city? Maybe they leave the city and head for the ‘burbs for the schools, but they stay there for the privacy, safety, and relative calm. If the suburbs were all about the schools, wouldn’t everyone move back to the city as soon as high school aged kids set out to college?

It just doesn’t happen. Every year I see houses being sold by sellers over 80, or their children, or both in tandem. Around Boston, there are large numbers of people from “The Greatest Generation” who are still living in the houses where the “Baby Boomers” and “Gen Xers” grew up.


Dodging cars in a winter wonderland

Posted by Rona Fischman January 7, 2011 01:40 PM

When I wrote about snow shoveling last week, Franksmartin found my blind spot. I was only thinking about the work of shoveling. Part of what blinded me is the sheer labor of manual shoveling. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.

I said: “Some towns don’t have sidewalks. That’s another plus for homeowners this time of year.” I neglected the problems caused by lack of safe walking space.

franksmartin wrote:

"And, as far as not having sidewalks - we don't have sidewalks and it's impossible to walk down the street in the winter. The roads in my immediate neighborhood are narrow and winding and the snow is piled high. There isn't much room for cars; pedestrians risk their life and limb. I would happily clean a sidewalk to be able to venture out safely. "

Franksmartin is right that walkability is affected by lack of sidewalks. I talk about this with clients who are looking in places where there are no sidewalks. It is especially bad on hilly and winding roadways. I failed to consider the problem of no sidewalks when compounded by snow. I recognize my blindspot and will make an effort to keep both eyes open.

Is it better to have sidewalks or not?


We love our cars and subway stops, too

Posted by Rona Fischman January 6, 2011 02:00 PM

While I am on the topic of location, I want to mention location choices based on commute and travel distances.

One would think that the choice to be in or out of the city is the choice between daily mass transit use and walking versus daily car use. In dense cities, where parking is precious -- like Boston’s Back Bay, North End and parts of Brookline -- it is a major expense to keep a car. Other cities – with street parking—like Boston’s Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, or Somerville and Cambridge, residents expect the best of both worlds. They want their cars, walkability, and mass transit, too.

My more urban buyers want to be a relatively short walk to the subway. Anything else is a compromise. Many of these buyers do not use the subway to commute to work. They drive. They also need parking for one to two cars. Many site resale concerns for their choice. Many are willing to pay more to live near the subway that they never use.

Buyers who move to the close-in suburbs, by and large own cars. This is true even if they use a bus to the subway or a commuter train to go to work. Cars seem necessary as soon as the dominant house type becomes single family. Places as close to the city as Arlington, Watertown, and Medford seem to be car-land.


Snow research for home buyers

Posted by Rona Fischman December 28, 2010 12:23 PM

While on break from shoveling, I reflect on snow emergencies as an opportunity for home buyers.

Snow days are a great time to meet neighbors or check out a neighborhood. I bought in the winter, so I practice what I preach. Back then, we had a snowstorm shortly after we signed the Offer. We dug out early and walked over to see how the new neighborhood looked.

We met our next door neighbor. He had a sensible attitude about shoveling and seemed easy enough to get along with. There were children on the street. There were elderly people who had sufficient help to get their walks cleared. All good. The snow piles were high, but people were not being territorial about where the piles were placed. Really good. Parking was tight, but serviceable for the street.

On a City level, the plow came by while we were there. The street was already passable and the snow had stopped by that time. We were moving to a street that the City didn’t neglect! Really good.

Our City has fussy snow-shoveling rules, with large fines. However, we were committed to living there, so that did not dissuade us. All-in-all, we were satisfied, as buyers, that snow conditions were acceptable at the new place.


The rise of renter nation

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 17, 2010 07:54 AM

Don't feel like taking a ride on this roller coaster of a real estate market? Opting to rent, at least for now, instead of buying?

If so, you are not alone, according to a new survey of thousands of renters and homeowners across the nation by Fannie Mae.

Two key stats: The number of those who plan to continue to rent rose to nearly 60 percent from 54 percent at the start of 2010, while those planning to choose the apartment living over homeownership when it comes to their next move hit 33 percent, a 10 percent jump over the same time period.

The young and mobile are leading the way here - the homeownership rate among those 25 to 29 has plunged 11 percent from the bubble years.

Still, whether we see a longer-term, sizable shift towards renting - where it is seen as a viable, welcome option even for those with the means to buy - remains to be seen.


Home for the holidays

Posted by Rona Fischman November 23, 2010 02:33 PM

I am in correspondence with a childhood friend. She grew up in a brick Cape Cod house on a busy street. I grew up in a wood Cape Cod house on a less-busy, but not entirely quiet, street about a mile away. We because fast friends in what was then called “junior high.” (The correct term for those awkward school years is now “middle school.”) We had a lot in common at 14 or 15. As adults, we both fled suburbia; me to the city and she to the country.

I envy her solitude and sometimes she envies my convenience. Her house is on a river. She can’t see her neighbors. Her dogs don’t wear leashes. She heats her house with wood. It sounds like year-round vacation… But the practical issues are many. For one, she heats her house with wood! She can’t use a cell phone there. And, most of all, she is miles and miles from people and things for sale.

She wrote, "if it weren't for the 6 month winters and the black flies, everyone would live here… I would add and the lack of tech connections. I try to maintain a somewhat purist approach that we shouldn't expect these things here. Meanwhile, my carbon footprint with the 100 mile commute each day...”


Tandem parking advice

Posted by Rona Fischman November 18, 2010 01:49 PM

Kate Sedan is the “Ask the Neighbor Lady” advice columnist at The Patch. She is taking on urban problems and giving advice.

Tuesday, I caught her advice to a frustrated tenant who keeps being parked-in by his neighbor.
Too Mad to Come Up with a Funny Name in Somerville wrote to the Neighbor Lady:

My tandem parking is driving me crazy. I live on a street where it's really hard to park. I also have a job that involves lugging heavy supplies to and from my car. So I want and need to use my driveway: the driveway I pay to use as part of my rent. The problem is that my downstairs neighbor parks me in a lot. He pulls in behind me and then goes out on foot. He lets friends park me in too. I've tried to ask nicely that we trade keys so we can move each other's cars if we need to. He won't do it. He says it's too risky, and then says he'll stop parking me in. I'm developing a case of driveway rage. This has to stop. What would you do?

Kate suggests blocking the neighbor in to show him how annoying it is as Plan A and talking to the landlord as Plan B. What do you think?


Urban living versus suburban and rural. What’s your pick?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis November 3, 2010 06:58 AM

OK, time to detox from all the breathless election coverage.

Here's a quick recap on the real estate angle stemming from the voting action yesterday.

Barney Frank survived a pretty strong challenge by a Marine reservist Sean Bielat, who put Barney on the hot seat on whether he ignored early warning signs of the housing market fiasco.

And with a big boost from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and a coalition of business, religious and housing groups, Question 2, which would have repealed the state's 1960s-era affordable housing law, went down to a resounding defeat.

Let me know if I am missing anything.

Here's a news flash: There's more to buying a home than price, even in Greater Boston, arguably one of the most overpriced markets in the country.

It's also a question of what you want to come home to at night - a condo in a funky city neighborhood, a house on an impeccably landscaped suburban street or a home tucked away in the woods off some dirt road in Podunkville?


Do you want to be the landlord of a three-family house?

Posted by Rona Fischman October 1, 2010 02:08 PM

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the numbers don’t work for two-family home ownership around Boston, these days.

Shiplesp commented:

How does the price of a three-family unit compare to two-family? One advantage of a three-family is that you rarely have both units vacant, so you always have some income.
The "rule of thumb" that I followed when I bought my three-family is that the price of the house should be paid for by the rents in 7 years. That was possible 10 years ago, I'm not sure it is now.
Anyway, it works out for me because the rents of the other two units cover my mortgage, taxes, insurance, and common utilities.

Prices of two-family homes and three family homes vary very dramatically across the Commonwealth. When I look at Massachusetts, the median cost of a two-family house is $215,000! The median three-family house is less, $200. But that is, obviously, not a good indicator. Multi-family housing stock varies so much, these numbers are meaningless.

The local figures, for my area* are more real to me: $512,000 for two-family homes and $600,000 for three-family homes. Using the $600,000 median, which does match my experience of the past 6 months, here are the same numbers I did before to show how the additional rental unit changes the picture:

Sale price $600,000. Three-family house with 5 rooms, 2 bedrooms downstairs and 6 rooms, 3 bedrooms upstairs and 6 rooms, 3 bedrooms on the third floor. Downstairs rent about $1300. Upstairs rent about $1400. Third unit rent $1400.
Down payment: 25 percent (required for conforming loan) = $150,000
Principal and interest = $2416 at 5 percent interest
PITI about $2900
Gross income about $4100
Return on the $150,000 investment is approximately $1200 per month.

That is assuming no vacancies and costs do not include all the costs we discussed in the last two weeks. The water bill and normal maintenance are not going to be the killer expenses here. We all know that repair and updating is where the money will go.

Ignoring the expenses, do the gross rents pay for the house in 7 years? $4100 X 12 X 7 = $344,400. Not even close.

So Shiplesp, small property ownership -- even with a three family home -- still doesn’t add up. Just like video killed the radio star, condos killed small property ownership around Boston.

Shall we continue on the topic of landlords and tenants? If so, what do you want to know more about?

*my area: Acton, Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Brookline, Cambridge, Concord, Lexington, Medford, Natick, Needham, Newton, Somerville, Sudbury, Waltham, Watertown, Wayland, Wellesley, Winchester. Data past 6 months from MLSPIN.

It was so civilized

Posted by Rona Fischman September 23, 2010 01:46 PM

The weekend weather this September has been great! One Saturday, I showed property in West Somerville and North Cambridge. I was working with my new agent, Sandy Resnick. As we arranged to meet up, we realized that our showings were all within a half mile or so from one another. Normally we rendezvous and travel in one car. Instead, she drove to the first place and I walked there. Then we walked with the clients to the second place. (If the showing ran late, Sandy’s car was there for our last-minute use.) Then we showed a property to another client. Then we went our separate ways, on foot.

My clients are MBTA users, so the exercise was helpful for them. We got to talk about some of the quirks of the neighborhood as we walked between showings. We got to test-out foot paths to the Red line that didn’t include walking on Mass Ave with them. It was so civilized! No climbing in and out of cars, no parking hassles. I got home feeling refreshed and much less tense than after a normal half-day of house hunting.


Urban downtowns becoming playgrounds for the rich?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 6, 2010 07:00 AM

It's unlikely the real estate downturn is going to put much of a halt on the transformation of downtown Boston.

Sure, it will be a while before we see another Mandarin Oriental - but the last decade left us with a glitzy condo tower on every corner.


Tower shadows - real issue or debating point?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 5, 2010 07:00 AM

I live in suburban Natick, so there are not any tower shadows around here to darken my day.

But I have done a heck of a lot of reporting over the years on downtown Boston development, enough to know the shadows cast by a new tower can be a make or break issue.

In fact, the state Legislature back in 1990 even put a law into place decreeing no new building shadows were to be cast on the Boston Common and the Public Garden.


The greening of residential real estate

Posted by Rona Fischman May 27, 2010 01:48 PM

One of the features that is becoming do-or-die for my clients is an easy way to store bicycles on a daily basis. More and more of my client base are commuting by bicycle at least part of the year. When I started in real estate, it was rare for a condo association to have dedicated bicycle storage areas, Now, I consider it commonplace. Is bicycle storage a do-or-die for you? My clients want to get into the basement via a full-sized door, with a few or no stairs and no sharp turns. Garages are even better. Is that your criteria, too?

I also find questions about bicycle routes popping up about a third of the time, among my clients. An increasing percentage do not own a car. They get around via public transportation as well as bicycling and walking. Since the very beginning, I’ve always worked with an MBTA bus-route map handy. Now I keep bike maps, too.


Condo association runs amok?

Posted by Rona Fischman March 30, 2010 01:46 PM

It is now the Jewish holiday of Passover. Happy Passover to those who celebrate! In recognition of the holiday, I bring you a Jewish real estate story which relates to a discussion we had earlier this month. It is a story of a condo association running amok, as alleged by the plaintiffs.

The Blochs removed their mezuzot* from their doorways for a renovation in their condo association hallways. When they put them back after the renovation, they were removed by the association, repeatedly. The courts ruled in favor of the Blochs; they had the right to affix a religious symbol to their doorpost based on fair housing rules.


Middle class is about the schools, right?

Posted by Rona Fischman March 23, 2010 02:30 PM

In The Two Income Trap, one of the ongoing tropes is that the pressure to send one’s children to “good” schools underlies the competition for houses in well-regarded schools systems. Ms Warren and Ms Warren Tyagi explain that women in the workforce increased the spending power of the family. The extra income did not go to runaway spending on clothes and other consumer goods. They say:

“…families where swept you up in a bidding war, competing furiously with one another for the most important possession a house in a decent school district. As confidence in the school system crumbled, the bidding war for family housing intensified, and parent soon found themselves bidding up the price for other opportunities for their kids, such as s slot in a decent preschool or admission to a good college. Mom’s extra income fit in perfectly, coming at just the right time to give each family extra ammunition to compete in the bidding wars – and to drive up the prices even higher to for the things they all wanted.”

I have written about schools on this blog and I have heard how important schools are. In my entry Is living well about the schools? the short answer was “yes!” Even for people without children, "everyone knows" that the price of a house depends on the reputation of the school system.

In The Two Income Trap, the authors quote a study that confirms that

“school quality was the single most important determinant of neighborhood prices – more important than racial composition of the neighborhoods, commute, distance, crime rate, or proximity to a hazardous waste site.” [Emphasis theirs]


Sorry luxury condo haters, downtown Boston is different

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 22, 2010 07:00 AM

Here's some bad news for all the doom and gloomers eagerly awaiting the great Boston luxury condo collapse: It's not happening.

Luxury condos have certainly gotten a bad rap thanks to the real estate downturn.

In cities ranging from Las Vegas to Miami, deluxe penthouses and other posh high-rise digs are being foreclosed on and auctioned off at fire sale prices.

But in Boston, the downtown luxury market appears to be headed in the opposite direction.

After a pretty dismal stretch in early 2009, sales of $1 million-plus condos are up dramatically, with 57 sales so far in 2010 compared to just 25 in the first ten weeks of 2010, reports Otis & Ahearn, the Boston-based luxury marketing and research firm.

Not exactly encouraging news for all those who have been gleefully waiting for the inevitable demise of Boston's luxury condo market, now is it?


Day of the dead

Posted by Rona Fischman March 9, 2010 02:12 PM

One day, in two different towns with two different sets of clients, I saw two particularly nice houses for sale. Both had a prominent view of a cemetery. Now, this wasn’t Mt Auburn Cemetery which is more like a park; these were the flat type of cemetery.

What my clients saw was lawn, some trees, and headstones. In each case, the headstones were close enough and prominent enough that one could read the names without trying. One client wondered if he’d need to find out who Mr. M_____ was, since he’d be seeing the name every day. The other said, “It is good to remain aware of one’s mortality, but I can’t live there.”


Taxi ride down memory lane

Posted by Rona Fischman February 26, 2010 01:49 PM

“I see you know the short-cuts” I said to the cabbie as he turned down a side street that most people don’t know is there.
“Yeah," he answered, "I grew up here. Really. Right here. That one!”

“So you are one of the many who have roots in [neighborhood name deleted,]” I said.

Then he tried to figure out where I fit in. He asked, “Do you know the [name of the family that owned my house two owners before me] there were a lot of them.”

“Not that many,” say I, “Four kids. The boys came by after we moved in and introduced themselves. They are electricians, so I still see the one who works for [deleted] from time to time.”
The cabbie’s sister dated one of those electricians, so he knew the family well. I learned a little more about that family as we headed to my destination.

Then I heard the real estate story that I hear far too much: The cabbie is about my age. His parents sold the house when the nest was empty, too soon for the Boston real estate market. “My parents sold the house for $105,000 – for a song,” he says. “[Someone else] got $605,000 for a house just like it down the street… I really miss that house. This isn’t my neighborhood anymore.”


Due diligence in a hurry

Posted by Rona Fischman February 19, 2010 02:25 PM

Markus wrote:

Rona, I think your advice to buyers on due diligence is always good, but frankly, reading it now is kind of a surreal experience. Homes that are selling now go off-market in days or hours. Buyers at most see a house once, sometimes not at all. No one has any idea what setback restrictions are, whether school buses go down the street, whether an addition is legal, or if the town's school system is running out of cash (Arlington). They know nothing about the house they are buying at all, and they don't care.

Many items on Markus's lists are things that a buyer can figure out before making an Offer to Purchase. Even if they are in a hurry-up Sunday afternoon craze.

I encourage buyers to choose a town based on services, density, commuter routes and schools before stepping foot inside any open house. Once a buyer has chosen towns, school districts, and neighborhoods, it is time to start going into houses.
Once in houses, there is a lot of due diligence possible in a fairly short time, even on a Sunday. Walking the neighborhood after an open house should reveal that school bus route Markus would hate so much. Take a walk, you’ll find some of the barking dogs, sloppy neighbors, rutted streets, and changes in neighborhood character (are the houses much bigger or smaller two blocks away?) Talking to a neighbor will help, too, to find out if street cleaning and plowing is efficient in the area, if there is cut-through traffic (there’s that school bus again!) or other lurking noisy problem that won’t show up on a Sunday afternoon.


What would Markus do? A love story complicated by real estate

Posted by Rona Fischman February 9, 2010 01:57 PM

This is a first-hand story sent to me by a reader of this blog. So these are facts, as told by the woman we’re calling Mary:

This is the story of a man we’ll call John. In 2002, John was recruited for a job about an hour and a half outside of Boston. In 2003, John, tired of the three-hour commute, gave up his Boston digs and bought a house near the new job. In 2004, fate was not kind to John. Corporate scandal rocked his company leading to the shuttering of most of its offices, including where John worked.
John found a new job back in Boston, and started commuting (in the other direction.) It’s still an hour and half, each way.

This is also the story of a lady we’ll call Mary. John and Mary fell in love and got married in 2006. They set up home in Mary’s place, which is in Boston. John’s far-away home is rented. Mary, you see, is a city girl -- that’s capital-C, CITY! She also worked too long a day to accommodate a three-hour commute.

As lovers often do, in 2007 they had a baby. Mary quit her job. Now the family currently lives in -- let’s say, “wedges themselves into” -- a rented house in Boston.

Should they stay in their too-small city dwelling? Should they sell the rural place? Or should they continue to rent it out? Should they move to the rural house?


Rentals, just the facts, m'am

Posted by Rona Fischman January 21, 2010 04:54 PM

Sometimes the facts of the matter are just not the facts of the matter. During the extended discussion about young families, our trusty Markus came up with some facts about Newton rental housing.

Markus wrote:

The facts are very different, however. 30% of Newton residents rent. So there goes that argument.

Later, Markus added:

Actually, I was addressing the notion that Newton does not have a large rental market. it does.

Markus’s facts may be correct, but those facts are totally irrelevant to young families looking for a rental. The kind of rentals that young families want and need are just not available. A very quick search of the Newton assessor’s database shows:


A space of one’s own

Posted by Rona Fischman January 19, 2010 02:01 PM

Here’s something that first-time home buyers should keep in mind while house hunting. Parking. I frequently get asked how much a parking spot it worth. Unfortunately, the answer is “it depends.” It changes from town to town and from neighborhood to neighborhood, depending on town restrictions and density.

When there is snow on the ground, any problem parking areas get that much worse than any other time of year. Be it residential or commercial, parking gets scarcer and more coveted. If you find yourselves house hunting in warmer weather and on weekends only, you may grossly underestimate the parking hassle ahead of you the next snowy winter. Just like traffic patterns, you need to watch, you need to ask the neighbors and you need to know the area.


Alarming moments in real estate

Posted by Rona Fischman November 10, 2009 02:41 PM

House alarms cause me a lot of tension. On two occasions in my career, I have tripped an alarm and could not get it to go off. Once it happened because I couldn’t figure out the right series of buttons to push. (The code was obvious, but the set/go button was unmarked. Really!) Once I walked in to an alarmed house without foreknowledge that there was an alarm. Another time, I opened a porch door during an open house and the alarm went off.

Two out of three times, the police came. Both times, I gave them my business card and they left. That’s a thought for would-be house thieves…

This brings me to today’s topic. Home security.


Boston’s condo market and the meltdown in Las Vegas

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 16, 2009 09:00 AM

OK, let’s put the challenges facing the downtown Boston condo market into a little context.

Just check out the fiasco in Las Vegas, which is being flooded with thousands of new luxury even as prices plummet and foreclosures soar.

After buying condos for $600,000 in MGM’s luxury towers, some owners are now desperately trying to unload them for $200,000, a BusinessWeek blog notes.

The business mag also points to a new study that finds condo sales on the once booming Las Vegas Strip have slowed to a grand total of – get this – four a month.

It makes the one sale a month new downtown Boston condo projects are cranking out look positively frenzied.


Downtown condo sales may be down, but prices are not, Boston’s luxury market guru contends

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 15, 2009 09:00 AM

The downtown condo market has become a popular target lately.

I’ve taken a few shots myself and there’s no lack of ammunition out there if you are so inclined.

Sales at an array of new, downtown condo projects have fallen to a rather sluggish rate of one per month, according to the recently released PrimeTime Urban Report.

But not so fast, argues Kevin Ahearn, the dean of the downtown condo market whose sales team has can be found behind just about every major new luxury project.


They are daffy about luxury condos in NYC

Posted by Rona Fischman September 10, 2009 02:39 PM

I have been following this promotion since it started. Here’s the pitch: a fashion retailer, Daffy’s, is offering a one-year lease at $700 a month for a $7000 a month loft on Carmine Street and 7th Avenue. (That’s smack in the middle between Greenwich Village, Soho, and the West Village.) Contestants were asked to come to the apartment to do a 30-second interview explaining why Daffy’s should give them the rights to the lease. It’s like, “what will you do for a Klondike bar?”
Mostly, these are commercials for Daffy’s. They amused me. So, I’m passing them on…
This ad campaign made me wonder. Does this advertising help the folks at OneSeventh, the owners of the building? There were lots and lots of people coming through to record their interviews; I wonder if any will ever rent there at market rate? I doubt it.


Would you live next door to Fenway Park?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis September 4, 2009 09:35 AM

If you dream of living in a condo or apartment within a block or two of America’s oldest and arguably most colorful ballpark, you just may be in luck.

Since taking over the Sox in early 2002, Sox owners John Henry and Thomas Werner have pumped tens of millions into the renovation of Fenway Park. The owners have also spiffed up the streets around Fenway as well, buying up nearby property and turning Yawkey Way into an open air concourse.

The team’s decision to renovate Fenway instead of tearing it down and building elsewhere has helped unleash a wave of new development, much of it residential, around the antique ballpark.

Developer Steve Samuels has built two residential high-rises just a few blocks from the ballpark, adding close to 800 apartments to the neighborhood. John Rosenthal, the anti-gun crusader and developer, is pushing ahead with his own plans to deck over the nearby Turnpike with a massive housing and retail project of his own.

And more new development, particularly residential, is likely on its way. Samuels continues to buy up property in the neighborhood, including a Mobil Station across from the ballpark.

The Sage family, owners of the Howard Johnson hotel next to the ballpark, have been talking for years about plans for some sort of upscale condo, hotel complex.

It’s a trend that I covered extensively for a couple Boston newspapers and which, frankly, I was somewhat skeptical of first.


Brokers targeted in Boston's latest crackdown on student rowdies

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 31, 2009 10:28 AM

Here’s a proposal that is bound to stir up some controversy, both in the real estate industry and beyond.

The Boston City Council is preparing to debate plans to slap a $300 fine on real estate brokers who rent out a single apartment to five or more students.

It’s the latest in a campaign by City Councilor Michael Ross to rein in student rowdies in the neighborhoods.

Ross, as you may recall, led the charge that led to last year’s change to the city’s zoning code that prohibits more than four students sharing a single apartment.


The value of the footpath

Posted by Rona Fischman August 28, 2009 02:18 PM

As a city girl, I traded increased density for walkability. My house has a walkability score of 92 percent. I find it a perk to living here. I think it has value.

So, I was pleased to see walkability validated by CEOs for Cities.

“A new analysis from CEOs for Cities reveals that homes in more walkable neighborhoods are worth more than similar homes in less-walkable neighborhoods. The report, “Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities” by Joseph Cortright, analyzed data from 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 major markets provided by ZipRealty and found that in 13 of the 15 markets, higher levels of walkability, as measured by Walk Score, were directly linked to higher home values, according to CEOs for Cities's press release.

The study found that in the typical metropolitan area, a one-point increase in Walk Score was associated with an increase in value ranging from $500 to $3,000 depending on the market. The gains were larger in denser, urban areas like Chicago and San Francisco and smaller in less dense markets like Tucson and Fresno.”


Ready to swap my fixer-upper and see the world

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 11, 2009 09:00 AM

My wife and I have talked for years about swapping homes with someone either in France or Scotland and getting away for a summer vacation.

But actually converting the idea from daydream to reality has been another thing altogether.

The half finished state of our Natick fixer-upper – and the feeling we didn’t have much to swap – is one thing that has held us back.

But our addition and renovation is now complete – we moved into the new half of the house back in May.

Anyway, I got a nice little nudge recently from a feature in the Globe on the house swapping phenomenon.


You gotta know the territory

Posted by Rona Fischman July 28, 2009 02:58 PM

I had a conversation with a listing agent whose seller is insisting on a price that has no basis in current comparable properties. Partly, it is an odd-duck kind of place. Partly it is over-improved (that means that it is too nice for the building and the neighborhood.) Partly, the sellers bought it at peak.

My buyers like this place. When I did my CMA, I could not justify the price. Not even close. I asked the listing agent what he was thinking. He gave me comparables in a totally different neighborhood (it would be like comparing Jamaica Plain to Back Bay.) When I said that the comparables don’t work based on location and an appraiser would know that, he reminded me that the appraiser may very well be clueless about this location issue.

He might be right about that.


Champagne living or a beer budget?

Posted by Rona Fischman July 20, 2009 02:53 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team continues his Monday series.

I was recently talking with an economist about helping him buy his next home. As we were discussing his wants and needs, of course the subject turned to price.

This gentleman, who we will call George (not his real name) has been around the real estate block a few times. He has lived in several cities and is now retired. We spoke about homes he has lived in over the years and he reminisced about his first apartment, a suburban single family home that worked well as he was raising children and the condo he is in now. Now that his children are grown, we discussed his desire to spend his retirement years in an urban condo where he can walk to most amenities.

As we discussed his targeted price range and condo fees, George shared his philosophy about home buying.


I'm a fan of rental property

Posted by Rona Fischman June 24, 2009 03:09 PM

The New York Times had an article about our triple-deckers this month. Besides quoting what Dennis Lehane thinks of them, Abby Goodnough quoted these statistics about foreclosure in this kind of housing:

In Boston, three-family homes represent 14 percent of the housing stock, but made up 21 percent of foreclosed property in 2008, according to the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development… Ms. [Evelyn] Friedman, [chief and director of the Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development] believes the foreclosure rate on triple-deckers is even higher than the data indicate, because many were converted into condominiums in recent years. These are counted in a separate category that made up 48 percent of the city’s foreclosed properties last year.

I am a huge fan of owner-occupied multi-family housing. The Times’ reporter reiterates what I think:

Best of all, three-deckers put homeownership within reach of the working class. Buyers could live in one unit and rent out the others, assuring they could afford payments and upkeep for years to come.

Living well in Rozzi

Posted by Rona Fischman March 13, 2009 03:08 PM

The city of Boston has many residential areas. Below is MWest, a regular commenter on this site telling us why she likes to live in Roslindale. For a lot of people, Roslindale has the perfect mix of proximity to the city center, green space and a village center that seems like a small town in and of itself.

For those in the city of Boston, is Rozzi the place to be? Are there other neighborhoods of Boston where $350,000 will get you a single family home? (In the case of Beacon Hill or the South end, a townhouse could qualify, if they are really attached single family homes.)
Roslindale has a beautiful town square ("Rozzi Village”) with great restaurants and shops and excellent proximity to downtown Boston by the commuter rail, subway, bus or even bike path. Equally important, we have wonderful outdoor spaces, starting with the Arnold Arboretum, but also including several well-maintained ball fields and playgrounds. It is next door to trendy JP, and I can get to Routes 1 and 128 easily.

I much prefer the organic tapestry that we have here; it is part of living in a city. As to schools, this is a perennial debate, even among those of us who live here. Our child isn't in school yet, but what I can say is that I have met many parents, including those who could afford private schools, whose children attend various public and charter schools by choice.

The town square

Posted by Rona Fischman March 12, 2009 03:34 PM

Last week, we talked about the perfect density for a home. Some tried to put a town name on the place. Remember, we are doing fantasy, not reality.

Today, we talk about what is in town when you go to town.
What is in your fantasy town center? Is there shopping? What kind of shopping? Does it have stores with everything and anything you want, big stores? Or are there Mom and Pop places with specialty items? Both?
Are there cultural venues like theater? Museums? Live music venues?
Are there places to go on a date? Restaurants? Movies?
Is there street life? Does the town hold farmer’s market or street vendor events? Is there a children’s recreation center?
What recreation is there, overall? Is there a municipal pool? A skating rink? Tennis courts? A track? Parks and wooded walking paths?
What annual events would you want to have? Fireworks? Parades? Races? Fairs?

Create your perfect town or city here.


Your fantasy home

Posted by Rona Fischman March 5, 2009 02:53 PM

Marcus asked:

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.

OK, Marcus, you are on! I don’t ask my clients, but I will ask my readers…

Dear Readers,
If money were no object, where would you live? What would your house look like? What would be around it?

Today, let’s talk about density. How much crowding is too much crowding? How much space is too much space? If you could live anywhere, would you choose city life, or would you want 100 acres between you and the next house in town? Is suburbia to best of both worlds?


A twist on snow removal

Posted by Rona Fischman January 28, 2009 02:57 PM

Here’s a twist I didn’t know. According to current Massachusetts law, you are liable for injury caused by someone slipping on your sidewalk if you shovel. If you leave the snow as it falls, you are not liable.

Denise Provost, a State Representative explains it this way, “This means if you shovel piles of snow off your sidewalk after a big snowfall, but leave an icy patch you could not scrape off, and someone came along and broke a bone by slipping on it, they could hold you responsible.” Whereas, if you leave the snow where it falls, you are not responsible if someone walks there. You might get a ticket… Big deal.


Apartment living, some like it!

Posted by Rona Fischman January 16, 2009 02:40 PM

During the presidential election, there was much talk about how voters wanted a president that they could have a beer with. I couldn't imagine hoisting a cold one with Barack, until I found out that I lived less than a quarter of a mile away from him from 1989 to 1991. We were both living in Winter Hill section of Somerville. Barack likes apartments; I like that in a guy.

Barack Obama’s bachelor pads were a lot like where I prefer to live. On 60 Minutes, Michelle Obama picked on another of his student rentals as “a dump” and his Senatorial apartment as an only slightly better version of that dump.
(His family home in Chicago is a good bit nicer. So is his transitional apartment. And so is the guest house he moved into yesterday. And so is the White House.)


The city mouse and the country mouse in the snow

Posted by Rona Fischman January 6, 2009 03:43 PM

When house-hunting, I point out things about homes that will affect my buyers in the winter: lots of steps, steep steps, hills, low and shaded doorways, sunken driveways. However, by the time that we are house-hunting, my clients have already made the biggest winter decision: city, suburban, or rural.

Boston and the other cities of Massachusetts are relatively small cities. Massachusetts suburban life varies from homes on 3000 square foot sized lots -- where neighbors can easily get to neighbors -- to towns where homes have acres to themselves -- with gates, walls and total privacy.

Where you live depends on what you can and will spend for your housing. Within a price range, you made some choices about whether you wanted to be a city mouse or a country mouse.


Dashing through the snow

Posted by Rona Fischman January 2, 2009 03:12 PM

By law, everyone is supposed to clear their walks after a snowfall. This winter, that has been already created a lot of labor. Since we are in New England, you would think that we’d be prepared for some snow. But, every time we hit a snowy patch, I hear grumbling about those who don’t do their part, or those that do it poorly. Bad-will runs especially deep for businesses that don’t do their part.

In many towns, the fine for not clearing your walk is $25. Is that enough? Some people think it should be more, especially for businesses. One client of mine suggested that businesses that don’t clear their sidewalk should be closed until they clear, because they pose a hazard to public safety.


Holiday homecoming

Posted by Rona Fischman December 26, 2008 03:24 PM

While showing property on Tuesday morning (December 23rd), my client said to me: “I can’t believe how many people wanted to go out for drinks on Christmas Eve. When I said that I was going home, they made sympathetic noises. But I like my family. I want to go home to see them.” This made me wonder if he is one of the lucky ones, or if many people love being home for the holidays.

Some of my clients love homes that remind them of where they grew up; some hate anything like what they grew up in. When you chose your current house or apartment, did you choose it because it was like your childhood home(s)? Or did you want something as different as possible from where you grew up?


Home for the holidays

Posted by Rona Fischman December 24, 2008 01:22 PM

The cards started showing up about two weeks ago. Every year, I get cards with houses on the front. It’s not because I am a broker. I get the impression that lots of cards have peaceful, quiet houses which are covered with snow. I got a perfect example from Bob and Margaret. Great card!
Why is it that Christmas is associated with single family homes, snowy streets, and fireplaces? Is it like Thanksgiving, stuck in New England history? You know, “Over the river and through the woods” and all that. (You all know that the song was written about grandparents in Medford, right?)


The joy of a crackling fire

Posted by Rona Fischman December 23, 2008 03:02 PM

Starting with the winter solstice, the days get longer from now until June. That’s not such a warming thought, since the winter is just beginning. So, what do you need? Light! Fire!

Today, let’s talk about fireplaces. Do the short days of the year make you yearn for a roaring fire? Do you have an opinion about which is better, wood-burning or gas?

For some of my buyers, fireplaces are a must. Some don’t care. Some don’t like them. Homeowners, did you want a fireplace? Did you get one? Do you use it?

If you are part of the fireplace-less majority, there are alternatives. In 1966, WPIX in New York began airing a film loop of a crackling fire, called The Yule Log. It was a hit in the New York metropolitan area.


Safe at home

Posted by Rona Fischman December 22, 2008 03:15 PM

Did you go home early on Friday? Or did you work from home? Not everyone can stay away from their job. For some, their jobs are more critical in bad weather. Staying home is just not an option.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I would like to commend all those who have jobs which took them onto the road during this spate of wet weather. You know who you are. You are the plow drivers, truckers, fire fighters, police, bus drivers, heating and plumbing contractors, medical workers, and, of course, public utility repair personnel.

Also out there were those who added to our convenience. These workers include taxi drivers, food delivery people (from meals-on-wheels to pizza,) those who staffed grocery stores and convenience stores. The mail came. So did the newspaper. The Patriots played at Foxborough.

Thank you all.


Hope you are safe and warm

Posted by Rona Fischman December 15, 2008 03:22 PM

The ice storm on Thursday night was the worst since 1990. I wish a quick recovery to everyone in the path of this storm.

Where I lived it poured, it was windy, but it didn’t all freeze until later. I drove on Thursday night. I drove on Friday morning. I had power and heat at home. This weekend I saw some damp basements, including my own. I saw sump pumps running, including my own. I saw sump pump run-off freezing on the sidewalks and streets, including my own. I got off lucky.

In my memory, black-outs, snow and flooding became an opportunity for neighbors to band together. City dwellers (and some suburbanites) have strength in numbers. When power is out or streets are impassible, neighbors find neighbors. As a child, blackouts meant ice cream binges. Barbeques were fired up to save the meat. Neighbors with gas stoves cooked other perishables, those with candles and extra blankets shared them, and the neighbors with camp heaters housed the little children overnight. During the flood after a hurricane, my father ran important errands in his truck. To the kids, disaster meant no school. It was a party. I think the grown-ups had a fairly good time, too.


How does your garden grow?

Posted by Rona Fischman December 5, 2008 03:18 PM

The New Republic column, “Firm Grasp on the Obvious,” cites this headline:

'Light' Meals are Lower in Fat, Calories
Huntington Herald-Dispatch

Equally obvious is this:

Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation study that found Suffolk County residents with the least access to fresh produce, safe parks, and affordable places to exercise were the least healthy.

Cities like Boston, Somerville, and Holyoke have been part of an effort to change this.


I don't want to live in a '60s sitcom

Posted by Rona Fischman December 4, 2008 03:31 PM

WS started a conversation about neighborhoods which got side-tracked to a conversation about the term he used to describe bland, homogeneous neighborhoods. He got some good answers. Are there more?

Where can a person find a neighborhood that is not bland? Where are the neighborhoods to find people of different ages, income levels, cultural backgrounds and family constellations? Where are places where the housing doesn't all look the same? There are a lot of people who prefer these areas to those that remind them of Leave it to Beaver. or Father Knows Best.


'White bread' is in the eye of the beholder

Posted by Rona Fischman November 19, 2008 02:45 PM

WSJevons wrote about his quest for a "not white bread" neighborhood.


Thanks for the info*. It is tough to find truly integrated communities in Boston.

Any readers (who are not real estate agents) have thoughts on communities that have a diverse mix of people?

* Is white bread a protected class?

Here's the answer I can give, as a broker. The rest is up to you, readers! Please! No bashing on anyone's race, religion or sexual preference!

These are the protected classes: Race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex (gender), sexual orientation, marital status, veteran status, disability (mental or physical,) age (except elderly retirement communities that meet certain standards.)
There are additional classes in regard to rental housing.

"White bread" is not on the list.

I trust that when WS says “white bread,” he does not just mean Caucasian. I wouldn’t define it that way. You can figure out the "white bread" factor for yourselves, based on your personal definition. Look at the businesses an area supports, what kinds of cars are parked around, what bumper stickers are on the cars, what size is the average home there...There are many things that are not directly related to the color of the skin, the ethnic or religious origins, or who your neighbors choose as life partners. Look around you, the signs are everywhere!


No car, how do you get around?

Posted by Rona Fischman October 29, 2008 05:21 PM

According to the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey, 35 percent of Boston households do not have a motor vehicle. Car Free in Boston has been published since 1977, so the idea isn’t new. However, I have seen a sudden up-tick in people thinking about no car options when looking for a home. So that other 65 percent are getting the message. For more than ten years, I have had some clients who were car-free. Sometimes it was because of a preference not to drive around here (I see their point!); sometimes it was for economic reasons (didn’t want to support a car); and some of them could not or would not drive for one reason or another. This year I had a record number of daily bicycle commuters who were buying.


The Green Line is coming, do you buy it?

Posted by Rona Fischman October 23, 2008 04:04 PM

I have been hearing about the Green Line extension into Somerville for fifteen or so years. I have been hearing listing agents “sell” it as a feature of a property for two or three years. Since this summer, I hear it being “sold” as a done deal. Brokers are saying “The Green Line stop is going to be three blocks away.” “The new Green Line will make this an easy commute.” “See that building there? It is going to be torn down to make a new Green line stop.”

The Green Line is coming, but so is Christmas. Christmas will be here first. The Green Line is coming, expected in a neighborhood near you in 2014. Six years. A lot can happen in six years. Do you believe in the Green Line? Do you believe in Santa Claus?


Wanna take a walk?

Posted by Rona Fischman October 14, 2008 10:06 PM has a great new utility on its site. It’s from Walk Score. It ranks a home in relation to how conveniently located it is to grocery stores, parks, restaurants, coffee shops, parks, movies, bars, mass transit stations and more. Homes that score 90 or above are deemed a “Walker’s Paradise,” homes scored between 70 to 89 as “Very Walkable,” 50 to 69 as “Somewhat Walkable,” and 0 to 49 as “Car Dependent.”


Encore: The decline of two-family home ownership

Posted by Rona Fischman October 8, 2008 03:58 PM

This is an encore blog entry, first posted on August 10, 2007. Since then, I have had two more two-family buyers. The good choices for two-family homes have been few and far between. Both houses I have worked with were old, solid, but needed extensive updating.

I had buyers close on a two-family home last week. They had a long and hard search because there were so few nice options. I am glad to have them join the dwindling ranks of two-family homes owners.

The mass conversion of two-family homes into two-condo associations has reduced the supply. The steep increase in sale prices without a proportionate rental increase made the economic benefit of owning a two-family less appealing.

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

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