Fall House Hunt

Millennial buyers flock to the burbs

All it took was a pandemic for millennial home buyers to start doing the previously unthinkable: ditching the city for suburbia.


All it took was a global pandemic for millennial home buyers in Boston to start doing the previously unthinkable: ditching the city for suburbia.

But city dwellers are bringing some elements of downtown living with them as they begrudgingly move to the burbs.

The prepandemic housing market in Boston’s urban core was notoriously tight. Bidding wars sent condo prices even farther into the stratosphere, with accepted offers sometimes surpassing $50,000 over asking. But that phenomenon is no longer just a Boston one, as home buyers flee the city for more outdoor space and square footage in a housing market that is still supply constrained like the urban core.


“It was outrageous: people bidding against themselves, and, in all those instances, you had to waive your inspection and mortgage contingencies, appraisal — all of it,’’ Alice Rouse, 32, a photographer who recently purchased a home in historic downtown Ipswich with her husband, said of their initial search in places like Melrose and Arlington.

The pandemic may have cratered many parts of the US economy, but the Greater Boston housing market doesn’t appear to be one of them. Sales volume was down, but the median going price of a single-family home in the region was up nearly 7 percent in July, according to the Greater Boston Association of Realtors.

North Shore home sales were down nearly 5 percent in July, but prices were up almost 11 percent, according to the North Shore Association of Realtors. That likely has to do with a more than 49 percent drop in inventory on the market.

Those interviewed for this story said getting into an open house in the suburbs can feel more like trying to get past a bouncer at a downtown nightclub (prepandemic, of course).

Real estate lawyer David Forrest, 34, and his husband, Alex Paugh, 30, moved into a four-bedroom, three-bathroom Marblehead home after the pandemic made them ditch city life. They left a one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo at the Regatta Riverview Residences in Cambridge.


“I was the person who said: ‘We can’t go! We do a lot here in the city!’ ’’ Forrest said. “But I love it. It’s very calming.’’

‘For buyers out there willing to have some patience, I think you have to accept the fact you’re going to be looking for three to six months and are going to swing and miss on probably five to ten properties before you land one.’
— JUSTIN REPP, real estate agent

But the home-buying road to Marblehead wasn’t calm: There were open houses with cars lined up and down the block and just as many people vying to go inside, one by one. The couple deemed Melrose too expensive after a home down the street from Forrest’s parents went for $150,000 over asking.

“That caused the most disappointment to our dog, Remi,’’ Forrest joked. “She told us to make more so we could live near her grandparents.’’

Rouse and her husband — who were living in a 1,200-square-foot condo in Charlestown with their daughter — had put in an offer on a home in Arlington for $55,000 over the asking price, and their bid wasn’t even acknowledged, she said. The home eventually went for $160,000 over asking.


After losing out on two other homes, they moved on to Ipswich, where they still had to bid against nine other buyers, pay $55,000 over the asking price, and waive their inspection and appraisal contingencies.

“I’m so embedded in city living that when people in Charlestown would say they were moving away, I’d be like, ‘Traitors!’ ’’ joked Rouse. “If we could afford to raise our family in a home in the city with outdoor space and a home office, we would never leave. But isn’t that the case for everyone?’’

Justin Repp, a Beverly-based sales agent for Keller Williams, said he doesn’t think the millennial hunger for suburban homes is a pandemic-born phenomenon. The demographic is a major part of his client base, Repp said, and he’s seen younger buyers matriculate from areas like Somerville, Cambridge, and Charlestown to North Shore suburbs for the past several years.

But low interest rates hovering at 3 percent have added fuel to the fire.

Millennials, at 38 percent, now make up the largest share of home buyers, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors. The report says the demographic is most interested in previously owned homes, town houses, and properties convenient to work, but Repp sees growing millennial interest in suburban properties that are not always next to the commuter rail.

Homes priced below $600,000 around Beverly generally see the most activity and bidding wars, Repp said. Properties north of that price point don’t necessarily drive away interest.But it becomes a scenario that usually entails “only’’ three to six competing bidders compared with 15, he said.


“For buyers out there willing to have some patience, I think you have to accept the fact you’re going to be looking for three to six months and are going to swing and miss on probably five to ten properties before you land one,’’ Repp said.

For one couple who made the move, the pandemic grew their appreciation for suburban living — even if they weren’t entirely sold on giving up their city lifestyle.

Andie, 32, and Adam Jewett, 37, spent roughly a decade in Boston before moving to a 3,000-square-foot town house in a restored Milton mansion.

“We were that couple who put it off and didn’t necessarily want to make the move,’’ Adam said. “Through the evolution of our family, we made the jump and crossed our fingers. The pandemic totally shifted our perspective.’’

While they loved their one-bedroom Ink Block apartment in the South End, Adam led the charge for more space in the suburbs once they had a baby on the way. Andie wasn’t thrilled by the move but quickly changed her mind-set once the pandemic set in.

“I went from missing the city terribly to, once the pandemic struck, not being able to imagine living in the crowded city with a newborn,’’ she said before adding with a laugh, “Now we’re like, maybe the next stop is Hingham or Duxbury.’’

Cameron Sperance can be reached at [email protected]. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes.


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