Spotlight on Lowell

April 26, 2016

So today I did Jury Duty in Lowell.   I’ve been there before, with my friend/client Laura Roberts, who shares my love of grand, older homes. We went on a roadtrip last year to see a particular beauty.  But I hadn’t been to Lowell Center.  I have to say the center is very quaint with the majority of the area consisting of small brick and stone storefronts from the 19th century.  I was pleasantly surprised as I never thought of Lowell as being so quaint.  In my mind, it was a former mill town that lost its reason for being (the mills) and had become a shadow of its former self akin to the Rust Belt.   

The truth is that Lowell is true to itself in that it still has a robust population that is roughly 50% immigrant, who work primarily in construction and industry.  It has not become a ghost town.  The population has, in fact grown by 5% over the past 10 years or so to about 110,000.

So why am I so curious about Lowell?  Because they have some amazing, grand old homes that can still be had for reasonable prices compared to most of the Greater Boston area.  Yet it only took me 35 mins to get from Newton to Lowell.

For a sampling of what your money can buy – here are the most grand houses on the market in Lowell today.

 

 

Beyond the awesome houses, Lowell does have a lot to offer.  An MBTA commuter line, the Merrimack River, a National Park, Universities, Hospitals. The crime rate is reasonable and declining every year.  It is about half what it was 15 years ago and less than the national average.  And I must say that everyone in the courthouse was very nice!

What it doesn’t have is great school rankings.   So it may not be ideal yet for young families looking for a city with good schools.  

As I took a break from Jury Duty, I passed a woman who was shouting to an invisible adversary and then I was approached by a panhandler.  So not exactly gentrified yet.  But I do wonder if it could be down the road as Boston and the surrounding area become too cost prohibitive.  This tight spring market is pushing prices up ever higher and is pricing people out of the area immediately surrounding Boston. 

Lowell would be great for Boomers like myself,  who don’t really want to downsize their homes but would like to cut costs in retirement.  Or for young couples who don’t plan on having children but want a nice big house not too far from Boston.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

Best Elementary Schools in Massachussets – 2017

Mason Rice School

Mason Rice School, Newton MA

Niche.com came out with their 2017 list of best elementary schools in Massachussets.  Lexington, Newton and Wellesley dominated the list.  Mason-Rice fell from number 1, but is still, the highest ranking in Newton, which is creating demand for housing in that school district.   In all, 9 elementary schools in Newton made it to the top 25.  Great schools, combined with easy access to Boston via the Green Line and the Commuter Rail are really pushing up prices of homes in Newton. 

Here are the top 25 to save you digging through the list:

  1. Lexington – Maria Hastings
  2. Lexington – Bowman
  3. Newton – Mason Rice
  4. Wellesley – Schofield
  5. Lexington – Joseph Eastbrook
  6. Newton – Ward
  7. Lexington – Harrington
  8. Lexington – Bridge
  9. Lexington – Fiske
  10. Wellesley – John D. Hardy
  11. Wellesley – Hunnewell
  12. Newton – Cabot
  13. Belmont – Roger E. Wellington
  14. Wellesley – Sprague
  15. Newton – Angier
  16. Belmont – Winn Brook
  17. Newton – Countryside
  18. Newton – Pierce
  19. Newton – Memorial Spaulding
  20. Brookline – Heath
  21. Belmont – Daniel Butler
  22. Westford – Day
  23. Newton – Bowen
  24. Newton – Lincoln Eliot
  25. Wayland – Claypit

For more details on these rankings, check out the full list here:

2017 Top Elementary Schools in Massachusetts 

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New to the Market – Gorgeous Newton Upper Falls Townhouse Condo

New to the Market today!  Newton Upper Falls Townhouse condo – 4-bedrooms 4.5 bathrooms.  

72 High Street. $1,389,000.

Gorgeous 3,400sf 4-bed, 4.5 bath, 1-car garage townhouse condo is the product of a to-the-studs renovation by an internationally-awarded local designer. His passion for design is evident in how beautifully the needs of today’s homeowner are blended with architectural details that provide the character and charm that make this a home. The spacious open kitchen/dining area offers gorgeous views and direct access to a patio, an enclosed porch and, beyond that, a deck and the yard. Imagine the parties you could throw! The kitchen is equipped with Viking appliances, Grohe fixtures and a huge island that sits 3-4. Entry way and living room share a double-sided gas fireplace. En-suite master bedroom has beautiful views. One more bedroom and bath on this level and two more bedrooms and a full bath on the third floor. Basement adds a finished room, full bathroom and beautiful mudroom area that is directly accessed from the garage. Stop by an Open House to see all this home has to offer.

Open Houses this weekend Saturday and Sunday  12:00 – 2:00.  Come on By!

Click here for more information.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

Newton Upper Falls Townhouse Condos coming Soon

Coming Soon – Two beautiful completely reconstructing historic townhouses in Newton Upper Falls.

$1,325,000. each

by Michelle J. Lane

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Completely renovated by a builder with a passion for building a top-quality product that pays homage to the history of the original structure and neighborhood.  The unit on the right #70 is coming to the market first.  Measuring approximately 3,400sf, the unit offers 4 bedrooms, 4.5 bathrooms, a fully finished basement with direct access from the garage.  This home must be seen to be appreciated.  The oversize windows let in tons of light to every room.  The kitchen is wonderful – spacious with tons of storage and a generous eat-in space that opens to a beautiful deck; Viking appliances, Grohe fixtures, large island.  Views from the kitchen and decks are breathtaking.  There is so much to appreciate about this home. Click here for more information.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

Are Boomers Responsible for the Housing Inventory Shortage?

The answer is to a degree, but not entirely.  

To clarify my explanations below, when I refer to seniors I am talking about the generation that are mid-70s and older.  Baby Boomers are those in the 52-71 age range.

  1. New England is a bit unique in that people here, particularly the older generation, tend to stay put for many, many years. I specialize in selling homes of seniors and selling estate homes.  It is extremely rare to find an older home owner who willingly leaves their home.  If they move it is because their children have decided it is too dangerous for them to stay in the house alone.  You don’t know how many times I have heard some variation of “they are taking me out of here feet first, my children will be selling the house after I die.”
  2. In the big picture, they don’t think it makes sense for them to sell. One issue is that the value of homes in the greater Boston area has risen so much that if someone who has been in their house for 30,40,50 years sells, they would far surpass the $250K profit limit ($500K for a couple) at which point they would have to pay capital gains taxes. If they keep the house until they pass and leave it to their children, then the basis value of the home resets to whatever the market value is when they died. 
  3. Another issue is that there are very few choices for downsizing. If they are not leaving the state for a warmer climate, most seniors want to stay in the same town to be near their friends, neighbors, doctors, etc. Most of the towns outside of Boston don’t have enough inventory of affordable housing for seniors.  Boomers can’t go far because they are still working and need to be near their jobs.  All of this is compounded by the fact that demand is pushing up the price of houses on the lower end of the market, but not pushing up the price of the seniors’ larger houses commensurately.  I’ll use Newton as an example.  In Newton, a 2000sf 3-bed, 2-bath house in good condition might sell for anywhere in the $900K-$1.3m price range.   The home of a senior that might be in the 3,000-6,000sf range might sell for $1.5m-$1.6m.  Why is that?  Because if a younger person is going to buy a house of that size, they want a new one.  They realize the older homes cost more to maintain, heat, etc.  So particularly, Boomers who are working an can afford their homes, figure they may as well stay put.
  4. Boomers are uniquely nostalgic and resistant to change of their towns. Perhaps because our childhoods were at a time of prosperity for most American families and a time of suburban living with a lot of other children to play with.  The greatest resistance to change appears to come from this generation.  If builders knock down old run-down homes to build the new, big homes  we complain that the city is becoming gentrified.  Or we complain that these houses are not in keeping with the old Ranches, Capes and Split-Entries that proliferated after WWII.  If the city tries to build a higher concentration of affordable rentals, we complain it will bring crime to the city or bring people who are taking resources without contributing.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if no new inventory is being added and seniors and Boomers aren’t leaving, there will be a inventory shortage.  Think of it like a revolving door and we are the ones with our foot in the door, blocking everyone behind us from moving forward.

While Boomers might be contributing, we are not entirely responsible for the shortage.  Boston is an area fortunate to be flux with high-paying jobs, but with no land left for housing developments. And we are certainly not responsible for the massive influx of foreign nationals buying homes here – with cash in their pocket and the ability to outbid most other home buyers, pushing prices up.  These people are coming here because of the great schools, the strong job market, and the stable housing market.  Several things could happen to change this in the future, but that is discussion for a future post. In the end, it still comes back to the fact that there s no room here to build more inventory unless we build up or in a higher concentration.    

It will be interesting to see what changes the future will bring – perhaps builders will find a way to build large, over 55 communities in or close to the city.  Or they will build houses that will appeal to Boomers who want a big entertaining area, but don’t need or want to pay for 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms.   Right now though, there is no profit for builders in creating smaller homes.

One change we all need to watch out for is inflation and rising interest rates.  If Trump succeeds in taxing everything coming into the country and bringing jobs here at a higher pay scale, inflation will follow.  Which is then followed by rising interest rates.  That could have a slowing affect on home purchases, particularly at the entry level.

I’ll expand more on these last few points in future posts as economic events unfold.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

Financial Tips for Getting a Mortgage

I recently listened to a webcast on mortgages that had some tips that would be good for everyone.  So let me share those here.

While sites like Credit Karma are good for keeping tabs on your credit score, the model and, therefore, the range that Credit Karma uses is different than the one the credit bureaus use.  They are using an older model – Vantage 2.  This will change over time.  But as it stands now, their range goes to 990 versus the 850 of the credit bureaus.  So the score will come out different.  While it will still give you a very good idea of where you are generally with your credit score, you need to know exactly when it comes time to get a mortgage.  Everyone is entitled to one pull of their credit report from the bureaus at no charge, without it affecting your credit.  That can be done at www.annualcreditreport.com.  You will be asked for your SSN but this is a secure site.

  1. Why is this so important?  Before there are specific scores that determine what interest rate you will get on your loan.  So if you are thinking of buying any time in the next year, pull your credit report and work on improving your score if needed.
    1. 580 – the lowest score you can have to get an FHA loan. (you’ll need to put more down for a loan at this score – 10-20%
    2. 620 – the lowest score you can have to get a conventional loan or an FHA loan with the minimum of 3.5% down. However, anything up to 640 is considered a fair score so you will likely pay a higher interest rate.
    3. 640-719 is considered good and will get you a good rate.  But likely about 1/2 point more than an excellent score would give you. 
    4. 720 and above are considered excellent. But most banks consider 740  the minimum to be considered excellent and to get prime rate.  The rates you see advertised by lenders are typically for prime rate.   You also have to put down at least 20% to get prime rate.  
  2. As part of this, make sure you are not the victim of identity theft.  It can take a very long time to correct damage to your credit from identity theft. Some things to do on this front:
    1. Opt out of getting credit card offers.  You’ll save some trees but, more important, you will be eliminating one of the top ways your identity is stolen.  Visit https://www.optoutprescreen.com/?rf=t to do this.  In the meantime, shred or burn these offers.
    2. It goes without saying, don’t fall for email messages that tell you your account has been compromised and you need to follow the link to reset your credentials.  Your bank or credit card company would not alert you of fraud through email.  They also would not ask for your SSN over the phone.  Neither would the IRS – that’s another scam for another post.  At most, they will ask for the last 4 digits of your SSN.  Never give anyone your SSN over the phone.  If you are in doubt, tell whomever calls you that them you will call them back. Then look up the official phone number and call that.  
    3. Share your SSN with as few people as humanly possible.  Sometimes the identity theft is someone in the victim’s family. 
    4. When you sign up for things online, don’t use the same password you use for your bank, credit card and other financial accounts.  Come up with a password for those things that has nothing to do with any of your other passwords.

Even if you are not buying a house, you may refinance in the future, so it would serve everyone to protect your credit and credit score.   

If you are looking to buy or sell, even if it is down the road, contact me.  It’s never too early to prepare.

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

Newton Market Update – Week of July 4

July 5, 2016 by Michelle J. Lane, Realtor

While everyone is starting their summer vacations, the market typically does as well.   As most people know, the spring market is busy because people with families are trying to stay in their houses until the end of June, but be in their new house for the start of the school year.  The window for that to happen is just about closed.  So the market is now all about people selling and buying who are not bound by that schedule.  And, naturally, many of those buyers are home hunting in between vacations.

What does that mean for the market?  For the purposes of analysis, I look at just single family homes for the past two weeks.  It seems to have slowed down the high end, with more at that end being pulled off the market.

Newton Stats

Now you might think that is because the average price of a home in Newton is just so high that there isn’t much under $1m anyway. That is true to some degree.  But if you look at the chart below, you can see that the ratio of houses on the market to those that sold is far greater on the high end.

Newton Stats 2

So the bottom line is that there is not a bad time to sell houses in the $1.5m and under range.  But the high end is a bit tougher.

In terms of available inventory, things are about the same.  This time last year, there were 131 houses on the market.  Today there are 125.  But more of those are on the high end.  35 under $1m compared to 24 today.

So, the obvious trend is that housing is becoming far less affordable in Newton.  No surprise to anyone who is watching the market or trying to buy a house.

What would it take to change that?  As we know, the real estate market goes in cycles.  Roughly 1o year cycles where it goes up for several years, plateaus for 1 or 2, goes down for 2-3 then comes back up to surpass the high of the last cycle.  Serious economic shake-ups can shift the numbers a bit, but that is the gist of it.

So we will never go back to past lows.  But to slow down or correct this upward climb, interest rates would have to go up and jobs would have to leave the area in significant numbers.  Neither seems to be happening anytime soon.  As a matter of fact, the Brexit mess has caused our mortgage rates to go down.

So if you are a buyer looking in the under $1.5m range, keep at it.  It does not appear that things will get any easier with the passing of time.

If you are a seller, there is no bad time to sell.  The withdrawal of homes on the high end is not so much because this is a bad time to sell, but because supply exceeds demand.  But yes, putting them back on in the fall is not a bad idea.

If you are trying to figure out when to sell your house and for what price, contact me to schedule a meeting.

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

 

 

 

The Housing Shortage by the Numbers

If you are feeling like there are just not enough houses on the market this spring, you are not imagining things.  A recent article on Realtor.com outlined the problem.  In short:

From 2009 (the slump) to today new construction of single-family homes, condos, and apartment units totaled 5.6 million.  Over the same period, roughly 1.7 million housing units were deemed uninhabitable or obsolete and were demolished.  That is a net of 3.9 million houses.

In that same time period, the population grew by 17.3 million.  Given the average household size is 2.5 persons, a total of 6.9 million new housing units would be needed – a shortage of 3 million homes.  So no surprise that home ownership is down 3.7% since 2009.

Add to that the fact that incomes have grown at slow pace – 2% over the past year.  While home prices have risen by 6% in the same time period.

To give a more local perspective, below are some local comparisons from 2009 to today:

  • The median price of a single-family home in Newton grew from $939,000 to $2,124,999.
  • The median price of a condo in Boston grew from $419,900 to $829,000.
  • The median price of a condo in Cambridge grew from $489,500 to $668,000
  • The median price of a condo in Somerville grew from $364,450 to $709,950

The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that retired adults are moving back into the city.  Everyone want to live in walkable neighborhoods.  Typically, these retired baby boomers have the money (in cash) to buy up properties that would normally be bought by young families working in the city making the battle for these limited properties more frenzied.

That is not to say that prices are up everywhere.  Home values follow the jobs.  The farther you are from the Boston/Cambridge mecca of job opportunities, the less likely it is that prices have risen.  For example:

  • The median price of a single-family home in Worcester is exactly the same at $214,900, while condo prices are down.
  • The median price of a single family in a majority of towns outside the Greater Boston area are up about 5% in that same time period from 2009 to today. – from cities such as Lowell to suburban towns like Boxboro, Georgetown, Foxboro, etc.  While that is great for people looking to buy in these towns, it means the possibility of selling in one of these towns and moving closer to the city is drifting off farther into the distance.
If you want to know what has happened to home values in your town, just ask.
All this means that we need more new construction.  A problem that is not easy to solve.  Debates on this topic can be followed in the editorial section of most local papers and no one seems to have the answers.  The cost of land in these towns make it impossible for builders to create affordable houses. 40B is flawed in that a builder must just put aside 20-25% percentage of units as affordable, while the units overall could still be super expensive.
Hopefully, the state, cities and developers will come up with creative solutions – perhaps more development of micro apartments for single adults and clusters of small houses on small plots for seniors or couples starting out.
If the state is smart, they will build more and better commuter transportation so people can live in suburban towns and not feel like they are so far from the action.  These suburban towns may even need to up their game on building centers with more to do and better transportation within the town so seniors don’t need to own a car or have a driver’s license. We shall see what the next few years bring.
In the meantime, it does mean though that home buyers will have to move farther away from the city to get a property they can afford.  Or be willing to buy a home that needs a lot of updating – or both.
If you need help finding a home, just ask.  You can complete this survey to let us know what you are looking for and we will contact you to start your path to home ownership – Home Buying Survey

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

 

 

Condition and Home Value

I just finished reading an article about improvements that do not impact home value – and could not agree more.  Why?  Because most of these “improvements” fall under the category of maintenance – painting the house, new roof, new gutters, replacing a furnace or A/C, etc.

When you own and love a home over many years, you can become blind to the nicks, scratches, and dings – to you they are just reminders of the lives lived in the home. But deferring maintenance seriously impacts the value of your home.  Location is not everything.

Given industry estimates are that you should conservatively spend at least 1% of the value of your home on maintenance each year, you should assume that after 20 years of not replacing anything major in your home or painting or freshening up, it is worth at LEAST 20% less than the home of your neighbor who has been maintaining their home all along.

 

 

 

MA Small City Rankings on WalletHub

WalletHub has ranked the best and worst small cities in the U.S.  Lots of positive news for Massachusetts.

Northampton ranked the highest MA town on the overall list at #8.   The rest of the Top 10 are:

  • 14 – Milton
  • 26 – Lexington
  • 105 – Wellesley
  • 120 – Danvers
  • 138 – Saugus
  • 143 – Somerville
  • 150 – Melrose
  • 165 – Newton
  • 171 – Needham

Methodology

To find the best small cities in America, WalletHub’s analysts compared 1,268 cities across four key dimensions: 1) Affordability, 2) Economic Health, 3) Education & Health and 4) Quality of Life. For our sample, we chose cities with a population size between 25,000 and 100,000 residents. Please note that “city” refers to city proper and excludes surrounding metro areas.

Lists on which MA ranked highest.

WalletHub - Most EducatedWalletHub - MIllenials

WalletHub - Highest Percentage with Health Insurance

 Click Here For the Full Breakdown

Other key findings for Massachusetts home buyers –

MA ranked #1 as the best state for education.

  • 9th Happiest State
  • 13th Best State to Have a Baby
  • 5th Best State for Working Moms
  • 21st for Women’s Equality
  • 11th for Nurses
  • 28th for for Doctors

So Massachusetts has a lot going for it. Not the best state for retirement – will cover that in a future blog post.  So that tells me this is a great state for everything from going to college up to retirement, then it might be time to move someplace warmer, less expensive and slow paced (could we actually slow down?).  Whatever phase you are at, if you need help Contact Me.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904