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Boston Real Estate Now | Scott Van Voorhis

Roller coaster market making some queasy

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Highlights from the Boston Real Estate Now blog.

It has been a crazy roller coaster ride over the last eight years for home prices.

After soaring into the stratosphere during the housing bubble, prices came crashing down with the Great Recession.

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Now prices are back again. Cities all but left for dead after the crash, like Las Vegas, are seeing prices skyrocket again, while blue-chip areas like Greater Boston, New York, and Washington, where prices fell but never collapsed, are now experiencing double-digit increases.

Not surprisingly, more than a few buyers are wondering what’s next and worried they could lose their savings if the market heads down again.

Here’s Astrom. He’s looking to buy a house in the Boston area but fearful that he could wind up in the red.

“I am trying to buy a house right now for a long-term residence in a good school district to provide my kids with decent education and my family with decent housing, but I feel like I am embarking on a gambling venture that may either spell financial ruin or conversely nice profits depending on what cards are dealt to me.”

The good news for Astrom is that prices in the Boston area have been spared the dramatic rise-and-fall ride that distorted the market in many Sun Belt cities. More than 60 towns and neighborhoods in the Boston area have already blown past records set during the bubble years, according to Warren Group.

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Overall, Boston area prices are just 15 percent below their 2005 peak.

OK, but the bad news? Sure, home prices in Greater Boston have been more consistent than in many other major metro markets over the past decade — consistent as in consistently high.

In the end, though, all real estate is hyperlocal. A lot depends on where you buy, how much you pay, what town or street you pick, and even whether you wind up with good neighbors.

If you are looking for price protection, the best bets are upscale suburbs.

Yet they are also the hardest to buy into, with median prices soaring toward the $700,000-and-up mark and scarce listings. There are lots of towns in the middle, but there can be big differences. Go online and look at five, 10 years worth of price data.

And in a cruel twist, the most affordable communities are also the ones most prone to volatile price swings, whether it’s old factory and mill towns like Brockton and Lawrence or Boston neighborhoods like Dorchester and East Boston.

You are not guaranteed a handsome return just because you buy a home — after all, nothing is guaranteed in life.

The return of the ‘greedy seller’

All the talk of bidding wars and soaring prices apparently has swollen the heads of some sellers.

There’s growing chatter in the business media about signs of a cool down.

Of course, it’s all based on August data, which seems like a big problem to me. Yes, home sales do fall at the end of the summer, with buyers, sellers, and real estate agents off at the beach and mountains.

Still, the August falloff was more dramatic than in past years, Redfin says in a new market survey.

Anyway, the usual culprits are being trotted out — rising interest rates and soaring prices to name the top two.

But we are also seeing the return of the greedy seller, a favorite villain, who typically makes an appearance when buyers start getting edged out.

Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate. For the full Boston Real Estate Now blog, visit www.boston.com/realestate.

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