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With few properties on the market, Greater Boston home prices rise again

COVID-19 exacerbates a long-running dilemma: There were more buyers than sellers in May

The pandemic has upended the housing market in the Boston area, making signs like this one harder to find.
The pandemic has upended the housing market in the Boston area, making signs like this one harder to find.Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock / Andy Dean Photography

Home sales throughout Greater Boston fell dramatically again in May as the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on sellers’ willingness to list properties and agents’ ability to show properties. But people who did put their homes up for sale were still able to command high prices because there were so few options for buyers.

Data released Wednesday by the Greater Boston Association of Realtors showed a continuation of a pattern that emerged in April for single-family homes: Buyer demand dramatically outpaced supply. May’s median sale price of $670,000 was up 5.5 percent, compared with the same month last year, while the number of sales, 889, fell by 32.8 percent.

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The story was somewhat different for condominiums. The median selling price in May was down 2.7 percent, to $578,754 while sales dropped by 48.6 percent, to 605, compared with May 2019. The number of condo sales was down 20 percent from a month earlier.

Bill Dermody, chairman of the realtors group, said he and his colleagues are watching the condo market closely as they try to discern how the pandemic might affect longer-term trends. He noted that pending sales of condos — a more immediate indicator — increased from April to May, though by less than the number of sales for single-family homes.

He said the disruption from the coronavirus, which caused many sellers to put off listing their homes and made showings a logistical nightmare, makes it hard to divine the underlying trends. Many homes that went under agreement during the lockdown still have not closed.

“It’s not a normal cycle because of the pandemic. It was like someone flicked the light switch off in March,” said Dermody, who is also regional sales manager at Berkshire Hathaway Commonwealth Real Estate in Needham. “You won’t be able to look around the room to see how brightly the lights come on until a few months down, when we can see what sold.”

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For some families living in condos, the pandemic has driven home the need for larger living spaces.

Jessica Bellarose and her wife had been talking about moving from their two-bedroom Jamaica Plain condo for several years, but finally decided to do it this year. The couple, who have a 5-year-old son, are in the process of closing on a house in their same neighborhood. .

“Quarantine happened, and we realized this is an amazing condo for a family that goes out and does stuff, but for three people who are stuck inside 24/7, it feels too small,” Bellarose said. She said most of the listings that hit the market while they were searching disappeared almost immediately.

Bellarose didn’t perceive any softening in the demand for condos like hers. Dozens of people looked at it, and there were multiple offers before they agreed to a sale.

Ellen Grubert, senior vice president at Ellen+Janis Real Estate Team at Compass in Boston, which worked with Bellarose, said people are looking for room to stretch out after being locked down for months.

“The density, with COVID, is definitely a big driver,” Grubert said. “People want to have, in their condos, more space around them — a little more green space in the neighborhood, and a little less density of people on the streets.”

Real estate agents said they are waiting to see what the market looks like when the number of properties on the market returns to normal. Active listings were down about 35 percent last month over May 2019′s, but they grew by 22.5 percent over April’s.

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Charles George, a senior vice president with Compass, said the effects of COVID-19 will linger in the real estate market even after the crisis has passed — perhaps over the long term increasing the interest in more spacious suburban homes.

“It’s going to leave a lasting, lasting impression,” he said.


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.