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Buying a home in Greater Boston isn’t likely to get much easier in 2021

Realtor.com predicts prices in the region will rise by 5.7 percent next year.

Houses have been selling fast in the Boston area as more buyers seek larger spaces.
Houses have been selling fast in the Boston area as more buyers seek larger spaces.SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

If you thought 2020 was a tough year to buy a house, well, don’t count on 2021 being much easier.

Home sales website Realtor.com has released a report predicting that home prices in Greater Boston will climb 5.7 percent next year, and sales volume will rise 5.4 percent. While those price gains would be slower than this year’s sometimes-frenetic pace, rising interest rates and strong demand from a wave of early-30-somethings looking to buy could make buying a house around here as challenging as ever.

“The 2021 housing market will be much more ‘normal’ than the wild swings we saw in 2020,” said Realtor.com chief economist Danielle Hale. “Buyers may finally have a better selection of homes to choose from later in the year, but will face a renewed challenge of affordability as prices stay high and mortgage rates rise.”

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That affordability challenge will hit younger and first-time buyers hardest, especially in pricey markets such as Boston. Mortgage interest rates, which have stayed under 3 percent since July, are predicted to to tick back upward next year, which would sap buying power for many. And demand in the region is being powered by a demographic bulge of late-20 and early-30-somethings who are entering their prime home-buying years.

Of course, as Hale put it, “the deck is stacked with wildcards for 2021.” Chief among them is the timing, and success, of vaccines for COVID-19. While the pandemic has supercharged the housing market this year, fueling demand for roomier suburban homes while also restraining supply by keeping some would-be buyers from selling, it has also damaged the region’s broader economy by throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of work.

If vaccines are in wide distribution next year, those jobs could return, powering a strong recovery. If not, that economic damage could spread more broadly than it already has, and dampen demand for housing.

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Then there are questions about the future of work. Many markets, including Boston, have seen a surge of demand to buy in the suburbs as remote work has lessened the need for commuting. Whether that continues post-pandemic, or whether people return to the office in large numbers, could have big implications for where homebuyers seek to live.

A 5.7 percent price hike would put the median single-family home price in Greater Boston above $710,000. Through the first 10 months of 2020, according to the Greater Boston Association of Realtors, single-family home prices climbed 8 percent, to $675,000, while condominium prices rose 3.5 percent, to $590,000. The number of homes sold in the region has fallen each year since 2016, and is on pace to do so again in 2020, so a 5.4 percent increase in 2021 ― as projected by Realtor.com ― would be a notable jump.


Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.