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What $3 million-plus buys you in a city

Agents report increased activity in Back Bay and Beacon Hill as buyers’ priorities shift.

The Seaport no longer seems to be sizzling, some real estate agents say, but a look at the sales figures from the last six months of 2020 don’t reflect that trend — yet.

“Once upon a time, amenities were very attractive; now there is hesitation about being in shared communities,” Antonio Khoury, an agent and managing partner with Compass, said. But many buildings have gotten creative, offering opportunities like private pool access and spa appointments, he said.

“Historic properties are trending stronger than full-service buildings since those buildings tend to have fewer units,” Compass agent and managing director Brett DeRocker said. This creates an opportunity for buyers looking for a full-service building, he said. “You can open quite a few doors in all the downtown neighborhoods with $3 million; you can get more bang for your buck.”


It’s difficult to judge how COVID-19 and the shutdowns have affected sales. Comparing the number of closed deals between July and December in 2019 and 2020, research by The Warren Group, a real estate analytics firm and publisher of Banker & Tradesman, found a 7 percent uptick in $1 million-plus sales in ZIP codes comprising Beacon Hill and the West End, but Back Bay saw a 15 percent decrease. Sales in the Seaport were up 117 percent.

“I don’t think the data helps figure out what is going on,” Tim Warren, CEO of The Warren Group, said. “A new condo development opens and a raft of deeds come in the first month. Throws things out of whack. ... A realtor friend of mine has told me he feels a decline in buyer interest in Boston condos.”

Nationally, Redfin has reported that US luxury home sales shot up 60.7 percent year over year in September, October, and November 2020, outpacing the increase of mid-priced and affordable homes. Zillow reported that searches for homes listed for more than $1 million are up relative to last year.


Along with outdoor space, which is the number one must-have, buyers want room for home gyms and offices, which are making 2-plus-bedroom properties hotter than ever. “The ‘plus’ is huge,” Beth Dickerson, an agent with Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty, said. “Wives don’t want to look at their husbands’ messy desks anymore.”

While young families are fleeing to the burbs, empty nesters are forging ahead in the city. “They’re splitting their time between pieds-à-terre in town and a place in Florida, New Hampshire, or the Cape,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson sold a two-bedroom in Beacon Hill for $2.3 million to a Palm Beach couple who wanted to feel safe visiting their grandchildren. She also showed a similar property to stir-crazy empty nesters who had been sheltering in Osterville since March. “They want to be able to walk around and see other people,” she said.

Although downtown prices are softer and properties take longer to sell, inventory is still tight and interest rates remain at historic lows. All in all, the downtown market is healthy. “Boston property owners tend to be quite stable, so you do not see as much of a pullback in values as in other urban markets of the US,” DeRocker said.

Last month, Zillow predicted that the demand for urban living will surge in 2021.


“Empty nesters that were planning a move to the city are accelerating the process because it’s a great time to buy,” Khoury said. “They understand that the pandemic will pass.”

Marni Elyse Katz blogs about design at StyleCarrot.com. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp.