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The spring housing market approaches. Good luck

Rick Nazzaro of Colonial Manor Realty waited in the driveway as a couple entered a property he was trying to sell during a "controlled" open house in 2020.
Rick Nazzaro of Colonial Manor Realty waited in the driveway as a couple entered a property he was trying to sell during a "controlled" open house in 2020.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

Home prices in Greater Boston have continued to surge at the start of 2021 for one simple reason: There’s just not much to buy.

And now, as the typically busy spring market opens up, that could send prices even higher.

The median price for a single-family home in the region hit a record in February, again, reaching $648,750, up 5.7 percent from the same month last year. That’s according to data put out Tuesday by the Greater Boston Association of Realtors. Condo prices climbed, too, with the median up 3.1 percent to $597,000.

It’s been the trend for months now, driven by strong demand — a rebounding economy, still-low interest rates, and cooped-up apartment-dwellers looking for space to stretch out — coupled with supply that remains quite low, said Dino Confalone, an agent with Gibson Sotheby’s International in Cambridge and the current president of the realtors association.

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“Buyer enthusiasm has been through the roof over the first two months of the year, with many eager to get a head start on the traditional spring selling season,” he said. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand from buyers who’ve been house-hunting for months, if not years.”

Would-be sellers, though, are considerably less enthusiastic, with many choosing to stay where they are. The inventory of homes for sale was down sharply in February, compared to a year earlier, with listings of single-family homes off by nearly a quarter and overall listings down 43 percent.

Condo listings climbed 17 percent, partly due to new construction, and partly due to a shift in demand toward more suburban locales. But in suburban markets where traditional single-family homes predominate, there’s a sharp mismatch between what people want and what’s out there to buy.

“Right now, buyer demand is strongest in the suburban single-family home-market, especially in communities outside of Route 128,” Confalone said. “The pandemic has caused many to reassess their housing needs, and that’s prompted many to forgo condo life in exchange for a single-family property in the suburbs, where the dollar goes farther.”

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Indeed, Confalone said, the supply shortage is becoming self-reinforcing. One common reason that he hears from homeowners wary of putting a house on the market is that they don’t see anything they could buy, and choose instead to stay put and perhaps renovate. That means no one can buy their houses, either.

On the flip side, Confalone said, there are bargains to be had in the city, where condo buildings have been opening despite a relative shortage of buyers. Condo listings are up 29 percent in the city of Boston, with a growing number selling for below their initial asking prices. A bargain, though, doesn’t mean cheap: The median price of a Boston condo in February hit nearly $690,000, up 3.4 percent compared with a year earlier.


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