For 18 months, home prices in Greater Boston soared. There were none of the typical summer lulls or seasonal swings, just up and up, ever-higher prices for sellers and an increasingly brutal market for buyers.
This fall, though, that has started to shift — a bit. The number of homes on the market rose. More sellers had to cut their prices.
To be clear, it’s still extremely hard to buy a house here. But real estate agents and other experts say there are signs lately that a smidge of balance has begun creeping back into a housing market that has been completely out of whack.
“There’s not a ton of inventory, and there’s still demand, but it’s not like it was in May,” said Dino Confalone, president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors and an agent at Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty in Cambridge. In the spring, Confalone said, a good listing might have gotten 12 offers. Now it’s more like two.
That’s partly because people are still trying to figure out where they’ll be working and where they want to live in a new, COVID-affected world, Confalone said. Buyers have also become increasingly savvy as housing prices skyrocketed, with some choosing to bide their time and rent another year rather than launch a bidding war.
“Homes are sitting for a little bit longer now than they did for the early spring and summer, and prices may be a little bit lower,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com. But, she added, “homes are selling faster than they were at this time last year and than they were two years ago. The big trend is that the housing market continues to be more competitive.”
Compared with the hot spring and summer, September brought some welcome signs for buyers. New listings jumped 25 percent in the first two weeks of September, according to GBAR, which includes 64 cities and towns in Metro Boston. In addition, the median listing price for single-family homes and condos dipped slightly, to $675,000 in September, according to Realtor.com. Price cuts, too, were more common than they had been in August.
Some sellers, eager to cash out in a madcap market, have become too aggressive in pricing their homes, which can backfire and make buyers suspicious when the sellers must then must cut their asking price, said Melvin A. Vieira Jr., an agent with RE/Max Destiny in Jamaica Plain and president-elect of the realtors association.
“We as people who are selling the product need to be a little more conscious of our prices, and not be as aggressive,” Vieira said.
Still, he added, for sellers eager to make a hefty profit, it remains a great time to put a house on the market.
“What better time than now? But don’t get so aggressive that you think you can get 20 percent more than your neighbor next door, and you didn’t do as much as your neighbor next door,” he said, chuckling.
All the agents agreed that while September may have furnished some hope among Boston buyers, it remains a high-cost city where prices just keep rising.
In August, 62 percent of homes in Greater Boston sold over asking price, according to Ojo Labs, a real estate tech company based in Austin, Texas, an average of $15,000 above their list price. And inventory remains remarkably low, just half what it was this time in 2019.
“Big picture, there has been some buyer-friendly moves recently,” Hale said. “But there’s plenty of room for more.”
Which means even if things might soften around the edges, sellers are still in charge. They can hold on, confident prices will keep going up, or cash out now, like the owners of a $1.3 million four-bedroom in Belmont that Juliet Jenkins was recently readying for an open house.
“They decided to sell partly because they think they can make good money on it,” said Jenkins, a realtor at Leading Edge in Belmont. “It’s been a rental. They could just pick when they wanted to sell it.”