fb-pixelWhat kind of income does it take to buy a starter home in Boston — and beyond? - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

What kind of income does it take to buy a starter home in Boston — and beyond?

Shoppers are flocking to neighboring states in search of more affordable housing. There are strategies first-time home buyers can use to make their path a little easier.

.Ally Rzesa/Globe staff; Adobe Stock

If you’re looking to purchase a starter home in Greater Boston, get ready for a challenge.

According to the Greater Boston Association of Realtors, the median sales prices for both single-family homes and condominiums rose to new record highs for the month of September, reaching $849,950 and $680,500, respectively.

But a starter home, although priced less, can be even more difficult to afford. According to data prepared for the Boston Globe by Realtor.com, you’ll need an annual income of $209,680 to afford a typical two-bedroom starter home in metro Boston. Bear in mind, however, that the median household income here in 2022, according to census data, was $104,299.

Advertisement



“Buyers today are running into difficulty having a large-enough down payment, and with interest rates at such a high level, their purchasing power has gone down,” said Alison Socha, an agent with Leading Edge Real Estate in Melrose and the current president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors.

That’s driving buyers to flock to neighboring states in search of affordable starter homes. “The first-time buyers I’m working with want Newburyport, but a starter home here is about $750,000,” said Kevin Fruh, a senior vice president at Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty who also works with buyers in New Hampshire. “But over the border, it’s a totally different market. It’s more affordable.”

Indeed, moving may be a great strategy. According to Realtor.com’s data, while it would take a household income of more than $200,000 a year to afford a starter home in Greater Boston, you could pick up a two-bedroom starter in the Portland, Maine, metro area with an income of $150,840. Or, if you prefer the small-town ambiance of Providence, you’ll need to earn just $120,360 a year to afford a two-bedroom starter home there.

Advertisement



Ellen Mulligan, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Realty in Center Harbor, N.H., has seen an increasing number of buyers migrating to her market from Boston. Her daughter and son-in-law moved to Gilford, N.H., in August 2022, although her son-in-law works as an attorney for a company in Boston, about two hours away. “If my daughter wanted to buy a house in the Boston area that’s similar to what she has, she probably would have paid nearly three times what she paid for her house here,” Mulligan said.

Mulligan said southern New Hampshire communities — cities like Nashua or Manchester that are considered commutable to Boston — are more expensive than homes located farther north.

But all is not lost if you prefer to stay in Massachusetts. Experts say there are strategies even first-timers can use to afford a first home here.

Some buyers are eyeing small towns and rural areas in their search for affordability. Melvin A. Vieira Jr., a real estate agent with RE/Max Destiny in Boston, said some are moving farther west, to places like Springfield or Worcester. The annual incomes needed to purchase a two-bedroom starter home in Springfield and Worcester, are, according to Realtor.com, $82,960 and $119,760, respectively.

Vieira said the National Association of Realtors is lobbying Congress to increase the capital gains exclusions for sales of principal residences. He said that will encourage more people to sell (if they don’t have to pay taxes), which would have a cascading effect down to starter homes, making more available.

Advertisement



First-time buyers also can consider fixer-uppers, which usually come at a lower price point for those willing to put in elbow grease. Financing is available through the FHA 203(k) mortgage program, which covers both the acquisition and renovation costs and has a minimum down payment of 3.5 percent for those who meet certain underwriting standards.

Down payment assistance of up to $50,000 also may be available to qualified buyers through MassHousing.

Robyn A. Friedman has been writing about real estate and the home market for more than two decades. Follow her @robynafriedman. Send comments to Address@globe.com. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at boston.com/address-newsletter. Follow us on X @GlobeHomes.