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Boston Real Estate Now | Scott Van Voorhis

For friendly neighbors, try a cul-de-sac

Highlights from the Boston Real Estate Now blog.

When you are house hunting, you are not just looking for four walls, a roof, and a yard. You are also buying into a neighborhood.

And if you are looking for an old-fashioned, small-town feel, where everyone is (nicely) looking out for everyone else, well you don’t have to go door to door interviewing the neighbors.

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Rather, just look at the layout of the street. If it’s a cul-de-sac, with houses facing each other around a circle, you’ve hit the friendly neighborhood jackpot.

That, anyway, is my down-and-dirty summary of an interesting piece in Atlantic Cities on the research of Thomas Hochschild. A sociologist, Hochschild recently made a case for the cul-de-sac in the Journal of Urban Planning and Development, having tramped across suburban Connecticut interviewing homeowners.

Through streets, like mine in Natick which leads into the town center, have the least amount of “social cohesion,” while dead-end streets are somewhere in the middle. Only 5.4 percent of homeowners on through streets cited strong attachments to their neighbors, compared with more than 31 percent of those living along cul-de-sacs, his research has found.

Here’s a graph from the Atlantic Cities piece:

“Hochschild theorizes that there’s something more than self-selection going on here. Hardly any of the people he talked to said they moved to a cul-de-sac in search of (or even anticipating) its neighborliness. Rather, the design of the street itself seemed to facilitate it. If you want to throw a block party on a through-street, you need a permit. If you want to do the same on a cul-de-sac, the street is already effectively blocked off.”

Boston prices still going strong

All real estate is local, as the late great Tip O’Neill might have said were he a broker.

So it has been rather interesting to see some of the big online real estate portals, such as Zillow and Redfin, aggressively push the idea that Massachusetts home prices are set for a cool down in keeping with national trends.

One bigwig who will go unnamed even offered me a lecture of sorts, saying I “must know” that this is happening. I smiled and let the comment pass.

But that’s not what the numbers are showing, with the median price of a home in Massachusetts having jumped nearly 16 percent in September, to $323,625, Warren Group reports.

Home sales posted their best start to the fall season since 2005, with the number of homes changing hands rising 16 percent in September from a year ago.

So why are prices still heading up in the Bay State and across Greater Boston, even as they falter nationally and in many other major metro markets?

Well it all goes back to the uneven economic recovery we are seeing right now, with a few hot cities and regions booming while the rest of the country stumbles along.

Massachusetts, driven by Greater Boston, is one of those lucky few seeing relatively strong growth, thanks to booming tech and life science sectors and a large health care sector.

That’s spurring home sales and rising prices.

Do stocks drive home values?

Maybe sellers should start keeping a closer eye on the Dow when deciding asking prices.

As stock prices of local companies increase, so do the sale prices of homes nearby, says online real estate portal and brokerage Redfin.

The median sale price of homes rises by a not so shabby $4,400 for every $1 billion in stock value added by local companies, according to Redfin. In fact, a 1 percent increase in the stock values of Greater Boston companies could the send the median price soaring by a very meaningful $25,000, Redfin notes.

In Silicon Valley, where the stock value of local companies tops a trillion dollars, that same 1 percent increase nets home sellers in Mountain View and other hot spots a whopping $48,000 extra.

This “stock market influence correlation” is the 10th highest in Greater Boston of the 19 major metro markets surveyed by Redfin.

I am not sure I am completely buying this. Also, there are some oddities in the survey — we are ahead of San Francisco and Seattle but behind Miami and Raleigh

Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate. For the full Boston Real Estate Now blog, visit www.boston.com/realestate.
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