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real estate now | Scott Van Voorhis

Are techies driving up Mass. housing costs?


Highlights from the Boston Real Estate Now blog.

Just call it the housing market’s geek factor.

Trulia takes a look at 10 tech hubs across the country, including Middlesex County, home to both Cambridge and the Route 128 beltway.

Homes on average cost 82 percent more in tech hubs than in other metro areas without large constellations of technology companies, Trulia finds.

In fact, we are number four when it comes to price per square foot, weighing in at $223, behind only San Jose, Calif. (a crazy $410 per square foot), Seattle, and San Francisco.

Nearly half the homes in Middlesex County are no longer affordable to middle-class families pulling down the area’s median salary.


At least we are not as bad as San Francisco, where only 14 percent of middle-class families can afford the average home, or San Jose, where that number is still a pathetic 31 percent.

For what it’s worth, Trulia’s survey also notes that many of today’s tech hubs were expensive before the Internet took off — they were already attracting the affluent and highly skilled by virtue of top universities and other lures.

Still, that is neither here nor there if I am home buyer with a respectable salary but unable to get any traction, whether it is the suburbs of Boston or Silicon Valley.

That said, housing construction — or lack thereof — may be the critical factor here.

Raleigh, N.C., and Austin, Texas, are also tech hubs, but their housing costs are half that of Middlesex County.

Why’s that? A lot more condos and homes are getting built in those markets, with the construction rate five times higher in Austin and 10 times higher in Raleigh compared with Middlesex County, not to mention San Jose, San Francisco, and Seattle, according to Trulia.


In San Francisco, there is growing tension over the role major tech giants like Google have been playing in the escalation of housing prices there.

Activists have taken to demonstrating at city bus stops to protest Google’s use of local routes to ferry workers back and forth in nicely appointed, private buses.

Could we see the same thing here? If our housing costs double again to reach San Jose levels, then all bets are off.

Love can cut the cost of rent

OK, brace yourself: It is cheaper living together.

Yes, with Valentine’s Day looming , real estate websites like Trulia are working overtime to churn out romantic themes. And Trulia’s contribution to all the schmaltz — that you can save rent money by moving in with your significant other — is hardly rocket science. (In 2012, the big news was a survey that found women prefer dating men who own rather than rent.)

Still, you have to give Trulia credit for trying to back up its Valentine's Day marketing missive with some numbers.

Nationally, it is 35 percent cheaper for a young, unmarried couple to cohabitate and share a two-bedroom unit than to rent a pair of one-bedroom units, according to Trulia.

In fact, it’s even significantly cheaper — 12 percent — to rent a three-bedroom unit, though good luck trying to find one in the Boston area.

Of course, whether moving in together will improve the quality of your relationship remains to be seen.

Back in the late 1990s, my wife and I maintained separate apartments during two years of dating and then another year after that when we were engaged.


In fact, during that year before we got hitched, my future wife moved into an apartment down the street from my $600-a-month bachelor pad in Quincy.

So yes, we didn’t save any money, but it was nice to have a little extra space — and time — to prepare for the shift to married life.

Anyway, it worked for us and we are still happily married after nearly 15 years, but whatever works for you.

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