It’s a dreary Sunday at 10 Lee St. in Somerville’s Winter Hill neighborhood.
A woman in sweats and flip-flops slurps Mountain Dew on a stoop. Down the block, two guys wedge a sagging sofa through a narrow door.
In the sizzling Somerville real estate market, rife with two-bedroom condos, 10 Lee St. is unusual. The two-story condominium has five bedrooms, high ceilings, a kitchen with stainless-steel appliances, and a whopping 2,400 square feet. The price? $579,900.
Prices are skyrocketing here. Median condo costs have risen from $375,000 in 2012 to $409,500 in 2013, a 9.2 percent increase, according to statistics from the Warren Group, which tracks realty trends. The median price for a single-family shot up from $448,250 to $540,000, a 20.47 increase.
In Winter Hill, a gentrifying neighborhood propelled by the promise of an extended Green Line, a condo larger than some single-families seems a steal.
Maybe. Inside 10 Lee, Unit 2, the minimal furnishings are upstaged by enough liquor bottles to stock a frat house, and the aroma of sweat permeates the air. The home is occupied by five young guys who are renting through the summer, and I half expect John Belushi to appear in a toga.
Instead, I perch on a sofa while Ed Greable — an affable Keller Williams realtor in a black suit — paces from living room to dining room. He checks on his daughter’s soccer game. He pets the household dog, a Jack Russell terrier. We banter about the home’s profusion of liquor and the merits of brewing one’s own beer.
Where are the buyers?
Slowly, people trickle in: a wide-eyed couple who refuse to disclose their names, whispering only that Somerville is a “better buy than Cambridge” before fleeing. A troupe of women giggling about a better condo in Kendall Square. A lone man in cashmere who ruefully announces that he should have bought years ago.
At this point, I begin to feel very sorry for Ed Greable.
“Those people seem like they really want the place!” I chirp after a young couple leaves, promising to stay in touch.
“They’ll never get it,” he says. “They have a condo to sell.”
Having a place to sell can be the kiss of death in a hot real estate market: Buyers need ready cash, and they have to move quickly.
“Oh,” I say. “What do you think will happen?”
“It’ll be gone by tomorrow,” Greable says with a smile. He’s received other inquiries. Brokers were staying in touch.
Sure enough, a few likely specimens linger. A mellow couple appear unfazed by the stained carpet in the master bedroom. “God, I love this neighborhood! It’s poppin’!” a bearded dad announces as he maneuvers his toddlers past the liquor cabinet. Another man gazes at the fireplace. “I’ve seen it work,” Greable assures him. “You just don’t find detail like this in Somerville,” the buyer replies.
When I left “Animal House,” I had doubts. The event at 10 Lee lacked the bloodlust I’d seen at other open houses. A handful of prospective buyers had asked when offers were due; even fewer arrived with brokers. Maybe people were tired of the brutal housing market. Maybe $579,900 was too much in a transitional neighborhood.
Three days later, I’m chatting to a delighted Jeff Foy, 38, a Philadelphia software salesman and owner of that condo at 10 Lee. He moved several years ago and rented out the condo until the timing seemed right to sell.
“I’m amazed!” he says. “I couldn’t believe the offers we got and how quickly we got them. We got four offers, all over asking. I’d never heard of anything like that.”
Greable was right all along. “The offers were all close to one another. There was one knock-your-socks-off offer that came in really high, and the owners went with the highest one,” he says.
Greable declines to reveal numbers, but Foy says the best offer was 15 percent over the asking price.
One unsuccessful bidder was Kevin Neary, 30. I’d met him and his family at the open house. “I was sad,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d be upset as I was. I didn’t see this coming. My wife was really upset, too. We’d walked in and thought, ‘This is home.’ ”
Neary’s family rents a two-plus bedroom in Union Square. They’re eager to find a bigger space nearby. “We’re using what should be our living room as a bedroom, and the office is a nursery,” he says. “We’re an ordinary couple, putting down everything we’ve got. I do wonder where these buyers are coming from. But we’re stubborn. We don’t want to leave Somerville.”
Neither does Marcia Pearson, 36, who also looked at 10 Lee. She and her husband own a two-bedroom in Union Square, but with two kids, things are tight. Still, she’s unwilling to compromise. “We’re looking in Melrose, but I can’t bear to leave where I am. I work downtown, and I love the commute,” she says. “So we’re going to open houses every weekend. It’s frustrating.”
Pearson contemplated a bid on 10 Lee but passed. “I don’t want to buy something at a foolish price,” she says. “All of a sudden, Somerville is up-and-coming. I almost feel like there’s a panic in finding something, and I didn’t feel comfortable making an offer in 24 hours.”
Foy, who has made out nicely on the deal — he and his wife bought the property in 2003 for $505,000 — feels sorry for today’s buyers.
“I can imagine what these people are going through. I’ve been there: waiting, pulling your hair out. It’s hard to tell someone no,” he says.
But perhaps there’s cold comfort for the shunned. “People are overbidding like they’ve never overbid before,” marvels Union Square’s Neary. “A lot of the inflation seems almost superficial. They said the Green Line would be done in 2014 back in 2010. Now it’s 2017. If this whole Green Line thing falls apart, people might lose money on what they grossly overpaid for.”
“Even if you look at the recent real estate downturn, Somerville held its values very well,” says Greable. “This area is unique: You have universities, biotech, pharma. These companies are not going away. Public transportation is not going away. I think it’s a good investment.”
The couple that purchased 10 Lee St. thinks so, too.