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Dorchester properties take on a $6m price tag

Homes on Fields Court in Dorchester.
Homes on Fields Court in Dorchester.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

With its tidy homes and overgrown lots, the little pocket of Dorchester hardly looks like the city’s next hot address.

Beyond a chain-link fence is the busy South Bay Shopping Center, and the few modest residences are hemmed in by a hodgepodge of low-grade industrial businesses — auto repair shops, junkyards, a small concrete plant.

Yet on Baker Court and Fields Court, two narrow paved paths so tiny they could hardly be called streets, some longtime property owners believe they are sitting on a real estate goldmine. They are offering three small homes and an adjacent lot as a package for developers.

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Asking price? $6 million.

Yes, $6 million — for four properties with a combined assessed value of $871, 200.

“They know they got something that’s hot,” listing agent Steven Mathieu said of his clients.

Indeed, like many old residential areas of Boston, this pocket between Massachusetts Avenue and Boston Street is on the cusp of a wholesale redevelopment. It is a microcosm of the changes transforming Boston from a city stocked with humble homes where workers of limited means could raise families to what’s becoming in many areas an expensive metropolis of upscale residences.

Earlier this year a dilapidated three-family home on neighboring Willow Court sold for $1.175 million to a developer proposing a nine-unit building. Across the street are two new apartment buildings, where units rent for $2,500 to $2,900 a month. Baker Court, meanwhile, is overrun with construction workers finishing two other buildings, where condos will start at $500,000.

New apartment buildings at Willow Court, right, across the street from a home that was sold for $1.175 million to a developer.
New apartment buildings at Willow Court, right, across the street from a home that was sold for $1.175 million to a developer.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

And beyond that chain-link fence is perhaps the biggest catalyst: a massive complex the owner of the South Bay shopping center has begun that will bring 475 apartments, a 12-screen movie theater, a 130-room hotel, new stores, and restaurants.

“That whole area, Fields Court, Baker Court, Willow Court, that area has been forgotten,” said Travis Stewart, a member of the John W. McCormack Civic Association, the neighborhood group for the broader area. “Some people have been back there for years and years, and some people are selling out and if they want to sell to a developer, that’s great. We’re going from really low density there to really high density there in the next two, three years.”

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The four properties are owned by Virginia and Theodore Luscinski. She grew up in the neighborhood and with her husband bought the tiny house on Baker Court—just 605 square feet— in 1976 for $9,500, according to city and county records. One of the other properties on Fields Court, Mathieu said, came from her mother.

Before the new development, the neighborhood had just a handful of modest homes. But they are steps away from the South Bay expansion site. And despite the sky-high asking price, Mathieu said offers are rolling in.

“Everything’s been changing in the past two years,” said Mathieu, an agent at New Era Real Estate Holdings Inc. in Randolph. “So proximity to downtown Boston, South Boston, these are all very hot areas in Boston right now.”

The Luscinskis declined to comment.

With its location on the South Boston line between the MBTA’s Andrew Station and Newmarket commuter rail stop, the South Bay area was an obvious next stop for developers looking to attract downtown workers, according to local real estate specialists.

The neighborhood, said Aaron Jodka, the director of research for Colliers International in Boston, lacked new housing options, “and new housing has been the darling of this real estate cycle. I would still call it an early-stage emerging market within the Boston area. It is hoping to draft off of the rapid growth of South Boston and the South End. Logically shifting south would make sense and time will tell whether renters, retailers, and investors feel the same.”

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But Japonica Brown-Saracino, an associate professor of sociology at Boston University who wrote a book on gentrification, said the speed and scale of change in this small neighborhood usually have an inevitable outcome.

Construction at the South Bay Center with Baker Court in the background.
Construction at the South Bay Center with Baker Court in the background. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

“When you have big development happening it can take you immediately to a more advanced stage of gentrification,” she said.

Stewart, meanwhile, said he and his neighbors are of mixed minds about the changes; for years they’ve lived in a neighborhood saddled with depressed property values.

“I see it as a double-edged sword because you want new development to bring new life to the neighborhood,” he said. “But at the same time we have a nice neighborhood and we want to keep it that way. We don’t want to experience that growing pain.”

Indeed, one group that probably has most to fear from the changes are the small industrial businesses that have held on here for so long. Sue Sullivan, executive director of the Newmarket Business Association, said the going prices for property in the neighborhood will make it harder for owners of commercial and industrial uses to resist selling out.

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“It makes it more difficult for commercial-industrial to stay in the city,” Sullivan said. “I’ve seen properties go for $3-to-$4 million an acre. ... It shows that the pressures have taken hold.”

Already on Massachusetts Avenue, a developer has proposed replacing a used-car lot with two new six-story buildings with 40 residential units. The property is near the Dorchester Brewing Company, a craft beer maker and pub that recently opened in a building once occupied by a sheet metal contractor. Several other projects in the surrounding blocks are also in development.

So for those who think the Luscinskis are crazy to list their properties for $6 million, consider this: Mathieu, their agent, said that before the area got hot, the couple often got unsolicited offers, some for as much as $4 million.

“They knew if they waited they could get higher pricing,” Mathieu said. “The value is in what the market is asking for.”


Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.