Oh, million-dollar home, what happened to you? Wasn’t it yesterday you were a mansion? All marble floors and important artwork and tree-lined driveways? Master baths and walk-in closets and soaring ceilings?
But today? “It’s one floor of a triple decker.”
That’s David Linhart speaking. He and his young family had just emerged from an open house for a cramped 1,504-square-foot Cambridgeport single-family house with light blue siding and no identifiable architectural style. It was listed at $950,000.
“It has potential,” the agent said, using the universal real estate code for “rehabbing this place is going to cost you.’’
“It feels like the whole house is going to fall on top of you,” Linhart’s 10-year-old son, Nahum, said after leaving the basement.
In Greater Boston, high demand, low inventory, and an influx of foreign money have pushed prices so high that in some neighborhoods it’s come to this: $1 million buys a fixer-upper — if you’re lucky enough to win the bidding war.
Most people would be thrilled to have a million dollars to spend on a home, of course, or even half that or a quarter that. They don’t need a mansion, just a place to live that’s safe and a decent commute to work.
But $1 million used to mean something, even to those who could only dream. It was a golden threshold — the champagne lifestyle.
In a growing number of Greater Boston ZIP codes, however, it no longer even guarantees a parking spot, a second bedroom, a sliver of outdoor space, or a window that doesn’t look directly into a neighboring house so close you can reach out and touch it.
The diminished state of the million-dollar home wasn’t lost on aspiring buyers at the light blue house in Cambridgeport this past Sunday.
“I’m from the Midwest, and one million is not a number that I ever thought would come out of my mouth,” said Donielle Buie, a market researcher who was house-scouting for her family.
Like many caught up in the 2017 real estate game, Buie knows two opposite things to be true:
1) A million dollars should buy a spectacular home in a spectacular neighborhood.
2) “A million dollars means ‘compromise,’ ” Buie said.
Across the river, in Beacon Hill, that compromise was on display in a condo listing for $979,000. The wood floors gleamed. Natural light streamed through big windows. The designer kitchen begged to be cooked in. And yet, for all the condo offered, there was a lot it didn’t. It was a fourth-floor walk-up with no deck and no parking.
“For under $1 million, this is as nice as you’ll get,” said Hobie Hare, an agent with Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty.
In truth, $1 million has been losing its mythic status for years, certainly since sometime before 1997, when Mike Myers’s Dr. Evil character in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” got laughed at for demanding the paltry ransom of “one miiillion dollars.”
Less hilariously, in fact not funny at all for those trying to find an affordable place to live: As of 2014, many real estate brokers no longer categorize $1 million single-family homes as luxury properties, according to Larry Lawfer, a luxury broker with Keller Williams in Newton.
That status is reserved for single-family houses with sale prices in the top 10 percent of the market in a designated area, Lawfer said, and in Greater Boston, official luxury for single-family homes now starts at $1,350,957.
The market has become so insane that in Newton, a potential client meeting with real estate agent Loren Larsenworried that her home wouldn’t meet the standard for Larsen’s typical “luxury market” listings.
Turns out she was right to fret — her home would probably list for the very lowest end of seven digits.
As the price-per-square-foot zooms way past $1,000 in high-end neighborhoods — it’s over $2,000 for some properties in the Seaport — not only are million-dollar homes getting smaller, they are showing up in Quincy, Medford, and Brighton, areas that have not been traditionally associated with the luxury market.
And though there once was a time when the million-dollar home was rare, they’ve become so commonplace that in 14 Massachusetts cities and towns, fully half of the homes sold in July passed the $1 million threshold, according to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.
In Boston, 6,853 condos have been assessed by the city as worth $1 million or more, according to a records review by David Bates, a real estate agent and publisher of the Bates Real Estate Report.
“In bygone eras, when someone said they lived in a million-dollar condo, you’d think, ‘That person is set,’ ” Bates said. “Today it can be entry level.”
In the Seaport, you almost can’t buy anything less than a $1 million property. Of 17 condos for sale during a recent week, only one was asking under $1 million, and not by much. It was a one-bedroom with no parking listed for $949,000.
“It’s a steal,” Joseph Barka, the listing agent, said.
Perhaps nothing says more about today’s million-dollar properties than the new million-dollar buyers. Many are so stretched by their home purchase that they can’t afford what was also once a staple of luxury: professional decorating help, interior designer Leslie Fine said.
“My clients are typically those who have homes that are worth $2 million and up,” she said.
As of press time, a $2 million house still had parking.