Can a town have a signature rant? If so, Boston’s got one, and it goes something like this: “It costs how much???”
With real estate and rental properties hitting prices that could be called “giddy” if they weren’t causing so much pain, there’s a new sport in town. Let’s call it the Boston three-step.
Step one: Hear the asking price of a home. Step two: Outraged, shout the dollar figure to anyone who will listen. Step three: Still shouting, tick off all the reasons it shouldn’t cost that much.
As in: “$900,000 for a one bed with no parking or yard and a kitchen from the 50s???!!!”
In Brookline’s Washington Square, that’s how Matt Belkin, a marketing executive, felt when he was out walking his goldendoodle and saw four townhouse condos under construction priced at $3.2 million each, on a street that does not scream, or even whisper, estates.
Doing the Boston three-step, he quickly texted a pal to vent about the price and then sounded off to his wife and father-in-law.
“It’s insane,” he said later. “They’re all scrunched together.”
As she shopped at a farmers market outside the T’s Roxbury Crossing Station, longtime resident Antoinette Carvalho was also galled, in her case by a 1½-bedroom, $1,800-a-month apartment her friend looked at recently. Needless to say, the so-called half-bedroom was no more than a small space.
“The landlord told her, ‘Good luck finding something for a lower price,’ ” she said. “It’s crazy.”
In East Cambridge, Mark Younker was also on a tear. His buttons got pushed by an 864-square-foot condo on Monsignor O’Brien Highway that’s on the market for more than $900,000.
“It’s an industrial road with a view of Shaws,” he said.
With the notable exception of developers, landlords, one-percenters, and those planning to move someplace where housing is not insane, exploding costs strike anger and fear.
“Is that really where we are as a society, that a studio costs $925,000 and that’s normal?” asked Travis Chapman, a software developer from Southie horrified by a listing for a 589-square-foot “designer studio” on the cusp of the Back Bay.
Figures just released by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors show record highs were set in June for condos and single-family homes — the continuation of a three-year trend of rising prices.
The median price of a single-family house in June was $440,000, according to the realtors association, and the price of a condo was $426,125.
In some areas, the median price of a single-family home nearly doubled over five years, according to the real estate consulting firm The Warren Group.
In Roxbury, which has seen the biggest jump, the median price of a single-family house rose from $237,500 in 2013 to $455,000 in 2018, an increase of 91.6 percent. In Chelsea, median prices went up 88.7 percent, from $238,500 to $450,000 over the same time frame. In East Boston, the median price hit $570,000 in 2018, up from $303,500 in 2013, an 87.8 percent change.
Rents are on the march, too. The average rent in Boston has risen 59 percent since 2009, with average monthly rents now approaching $3,000, according to Barry Bluestone, professor emeritus of public policy at Northeastern University.
Rising home prices and rents are fueled by a growth in jobs downtown, foreign investors looking for a safe place to put their money, and young people pooling their resources and doubling, tripling, or quadrupling up, Bluestone said.
“What I am concerned about,” he said, “is displacement of working families, and in fact, we’ve seen that wholesale in Boston and Cambridge and now in Somerville.”
In most cases, nameless outsiders are making a buck off the locals, but as Melvin A. Vieira Jr., a real estate agent with RE/MAX Destiny in Jamaica Plain, noted, sometimes a member of the community is the one benefiting.
“Can you really get mad at a person who’s elderly who is cashing out because their retirement is their house?” he asked.
Not only are housing prices going up, but also the pain is all the more intense because they’re rising faster than income, as Bloomberg reported in October 2018. “While US home prices have gained almost 60 percent since March 31, 2012,” the news site wrote, “household income is up a little less than 30 percent in the same period.”
It’s a situation that is causing housing vertigo.
In Jamaica Plain, Rob Halpin’s “internal mechanism” has not caught up with reality.
“I see condos approaching $700,000 or $800,000 — in Jamaica Plain!” said Halpin, director of public relations for MSPCA-Angell. “I still tend to think that should be a fancy building with a doorman.” (It’s not.)
He mentioned a friend who paid more than $900,000 for a two-bedroom condo in Brighton — a lovely place, but still, he said, in Brighton. “Isn’t that where people used to go when they were starting out?”
But as appalling as prices feel now, Brookline real estate agent David Bates has some advice that no one is going to want to hear:
“When your parents bought the home you grew up in, it probably felt expensive to them,” he said. “In hindsight, they should have bought two.”