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Welcome

Welcome to your constantly updated resource for news and views on the Brookline Real Estate market. Here you will find commentary and statistics to explain the daily changes in the Brookline specific housing market.

Whether you're looking for an estate in Cottage Farm, a condo in Brookline Village or are just stopping by please feel free to read along and comment at will. If you are interested in speaking about renting an apartment, buyer representation or listing your home please feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

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Renovation Road, Construction Hill?

Did I miss a memo?

Every day, on my way to and from the office, I drive down Dean Road between Beacon Street and Chestnut Hill Avenue. Recently a few houses have had little signs popping up on the front yards. Always one to see if these happen to be new listings I have closely followed the changes. These are not For Sale signs, though. It seems that all of the neighbors in this lovely Fisher Hill neighborhood have decided that it was time to renovate their homes all at once. Now, in some of them (including my favorite looking house in Brookline) the renovations seem to be confined to the inside. That being said, in many of the houses it looks like there is a major interior and exterior gut renovation.

View Larger Map
For those who don't know the Fisher Hill neighborhood well, it's a very high-end property value center that is in the area between Beacon Street(Washington Square - Cleveland Circle), Chestnut Hill Avenue and Route 9 (Boylston Street). This is not the area of Fisher Hill embroiled in the Mormon Church debate, but something seems to be going on in this lovely area of Brookline.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

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A refreshing view of "do-it-yourselfers"

A Buyer’s Perspective on the Pitfalls of FSBO | Redfin Boston Sweet Digs

Pam Reynolds, one of the bloggers for the new Redfin website here in Greater Boston, posted a refreshing perspective (link above) on FSBOs (For Sale By Owners). Her points are the arguments that many of us in the brokerage community try to make to sellers on a regular basis. The properties she uses as an example are in very high traffic areas and the amazing thing is 95% of the home-buying public does not know about them. In fact, one of the properties happens to be directly across the street from where I live (I even park in that building) and it wasn't until I did a specific site by site search for FSBOs that I found out about it.

To pick up where Pam left off. I have had more than a few conversations with some do-it-yourself sellers (and buyers, surprisingly) this year after they were able to put a property under agreement. With all of the new difficulties in the mortgage market and the fears about declining prices, buyers are asking for more between offer and closing. This makes navigating the path to the closing table increasingly more difficult. While we all take pride in being able to accept a challenge and tackle it individually there are numerous reasons to leave this one to the pros.

  1. As negotiations get more and more intense, there is that invaluable middle-person to take the heat for each side and leave the raw emotion of the negotiation aside. It's amazing how hurtful discussions can become when a buyer begins harshly criticizing the home that a seller has built countless memories in.
  2. When your appraiser (last I checked there were absolutely zero appraisal firms who focus exclusively in Brookline) walks into the door fresh from appraising a house in Dedham or Natick they are suddenly exposed to a polar opposite marketplace. While it might be inappropriate for the appraiser to listen to the arguments of the buyer or seller, they do work actively with the listing agent to explore the comparable market conditions.
  3. When a mortgage deadline is fast approaching, brokers can quickly use their network of lending professionals to troubleshoot the issues. Set aside the two major firms who have lending arms, the volume each brokerage firm does with the individual lenders allows us to get calls answered sooner and problems taken care of the fastest.
These are many reasons, but they only scratch the surface. I never begrudge someone who feels a desire to try to sell on their own. One of the many reasons we buy property is so we can do with it what we desire. That being said, if it was easiest to sell on your own we would see well more than 1% of the properties on the market as FSBOs.

I'm off to Broker Tours today where there happens to be a $2 million FSBO on the market! To the FSBOs out there, I'd love to invite a dialog here on your view of the process. Agents, what frustrates you about FSBOs, and buyers let's hear your experiences.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

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Not bad for the new kid in town...

William Raveis Real Estate, my brokerage, was just awarded the Banker & Tradesman Best of 2008 Gold Award for Residential Real Estate. For those unfamiliar with the company, Raveis has consistently been one of the top three offices in Connecticut for over 20 years. This year we were ranked #29 in the "Top 100" offices nationwide, and from that group one of only 17 that saw a growth in sales from 2006 to 2007.

There will be a lot more news from Raveis coming up, but for an office with only 5 years in Massachusetts, we're already the third largest office in the Commonwealth and growing. For sellers, it's important to select an office with upward mobility and recent success. When selecting a buyer's agent, it's critical to pick an agency that is showing strong market volume which indicates a current knowledge of your local market. I decided to come to Raveis a year ago from one of the "well known" national firms. I made the move for a number of reasons, the most important of which was a company-wide plan for this new market. While I've avoided commercial promotion on these pages, this is a wonderful recongnition of what has happened in the last year. Please contact me for more information.


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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

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Brookline in the Top 100



Best places to live 2008 - Brookline, MA - from MONEY Magazine


Brookline has made the annual Money Magazine list at #87 in the Top 100 places to live for 2008. Obviously you all know I like to live here, and pretty much anyone who reads this either lives here, is planning on moving here, or also sells real estate here. So, for a lot of us this should not be too surprising. For those planning on moving here, we can do a quick recap of the things that have changed since last year which may have improved Brookline's standing.

1) Complete repaving and re-design of our major commercial thoroughfare -- Beacon Street.
This has added at least a partial bike lane, new smooth streets, and barriers for easy entry and exit into angled parking spaces in the busiest shopping districts.

2) Support of a Proposition 2.5 Override.
Brookline has always matched our neighbor to the North (Cambridge) in political activism. However, many Brookline political movements are a little less radical and a little more successful. Brookline is one of the few communities that has voted to support an increase in tax to fund fire, police, public works and school programs. While it's not without significant controversy, at least we haven't cut school programs this year.

3) All of the information (found below) on the national housing downturn seems to point to us as one of the bright shining stars. Cambridge is suffering as an adjoining suburb to Boston and we're thriving in some areas and fully holding our own in others.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

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Tragic results of a down market.

I came across a news story this week about an agent who was allegedly murdered by a former client while sitting in his Michigan office. According to various reports, agent Troy VanderStelt was in his office when a former client of his walked in and asked to meet with him. The pair entered a conference room when the client allegedly pulled out a hand gun and shot Mr. VanderStelt in the side of the head. The client is claimed to have been upset about the decreased value of his home. Mr. VanderStelt was 33 years old and leaves behind a wife and four children.

We have already seen people attempt to file lawsuits against their agents after their home values decreased. As far as I know all of these claims have been dismissed by the courts thus far. At the end of the day, I cannont promise what every buyer's agent does, but I know that I make it fully clear to all of my clients that the buying decision is 100% theirs. An agent is only a consultant in the process. This is a tragic extreme example of the emotions caused by today's market pressures. We hope for the best for the family members, and keep this always in the back of our minds when interracting with consumers who, in many cases, have their entire life savings and earnings tied to their housing.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

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New Boston Globe RE Blogger

It's her first day, so I will let her off the hook. Stacey Myers, the replacement for Binya Appelbaum has posted a summary of a Money Magazine 2009 Housing Forecast which states Boston should drop 10.5% This forecast uses the Case/Schiller Index which tracks major metro markets. Of course, anyone who looks at the Boston data in the Money Magazine piece will see a startling median price of $363,000. Yup, the price of a tandem parking space in certain Boston neighborhoods.

What we learn from this, without even needing to scratch the surface in research, is the numbers are using all of Boston without consideration to the different neighborhoods. Yes, it's impossible for a national publication to break down a city by different neighborhoods, but isn't that what the Boston Globe pays its real estate writers to do? As often as I disagreed with what Binya wrote, at least he put some effort into it...

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Monday, July 07, 2008

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Pay me to put a plastic combo box on your front door.


We've all seen them, the lovely 6, 8 or 10 button combination lockboxes that many listing agents throughout the country use. Well, guess what...in Brookline they're the sign of an agent who does not work in our market. I personally don't get the lockbox thing. The premise is you hire me to sell your house (paying me 2.5%+) and I'm going to sit on my couch with my dog just allowing people to traipse through your home (and all of your possessions) unsupervised. We've studied the numbers enough to know that Open Houses are simply tools for a listing agent to meet potential future clients, so by placing a lockbox on your property I'm simply using you to market myself and when it comes time to actually sell your house, I leave it to that handy little gadget pictured above. Nothing tells you how to get to a supermarket or the best way to commute to work like those plastic little buttons. You can't beat the advice and neighborhood insight you get from an often rusted spare set of front door keys.

To you lockboxers....yes, you complain all the time about having to schedule "accompanied showings" here in Brookline. Well, guess what?!?! My job is to be there when you want to see the house. When you drive in from Wellesely, Somerville, Natick....or you work for dial-an-agent.com realty I can promise you that you have not immersed yourself in the neighborhood to know what has recently sold, what has failed to sell, and WHY your buyer should (or should not) buy in this neighborhood. We hear over and over and over again that "real estate is local." I've got pages and pages of stats on this blog that prove that. So, if it's so local and you're driving in from Metro-West, shouldn't you expect a local expert there to help give you the information needed to answer the important questions on the spot?

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

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More cars, fewer parking spaces in Coolidge Corner.

I took Tessie for a walk last night and noticed that my old parking lot off of Centre Street has suddenly doubled their number of Zip Car spots to start the month. This is right on the heels of a feature on NBC Nightly News about the increased usage around the country.


While I support a greater reliance on "shared" transportation, I know this particular parking lot was a vital resource for those of us who do not own or have assigned rights to parking spots. This is likely to increase prices for parking spots in an already high-demand area.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

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World Series Trophy and Links

The World Series Trophy will be in Brookline tomorrow (Thursday the 26th).


In the news this week Mass housing prices have fallen 8.6% from last year, but Brookline's numbers are doing very well.

I was quoted in the cover story from the Homes section in The Boston Globe on Sunday. In essence, the question was whether or not an expensive garden would impact a sales price. My extended opinion is while it might not directly impact a sale price for a house it would help differentiate a house from competition in a crowded marketplace. From there, that might save the seller time and money in moving onto the next phase of their life.


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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

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Appointments by Text

Increasingly I see agents offering home appointments by text message. Mainly these offers are broker to broker, but as a home buyer would you feel comfortable texting to set up an appointment? As a seller's agent I'd want to have a phone conversation with the person coming to visit to make sure they are a "qualified" buyer first, but am I the only one?


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Goings on in Brookline

Tomorrow is the start of one of my favorite Brookline events. The weekly Farmers Market is open between 1:30 and 6:00ish. While the offerings were a little sparse at the beginning last year, the market quickly filled with farm stand favorites. In addition to vegetables there is usually a great selection of baked goods, meats, cheeses and my personal favorite fresh fish brought in from the docks that morning. The best part about the fish is it can be pre-ordered up until 6 AM the morning of. Stop by and see Cyndi (the "Fish Lady") and all of the other great offerings. The market will run through the fall allowing for a great mix of in-season produce. The market is held in the Centre Street West parking lot (Centre Street at Beacon Street).


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Friday, June 13, 2008

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At what point have you asked for too much?

One thing that is coming out of this "new" market we're all experiencing is a new wave of empowerment from buyers. In so many ways this is a good thing as it's brought balance back into the housing economy. In the past so many buyers acted out of a slight fear that negotiating on a house would leave them without any housing options. As a result of this new reality we are seeing the quality of sold houses increase. All of that being said, how much "negotiating" is too much?

For example: You walk into a house and see a cracked window, an old boiler, and a kitchen that needs upgrades. As you're walking through the seller's agent identifies these "known issues" to you(in the form of a written seller's disclosure). You then make an offer on that house with your offer price taking into account what you've seen.

Is it now appropriate to ask for full repair/replacement of these items, at the seller's expense, post-inspection?

Many buyers today are absolutely asking for these things.

One thing we know when we price homes is there is a cost premium asked for (and paid) for brand new construction. So, is it appropriate for the buyer to assume that once they've made their offer on a re-sale the sellers will upgrade their property to "new construction" levels?

As a buyers agent I would always ask, but in reality I know as a sellers agent, as long as the issues have been disclosed the Home Inspection Contingency is intended only for "unknown" issues. The renegotiation done post-inspection is supposed to identify anything that both parties discovered during the inspection only.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

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The Reality Disconnect

I've been fortunate enough to do some local traveling recently and it's caused me to focus in on a fundamental hurdle the Brookline market is facing.

How many Brookline buyers are current Brookline residents?

How many Brookline sellers are staying in Brookline?

Where are our buyers coming from and where are our sellers going?

In discussing these questions with people in my office it's clear that only 10%-20% of the clients we work with are "second-time" Brookline buyers. It makes sense that someone who lives in the "average" condo in Brookline - a $475,000 two bedroom - or the "average" house - a $1.1 million 3 or 4 bedroom needs somewhere to "step-up" to. These two average properties point to some of the fundamental difficulty. How many buyers can move from the average condo to the average house? Very few, if any.

So, the difficulty buyers and sellers are having right now is the realities they live in are in a disconnect. Buyers coming into Brookline are coming from a real estate environment VERY different from what we have here. They might hear the stats from qualified and experienced agents, but they still have to go home and experience the reality of their own neighborhoods. In most cases those other realities are stagnant sales and crumbling prices. Somehow, speaking as an agent, we need to rebuild the trust in buyer agency as a highly experienced and trusted resource. Buyers also need to do their homework and find someone they can trust to work with. Yes, there are so many internet resources out there to help introduce home buyers to the property in their search area, but nothing can substitute for the experience of a well versed professional.



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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

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What were they thinking?

I wonder occasionally whether or not certain people live in a bubble (not the real estate "bubble"). A new listing came on the market in Brookline recently that was originally purchased in 2006 for more than $100,000 less than its current asking price. Now, as much as I champion the Brookline housing market, it is critical for people in this market to be realistic. There is nothing that has happened to this market over the past two years that would justify an almost 30% appreciation in price.

The frustrating element is one of my "peers" in the industry has taken on this listing and is going to present a case to the home buying consumer that this is an accurate listing price. They have also allowed the seller to think that they have an opportunity to sell their home for this much money.

I don't see the gain here on any side of the process. While I hope these sellers find a willing buyer, I don't know what data, if any, an appraiser will use to justify the mortgage amount needed to purchase this home. I know buyers out there are doing their homework, but sellers seem to generally be too willing to sign up the highest listing price they hear. The unfortunate end result in these situations is the property doesn't sell. It sits on the market for ages and the sellers finally dramatically reduce the price far below the proper selling price because of a market stigma. After that, any neighbor who has to sell their condo is negatively impacted by the artificially low selling price of the original listing. All around this is bad news, but unfortunately it happens way too often.


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Friday, June 06, 2008

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Beware of this new scam

All of us know that there are many scams out there on the internet. "I'll send you a check for $5000 and you refund me $4000," etc... Well, there is a new one that we've come across recently and it affects those of you who have property listed for sale on MLS.

Recently sellers and agents have been getting strange calls from people interested in renting their properties. The prospective renters state they saw the ad on Craigslist, drove buy the house and are calling because they saw the for sale sign. The confused seller or agent, with no intention of renting the property, comes to find out that someone has taken the photos and MLS descriptions of their sale listing and posted the property for rent on Craigslist. With the increase in "free" access to all MLS data anyone can get a number of interior pictures and pretty much any other data for a sale listing. When the renter goes to investigate they see a sign out front, so it makes perfect sense to them on the surface.

A few people have chased down these fake landlords and engaged them in a dialog about renting. The story usually goes something like "We're taking a short term job and need to quickly move out of the country, and want to keep our house for when we return." In some cases the rent is so amazingly cheap that I'm sure a ton of emails or calls come in. In one example I know of a $1,000,000+ single-family home in a Boston neighborhood that was being "rented" for $1,600. In many instances, unless a prospective renter can make contact with the actual owner or agent, it's impossible to know when this scam occurs.

So, while the rental process is hard enough, and navigating the options on Craigslist is already way too difficult, everyone must be very aware of what they are coming across. In this time of trying to do all business on your own and by email without ever using an agent or meeting anyone in person, it is critical that everyone pays attention to who they are dealing with and where their information is being distributed.



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Thursday, June 05, 2008

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A look by square footage at today's market.

I've put together a side by side analysis of what has happened to the Brookline Condo market by square footage. We always break down pricing and how much each price range has shifted, but none of us live in a price range. We all live in a condo or home that is a defined (we hope) square footage. The column on the left is 2008 year to date. The column on the right is the same period of 2007. The data source is MLSPIN. Feel free to contact me with any questions. To see the full size image, click on the text.




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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

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If you're in Brookline...

There's a lot going on in Brookline over the coming weeks. The famous farmers market will start up again soon(get the fish!) but this weekend is something you should not pass up. The Coolidge Corner Arts Festival is on Saturday and it looks like the weather will be fabulous. There is also a new Brookline Food Festival, so if you're around, I highly recommend stopping by. For more info see the TAB article here.

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Want to buy or sell? You must understand the other side.

The New York Times had a wonderful article about a week ago. I encourage everybody in and around real estate to take a look at it. Essentially it is a fictional dialog, in letter form, between a buyer and a seller. The Times consulted with the National Association of Realtors for the information in the "seller's letter" and consulted the National Association of Buyer Agents for the "buyer's letter." The article can be found here, but you might need to register on the site before getting access to it.

It's a wonderful article and I really believe that all parties to a real estate transaction (agents and attorneys as well) would benefit from the reality check reading it brings. Buyers and sellers both have their emotional reasons for entering the "fray" these days. Sellers have invested an incredible amount of money, effort and emotion into their homes. Buyers are desperate to improve their quality of life by finding a new home which will provide them a platform for memories for years to come. This emotion frequently gets the best of us. We start acting irrationally. For us to be successful in our real estate endeavors it is critical for us to keep an eye on the what and why of our actions.

As a buyer, what do you wish you could tell sellers today? As a seller, what would you like to say to buyers?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

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Can I buy without my Buyer's Agent?

The following question gets posed very frequently:

"Can I buy a home I saw without using the agent who showed it to me?"

The answer is (consult an attorney in specific cases) you are free to buy a place you want, but that agent very likely has a right to the "co-broke" commission either way.

So, my question is: What do buyers gain by not having their own representation?

Why is it that buyers frequently decide to go it alone? I've heard all of the snippy "the agent is only in it for the maximum commission dollar" arguments, but let's get serious here. What is there to gain by not having any representation? I'm asking here, not stating opinion. I think many "experienced" agents who gained their experience before Buyer Agency really came into its own are still adapting to it and I want to hear from you where you think agents aren't serving the buyer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

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Where was everyone a month ago?

So, the Globe is making a big deal about something that I first found reported on April 17. Just to repeat, John Henry was granted permission to tear down the house he purchased from current L.A. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.

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Wall Street Journal - MUST READ

Where Home Prices Are Holding Up - WSJ.com

Nearby communities are a mixed bag. Condos in suburban Brookline, one of the most desirable Zip Codes -- 02445 -- are down about 8%, while neighboring 02446 is up nearly 7%, for example. Among city neighborhoods, Dorchester is down across the board by as much as 25%, yet Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury are each up between 7% and 9%.
This is a wonderful article (link above) that might send people off on a "look how great things are" streak. HOWEVER, we absolutely must first dig deep into the numbers.

Why is 02446 up 7%? How is it different than 02445? Why is Brookline doing better than Boston?

1) 02446 is "up" because it has a larger diversity of housing supply. The median and average prices are only a sign of what has sold. We can extrapolate what has not sold from here. The "low end" property, for this discussion I will classify that as a condo below $450,000, in 02446 (North Brookline including Coolidge Corner) is not selling. When you remove sales from those price points, more expensive property is selling which moves the average, but the average is not indicating how comparable listings are being affected.

2) 02445 is down because it has more "upper end" property. The condos tend to be larger and have less turnover. There is a larger concentration of single family homes, and I would say this neighborhood is a more "standard" representation of the global marketplace. It is rare to find a $300,000 condo in 02445 because those neighborhoods are not as immediately accessible to public transportation (Washington Square and Brookline Village excluded).

3) Brookline is doing "better" than Boston for a number of reasons. We've frequently run through them here, but tops is the relative suburban nature of the town combined with the immediate proximity to Boston. Just as critical is the immense strength and performance of the Brookline school system. Finally, as has been seen across the board, those with significant "buying power" are not being hurt by new mortgage regulations and the "credit crunch" as much as the youngest professionals or those on a fixed income.

If you would like a more concise break-down of these numbers as they apply to a specific situation, please contact me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

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Who would you rather have?

I was in a doctor's office a little while ago discussing a surgical procedure and my physician suggested I speak to one of his younger colleagues about any new surgical options. The premise was that the younger physician was closest to Med School and the emerging trends and technologies. So, how does this apply to real estate? I'm not going to pretend for a second that buying or selling a home is as risky or complex as surgery, but it does cost a whole lot more money and the money alone carries a big risk if the process is mishandled. So, who would you rather have?

Agent A: Has been in the market for 25 years and has a wonderful network of customers and clients, but does not participate in online marketing of homes or use the latest technology tools to expose a listing to the consumer population or search the detailed online records for their buying clients.

or

Agent B: Has been in the business 3-5 years but has an innate understanding of the technology trends, has the tools to be constantly accessible and can answer any number of questions on the spot with the help of the latest marketplace resources. This agent also uses e-marketing and social networking to help "virally" market your home.

Who would you rather work with, and does it change if you're buying rather than selling?

Friday, May 09, 2008

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You've had your Inspection, now what?!?!?

So, I've returned from a week away visiting family and friends and I have sitting on my desk a postcard advertising a "Home Inspection Response" Program. This is actually a great resource. So many times we as sellers or selling agents get a punch-list of items the buyers want repaired or replaced prior to closing. Each little item needs a different contractor to come in and fix one minor little thing here and there. The problem is, getting the busy contractors to block the time to come do a job that most likely won't be that profitable for them. I've always felt the need for someone to fill this niche and now it looks like one company is doing so.

What this means for sellers is they should be able to negotiate a little harder on inspection issues. In the past the negotiation would include money in increments of $500. For example, when I bought my place two windows needed to be repaired, and we knew a window contractor would never come in for such a small job. We requested $500 at closing and we're still living almost 2 full years later with the broken windows.

More recently, sellers of mine needed an electrical outlet fixed. Buyers had requested a similar credit, but we were thankfully able to find someone to come in for about 10% of the cost the buyers had requested. When you consider the money that quickly adds up at a closing table, being able to save $500-$1000 here and there is a huge benefit.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

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Brookline TAB Guide to the Override

Your guide to the Brookline override - Brookline, MA - Brookline TAB

Neal Simpson over at the TAB put together this wonderful article (link above) in advance of this Tuesday's vote. Please please PLEASE take a second to think about these issues. I hope that because of this pending override question voter turnout will actually rise above 10% in Brookline. We also have three candidates for two Board of Selectmen seats, so there are many issues that deserve our attention.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

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The Issues that Get Overlooked

Many times we talk about how the prices of our homes are rising or falling but what are the big things that affect our daily cash output? Food is getting more expensive because of the gas it takes to deliver the food to the markets. Wheat costs are up and hurting bakeries. Some small businesses in Coolidge Corner have closed recently because commercial leases are going up. This is all bad news, but yet we tend to focus more on the "value" of our home. There are only three times where the "value" means anything to us. First, when we buy, second when we try to use the equity for something, and third when we sell. Yet, in Brookline we're looking at a big vote in 6 days which will determine how much our property tax can be raised.

As we evaluate a purchase price for a condo we need to look at the payments which are due monthly. First, we all know about the mortgage payment, but what is in it? There's the obvious principle and interest payment (unless you are Interest Only). There is also the required property tax payment which most mortgage companies pay directly. Some people still have mortgage insurance they owe because of small down payments at the time of purchase. Last but not least is the condo fee. Normally these condo fees include heat, hot water, master insurance payments, exterior maintenance and landscaping (snow removal) and some sort of rubbish removal fee. Some condos have individually metered heating systems and the condo fees are significantly reduced in these cases. That being said, Brookline has a lot of older buildings. My Coolidge Corner condo building was built in the 1890s. We have one oil tank and one boiler and we pay the association for usage. Well, oil prices are up (even though they've dropped in the last 48 hours) and this is starting to seriously impact the budgeting for all condo associations with shared heating systems. I would expect we can start to see condo fees increase over the next year with oil being quoted at $3.50 a gallon these days. Many places who budgeted from last year's consumption budgeted under $2.50 a gallon and you can quickly see where the budgets get hurt. This bears watching. It is important to work with your Buyer's Agent to do a thorough review of all condo documents and budget items, because the condo fee is a very large chunk of a home owner's monthly cash output.

Monday, April 28, 2008

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Telling you what you already knew.

"The overall pattern returns me to my musings last month about the possibility that towns closer to Boston are becoming more desirable than towns even one step further from the city. Most striking to me is that prices in Boston proper actually rose last month, for single-family homes and condominiums. Basically, Boston and its closest suburbs are chugging along, while almost everything outside that tight cluster looks pink around the gills. "
-- Binyamin Appelbaum, Boston Globe Real Estate Now Blog.

Now that we're fully talking about 1990/1991 in comparison to the current state of the Mass housing market, it is important to look back to the very basic needs and make buying decisions off of them. Brookline has historically grown even through these downturns. We have many reasons why Brookline is always a top performer. We see the current stats, yet we still hear in our minds that things should be crashing through the floor. We are in a good place here in Brookline, and we should be tremendously thankful for that. Property is still going under agreement just as fast, if not faster, than it is coming on. Remember, real estate was always about "location, location, location" and I cannot think of any better location than here. In our times of high gas prices and collapsing housing prices we have a town where you can walk most places you need to go and our housing prices are strong. What could be better?

Friday, April 25, 2008

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Finding an Apartment to Rent is Hard...

I've been trying to help a family member find a rental apartment in Boston, Brookline and Allston/Brighton for the past week or so. We've only got Saturday and Sunday to go look and we've been trying to email and call craigslist advertisers to see the apartments they've got posted. Nobody will call us back. Then, I called a company that has a couple of hundred buildings and whose name is plastered all over The Fenway and nobody there will call us back. The vast majority of rental listing agents in Boston (not Brookline) just throw listings against the proverbial Craigslist wall and then just sit and wait. They don't put any pictures up, many of the descriptions aren't descriptive. You can never find an address, and there's no easy way to contact anyone. I even tried to contact that big company with all of the listings to see if I could represent my family member as an agent and they would not let me. Either way I'm going to negotiate against them as hard as possible and the rental commission would be peanuts to begin with, but why can't a consumer be represented in the rental process?

Back when my wife and I were looking at apartments we were moving up from the Baltimore region and we placed calls two weeks in advance to set up appointments. We booked flights and made hotel reservations, showed up in Boston and thankfully I called ahead the morning of to reconfirm our appointments because not a single one of the agents we set meetings with remembered us calling. This led to scrambling to show us whatever building they hoped they could get access to, etc... The most amusing was an agent whose name I remember to this day because of her absolute ineptitude. She forgot our appointment, then had this "amazing and wonderful" building to take us to that was perfect for our needs. We took the T out to Coolidge Corner (from Newbury St.) and she didn't have a T token for herself. We got off the T and she had no idea where the building was. Not having a phone with her she needed to borrow my wife's phone TWICE to get directions to this place that she was so excited to show us. When we finally got there it was nowhere close to what we were looking for and it was a fully staffed high-rise building that had its own rental department. Needless to say, I never spoke to that agent again and we didn't even return to Boston with her. I don't quite know how she paid for the T on the way back in, or if she even was able to find it.

If anyone has a good, reliable rental agent for the Back Bay/Fenway area, please let me know! There are some wonderful rental agents in Brookline, and they are restoring my faith, but who knows if we'll ever get to see anything in Boston.

Friday, April 18, 2008

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Would you watch?

So, I've been thinking about the reach the Globe has on real estate news topics. What is the easiest way to take the news and shape it into useful information for our "local" market? What is our "local" market? My brokerage has done a great job of contracting someone to compile "Local Housing Data" graphs and charts (link on the right). I try to talk about Brookline-only topics on these pages. Although, when I look back to my own home search two years ago my wife and I looked in the South End, Back Bay, Cambridge and the Symphony neighborhood. So, is that our "local" market? I'll discuss this later....

Back to my point, if there was a tv show about "local" real estate topics, would you tune in? What would you want on it? Where would you like the focus to be? I've thought for a few months now about having round-table discussions. I do not want to have "seminars" because I think they never really hit the right market. You are speaking over the heads of some of the guests or way below the level of others and at the end of the day many people don't feel like coming back. What if there was a forum with a banker, a broker and an active buyer/seller? Maybe bring in some guest speakers to talk about short-sales, etc...? Would you come? Would having it on TV work better? Please, let me know what you think by clicking here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

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Longwood Towers in Foreclosure

Lender to auction Brookline project - The Boston Globe

As the link above explains, the lender for the developers at Longwood Towers (20 Chapel St.) have begun foreclosure proceedings. What this normally means is an auction will be held for the remaining units. As far as I can tell the sell-out has not even approached 50% of the units originally listed in MLS.

Having worked on a large-scale sale of condos in one building before I can tell you that the process is very difficult. The biggest danger you have is people forgetting that you exist. With the prevalence of information out there buyers and their agents are bombarded daily with "what's new" in the real estate market. With that much volume in the market the condos which have been on the market for hundreds of days never get looked at.

I must take issue with the assumption that this project has fallen victim to the "market conditions." It is this segment of the marketplace that is actually one of the bright shining stars these days. So, what did happen?

1) From the start it was going to be very difficult to find almost 300 buyers who would be willing to spend close to $700 per square foot for small units.

2) If the developer wanted to ask those prices and establish that value they were going to need to be significantly closer to downtown.

3) Remember the location...there is NOTHING close to (and I mean simple walk a la the Mandarin Oriental or The Ritz Towers downtown) the intersection of Longwood Ave. and Chapel Street.

4) This location is perfect for medical professionals. The busy younger ones who have no time to eat or sleep, let alone find transportation into JP/Allston/Brighton/Washington Square at crazy hours of the day. How many of those people can qualify for a $600,000+ mortgage?

5) Poor marketing. If you look at the photos on MLS they tend to feature a dungeon-like lobby shot and a grainy exterior photo. This is a luxury property. There should be videos of the amenities, massive testimonials about the location, wonderful buy-in incentives, pictures and floorplans galore, etc...

6) Too many options. In just one listing I opened up I see "price includes selected upgrades" and "Valet Fee $135/mo" and "Complimentary Valet Parking." Ok, so I understand that each new owner would get to select some upgrades, but quite frankly the presentations tend to come off like a bait-and-switch routine in the minds of many consumers. Also, the "complimentary" parking is for visitors to the sales office, but just because I know that from experience does not mean it makes sense to the consumer at home on a Sunday morning.

7) CRAZY high condo fees. Honestly, I live in a 1300 sq. ft. 2 bed/2 bath in the middle of Coolidge Corner and my MORTGAGE is the same as some of these condo fees.

This is sad for the many people who paid what they were expecting to be "market price" for the early units. They will have to hold onto their condos for quite some time to see the return in investment. This building never fully made sense in my mind the way it was being presented to the public. The one thing the Brookline condo market has taught us is a building in that location should be fabulously successful. There is an incredible demand for housing at that location. The developers fancied some high-end luxury masterpiece, and I'm sorry but that location is not the proper spot for their dream.

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Actually Bringing Down the House

A quick note courtesy of On Brookline. It seems as if John Henry's demolition request has been approved and he will be able to start building the house he envisioned when he set purchase price records last year by buying the house owned by current L.A. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.

Monday, April 14, 2008

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AP poll: More avoid buying homes.

AP poll: More avoid buying homes - Boston.com

In the article from the link above we are seeing that the general public is responding to the media stories about the "downturn." We all know that the most basic economic principle is supply and demand. So, how does this consumer sentiment apply to the Brookline housing market?

We need to first look at one of the major elements of the "boom" of the past 3-5 years. While we know single family home sales have always remained strong and will continue to drive the Brookline housing market to newer heights, condominiums are the "bread and butter" of our market. Most Brookline residents cannot afford to live in the "average" $1.3 million dollar home. It is why we see almost ten times more condos sold in Brookline each year. So, the real estate "volume" is tied up in the condo market here in Brookline. One thing that has changed since 2003 is many multi family homes that used to be rental apartments were purchased by budding "developers" who converted the apartments into condominiums. To be clear, an apartment is a unit in a building but a condo is a deeded living space within an association. So, for the five years that saw incredible growth in the housing market, these apartments started disappearing from the marketplace. Then, in 2004 three very large buildings that traditionally were rental apartment buildings converted to condominiums. First was the conversion of both 1450-1454 Beacon Street (The Warwick) and that was soon followed by 1600 Beacon Street (Washington on the Square). Later in 2004 20 Chapel Street (Longwood Towers) was also converted, removing in total more than 1000 rental apartments from the Brookline market. This sent rental supply plummeting and left renters with little choice but to use a very easy path to mortgages to buy these units as condos.

These events caused rents to increase (supply and demand) and actually most likely contributed to 2006 having a slightly weaker pricing in condo sales. Then, as we moved into the "bubble" talk of mid-2007 we saw many potential buyers start to investigate renting again. As the AP story indicates, many people see this as the "better" path in this market. The problem in Brookline is the rental inventory is still pretty dry. We cannot build any more rental apartments, so where are these renters going to go? All of a sudden the mortgage market isn't allowing the traditional "first time home buyer" to obtain financing as they could two years ago and now rents for a 2 bed apartment are hovering around $2000 a month (in many cases without parking). Enter what looks to be a brilliant stroke by big developers in The Fenway. These new buildings (Trilogy, etc...) might be where all of these people who bought the sub-$400,000 condos in Brookline in the past are going to move to.

This is something worth watching because as a result of the lending environment of the past these traditionally more "transient" homeowners will have less equity in their homes (if any) and will need to sell in the next year or two. Suddenly these homeowners might find themselves being landlords because they cannot afford to sell. The good news for them is if they can manage holding their property and renting it out, there still should be strong rental demand, but these new mega-buildings along Boylston St near Fenway Park will soften that market a little (all shiny and new). As I've been saying all along, the "core" of the Brookline homeowners should weather this market adjustment just fine. Those with 20%+ equity and strong buying power will not notice much of a change. It is this sub-$400,000 market that will most mirror what we're hearing from the rest of the country.

Monday, April 07, 2008

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The St. Aidan's Override and Other Things I'm Trying to Avoid on These Pages

I know there is a lot of attention being directed to the Proposition 2.5 Override vote about one month from today. It's politically contentious enough that I am going to keep my opinions to myself on the matter. What should be noted is there is an important vote and all Brookline residents should be aware of each side of the argument. There is a "Yes for Brookline" group as well as a few dissenting opinions. The TAB is doing an admirable job (even without Jessica Scarpati) covering the story and the editorial and opinion content they are printing seems strong.

The second big issue is the now progressing redevelopment of St. Aidan's Church in North Brookline. This is a new condo complex with an affordable housing element. The neighborhood is rallying against the demolition process and I know the Town has many times over added taxpayer funds to subsidize the construction, so it will be interesting to see the final result. It's almost as if this property is Brookline's own version of the Big Dig. Normally I would worry about the damage the public relations backlash would have on the initial sell-out, but I have a new theory that I'll expand upon in another post that not many people buy a second time in Brookline because of the interesting demographic mix we have here. It's not a negative, it's just the type of person who buys in Brookline either buys very long-term or buys short term and needs a next step up that would require a 100% increase in purchase power.

Anyway, I'm going to try to stay away from St. Aidan's and Prop 2 1/2 for now unless something really compels me to jump in. I welcome any comments on either issue, because they're significant goings on in our community. To comment just click on the little text balloon icon to the upper right corner of this post.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

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Numbers Don't Lie III - First Quarter '08 Report

The first quarter of 2008 is now two days behind us. We have some very interesting numbers that speak to the unique nature of the Brookline housing market. We need to always consider the elements which drive our economy. Supply, demand, buying power and asset reliability are all factors which impact every town. The discussions about Proposition 2.5 overrides in many communities are at the forefront now, and Brookline like many other communities is trying to use the historical strength of the school system as the carrot to get the override approved. What we know for a fact is Brookline's physical location is outstanding. We know Brookline's schools are historically the best and we know that the supply of available property has come off of the previous highs to a very manageable number. So, what are those numbers?

Single Family 1st Quarter 2007:
41 sales and 175 Days on Market at a median price of $959,500

Single Family 1st Quarter 2008:
19 Sales and 105 Days on Market at a median price of $1,135,000


Obviously two numbers jump out at us:

1) There were 22 fewer sales of single family homes. In total there are 22 fewer homes on the market at the end of the quarter and 20 fewer homes currently under agreement. This is amazingly uniform across the board which means the percentages are pretty similar to last year.

2) The median price for sold property has increased $175,500 or 18%(corrected from earlier version). The properties selling are also selling more that two months faster than last year.

Condominiums 1st Quarter 2007:
123 Sales and 100 Days on Market at a median price of $415,000

Condominiums 1st Quarter 2008:
66 Sales and 117 Days on Market at a median price of $432,000


The big drop in number of sales is very interesting. That being said, there are currently 141 condos under agreement at the end of the quarter, so we should watch the sales statistics for April very closely. Again, the median price has gone up. This has seemed to come more from the slow moving "first time home buyer" price points more than an appreciation of value on all condominiums in Brookline. I am more than happy to break down specific price points for anyone who requests it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

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Best Comment Ever in a Real Estate Blog

A poster on the Globe's real estate blog just posted the following comment following 17 posts of bickering. The comment is too good not to share. Enjoy!

To the uninitiated I offer a way to translate all of the real estate blogs:
"Now is the perfect time to buy" means I am a Realtor. "Now is a terrible time to buy" means that I have been waiting for houses to come down 30% for the last 15 years. "The housing bubble is the fault of greedy brokers and bankers" means I am a liberal. "The housing bubble was caused by people borrowing more than they could afford" means that I am a conservative."The housing bubble, like all things, will pass" means I am older than 30. "We have it tougher than anyone in history" means I am younger than 30. "Houses are too expensive" means I resent not being able to live as well as my parents do now. "Everyone is leaving Mass." means that I have been thinking about going to a state where no one will recognize me working at Starbucks. "The credit crunch will end life as we know it" means my parents are refusing to pay for graduate school and I have to get a real job thus ending life as I know it. "Seller's Agents are crooks" means that I think that I could sell my house without a loss if I could just do it for free. "Buyers agents are crooks" mean that I bet that I could afford the house of my dreams if it weren't for broker's commissions. "I know what I am talking about" means that I do not know what I am talking about. If I did, why would I be wasting my time on these blogs?

Please, normal people, run for your lives. The people on these sites are sitting at their terminals with tin foil hats waiting for Hale-Bopp to take them to the planet where houses are free, real estate agents and bankers are persecuted, and guys who play video games and go to Star Trek conventions are elevated to the status of gods. The future is uncertain. It always has been. One more click ain't going to do you any good. Log off and enjoy your life.

-- Comment #18 by "Sagatious Sally"

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Is anything more volitile than the Boston Globe Real Estate Section?

The Globe's resident real estate blogger Binya Appelbaum has posted a piece that includes the map below. The blue outlined towns are showing an increase in median sales price for single family homes in the first two months of '08. The red are showing a decrease. To fit the criteria the town had to have 20 closed single family home sales. Brookline has only had 10 sales in this time period so we are left off the list. What I can tell you is the median price this year is $1,548,760. The median price from last year was $1,405,937. This is an increase of 10%. Binya, circle us in blue!



Wednesday, March 26, 2008

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View from the trenches

In the past 3 weekends my colleagues and I have introduced three properties in "popular" neighborhoods that all received multiple offers. In each case none of the initial offers, despite the buyers being aware of the competitive bidding situation, reached the asking price. What was seen by all three sellers, with three very different homes, is that buyers are very cautiously submitting offers on property even in what had been considered "A+" locations. In the end two of the three properties went under agreement, and I'm sure the third isn't far behind, but I'm not sure if any of the three very popular listings will sell for full asking price. The other observation shared by all three listing agents is the drawn-out nature of the multi-offer negotiating process. In the past buyers saw the competition and one or two made a push to win the property. I think all parties would agree that in these cases the buyers gingerly approached the negotiating rounds and at no point was anyone truly forcing the issue and taking control of the negotiations. At the end of the day the signs are somewhat conflicting. Sellers who have a strong product to offer will still find a significant number of interested and qualified buyers. Those buyers will still make offers, but the speed and strength of those offers has been greatly reduced.

Finally, these three properties all had very strong initial open houses. In the case of two of the properties they were introduced to the marketplace on Easter Weekend, had no print advertising driving traffic to the door, and still drew an extremely high number of open house guests. If I were the Boston Globe I would start to worry that sellers are going to stop pushing for their house to be listed in the Sunday print edition, because agents have been saying for years now that the print media does not aid the selling process at all. I would much rather take the significant money spent on Globe advertising and create content-rich websites and e-marketing campaigns. At the end of the day, the sellers usually want to be in the Globe no matter what, so we're there, but this process would be significantly less costly without print media.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

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Format Changes

So, I've completed (I hope) some format changes for the blog. I would love to hear thoughts about the new look or any suggestions for future content add-ons or topic ideas. Please feel free to post any comments or questions below. Thanks!

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Presidential Candidates Thoughts on Housing Market

McCain offers tough love on housing woes - Boston.com

In this Boston.com article (link above) Republican Nominee Sen. John McCain speaks to the responsibility lenders and borrowers have when participating in the housing market. Many times housing industry insiders talk about the benefits of home ownership and lenders advertise the wonderful "opportunities" out there for consumers. Nobody seems to want to stand up and remind people that any time you borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars there is a promise that you will pay back not only every penny of that borrowed amount but also every penny of the interest needed to borrow that sum of money.

I have to say that it seems like all sides of this discussion seem to follow "traditional party lines." The one possible exception is Sen. McCain seems to be taking a pretty strong conservative line in this article. It will interesting to see how far we have to let things "self-correct." The President and many Republicans are subscribing to the belief that the free market will continue to balance itself and any interference will only put us in danger of increased damage. The Democrats and both candidates for the nomination advocate for immediate government intervention to help stabilize the housing and mortgage markets.

One thing we've seen this week is J.P. Morgan Chase's quick move to rescue Bear Stearns is a prime example of the free marketplace moving into self-correction mode. It is in the best interest of all parties for both of these firms to remain as strong as possible. Similar efforts between Bank of America and Countrywide seemed to shore up Countrywide's position as a major future player in the marketplace. Again, both examples are extreme cases of marketplace self-correction and we hope that no major financial institutions get to this point ever again. That being said, the marketplace is showing a willingness to support itself and maybe allowing it to go, with government supervision and observation, is the way to go? Thoughts?

Monday, March 24, 2008

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Housing sales rise on biggest-ever price drop - CNN

Housing sales rise on biggest-ever price drop - Mar. 24, 2008

While we always talk about the market being local, and reasons for Brookline's market out-pacing the national market, we are finally seeing some good news nationally. While this number makes perfect historical sense (houses "sold" in January went under agreement during the holiday season when fewer buyers are out there) it is still a sign that all of the fear of October-January isn't fully playing out in the marketplace.

Friday, March 21, 2008

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They're still selling

Last week I commented on the influx of new property on the market in Brookline. The best news is we haven't seen as much come on this week and we have an incredibly high number of under agreement properties. This week we already see 14 "UAG" condos which is a very nice response to the 21 that were added to the marketplace a week ago. In addition there are 11 properties with price changes and only 9 new listings.

The low number of new listings might be a result of the Easter Holiday weekend, but the high number of under agreements in a week that started with so much financial unrest is an impressive number. Personally, I was involved in a six offer situation on a single property which according to the Boston Globe, shouldn't be happening in this market.

The negative media persists, as we have to assume they will. Median prices are a sign of what happened 1-3 months ago, these numbers are what's happening now.

I am off for Good Friday and Easter, but hope to have more on Monday.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

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Update on New Condos in Coolidge Corner

Last week I wrote about a new condo development being discussed for Coolidge Corner. This morning the house at the center of this development, 109 Sewall Ave., collapsed in flames which reportedly spread to the buildings next door.

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The Best Zip Codes - The Boston Globe

The Best Zip Codes - The Boston Globe

The "Real Estate Issue" of the Sunday Globe Magazine has this great chart(link above) in it today. In total 200 zip codes inside of I-495 are analyzed on growth of median single family home prices, education level of residents, charitable giving, use of public transportation, racial diversity and many other factors. What we see, in the opinion of the Globe, is Brookline zip codes are 2nd, 3rd, and 7th out of 200. Back Bay tops the list with Cambridge(above Harvard Square) and the South End sneaking in there as well.

I will have more on this tomorrow, but this piece ties in very well to a similar article written in the Wall Street Journal at the end of the week which stated that so much of the housing market today changes from zip code to zip code (neighborhood to neighborhood). It is critical to evaluate what aspects of each community would help secure the long term prospects of the money you need to buy into them and make your buying decisions from there.

Friday, March 14, 2008

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Here comes the rush.

Wow, while I haven't been officially counting, we see this week the highest number of new properties introduced to the market in a single week since last year. 21 new condos have hit the market in the last 3 days and another 4 single family homes. The condos range from a 541 sq. ft. 1 bed for $275,000 to a 3512 sq. ft. 4 bed for $1,295,000.

This should be the first full "test" of the Brookline market this season. We've always said that as long as the available housing inventory stays low the constantly regenerating demand of the Brookline market will keep things moving at a healthy rate. Twenty condos should not throw the whole balance off, but if we have another few weeks with similar supply increases we'll need to see some price adjustments to keep the "older" properties moving.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

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58 people walked in the door....

So, I keep reading the awful news about the market and how Brookline has just been lucky so far to avoid the downturn. People comment that the turn is coming and those of us in Brookline should just wait.

Well, I had 58 people walk into my open house last weekend. All of the guests seemed pretty interested in buying and they are all finding a reduced housing supply environment. I also know that compared to the first two months of 2007 my company has seen the same exact sales volume in the Newton/Brookline markets. We will see what "match week" at the hospitals brings us, but the Brookline housing stock is selling incredibly well right now.

In terms of market stats, the condominium median sales price in the first two months of the year when compared to the same period from last year has increased from $415,500 to $432,500. There are many more stats we can share, but many people always say stats are old news. The 58 people who visited my listing on Sunday tell the true story.

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New Condos near Coolidge Corner

The TAB did a short piece about a meeting that will be held tonight regarding the planned new condo development on Sewall Ave. For those who don't know the players involved, the developer is the same company that currently owns The Warwick at Coolidge Corner as well as two other multi-family lots in and around Coolidge Corner with planned condo/townhouse developments underway. While the Sewall Ave properties are getting the most press, they are the farthest away from actual work. Look for new townhouse developments, possibly by the end of the year, first.

What we do know about the developer is they've got a pretty consistent track record with their Brookline properties. From the 11 Atherton Rd development two years ago to many others, primarily excluding the Warwick because of its unique size and nature, this developer will most likely provide a building that fits in with the aesthetic styles of the neighborhood and helps maintain the overall property value of surrounding homes. I personally think Coolidge Corner could use some more housing, but I always hope that the housing we add comes with on-site parking and at a price point accessible to the many young professionals who desire to call Brookline home. This development will be a quick walk to the Longwood Medical Area and it would be a shame if that community couldn't be served by new property.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

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Buyer Beware

Note: This post is a revised version of one originally posted March 3.

In running comparable property searches with clients of mine two living area discrepancies jumped out at me.

Approx. Living Area: 700 sq. ft.
Living Area Disclosures: public record=637

and

Approx. Living Area: 1000 sq. ft.
Living Area Disclosures: Acual is 940.
These are pulled from two MLS sheets. Now when buyers search by square footage these properties come up in searches they don't belong in.

While this practice is clearly out there in the public domain all buyers must be aware of the fact that this information does not get properly circulated to the sites that have been developed to promote access to listing information. While many consumers are now aware of the fact that listing information is readily accessible on many different websites, it is critical that all buyers (and sellers) know what information is being put out there. Three years ago Massachusetts formalized "buyer agency" as a practice and built in certain protections. These include, amongst many others, to verify to the best of anyone's ability that the buyer has all of the relevant information needed to make an informed decision about purchasing a property.

While I do not in any way condone or encourage the practice exhibited above, it is out there. There are boundaries which I do not see the merit of crossing personally as a listing agent. However, as a buyers agent I would hope that this would immediately raise a red flag in my mind and would therefore put my buyers in a position in which they are armed with current, accurate and complete information to the best of my ability.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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Boston Magazine's Best Places To Live

Boston Magazine, which I think gets read maybe once a year by us all (Best of Boston issue) has their annual "The Best Places to Live" issue out. Inside they have a trifold tear out piece that details the median price, difference from last year, one year percentage change, five year percentage change and average days on market. What we learn is exactly what we already knew.

On the sidebar there are four groupings with four towns in each:
1. "Pouncers, Keepers" (Where homes are selling fastest)
2. "Slump? What slump?"(Where prices have jumped the most in one year)
3. "Onward and upward" (Where prices have increased the most in five years)
4. "Look out below!" (Where prices have fallen the most in one year)

Allston and Jamaica Plain are in the pouncers, keepers category with with 79 and 87 days on market respectively (Brookline is at 91 days for condos)

Brookline is listed in the onward and upward category with a five year price bump of 36% (single family homes), beaten only by Duxbury and Rowley. Brookline's condo market has "only" grown 20.3% in five years. This condo growth only ranks 65th in the Commonwealth, but that is more a sign of the growth of condominiums in other markets where there weren't many in the past. If everyone remembers back to 2003-2005 the number of condominium conversions was out of control. When you introduce a product to the market for the first time you will always have unbelievable swings in statistics (see Hanover and 311% increase).

Either way, this is continued evidence that 2007 was not nearly as bad as everyone attempted to make it seem.

Monday, February 25, 2008

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The Listing Price Fallacy

What exactly is a listing price? We have many conversations about prices of homes and negotiations with buyers and sellers often get contentious when discussing listing prices. Why?

We all know that a listing price is the price which sellers hope to get. In fact, the listing price is the only price that a listing agent can suggest offering without failing their fiduciary responsibilities for their client (which is the failure of "dual agency"). That being said, why is it that all properties don't sell for 100% of the listing price then?

The "price" of a house is not controllable by the seller in any way. "Price" is determined by the value association the interested buyers place on it. So what is an "asking/list price?"

The list price of a property must be seen by sellers as nothing more than a marketing tool for their property. It is the goal of every seller, with the assistance of their agent, to market the property in a way which will attract the highest concentration of potentially interested and qualified buyers. Once interested those buyers, with the assistance of their agent, will compare the relative value offered by that property to what is currently available on the market and then make the value judgment. This value judgment is a subjective analysis tied to the desires of each individual buyer. Your house might be the only one with two deeded garage parking spaces, but if you live in a one bedroom and are attracting young professionals who don't own multiple cars, the $60,000 cost of two garage parking spaces might not be worth it to the buyer. That $60,000 might get them an additional bedroom elsewhere. So, in essence, your listing price has to reflect your current competition, the perceived value of your home relative to the market and many other factors that unfortunately a seller does not have control of. The only thing the seller can control is the condition of their property. If your home is presentable and you have maintained it well you can create a competitive advantage for yourself. You cannot move your home from a busy street. You cannot knock down or replace the building next door. Unless you know someone powerful you cannot make yourself any closer to public transportation.

What does this all mean? You must take your desires as sellers with a grain of salt. We all want the highest offer possible. The way to get this is to pick a competitive listing price, not necessarily a high listing price. Competition raises prospects for everyone. The stronger you can compete in the market the better your results will be.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

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A day in the life of...

Everybody knows that if somebody got to live a day in their job they would suddenly have significantly more respect for that job and the people who do it. I happen to work in a field that fills its own section of the newspaper, gets the "most emailed" status on Boston.com on a regular basis and generates millions upon millions of dollars in advertising revenue for all sorts of people and businesses. I spent a whole sick-day (we don't actually get those) on my couch watching real estate tv shows on about seven different networks. Obviously people are interested, and many think they know what goes into the process. What gets overlooked often is that the majority of the country hasn't actually worked with a REALTOR in the last 5+ years. For some, jobs don't change much in 5 years. I can tell you right now that the way I have to do my job has changed a lot in the last 5 months. So, I'll risk boring the 30-50 people who will see this today by describing a day in the life of a REALTOR.

6:15 AM - Up with the dog and a check of the Broker Open House schedule for mid-day.

8:00 AM - Tessie goes to Doggy Day Care every Wednesday to free me up for Broker Tour and our in-office afternoon round-table training session.

8:15 AM - I can't speak for America, but I run on Dunkin'

8:45 AM - Arrive at the office for "floor time." To ensure informed people are available to answer the phone in our office we each have 1-2 three hour time slots a week in which we sit at the front desk and take "floor calls."

9:15 AM - Confirm final list for Broker Tour and make sure my listing is positioned well on the list.

9:30 AM - Prepare Sunday Globe Ad. We try to advertise 3 out of every 4 weekends in print and then distribute to all of the various sites. Our Globe ads usually generate 1 out of 8 open house guests each weekend. This is a major expense and a big answer to "where does the 5% go" question. Unfortunately Globe ads are seen more by sellers checking up on their agents and less by the buyers who might be interested in taking a look.

9:45-10:45 - Scan the major listing search sites like Craigslist, Trulia, Zillow, etc... and make sure that the listing information is accurate and up to date. While I do this I cross reference the MLS listing and the LINK (Downtown Boston MLS) listing. If I get the listing into LINK by Wednesday the open house will be featured in the weekend version of Boston Homes.

10:45-12:00 - Review of new, price changed, expired, withdrawn and under agreement property on MLS. While Thursday is a good day to add most property, the savvy agents will post on Wednesday to get a pre-Open House buzz going during broker tours. Also, since most Globe ads are due by the end of the day a lot of the price changes will go into the computer system today. I use the new information to touch base with my selling clients to use for pricing comparison. For my buyer clients I try to put in initial phone calls on listings that look like they might be potential matches. Without the benefit of going to weekend Open Houses to view available property it is critical that I know as much as possible at all times what has changed about the marketplace. The two listing presentations I've done this week would not have been possible without knowing this information off the top of my head.

12:30-2:00 - Broker Open House at my listing. This once or twice monthly opening is essential to allow brokers to not only preview the listing and hopefully mention it to their buyers, but more importantly to gain their feedback on pricing and condition. I build a list of comments that I try to convey to the seller. These comments help us make any changes in advance of the open house leaving my sellers in a good position to compete with the other listings in their range.

2:15-3:15 - Weekly office round-table discussion about market strategies and difficulties. This week we discussed methods for developing an appropriate amount of urgency on the part of buyers or sellers who might be on the fence.

3:30 - 4:30 - Returning phone calls on showing requests and feedback from my buyers' viewings of other listings over the weekend. Friday - Sunday get very busy so Wednesday and Thursday are the only prep days we get for the weekend. Tomorrow morning I'll have to produce all of my print marketing for the Open House and showings. I'll also be in a meeting of the Greater Boston Association of REALTORS Tech Committee, so this phone time is a critical element to ensuring my schedule is freed for my clients.

5:00 - 7:30 - This is the time left open most days for after-work showings. Most buyers in the initial phases of their search don't take time off from work to view property the first time. Any time they become interested in a specific property a daytime second showing will usually occur.


While every day is different in real estate, and most days are a reflection of the needs of the specific clients I am working with at the time I try to stick to this template as much as possible. In the past the prevalent attitude was less focused on the constant evaluation of active listings because listings didn't remain active that long. Today the average days on market is close to 100 and there is a constant effort needed by all parties to make sure that time frame stays as small as possible.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

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What do you Expect from a Real Estate Website?

Today I was asked to attend a vendor presentation about real estate websites in my role as Vice-Chairman of the Greater Boston Association of REALTORS Technology Committee. It got me thinking about what agents and brokerages use for websites to speak to consumers. There is a "Web 2.0" initiative going on throughout the National Association of REALTORS. The industry as a whole needs to keep up with the technology in order to stay relevant in the mind of the new generation of consumers.

So, what is it that the "new generation" wants? In the interest of full disclosure, I'm 27 years old. I believe I might fit in the "next" new generation because many people my age aren't yet buying homes. When it came time for me to have a website I invested significant capital in "branding" myself. My first website in the business was nothing special at all. It had a search tool and a mechanism for daily email updates of MLS changes. It had some stock photography and little sections for me to tell about myself. There were no blogs, widgets, ect... In fact, the mapping tool was still Yahoo! Maps which I think stopped being relevant in 1999. Now most sites have similar next-generation map search tools, don't require log-ins, and give you minute by minute updates. So, for my website I decided to tell a story about me. I no longer view myself as the gatekeeper to the property information. You will not come to me simply for property or open house information. You will hopefully come to me because I am a specialist in a very specific segment of the market. My goal is to provide you a window into who I am so you will in turn be able to feel comfortable contacting me.

My pet peeves in agent sites are things like:

Servicing: Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Boston-Allston, Boston-Back Bay, Boston-Beacon Hill, Boston-Brighton, Boston-Charlestown, Boston-Dorchester, Boston-East Boston, Boston-Hyde Park, Boston-Jamaica Plain, Boston-Mattapan, Boston-Midtown, Boston-Mission Hill, Boston-North End, Boston-Roslindale, Boston-Roxbury, Boston-South Boston, Boston-South End, Boston-The Fenway, Boston-Waterfront, Boston-West Roxbury, Brookline, Cambridge, Everett, Malden, Medford, Natick, Needham, Newton, Newton-Auburndale, Newton-Chestnut Hill, Newton-Newton Center, Newton-Newton Highlands, Newton-Newton Upper Falls, Newton-Newtonville, Newton-Nonantum, Newton-Waban, Newton-West Newton, Quincy, Quincy-North Quincy, Somerville, Waltham, Watertown
Seriously?!?! Are you "servicing" anything? The site I pulled this from has no picture on it other than a mug shot (a.k.a. an agent Headshot) and has no differentiating content. Yes, this agent is "well known and trusted" just go ahead and take their word for it. They'll tell you exactly why you should live in Allston or Everett or West Newton because that's what their little auto-generated service area message tells you.

So, consumers: What are you looking for in a real estate website? For the many agents who read me: Why have you decided to go with one type of site over another?

Monday, February 11, 2008

1

If you cannot refinance, why not recast?

With the wildly fluctuating mortgage market of late we've seen a boom in refinance applications. Rates change rapidly and the cost/benefit difference doesn't quite pay enough to jump fully into a refinance in a lot of cases for people who have bought in the last three years. One option that banks don't advertise a lot (because it actually costs them money in the long run) is the mortgage recast. In essence, if you have extra money (bonus or tax refund/rebate) and you are wary of the stock market, why not arrange to "pay down" your mortgage a little bit and then adjust your monthly payment off of the new mortgage amount.

For example:

$300,000 owed on a house - a 6% rate would have you paying roughly $1,800 a month. $1,500 of that would be interest to the bank.

Put $25,000 into a recast and the bank will adjust your principle and interest payment to $1650 a month.

You would turn your $25,000 in to a 30 year savings of $54,000. If you do this a few times over the life of the loan, or if you have a larger chunk to put down you can very quickly reduce your monthly payments.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

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Real estate nirvana - BostonHerald.com

Real estate nirvana - BostonHerald.com

Well, look who finally educated themselves about the market. I have been talking since September about how the towns that make sense to buy in will continue to appreciate at a steady rate. Evaluate which elements of your home market will cause demand to stay strong and make your decisions accordingly. One thing I will make clear is this only applies to Brookline and a small number of similar communities. When you want to live in the Greater Boston region you have many choices. 2005 saw tremendous growth in every community. 2007 and 2008 will bring us growth in those select communities which have the most to offer. Buying decisions will now be made by quality of life factors, not pricing speculation.

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Disclaimer

The views expressed on these pages are the opinion of the author and any public contributors. They do not substitute for the advice of a legal or financial professional. These opinions are not representative of any firm or business. Please always consult an attorney, financial professional or sign a contract with a Buyer Agent or Seller's Agent for specific advice.