Boston, Massachusetts Real Estate Market Analysis

What’s going to happen with Boston real estate? In the coming weeks, months, and years, is it going to go up, down, or sideways? Is it time to buy or sell?

One thing’s for sure: No one knows. No one has a crystal ball, and there are countless factors that can affect property values.

However, in this article we’ll summarize the most salient points that most economists are talking about, and discuss what we think might happen with the Boston real estate market.

Boston, MA Real Estate Market Values over the Past Ten Years

  • 2011: $400k
  • 2012: $400k (+/-0%)
  • 2013: $410k (+2%)
  • 2014: $440k (+7.5%)
  • 2015: $480k (+9%)
  • 2016: $515k (+7.5%)
  • 2017: $550k (6.7%)
  • 2018: $610k (10.9%)
  • 2019: $615k (+1%)
  • 2020: $625k (+2%)
  • 2021: $660k (+5.6%)

There’s a popular maxim that reads “the best predictor of future performance is past performance.”

When it comes to certain investment classes, this idea has been thoroughly debunked — but it largely holds true for certain areas in the real estate market. After all, the three biggest rules for real estate are location, location, location — and Boston still regularly ranks as one of the best cities to live in in the United States, and the world:

That doesn’t mean Boston will grow at the same rate as previous years. In fact, we think there’s some reason to believe that the days of fast growth are behind us — and there’s even the possibility of a looming crash.

All-Time Low Interest Rates Are Driving Up Prices — But Boston’s Growth Lags Behind the Average

To anyone even remotely involved in real estate, this shouldn’t come as a shock.

Interest rates are at decade-lows. According to Freddie Mac, one of the nation’s largest federally-backed mortgage companies, the rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage is at 2.8-3.0%. The average over the past 30 years has fluctuated anywhere from 3.5-6%.

However, the median sales price for all homes in the United States is up 14.3% year-over-year, while the picture in Boston looks a bit more bleak: only up 2.9% year-over-year. Personally, at Boston Appraisal Group, we’ve noticed a significant price decline in the downtown market, which could possibly signal an incoming crash.

Why might this be?

Great Migration Spurred by the Work-at-Home Movement

Some people have predicted that, due to the pandemic, work-at-home might just become the new normal. Two-Thirds of Massachusetts office workers said they would prefer to keep working at home even after the pandemic. With more people working at home, that might drive less business toward the city center.

After all, if you could buy a house for $200k in the suburbs 45 minutes away from Boston and the same house would cost you $800k to live in the city, if you’re working from home, it simply doesn’t make sense to shell out another $600k (unless you really want to lock in a big loan on a low interest rate).

A Lack of Migration into Big Cities

But even more importantly, while small numbers of residents might be moving out of Boston to the less-expensive suburbs, there’s another problem: more people aren’t moving in to take their place. Policy Economist Stephen D. Whitaker asked the question, “Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Cause an Urban Exodus?” in a recent research study. He tracked migration patterns using an anonymous survey that tracks Americans with a credit file (which includes 9 out of 10 Americans).

In and around the Boston area in particular, there’s a 15% change in outflow, meaning that 15% more people are moving out of Boston than they usually would, but also a 20% decrease in inflow (so 20% fewer people are moving into Boston than normal). The result? A 36% total decrease.

Many big cities, including Boston, have relied on a steady inflow of migrants to drive growth. But with lockdowns forcing many people at home and a workforce that’s gotten used to the idea of working from home, it might mean that the Boston real estate market isn’t poised for the same growth that it’s seen over the past ten years.

Conclusion: Boston, Massachusetts Real Estate Market Analysis

Over the past ten years, Boston market values have only gone up. If you bought a house in Boston in 2010, it’s increased by nearly 60% in value YTD. That’s one great investment.

But past performance is no indication of future success.

With interest rates at decade-lows, housing across the United States has been having its best year in a long time, but Boston real estate isn’t quite seeing the same level of gains, and that could be due to a number of factors.

At Boston Appraisal Group, we’ve noticed a downtrend in some of the sale prices in the downtown market, and we think it could — in part — be attributed to the overall migration patterns of the city in general: some people are moving out, but, even more importantly, fewer people are moving in, causing a 36% decrease in total migration.

Whether or not that indicates a coming crash is anyone’s guess. It’s also entirely possible that, as people become vaccinated, they start pouring back into big cities, eager to spend their savings on all of the world-class restaurants and cafes that an award-winning city like Boston has to offer.

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What has Been the Impact of COVID-19 on the Real Estate Market?

Welcome to 2020 with COVID-19, social distancing, self-imposed lockdown, and Zoom meetings. Rioting and protesting aside, I have to say that America has dealt with the lifestyle and work environment change quite well. But as life starts a trek back to a new state of normality, it will do us good to take a look at the real estate market and measure the impact of the Corona virus and how it will affect the market in the future.

COVID-19 Impact on the Mortgage Market

One of the positive results of this global pandemic is the affect it has had on the U.S. mortgage market. On March 15, the Federal Reserve lowered the prime rate to zero in response to the corona virus outbreak. This dropped 30-year mortgage rates to the floor – and we are happy to say that it stayed there. As of June 18, 2020, Freddie Mac reported in their Primary Mortgage Market Survey that 30-year fixed rate mortgages are averaging 3.13%. There are some lenders quoting rates as low as 2.75% for top-tier borrowers. This is the lowest rate in 30 years.

These low rates combined with easing of lockdown restrictions are going to drive a dramatic increase in purchase demand. In fact, activity is up over 20% from a year ago. “I think rate levels will be directly tied to the ability of the economy to recover. If it goes better than expected, rates would rise, and vice versa if things remain sluggish. Either way, the Fed is committed to keeping shorter-term rates lower for longer, and that will help to anchor longer-term rates like mortgages to some extent,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer at Mortgage News Daily.

What does this mean for borrowers?

Anyone who is in the position to purchase real estate should act now before the next corona virus wave hits. While mortgage rates may inch down a bit more, it will not be a significant shift, so there is no need to wait for rates to drop. On the other hand, if the economy recovers quicker than expected, we could see Feds bring the rates up a bit to slow demand.

COVID-19 Impact on Buyers and Sellers

These low loan rates are pushing buyers to risk virus exposure in search of better housing. This is good news for sellers who have suffered from a stagnate market during the first quarter of 2020. Compared with May of 2019, existing home sales were down 26.6%. This was the lowest level since July, 2010 and is part of a three-month decline in sales. Much of this drop can be attributed to peaks in the pandemic during March and April. The chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Lawrence Yun, predicts that “Home sales will surely rise in the upcoming months with the economy reopening, and could even surpass one-year-ago figures in the second half of the year.”

During the height of the pandemic, new home construction ground to a halt. It is hoped that this will start to soon ramp up again to meet the rising housing demand. Without additional new homes coming into the market, home prices will rise too fast and quickly exceed affordability for first-time home buyers – even with the record-low mortgage rates.

Interestingly, the first wave of the pandemic has not lasted long enough to drive down sales prices and create a buyer’s market. The spring is a relatively slow period during a standard annual real estate season. The NAR reports that median sales prices in May increased 2.3% over last year establishing a median price of $284,600.

What does this mean for buyers?

Low mortgage rates mean you can get significantly more home for a much smaller payment. Now may be a good time to go shopping for a new home – especially before the predicted fall/winter second COVID-19 wave begins.

What does this mean for sellers?

We are not expecting price reductions at this time and experts are predicting an above-active summer of activity. Listings that feature virtual tours will have greater appeal to buyers who are nervous about virus exposure. Due to the increasing demand to work from home, home offices will have increased appeal. Families will appreciate private backyards and play areas rather than close proximity to public parks.

COVID-19 Impact on Investors

There has been less of an impact on the commercial real estate sector due to COVID-19. Cushman and Wakefield summed it up well when they said that “it’s premature to draw strong inferences about the virus’s impact on property markets. The commercial real estate sector is not the stock market. It’s slower moving and the leasing fundamentals don’t swing wildly from day to day.” While we are not seeing an impact on prices, rental rates, or investor returns at this point, there are areas that an investor may want to keep on the lookout.

JLL Capital Markets has recently released their COVID-19 Global Real Estate Implications report. As can be imagined, they stated that there will continue to be a high demand for medical office space, regional manufacturing facilities and associated logistics, along with storage space for companies with lean supply chains and low inventory cover. Office space offering a more flexible layout or private offices will have increased demand. If more businesses endorse a more permanent work-at-house outsourcing solution, there could be a period of office downsizing.

In a recent addition to the Immigration Policy, the new order will restrict J-1 (short-term exchange visas), L1 and H1 Visas. A reduction in international students, the ban on skilled workers and issuance of green-cards will pose short-term risk to the demand of housing created by these people.

What does this mean for investors?

With depressingly low government bond yields, real estate continues to offer good risk-adjusted returns in spite of any COVID-19 risk. JLL advises that based on the low interest rate environment; there is a good case for additional portfolio diversification.

Medical experts are saying that COVID-19 is going to be around for longer than we would like. Dealing with it is going to create a new normal, but the real estate market will survive. In spite of the health ramifications, experts in the real estate industry predict a strong recovery and stable prices.

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This is a central topic in the lending business. Everyone involved in the process, including clients and industry professionals alike, appreciate a fast closing. Nobody likes dealing with the stress and uncertainty that arises when the transaction goes sideways (rather than forward).

Here’s a few thoughts to help keep things moving forward toward a successful closing.

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If you’re involved in the mortgage business, you may be feeling the recent industry concern regarding the fall in mortgage volume. While volume has made some small rebounds in September, the overall trend is toward a decline with a year-over-year drop in volume of 18%, and 39% for refinances.

Interestingly, according to MortgageOrb, the refinance share of the mortgage market increased to 32%, up from 29% in July. What does that say? We can only speculate that it might mean purchase mortgages may be declining in volume faster than refinance loans (contrary to the prior YoY figure) and/or the September bump in volume was enough to increase REFI marketshare.

Why has refinance volume and purchase mortgage activity declined? There’s no simpler explanation than rising interest rates and the resulting decline in demand due to rising financing costs. According to Freddie Mac, rates are anticipated to rise to over 5% by year end. Other factors include limited housing inventories and bearish investment due to the rising cost of capital and advancement in the market growth cycle.

According to CNBC, the majority of homeowners in the US have existing loans with rates below 4%. Considering this, we can hypothesize that the still limited need for refinance is even less due do the high refinance rates of the recent past that have already served/saturated the majority share of the refinancing market.

This situation is further complicated by the fact that rising rates are deterring homeowners from pursuing refinancing to take cash out or finance renovations. Borrowers are turning to second mortgages and home equity lines of credit to get the funds they need and to avoid refinancing into a higher interest rate on the full balance of their first loans.

So what does all this mean for the mortgage business and the future of REFIs? These cycles are typical and this time around, it’s not likely to be as severe due to consumer protection legislation, such as the Dodd-Frank Act, passed since the Great Recession. Additionally, many of the volatile market conditions such as the excesses in subprime lending and availability of credit aren’t present today to the extreme and detrimental degree as in the period leading up to 2007.

We’ll likely experience continuing rate increases, interspersed with brief periods of cessation where rates decrease slightly and REFI volume makes a short-term rebound. Once the economy cools in the next few years, the FED will cut interest rates and we’ll experience new growth in mortgage lending, especially refinances.

If you’d like to talk with the team and I about what’s happening with the economy and local market, please give us a call or hit the chat button to the right. Btw, that’s not a chat-bot, it’s actually us.

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What position do you want to be in when you exit your commercial real estate investments? If you put these 7 income and value boosting strategies to work, you’ll be on your way to a profitable project conclusion. The essential avenues to improve value include increasing demand, boosting income, lowering expenses, and reducing risk. The following approaches make sense in nearly any market and will improve the exit results of any commercial property investment.

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Adjusting for condition isn’t something that most appraisers love to do as it involves a significant amount of research to make an accurate estimate of the difference in value due to the condition of physical improvements.

The income approach to valuations is a relatively simple method that calculates the value of a property based on the net income it generates in the course of a year. An appraiser will use a multiplier called the capitalization rate to calculate the value. Valuations professionals like using this method whenever possible as the data regarding investor income and risk expectations is readily available by examining income and purchase price trends for a class of properties in a given market.

Often, less detail-oriented appraisers will focus too heavily on the income a property produces without giving adequate attention to the impact the property’s condition has on value, particularly in the long term. Even where a development’s income is relatively strong, savvy investors should consider how the condition of the property will influence ongoing maintenance and operational costs.

Older buildings, and those less well maintained, can suffer from a host of environmental and efficiency issues that potentially hinder the property’s exit value, contribute to liability concerns, lead to excessive energy and water expense, and limit tenant appeal, ultimately leading to losses and diminished returns.

In the case of single family residences, and those properties not intended for income generation, condition is a primary issue that appraisers must consider in the absence of financial data and comparisons. Adjustments for features are typically straight-forward using the paired sales analysis method; however, adjusting for condition requires more insight on how property condition influences appeal, functionality, and short-term/on-going repair expenses.

While a property’s value may be supported by the presence of comparables with very similar features, location, and functional utility, differences in condition can render a drastic disparity in value, especial within the minds of real estate consumers, personal and commercial alike.

The most professional and diligent appraisers and valuation firms place an emphasis on looking at the broader image when considering the property’s value. Equal weight must be given to economic, social, regulatory, and behavioral factors that influence the market value of a property. For those valuation professionals that really get into condition and understanding how the market reacts to property age, best use, and economic/functional obsolescence, they are able to deliver higher quality reports that perform more reliably in serving the sensitive needs of clients and borrowers.

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