Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Boston Real Estate on the Rise

Boston Globe Logo
  NOVEMBER 26, 2012

As residences rise, downtown builds a new vitality
By Casey Ross |  GLOBE STAFF   
Inside the darkened shell of the original Filene's store, Debra Taylor Blair glimpsed the beginning of a new life for downtown Boston.
Seated before her was an unusual crowd for this part of the city: more than 80 residential real estate brokers, all of whom had accepted the housing researcher's invitation for a tour of the Filene's site and others around the district where new housing is planned.
"It was the first time so many residential brokers have come out to take a fresh look at this area," said Blair, president of LINK, a real estate information service. "We were totally shocked by the turnout."
Promised for years, the revitalization of the city's long-struggling downtown is ­finally underway, with construction of residential towers transforming the largely commercial area into a full-blown neighborhood. The supply of housing is planned to double to more than 10,000 units in coming years, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and there is a sudden influx of retail shops and restaurants.
"There are so many deals going on, so many new people and businesses interested in downtown," said Randi Lathrop, the BRA's deputy director of community planning. "Every day I get a phone call about someone else who wants to open here."
The construction of homes is particularly important to changing the neighborhood, as it will bring around-the-clock ­activity to streets that today feel desolate after the workday ends.
Two residential towers are under construction and a third is planned at Filene's, where developers have won approval for a 625-foot apartment and condominium tower that will become a new marker on the downtown skyline.
Meanwhile, Mayor Thomas M. Menino's administration is pumping millions of
The Kensington, an apartment tower being constructed near where Chinatown meets Downtown Crossing, will feature a pool, solarium, and yoga lounge.
tax dollars into road and sidewalk repairs, new lighting, and other upgrades. Those public works complement new investments by property owners, who recently received government approval­ to form a so-called business improvement district to provide better upkeep of the neighborhood. The major performance theaters have been modernized, and new technology tenants are bringing a younger workforce to the area. The Kensington, an apartment tower being constructed near where Chinatown meets Downtown Crossing, will feature a pool, solarium, and yoga lounge.
Lisa Macalaster, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, said that downtown is finally emerging as a viable housing alternative to Boston's other neighborhoods, where a shortage of available units is pushing buyers to look elsewhere.
"This feels like the next exciting rebirth of Boston," she said during the recent tour of the area. "There's a lot of pent-up demand for housing right now."
The downtown's renaissance remains a work in progress, however. Several streets are pockmarked with empty storefronts, and the area lacks a critical mass of modern shopping options. But five years after the Big Dig reshaped nearby streets, the next wave of improvements and construction is reaching into downtown's side streets and pedestrian thoroughfares.
More than 600 housing units are under construction at the edge of what was once the Combat Zone.
Across the street from the strip club Centerfolds is the Kensington, a 381-unit apartment tower that will feature an outdoor pool, solarium, and ­yoga lounge for young, affluent renters.
A block away on Washington Street, a 15-story residential building is rising across from the Ritz Carlton Residences. The complex, known as Millennium Place, will include 256 luxury condominiums, a winetasting room, and outdoor gardens.
And soon to tower above them all is the Filene's project, on which construction is scheduled to begin next year. Its developers have won approval for what would be the tallest residential building in Boston.
Estimated to cost $620 million, the project will add up to 600 housing units as well as offices and retail stores at the base of the tower and behind the facade of original 1912 Filene's building.
Nearby, 59 Temple Place is being renovated as a 240-room boutique hotel, while Hamilton Co. is transforming an office building at 8 Winter St. into 50 mid-priced apartments. Even though construction is ongoing, 40 percent of the Winter Street units are rented.
Harold Brown, Hamilton Co.'s president, said that downtown has improved considerably since the mid-1990s, when Menino first began trying to spruce it up.
"If the downtown is seven or eight now, it was a two back then," he said.
City officials are hoping the wave of construction brings much-needed retail staples, such as a supermarket, as well as stores that don't currently operate in the area.
Among the retailers coming soon is Walgreen Co., which is opening an emporium next year at Washington and School streets with an expansive natural foods section, a sushi bar, and a hair and nail salon.
Pret A Manger , the British prepared foods chain, recently opened an outlet at Post Office Square.
The largest concentration of new retail space will be at the former site of Filene's, where at least 100,000 square feet will be added - enough for a supermarket and multiple restaurants and stores. A former Barnes & Noble bookstore is also available across the street, and the owners of Lafayette City Center are planning to convert part of the office complex into retail space.
During the recent real estate tour, several brokers said they are beginning to recommend that clients look for properties downtown. Among the options is 45 Province St. Completed in 2009, the 137-unit tower initially struggled to attract buyers; today, 70 percent of its condominium units are sold or are under agreement.
"We're finding a greater awareness of all the things going on in this part of the city," said Wayne Lopez, the building's sales director. "The downtown's live-work dynamic is really starting to catch on."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Zillow home value report

Home values and rent in the Boston area rose in October from a year earlier, according to the October Zillow Real Estate Market Reports.
Local home values rose 3.1 percent in October to $314,000. The increase was not as strong as the 4.7 percent jump for homes nationwide. Nationally, the home value index was at $155,000.
Of the nation's 30 largest metro areas covered by Zillow, only Chicago experienced monthly home value declines. Additionally, 26 of the country's largest metros experienced year-over-year value increases. Major markets where home values increased the most over the past year include Phoenix (22.3 percent), San Jose (11.4 percent), Denver (10.4 percent), San Francisco (9.5 percent) and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (8.8 percent).
In October, the Zillow Rent Index for the Boston metro area stood at $1,974, up 6.5 percent from October 2011. The year-over-year gain in the rent index put the Boston area in the top five of the country's 30 largest metros - behind only Chicago, Baltimore, Charlotte and San Francisco.
The largest metro areas in the Bay State - including Worcester, Springfield and Cape Cod - also experienced year-over-year rent price increases ranging from 3.5 percent to 8.6 percent, according to Zillow.
Year-over-year, rents nationwide were up 5.4 percent and rose on an annual basis in all but three of the largest metros surveyed.
"We've reached a milestone with one full year of monthly home value gains," Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries said in a statement. "Those dubious about the durability of the housing recovery will point to the large role that investors are playing in the recovery, or to the large number of foreclosures yet to hit the market, as factors to be wary of. But the bottom line is that homes are more affordable now than at any time in recent memory, and buyers are seizing this opportunity. We expect to see increasing numbers of potential buyers entering the market as the broader economy continues to recover and household formation picks up further. We're hopeful that negotiations over the ‘fiscal cliff' don't derail this momentum."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Please join me at my Boston office for a wonderful cause


I am once again hosting an open house with beverages and food at my office at 220-230 Commercial Street in Boston.  

December 6th from 6-8pm

Cadles to Crayons is a very important cause that means a lot to the children in need of warmth and love.  Please consider stopping by for a drink and donating some gently used or new winter clothing.

"Dear Chris, 
I want to share a story from a social worker at one of Cradles to Crayons' partner agencies that serves to remind me of the importance of our mission and the meaning of Thanksgiving. 

“Jaclyn was going to school wearing a fleece sweatshirt over layered tank tops, thin t-shirts and summer dresses in order to keep warm in 34 degree weather. Jaclyn’s mom said that she would cry while waiting for the school bus because it was so cold out. It was extremely difficult for her mom to see this, but she did not want Jaclyn to miss school because she could not afford warm clothing. At school, Jaclyn’s teachers were concerned and would search for a coat to borrow so she could safely play with her classmates outside.

I quickly placed a request with Cradles to Crayons. The package not only provided a warm winter coat, but took a heavy burden of guilt off of her mother and allowed Jaclyn to thrive at school without fear of being cold or feeling left out.”

So in this season of giving, what will you do to give thanks?  I hope you will consider a donation to help provide winter coats to local children like Jaclyn. Imagine the impact your donation can make. 

Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving,


Thursday, November 15, 2012

I have the DATA!!!!!!

Ever wonder what is selling around you?  If not, you should!  After all, our homes are one of the largest investments we will ever make.

Whether you purchased your home for $100,000 or $1,000,000 it’s a significant purchase that needs to be maintained and cared for in order to maintain its value.

With the state of the economy and housing numbers like a roller coaster I would be happy to share with you the sales data I have access to.

No matter where you live in Massachusetts, I can provide you with the most up to date and accurate sales information for you to compare to your own home. 

Simply email me where your home is located, what type of home (Single, multi, condo) with some specifics and I will send you accurate details of “Sold” homes similar to yours that have closed over the past 3-6 months.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kitchen Remodel? Good Idea?

You've decided to remodel your kitchen. Now what? Not knowing where to start, many homeowners fall into two camps. Some start by looking at appliances. Others start by collecting inspiration photos. Both are steps any homeowner can take without the commitment of hiring a professional, and sometimes a homeowner will find themselves in this stage for a year or longer. 

Once you've simmered in this phase long enough and you're ready to green-light a kitchen remodeling project, then what? Here we'll start with the first 10 steps and we'll get into the nitty-gritty details under specific steps as we move through the workbook in the coming weeks.

Step 1: Gather inspiration

This step is all about finding your style using every resource possible, including design books, idea books
 and photos, magazines and blogs. 

It can be organized and beautiful like a scrapbook or it can be a hardcopy or computer file folder stuffed with random, unorganized images. I actually prefer the latter, because I like to randomly stuff images into my folders and idea books and go back to them later on for edits.

Step 2: Explore your style

Do you like
 modern, classic, traditional, cottage — some sub-style in between? Do you want a white kitchen, a natural wood kitchen, or do you want some color? What about flooring? 

Most homeowners get overwhelmed when thinking about all these decisions at once — so don't. Who says you have to? Just add those kitchen inspiration images to your folders without thinking about why you like it, and worry over the details later. It's so much easier and more fun this way.

This is also a great time to start shopping for a
 designer or architect as well if that’s in the cards for your type of project. Some homeowners hire a professional right away to help them through the inspiration-gathering process.

How to Find Your Kitchen Style

Step 3: Research and plan

Ready to green-light that project and take the plunge? The best place to start is by formulating what's commonly referred to as a "scope of work" and figuring out your preliminary budget.

Both of these may be subject to change, so don't feel like you have only once chance at this. Budget and scope
 are intertwined and often change many times during the design process as you become more educated and able to reconcile what you want and what you can afford. As a homeowner, you're not expected to walk into this knowing what everything should cost. Remember, this is an educational process. 

How to Map Our Your Scope of Work
 | 3 Common Kitchen Budgets

Step 4: Hire a professional

Even if you're going the DIY route, unless you're building your own kitchen cabinets and doing your own electrical and plumbing, you're going to have to work with a professional at some point. It may be as brief as leaning on your salesperson to help you in selecting and ordering your appliances or cabinets, but it's something to plan on either way.

Some people start by visiting big-box stores or cabinet showrooms where they can see everything.
 Many homeowners get referrals from friends or colleagues and start by hiring an architect or designer. Still others might work on their own with a builder or contractor. This step includes so many levels that it warrants its own in-depth story to cover everything from contracts and permits, to space planning, budgets, product ordering and project management.

How to Work With a Kitchen Designer

Step 5: Schematic design

This phase includes sketches, space planning, preliminary floor plans and elevations showing the layout and cabinet sizes. You'll look at color studies and talk about finishes and fixtures such as cabinet color, flooring and tile options, color palette, backsplash and countertop materials.

At this point you may be narrowing selections down to your top three. I try to keep my clients focused more on layout and space planning, even though the temptation is to talk about what the kitchen will look like, ie. fixtures and finishes. But I find that getting caught up in the look too early can distract from the space planning phase.

Plus, you need a plan in order to figure out what materials will go where, and how many square feet you will need, and ultimately how much this will cost. Preliminary budget work can also be done at the end of this phase. I like to begin the contractor interview process early and give them a preliminary drawing packet and scope of work so we can get some ballpark construction numbers. At the same time you can be sending out drawings for estimates on finishes and fixtures.

More on Planning Your Space

Step 6: Fixture and finish specification

Final selection of finishes and fixtures is made. This usually includes:

Step 7: Work on design development and construction documents

This is the stage when you finalize the design and prepare final floor plans, elevations, details and, if applicable, mechanical and electrical drawings, lighting switch plans, and exterior elevations.

This is where your final permit set or Construction Drawings (CDs) come into play.
 It's important to have finishes and fixtures selected at this time, since this is what will be considered in the final pricing from the contractor. 

You'll submit drawings for permits. These have a lead time, so check the timing with your local village. You'll need a contractor signed up to finalize the paperwork and pick up your permits, so get ready to hire someone in the next step. I often find that we're submitting for permits around the same time or a little bit after we've placed the cabinet order, due to similar lead times.

Step 8: Get contractor estimates

On occasion, this step happens earlier in the process; it depends on the type of job. I always recommend to my clients to get at least 3 different contractor estimates. I like to do preliminary walk-through's with the contractors once the schematic designs are done so we can get some ballpark estimates and find out if we're on the right track or need to pull back some to fit the budget.

Step 9: Get ready for demo

The big day is upon us, most likely something like 4-8 weeks from when you submitted for permits. Time to get that schedule firmed up and plan on cleaning out the cabinets, putting what you don't need in storage and — if you're living in the house during construction — setting up a temporary kitchen so you don't lose your mind!

You may be moving out of your house temporarily, but most homeowners white-knuckle it and try to live in the house through construction.
 Preparation and organization can save your sanity.

Discuss the logistics ahead of time with your contractor. Will you meet once a week for updates? Will you have to be out of the house for certain tasks like demo or flooring? What about debris removal and dust? Are there any family allergy issues? What is a typical work day for the crew? Getting all this on the table beforehand can set expectations and make for a smoother ride.

Step 10: Surviving the dreaded punch list

Once construction is over, well ... almost over ... there's always this annoying little list of items that are missing, wrong, or simply forgotten about.
 A missing light switch plate, a caulk line that shrank and pulled away from the wall, paint touch ups — small things like this, and sometimes bigger things like the hood doesn't work, or there's a big scratch in the newly refinished floor. 

Sometimes the homeowner does the punch list. It can be as informal as an emailed list of items that need to be fixed or finished. I like to use a little form I put together that identifies the item to be fixed or finished, the responsible party and the date of completion. I send it to the client for review, changes and additions, and then off to the contractor.

It's inevitable that the contractor may have to make multiple visits back to the house to finish these items; prepare yourself for more than one visit and you'll be fine.The best way to approach this is with a Zen attitude. Things happen, little things get missed. It's sort of like making a list for the grocery store and
 still forgetting some key ingredient. We all do it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Advice for First-Time Buyers

Advice for First-Time Buyers

  • Pre-Qualification: Meet with a mortgage broker and find out how much you can afford to pay for a home.
  • Pre-Approval: While knowing how much you can afford is the first step, sellers will be much more receptive to potential buyers who have been pre-approved. You'll also avoid being disappointed when going after homes that are out of your price range. With Pre-Approval, the buyer actually applies for a mortgage and receives a commitment in writing from a lender. This way, assuming the home you're interested in is at or under the amount you are pre-qualified for, the seller knows immediately that you are a serious buyer for that property. Costs for pre-approval are generally nominal and lenders will usually permit you to pay them when you close your loan.
  • List of Needs & Wants: Make 2 lists. The first should include items you must have (i.e., the number of bedrooms you need for the size of your family, a one-story house if accessibility is a factor, etc.). The second list is your wishes, things you would like to have (pool, den, etc.) but that are not absolutely necessary. Realistically for first-time buyers, you probably will not get everything on your wish list, but it will keep you on track for what you are looking for.
  • Representation by a Professional: (ME) Consider hiring your own real estate agent, one who is working for you, the buyer, not the seller.
  • Focus & Organization: In a convenient location, keep handy the items that will assist you in maximizing your home search efforts. Such items may include:         
    1. One or more detailed maps with your areas of interest highlighted.         
    2. A file of the properties that your agent has shown to you, along with ads you have cut out from the newspaper.              
    3. Paper and pen, for taking notes as you search.              
    4. Instant or video camera to help refresh your memory on individual properties, especially if you are attending a series of showings.              
    5. Location: Look at a potential property as if you are the seller. Would a prospective buyer find it attractive based on school district, crime rate, proximity to positive (shopping, parks, freeway access) and negative (abandoned properties, garbage dump, source of noise) features of the area?
  • Visualize the house empty & with your decor: Are the rooms laid out to fit your needs? Is there enough light?
  • Be Objective: Instead of thinking with your heart when you find a home, think with your head. Does this home really meet your needs? There are many houses on the market, so don't make a hurried decision that you may regret later.
  • Be Thorough: A few extra dollars well spent now may save you big expenses in the long run. Don't forget such essentials as:         
    1. Include inspection & mortgage contingencies in your written offer.     
    2. Have the property inspected by a professional inspector.              
    3. Request a second walk-through to take place within 24 hours of closing.
    4. You want to check to see that no changes have been made that were not agreed on (i.e., a nice chandelier that you assumed came with the sale having been replaced by a cheap ceiling light).
  • All the above may seem rather overwhelming. That is why having a professional represent you and keep track of all the details for you is highly recommended. Please email me or call me directly to discuss any of these matters in further detail.