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      Blog :: 07-2013

      Twenty Ways To Save When You Move

      Many people often overlook obvious ways to lower the cost of hauling stuff to their new place. Some don't realize that just by following practical tips, hundreds of dollars could be saved. If you're among the millions of people pulling up stakes this year and resettling in a new place, getting your goods to a new location means digging deep into your wallet, right? Not necessarily.

      Even though it's true that moving costs could be quite expensive - especially if you're in panic or disorganized over it - overlooking easy and obvious ways to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars when relocating could cost you even more.

      And In a city like Boston, where a good number of residents are transient and are always on the move, it's prudent to keep these tips in mind whenever the urge to up and go calls. We've done some of the heavy lifting for you, assembling 20 tips that cuts some of the costs of uprooting:

      1. Avoid paying for moving boxes. You can drop a lot of dough at U-Haul buying cardboard. One good tip that we have is that every town or city today has a recycling center -- and they've got tons and tons of boxes, clean ones at that, too. Other sources of strong boxes are hospitals because medical supplies are required to be shipped in double-walled boxes; and restaurants, whose potato boxes are also very sturdy. Others also suggest grocery stores, since the boxes in which deliveries get transported in are very reliable.

      2. You've binged. Now purge. Here's the most basic way to save on moving: Don't move so much stuff. Basically, anything that you don't need, that you haven't unpacked and used yourself in more than a year is probably fair game to not make the next move with you. After all, the average full wardrobe carton weighs 75 pounds, and movers often charge partly by weight. Basically, purge, purge, purge -- that's the best way to save money.

      3. Purge efficiently. Connected to that last tip: People often have time-consuming garage sales to thin their belongings, thinking they'll make lots of money. They often don't come out ahead when considering the amount of time spent to prepare and hold a sale. Just donate the stuff to Goodwill or another charity. The stuff will be carted off and out of your hair, saving you lots of time and snagging you a tax deduction -- and that plaid couch will still live again. Plain and simply, everybody gets to benefit.

      4. Don't blow it on bubbles. Bubble wrap and other packing materials are pricey. Assuming you're going to do some of the packing yourself, pad items with bed linens, towels and clothing. Save newspapers from the recycling bin for packing material -- but be careful about what you wrap in them. Newsprint will smudge on dishes, for example. We advise using butcher paper to wrap dishes, as they're plain hence prints won't stick, and they're sturdier and much economical too.

      A note: Movers often won't insure boxes you pack yourself,  so be ready for any incidents. Pack your things tightly to avoid "accidental costs". Also, check to see if your homeowners policy covers moves and incidentals, that way you're covered whatever happens. If not, it makes all the more sense to pack your items snugly.

      5. Be your own supplier. For the things you can't wrap up with towels and newspaper, check sites such as Craigslist for people who have just moved and want to get rid of packing materials for free, or on the cheap. Whatever you do, don't rely on the mover's supply of butcher paper and heavy-duty tape -- they're usually sold at extremely inflated prices. Prepare ahead of time to avoid having to pay twice, or sometimes three times what it actually costs.

      6. Box that sculpture. Place odd-sized items in boxes to make them easier to move. Movers love to have anything in a box. It saves them time -- and time (along with distance and weight) is part of the cost equation of hiring them. It just works better in a van because of its cubular shape. Additionally, the chance of it getting damaged or lost is less when it's boxed.

      7. Keep a paper trail. Keep a record of all your moving expenses. Unbeknownst to many, if your move meets certain criteria, you can deduct the expenses from your federal income taxes. Read IRS' Publication 521, titled "Moving Expenses" - you usually have to meet three tests. Your move will meet the distance test if your new main job location is at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your old main job location was from your former home. In the end, savings is still savings, regardless of the dollar value.

      8. Let the post office help you. Got a lot of books? Consider shipping them via the U.S. Postal Service, which has a special rate for books and magazines. The Media Mail rate gets them there slowly but relatively cheaply. This is an extremely affordable option for out-of-state movers as well, as it not only saves you the cost and space on your U-haul or mover's cab, but also ensures that your media is delivered on a specified time you want it.

      9. Measure twice, cut once. Before you spend lots of money to move large pieces of furniture, measure the doorways and hallways of your new home to make sure the stuff will even fit. There's a tale floating out there of a student who lives in a one bedroom apartment in the North End who had to saw an entertainment center in half to get it under a low-hanging beam then glue it back together since he wasn't really in the position to buy a new one!

      Moral of the story: measure it first, and if it doesn't fit, evaluate your options. Maybe it's time to get a new piece or just schedule some time to dismantle it prior to your move. Either way, measuring your furniture will always be a good step towards your impending move.

      10. Be a pod person. If you don't have a lot of stuff, consider a pod. Some companies will drop off a pod or cube, then cart the loaded cube to its destination. It can save a lot of money, and if you load them yourself, obviously that saves you quite a lot more. Some report that using the pods is even cheaper than renting a truck to drive goods a few states away. And if you rent a truck or cart your stuff to the moving company's terminal and load the cube at the terminal instead of having them deliver the cube, you can save even more money.

      A comparison of two big national moving companies show that: ABC Moving Co. (obviously not the company's real name), which provides moving cubes and moving services, says two 6-by-7-by-8-foot cubes, or enough to pack up a small two-bedroom apartment, would cost $1,764, door to door, to deliver from Chicago to Boston. That's a 985-mile trip.  A very rough telephone estimate from XYZ Moving Co. quoted $2,700 to $3,000 to move a two-bedroom apartment the same distance, door to door. Estimates will vary, of course on the exact location but it clearly shows which one is a cheaper option.

      11. Move at off times. If you're moving locally, consider moving during the middle of the month. Moving companies are always busy at month's end, but when business is slower, the rare company may lower its tariffs -- but you've got to find it, say movers contacted nationwide. Locally, move-in date is usually September 1st. Try to work around that so you won't have to deal with all of the other college kids.

      Move-in Weekend Moving in Change Boston International Real Estate BostonIRE BIRE

      12. Plan ahead. If you're not organized in your move, you're going to be wasting time. And time is money. Being organized will save you money in perhaps unexpected ways. For example: You could end up paying for an extra month's (utility) service that you don't need if you don't get the service cut off in time. And if you're disorganized and hurrying, you'll pay to ship stuff that you don't necessarily use anymore. Better to set up online bill paying so you can keep tabs on things and your credit rating won't suffer from missed bills. We suggest planning your move six to eight weeks ahead of time.

      13. Beware the storage unit. Don't think storage units will save you money. Just because you're not shipping stuff -- and it's out of sight, out of mind -- doesn't mean you're not still paying. You'll likely end up paying a few hundred dollars a month to store a $200 piece of furniture. You're better off getting rid of possessions before a move.

      14. Pick your season. In Boston, moving between the months of October and May can often save you money. If you are not under a deadline to move by a certain date, you can get discounted moving rates from the van companies during this off-season period.

      15. Get money for your move. If you're relocating for a current employer, negotiate for moving costs. If it's a new employer, negotiate the move as part of the job offer. If the company won't pay for a moving van to move you, maybe it will pay for you to move yourself with a rental truck.

      16. Take things apart. Disassemble items yourself to save money. Some moving companies may charge extra to disassemble items like cribs, bunk beds, outdoor play sets and water beds.

      17. Find a good mover. Perhaps the single biggest way to save money on your move is to find a good mover. The cheapest mover often doesn't turn out to be the one with the cheapest rates. There are lots of underhanded moving companies out there, which offer tips to spot them.

      Some companies, if they're not good companies ... when they come to move you, they'll just change the price. They'll say, 'Oh, you didn't tell us there were two flights of stairs.' They'll just come up with all kinds of things to try to change the price of the move.

      We've seen cheap movers running with boxes and literally throwing them into the truck to try to save time, or banging into walls, causing damage a renter or homeowner has to pay to fix. It's mostly the little, smaller, local companies that you have the problems with. Follow these steps to find the most economical mover and get the most for your money:

      • Get an estimate. Movers have to give you an estimate in writing. You also can ask if the mover will give you a binding estimate, in advance, that guarantees the final cost. Get one if you can. But it has to be in writing, and you have to get a copy before you move.
      • Check references. Simply put, know who's handling your valuables, and if they're known for foul-ups or scams that will cost you money later. Ask your friends for recommendations. Check the Web for complaints, and search the Better Business Bureau's database. Another place for references is Move Rescue, a Web site that compiles complaints. One way to get a good mover is to ask your broker who they could recommend. For instance, we have our own list of trusted suppliers and movers who we've aligned ourselves with to give our clients the most seamless move they've ever had.

      18. Don't forget to negotiate. Regardless of whether you're negotiating with a mover or a storage unit, or hiring someone to assist you as you pack your items, negotiate your terms. Trust us, it will make a difference.

      With movers, larger companies will often just say "this is our price". But that price is more flexible than you might think. Informing them too that you're shopping around for other providers will help give them a scare - especially if you're moving a items that;s more than one bedroom in size. Though they're a large company, you're still a big fish for them, especially since moving has such a seasonal cycle.

      19. Protect the family jewels. Sometimes saving money means not losing it -- and movers sometimes lose stuff. Or break it. Get all valuable household items appraised before your move. Point out the high-value inventory to the moving company before such items are loaded onto the moving van. Take anything very small and of high value, e.g., jewelry, with you. And remember to keep the appraisal documents for such items with you in case of damage or loss during the move.

      If belongings do go missing -- of great value or not -- filing a claim for lost or damaged items may seem like a nuisance after the headache of a move. But it's your money, so pursue it. The deadline for submitting claims is usually 90 days after your move. And always keep copies of the forms.

      20. There's a final question: Should you ask your friends to help you move? Labor that costs only the price of pizza and beer is tempting. But we're weren't convinced that, after you're out of your early 20s, a big move should be entrusted to friends. For one, you're committing yourself to helping move every person who's helped you -- a real time consideration. At some point though, it's worth spending the money and not go crazy. When you're 40 and have heavy things, it's just not worth throwing your back out. Spend some money and save your sanity. along with it.

      Boston Properties Jumped Forward In June

      Though June wasn't exactly kind on the city's heat index, the first month of the summer real estate season greeted Boston with a great start. Home sales continued to spiral upwards, giving hope to home owners who are contemplating putting their properties on the market. Median prices across the state were significantly higher too, blanketing both single- and multifamily homes, as well as brand new and existing home prices. On the subject of rent, the market also seems to be upbeat - which is not surprising for this time of the year, when almost all leasing opportunities pour in as both students and professionals alike start their search for new apartment rentals for fall.

      Home Sales Up

      Single-family home sales in Massachusetts increased in June to its highest levels, a feat that hasn't been seen for any month in a span of three years. This comes as buyers are finally realizing that this is a good time to get back into the market given the rental market is very tight. The other factor that may have contributed to rising sales is higher mortgage interest rates. A 30-year fixed rate mortgage had an average interest rate of 3.35 percent on May 2, but buy the end of June, it swelled to 4.46 percent. A total of 5,591 single-family dwellings sold last month, up from 5,535 a year earlier, a 1 percent rise.This marks the best month for sales since June 2010, when there were 5,662 sales.

      Second quarter home sales totaled 13,915, a 2.2 percent increase from 13,616 in the second quarter of last year. From January through June, a total of 21,659 single-family homes have sold, compared to 21,633 during the same period a year ago, a 0.12 percent rise.

      As sales rose, so did prices. For the ninth consecutive month, year-over-year home prices increased. The median sale price of single-family homes statewide increased by nearly 9 percent to $350,000 in June, up from $321,800 one year ago. The year-to-date median sale price rose more than 12 percent to $315,000, up from $281,000 during the same period last year. Quarterly prices increased more than 10 percent to $330,000, up from $299,700 during the second quarter 2012. Prices haven't been this high since August 2007 as buyers compete for the few homes listed for sale, driving prices up with competing bids.

      Condominium sales didn't do so well in June. A total of 2,189 condos sold last month, down from 2,261 a year earlier, a 3 percent dip. But year-to-date condo sales are up almost 2 percent to 8,750 from 8,609 a year earlier.

      While condo sales slowed, the median sales price increased again in June to $320,000, up 3.2 percent from $310,000 a year earlier. Year-to-date, median condo prices reached $284,000, up more than 3 percent from $275,000 a year ago.

      Rental Trends

      Though rentals are up from a year prior, there is growing concern about the city's vacancy rate, as this year's market is much tighter than it was last year. As of July 1st, there were only roughly 3,600 vacancies throughout the Boston proper area (excluding Brookline), compared to double that number in 2012. Of the number of vacancies last year, 85% were occupied by September 1st, leaving the notion that there will not be enough apartment units to go around for this year.

      What's the most probable explanation for this, you ask? Well, increases in rent prices is one major factor. This is because tenants would rather "stay put" in their current rentals more than move to a new place since moving costs as well as increased lease terms would dampen their budgets. Tenants should be aware that though rent prices are steeper than what they were a year prior, it is also a reflection of the robust and healthy rental market in Boston - where tenant turnovers are likely to move together with demand generated by the high number of students relocating into the city.

      It's also quite positive to see that more and more, students are inclined to stay put post graduation rather than be a "transient resident" of Boston. Numbers from City Hall show that 56% of graduating college students last May had plans to  "stay in the city to seek long-term employment". This figure is up 20% from the year prior. This conversion of "transient to permanent residents" decreases the number of housing available to the younger Bostonian demograph who, in the past, have inherited rentals from individuals who have matriculated and moved out of the city.

      On the more positive side of things, this makes professionals increase their budget ranges for rentals. Historically, the median price young professionals would pay for a one bedroom unit in downtown Boston hovered to a range of $1,600-$1,800. However, this year's data shows that they are willing to secure a one bedroom rental unit in the same neighborhood for a max of $2,100, and expect to pay at least $1,800. This number signifies not only renter's willingness to increase their housing budgets, but also a healthy sign that units will be occupied by the end of the summer season.

      For more sales and rental trends, check out our previous Numbers of the Month post for June.

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          Real Estate Scams and How To Avoid Them

          We all know that the real estate market is red hot right now with investors, first-time homeowners, and property patrons flocking in to take hold of the opportunities being presented to them. Consumers are racing to outbid each other and close deals in a rate that hasn't been seen since the most 2007. But amidst the sunny outlook and the positive property movements, there are those who seek to scam it. And although consumers are now more aware of scams nowadays, it's also true that these scams have gotten more sophisticated, and there's a lot more information needed to get out there to let people know how to avoid being duped.

          During the housing bubble, scams commonly manifested among fraudulent brokers issuing predatory loans (extremely unfair loan terms) or, as home flipping reached a feverish pitch, some real estate gurus charged tens of thousands for get-rich-quick courses. When the bubble burst, many of those same swindlers set their sights on cash-strapped folks facing foreclosure.

          And even though the housing sector recovered and technology evolved, real estate scams have still not subsided. Rather, despite initiatives and measures on both the federal and state level, these scams have blossomed into more elaborate and sophisticated ploys. One of the most common ones takes the form of "loan modification" wherein clients suffer extremely higher interest rates, and to some instances even go well beyond what is legally acceptable.

          So, as scams become trickier to spot, the best way to respond is to educate the public. Though Boston isn't a hotspot for these scams, you can never be too careful, especially when you're entering a deal that's as huge as buying property, as it ties you down for life. Here's a rundown of some of the most suspicious scenarios plaguing real estate right now and some awesome tips on how to avoid them:

          RENTAL SCAMS

          Most people commence their house hunts online. The National Association of Realtors estimates that 90% of consumers turn to the internet first. Scammers take advantage of  listing data to target victims, illegally pulling online listings and re-posting them as their own, hoping to profit from the deal even without actually doing anything. This happens especially when a house hunter is willing to sign for a unit with the site unseen.

          So it's safe to say that as the rental market has boomed, so too have scams. The con person will scrape a listing, re-post on another site, and pose as the agent representing the listing. In the most obvious cases, they'll  ask for money upfront for the security deposit or their broker fee. In more covert scenarios, they may not directly ask for the cash, but request that you simply wire it to a friend to prove you have the funds. The scammer will then pose as that friend and collect the transfer.

          One of the most widespread and least detected ploys -- especially in high-density, renter-heavy cities like Boston, New York, and San Francisco -- revolves around phony application fees for credit checks. The fraudster, having actual access to a home, advertises the property with an alluringly low price tag, hosts an open house, and then collects application fees from the plethora of prospective tenants who pounce on the deal on the spot  and cough up the necessary downpayment to secure it. Those would-be renters never hear from the "agent" again or if they do, it's to be informed their "application" was denied.

          TIP: The Federal Trade Commission lists rental scam warning signs on its website. Be wary if you are told to wire money upfront, and if you are asked for fees before you've met or signed the contract; if they say they're out of the country and can't show you the place right now, or ask you to give money to a "lawyer" or "agent" on their behalf. The safest way really is to verify the brokerage the agent is working for. Make sure they are from a reputable firm, or at the least have a physical and verifiable address. Referral agents are also one's best bet against these scammers. Lastly, remember that agents and brokerage firms only get their commissions once you have actually signed the lease and have turned over checks to your future landlord or management company.

          LOAN MODIFICATION SCAMS

          With millions of Americans facing foreclosure over the past five years and another nearly 10 million still upside-down on their mortgages, scammers have preyed on the most vulnerable of these borrowers. Among the most common schemes: fake foreclosure counseling, phony loan auditing, nonexistent rejoinder agreements, bait-and-switch ploys, leaseback programs, and fraudulent "government" modification programs.

          These scams typically start with a cold call from a firm promising help in the form of a foreclosure-related service. In the case of a fake mass rejoinder lawsuit, the con man will offer the chance to join a group of distressed homeowners in a suit against a lender. He might promise the suit could result in lower mortgage payments or, better yet, freedom from foreclosure altogether, in return for upfront legal fees. Upfront fees are the red flag: while mass rejoinder suits do take place, lawyers do not typically take their cut until a legal decision has been reached by the court. It is also same to assume that fees are always incurred after service has been rendered.

          In the cases of foreclosure counseling and  loan auditing (in which documents are reviewed to make sure a lender is complying with state and local laws), the scammer promises to review your loan paperwork and offer advice in return for a fee. In the most extreme scenarios -- bait-and-switch ploys and fake leaseback deals -- you surrender the title or deed to your home, either unknowingly in the case of a bait-and-switch scheme or under the belief that you will have the opportunity to rent it out and buy it back in the future.

          Most commonly, though, scams revolve around fake ties to government housing programs like the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) or the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). In this scenario, the fraudster will claim government program partnership, collecting your information and charging fees to "modify" your loan. He may instruct you to stop making payments on your mortgage.

          And it might be easier to be taken than you think. These fake companies utilize website addresses that look somewhat official, incorporating elements of a government program name into the url or even the term"gov." According to recent complaints received by the National Housing Authority /HUD, the caller id on a phone call may even pop up with an official name like Making Home Affordable (a housing program instated by the Obama administration), with the scammer on the line pretending to work for the Treasury Department.

          The request for money may not come initially either, as owners have become increasingly aware of modification scams. It may be presented in the second, third, even fourth meeting, as a "processing fee" necessary to move forward with applications.

          The real key to circumventing this ploy: do not proceed if you are ever asked for money. Foreclosure counseling is free from agencies approved by Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It's also vital to contact your lender -- tedious and murky though that the process of modification may be -- to investigate your options. Check out the actual government sites and their approved links -- like the Loan Modification Scam Alert website -- for even more in-depth tips.

          WORKSHOP SCAMS

          Remember those seminars that promised so much return on your investment than what seemed real? Well, they're back. Get-rich-quick schemes were prevalent during the housing bubble and now that housing affordability remains near its record high, more people have renewed their interest in real estate investing. In this scenario, a self-proclaimed investment guru will host real estate educational seminars that they promote online or with infomercials or published books. You come across their pitch and sign up for an initial course that may cost little to no money. You arrive to the seminar, veiled in mystery and ambiguous tips, and the sales pitch continues. The guru promises to bestow upon you a torrent of information -- maybe even actual properties to invest in -- if you shell out tens of thousands of dollars for an advanced course that promises the opportunity to become a millionaire.

          You fork over your hard-earned cash for the advanced course and it turns out those dollar sign-inducing promises of double-digit returns and fast money are never realized. You feel taken advantage of, but here's the catch: when you enrolled in the courses you signed a release form that prevents or limits your ability to take legal action. And that's the reason many of these workshop gurus continue to operate -- despite complaints -- and make millions in the process themselves.

          This is not to say that every workshop educator is a con artist, quite the contrary. But to avoid being scammed,  do your homework and vet an investment advisor before you shell out money for a seminar. Check out the company's rating at the Better Business Bureau and see if it is affiliated with or members of credible industry associations. This will not only help identify scammers but likely yield the names of bonafide, vetted educators.

          THE FINAL WORD

          Do your homework. Take the extra steps to ensure a firm or a workshop's credibility or a property listing's authenticity, be it cross-checking different listing sites and verifying a broker or company's licenses. It's amazing what a simple Google search can yield. Review government websites for recommendations, tips or to search for complaints. And even though everything seems to be available online nowadays, it's still a good idea to ask your friends for referrals.

          If you are going to shell out money for a product or service or application fee, try not do it with cash.  A credit card allows you to track that money or put in a claim if, heaven forbid, you've been swindled. Be wary of cold calls and of course, any time upfront fees are charged, be very suspicious. As with any scam, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. When it comes to real estate, don't let your emotions get the better of you. And remember: there's no getting rich rapidly in real estate -- even for the pros.

          Avoid getting scammed and swindled. Contact a bonafide broker. Call us at (617) 505-1781 now! Our agents are not only licensed, but are also capable, trustworthy, and knowledgable.

          Reasons Why It's Still A Great Time To Buy

          After years of sluggish sales and false starts, the real estate market is on a tear this summer, with prices posting double-digit gains every consecutive month since April. In fact, prices have since increased so much so quickly in major metropolitan markets that a few experts are already crying "bubble." Yet, in all of this hubbub, the bottom line is clear: the bottom has passed.

          As most realtors in the Bay State would tell you, tight inventory and climbing prices have created a seller's market in Boston. Extreme bidding wars are erupting, and properties are closing well above asking prices - but that doesn't necessarily mean there's not opportunity out there for home buyers. And just because it would have been cheaper to buy a home six months ago, doesn't mean it's not a good time to buy one now.

          That's good news for the 68 percent of renters surveyed in March by JP Morgan Chase, who said they wanted to buy a home. However, it may be risky in today's market for home flippers looking to purchase and sell a home quickly for profit. But for those retail buyers who want to buy and live in a house for five, or 10 years to forever, here are five reasons why it's still a great idea to stay on track with that home buying binge:

          1. HOME PRICES ARE STILL RISING

          The massive gains seen over the past few months make it easy to forget that housing only bottomed out last year, hitting its lowest level in March 2012. While recent price increases aren't sustainable, there's plenty of room for home values to climb. Even with four months of improvement, prices remain about 26 percent below their 2006 peaks.

          The primary driver of price gains is constrained supply, reflecting modest homebuilder activity; dwindling foreclosures; and continued foot-dragging by potential sellers who are waiting for prices to improve even further. Though inventories continue to lag, there is still adequate supply to sustain the market. As more and more home owners realize the potential of trading in their condos and multi-family homes, listings will eventually rise after the peak of summer selling season. This is inevitable, and would then dampen the market temporarily - making for a good argument of why prices will continue to rise after that brief stint in below the line.

          2. RATES ARE LOW BY HISTORICAL STANDARDS

          Rates, currently at about 4.6 percent, have climbed a full percentage point since May - but they're still lower than they were just two years ago and far lower than their long-term average of about 8 percent. In the history of home mortgages in America, a 30-year mortgage at less than 5 percent is a gift. It's not supposed to be that way, and rates are only that low because of extraordinary monetary policy backed by robust spending and initiatives to push up the economy further.

          Most economists don't expect the recent surge to continue. The Mortgage Bankers Association predicts rates will remain close to current levels through the end of 2014 so as to sustain the fueled up home buying spree that's on going, so as to not leave development projects hanging once they turn over. This is especially true since fiscal year 2012 and 2013 are making history in terms of the number of developments and construction project being approved almost every day. The average rate of project submittal and approval has, in fact, tripled to 82% for these two years alone, meaning property turnovers are likely to happen end of 2014 and beginning of 2015.

          3. IT'S GETTING EASIER TO GET A MORTGAGE

          Lending conditions constricted considerably during the credit crunch that hit after the bubble, and lenders have been slow to open their doors to less-than-stellar borrowers. Still, there are signs they're starting to relax requirements. While lending is nowhere near the no-doc, no down-payment days of the subprime-fueled boom, the Mortgage Bankers Association's Mortgage Credit Availability Index showed that credit availability has increased slightly every month since April. Since the start of 2013, banks have loosened requirements on down payments, debt-to-income ratios, and credit scores.

          Banks may be even more willing to work with homebuyers over the next year as rising rates mean fewer applications from refinancers that have dominated their business in recent years. A lot of banks were at capacity dealing with the refinancers, which are easier loans to process. Now they'll have availability to work with other borrowers.

          4. BUYING IS STILL CHEAPER THAN RENTING

          Even with the recent increase in prices and rates, it's still cheaper to buy than to rent in all 100 of the largest real estate markets, even in a rental-heavy market such as Boston. Nationally, it's 37 percent cheaper to buy than to rent, assuming the buyer stays in the home for at least seven years. In Boston, it's cheaper to buy after only five years of renting since the return on their investment is extreme profitable (if the home owner so chooses to use it as an income-generating property). In fact, rates would have to more than double to over 10 percent for markets to tilt in favor of renting in 78 of the largest 100 real estate markets including Boston.

          Typical monthly rent in the 100 largest metro areas is $1,100, and it's not expected to get any cheaper. The National Association of Realtors expects them to rise 4.5 percent this year and next. In Boston, average rental rate for 2013 is pegged at $1,350 however that could easily double or triple, depending on the neighborhood. Historically, rent increases at an annual average rate of 5-10%.

          5. YOU WON'T HAVE TO COMPETE WITH INVESTORS

          Agents and homebuyers have complained in recent years that it's tough for retail buyers to compete in the hottest markets, since an influx of investors were able to snap up thousands of properties at deep discounts by promising fast, all-cash deals. Recent price increases make such buys less appealing.

          The distressed sales that brought investors to the table are diminishing as the number of foreclosures in the works finally wanes. In May, there were one million homes in some stage of foreclosure, a 29 percent decline from the previous year.

          Investors are recalculating their numbers, because it might make less sense for them to buy in order to flip or rent now. That's an opportunity for primary owner-buyers who have less competition and still a historically favorable environment, even if affordability is weaker.

          Still need for convincing? Call us now to set-up a risk-free consultation and find out how you can find that perfect piece of property. Call (617) 505-1781!

          Projects Pouring In On Boston

          As inventory housing is quickly rising in most major metropolitan cities save for Boston, the city is up in arms in building more housing units to host the growing number of students, professionals, locals, as well as internationals relocating to the hub. Early this year, Gov. Deval Patrick, together with Mayor Menino signed a monumental memorandum supporting the construction of more than 20,000 housing units that will be added to the city by 2016.

          Nationally, the housing inventories grew an average of 4.3 in June to 1.9 million units, reaching its highest level in the year. Industry practitioners are stunned by this "unusual" growth in inventory, taking into consideration that it is a nationwide number. Some suggest that inventories are booming in smaller cities, where developers have started constructing projects since 2011, projecting the real estate recovery then that is being experienced now. Rising home sales fueled this speculation early in 2012, and builders responded accordingly.

          Locally, Boston is lagging behind. Inventory levels for June remained flat and far away from last year's crop. Specifically, Metro Boston's inventory is down 35% from the same period last year. This phenomena however, is not isolated to Beantown as other key metro areas in the country are in the same spot - Seattle and San Francisco is also down 23% and 21%,respectively.

          But all of this inventory news shouldn't get you down, as developers are coming to the rescue. Just yesterday, the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved six massive projects that will, in total, add 1,100 mostly-market rate housing units to the city and its surrounding suburbs. With only a small amount of affordable housing being made available, these units are projected to rise within the next year. These recently-approved developments include:

          The Residences at 399 Congress St.

          A 22-storey tower with a total of 414 mid- to luxury apartments, with floor plan configurations ranging from one- to three-bedrooms, and 63 affordable apartments and 60 market-rate "innovation" units that are poised to be fantastically furnished yet optimal and efficient.

          Point at Brookline Avenue

          With 320 units masterfully planned and professionally decorated, these apartments will definitely cater more to the medical community surrounding the area. Currently, Brookline has inventories that are way below the past two years' levels. This is due to the fact that a lot of Bostonians are relocating to this convenient and accessible suburb. Planned layouts include one- to three-bedroom units.

          University Place Residences, Columbia Point, South Boston

          Located on a triangular plot between 140-150 Mt. Vernon Street, this sprawling 7-storey residential and retail complex will have 184 units in total, including 24 affordable units. This development will respond to not only to city dwellers, but also campus kids from UMass who are looking for an alternative to student housing. With retail establishments on the ground floor, it is poised to liven up  and further gentrify the surrounding neighborhood of Columbia Point.

          Boston East, Border Street, East Boston

          Not to be outdone, East Boston also has some contribution to the city's transformation. With already multiple projects set to be turned over this year, the addition of this 196-unit complex in the area will definitely add to the ever-changing skyline of the "city east of the city". Featuring one- and two-bedroom unit floor plans, the developers are targeting the growing demand for new housing in the area, as more and more Easties enter the job market.

          75 Armory Street, Jamaica Plain

          The hotly-anticipated development and gentrification of Jackson Square is surely on the rise with the opening of mixed-use retail and residential 225 Centre. Phase 2 however, particularly with the ground breaking of 75 Armory, only seems to solidify the fact that growth is coming towards south of the city. With 164 units including 39 affordable apartments, this mostly two- and three-bedroom lateral development (townhouse-style) will eventually transform and add diversity to the community of Jackson Square in Jamaica Plain.

          Parcel 9, Roxbury

          Originally only to be used as a luxury hotel development, the property owners will be including fifty (50) mid- to high-end units to this much-anticipated project, also south of the city. With a 145-room hotel attached to residences, it also aims to make use of 12,600 square feet of ground-floor retail and community space.

          UPDATED: JULY 23, 2013

          40 Trinity Place, Back Bay

          The John Hancock Tower will soon have a new neighbor that's poised to overtake its gleaming glass windows. To be dubbed 40 Trinity Place, the mammoth building will rise 33 stories above ground and is planned to feature a hotel, luxury condo units, three restaurants and a roof terrace on one of its top floors. Particularly, the proposed $255 million project will have 227 luxury hotel rooms, 115 condominium units on the top 12 floors, and a two-story "sky lobby" on the 18th and 19th floors, including a stunning restaurant and lounge bar with open-deck layout. The building will be modernly designed to rival its neighboring skyscrapers. Originally proposed for the Boston Common Hotel and Conference Center, the 400-foot glass and concrete tower is expected to break ground late in the year.

          However, if you're a buyer who can't wait for these developments to turnover and deliver, then make sure that you have your realtor be diligent in their efforts to stay on top of the market as properties become available, because if the current trend continues, those properties won't remain available for very long. We can help you with that. Call us now at (617) 505-1781 for a free no-risk consult.

          Best City for Backyard BBQ and Millennials

          Memorial Day, and in some states, July of 4th weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer, and the start of grilling season. Across the nation people will dust off their grill and invite their neighbors over for a good old-fashioned backyard barbecue. While many cities are known for their barbecue restaurants, chances are this weekend most people will be grilling at home; so which cities can lay claim to having the best backyard gatherings?

          Out of 22 major metropolitan areas nationwide, Boston came in third to be the most BBQ-friendly city that plays host to grillers out there. The analysis was done by looking at the percentage of single family homes for sale with large yards (defined as lot sizes between .25 and four acres), decks, and built-in barbecues - all the features needed to host the ideal summer celebration. Philadelphia came out on top, with the perfect combination of all three.

          HAPPIEST CITY FOR YOUNG PROFESSIONALS

          Alongside this distinction, Boston was also recently named by Forbes Magazine as one of the happiest cities where young professionals would want to reside. Backed by 45,000 employees who have less than 10 years of work experience, the survey concluded that Boston ranks 10th in a list of 25 Metropolitan areas where the youth enjoy working and living in. There were ten factors considered for this work happiness index, including working relationships, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, company reputation, and daily tasks. Additionally, parameters for the city were weighed by looking at walkability, lifestyle, and community culture. The top two spots belongs to California addresses - namely San Jose, and San Francisco, where not coincidentally - majority of the younger generation in the country currently resides.

          TOP METROPOLIS FOR NEW GRADUATES

          To top it all off, Beantown also is on top of the list of twenty five urban metro areas where new college graduates comfortably fit in and set up shop. Taking into consideration employment, cost of living, wages, and the number of rental listings available, the study also highlights Boston's youth scene to be one of the most vibrant in the country, only second to New York City. Job prospects also make Boston attractive to young individuals who are recently out of college, as the number of start-up firms, as well as established companies, continue to increase putting them in an excellent position to jumpstart their professional careers.

          Nantucket Life Without The Nauseating Pricetag

          Nowadays, saying that Boston's home buying market is packing some heat is an extreme understatement. Whichever way you look, prices are up, inventories are low, and sales are closing well above asking. Investors, as well as first-time homebuyers, are snapping up properties that are ideal for long-term investments and excellent for young couples who are starting out a family. So where does that leave you, the vacation-minded buyer?

          For those who are more established in life and are looking to reap what they have sowed with a purchase of a home-away-from-home, Massachusetts serves up a healthy serving of properties that give you that island life you've been dreaming of. Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard always tops this list, however more and more, people are looking for other great finds that fit the "vacation life" they're looking for, without necessarily paying its high price tag.

          Usually, idyllic properties in Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and Cape Cod would run you about twice of the cost of buying in the city. This is just the natural course of vacation homes and beachfront real estate. Quaint towns and the seaside tend to up the ante for vacation home buyers, especially in Massachusetts where these homes are extremely profitable during the summer season. Unbeknownst to many though, there are other alternatives to the "big island three".

          ROCKPORT

          Situated along the North Shore, this peninsula has a thriving cultural scene complete with galleries and a performing arts center. It does not fall short of pebbled beaches and stoned-filled shores, too! With only 7,000+ inhabitants living on its 17.6 square miles of quaint and quiet township, this boat town boasts of six beaches in total and nearly zero public parking to keep out the noisy tourists. Twin lighthouses adorn its shores as well, and its rich history goes back six generations to 1712.

          Best recreation: Thatcher Island and Halibut Point State Park both offer walking, hiking, and cross-country ski trails. On Sundays during summer, bands play for everyone's enjoyment on the outskirts of its beaches.

          Average home sale price 2013: $515,000

          MATTAPOISETT

          Once a shipbuilding town, Mattapoisett is now perfect for recreational sailors who come for its harbor on Buzzards Bay. With less than 6,000 residents on its 17.5 square mile trebling waters territory, the townsfolk has a reputably quiet beach scene. It's total of three shores have spectacular views of both mid-sized yachts parking along its coast, as well as smaller fishing boats that hurl in the catch of the day. Mattapoisett also has the oldest seaside Inn in the country, making its historical appeal only more interesting.

          Best recreation: The town prides itself of its Rail Trail, which leads directly to the nearby fishing coast and beach-laiden township of Fairhaven. It's a good trail to take, especially for hiking and just sightseeing on foot. During summer, Harbor Days Festival takes over the waterfront in the months of July and August.

          Average home sale price 2013: $398,500

          MARSHFIELD

          This low-key beach town features weathered cottages tightly packed on streets that dead-end at sandy shores. With less than 25,000 residents during regular months (swells double that during the summer!), on its 32 square mile beach-surrounded territory, Marshfield comes close but really not quite to Nantucket due to its "more commercial-centric atmosphere". Though the area has five popular beaches, it's less attractive to those who just want peace and quiet. It's still a good choice however, to those who don't mind a little scene and some pizzaz in their daily island life. This is perhaps the main reason it costs a little less than towns previously mentioned. To compensate and to keep the beaches managed, professional lifeguards are stationed in each -- clearly a good sign for locals and tourists alike (and a sign that it's crowded, too!).

          Best recreation: The town attracts avian aficionados to its North River Wildlife Sanctuary - a conservation that has over 5,000 species of birds. The much-anticipated Marshfield Fair is also a hyped event, spanning 145 years in traditional New England seashore celebrations.

          Average home sales price 2013: $375,000

          SCITUATE

          Close to Boston but still quaint, Scituate is an unpretentious alternative to Duxbury and Hingham. It's been compared to Northern Maine, where fishing boats and close-to isolated beach coves abound. With 18,400 residents, Scituate isn't considered a touristy place at all (at least for now!). To top it off, its life-guarded beaches, totals to five, span almost all sides of its 17 square mile town border. Sufficed to say, there's plenty of umbrella space for all! People in the real estate industry know that this is the place to invest in if you want a potential Nantucket lifestyle, as property prices are still very affordable for what you get. It's the type of town that people still know people, and are very courteous and pleasant with each other. Four lighthouses span its territory, with each warning oncoming ships and yachts of its steep and shallow waters.

          Best recreation: Aside from boating, the town boasts of its bike trail and Harborwalk which gives you a beautiful view of the sea, as well as sights of the marshlands that surround it. Every August, the whole town celebrates for a whole week long of Heritage Days, bringing games, local crafts, music, and food to its full life before retreating again for the fall.

          Average home sales price 2013: $490,000

          Summer Sails High for Hub's Condo Market

          Things are looking up, up, up for Boston's high-end condominium market as turnover and average prices reach higher-than expected levels. Though Back Bay continues to dominate the luxury condominium market in the city, rival neighborhoods are very closely catching up.

          The most recent figures show that majority of condos that were sold between January and June of this year were priced above $500,000 but below the $2-million dollar mark. This is not surprising, as listings of lower-priced units have lagged the past couple of months and seem to have retreated from the market, limiting the already limited inventory that both brokers and buyers are sifting through.

          Comparing figures from January to June 2012 to the same period of this year, there is a 27.3% overall increase in condominiums sales, with 56 units closed in total, compared to last year's 44. This increase includes condos priced $500,000 to $2 million, $2 million to $3 million, and $5 million and above. Falling short of sales this year are condo priced between $4 million and $5 million. The main argument regarding this "abnormal" sale figure is most likely caused by properties that are in the FInancial District which have been put on hold this year. The increase in the higher-end and thus higher-priced units that are over $3 million only corroborates the fact that the market is headed in an overall good direction. In fact, this increase (refer to purple balloon) is almost double that of last year, whereas the increase in sales of condos priced below $2 million are only modest.

          Breaking down the condo sales by neighborhoods, you can see that there are only six major neighborhoods that have sold units that are over $2 million. Though Back Bay is still king of the high-end condos, Midtown and the South End are fastly closing in. In fact, increase in sales growth in these two neighborhoods are pegged at over 100% - more than Back Bay's for this year. In spite of this, Back Bay still holds the most number of high-end condo sales, accounting for 50% of sales through the city. Beacon Hill and Waterfront remain active areas to bid in, however the properties along the Waterfront have lagged in performance, possibly because of buyers holding out for newer developments that have broken ground in the Innovation District and Fan Pier areas in South Boston.

          With regard to the list-to-sale ratio of the condo market in Boston, you can definitely see that all of the luxury properties priced above $2 million have been bought below the listing price, clocking slightly under the average of 96%. Again, this figure accounts for high-end properties sold from January to June - a sharp contrast to "regular listings" that are below $2 million that have closed well above and sometimes 15% over the listing and asking prices. The most plausible explanation for this is that the investor market for high-end condo properties have a much smaller pool than that of the "regularly-priced" properties.

          It's also interesting to note that last year, higher-priced condominiums had a greater list-to-sale ratio than that of this year, confirming reports that bigger whales have snapped up bigger properties during the latter parts of 2012, just before the real estate tide turned against them, completely becoming a seller's market. Timing indeed is everything!

          Watch out for our next post about market trends for properties below the $2 million mark! Sign up for our newsletter by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or connect via LinkedIn.

           

          The Seven Year Mark & Soaring Prices

          They say that couples who stay together for a good seven years are bound to enjoy each other's company forever. In real estate, seven years also marks a significant turn in relationships - both with buyers, sellers, developers, and brokers, as the economics of the industry is largely hinged on a cyclic pattern. Specifically, property markets (as developers and property moguls would agree) usually dips and rises back up every seven years; in some cases, this rally extends to every twelve years or so. Why? Well, if you look at various factors that go into play for realty, you'll see that a lot of it is dependent on politics, economics, and consumer behavior patterns.

          Luckily for us, we're now entering an "up phase" where the cycle is just about to come back up. I'm no economics expert, but the downturn that began in 2007 is slowly being overturned and already-rosy forecasts for the next three to five years are now being revised to reflect gains that were previously thought to only happen beginning next year. But, because of large stimulus packages and efforts by the government to spur growth and revive the economy, this trend is happening quicker than anticipated.

          In fact, figures have just come in for last month's real estate transactions, and the pictures is even prettier than previously imagined. Home prices have risen the most in seven years, with S&P's Case/Schiller Hime Index reporting an across the board 12.2% increase in home values in the period ending June 30. Locally, the growth in Boston city proper is almost the same of that figure, with homes and condominium prices increasing an average of 10.1% during the same period. This is a huge gap between the growth for Greater Boston and the suburbs arounds it, with those areas reaching only an average of 6% increase in property value.

          Though the gap between the two areas' growth is wide, it is nonetheless ideal, as more and more Bostonians move out to the suburbs, leaving the city proper to investors and their lessees (which we all know are composed mainly of students and young professionals). Perhaps one way to look at it is that home ownership in the city belongs to investors, but is run by those leasing them. This is not to say that home ownership in the city is dwindling, on the contrary, more and more investors are actually moving in to their income generating properties, especially for three-family homes; and in the case of condominiums, swapping condos out for single-family outside the city.

          Rise in Pending Home Sales

          Taking a look at pending home sales would only further confirm the figures above, and the case of city-dwellers versus suburbans. In fact, at the beginning of the year, we've seen home prices steadily increase hitting milestones almost every month since March. Reports of pending home sales have more than doubled from figures posted last year, coming in at 14.3%. Moreover, this figure represents individuals trying to ride the real estate wave before interest rates and mortgages soar through the roof.

          In terms of arguing the case of home values increasing solely because of lack of inventory and slow-pace construction of new properties, there just isn't enough data to support such an argument. In fact, nationally, new home sales have way outpaced the rise in existing home sales, 2:1 coming in at almost 30% increase over the previous year.

          So what does this all mean? Well, to put in bluntly, if you have a home you'd want to sell, now is probably the best time to do so since investors are willing to snap it up as quickly as possible AND at the price you're willing to let it go. They are trying to avoid interest rate increases, as well as secure property prior to everyone buying it up. And if you have the means to build, now is also the best time to construct and deliver, as new home sales are far more reaching than existing ones. In Boston and its surrounding suburbs, this means more development in the area, hence significant improvements in neighborhoods that have not seen any action since the economic downturn of 2007.

          The point is this: regardless of whether you're suffering from buyer's binge, or you're on the selling and constructing side, this year really is THE banner year to make lifetime commitments to properties and realty investments. The cycle is turning and you sure don't want to get left behind.

          Movements In The Boston Market

          As summer officially sets in on the Bay State, it seems that it's not only the temperature that's heating up. Local real estate movements indicate that Boston - alongside its New England neighbors - is basking in property glory.

          Sellers finally off the sidelines

          For one thing, buyers from years before who are unloading are reaping their investment's benefits, with properties closing at extraordinary prices that are, at minimum, 12-15% above the asking price. Though limited inventory seemed to be the primary reason for the shift in the buyer/seller market in the past months, new data suggest that property values are indeed significantly improving, and are in fact well beyond analysts' expectations, bolstering up owner's interest to sell.
          Soaring prices is actually the foremost reason seller's are listing, as found by a survey conducted last month by property giant Zillow. Homeowners are disposing of their property to make money and either downside or invest in other multi-family homes where they live and earn at the same time. This trend is actually leaving buyers frustrated, as bidding wars erupt even in the slightly undesirable property sectors. As more homes are put up for sale, price increases are expected to moderate and most likely taper off during the last month of the summer selling season.
          In prior months, inventories in Massachusetts have been at an all-time low, however the fact that home prices have increased so dramatically that it has unlocked a lot of supply from owners who were holding out for the most advantageous time to sell.

          Foreign Investors In Massachusetts Market

          Speaking of selling and people coming out of hiding, it seems that Boston really does have a knack for bringing internationals into the city - this time however, it's not because of the sheer number of schools and universities scattered throughout its historic neighborhoods, but because of investment opportunities.
          Reports from various real estate experts, properties developers, and agents are indicating that foreign investors, especially of Asian descent, are snapping up properties in central locations within the city, concentrating on mid- to high-end properties. These investors are flushed with cash and are willing to purchase well above asking prices. In fact, several of the city's luxury condominium buildings - The W Boston, Millennium Place, and 45 Province to name a few - have reported a 24% increase in international closings, with majority paying in cold, hard, cash.
          Majority of these cash kings are Chinese, as well as Canadians, Spanish, and other nationalities belonging to South America and Europe. The primary reason for these investors coming in could be attributed to the fact that the US economy is improving, as well as continued growth in the number of student rentals in the city, and finally overseas investment opportunities since their country of origin is lacking growth in the property sector.
          Further data shows that of the number of properties sold to internationals, 42% are paid without a mortgage lender and have closed and were paid in cash.
          First-time Homebuyers And Student Debt
          Sellers market, housing confidence, sell your house, Boston, Boston International Real Estate, BostonIRE, tips to sellersIn contrast to the international buying clientele, it looks like local first-time homebuyers are finding it challenging to secure loans for their dream home, as these young Americans are held back by their student loans. Adding to that, is the set back with the government's efforts to stall student loan debt interest rate's increase. Particularly, student loans are poised to double up in interest rate beginning this year.
          What makes matters worse is that student loans are exhibiting high default rates - particularly, around 15% of individuals who have student loans are defaulting on payment. This translates to these individuals have a harder time securing mortgages, and impacting their overall FICO credit score. Conventionally, mortgage lenders are flexible to extend loans to applicants that have a minimum score of 760.
          This gravely affects the younger, first-time home buyer market, who has traditionally accounted for 40% of property purchases nationally. Locally however, this number is smaller, and is pegged at 22% of the Boston property market.
          So, the moral of the story is that if you're trying to sell your property quickly and above its current value, target those international home seekers who are willing to invest in your home and pay in cold, hard, cash. And who else can better hook you up with them than us? Call to inquire about how we'll market your property and get you that foreign investor you're aiming for! Call us at (617) 505-1781 now.