Sunday, February 16, 2014

And Now for a Little RE Porn...

We've been in the market for a new place to live for four years. I've been intensely checking out properties from Amesbury to Quincy, with my sharpest focus on downtown Boston. So take it from one who knows: Boston's real-estate scene is more depressing than ever. There's very little inventory in the better neighborhoods, and it's selling for record prices. After any half-decent property has been on the market for a day or two, multiple buyers will submit bids above the asking price, waiving contingencies designed to protect them (a satisfactory inspection, securing a mortgage, etc.). A third of all sales are all-cash deals, often by foreign investors who turn the units into luxury rentals.

Lately I've been seeing properties that sold for top prices in our range two to four years ago that are back on the market — sometimes with the same photos as last time. But now they are priced a few hundred thousand dollars higher. It's demoralizing. And keep in mind that even parking spaces in Boston sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even parking spaces in a rat-infested Back Bay alley.

And, sadly, most of these condos are boring. They don't have any authentic "Boston" charm; they could be in apartment buildings in Taunton... or New Jersey. If you love period detail and finishes, as we do, Boston real estate is a perpetual disappointment — except in the multimillion-dollar range, where a lot of beauty has been preserved or restored. In our range, not so much. Condos often get "spiffed" up before they go on the market, so any surviving original mantels, plaster moldings, and top-nailed or parquet floors go into the dumpster. "Updated" mantels, sheetrock, and cheap flooring and hardware go in — often along with an extra bathroom or two. We've seen so many small apartments with two or more bathrooms, which are now desperately in need of a closet and a less-crazy layout. In many places, almost everything looks like it came from the bargain sections of Home Depot.

Occasionally a condo appears that needs renovation. There's a fifth-floor walk-up on the first block of Commonwealth Avenue. It's on the market for $998,000 ($738/square foot). After you walk up all those stairs, you'll find this cheerful kitchen:
And here's the master bedroom, complete with vestigial fireplace:
Photos: Redfin.com, via Gibson Sotheby's International Realty.

This is why I take unholy pleasure in surfing the historic real estate in Newport, Rhode Island. I can't do it often or I'd go bananas. Once or twice a year is all I can handle; it's that amazing and disorienting. Newport is packed with gorgeously preserved 18th-century houses and ginormous 19th-century Beaux-Arts mansions — often with ocean views and access. You can fantasize about a whole house, or be "practical" and look at estates that were converted to condominiums (often quite tastefully, unlike what happens around here). They put anything in Boston at a comparable price to laughing-out-loud shame.

Then, of course, there are inevitably a few killer, museum-quality, DREAM properties selling for the price of some sheet-rocked three-bedroom duplex in my neighborhood. Click to view the details of this architectural jewel and you'll see what I mean:

It's by Stanford White, for heaven's sake! It's unbelievably preserved. Must buy lottery tickets ASAP.
The price is $2.5 million but that gets you more than 6,300 square feet of historic beauty.
Plus the grounds are 3/4 of an acre, with 100 feet of ocean frontage. (All photos: Gustave White Sotheby's International Realty.)

We love original woodwork more than anything. In Boston, someone would likely have 
"updated" this woodwork by now with white paint.

Gasp, gasp. Did I mention that this house is selling for a mere $394/square foot?

Phew, get me out of here! I'm feeling dizzy. Fancy built-ins have that effect on me.

3 comments:

  1. OMG! there is no way I could face not only waking up in that TERRIBLE nasty bedroom but even thinking about making a cup of coffee in that yellow kitchen is enough to make me run for the hills! Wow, how awful! The other house has how many bedrooms!!! And I love the woodwork too. Living in that house would be so nice! Pricey, but nice.

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  2. Surely at those prices, the buyers/investors have professional help with renovations? Yikes, the upgrade pics are making the CA Track homes in my area look, well, nice.

    The RI home is lovely but the cost to renovate most of these old beauties (at least in MI or Illinois) will break your heart and your wallet.

    Of course, doesn't cost a penny to look, right? And half the fun is the hunt.

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  3. But how many cats per sq. ft. could that lovely Newport mansion hold? They could sit in the windows and look at the birds and the ocean. Or, knock that lovely Canton china off that built-in. Yes, buy lottery tix!

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