Has the Boston condo market finally peaked?

Beceere62

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I wanted to have an opinion of others on my observation. At this time there are many condos listed in Boston and 'inner' suburbs that have been on the market for more than a few weeks or months. Many have seen price cuts as well. This is rather odd for this area. Does it mean that people are no longer interested in buying and the Boston area's market has finally peaked?
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bigeman312

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18 months after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the disease has caused profound changes to our city, to the way many of us live, work, learn, and play.

This thread can't exist without that fact front and center of the discussion.

MBTA rapid transit ridership is approximately 45% of what it was pre-pandemic. At the crux of your question are related questions: what happened to that other 55% of trips? Will they "come back"?
  • Some of those trips are no longer being taken. Many office jobs or classes have become remote or hybrid. Many doctor's appointments have been replaced by telehealth. Many shopping trips have been replaced by deliveries. Many trips to movie theatres, bars, restaurants, and the like are not being taken or are being replaced by different approximations of that experience. As a result, businesses have closed and things are different, to say the least.
  • Some of those trips are being taken less frequently. For example, full-time in-office employees becoming hybrid.
  • Some of those trips are being taken by other modes as many do not want to ride mass transit in the midst of a pandemic.
All three of those instances decrease demand for living in a dense, transit-accessible area.

The second question of whether they will "come back" is tricky. In May of 2020, it seemed to be a "when." Now, we all know that the world is forever changed by COVID-19 in profound city-life-altering ways. Location, location, location is less true than it ever has been before. When your socialization, work, and education is all being done remotely, many are seeing a benefit to doing it from a $500k, 3000 square foot house on a sprawling plot of land in the country rather than a $500k, 800 square foot condo near a transit line they no longer use. Or heck, a $300k larger, nicer, newer condo in a city much less expensive than Boston.

"Post-COVID" is a murky, unclear time. Until then (if that time period even exists), living in Boston is less fun and less necessary for many than it was in 2019.

"Has the Boston condo market peaked" is likely an equivalent answer to "has COVID permanently harmed the demand for city living."
 

erom

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Many COVID changes could still be temporary. I have a lot of coworkers who 100% intend to return to mass transit... once there is a vaccine for kids. Mass transit where you can't bring your kids along is fairly useless. (Masks are NOT good enough to trust my kid's health too, especially when there's no enforcement and others are lax about it.)

E: So I guess I basically agree. COVID isn't over so we don't know what a post-covid world looks like, demand wise. It's entirely believable that we've reached peak demand for a "during covid" world.
 

393b40

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Too many variables. I think @bigeman312 hit on a couple big ones with Covid. Another thing to think about is that many millennials are now in the prime age to be having their first or second kid... and that means wanting more space. American cities are notoriously bad for urban living when you have a family... not enough living space, green space, easy access to groceries, mediocre public transit, lackluster schools (Cambridge is the exception) etc. etc. Boomers are going to start aging out of the market too in the next 5-10 years.

Lots of factors to think about. That said, if you're trying to time the market to buy... that's probably a fools errand.
 

JumboBuc

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Does it mean that people are no longer interested in buying and the Boston area's market has finally peaked?
I take issue with this framing. Even if the condo market has "finally peaked," that in no way means that "people are no longer interested in buying." If condo prices go from, say, $1,000 per sf to $950 per sf, that's still a lot of interest!

And for all the COVID turmoil, the fact remains that Boston condos are no cheaper today than they were before the pandemic in February 2020. Price increases may have slowed for more urban locations relative to less urban locations, but condo prices have remained flat or rising in city on absolute terms. If people were truly "no longer interested in buying" in the city we would see prices decrease substantially across the board, and that simply has not happened.
 

bakgwailo

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Too many variables. I think @bigeman312 hit on a couple big ones with Covid. Another thing to think about is that many millennials are now in the prime age to be having their first or second kid... and that means wanting more space. American cities are notoriously bad for urban living when you have a family... not enough living space, green space, easy access to groceries, mediocre public transit, lackluster schools (Cambridge is the exception) etc. etc. Boomers are going to start aging out of the market too in the next 5-10 years.

Lots of factors to think about. That said, if you're trying to time the market to buy... that's probably a fools errand.
I'd agree that as millennials hit the peak 30s and start families they are probably looking for more room, however, I would contend that they can and do find that inside of the city. At least a few years ago there seemed to be a decent trend of moving out of Southie to Dot where there is more room, shall we say. I'd also say Boston in general has quite a few neighborhoods that give you a more suburban feel without leaving the city (Westie, Rozzie, parts of JP/Mattapan/Dot/Brighton/etc). Out of the reasons listed, I think the big one deterring families from staying would be the school system. I know quite a few people who do the cost-benefit analysis of more expensive housing/taxes (Brookline, Milton, Newton, etc) vs. staying in Boston itself for cheaper and paying for private schooling depending on how the lottery balls fall. But yeah, I think Boston itself has a ton to offer families to stick around, but the school problem desperately needs to be fixed. I would also throw in there that it is mainly a grades 1-6 problem; K1/K2/etc are generally good/OK, and for 7th grade and on you have the Exam schools and various charters.
 

HenryAlan

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The school question is a bit misleading. I agree that lots of people leave Boston due to concern about schools. I disagree that they can't find a good solution within BPS. I've had 2.75 kids go through the system (third kid is in 10th at Boston Latin). All told, we've experienced four schools directly, and known several other schools through friends. Across the board, people I know who have stayed with BPS have been very positive about the experience. And BLS is one of the best high schools in the country -- better than anything you'll find in the nearby leafy suburbs. My two kids who have moved on both attend top 30 schools (one of their schools was just ranked 2nd by US News). I really don't think they were poorly served by our decision to remain in Boston. Indeed, the experience of living here has been a tremendous resource for them.
 

DominusNovus

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Depends on your definition. But having just sold a townhouse in Quincy last month (presuming fate has no surprises in store for us), I can say that we missed the absolute peak of demand by a couple months. Still got a good price, but do kinda wish our realtor had kicked things into high gear a little earlier.
 

MrDee12345

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The school question is a bit misleading. I agree that lots of people leave Boston due to concern about schools. I disagree that they can't find a good solution within BPS. I've had 2.75 kids go through the system (third kid is in 10th at Boston Latin). All told, we've experienced four schools directly, and known several other schools through friends. Across the board, people I know who have stayed with BPS have been very positive about the experience. And BLS is one of the best high schools in the country -- better than anything you'll find in the nearby leafy suburbs. My two kids who have moved on both attend top 30 schools (one of their schools was just ranked 2nd by US News). I really don't think they were poorly served by our decision to remain in Boston. Indeed, the experience of living here has been a tremendous resource for them.
But how is BPS for kids who can't get into exam schools?
 

Arenacale

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I attended the oldest school in the country and it should not be an exam school anymore. BPS and even more the regional public school systems are functionally segregated. All Students should have access to a quality education.
I disagree. I also attended the oldest school in the country and the rigor of the curriculum demands that there is some form of selection process in place. That's not to say that BLS has sufficient diversity nor that BPS is properly preparing students for a potential future there, but solutions to those problems should also address the wider BPS system.

Latin's status and its existence are both a benefit to the city of Boston. It provides opportunities for students in the city that they would otherwise not have, and it's a reason for families to live within the city limits. Work should be done to widen who gets those opportunities, but eliminating any sort of bar to get in would only harm not only the institution but also the area.
 

bigpicture7

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I'm sorry, but we're headed down the path of the same old false dichotomy that always arises when we discuss city public schools: that cities must choose between letting go of all selection/admissions standards versus having great/rigorous schools.

That only serves to mask a more constructive conversation: that a city like Boston needs multiple-X the number of seats at BLS-caliber schools than it presently has, and, that there also needs to be a range of different excellent opportunities spanning from more fundamental schools to more high-achiever-focused schools, with a gradient of selectivity spanning that range. Having 3 test-in high schools composing only a small percentage of overall seats doesn't cut it if a city like Boston wants to grow, thrive, and present fair and reasonable opportunities to its future generations.
 

donkeybutlers

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I'm sorry, but we're headed down the path of the same old false dichotomy that always arises when we discuss city public schools: that cities must choose between letting go of all selection/admissions standards versus having great/rigorous schools.

That only serves to mask a more constructive conversation: that a city like Boston needs multiple-X the number of seats at BLS-caliber schools than it presently has, and, that there also needs to be a range of different excellent opportunities spanning from more fundamental schools to more high-achiever-focused schools, with a gradient of selectivity spanning that range. Having 3 test-in high schools composing only a small percentage of overall seats doesn't cut it if a city like Boston wants to grow, thrive, and present fair and reasonable opportunities to its future generations.
The point is that setting up a select few elite schools and funding them to a much greater degree (especially when you take into account alumni donations) kind of precludes the possibility of expanding access in general as it concentrates resources by definition. I don't think this problem can be resolved by adding more exam schools. There is a lot of studies that show that things like tracking within and between schools compound inequalities in the system, and there is increasing evidence that it also brings down the mean standard. A city that truly wants to thrive in an equitable way can't be giving a select few students far more opportunities than everyone else. Students who are struggling need more support not less.
 

bigpicture7

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I certainly agree with this part:

...A city that truly wants to thrive in an equitable way can't be giving a select few students far more opportunities than everyone else. Students who are struggling need more support not less.
And a main point of my post was about how the number of quality opportunities available to everyone needs to increase. Also, by selectivity I did not mean the traditional "you do or don't pass some test." But the pragmatic reality is that -- to match opportunities with students' best interest and needs -- there has to be some guidance system that directs students to opportunities (and ideally one that's adaptable and doesn't lock students into paths).

I do not support the idea of keeping the educational offerings the same, keeping the (insufficiently low) number of higher-quality seats the same, and solely coming up with some different means of who gets those short-supply disproportionately higher-quality seats.

Range of (increased number of) great opportunities, range of pathways, and acknowledging that some guidance system is needed.
 
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bakgwailo

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The point is that setting up a select few elite schools and funding them to a much greater degree (especially when you take into account alumni donations) kind of precludes the possibility of expanding access in general as it concentrates resources by definition. I don't think this problem can be resolved by adding more exam schools. There is a lot of studies that show that things like tracking within and between schools compound inequalities in the system, and there is increasing evidence that it also brings down the mean standard. A city that truly wants to thrive in an equitable way can't be giving a select few students far more opportunities than everyone else. Students who are struggling need more support not less.
As yet another alumnus of the oldest school in the country - I couldn't disagree more. The exam schools are fine and afford kids from across the city a chance that is almost exclusively reserved for the very wealthy who can send their children to private prep schools. They are inherently an equalizing force for the top students in the city who are generally from much more disadvantaged backgrounds than wealthier suburbs. Fixing the BPS 1-6 grades to provide for better test prep would go much further inequality overall.

Furthermore, BLS does not receive any extra funding from the BPS. Last I check, I believe its funding was generally at the lower end of the system. So, no, it does not take up any extra monetary resources from other schools in the BPS system, and if anything the exam schools. As for Alumni contributions, well, those are private donations from private citizens, who aren't going to be donating that money outside of their connection to the specific school(s). Those donations also help subsidize the schools, allowing more of the actual BPS funding to go to other schools.

The argument should be: how do we improve and reform the non-exam schools, rather than how do we change the already high-performing exam schools. Adding more exam schools might be a good idea. Adding more specialty schools like the BAA would probably be a great idea. In my view, what really breaks the system are Charter Schools Unlike the exam schools, they can actually siphon of funding from other BPS schools along with also having selective admissions. Also on that note, Boston's geography itself is a big problem for the BPS. Small inner suburb towns like Brookline, Newton, Milton, etc, basically get to have their own walled garden schools completely separate from the BPS, which leads to pretty segregated education. I mean Brookline is practically enveloped by Boston, and yet, they get their walled garden where they don't have to deal with many of the problems that the BPS does.
 

HenryAlan

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I'm sorry, but we're headed down the path of the same old false dichotomy that always arises when we discuss city public schools: that cities must choose between letting go of all selection/admissions standards versus having great/rigorous schools.

That only serves to mask a more constructive conversation: that a city like Boston needs multiple-X the number of seats at BLS-caliber schools than it presently has, and, that there also needs to be a range of different excellent opportunities spanning from more fundamental schools to more high-achiever-focused schools, with a gradient of selectivity spanning that range. Having 3 test-in high schools composing only a small percentage of overall seats doesn't cut it if a city like Boston wants to grow, thrive, and present fair and reasonable opportunities to its future generations.
You are correct, and as @MrDee12345 hints with his question, the quantity of success stories is too low. My earlier point, and one that shouldn't get lost, though, is that BPS is not universally a disaster. I think the idea that it is, risks becoming self fulfilling, as some families with means self select themselves out of the system, leaving the percentage of more challenging students (more costly to educate) much higher than it otherwise might be. Any system wide fix requires a commitment from the entire community, which will never happen when so many families with kids who might do just fine decide to opt out.
 

Blackbird

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Also a BLS alum! I agree with bigpicture7 about one of the biggest issue being the # of seats. Especially since BLS is on a plot of land that includes so much surface parking an even a huge grassy rectangle that's almost never used. With the right motivation and financial support, I'm sure the school could greatly increase it's capacity.

Not sure what this has to do with the condo market, though..
 

bakgwailo

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Also a BLS alum! I agree with bigpicture7 about one of the biggest issue being the # of seats. Especially since BLS is on a plot of land that includes so much surface parking an even a huge grassy rectangle that's almost never used. With the right motivation and financial support, I'm sure the school could greatly increase it's capacity.
Maybe things have changed since my time there, but, I think my class started at 600+ and maybe graduated around 300. Not sure if more seats would really be the answer given the historic baked-in attribution ("look to your left, look to your right" and all that).

Not sure what this has to do with the condo market, though..
Yeah, getting pretty off topic. Maybe we need a BPS thread.
 

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