Boston Moving Scams

Following up on What you Need to Know Before Hiring a Long Distance Moving Company, an article we published in the latter half of 2010, USA Today recently ran an article that pulled together some quick tips on how to avoid Boston moving scams.

  1. Don’t book a moving company solely online. Meet your movers before moving day.
  2. Look at a variety of companies and make comparisons among at least three written in home estimates.
  3. Get references from other customers.
  4. Check for a ProMover logo, which indicates that the company has passed an annual check for felony convictions, improper advertising and good Better Business Bureau ratings.
  5. Check to see a company’s complaint history, its safety record and how it compares to companies nationally.

Perhaps the most important is tip number 1. When planning a move, expenses tend to mount, and it’s tempting to go with a quote that you got entirely online – it seems simple and hassle free, yet it will probably be anything but that. If you’re doing a significant move, you owe it to yourself to have several moving companies come out and actually visit you in your home, do a proper inventory, and verify the surroundings – for instance, if you live on a 4th floor walk up, can all of your furniture fit down the staircase, do you need to coordinate with a Boston crane company, or are you going to incur extra charges because of the number of flights of stairs? More than likely, an online company is going to miss some or all of these things, among others.

Cleaning Hardwood Floors

Given the predominance of hardwood floors throughout Boston condominiums, a recent article from the World Floor Covering Association on how to care for and maintain hardwood floors gives you the advice, as well as do’s and don’ts, on how to keep your hardwood floors looking as pristine as possible for as long as possible.

Some of the advice includes:

  • Use welcome maps at the entrances of your home
  • Invest in a vacuum without a beater bar to get in between the planks of your floor
  • Leverage a high quality mop with a rotating head to get into “hard to reach” corners
  • Cover furniture legs with felt or flannel protectors

Buyers moving into a unit with hardwood floors should consider re-sanding and re-finishing the floors before they move in. If you’re considering making any investments into your home, and the hardwoods are somewhere on the list and you think that you’ll eventually get around to it after you move in, think again. You’ll save yourself a tremendous amount of headaches and inconvenience if you quickly knock that job out immediately following the closing of your home when there is no furniture in the unit – plan ahead and line up your hardwood flooring contractor well before closing so that they can start immediately upon you taking possession of the home – the seller should accommodate reasonable requests to gain access to the unit prior to closing should your contractor need to see the unit in person.

W Hotel & Condos: Boston vs Austin

Boston is not the only city that the W Hotel & Condo Development calls home.  While the Boston W Condos brought new flair to the Boston skyline with a 28-story glass and steel structure, those in Austin, Texas saw a similar phenomenon.  So which hotel and condo development is better?

Similar to the Boston W offering an upscale new restaurant called Market, the Austin W boasts a similar swanky eatery called Trace.

Both hotel and condo developments sport a modern look and feel with loads of glass, however, the Austin W Residences boast individual outdoor living space in some units whereas Boston does not.  You be the judge, is it the Boston W Residences or Austin W Residences that catches your eye?

Boston W Hotel & ResidencesAustin W Hotel & Residences

W Hotel Condo Window Safety Issues

In mid-June of this year, several people were treated for cuts and scrapes after two glass window panes fell from the Austin W Hotel and Condos.  Austin Police stated that two window panes fell from a 24th story window onto the pool deck of the complex.

Not long before the Austin debacle, the Atlanta W Hotel experienced tragedy when two friends crashed through a seventh-story window, one falling to their death.  .

Boston Property Taxes Continue Rise

Boston property taxes are continuing to rise, from last year’s $11.88 to now $12.79 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

With assessed home values remaining relatively stable in many Boston neighborhoods and an approximate 8% increase in the tax rate, many Bostonians will face larger property tax bills during fiscal year 2011.

Relief is available, however, as the residential exemption will continue to be available to residents who maintain their Boston home as a primary residence. The fiscal year 2011 residential exemption subtracts $124,695 from a property’s assessed value, saving qualified homeowners approximately $1,595 on their tax bill.

For an example of how to calculate taxes for your condo, as well as a historical look at tax rates in Boston, visit our newly updated Boston property taxes article.

Boston Roof Decks

As the Boston winter begins to crack and Spring weather and warmer temperatures become more the norm, one of the first things on the minds of Bostonians is getting outside. And while roof decks across downtown Boston neighborhoods are not ubiquitous, there appears to be a growing number of buyers who will only consider purchasing a condo if it has a private outdoor living area.

“I won’t look at a condo unless it has outdoor space,” says one South End condo buyer.

The merits of a private roof deck run deep, anywhere from taking in great city views, to increasing the size of livable space and square footage of a condo. Case in point is Unit 4 at 167 Warren Avenue in the South End, a 614 square foot one-bedroom penthouse condo, where owners added a 160 square foot private roof deck in 2009, in effect, increasing the square footage of the unit by almost a third. The Warren Avenue condo was recently listed for sale with an asking price of $439,000.

“The roof deck at this South End penthouse condo is gorgeous, with stunning views. The use of the composite redwood decking material for low maintenance, and the incorporation of extra storage via an innovative bench, was very thoughtful,” says John Keith, listing agent for the Warren Avenue condo.

In addition to the views and practical uses of a roof deck, some of the added value that a private roof deck brings to a unit is the result of the effort expended by a unit owner to construct a deck that is fully permitted, up to code, and approved by the city of Boston. This process can be arduous, and includes numerous application and approval processes from various city of Boston governing entities, rounds of plans and engineering documents from licensed architects and/or structural engineers, at least two inspections by Boston’s Inspectional Service Department, and a sizeable investment of time to shepherd the process through.. As a buyer, the ideal situation is that you walk into a unit not with deck rights or plans to build a deck, which both imply hope and a dream of a deck but a long runway ahead, but rather, an actual constructed and city approved deck that can be enjoyed immediately upon purchase.

167 Warren Avenue Private Roof Deck

Top 3 Greenest Boston Condo Developments

With the green building movement in full swing it’s no surprise that Boston’s condo developers are starting to roll out some high end energy efficient buildings. While there are many developers and construction firms taking steps to “green” their projects, only a few select buildings have gone all the way to be certified with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation.  Put simply, to be LEED certified is to develop and operate in the highest environmentally friendly way possible, and in this article, I’ll take a closer look at the Boston condo market and discuss the area’s top 3 greenest Boston condo developments.

Boston’s Top 3 Greenest Condo Developments

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building and rating system was developed by the US Green Building council in 1998 to standardize what constitutes a green building. The system has gone though many iterations and its current form, version 3.0, consists of a point rating system covering all areas of development and operation, including sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, innovation in design, and regional priority. The rating system is setup to encourage developers to use and embrace building techniques that will benefit the environment and community as well as enhance the marketability of their projects.

The Macallen Building – Boston’s Greenest

The Macallen Building has a very unique triangular silhouette that is very prominent on the skyline of South Boston. When it was completed in 2007, the building earned LEED Gold certification and was the first residential building in Boston to do so. The building consists of 140 luxury condos with high-end finishes and all the amenities you would expect from a luxury condo building. The development team at Papas Properties went all out using all the latest eco friendly building techniques and sustainable building materials. Much of the building was constructed with recycled and non-toxic materials and all of the fixtures, appliances, and building systems are energy star rated. The most notable and unique eco friendly feature is the Macallen’s green roof system, which consists of grass like sedum that does not store solar energy, and also provides insulation and facilitates rain water collection. This was a very innovative solution and was the first large scale implementation of such a system in the Boston area. The best part about the Macallen is that when you enter the residences you really have no idea that it was designed to be eco friendly. It appears to be just another luxury downtown condo building, but it is so much more. The Macallen set the standard a high-end consumer friendly luxury lifestyle and sustainable living. I can only hope that other developers look at this shining example of how striving to be environmentally friendly can enhance a project’s overall appeal.

Macallen Building

Clarendon Back Bay – Silver LEED Certification

The next, and newest, green condo project in Boston is the Clarendon. Built by Related, a nationwide developer, the Clarendon seamlessly melds top-end luxury city living with a holistic approach to healthy living. The development team encourages making green a way of life and went to great lengths to provide a “healthy” building for not only the environment, but its residents.

The construction of the building used at least 10% recycled content and over 50% of the waste created during the construction was recycled. Over 20% of the materials used in the building were sourced within 500 miles of its Back Bay construction site, thus reducing transportation impacts and supporting the local economy. Included in the choice of construction materials was a myriad of green products and solutions, most notably; low voc paint, energy star appliances, high efficiency HVAC units, and use of a landscaped roof top to minimize heat gain and absorb storm water. Additionally, the Clarendon strives to encourage a healthy lifestyle by adding several features such as exclusive use of green cleaning products in common areas, offering a 24-hour fitness room, open roof top terrace, lots of natural light and easy access to the area’s recreational facilities.

Related is hoping to achieve LEED silver certification on the building and things are shaping up very well in their favor. Related had a third party consultant oversee the construction of the building systems to be sure that it would meet LEED standards and sources report that the Clarendon is right on track to meet the silver standards. I am confident that they will meet their goal.

Clarendon Back Bay

Bostonians Green Their Own Condos

The third, and perhaps most shocking green development, is your condo. There are hundreds of condo associations and complexes all over the city striving to “greenify” their residences and I challenge you to make your complex among the leaders! In a previous article of mine (see Top 3 Condo Energy Upgrades), I outlined a plan that will get you started on becoming a greener condo owner. If you are truly passionate about the environment and being a better neighbor, I challenge you to spearhead a movement in your complex, get some changes made, and let me know about it so we can feature the change in a future article of mine. Remember, it all starts with an energy audit!

These examples of Boston eco friendly developments are just the tip of the iceberg. More and more developers and Bostonians are realizing that to go green does not mean you have to make sacrifices in your quality of life. As more and more people become aware of this, green features will start to have a greater impact on the decision process of home buying. Keep an eye out for future projects and keep in mind, small changes can have huge impacts!

Ultra Luxury Condo Sales Velocity Low

As the nation continues to rebound from recession, it is perhaps no great surprise that Boston’s three latest ultra luxury condo developments, 45 Province, the Clarendon Back Bay, and the Boston W Hotel & Condos, are struggling to drive sales velocity.  No condominium developer has a crystal ball, but those behind 45 Province, the Clarendon Back Bay, and the Boston W Hotel & Condos entered the market during an inopportune time in the natural ebb and flow of real estate cycles.  While overbuilding in Boston proper is not the culprit, vacancy is, with paltry building percentage sold numbers, almost all of which under 10%, facing the three developments that have arguably set a new baseline for luxury living in downtown Boston and have been a positive addition to the neighborhoods they occupy.

Aside from Atlantic Wharf (formerly Russia Wharf), a Boston Properties development that is scheduled to come online sometime in 2011, that carries with it some projected residential component, large-scale condo development in downtown Boston is halted.  The inherent goal of the underlying real estate cycle is to now consume the available inventory in the market, and financiers and developers, of a certain size, will theoretically not re-enter Boston until they see vacancy levels significantly drop.

While 45 Province, the Clarendon Back Bay, and the Boston W Hotel & Condos have all been marketed for more than a year, the Clarendon and W Boston only recently received their certificate of occupancy and opened to residents, and thus, 45 Province has had somewhat of a head start on its rivals, yet, the percentage of units sold in each building (according to LINK, one of two Boston MLS systems) struggles to break 10%.  The current statistics for the three luxury condo developments include:

45 Province
Condos Sold: 15
Average Sales Price: $1,501,817
Median Sales Price: $1,304,000
Average Price per Square Foot: $1,008
Percentage of Building Sold: 15 / 138 = 11%

Clarendon Back Bay
Condos Sold: 9
Average Sales Price: $1,131,333
Median Sales Price: $1,060,000
Average Price per Square Foot: $1,063
Percentage of Building Sold: 9 / 103 = 9%

Boston W Hotel & Condos
Condos Sold: 8
Average Sales Price: $581,250
Median Sales Price: $560,000
Average Price per Square Foot: $807
Percentage of Building Sold: 8 / 123 = 7%

These three titans of luxury living face different challenges than other recently built large-scale Boston condo developments.  Take the Macallen Building, Boston’s first large-scale 140-unit LEED certified (green) condo development, located in South Boston, which had a relatively slow absorption rate given its price point and unique characteristics.  45 Province, the Clarendon Back Bay, and the Boston W Hotel & Condos face a different challenge than educating buyers on the merits of green living and why a South Boston development warrants a relatively high price point, instead, the baseline of luxury living is tangling with the economy and overall consumer confidence, regardless of price point, and regardless of how insulated downtown Boston is to pan-US economic conditions, it will simply take time to make significant strides forward in occupancy or building percentage sold rates.

45 Province Boston Condos

Clarendon Back Bay Condos

W Boston Condos

New Ultra Luxury Baseline

After several years of construction, and a redefining of multiple blocks of downtown Boston, both the Boston W Condos and the Clarendon Back Bay began closing on units located on lower floors of each building earlier this month.  The W and Clarendon join the Mandarin Oriental, 45 Province, and Battery Wharf as the newest flock of ultra-luxury large scale Boston condominium developments that were delivered in late 2008 and 2009.

Sales figures for both the W Boston and Clarendon Back Bay have been kept relatively quiet during pre-construction and finishing, and as time unfolds and the registry of deeds is updated, Bostonians will begin to see what price points are being paid to inhabit Boston’s latest luxury living accommodations.

What can be seen thus far, with approximately 5 units in each development being recorded as sold, is that average price points at a price per square foot level in the W and Clarendon at $820 and $990 respectively are significantly lower than the Mandarin Oriental fetched, and well off the average of units currently advertised in each building of $1,090 and $1,150 respectively.

Comparing early sales with other fully sold out buildings (such as the Mandarin) or other currently available units in the same building, may not be a fair comparison given that the majority of units recorded in each building thus far have been on lower floors of each development.  It has been relatively standard that prices typically rise $15K-$20K per floor as you climb towards the penthouse of a large-scale condo development.

With the sudden boost in market closing activity due to closings at the W Boston and Clarendon Back Bay during December 2009, and further closings expected during January, those watching statistics of the Boston condo market over the next several months should look at the numbers knowing that averages can be significantly and easily impacted by injecting just a few high-end price points into a sample.

Luxury Condo Market Slows Down

Amid speculation of whether the upper class is being impacted as much as other socioeconomic classes during the world’s economic downturn, luxury million dollar real estate in downtown Boston points to a slowdown.  From 2008 to 2009, sales activity in the $1 million + downtown Boston condo market fell approximately 22%.

While the rich may be buying again in certain product areas (see Rich Buying Again, But Middle Class Still Hurting), luxury housing in Boston is not yet one of them.  Year-to-date in 2009, 198 condos priced at or above $1 million have sold in downtown Boston, down from 255 during the same time period in 2008 according to MLSpin.  The amount of time, or days on market, that those units are sitting on the market for sale has decreased from 164 during 2008 to 139 during 2009, a sign that what is being listed for sale is selling at a faster pace.  However, the sale price to original listing price ratio, a measure of how well units are being priced in the eyes of the market, has fallen, from 105% in 2008 to 90% in 2009.

The $4 million to $10 million market has been hit hardest, with sales down approximately 71% from 2008 to 2009.

Perfect Time to Buy or Sell

Trying to “time the market”? Why not buy or sell now – and move on with your life instead? Don’t perpetually wait until tomorrow. If you do, you’re likely to end up with a pile of unfulfilled yesterdays!

Sellers: If you currently own a home, you are fortunate to be in the market and “treading water” with every other home owner. In other words, even though the value of your home has taken a hit in the past few years, so have the prices of other homes you may wish to consider buying – whether you plan to “buy up” to a more expensive property, or downsize to simplify your life. Conversely, if you wait until the value of your home increases again (and it will, according to historic real state trends, albeit slowly over the next 10 years according to many economists), the price of a home you may wish to purchase will likely have increased commensurately. Everything is relative. So, confidently sell and buy again in today’s market – since you’re lucky enough to be “in the game”.

Buyers: Home affordability is substantially greater than it has been in many years. This has been reflected in the uptick of sales throughout the summer. Sales of existing homes rose 7.2% nationally between June and July 2009, and 5% compared to July 2008 – the largest monthly increase in sales since 1999.

Locally, home prices are hitting or have hit bottom in some Boston neighborhoods, and have already started to rebound in others. Let’s take a close look at two of the most popular “upscale” neighborhoods where my practice is largely concentrated: the Back Bay and the South End.

Back Bay prices never really dropped substantially, and the average sales price is – remarkably – higher than it has ever been. A comparison between the second quarter of 2008 and the second quarter of 2009 reveals that the average sale price rose nearly 2%. A similar comparison in the South End shows that the average sales price remained virtually flat. In other words, the South End has “bottomed out”. My hunch is that the Q3 2009 results will be even more stellar.

If you are a prospective first-time home buyer, jump in now! If you’ve been sitting on the fence regarding a home purchase, now is the time. Smart buyers have bought during the spring and summer, and more are buying now. These folks are not waiting until they are completely satisfied that it’s “safe” to buy because “everyone else” is buying – because by then prices will have likely increased in the South End and other desirable sought-after neighborhoods. The problem with timing the market is that changes have often already occurred by the time one is satisfied that they have, and one can end up being left behind. Don’t follow the pack, be a leader instead. Unless you believe your job security is in jeopardy, you’ll be glad you did.

Current 30-year fixed rates are hovering in the 5 percent range – an excellent value. Can you predict what interest rates will look like six months to a year from now? If you can, clue us all in! That said, the current challenge lies in getting a mortgage in the first place. I advise my buyers to first check their credit reports from all three services: Experian, Equifax and Transunion, because it is not uncommon to find that each has different data. Checking all three ensures that inaccuracies are addressed in full, and should be done prior to applying for a mortgage. A credit score in the mid to upper 600’s is no longer acceptable to obtain a mortgage, or a mortgage at an attractive interest rate.

My next piece of advice is to avoid doing business in the near future with national banks and other national lenders if at all possible. There is nothing wrong with these fine institutions per se. The problem is that, in its infinite wisdom, the Federal Government went a bit overboard in trying to protect us from the predatory lending practices of the past that lead to the current housing foreclosure crisis (rarely found in the Back Bay or South End, by the way). The “new rules” now require national lenders to have homes appraised by folks who are not local, and therefore simply do not know or understand property values in our unique downtown Boston market.

Unfortunately, I’ve recently seen potential buyers (over whom I have no control if they are working with another Buyer’s Agent) have their closings outrageously delayed because several appraisals were necessary until one was finally accurate. In the worst case scenario, some properties do not appraise at fair market value at all due to this complete lack of local market knowledge. Until this situation changes, I believe buyers are better off working with local banks or local non-bank direct lenders that are allowed to use local appraisers, and have more control over the mortgages they issue because they have their own funds to lend to qualified buyers, as well as their own in-house underwriters. These lenders are less apt to sell their mortgages to Fanny Mae or Freddie Mac, which is the most frequent trigger for the required use of out-of-area appraisers for national lenders.