June 13th, 2012

Sick, Movies, Property Development, Etc.

We're sick. T. has had the runs for a few days, following a cold. I've still got the cold (fingers crossed I don't get the rest of it). It's a really bad head cold. Please feel sorry for me.

Monday, I slept all day. R. took the day off to keep an eye on the kids. Tuesday, the kids were both in school, so I spent another day in bed, but I actually only slept about half the time and I had the presence of mind to line up some additional child care, thus leaving me time to watch trashy movies. Unexpectedly, I liked _Inception_ better than I liked _Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows_. Altho I was very happy to see more of Mary. Mary is Cool.

Finally, on Tuesday I left the house to go drop off a stroller at consignment (this led to some additional sleeping). While I was waiting for the stroller to be processed -- you know, that's worth a tangent. This is apparently the month where Other People's Processes Waste My Time. My bank miskeyed a check to me. An apartment complex in Issaquah lost internal record keeping associated with a check from me (which they cashed -- and which I discovered I _do_ get images of which _can_ be attached to FB messages. Who knew?). And the consignment shop misplaced the appointment they made (but I kept the card associated with the appointment). Really, the stellar success in processes is currently the Massachussetts government web site which processed my request to postpone jury duty promptly. Really promptly, considering I went through the process Sunday evening.

Anyway. Back to the stroller. Someone else in the shop is going on about how _expensive_ the units at West Acton Corner are.

http://www.westactoncorner.com/

Over a half million dollars for a 3 bedroom condo or house in Acton with 2500 square feet is Not Excessive. If you don't particularly like West Acton Corner, you do have choices.

http://www.sarahjanecourt.com/

On the one hand, Sarah Jane Court is on a Way Busier Street. On the other hand, it's a lot closer to commuter rail. There is an interesting tradeoff in terms of walkability to coffee, groceries, lunch/dinner/pizza choices, etc. There are some differences in size as well (I think the Sarah Jane ones average a little smaller).

The condos on Prospect Street aren't that dissimilar (a little bigger than the West Acton Corner ones), and their sales prices were pretty close, too. So me, being sick, heard, "Who would want to pay a half million dollars to live next to an auto body place?" and piped up with, "Hey, you're not going to get that square footage cheaper anywhere else in Acton." I may have commented that West Acton is, in general, a really nice place to live. (Did I mention that it's kitty corner to the post office? And the small library is a few block walk?)

The conversation did not improve; it turns out this is another example of someone living in a New England town who Does Not Pay Attention to Real Estate Value. These conversations don't go well for me. I'm not sure why. I've even had meta-conversations about this conversation with people who _do_ pay attention to Real Estate Value. Usually, those conversations involve mutual complaining about how rare open houses are and how weird people act around here if you go to an open house in your own neighborhood when you aren't shopping for yourself or a friend and sometimes about how much effort you have to go to in order to find out what something sold for, but that's usually where I can help out by pointing people at Mass Land Records.

I don't like to complain about my town, because I love my town. But this is a real distinctive feature of New England that I find annoying. People just don't have the expectation of house gossip that seemed really common in the Pacific Northwest and among my friends in the Bay Area.

ETA: Yes, I _do_ know about the Villages at Monument Place and again, pretty similar in terms of bedrooms/bathrooms/square footage/price. Their location from a walkability perspective (to groceries, coffee, lunch/dinner options, commuter rail, etc.) is Worse. Altho they are really close to Nara Park, which is cool, and Planet Gymnastics (also very cool) and the local community gardens. To be fair, it is under a mile to Po's BBQ, which I also like. But nothing like the convenience of the other two locations (but a more house-like, suburban neighborhood feel, I suppose).

http://www.thevillagesatmonumentplace.com/index.html

ETAYA: Looks like Concord Commons in Concord has cleared their remaining units. They went up for sale just as the bust happened and, IIRC, tried auctioning a few of them to try to set an accurate price level. Looking at last ask/sale prices suggests they mostly figured it out and again, not that far off from the developments listed above altho some of the Concord Commons units are smaller (like the smaller ones in West Acton Corner) and correspondingly cheaper.

ETA I'm stopping, really, I am: Concord Riverwalk has also sold most of their units, but this one's still around today:

http://www.newenglandmoves.com/property/details/396356/MLS-71376058/1629-Main-Concord-MA-01742.aspx

$549 for 1540 square feet. _That_ I could see doing a little whining about, however, it's a really cute development so I'm betting they find someone who wants to buy it. Here's another unit for sale in the same development:

http://www.newenglandmoves.com/property/details/417101/MLS-71386458/1631-Main-Street-Concord-West-Concord-MA-01742.aspx

$719 for 1680 square feet. It'll be interesting to see what they get for that one.

More than a Few Remarks on Real Estate in Metrowest

I've been over this ground a lot talking to people -- mostly, obviously, my husband -- but I feel like it might be worth summarizing my thoughts.

(1) Unemployment in Massachusetts is down to 6.3%. Not only do many local businesses sport Now Hiring signs, some of those signs detail pay rate and benefits. My personal experience of service at fast food restaurants is that it is getting worse, one of the clearest signs I know of that we are nearing effective full employment (aka 5% according to current theory, if I understand it correctly).

(2) Real estate from the bust that had limited opportunity to go into the shadow -- condo developments that were partially sold, for example, so couldn't _stop_ selling and it wouldn't necessarily pay to quit marketing them entirely, either -- has (mostly) cleared. I was a little startled at how completely -- and how recently -- Concord Commons cleared.

(3) Real estate developed during the bust has conspicuous buyer interest before it reaches completion. This is particularly significant in my area, because development in Metrowest is SO FUCKING SLOW. Even people who have lived here for decades, but are not themselves involved in construction, find this kind of amazing. But it's really important. Successful developers in the area have to navigate the economic cycle AND an excruciating town-based regulatory process. Only tortoises survive. Normally, a new development can sit around and age for a bit before selling at a good price, because it's going to be a while before the developer's next project is ready to go so what's the rush anyway? If there's hot interest before completion, and at the asking price, it's a sign that things smoking.

(4) Infill developments, notably house-replacement condos are increasingly dominant. Some of the house replacement condos are cluster zoned (or whatever they call it) houses built with condo rules and regulations. Some of the house replacement condos are actual townhomes and/or flats. All of them have 2 and many have 3 (altho I haven't been seeing any with 4) bedrooms and 1.5 and more typically 2+ bathrooms. The small ones are over 1200 square feet (and if you think you can't fit 3 bedrooms and 1.5 baths into 1200 square feet you've clearly never shopped for a condo in the International District in Seattle); 2200-2500 is common and over 3000 square feet is not unheard of.

(5) Closer to commute corridors is Better. In my town, Route 2 and the commuter rail are the major factors; other towns have other corridors.

(6) The buyers have kids who are or shortly will become school aged.

For a variety of reasons, my town appears not to be overly concerned with a big influx of school age children in the next few years. Partly this is because these are relatively small condo developments not relatively large apartment developments (all of the condo developments I'm think of wouldn't add up to a single Avalon Community in size). Partly this is because a neighboring town has low enrollment in at least one of their elementary schools which serves as a bit of a safety valve for the foreseeable future (and that town doesn't have a commuter rail station and our jr hi and hi schools are shared anyway and we do actually enroll kids over there already on occasion).

So my town has a lot of things contributing to buyer interest: a good school district, a welcoming community, lots of amenities (grocery stores and coffee shops, playgrounds, library, town beach, etc)., reasonable commute to a lot of jobs. The effect is to clear inventory and support additional development, which has knock on effects on construction employment and, to a lesser degree, services utilization (all those guys blasting and moving earth and water proofing basements have to go to a Dunkin' Donuts somewhere, and they're not likely to drive very far to do so).

And last, I will pull out my best piece of anecdata. The lot across the street from us, which has been an empty lot, um, forever, and which supposedly was "wet" turns out not to be, for official purposes "wet" (<-- _this_ is why social justice people view environmentalists with skepticism, right here), now has a built up basement (that some of my neighbors term a swimming pool) and will shortly become a single family home. I eagerly await it being listed. I'm guessing they'll be asking north of $700 for it. I expect my new neighbors to be a married couple (but quite possibly immigrant and/or not white) with 2 or more children, the youngest of whom will probably be walking by the time the deal is closed and the oldest of whom will not yet be in junior high school. If there are more than 2 children and they are both still quite young, I expect one of the parents to be in some sort of flex position but once the kids are in school, both parents will be working demanding, high education required jobs and they will be navigating XDAY through the school or after care at one of the local businesses. One of the parents will be doing dropoff and one of the parents will be doing pickup.

Because that's the kind of town I live in.

(I could be wrong. It could be one very demanding job and one stay at home spouse.)

(I won't speculate as to their pets, other than to note that if they have a dog, and they decide to let it stay outside unattended by a human, it is more likely to have an invisible fence than a physical fence.)