First quarter sales leap to highest levels in many years

Wayne Braverman
Link Boston Homes
The enormous primary bedroom in Unit 6 at 90 Marlborough St. feels like a family room with its bay-window sitting area, gas fireplace/TV mantel flanked by bookcase/dresser alcoves, chandelier of “lollypop” lights on branches and wavy-patterned carpeting. This home sold on Jan. 29 for $6,950,000.

The opening quarter of this year’s Boston real estate market saw sales climb despite a dip in inventory. There’s a high demand of homes, although there are not nearly enough on the market to meet that demand. As a result, homes put up for sale in many neighborhoods were flying off the market at a pretty quick pace.

According to LINK, sales of condos in Boston climbed 27 percent from the first quarter of last year. The first quarter of 2021 had 777 units change hands, up from 610 sold in first quarter of last year. According to Jonathan J. Miller, President/CEO of Miller Samuel Inc., which just released its report on the state of the real estate market in Boston for Douglas Elliman, “Sales jumped to their highest first-quarter level in 16 years.”

The driving force behind the sales was not the high-end luxury market. The demand was and is for homes around $1.5 million and less.

Charlestown, East Boston, the Fenway, the South End and South Boston saw the biggest leap in homes sold. Charlestown had the biggest jump, rising 105 percent from last year’s first quarter. The Fenway came in second with a 76 percent leap, followed by East Boston with a 72 percent increase. These are neighborhoods with homes generally priced less than those in most of the typically high-demand areas of the city.

The news was also pretty good for most of the other areas covered by LINK and Boston Homes. The only neighborhoods to see a decrease in sales was in the Back Bay, Seaport and West End. The lack of inventory played a role in that outcome.

Sales numbers went up, but prices went in the opposite direction. According to Miller, all price trend indicators declined from the prior year record, “skewed low by the shift to smaller sales.”

The average selling price went down 27 percent from the same time last year, dropping to $1,074,987. The median selling price was also down, falling 9 percent to $810,000. The average price per square foot was 15 percent lower at $927 and the median PSF dipped 11 percent to $838.

Only 2 percent of the homes sold in the city went for above asking price – that’s the lowest percent in that category in at least seven years. A year ago, 30 percent of the sales went for above the asking price.

With 61 floors, One Dalton is Boston’s tallest residential building.

Luxury condos

The luxury category saw a sharp drop in the opening quarter with sales down 37 percent to only 87 units sold. A year ago, One Dalton was the driving force behind luxury sales. Most of those condos are now sold.

The average selling price in the luxury category sunk 33 percent to $1,886,751 and the median slithered 26 percent to $1,450,000. The price per square foot also slipped down with the average at $1,509 and the median at $1,531.

The average days on the market did come down from 142 to 136 days.

The luxe category includes the full-service buildings such as the InterContinental, Four Seasons, Ritz, Rowes Wharf, One Dalton, The Lucas, Pierce Boston, The Lyndon, The Whitwell, 50 Liberty, Lovejoy Wharf, Millennium Tower and 180 Beacon. These places typically include valet parking and concierge service along with lifestyle amenities such as social clubs, theaters, gyms and pools. Some even include an array of special events.

Here is the breakdown of overall sales per neighborhood covered by LINK and Boston Homes:

With 60 stories of luxury delight, Millennium Tower is the second tallest residential building in Boston.

Back Bay

For the past year, sales in the Back Bay were driven by the ultra-luxury One Dalton tower. Without One Dalton condos available, it is no surprise that sales were down in Back Bay. There were 74 units sold in the first quarter, down 19 percent from the same time last year. Without the One Dalton homes available, the average selling price in the neighborhood crashed 40 percent to $1,993,383 and the median plummeted a city-worst 45 percent to $1,160,000. Even with the big fall, the average selling price was still the highest in Boston. The average price per square foot declined 24 percent to $1,267. The median PSF dipped 11 percent to $1,146.

The year started with 52 homes on the market; by the end of the quarter, that number went up to 62 available.

10 Walnut St. morphed into a remarkable restoration. It’s located on the southside of Beacon Hill at the head of Chestnut Street and only steps away from the Boston Common. Unit 1 sold on March 12 for $5,782,000. Courtesy photo

Beacon Hill

Sales on Beacon Hill went up 37 percent from 2020 with 37 condos sold. The average selling price fell 20 percent to $1,656,634 while the median slipped 5 percent to $845,000.

The average and median price per square foot were close to last year’s level with the average closing the quarter at $1,218 and the median at $1,147.

Inventory is tight on Beacon Hill with only 18 homes on the market heading into April. That’s a big drop from the 30 that was available at one point in the fourth quarter of last year.

The top selling home on Beacon Hill was PH1 at the Archer, 45 Temple St. This condo sold on March 2 for $8,750,000.

Charlestown

Charlestown saw the biggest increase in sales in Boston during the quarter with 82 homes sold, a 105 percent leap from the first quarter of 2020.

The average selling price rose 10 percent to $850,063 and median climbed up 4 percent to $807,000.

The price per square foot remained steady from a year ago with the average at $737 and the median at $728.

Demand in Charlestown was high with 10 percent of the homes sold closing above the asking price. Inventory in the first quarter dropped sharply from the previous quarter to only 33 available at the end of March. Homes were on the market for an average of 85 days.

East Boston

This neighborhood has grown a lot in popularity for those buying homes. 115 units sold during the quarter – second highest in the city. That’s a giant 72 percent leap from the same time last year. The average selling price climbed 9 percent to $638,212 and median rose 10 percent to $615,000. The average price per square foot is $628 – the most affordable in the neighborhoods covered by LINK. The median PSF is also the most affordable at $588. Inventory hovered between 8 and 11 units available at any time in the quarter.

Fenway 

The Fenway saw the second largest jump in sales, rising 76 percent to 44 homes getting new owners during the first three months of the year. The average selling price had a big 13 percent leap to $801,207 and the median rose 8 percent to $707,500. The average price per square foot jumped up 11 percent to $1,053 and the median was also up 8 percent to $1,042.

Home here stayed on the market a third-best 80 days. The year started with six homes for sale and March closed with only three available.

Midtown

Thirty-three condos sold in Midtown in the first quarter, a climb of 18 percent from a year ago. However, the average selling price sunk 23 percent to $1,484,380 and the medium fell 26 percent to $1,230,000. The average price per square foot dropped 13 percent to $1,026 and the median lost 10 percent to $1,061. The quarter closed with only 13 homes available.

North End

The popular North End saw sales soar 20 percent from a year ago with 18 sold. The average selling price slid 13 percent to $678,300 and the median slipped 8 percent to $641,500. The price per square foot is now 12 percent lower at $781 and the median waned 7 percent to $828. Homes stayed on the market only 70 days – the second fastest selling neighborhood in Boston.

There were nine homes on the market when the quarter ended – the highest number available since the third quarter of 2019.

Seaport

There were 57 condos sold in Seaport during opening quarter, down 34 percent from a year earlier. The average sales price plunged 9 percent to $1,556,001 and the median plummeted 10 percent to $1,245,868. Both were among the highest prices in the city. Price per square foot is now at an average of $1,450 and median of $1,557 – both being the highest in Boston. The quarter closed with only eight homes on the market, which explains why the number of sales were down so far.

South Boston

Southie continues to be a hot spot for those seeking new homes. A city-tops 172 homes sold in the first quarter – a 42 percent increase from the same time last year. The average selling price dropped 11 percent to $764,635 while the median fell 12 percent to $699,250. The average PSF is now at $724 and the median is $710.

The year started with 26 units on the market and the quarter closed with an inventory of 18 available. Homes in South Boston generally don’t stay on the market for long – demand is heavy in this very family-friendly neighborhood.

Unit 2 at 213 West Canton St. in the South End sold for $3,350,000 on March 31 – the final day of the first quarter. This 2,212-square-foot home includes three bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths.

South End

The South End continues to be very popular among buyers. Sales soared up 49 percent with 103 sold. The average and median selling prices both fell. The average went down 12 percent to $1,167,245 and the median slipped 13 percent to $930,000. The price per square foot is pretty much the same as last year’s quarter with the average at $1,061 and the median at $1,068.

There were 47 homes available at the start of the quarter and after the number sunk down to 34 in February, it climbed back up reaching 49 at the end of March.

Waterfront

Waterfront home sales rose 18 percent to 33 sold. The average selling price slipped 4 percent to $1,210,950 and the median mounted 19 percent to $1,100,000. The average price per square foot decreased to $979 and the median descended to $917.

Homes here stayed on the market an average of 43 days – the fastest in the city. Inventory on the Waterfront is the lowest it has been in a number of years. The year started with 21 condos on the market. Only eight were available heading into March, but the quarter ended with 13 available.

Of the ones sold last year, 11 percent were above the asking price.

West End

The West End saw sales sink 15 percent to 11 units sold for the quarter. The average selling price went up a hefty 45 percent to $804,545 – a record for this part of the city. The median also saw a giant leap, climbing 33 percent to $700,000. The average PSF ($672) and median PSF ($668) are the most affordable in the neighborhoods covered by LINK. However, finding homes to buy here is challenging. The quarter ended with only three units on the market.

The penthouse at 142 Beacon St. in the Back Bay was the top sale of the first quarter. This condo sold on Jan. 19 for $9,200,000.

Looking ahead

The market is clearly on the rebound, especially as the COVID-19 vaccination ramps up. There is a lot of demand for homes and the economic recovery is underway. The one big caution – another COVID-19 surge, which can’t be ruled out, especially since the far more highly spreadable variants now dominate in Massachusetts. If people stick to the safety precautions, then society will be able to safely reopen faster. Otherwise, we are flirting with a disaster of the virus possibly mutating itself into something the current vaccines can’t stop and that would put us back to where we were a year ago.

Coming up soon: The top first quarter sales by neighborhood.