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Talking Brookline Trends: Turnkeys, Dual Incomes, Over-Asks

Here's the latest installment of Bates By the Numbers, a weekly feature by Boston real estate agent David Bates that drills down into the Hub's housing market to uncover those trends you would not otherwise see. Follow him on Twitter and check out his ebook, Context: Nine Key Condo Markets, 2.0.

Mona Wiener is the go-to agent for a number of Brookline developers and that gives her a huge presence in Brookline's higher-end market. According to MLS records, she has sold more million-dollar homes in Brookline than most agents; nearly 200 of her sales, in fact, have broken that threshold. I recently caught up with Mona to get her insights into this key Hub market.

What's one of the big trends in the Brookline market?
There's definitely a trend the last couple years to move-in condition and that's because the demographics are that you have two working people that don't have the time to pick up a paint brush or call someone, or many times they are moving from outside the community so they don't even know who to call; and when you spend more money on something that's already done, you can just roll it into your mortgage and the rates are so good that people have more purchasing power.

Whereas, a lot of times if things need work it's just so time-consuming and it's money out of pocket. For instance, I had two houses for $3 million that went in the first two weeks and they were both done. Nothing that's turnkey will stay on the market even at that price point.

And if it's not turnkey?
I just put a house under agreement last week and when they brought their contractors by, they backed out because it was going to be so expensive. ... That was a $2 million house. But, if that same house were on for $2.5 million, $2.7 million, and it already had that, it would sell in a heartbeat.

The million-dollar condo market feels very commonplace in Coolidge Corner nowadays.
Yeah, because everything has risen so much. You know, you used to be able to get a beautiful condo for $800,000. Now you have to spend a million-plus. It's a whole different ballgame. It's almost impossible to find the moderate, $1.5 million house in Brookline—unless you are willing to go to South Brookline, which is always a little bit challenging because there's no T access.

What can you say about the demographics of Brookline home buyers?
I think to live in Brookline it's always a dual-income family with kids. I can't remember the last time I sold a house or higher-priced condo to a stay-at-home mom or stay-at-home dad [laughs].

Is there any sale for you that symbolizes the new pricing in this market?
The one I had at 61 Babcock Street that was 1,500 square feet with renovated kitchen, but older baths, no central air. I had priced it at $799K and was expecting higher offers, but when it went for $1 million I had brokers calling me, asking me 'was there something hidden about it?' That really sticks in my mind.

There has been very little development in Brookline, correct?
Yes, there's never any new construction. All you have is rehabs of existing buildings and existing construction.

What's the confidence level of Brookline developers in this market?
You can't predict the future, but it seems that people do want stuff that's turnkey and they'll step up and pay for it. For example, to buy a beautiful house in North Brookline that's in move-in condition, you can't do that at a million-five… But you can buy a 3,000-square-foot condo for a million-five that feels like a house. … Some of the houses in Coolidge Corner without any land have been selling for $2.9 million.

Is one part of Brookline more desirable than another?
A couple of years ago, I had two similar houses by the same developer. One was on Buckminster [north side of Route 9] and I sold that the first day it was on market. The one on Heath [south side of Route 9], I couldn't get people to even come look at it.

So a lot of times when you cross Route 9, and it's a Chestnut Hill address, the broker is taking them to Wellesley and Weston, so it's a little bit more challenging. But on the other side of Route 9, it's very rare that people will consider other places.

Why do you think Brookline has been so strong over the years?
You're close to the T, you're close to Kendall Square, you're close to the medical area, you're close to the universities, you're close to downtown, the Financial District, so we've never been dependent on one particular industry. ... When I started out and I did rentals and I'd get calls from people all over the world and they had never lived here, but they all l wanted Brookline because of the schools and the proximity.

What do you think is going to happen in Brookline in the rest of 2014?
For Brookline, there always seems to be more buyers than there is inventory. Brookline never tanked in all the years when other places went down. It's like a blue-chip stock: We're the last to fall and the first to come back.
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