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On the Housing Market in Charlestown, the Urban 'Burb

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. Check out his ebook, Context: Nine Key Condo Markets, 2.0.

When Nancy Roth left a career in high-tech a dozen years ago, she began one in residential real estate. It ended up being a great move. Today, she is a top agent who in 2013 sold 66 Charlestown properties, including 37 condos. It was the move that she didn't make, however—one to the suburbs after getting married and having children—that gives her particular insight into one of the most surprising trends of the Charlestown market. I spoke with her over the phone recently about what is happening in that much-changing market.

Could you describe the Charlestown condo market?
It's been a wild ride over the last year and a half. It's been very different from the beginning of my career, although it was a very strong market when I started out in real estate in the early 2000s.

How was the market different when you started?
I certainly remember many times having product (on market) for at least 60 to 90 days… And now we're turning it in four to five days.

So the pace has dramatically picked up. What about the pricing?
If you look at snapshot year-to-date versus last year, it's up 8.3 percent. For inventory, there were 22 listings on market on April 29, 2014, and the same day in 2013, 48, so that's less than half.

What do you think is driving it?
I've been sort of thinking about this for a long time and part of me wonders if it reaches back as far as 2009, when financing wasn't exactly as plentiful for the developers, so people stopped building. So, what buyers have to choose from at the moment are actual homeowners transitioning their homes versus developers putting product on the market.

Can you think of a sale that's symbolic of the market we're in?
Seven Trenton. I listed that on May 2 of 2013 for $619K… It ended up inking for $709K. That was last spring—not that that was the first bidding war, certainly, but $25,000 to $30,000, fine, but $90,000? To me, that was like, holy crap. That was a shock for me to see that go for as high as it did.

In 2012, there were only six Charlestown sales in excess of $1 million, but last year there were 27. What happened?
The reason that you saw that is Warren Green [17 newly built townhouses on the corner of Warren and Park Street]. That is the majority of the million-plus. They had fabulous timing—like unbelievably—to come out in spring of 2013. The only thing better is to come out right now.

What's going to happen in Charlestown in the rest of 2014?
What's going to happen is that people will talk to their friends and family and say, "Gosh, I can't believe what I just got. It's just amazing." So, I'm seeing it right now where a condo will go on in the building and two weeks later someone else will list in the building.

While people have been sharing about it, I think when it actually happens in their sphere it becomes more of a reality to them and they say, "Oh, my gosh, we weren't intending to leave here for the next two years, but while the rates are low, why don't we anchor ourselves in wherever we are going to end up for our 30-year house?"

Who is the typical Charlestown buyer and has that buyer changed at all?
The typical buyers here are single professionals, couple professionals. There are actually some families moving back into town. They just say, "Alright we're working downtown, we don't get to see our kids as much, we're in private school so it doesn't matter, let's just move into town."

Are you saying the trend is to raise kids in Charlestown rather than move to the suburbs?
In a big way. It's a well-known fact. When I had my son Andrew, who is nine and a half, there were 450 women in the mother's group in Charlestown and there are now 1,200 and it's growing. It's a very strong organization. It's built to support families staying in the city.

Is that one of the biggest demographic changes?
Yes, definitively: more families staying in town and choosing to stay in town and some actually moving into town. We happen to have phenomenal sports programs in Charlestown. If you go to Charlestown on a Saturday or Sunday and take a picture of those fields, it's no different than if you're in Wellesley or Newton in terms of number of people there and the number of families.

Charlestown is sort of the urban 'burbs. In general, it's ripe for that family environment, but certainly it's very populated with young professionals, single people, empty-nesters. It's a great mix of people. …There are dogs and strollers everywhere. And there's nothing to buy, so the single-family market is probably even more vibrant than the condos. The single-family average price is up 15.5 percent.

Warren Green

1 Thompson Square, Boston, MA