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Condo Boomlet in Fort Hill Rippling Through Roxbury

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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 and people you would not otherwise notice. Follow him on Twitter and check out his ebook, Context: Nine Key Condo Markets, 2.0.

When Realty National MA, a firm that specializes in re-developing distressed properties, purchased the property back in May 2013, they all believed that Roxbury was about to turn. Then in the midst of snowmaggedon in February 2015, the firm decided, according to co-founder Delince Louis, "Let's put this thing on."

Louis was talking about the three units that his company had developed on Dorr Street in Roxbury's Fort Hill. "It's an urban oasis," Louis said of the location. "If you've been up there in the summer, it's a gorgeous neighborhood. It's tree-lined, but you're still minutes to everything."

He pointed out that the Dorr Street condos had all the bells and whistles today's buyers pine for, including marble surfaces, open living spaces, rainfall showers, and surround sound. But, Louis, a Roxbury resident, confided that "it was really tough to find out who in the world is going to pay that kind of money for those types of units in Roxbury."

The market quickly proved the pre-launch jitters weren't necessary. All three condos, priced from $449,000 to $549,000, went under agreement within a week. By April 1, all had closed. Louis said of the buyers: "These were people looking for value, looking for the next big area. They want to get in early and they saw the value there."

According to the region's multiple-listing service, Roxbury is a very small condominium market, with only 29 condos trading in all of 2014. But buyers, pressed by a lack of inventory and skyrocketing prices in markets such as JP and the South End are starting to note its close proximity and easy commute to many parts of Boston, and appreciate the value proposition posed by its housing stock. As a result, developers in Roxbury's most vied-for neighborhood, Fort Hill, are seeing an upsurge in activity.

Thomas O'Connor, the listing agent for eight newly constructed condominiums on Hawthorne Street in Fort Hill (four under-agreement or sold, according to the MLS) told me he has been enthusiastic about the area for more than 10 years. A history buff, O'Connor said, "Fort Hill is just chalk full of it." He noted that many famous people through the centuries have called Roxbury home, and that in centuries past Fort Hill residents had a social status "pretty close to even Beacon Hill."

As for what feels like an increased interest in Fort Hill condominiums, O'Connor told me that if it weren't for the economic downturn it would have happened five or six years ago. Then, O'Connor predicted, that if all things continue, next year Fort Hill "will have prices on par with Jamaica Plain."

Pop Quiz, Hot Shots: the Hub Condo Market at the Start of 2015 [Curbed Boston]

Kamran Zahedi, president of Urbanica, a Boston development firm, also thinks that rising prices in the South End have made Fort Hill a good alternative. His firm just put the first of seven energy-efficient townhomes on market. The townhomes each have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, 1,700 square feet of living space, and parking; they're asking $619,000. Brand-new construction for under $375 a square foot is definitely part of the appeal that is provoking some Hub buyers to forgo pricier Hub neighborhoods and seek out Fort Hill.

But Tim Long, a real estate agent who is preparing to build three townhouses in Fort Hill, says he also appreciates the sense of community he sees there. "If you live there," he said, "you're part of a community, whereas in other parts of the city, you're just sort of out there by yourself. There are still a lot of people who have grown up there and continue to live there and pass their homes on to their families. It's just a nice neighborhood." He notes that even Fort Hill's newer residents all seem to know each other.

As for what all the recent activity in Fort Hill means, Delince Louis might have summed it up best when he told me, "It's a very small market, but something we've learned is that now it has become a desirable market."
· Our Bates By the Numbers archive [Curbed Boston]