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Downtown Boston townhouse sales decline as prices rise

The sales drop mirrors a trend in the wider Boston housing market—meanwhile, downtown condos are doing just fine

A row of townhouses on a city street behind some trees where the leaves have fallen off. Shutterstock

The trends in the wider Boston housing market appear to be creeping into the city’s rarefied market for downtown townhouses.

A new report from appraiser Miller Samuel and brokerage Douglas Elliman showed that the number of downtown townhouse sales declined 9.6 percent annually and 27.9 percent quarterly in the fourth quarter of 2019, to 75 total.

The report was based on closed deals for the three months ended December 31 in Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Charleston, Fenway, Midtown (a.k.a. Downtown Crossing), the North End, the Seaport District, South Boston, the South End, and the West End.

The sales declines for downtown townhouses mirrors declines in the wider Boston real estate market. Single-family sales in general were down 35 percent annually in November and 10 percent year to date that month, according to a report from the Greater Boston Association of Realtors and real estate research firm the Warren Group. Condo sales were also down across Boston, 8.8 percent annually and 9.7 percent year to date.

Part of the reason for the decline, at least in the townhouse market, might have been the steady rise in prices in an already expensive sector. The average downtown townhouse sales price was $1,790,441, up nearly 10 percent both quarterly and annually, according to Miller Samuel-Douglas Elliman. The median sales price rose 9.2 percent annually, to $1,311,500 (though down 3.7 percent quarterly).

And townhouses in downtown Boston were averaging $730 a square foot as of the end of 2019, up 3.7 percent quarterly and 7.2 percent annually.

Still, whatever the increases in townhouse prices, they’ve got nothing on what happened to the downtown condo market at the tail end of 2019. The median and average sales prices for condos, as well as the average price per square foot, all broke records in the fourth quarter, with each rising by double-digit percentages from the same time in 2018.