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Recent Boston-area housing stats good news for prospective buyers—really

The market continues its turn, despite surges in sales and prices in late 2019

A row of close-together three-story rowhouses. Shutterstock

December surges in sales and prices don’t mean that the Boston-area housing market has stopped shifting in favor of buyers, according to a new report from the Greater Boston Association of Realtors and the Warren Group, a local real estate research firm.

On the contrary, if anything, the activity might represent a last hurrah for the housing-market boom in the region. Besides, the surges were due more to overall economic conditions and to another surge—that of new listings.

“The flurry of sales activity we saw over the final month of last year is owed in part to the uptick in new listings we saw during the early fall, which increased the supply of homes and condos for sale, not to mention the fact that job growth and consumer confidence in the housing market remain very strong locally,” Jason Gell, president of the realtors association and an agent with Keller Williams in Cambridge, said in a statement.

Gell added that dwindling inventories of available condos and single-families was “the largest obstacle to ensuring our housing market remains healthy this year.” Without a deep bench, it will be more difficult for the local housing market to play at the same level as in the past. That should mean lower prices and less frenzied competition—what some have delicately labeled a market correction.

The number of active listings for detached single-families was down more than 30 percent in December compared with the same month in 2018, and the number of active condo listings was down nearly 17 percent. Both were down from November by double-digit percentages as well, according to the realtors and the Warren Group.

Their report tracked closed deals in December in 64 Boston-area municipalities, including Boston proper.

It also took longer to sell a home in December. The average number of days for unloading a single-family rose 6.5 percent annually, to 66, and the average number of days for selling a condo increased 22.8 percent year over year, to 70.

But, for buyers, there was no getting around the price surges, however unrepresentative they might be of the market’s overall longterm direction.

The median sales price for detached single-families hit a record in December of $605,000, up 3.4 percent from December 2018. The median condo price was up 7.9 percent annually, to $542,250. Both medians were up over November too; and the average sales prices per square foot were both up—to $330 for single-families and $568 for condos.

As for sales, they were up considerably. In the case of detached single-families, the 1,180 deals that closed in December represented a 21 percent annual increase and the third highest sales total on record for the month. Condo sales jumped 18 percent, to 887, the fourth highest number on record for December.

Still, these figures—particularly the prices—might represent a final highwater mark for the Boston region’s vaunted sellers’ market, where bidding wars were common and properties went fast at or over asking. Or maybe they’re not even a highwater mark at all. The median single-family and condo prices for the entire year were each basically the same as in 2018—up just 1.6 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.

“Home values have stabilized over the past year throughout much of the metropolitan area, especially in the mid-level and luxury markets, where the number of buyers and multi-offer situations has been on the decline,” Gell of the realtors association said. “As the market slowly becomes more balanced, buyers rather than sellers are dictating price ...”

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