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Boston-area home prices bounce in early spring amid plunging supply

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Blame (or don’t) the pandemic for the drops in inventory in the city and its surrounding communities

An aerial shot of the Boston skyline and the region beyond at sunset. Shutterstock

The number of homes listed for sale dropped steeply in March in the Boston area in a sign of the novel coronavirus pandemic’s continued effects on the region’s housing market. Meanwhile, prices were up and sales activity generally strong, suggesting that Greater Boston was headed for a busy spring homebuying season until the pandemic derailed it.

The median sales price for a house in the region was $815,500, up 13.8 percent from March 2019, according to new figures from the Greater Boston Association of Realtors that covered the immediate metro area, including Boston proper, Cambridge, and Somerville. The median sales price for a condo was $726,500, up 16.1 percent annually.

At the same time, the number of active listings was down year over year: 25.6 percent for detached single-families (a.k.a. houses) and 24.1 percent for condos. The number of new listings was also down, and inventory was down for both by at least 20 percent each.

In Boston proper, prices were up too in March and listings way down. The median sales price for a Boston house was $652,500, up 3.6 percent; and for a condo it was $720,000, up 17.8 percent annually. But the number of active house listings was down 35.8 percent and the number of condo listings down 19.6 percent.

Also, for both the Boston area and the city itself, condo sales were up annually in March and the number of house trades down.

What’s it all mean? It’s hard to say with certainty. Many analysts expect the pandemic to have a deep effect on the market—though that effect(s) might not last long. If anything, these and other March numbers suggest that buyer demand is still there; there’s just far less to choose from—which is a familiar story in the Boston-area housing market. (Though that buyer demand could seriously wane as the economy tanks further.)

“The challenge going forward remains the severe listing shortage we face, which coupled with steady buyer demand continues to put upward pressure on prices,” Jason Gell, a Keller Williams broker in Newton and president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors, said in a statement. “To keep prices from rising further, we must produce more housing to increase the supply.”