|BOSTON LOFTS IN THE NEWS
|LoftsBoston.com welcomes collaboration with journalists and freelance writers who seek our expert knowledge and opinion on Boston's dynamic loft market. The following is a selection of news articles and special features that were published online and/or in print. We trust you will find our experience insightful.
|FEATURED HOMES Sunny Downtown
|Boston Loft is Spacious
|By Nancy Murray Young This article appeared in the May 26 - June 1, 2012 Featured Homes section of the Boston Homes, 05/26/12. To view an online version of this transcript, please click here.
||There is much to appreciate about living at 210 Lincoln St., Downtown, and its stellar location at the corner of Kneeland Street is just the beginning. The building is in the heart of Boston’s nine-block historic Leather District, where 19th century brick warehouses have been reborn as a thriving, contemporary, mixed-use residential and commercial neighborhood. “I love how central we are to everything,” notes the current owner of Unit 803.
It is one of the things the family will miss most when they move from Massachusetts. From the Theater District, Chinatown and downtown shopping, to Boston Common, the Rose Kennedy Greenway and Fort Point Channel, “everything is walkable and accessible.” With loft living, “it’s about inner space” as well, says Sebastian Diessel of Maxwell Associates, who has listed the residence at $1.46 million. A resident of the neighborhood himself, Diessel describes the Leather District as “the quintessential loft area,” where buyers can find the best space and value for their investment.
In this instance, the value is exceptional. Originally two separate 1,400-square-foot units, each with two bedrooms and two baths, this “super loft” was created by unifying both units into a single space, explains Diessel. Exposed pipes, ducts and conduits, the integration of the original flared concrete columns in the unit’s design and the faint traces of the original narrow boards in the ceilings retain the industrial legacy of the building. George Jacobs designed the brick and steel building in 1920, and it was not until the late 1990s that plans were proposed to change the office building with a restaurant and light storage to 32 live-in artist lofts along with first- and ground-floor commercial space.
A stunning “grand room” forms the main loft space of Unit 803, with a 50-foot-long wall of 12 double windows across the entire south side, offering unobstructed views of the city, abundant sunshine and excellent noise reduction. (In addition, the windows have shades that can soften the light.) At night, the headlights and taillights on I-93 twinkle like sparkling ribbons of red and white. Even on a gray day, the unit is full of light – another thing the current owners will miss.
Distinct multiple living areas within the grand room create a cozy “family room,” a charming dining room and a comfortable sitting area on the corner, where east-facing windows capture the morning sunlight. Hardwood flooring unifies the space. This gracious setting is ideal for small gatherings or larger parties, which will come in handy when entertaining the “very sociable, friendly neighbors,” who will be missed.
The completely remodeled and expanded kitchen is a masterful fusion of clean lines, impeccable design and superior appliances like the Wolf induction cooktop with a heat-resistant black ceramic glass surface. Other high-end appliances include a Wolf microwave drawer, a stainless steel Miele refrigerator with a bottom freezer and an Asko dishwasher. An extended, 15-foot-long Brazilian soapstone workbench counter bar comfortably seats eight for informal dining and chatting with the cook. The feature wall and backsplash are meticulously crafted from natural stone shards. Sleek imported Italian cabinets with task lighting and a trough-style sink with its Vigo single-handle, pullout spray kitchen faucet lend a continental accent to the space.
Off the grand room, three-quarter walls enclose a delightful guest bedroom, with an en suite bath and walk-in closet. The loft’s three primary bedrooms and three full marble-tiled baths comprise the eastern side of the unit. The 19- by 12-foot master suite features lovely built-ins, an additional walk-in wardrobe and storage closet and a full en suite bath. A double door storage closet houses the loft’s forced hot air heating and air conditioning unit and hot water system. Both heating/AC units and hot water systems were installed in June 2010 and are under warranty until 2020.
Adjacent to the main entrance, a separate utility closet houses the loft’s laundry facilities, which include a full-size, heavy-duty stackable washer and dryer unit, plus additional built-in storage space. Diessel notes that the two original units were seamlessly joined together in a way that would allow a new owner to separate them again easily to make space for an additional family apartment or other use. The original plumbing remains in place for a new kitchen. This spacious, welcoming condo holds great promise for a new owner. The current owners made this home uniquely their own, adding many elements that enhance comfort and efficiency, and using the space as a perfect setting for their furnishings and artwork. When their personal effects are gone, a fresh canvas will remain, offering space, light and inspiration.
For more information or a chance to see this property, contact Sebastian Diessel of Maxwell Associates / LoftsBoston.com, 107 South St., Boston, MA 02111. Phones: 617-482-1239 or 617-669-4144. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
|HOMESM@RT 'Super Loft' Showcases
|By Paul Restuccia This article appeared in the May 2012 Business/Real Estate section of the Boston Herald, 05/05/12. To view an online version of this transcript, please click here.
||This four-bedroom “super loft” — combining two side-by-side Leather District units — has panoramic views and a new $80,000 Italian-designed custom kitchen. Unit 803 at 210 Lincoln St. has 2,831 square feet of living space, with four bedrooms, four full marble bathrooms and a 50-foot wide living/dining area with a wall of windows with great views. It’s on the market for $1.46 million. The elevator gray-granite building, which has 29 condos, was converted from offices in 1999, and features a multicolored marble lobby. Unit 803 is on the eighth floor, off a carpeted hallway with sconce lighting.
The unit opens into a long foyer/hallway, with maple floors refinished with a light-brown glaze in 2010. There’s a coat closet, and one of several original concrete mushroom columns connecting to the loft’s 10-and-a-half-foot ceilings. To the immediate right is a closet with a Samsung washer and dryer, a folding table and shelves. Along the hallway is a full marble bathroom with a tub/shower. And there’s a closet that holds one of the unit’s two HVAC systems distributing heat and central air replaced in 2010. The unit gets heating from the nearby Trigen steam plant for a flat $36 a month, and utility bills for the all-electric unit are only about $90 a month.
At the end of the hallway is the combined unit’s open kitchen, living, dining space, with a wall of 10 rear windows with unobstructed, panoramic views looking south over the city out to the Blue Hills. The track-lit kitchen got an $80,000 makeover last year, highlighted by 18 custom-made Italian undermount-lit cabinets, which are espresso-and-white stained. The floor is brown slate and the rear wall and backsplash feature small white marble tiles. There’s a long L-shaped island topped with black soapstone counters and a five electric-burner Wolf stovetop with a convection oven below. Other stainless-steel appliances are a built-in Miele refrigerator, Asko dishwasher and built-in Miele microwave.
Beyond the kitchen is a spectacular living/dining area that is 50 feet long and features a wall of 10 rear double-glazed windows and two side windows, all of which were replaced in 2010. This great room has three distinct spaces, an entertainment room on one end and a living room on the other, with a dining area in between, all with panoramic views.
On either side of this room are wings that hold two bedroom suites. One maple-floored hallway leads down to the master suite, which has a maple-floored bedroom with a wall-length custom Italian-made built-in wardrobe, added in 2010. The en-suite bathroom has beige marble floors and walls for a walk-in shower and a marble vanity. There’s a large separate walk-in closet with another Italian-made built-in wardrobe and a closet with a second new heating/cooling system. Off the hallway on this wing are also two smaller bedrooms (one is being used as a nursery, the other a study, and there’s another full marble bathroom).
There’s a second bedroom suite off the other side of the living room. The bedroom has maple floors, a walk-in closet and an en-suite bathroom with marble floors and walls for a walk-in shower. Parking for this unit is on-street with a residential permit, or there is parking available in several area garages for $250-$370 a month.
For more information or a chance to see this property, contact Sebastian Diessel of Maxwell Associates at 617-669-4144.
|HOME SHOWCASE Lofty Church
|Conversion in Somerville
|By Paul Restuccia This article appeared in the June 2011 Business/Real Estate section of the Boston Herald, 06/25/11. To view an online version of this transcript, please click here.
||A converted church in Somerville’s Union Square offers a unique condo that features three-plus levels of living within a soaring 45-foot high space. Unit 6 at 1 Summer St., is one of seven units carved out of the 1858-built First United Methodist Church, a Gothic/Queen Anne-style brick building that was converted to condos in 2007-2008. This 2,465-square-foot, three-plus level loft with a custom SieMatic kitchen, a master suite with a marble bath and a top-level sleeping loft, is selling for $920,000.
The church’s exterior has been restored with new windows as well as original stained-glass tops and there’s a granite paver front yard with landscaped areas on either side enclosed by a wrought-iron fence. Large mahogany doors lead into an ornate lobby with dowelled wood floors, dentil crown molding, a ceiling medallion with a hanging chandelier and a decorative fireplace surrounded by polished granite. An elevator takes you up to Unit 6 on the second floor down a carpeted hallway with sconce lights and wood panels from the original church.
The unit opens into a maple foyer with a coat closet and a half bath with a blue-and-green marble floor and a stainless-steel pedestal sink. It then opens up into a soaring 28-by-15-foot maple-floored living/dining space with 45-foot ceilings, two 14-foot windows capped with stained glass and a cross beam with track lighting.
The adjacent maple-floored custom kitchen has 25 SieMatic cabinets, Absolut black granite countertops and a checkered pattern stainless-steel backsplash. Top-of-the-line stainless-steel appliances include a Gaggenau gas stovetop and oven, a Kitchen Aid refrigerator and a Miele dishwasher.
Off the living area through tall doors is the master bedroom suite with 25-foot ceilings and a 14-foot window topped with stained glass. There are two large closets with built-in wardrobes and a luxurious bathroom with black marble floors and white marble surround for a deep whirlpool tub and a black-marble tiled walk-in shower.
The unit’s second level features a large mezzanine area, now used as a media room, which overlooks the living room. This space features a curving arch from the original church with a carved angel sculpture. Also on this floor is are three closets, one of which holds a Maytag washer and dryer, the second storage and a third is a walk-in closet reconfigured as a study. There’s also a light pink-marble floored bathroom with a pedestal sink and pink-marble surround for a tub and shower.
A maple staircase leads to the third level, which features a large bedroom/sitting area with maple floors and a vaulted ceilings and a walk-in closet/study with a stained-glass window, both of which overlook the living area. Above this room is a crow’s nest sleeping loft currently used as a study. There’s a large unfinished attic area above the sleeping loft, which provides ample storage space.
Unit 6 comes with two deeded spaces in a garage underneath the church that’s reachable by elevator.
For more information or a chance to see this property, contact Sebastian Diessel or Onnelly Parslow of Maxwell Associates at 617-482-1239.
|PROFILE: BOSTON Perspectives on local
|real estate trends
|By Heather Logrippo This article appeared in the December 2008 Vol. 4 No. 5 issue of Distinctive Homes of New England. To view an online version of this transcript, please click here.
||When describing Boston, many people discuss the city's unique architecture, diverse population and variety of entertainment options. Much of the city's historical sights and centers of culture are contained within a five square mile (8 sq. km) area, making Boston one of the most walker-friendly cities in the nation. Boston also boasts some of the world's leading academic institutions, including M.I.T. and Harvard University, making it a hub of innovation. Blending its historical roots with high-tech companies, modern infrastructure and leading academic institutions, Boston is a clean, compact and diverse city.
It is no surprise that all of the amenities draw in people who see the advantages of calling Boston home. Frann Bilus, in Residential Brokerage with Otis & Ahearn tells us, "The downtown Boston condominium market is alive and well. The proof is in the numbers, particularly at the high end of the market. For example, $1,000+ per square foot transactions more than doubled in the absolute and gained roughly 3.9 share points. And the $1Mil+ transactions reached a record 15% share, also up about 3.6 points year to date versus prior year. The most desirable neighborhoods such as Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Midtown and Waterfront are thriving, whereas the lower end of the market (under $500K) is shrinking."
Onnelly Parslow of Maxwell Associates says, "Simply put, those that can hold onto their properties are doing so and, those that are listing and selling their condos are realizing great returns given the limited inventory. As demand grows for the convenience of inner city living, a neighborhood like the Leather District, whose population has doubled in the past three years, with its high concentration of loft condos and its proximity to the Financial District, Chinatown and the Theatre District, is a highly desired destination to call home."
Beth Dickerson, of Gibson Sotheby's International Realty adds, "The high end market is very active and there is a flurry of activity from interested buyers in the over two million dollar range."
Boston is a perfect combination of a big city with a small community feel. It is one of America's oldest cities and distinguishes itself by the cultural diversity of its twenty-one different neighborhoods. In 2007, City Mayors rated Boston as one of the world's top cities offering the best quality of life. Indeed, the city boasts exceptional medical facilities, vibrant neighborhood business districts, world-class educational institutions and a solid network of parks, community centers and libraries. The city of Boston proudly supports programs, such as "Boston Shines 365", which help volunteers run community-based projects throughout the city. In addition, the city booms with mouthwatering eateries, relaxing coffee shops, entertaining music venues and an exciting nightlife. Come see how you can make Boston home.
For more information visit: http://cityofboston.gov.
|The MASSACHUSETTS ASSOCIATION
|of REALTORS® Website Design Contest
|By MAR This announcement appeared in the July 2007 MAR Real Estate Technology News Letter of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors®, 07/11/07. To view an online version of this transcript, please click here.
||Congratulations to all the winners of the 2007 Website Design Contest!
Three winning sites were chosen from each of the two categories. In addition to the winners, 7 Honorable Mention sites were chosen from each category. Look for the complete write-up on the contest and the winners in the September/October issue of Bay State REALTOR® Magazine. The winning websites will also be honored at the annual Professional Awards Reception on October 10, 2007.
Company: Distinctive Realty, Inc.
With a clean layout and easy access to the most requested consumer tools, Distinctive-Realty.com shines as an example of the less-equals-more principle for web users. “I don’t think we should have an abundance of information on our real estate site. In my opinion, we should stay focused and present a clean format for a consumer to peruse,” said Pamela Wellen of Distinctive Realty, Inc.
Company: Maxwell Associates
Specializing in residential and commercial lofts in Boston, LoftsBoston.com relies on a simple, yet elegant, layout to highlight their properties. Each unit is meticulously photographed and exhibited on the site with 20-50 pictures and captions per property, along with floor plans, maps and more. “The goal of the site is to help consumers decide on the basis of the online profile alone whether they wish to see the property in person,” said Onnelly Parslow, of the parent company Maxwell Associates. “The site serves to filter and deliver more ready, willing and able buyers/renters.”
Company: Charlesgate Realty Group, LLC.
With a crisp and professional look, CharlesGateRealty.com is a model for websites that must cater to a broad spectrum of clientele. Whether you are a buyer, seller, renter, or investor it is quickly apparent where to go within the site. Easy access to newsletter subscriptions and information requests simplify communication, while dynamic content like real-time mortgage rate information keeps the site fresh.
|LYNN, LYNN, CITY OF VIM Shedding old
|image, downtown begins to rebound as lofts
|draw new residents and businesses
|By Ron DePasquale This article appeared in the April 2007 Real Estate News section of the Boston Globe, 04/22/07. To view an online version of this transcript, please click here.
||The first time Steve Feldmann and his wife Marie walked around downtown Lynn, it was a dreary March day and they were alone on the sidewalks.
"Everything looked old and beaten and all the buildings downtown were boarded up," he said, describing Lynn in 2003. "Nobody was on the streets walking around. But Marie got this look on her face, she started to smile and said, 'The bones are here. Look at these buildings, they're so incredible.' "
Lynn had rezoned its downtown so that the historic redbrick buildings that had made it an industrial center could be converted into loft condos.
Feldmann and his wife, who wanted to live in a loft but couldn't afford downtown Boston, sold their Jamaica Plain condo and became pioneers at another urban front, buying a loft in Lynn for only $200,000.
They moved into the Boston Machine Lofts, a stately building that was the first to be converted... [followed closely by 15 Units at the Exchange Street Lofts.] Convinced that Lynn's downtown resurrection was real, Feldmann quit his job as a Web developer and two years ago opened the Gulu-Gulu Cafe, named for a cafe in Prague where he and his wife met. The European-style cafe sells wine and craft beers at night, hosts live music, and has abstract art hanging on the walls.
The cafe right across the square from Feldmann's loft is a cornerstone of the new downtown scene, which has seen an influx of about 250 homeowners during the past year-and-a-half, many of whom make the 20-minute commuter rail trip to Boston, said Jim Cowdell, executive director of Lynn's Economic Development and Industrial Corp.
Despite that impressive opening wave, Feldmann said he expected the downtown to be even busier than it is now.
"I thought if somebody takes a chance and stakes a claim downtown, others would follow, and it didn't happen as quickly as I thought it would," he said. "Other restaurants are doing well, the arts scene has really flourished, the lofts are still selling, you're seeing more people on the streets, but it's nowhere near where it's going to go. The South End [in Boston] in the early '90s was not too impressive, and it's the same here it hasn't reached a critical mass yet."
Feldmann, who grew up in Central Massachusetts, said that many of the young couples who migrated from Boston are originally from Rhode Island, New York, or elsewhere, and had no image of Lynn as impoverished and crime-ridden .
"Growing up, Lynn meant nothing to me," he said. "The extra baggage didn't affect me at all. But my brother-in-law, who grew up in Swampscott, has a different perception, and he's been quite impressed that it's packed with all these young professionals and artists."
The general slowdown in the real estate market that began last year hasn't helped. Two developers with several condo developments between them RCG of Somerville and the Mayo Group of Boston each said units are taking longer to sell than expected because of the market downturn.
The Mayo Group's 7 Central Square, which opened last June, has sold 16 of its 22 units. Ed O'Donnell , vice president of development, said that hasn't discouraged the company from proceeding with another development nearby, 24 Mt. Vernon St., where it added two floors to an old three-story warehouse to create 31 units. MV24, which will have an art gallery, is slated to open in the fall. Prices for two-bedroom lofts will start at $299,000.
"We've only begun to scratch the surface in downtown Lynn," O'Donnell said. "We're in Lynn for the long haul."
RCG converted an old fire station into Ladder 3 Lofts at 88 Franklin St. While it took more than a year to move all 15 Ladder 3 units, a buyer is already reselling a condo for more than the original sale price... [moreover, this success has been duplicated at the Sloan Machinery Lofts, in Lynn's City Hall District.]
And at the Boston Machine Lofts, which RCG also developed, owners "have seen their values rise and hold, even as the market slowed," said Matt Picarsic, an RCG principal.
In a way, the downtown scene is Version 2.0 of the new Lynn. Another entrepreneur who has eagerly awaited Lynn's comeback is Lowell Gray , whose success with the Internet service provider Shore.Net in the 1990s fueled hope that Lynn could host a thriving cyber district hope that fizzled with the dot-com bust.
Gray kept his Oxford Street building but sold the company to its current tenant, Primus Telecommunications Group, and redeveloped a nearby building into three upper-level condos and an upscale German restaurant, which recently closed.
A new restaurant, called the Downtown Bistro, will open in its place soon, operated by John Moore , who owns the Navy Yard Bistro in Charlestown. Although Gray closed his restaurant, he's "still a big Lynn booster" and pointed to the undeveloped waterfront as something that will drive the downtown's resurgence in the future.
"Over the next couple years, that's going to be huge," he said.
As for the three-story Primus building that he still owns, Gray described it as underutilized, with extra space that could be filled by small Web service companies. It's as wired as anything "in the heart of Silicon Valley," he said.
A new retail center called Union Place will open soon at the former Old Standard of Lynn Plumbing Supply House . Developed by Lenny D'Orlando of Wakefield, the seven storefronts will include a Bread and Butter convenience store, a Subway, Chinese and Dominican restaurants, a laundromat, and a women's spa.
Another new downtown entrepreneur is Thuydiem Le , 34, who runs the Vietnamese restaurant Pho Lynn on Munroe Street with her parents and lives on the second floor with her husband and two small children. The family left Melrose for the two-story, century-old building, and plans on sending the kids to Lynn public schools.
"At night we're really busy, but it's really quiet outside," she said. "I like it."
|LEATHER DISTRICT: Downtown locale's lofts
|draw in young professionals
|By Paul Restuccia This article appeared in the November 2006 Business Today section of the Boston Herald, 11/03/06. To view an online version of this transcript, please click here.
||Kathy Royal got tired of her hour-long commute from Haverhill to Boston, so she recently bought a condo in Boston’s Leather District - a five-minute walk to her downtown job. “What you get for your money here is unlike any other place so close to downtown,” said Royal, a 38-year-old who paid $580,000 for a freshly rehabbed one-bedroom condo. “I looked in Southie, but didn’t want to take a bus to work. Back Bay was too pricey for anything over 700 square feet and the North End was too loud.”
The Leather District - a nine-street neighborhood sandwiched between South Station and Chinatown - has begun attracting lots of people like Royal: young professionals who work in the city. Buyers say the Leather District offers more for the money than the South End, Beacon Hill or Back Bay do.
Royal’s 1,400-square-foot unit features maple floors, a European-style kitchen and 13 windows that wrap around the living room, dining room and bedroom. “I thought I wouldn’t find in a condo in the city (that has) lots of light, but this place is bright and sunny,” she said.
The Leather District’s lofts and “hybrid lofts” average about $450 a square foot - some 25 percent less than similar South End places run. “You tend to get a little more adventurous buyer here, because the area still has an urban edge,” said Chad Lingle, marketing director for the Beach Street Lofts, one of several local condo conversions.
Developer Don Pizzuti recently carved the Beach Street Lofts out of a former industrial building, with all but seven of the site’s 46 units already sold. Other recent condo conversions include the 85-unit Lincoln Plaza (which only has some five condos still available), as well as the sold-out, eight-unit Otello project. Nearby, just 16 condos remain at the 54-unit 210 South St. complex.
The Leather District gets its name from the many shoe and other leather-goods manufacturers that set up shop there after Boston’s Great Fire of 1872. The neighborhood’s infrastructure features brick industrial buildings with cornices, brownstone detailing and storefronts fashioned out of cast iron.
Most of the leather industry left by the 1960s, but the industry’s 19th century buildings remained. Artists and photographers quickly flocked to the area, living illegally on upper floors of commercially zoned structures zoned. (Residents later got the city to rezone the area for mixed commercial/residential usage.)
Today, the former industrial buildings’ beam ceilings and exposed-brick walls attract loft-seeking young professionals. Some suburban empty nesters are also moving in, drawn by the close proximity to downtown’s shops, restaurants and theaters. All told, the Leather District’s population has risen in recent years by about a third, to some 600 residents.
Newcomers include Ben Rymzo, who works as a management consultant in Back Bay. Rymzo said he and wife Isabel Arrillhea love their new Leather District unit because it’s “a true loft, with lots of character.” The two-bedroom condo features a granite-and-stainless-steel kitchen, 11-foot beam ceilings and lots of exposed brick.
In addition to recent arrivals like Rymzo, the neighborhood still has lots of “pioneers” - people who moved in when the district still primarily hosted leather-making firms. Larry Rosenblum, who arrived in the late 1970s, said long-timers endorse the neighborhood’s upscaling. “There is no downside (to residential development) at all,” said Rosenblum, who teamed up with friends in the early 1980s to buy a local building for just $7 a square lot. “Any use that keeps these beautiful buildings alive and vibrant is a good thing.”
Locals expect developers to add even more condos in the next few years, although the soft real estate market has but some projects on hold. Developer Rose Associates has put a parking lot up for sale after canceling plans to build a 12-story condo project there. Millennium Partners likewise appears to be backing off of plans to put condos in a former Teradyne building, which the company recently bought along the Leather District’s border.
Still, Texas developer Hines Inc. is planning to include housing when it develops the air rights over South Station. And long term, the adjacent South Bay area promises both additional housing and green space. Residents hope new South Bay parks - coupled with the planned Rose Kennedy Greenway - will enhance the area’s appeal to young families.
In the meantime, locals have developed close bonds despite the neighborhood’s urban feel. Royal joined the 200-member Leather District Neighborhood Association soon after moving in.
“I met more people in my first few weeks here than I did five years in the suburbs,” she said. “People care about the neighborhood and are actively involved. It’s nice to walk my dog and say ‘hi’ to my neighbors.”
|DOWNTOWN BOSTON: Things are looking up
|By C. J. Hughes This article appeared in the February 2006 Real Estate section of The New York Times, 02/12/06. To view an online version of this transcript, please click here.
||THIS [Boston] city's downtown, like many others in the Northeast, has had very few actual residents in recent years. But with the completion of a project that moved a major highway underground, developers are betting that more people will be moving there.
Buildings that were once bathed in shadows and subject to noise and fumes are being refurbished at a quick pace. Instead of looking at traffic jams, downtown buildings will soon overlook the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a 30-acre park that follows the same route used by Interstate 93 before it was relocated underground as part of the much-publicized Big Dig project.
With the new park as a potential selling point, developers are building luxury condos where they once thought office space would be a more likely use.
Much of the new construction is concentrated in the Leather District, the rectangular nine-block neighborhood between Chinatown and South Station, where low-slung Romanesque Revival buildings were once the workshops of men who nailed shoes together. Already, the population there has tripled in the last decade, to about 1,000 people, according to the Leather District Neighborhood Association.
Others developments are in the Financial District, where skyscrapers fan out along the curve of the harbor.
This spring, the first grass seeds are expected to be planted in the park, which will eventually connect Chinatown with the TD Banknorth Garden sports arena, at the edge of the North End. Along the way, it will feature benches, historical markers, a museum and sculpture.
To have so much new public space for leisure activities in an area that has historically been chockablock with commerce and congestion is a big change that could benefit property owners and developers, who expect prices to increase.
"The Greenway is enormously important," said Robert Weintraub, a broker for Boston Realty Works, who has sold homes throughout the city for 25 years.
"Properties will easily double or triple in value once the project is complete," he said, sometime next year.
In 2005, homes in the Leather District sold for an average of $618,947, or $475 a square foot, according to Mr. Weintraub, who based those averages on statistics from Link, a multiple listings database used by Boston brokers.
Mr. Weintraub and other brokers estimate that already 75 percent of the upper floors are residential, after being sweatshops or less-than-prime office space for many years. Developers are rushing to convert whatever is remaining on the upper floors of the Leather District's buildings to condos. (Almost all of the ground floors will remain commercial).
One recent conversion is the Ottello, which is on a handsome stretch of Beach Street that runs between South Station and the green-roofed gate to Chinatown. The eight units, two per floor, are 2,700 square feet each with 12-foot ceilings, limestone kitchen countertops, double ovens and in-wall stereo speakers in every room.
All the units have sold, for $1.25 million to $1.625 million, and within $50,000 of the asking price, according to Jim Robertson, the building's developer.
One of the buyers is Tom Richardson, who has lived in Manhattan for 40 years, 28 of which were in the same apartment on the Upper East Side. With the children grown, he and his wife, Joy, want to move to be closer to their second home in Maine four and a half hours away instead of eight. But Mr. Richardson said he also found a reassuring sight in the neighborhood.
"It reminds me of SoHo 25 years ago, before the street level became like Madison Avenue," with so many high-end boutiques, he said. "We're urban folks and like to spend time in an urban environment."
But the Ottello isn't the only recent Leather District conversion. Lincoln Plaza, at the huge block-size building at 70 Lincoln Street and 181 Essex Street, has 85 studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms, ranging from $260,000 to $720,000. The building, which formerly housed offices, is 80 percent sold, 16 months after sales began, according to Alison Fisher, sales director of the building.
Also new are the Residences at 210 South Street. Behind the white-brick neo-Classical facade are 32 one- and two-bedrooms, around 1,350 to 1,700 square feet, priced at $575,000 to $785,000. Sixty percent of the condos have been sold, according to Camille Bergman, a sales agent.
And a 15-story project with 162 condos originally called Two Financial Center and now called the Leighton, which the developer Rose Associates originally planned as an office building, is to rise from an empty lot at the corner of South and Essex Street.
In the Financial District, the Tambone Investment Group and the RiverOak Investment Corporation are converting 210 State Street, which they call the Greenway Building, to 13 lofts, which measure 1,200 to 1,500 square feet and are priced at $1.2 million to $1.5 million; six units are already sold, said George Yerrall, RiverOak's managing director. Before the highway disappeared below ground, it sat just 13 feet from the Greenway Building's outer wall, Mr. Yerrall said. Each unit will have an outdoor deck.
A few blocks over at the Folio, at 80 Broad Street and just two blocks from the planned park, developers have wrapped a 14-story building around a historic four-story brick warehouse designed by the architect Charles Bulfinch, in a project called Folio Boston.
Folio's 96 condos, which include studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms that are priced at $470,000 to $1.3 million, are two-thirds sold, according to Annie Keller, the sales director. Folio residents can order late-night meals from Vintage Lounge restaurant on the ground floor and even get housekeepers from the Wyndham Hotel opposite the condo to clean their apartments.
At 500 Atlantic Avenue, the Residences at the InterContinental, a hotel that also has condo units, will include seven floors with apartments, with one-bedrooms for $725,000. Residents have access to a pool, spa and valet parking, among other services. And the park is right there.
"It will change the whole tenor of the waterfront," said Dinny Herron, a sales director for the building.
One person happy about all these changes is Chris Betke, a pioneer of sorts who has suffered through temporary inconveniences like truck noise and sidewalk detours from the Big Dig.
Mr. Betke moved into his Leather District loft in 1998, paying "less than $500,000" for 1,000 square feet of open space. He relocated there from Brookline to shorten his commute to his law office in the Financial District. Today, he serves as chairman of the Leather District Neighborhood Association.
"If you had told me back in 1999 they would someday convert those offices to condos, I would have said you were insane," Mr. Betke said. "Now we're looking forward to it."
|THE HIGHLIFE: Boston Lofts
|By Cheryl Fenton This article appeared in the June 2005 issue of GO AirTran Airways Inflight Magazine. To view an online version of this transcript, please click here.
||Boston is in the grip of high-standard home improvement, with loft conversions top of the list. From the aesthetic to the practical, Cheryl Fenton takes a rooftop tour of Boston's loftiest prospects.
What do you do with 1,500 square feet of open living space in the middle of a city like Boston? "Whatever I want!" says Kay McGowan. She is just one of the city's many residents who have passed on the hassles and cookie-cutter floor plans of traditional single-family homes and condos. Instead, a loft space is where she hangs her hats... on a funky beam that jets out from a bare brick wall next to an exposed vault from the '20s. Call it industrial charm.
Armed with screens, furniture and fabric panels from the imported furniture store she manages, Cambridge-based Mohr & McPherson, McGowan turned a huge open space within an 1850s South Boston liquor distillery into a well-designed, four-room home. And if she doesn't like the setup, well, she just changes it.
"For me, the brilliance of loft living is this wonderful aesthetic expression," she explains. "There's freedom of expression to do what you want with the space."
"Lofts are fun because people get bored with layouts," agrees Sebastian Diessel of Maxwell Associates. "If you have a house with defined rooms, you're very limited with what you can do. With lofts, you can change the layout of your place as often as you like." Diessel and business partner, Onnelly Parslow, created LoftsBoston.com, an online marketing tool for brokers and developers to showcase a virtual odyssey of Boston-area lofts. The upswing in the value of loft sales the site markets is staggering, almost doubling each consecutive year over the past three years, from $19 million to $72 million in sales.
The appeal of urban living with high ceilings and versatile open design isn't the only thing attracting buyers. Throw in details like industrial windows hung on weights, exposed brick walls, old freight elevator shafts with original steel doors and cool addresses like "The Chocolate Factory," or McGowan's "The Distillery and you've got yourself a conversation piece.
"I've found that the word 'loft' in advertising is guaranteed to make the phone ring or emails come in," says Louise Olson, vice president and senior associate at Coldwell Banker Realty in Cambridge. "I can definitely say that the loft market has increased dramatically in the last five to 10 years." Olson has sold lofts in Boston's North End and Seaport areas, as well as outlying neighborhoods in Chelsea, Cambridge, Somerville, Charlestown and Medford.
"Most developers these days are trying to build lofts whenever possible because of the demand and cachet," she says. "In Boston, certainly, there have been many existing buildings that have made great loft conversions, as well as in Cambridge and Somerville, where available developable space is very limited."
Diessel speaks of this phenomenon as a "second wave" of loft development, especially in Boston's popular up-and-coming Leather District, where he stands in his loft office, gazing up at the 12-foot ceilings with exposed beams.
"In the mid-'90s there was a first wave, which is the heart of the true loft conversions," he explains. "That wave's end coincided with the beginning of the dot-com boom. A lot of these buildings represented a great alternative for commercial leases because they are live/work lofts, so you could pay a lower residential lease and fill it with programmers for your dot-com."
Then came the bust dot-coms perished and loft living was reborn as building owners tried to fill the empty space by turning again to residential conversions.
But the cliché of loft living (funky, starving artists who need a large, cost-effective place to serve as studio and home) is almost gone. Due to increasing popularity and prices, loft living now lends itself to the more pliable wallets of empty-nesters and young professionals who work in the city. And with these higher prices sometimes come higher expectations and more discerning tastes.
"In the first wave, the loft conversions were a lot more raw with basic cabinetry, often one bathroom, one bedroom area," says Diessel. "Today you still have people who want a loft, but they want two bathrooms, two bedrooms and an upscale kitchen. Some of today's lofts are verging on luxury condos."
Before signing up for life in a former police station, cold fur storage facility or sausage plant, potential loft-dwellers should do their homework and consider their lifestyles. Although the privacy issue that goes hand-in-hand with open spaces is easily remedied, there are other considerations.
"Especially in a brick and beam conversion with wood floors, there might be a noise issue," warns Diessel. "If you are at all sound sensitive, you might want to look at a loft with concrete between the floors. But it's condo living regardless. You have to live with each other."
"It's all about entertaining these days," says Diesel. "It's about unifying your play time with your living space. People work hard during the day, so they want to come home and enjoy their inner space; that becomes their playground."
|A SECOND WAVE: Light-lofts Are the
|By Jim Douglass This article appeared in the May 2005 issue of New England Condominium. An online version of this transcript is no longer available.
||Seasoned Boston Realtors Sebastian Diessel and Onnelly Parslow have watched the first wave of condominium loft conversions come and go as owners of www.LoftsBoston.com. But the second and newest wave features a number of twists that stretch the very meaning of word loft.
Traditional lofts constitute the bulk of the healthy loft market, but Diessel says he is witnessing a new breed of buyer, who is looking for what could be termed a light-loft. The light-loft has some of the open spaces traditionally associated with a loft, but more enclosed bedrooms and bathrooms for privacy, along with fewer architectural details, like brick and beams.
Building on the light-loft trend are new developments that include the word loft in their names but have even fewer loft-style features. These newest developments are such a departure from the standard definition of a loft that they could even be considered a faux-loft by purists, says Diessel.
In the first wave of conversions in the early 1990s, Diessel relates, spare warehouse space was converted to lofts that consisted of mostly open space and not much more. "In order to get a certificate of occupancy, the developers had to [minimally] abide by the City of Boston rules, which meant they had to provide only a bedroom and bathroom," he notes.
This bare-bones approach continued through the initial boom and the ensuing dot.com crash at the end of the decade, Diessel says.
Diessel marks the start of the second wave from about a year after the dot-com crash, when high-tech companies that had inhabited warehouse space finally ran out of money and decamped from their warehouse spaces. With the square footage formerly occupied by the defunct firms now available, developers began the second wave in a condominium market that had matured and was appealing to more discriminating buyers, says Diessel.
"In the first wave, the build-outs were relatively basic basic kitchens, nothing too fancy... The buyers out here [today] have... been educated in what they want, and they've seen a lot of condominiums. Now there's more of a move to two bedrooms and two bathrooms, if size permits," he comments.
In many of the second-wave lofts, including an ongoing conversion at Lincoln Plaza in Boston, architectural details like exposed brick will be Sheetrocked over and cement columns will be painted for a "cleaner, more polished look," says Diessel. Some new lofts are covering exposed beams to dampen sound, he adds.
In a more significant departure from the traditional loft ideal, Diessel is also seeing new condominiums with loft-like features and names, but which he says are not technically lofts. "A lot of developers are building new buildings and calling them lofts, probably because they're saving extra bucks by not having to build walls... But they’re not really lofts because they're new construction and they've only got nine-foot ceilings."
In other loft conversions, says Diessel, existing structures are converted to traditional lofts, but then developers are adding new floors on top of the existing buildings or wrapping new sections around them. In the new sections of the piggybacked or mixed loft developments, ceilings are low and traditional loft features are minimal or nonexistent, says Diessel. Lafayette Lofts in Chinatown and the Channel Center in the Seaport District are both examples of this trend, he says.
Dana Schaefer, of Paragon Properties of Boston, says she has seen faux-lofts in the South End in new construction like Wilkes Passage, Laconia Lofts, and Gateway Terrace.
Schaefer says she has seen a mixed development at 485 Harrison in Boston's South End, where the first three floors are in the old converted building and the two floors above it are new, and at Brookline's Cyprus Lofts, which are 90 percent new construction. "I think some of the buildings that they are saying are lofts might be stretching the meaning. I guess the true, true sense of a loft is an old industrial building with high ceilings and period architecture. But I think that now there are a lot of buildings in which they've done a wonderful job and [they] are loft-like. I would definitely call them lofts," she says.
Despite watering down the term, Schaefer says the light-lofts have found a place in the market. "They're definitely selling. People are buying them," she says.
Diessel agrees that newer, less loft-like condominiums are selling well, compared to older first-wave lofts. In Boston's Leather District, says Diessel, a group of four new developments compete well with older loft conversions in the same area. One example of this comparison is a 1,620-square-foot first-wave condominium at 121 Beach Street that recently listed for $679,000. Says Diessel, "What I find is that someone will come and see 121 Beach, which is priced at $679,000, which is a good price per square foot. Then they'll go next door to the new development and pay more - maybe $100,000 more - for something brand new. The buyers are coming down and buying the new product."
The reasons for opting for new over old range from practical to psychological, says Diessel. "I think it's partly the new appliances. Something new [is] psychologically appealing. Buyers say, 'I won’t have to worry about repairs for a number of years. I figure I'm going to be here five years, and because it's new, I'm not going to have to worry about maintenance.'"
Schaefer says market imperatives are also driving the development of light-lofts that are less than robust in their dedication to open space: "I get phone calls from people who want private, enclosed spaces, and traditionally lofts are not like that. I think lofts are high in demand but the new types... appeal to people who like the idea of lofts but want two bedrooms. I think the new constructions are helping people... who love the open space, but still kind of need the private space. I think that helps [lofts] appeal to a wider market."
|LOFT LIVING: The Boston Globe Magazine
|By Spence + Sanders Communications This special feature appeared in the March 2005 issue of The Boston Globe Magazine, 03/13/05. To view an online version of this transcript, please click here.
||Boston's diverse stock of lofts and loft-style residences offers airy open spaces, chic urban design, and cool addresses like "The Chocolate Factory." But before signing up for life in a former cotton mill or sausage plant, buyers would do well to explore this dynamic market by browsing specialist websites like Maxwell Associates' www.LoftsBoston.com.
The LoftsBoston website began as a way of selling his business partner's loft in Boston's Leather District, explains Sebastian Diessel of Maxwell Associates. Four years later, with an extensive pictorial archive and listings from more than 40 brokers and developers, the site offers a virtual odyssey through Boston-area loft sales past and present, from established downtown locations to up-and-coming areas like Lynn. Maxwell Associates is unusual, says Diessel, in being a completely web-based, full-service real estate company. The gross value of loft sales and rentals marketed on the website has doubled for three consecutive years, which shows the appeal of the concept to web-savvy seekers of high ceilings and open-plan living space.
Many kinds of underused commercial property can be successfully reclaimed as residential space. Greenway Place is a luxury loft development in former office buildings at 199 State St., close to the Custom House Tower. The most dramatic change to the building has been its reorientation to face east across the harbor and the planned Rose Kennedy Greenway, says Paul Resten, vice president of residential development for the Burlingtonbased Tambone Investment Group. This gives all condominiums slated to sell for more than $1 million apiece spectacular views of the harbor over the park, through 16-foot-wide windows. The new residential developments, says Resten, will become part of a "vibrant waterfront community that is now reconnected to the financial district by the removal of the expressway." (The expressway was moved underground during a massive construction project known as the Big Dig.)
With a compact center, a thriving cultural scene, and North Station only 35 minutes away by commuter rail, Lowell is an affordable alternative to metro Boston, says former Cambridge Realtor John Callahan. The Cotton House Lofts at Appleton Mill occupy the top two floors of a six-story mill building close to downtown Lowell. Prices run from $199,000 to $299,000, says Dean Harris of Danvers-based JDL Development, LLC, with the majority under $250,000. Most units are duplexes around 1,300 to 1,400 square feet, with living areas above, and sleeping quarters below.
Mentioned in Money magazine's June 2004 Real Estate Report as the second most up-and-coming city of its size in America, Brockton is only a 28-minute train ride from Boston's South Station and a 40-mile drive from Cape Cod. Contributing to Brockton's urban renaissance is the transformation of a one-time shoe factory into 64 two- and three bedroom lofts. The brick-and-beam building stands across the street from the MBTA Commuter Rail Station, and with prices starting in the low $200,000s, the apartments are "great classic lofts, with lots of interesting architectural features," says Mary Benoit of developer Cathartes Investments.
Condominium fees of $175 to $200 per month include high-speed Internet access and use of an on-site health club and function room. Desirable urban locations, access to public transportation, and focus on design are the hallmarks of current projects in Salem, Lynn, and Brookline, says Matt Picarsic, vice president of RCG-LLC's Sales and Marketing Group. The 54 new loft-style condominiums at Derby Lofts in downtown Salem offer city and water views and short strolls to the ocean, the commuter rail, and the stunningly renovated Peabody Essex Museum. Prices range from $350,000 to $550,000 for a penthouse unit with a large balcony. Also north of Boston, Picarsic sees Lynn as an attractive option for commuters looking for space at moderate prices. The Sloan Machinery Lofts, a late 19th-century mill building close to the Central Square commuter line stop in downtown Lynn, now houses 32 loft condominiums at prices from $203,000 to $315,000. Close to Boston, but still offering great value in terms of the local market, says Picarsic, are the 29 units at 323 Cypress Lofts in Brookline, a new construction project featuring penthouse units with "spectacular Boston skyline views," with price tags from the low $500,000s to the low $800,000s.
Shaped by the industrial architecture of the past, the loft lifestyle can also inspire models of innovative green design. The Macallen Building, across the street from the MBTA Broadway stop on the border of South Boston and the South End, will be the first residential building in Boston to have a living "green roof," and to qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, says Tim Pappas of developer Pappas Enterprises, Inc. Unlike conventional black rubber roofs, the green roof, planted with hardy native grasses, will not store solar energy and so contribute to the "heat island effect" that raises the ambient temperature in dense urban developments. The green roof also provides insulation and allows rainwater to be collected, stored, and treated, says Pappas. Constructed using non-toxic and recycled materials, and featuring low energy-consumption fixtures and systems, the Macallen Building houses 149 duplex and triplex condominium units at prices from the low $400,000s to more than $1.5 million.
|PURCHASING REAL ESTATE ONLINE:
|A Buyer's Guide
|By Ellen Browne This article appeared in the June 2004 issue of New England Condominium. This article appeared in print only.
||Today's real state buyers regularly turn to the Internet to gauge a particular real estate market, estimate property taxes before they shop and preview available properties. But some more adventuresome buyers are also using the Web as a buying tool to take them from previewing through to sale, sometimes without the involvement of any real estate professional. How does this measure up as a buying experience? Does taking this approach engender any pitfalls, particularly for condo buyers? We decided to investigate.
In June 2002, David Kempton and his wife bought a condo in Boston through LoftsBoston.com, a Website financed and supported by business partners Sebastian Diessel and Onnelly Parslow of Realtor Maxwell Associates in Boston. The site is designed to supplement the services offered by their traditional real estate agency. Kempton had been living in New York and decided that Manhattan was too pricey. He and his wife had lived in Boston before, and they wanted to move back.
According to Kempton, "After enduring the cramped conditions in Manhattan, we wanted a wide open, bright, airy space. When we decided we wanted to come back, we looked at the more desirable areas of Boston. We decided on the Leather District because of the lower price per square foot. I made contact with LoftsBoston.com through a standard on-line search engine. The site is thorough, and the pictures are great. I cold-called Onnelly and Sebastian, and we went to a few open houses in the area."
Kempton took the time to make himself an informed buyer. He cautions other prospective Internet shoppers, "Nothing on the Web is going to tell you about the neighborhood. You've got to check it out on a Saturday morning and a Saturday evening. See a property in or near the building. Is the building dirty or clean? Is it maintained? At a minimum, get into the neighborhood. Find a personal reference from a current resident."
So how did the sale actually come about? Kempton reported, "I had seen a couple of units in the same building, and I'd seen a few in the neighborhood. With lofts, if the space has been renovated, they are usually all the same. But I hadn’t seen the unit I ended up buying. We noticed the loft on the LoftsBoston.com website while we were vacationing in California. We started discussing the possibility of making an offer during a drive from San Francisco to Napa Valley and, after a few glasses of a stunning 1995 Opus One reserve cabernet, we decided to pull the trigger." Sebastian Diessel picks up the story from there: "They called us from the winery to write the Offer to Purchase Real Estate. We faxed the document to them, and they signed the offer, wrote a check, and faxed the check and the offer letter back to us." Kempton visited the condo after he returned from his vacation.
If you decide to buy a condo through the Internet, with or without retaining a real estate agent, you must be an educated and savvy consumer. Once you have found a condo you like, there are many details you need to keep track of and many decisions you must make. Here are the tips that made it to the top of our list:
• Take financial stock of your situation before you make an offer. In addition to paying the purchase price of the condo unit you intend to buy, you will be responsible for paying the monthly fees charged by the condo's association. These fees pay, maintenance of the common areas of the buildings, maintenance of the grounds, and insurance to cover the structure and common areas. You must also carry your own insurance on your own unit. Can you afford these fees in addition to your mortgage payment?
• Visit the condo before you make an offer. Some buyers snap up second homes or vacation condo's without ever laying eyes on them, but it's always wise to look before you buy.
• Have the unit inspected by a professional home inspector. This is especially important if you are buying without being able to see the unit yourself. Do not use and inspector who is affiliated with the seller's side of the transaction. Your inspector must represent your best interests and should not be encumbered by any conflict of interest. According to attorney Henry Goodman of the Law Offices of Goodman & Shapiro in Dedham, Mass., "A seller has no duty to disclose any problems with the property unless he or she is specifically asked, in which case he or she is not supposed to lie." So it pays to be wary and to hire and independent inspector who will go over the unit with a fine toothed comb.
• Consider tailoring your offer letter so it is contingent upon your inspector supplying a satisfactory inspection report or your visiting the unit. Kempton took this step with his sale agreement.
• Request and carefully read the condo association's rules and regulations. It is the buyer's responsibility to secure these documents, and it is critical that you understand this information before you move into a condo. The rules govern the day-to-day details of living in a communal setting, and they can be very specific. As an example, many condo associations have rules that govern whether or not residents are allowed to display holiday decorations. But the rules also detail how association elections are held, parking rules, and the fees associated with any special recreational or social facilities. Are you comfortable with someone else deciding if you will be allowed to hang a wreath on your door at Christmas? Or are you too much of an individualist to be governed by an association board?
• Verify that the unit you intend to buy is free of liens and outstanding dues before closing. The seller is responsible for disclosing any special assessments against his or her condo but it's a good idea to double check.
• Verify that the association's insurance coverage is up to date. The condo association manager is responsible for supplying this information for your closing. To do so, he or she must be made aware that the sale is happening. Sales can go through without the insurance certificate but if the new owner is not named on the certificate as an insured, there could be issues in the event of a loss. In addition, the manager of the association must supply a certificate of no lien, a waiver of the right of first refusal in appropriate circumstances, and, if property is serviced by a septic system, a Title 5 Certificate.
• Verify the financial health of the association. According to Kempton, "I did the usual check on the finances of the association, most associations don't have a huge reserve, but I did verify that the association had money in the bank. I didn't research any of the people in the management team. Onnelly and Sebastian knew the people who maintained the building and the head of the association. You wouldn't get that from on-line investigations."
• Request association documentation ahead of time. Aside from being good manners, asking for paperwork in advance assures that the association manager isn't scrambling at the last minute to meet a closing date. Being polite may also save you some money: many managers charge penalty fees sometimes quadruple the original fee! for preparing documentation at the last minute.
• Hire an attorney to represent you. If you plan to take out a mortgage, the lender's attorney will cover many things that your own attorney would not do to protect you. In some states, your attorney may also do the bank's work. However, if your attorney is not representing both sides, make certain you are represented by your own attorney. The one-time charge you incur is good insurance that you will not run into more expensive problems in the future. It is easy to make a costly mistake if you are not adequately represented.
So how did the experience measure up for Kempton? "I didn’t expect it be so easy and quick. This was the first time I've done anything like this. I had the ease of getting on-line and searching for what I wanted. But I think the success of the experience had as much to do with the personalities of the people in the real world. I was lucky that Onnelly and Sebastian are professional and trustworthy. It was a very quick and easy turnaround. Only four weeks elapsed between the first time I saw the loft on-line to when we closed!"
|"SITE" UNSEEN: Condo E-Sales are Booming
|By Ellen Browne This article appeared in the March 2004 issue of New England Condominium. This article appeared in print only.
||Anyone interested in buying real estate knows that myriad questions must be answered prior to purchase: How much can you afford to spend? Do you want to live in the city or the country? What is the best town for you and your family? Are you looking for a large condominium complex or a smaller one? Are schools an important issue for you? Are you interested in a particular recreational activity that would dictate where you should live?
Answering these questions takes time and research, and in today's wired world, many buyers turn to the Internet for information and sometimes as vehicle for purchasing real estate. How does the Web measure up as a tool in the real estate buyer's toolbox?
The Web is a great source of information for prospective buyers. It allows buyers to research a town, take virtual tours of available properties, compare prices, and find out details like property taxes, school information, and recreational opportunities. "People are having success with this way of doing business" says Christie Letizia of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, which offers a course on e-buying. But if you are interested in on-line research or buying, it is important to be a savvy Web user. You must evaluate a site's content, its sponsors, and the services the site does or does not provide to get to a closing.
Marcie Roggow, instructor of that same e-buyer course, agrees. "There are an awful lot of buyers who are buying without ever seeing a property, especially with resort properties. Buyers are finding homes on the Web and closing remotely, and the real estate agent never even meets them! The number of people doing this is still small, but it is a growing population. These buyers are usually upper end-transactions and almost always doing long distance. Because the Boston market is so hot, there are an awful lot of people who are willing to close on a handshake. Buyers who are really in earnest will use more then one source in this market."
One real estate Web site is www.ISoldMyHouse.com, which is financed by East/West Mortgage, a Massachusetts-based mortgage company. The site's listing included photographs and basic statistics on properties available for sale. Started in 2000 to list properties in the Northeast, the site went national on November 30, 2003. This is a soup-to-nuts site that can take users from browsing listings through to closing. The site's draw for sellers is that properties are sold by the sellers themselves, without the involvement of a real estate agent thereby eliminating the need for the seller to pay the agent's fee at closing. According to Ed William, CEO and co-founder of ISoldMyHouse.com, the advantage for the buyer is that, as a rule, sellers reduce their asking price because they don’t have to pay the commission. The site sells about 300 properties a week, lists 80-120 new properties a day, and runs a substantial advertising campaign on behalf of its listed properties. The company also make available to buyers and sellers affiliated home inspectors, appraisers, and attorneys.
Buying from ISoldMyHouse.com sounds easy, and Williams says, in most cases the transactions go without a hitch. But Roggow injects a note of caution: "Everybody has a level of risk that they are willing to tolerate. Internet real-estate sites do not threaten agents. The people at risk are the buyers who are purchasing a home without any knowledge. I think the best approach a buyer can take is to surf the Web, find a property, and then contact an agent. Find a buyer's agent, and then sign a contract with the agent that specifies that you are willing to pay the agent a percentage for finding you the perfect house." The site, ISoldMyHouse.com will work with buyer's agents, but not with the seller's agents, which means a buyer's agent can find out information not included in the MLS. Buyers may be making offers without seeing a property, but they are often including a clause in the Purchase and Sale Agreement that the sale is subject to the buyers seeing and liking the property.
"If you're not using a broker, there are services you need to know about, like an appraiser and an inspector. You need to know who the inspectors are, who the appraisers are, and the details of the contract's contingencies. The ordinary person wouldn't necessarily know that," Roggow notes.
Another real estate Web site that includes condo listings is www.LoftsBoston.com, which includes gorgeous photographs and detailed descriptions of condos in the Boston area. The site acts as a supplement to a traditional real estate agency instead of a full-service buying tool. Financed and supported by business partners Sebastian Diessel and Onnelly Parslow of Realtor Maxwell Associates, the site is designed to give users the fullest possible profile of an available condominium. Does the site make the real estate agents feel they can offer less to clients because they assume that clients have already done their research? Webmaster Sebastian Diessel says the site "allows users to do preliminary research on available listings. The photographs give users a detailed impression of what it would be like to live in a loft condo."
Managing Broker, Onnelly Parslow agrees, "the site allows buyers to come to us with clear expectations of what they are looking for. It saves everybody a lot of time! As a broker, when I go looking in different cities on-line, I don't learn a great deal by only being able to read about a listing. I want to see pictures. Once a buyer comes to us, we can confidently show a loft that appeals to that buyer, knowing he or she has done his or her homework. The site is a complement to not a replacement of traditional real estate marketing. Sellers benefit from great exposure, and buyers can filter and focus on their needs and desires."
They both caution that buying without a broker is quite a different experience: "Nothing can really replace the broker-client relationship. The broker can represent your interests. Buyers are always going to want people, handshaking, and face-to-face time. It's a human condition."
Does buying without using a broker complicate real estate transactions? "There is no difference in being introduced to a property either by a broker or on-line," says Attorney Henry Goodman of the Law Offices of Goodman & Shapiro in Dedham, Massachusetts. "However, when you're dealing with a broker, the broker has a duty to make at least an inquiry into the property and to disclose adverse information. An on-line service merely indicates where the property is located. A seller has no duty to disclose any problems with the property unless he or she is specifically asked, in which case he or she cannot lie. Moreover, brokers work to facilitate closings. They secure documentation that may be needed."
Regardless of whether or not you decide to use the Web as a buying tool, it is important to have a qualified attorney to represent you through to closing. It's good policy not to rely on the lender's attorney because the obligations of the lender's attorney extend only to the bank and not to the buyer, except in certain statutorily required circumstances.
According to Goodman, "Hiring an attorney assures that your interests are preserved." Closings are complicated transactions, and it's important that they go smoothly. The fees you pay an attorney to be sure your closing goes without a hitch are miniscule when compared to the money you will spend if you didn't hire an attorney in advance and have to bring one in to deal with an emergency. Goodman says such emergencies can possibly set buyers back "tens of thousands of dollars."
So do the advantages and savings of buying through the Web outweigh the expense of using real estate agent? That decision probably depends on your own temperament. Using the Web as a research tool certainly saves time for everyone involved in a real estate transaction.
Buyers can browse available listings, get a grip on property values in the area, and research details like property taxes and fees. But if you're leaning toward selling or buying a condo on your own, do some soul-searching. Know yourself and your own limitations. Don't underestimate the value and peace of mind a real estate agent can bring to the transaction.
If you're a buyer and you opt to go it alone, you must be willing to do more legwork, stay up to date on your attorney's needs, and spend extra time shepherding your sale through to closing. If you're a seller, you will be faced with showing your home to prospective buyers yourself and being sure you have all the required documentation in hand to close. If you have the time and are not daunted by extra work, buying online might be a great way to save some money. If, on the other hand, you can't see yourself following through, the experience could be not only unpleasant, but also draining emotionally and financially. The best advice? Buyer Beware!
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