Massachusetts Property Values

Hull-Wind-Turbine-from-seantyler-via-FlickrControversial Wind Turbine Project Approved, Over Neighbors’ Opposition, Appeals Court Rules

Plans for a controversial wind turbine on top of Turkey Hill in swanky coastal Cohasset could soon move forward after the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld a land court ruling that the town’s planning board acted appropriately when it approved the project. The court dismissed opposition arguments by neighbors and a nearby skilled-nursing home who challenged the project’s legality.

The wind turbine is proposed to be sited at the apex of 410-foot-tall Turkey Hill in the northwest corner of Cohasset, in the 314-acre Whitney Thayer Woods, and would be within 1,000 feet of the Golden Living skilled-nursing home and homes on the Hingham side of the border. The nursing home and neighbors complained that the turbine would emit excessive “shadow flicker,” noise and also risk various public safety issues. 

In 2011, the Cohasset Planning Board held hearings on the wind turbine plans, and issued a special permit with numerous conditions for which the operator must comply. The abutters focused on the “flickering shadows” that the 150-foot blades would cast on nearby properties. Land Court judge Gordon Piper in 2012 upheld the board’s approval, determining that the permit’s special conditions adequately address safety concerns and follow zoning bylaws. For example, the permit requires that the organization monitor flickering and make sure that it doesn’t exceed 30 minutes per day or 300 hours per year.

The Appeals Court quickly shot down all of the neighbor’s concerns, holding that it would not second-guess the judgment of local officials who granted the permit.

According to the Patriot Ledger, Jim Younger, the director of structural resources and technology at the Trustees of Reservations said that the group is “very pleased” with the court’s ruling and grateful for the widespread support for the project. “At this time, we are still very interested in moving forward with the project and will be reassessing our options following the lengthy delays to the project. We will keep the community informed as we complete this review.”

Wind turbine projects are becoming increasingly more accepted by towns to boost both power and revenue so they are less reliant upon the “grid.” This ruling shows how difficult it is for abutters and neighbors to challenge a wind project once the town planning board has issued a permit.

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We had a great turnout today for our Massachusetts Real Estate Market Report, again presented and moderated by veteran real estate reporter Scott Van Voorhis of Banker & Tradesman and Boston.com. Scott writes for the well-known Boston.com Real Estate Now Blog which is an invaluable resource.

For this installment, we added a little twist, holding a panel discussion and interactive Q&A with Ali Corton of Real Estate Executives Boston West, Chuck Silverston of Prudential Unlimited in Brookline and Dee Reddington of Bank of Canton. Ali was representing the ‘burbs. Chuck was representing the urban, Boston-Brookline market, and Dee was giving the lender perspective. We were live tweeting the event at Twitter #marealestate where you can check out the live stream.

Some take-aways from the presentation and discussion were as follows:

  • As reported just about everywhere, the Massachusetts real estate market remains very strong
  • Year over year, 16% increase in both sales volume and sales prices
  • The government shutdown has had no demonstrative effect on the market, nor on the lending environment
  • Lack of buildable land, desirability of the Greater Boston market (as always) has resulted in high demand, low inventory environment.
  • Inventory is down 30% over 2012 (which was down over 2011), putting upward pressure on prices and demand. Bidding wars common for well-priced, good quality homes in desirable communities. This is creating a frenzied dis-equilibirum in certain markets which isn’t necessarily healthy.
  • The low inventory is the “new normal.” Get used to it.
  • Interest rates are forecast to dip down a bit heading into spring market 2014, with eventual rise through the remainder of 2014 and 2015.  Overall, the interest rate environment remains very favorable to buyers and the market as a whole.
  • First time home buyers must be open to fixer-uppers and not updated homes. Otherwise, they will be in very tough competition for move-in condition homes in the good towns.
  • Lenders are doing loans for low credit (FICO 620 range) borrowers. ARMs making comeback.
  • Chuck pointed out the “Patriot Effect” for open houses on Sundays. People are staying home to watch the game. Advises trying open houses on Saturdays.
  • Ali Corton says that Metrowest sellers are routinely getting asking price or very close to that right now, and will continue to do so while inventory remains low

We are interested in hearing your thoughts on today’s market. Feel free to post your comments below!

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flood-insurance-new-bedford-guideNew Flood Insurance Rates and Map Changes To Drown Homeowners With Premium Surge, Subsidies To End 

I was recently working on a sale transaction in Wareham which went under agreement with no issues. As is common in that coastal area, the property is in Flood Zone with a subsidized flood insurance annual premium of around $3,000 which the buyer was willing to live with. However, during the underwriting process, the lender advised that under new federal flood insurance map and rate changes, the property was not only in a higher flood risk elevation zone, but would also lose its subsidy upon a sale, with a new premium running a whopping $55,000 — a 1700% increase! Needless to say, the sale sank to the bottom of Buzzards Bay, and the current owner is left with a significantly devalued property.

The culprit for this storm surge is the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act, which was passed after Hurricane Katrina. Under the new law, many homeowners will grapple with a double-whammy of costs — first, because their homes are no longer above base flood elevation, and second, the Act will eliminate the grandfathering of properties that were allowed to use old flood-risk data, and will end subsidies for certain types of properties. According to most projections, flood insurance premiums have the potential to increase by 25% per year for many, and for some, exponentially — like my Wareham client. Furthermore, many additional homes have been placed in the high-risk flood zone for the first time, and if the owners have mortgages, they will be required to buy flood insurance.

According to the Boston Globe, the changes will have widespread impact along coastal communities. For example, in Marshfield, roughly 1,500 homes are located in the expanded flood zone, and in Scituate, about 500, according to local officials. Coastal towns have been scrambling over the last several months to assist affected homeowners and petition Congress and FEMA to help, mostly to no avail.

Property owners have the right to appeal their inclusion in the flood zone, but they have barely more than six weeks left to do so. The deadline is Oct. 17 throughout the county. For an appeal to be successful, the owner would have to prove, with professional documentation, that the elevation is different from what the maps indicate. That’s a high burden and very costly to boot.

This situation has real potential to drown listings and sales along the affected coastal areas. I’ll be monitoring this looming storm in the weeks ahead. Stay dry!

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Lara Gordon, Coldwell Banker

Put Your Best Offer Forward & Get Pre-Approved Beforehand, Advise Local Experts

Well, it’s official now. With buyers back in droves, an abnormally low inventory of good properties, and bidding wars popping up all over the place, the Greater Boston real estate market has now made full circle into a seller’s market. As the Boston Globe recently wrote, the market is “desperately seeking sellers.”

images-11For prospective buyers in a seller’s market, the strategies to succeed and find your dream home are very different from just a year or two ago. To help you navigate these unfamiliar waters, I’ve asked Cambridge-Somerville Realtor, Lara Gordon of Coldwell Banker, and Brian Cavanaugh, Senior Mortgage Banker at RMS Mortgage, to join me in this “round-table” discussion about how buyers can succeed in a seller’s market. Lara and Brian were both featured in this month’s Boston Magazine Best Places to Live 2013.

Q: Laura, what are you seeing out there on the streets in terms of inventory, pricing, and respective bargaining power between buyers and sellers? Has the tide really shifted back to sellers?

A: (Lara Gordon) Yes—in a very big way. When sellers have 5-10 offers to choose from, which is typical for most listings in Cambridge & Somerville right now, they are really setting the terms, and some buyers are willing to accommodate just about any request they make, from waiving the inspection to offering a sale-and-lease-back if the seller needs time to find a new place. My listing at 27 Osgood Street, Unit 7 in Somerville (pictures to the right) is a good example — 6 bids.

Q:  Lara, I’m hearing about bidding wars on well-priced, good condition properties. What are you seeing out there, and what’s your best advice on getting that winning bid?

A: (Lara Gordon) I always tell my buyer clients this: if you know you’re going into a multiple offer situation, you should put your best foot forward from the start. Some people feel nervous about coming in high on their offer, thinking they need to leave some room to come up during negotiations, but that is a mistake. If a seller receives one offer that is significantly stronger than the others, they may well accept it without going back for a “best and final” round.

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And again, price is just one aspect of the offer, so have a good pre-approval from a respected lender, do the best you can with the downpayment, be willing to work with sellers’ preferred dates, and make sure your agent is “selling” you as a knowledgeable buyer, reasonable to deal with, and committed to seeing the transaction through.

Q:  What do buyers need to do in terms of making their best and most competitive offer? Are we back to buyer’s writing a personal appeal to sellers and that sort of thing? 

A: (Lara Gordon) Some buyers do write letters to sellers, but it’s the list agent’s job to keep them focused on the strengths of the respective offers, so an emotional appeal really only gets a buyer so far. Buyers really need to put their best foot forward. This starts with price, downpayment, a solid pre-approval from a respected lender, tight contingency dates and as much as possible accommodating the sellers’ preferred timeframe for closing. Beyond that, list agents and sellers are looking for a deal that will proceed smoothly and will “stick” through closing, so buyers’ agents really need to “sell” their clients as educated on the market, realistic about the home inspection and committed to seeing the deal through.

Q:  Brian, I hear that buyers are coming to you at all hours and weekends for pre-approvals. When buyers come to you for mortgage approval, what sort of documentation should they have ready to go and how quickly can you close loans these days?

ex-mlsA: (Cavanaugh). Well, I’ll start off by staying that the pendulum has definitely swung around. When the market favored buyers, you would go look for houses, get an offer accepted then go to your mortgage banker for an approval. Now it’s the other way around. You need a mortgager approval in hand when you are out looking for homes. And that means from the start you need a very firm grasp on exactly what you can afford, how much to put down, etc. You need to work with a mortgage banker with a strong grasp of Fannie and Freddie guidelines.

As for the paperwork, you need 2 years of tax return and W2’s, 30 days of pay-stubs, one year of bank statements, statements for your 401ks, IRAs, and investment accounts. A lot of first time buyers use gifts of downpayment from their parents, which are particularly tricky. I tell them to get those monies into your account ASAP. You will need a gift letter executed by all parties involved and verification of funds.

Currently, we can close a single family loan in 45 days, and a condo purchase in about 60 days, since condo mortgages require more extensive FNMA approval.

Q:  How much are sellers looking at buyers’ financing? Are cash buyers winning out over financed buyers? What are the ways to ensure a seller that a financed buyer is of no greater risk that a cash buyer?

A: (Lara Gordon) Cash is definitely an advantage in that it takes one element of risk out of the equation. For sellers in a rush to close, a cash deal is also appealing because it can close a lot faster than when a lender is involved. But if timing isn’t a big deal and there are good comps for the property, there’s no reason a seller shouldn’t consider a good offer from a buyer who will finance. Of course, the size of the downpayment has become increasingly important as bidding wars drive prices up and appraisals become a concern.

Q: How are you dealing with contingencies in a seller’s market? Are buyers waiving inspection or even financing?
A: (Lara Gordon) There are certainly buyers out there waiving both financing and inspection contingencies, but it’s not always a good idea. While it’s fine for buyers to waive the financing contingency if they’re prepared to pay cash, I personally, would never advise someone to forego a home inspection. The key is to approach it as educational and a way out in case of a major issue, and not as a tool for renegotiating the price.

A: (Vetstein) I’m going to weigh in on this topic as it deals with legal issues. I would STRONGLY advise a financed buyer to resist the temptation to waive the financing contingency in the hope that it will make an offer more attractive. In this day and age of strict underwriting and frequent delays, this is simply a recipe for losing your deposit. I don’t care if a handful of lenders have told you that your file is a slam dunk — you could get laid off a few weeks before close and you’d be DOA for the closing. Same goes for the inspection contingency. Sellers know that buyers want to check the home’s bones beforehand. Trust me, it will cost you a lot more money down the line if you wind up buying equivalent of the “Money Pit.” Tightening the deadlines, that’s fine. Waiving them, that’s just asinine.

A: (Cavanaugh) I would echo Rich’s sentiments. In this day and age of tight lending guidelines, I would hate to see a buyer lose his deposit because he was under the assumption that he could qualify for a mortgage he really couldn’t qualify for. Again, talk to your mortgage banker before you make the offer.

Q: Last question guys. I always recommend that my buyers use a Realtor. But please tell the readers exactly why having a Realtor can greatly increase your chances of succeeding in a seller’s market?

A: (Lara Gordon) I’m glad you asked this question, Rich, because some people think that they will do better if they go directly to the list agent, but given the nature of the market right now, it just doesn’t make sense to try to go it alone.

A: (Cavanaugh). When my borrower works with a Realtor, it always makes the transaction run smoothly. I operate under a “team” concept with the agents, so I’m used to constant contact with both the buyer and listing agent to ensure we get access for the appraisal and all the documentation in place for the loan commitment and closing. When there’s a team of professionals involved in a transaction, it’s a win-win for everyone.

A: (Vetstein) A low inventory/seller’s market is precisely why you want a Realtor who knows the market inside out and can be your salesperson/spokesperson on your side. In a market where perception is everything, I think it’s fair to say that a listing agent/seller will take you more seriously if you are working with a top notch Realtor, rather than sauntering solo into an open house in your Bean duck boots. Not to mention that the buyer does not typically pay an agent commission in Massachusetts. Also, selfishly, working with a client with a Realtor is less stressful for the attorney.

Q: Lara and Brian, any final words of wisdom as we head full bore into the busy spring market?

A: (Lara Gordon) I guess I’d just like to acknowledge that this is a tough market for buyers, and I totally understand the stress and frustration many people are feeling. In an ideal world, you’d find a great house, take some time to think things over, maybe visit a few times, then make a fair offer in a non-competitive situation, and you’d have a new home. But buyers need to accept the reality of the market we’re in: we’ve got low inventory and high demand, and you won’t necessarily get the first house you bid on. Maybe not even the second or third. But if you are qualified financially, have realistic expectations, are patient and persistent, and know how to play the game, you will ultimately find a home.

A: (Cavanaugh). I would urge would-be buyers to talk to a mortgage banker as early as possible in the process. We still have near all time mortgage interest rates. Affordability may never be as good as now, so hang in there in terms of bidding wars and a seller’s market. RMS Mortgage is well known brand and people either know me by reputation or have worked with me. So you have some instant credibility with the listing agent who can vouch for a smooth and successful transaction, and that’s very important in this seller’s market.

Thank you to Brian Cavanaugh and Lara Gordon for a great round-table discussion! Lara can be reached at lara.gordon@nemoves.com or 617-245-3939. Lara blogs at Cambridegville. Brian can be reached at brian.cavanaugh@rmsmortgage.com and 617-771-5021. Brian blogs at Smarterborrowing.com.

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IMG_1490Yesterday my firm sponsored a very informative breakfast seminar with veteran real estate journalist Scott Van Voorhis of Banker & Tradesman and Boston.com who offered his predictions on the 2013 Massachusetts real estate market. The presentation included a lively question and answer session with the 40+ Realtors attending from all over the Greater Boston area. Here are some take-aways from the seminar (in no particular order):

  • “Bright and sunny early, but with a chance of severe job cuts later.” According to Mr. Van Voorhis, the Fiscal Cliff and upcoming Debt Reduction negotiations may be the biggest obstacle remaining in the path of a sustained real estate recovery. At stake are anywhere from 50,000 – 70,000 jobs in Massachusetts if the current slate of proposed budget cuts pass — to defense (i.e., Raytheon), health care, hospitals, and medical research, and tech sectors. If Massachusetts sees severe spending cuts by the federal government, the Route 128 corridor will be most impacted. The current impact is of “wait and see” with defense contractors and tech companies waiting to see how the federal budget battle with be resolved. They are putting new hires on hold and bracing for possible cuts. The fact that Congress will likely wait until the last minute to resolve these important issues doesn’t help the market any!
  • We’re back…. Median sale prices in many suburbs are now back to 2005 levels. Natick’s median price is $418,500, just off from its ’05 high. Needham has surpassed its ’05 record with a median price of $670,000. Burlington has broken its ’05 record at $407,000 median price. A major driver of the real estate recovery is the tech-sector, with Route 128 lab space expanding by 50%, or 3.5 million square feet of space, since 2007, enough to fill three Prudential Towers of space. Shire in Lexington and Genzyme in Framingham have led with way.
  • Tear-Downs On The Rise. Builders are doing tear-downs instead of large scale subdivisions, where financial risk is minimal. Early data indicates increasing market activity in tear-downs in Lexington, Newton and Needham, for example.
  • Low Inventory of Move-In-Ready Homes. The attending Realtors lamented about the dearth of move-in-ready homes in the sought after towns. As we know, there is hardly any buildable land in Massachusetts, and builders have not been doing subdivisions for several years. The agents say bidding wars are back in a big way for these properties, which creates problems with potentially low bank appraisals as the “comps” must catch up with new sales data. The low inventory also affects potential home sellers, especially the empty nesters who are “paralyzed” as one agent described, waiting on the best time to sell.
  • Buyers’ Lack of Vision. We discussed that the current generation of buyers would rather pay a premium for a move-in-ready home with the requisite gourmet kitchen with granite and stainless steel appliances, rather than pay less for a fixer-upper. Some Realtors have enlisted trusted contractors to scope out fixer-uppers along with buyers, so they can envision the potential of a lower priced home.
  • Condos Remain Strong Sector. Condominiums remain the new starter home for many buyers, especially singles. Inventory is strong and pricing remains affordable in many communities. With interest rates still at historic lows and the mortgage interest tax deduction still in place, purchasing a condo is much cheaper than renting. The consensus is that condos will remain a strong sector through 2013.
  • Short Sales Strong & Less Time Consuming. As noted by veteran short sale negotiator Andrew Coppo of Greater Boston Short Sales LLC, short sales are now becoming far less time consuming with the new Fannie Mae short sale guidelines in place since the summer. Mr. Coppo reports that short sales are taking merely 60 days to get approval, and Bank of America finally “getting it” by implementing its computerized Equator streamlined short sale system. Also, the Mortgage Debt Relief Act was extended through 2013, giving short sale sellers tax forgiveness for discharged debt. There are still lots of underwater and struggling homeowners, so 2013 will remain another strong year for short sales.

What are your predictions and thoughts for the 2013 Massachusetts real estate market? We would love to hear from you!

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RDV-profile-picture-larger-150x150.jpgRichard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate attorney who writes frequently about new legislation concerning the real estate industry. He can be reached at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

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High Anxiety Heading Into 2013

The term Fiscal Cliff should be as ubiquitous as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” through the year-end, especially if President Obama and Congress cannot work out a deal to resolve the more than $500 billion in tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect after Jan. 1, 2013. If there is no deal, and the country goes over the fiscal cliff, the consensus is that it will have quite a negative effect on the economy and the real estate market in particular. (I debated using the word “disastrous” because there is a segment of commentators who say the housing market may survive a fall off the cliff).

There are four particular aspects of the Fiscal Cliff which could impact the real estate market.

1.  Expiration of Unemployment Benefits. Emergency jobless benefits for about 2.1 million people out of work will cease Dec. 29, and 1 million more will lose them over the next three months if Congress doesn’t extend the assistance again. Unemployed, even those receiving assistance, cannot and do not purchases homes. Democrats and President Obama want the unemployment benefits extended, but the Republicans are attempting to use this as leverage for their own fiscal cliff agenda. The real estate market will surely suffer if benefits aren’t extended.

2. Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act. The Mortgage Forgiveness Act is set to expire December 31. This tax break is critical for short sales, relieving homeowners from being taxed on any mortgage debt that was forgiven through a short sale, foreclosure or loan modification. If distressed homeowners are subject to tax on millions in debt forgiveness, short sales will likely decrease dramatically.

3. Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction. Once the sacred cow tax break for millions of middle and upper class homeowners, the mortgage interest deduction is reportedly on the chopping block. The National Association of Realtors and real estate groups have been apoplectic in urging no change to this important benefit to homeowners. Eliminating the mortgage deduction would raise taxes on all homeowners, and could dissuade renters from becoming homeowners.

4.  FHA/Fannie Mae Bailout. The Federal Housing Administration, the lender of choice for first-time homebuyers, is nearly insolvent and it could require a taxpayer bailout next year, according Edward J. Pinto, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Pinto claims the 78-year-old agency is $34.5 billion short of its legal capital requirement. “If it were a private company, it would be shut down,” argues Pinto. These aren’t the only issues threatening the real estate market. Since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government in 2008, taxpayers have plowed  $180 billion into them to keep them operational. This mess needs to be fixed next year.

Well, if your stomach isn’t in knots, mine is. Luckily, we have some medicine for you!

On January 8, 2013, we are sponsoring a breakfast seminar with veteran real estate journalist Scott Van Voorhis, who will offer his predictions on what 2013 will bring. Please email me to sign up. The Facebook Event invitation is here. The venue is Avita in Needham, 880 Greendale Ave., Needham, MA.

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Richard D. Vetstein is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney who hopes the White House and Congress can get their acts together and pass a compromise bill to avoid the Fiscal Cliff.

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Breaking: Attorney General Strikes Down Wakefield Ban on Dispensary

Hazy Legal Landscape Providing Angst to Town Planners

Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved the Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative/Question 3 (click for full text), opening the door to the opening of at least 35 medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state in 2013. But, the bigger question is whether the same voters and town leaders will support the opening of dispensaries on their own street corners and downtown areas. Many towns and cities are already gearing up for a fight over the locations, as one marijuana law firm is already scheduling seminars on how to open up dispensaries in Framingham. In litigious Massachusetts, we can certainly expect aggrieved abutters to challenge the opening of what they call “pot shops” next to their residences and businesses. The actual opening of marijuana dispensaries could be years away due to litigation and opposition.

Up To 35 Marijuana Dispensaries in 2013

The ballot law authorizes the opening of up to 35 dispensaries in 2013, and the Department of Public Health retains authority to open more later if demand is there. The law requires that at least one dispensary must be located in each of Massachusetts’ 14 counties, but caps each county at no more than 5 locations. The law seeks an accelerated rollout of dispensaries. Treatment centers can file applications as early as January 1, 2013, and open up to 120 days later, subject to the rollout of regulations by the state Department of Public Health.

Possible Target Locations

Based on size, county seat, and demographics, likely locations for marijuana dispensaries in Eastern Massachusetts would include: ((This is my own opinion/analysis.))

  • Boston, Roxbury/Dorchester/Mattapan, South Boston (Suffolk County)
  • Cambridge, Lowell, Framingham, Marlborough, Waltham, Woburn (Middlesex County) ((The location of dispensaries in Middlesex county — Massachusetts’ most populous county — will be a huge battle.))
  • Lawrence, Salem, Peabody, Lynn (Essex County)
  • Dedham, Quincy, Brookline, Franklin (Norfolk County)
  • Brockton, Plymouth, Middleboro (Plymouth County)
  • Taunton, New Bedford (Bristol County)
  • Worcester (Worcester County)

A Smoky Legal Landscape

The ballot provision, however, is very murky as to how cities and towns are supposed to handle the potential influx of dispensaries. This is causing town leaders to scramble for legal guidance as to whether they should either attempt to block locations wholesale or enact special zoning districts regulating the placement of dispensaries.

As for any attempt to block the opening of marijuana centers, the question will have to be answered by the courts as the law is silent as to whether municipalities have this power. The legal issues surrounding municipal zoning and siting of medical marijuana dispensaries will likely follow similar cases involving methadone clinics, alcohol treatment centers/sober houses and even adult entertainment venues — all uses which are legal, yet subject to reasonable zoning governance. Additionally, treatment centers could seek protection from the American’s With Disabilities Act and other disability laws which protect cancer, HIV, glaucoma and other qualified patients who are entitled to receive medical marijuana.

I am of the opinion that a municipality cannot enact an ordinance or by-law which will block a marijuana dispensary from opening in town as long as the dispensary has complied with all DPH regulations. The town, however, can utilize its zoning powers to regulate where in town such a dispensary can be located, so long as the town does not enact illegal “spot zoning” in so doing.

While medical marijuana may have passed fairly easily on Election Day, it will probably be some time before Massachusetts sorts out all the legal issues as to where these dispensaries should go.

I am going to keep this post updated with news articles and posts about the new law and reaction to it, below.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experience Massachusetts zoning and real estate attorney. If you are concerned or have questions about the new Medical Marijuana Law, please contact him at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

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Impact on Pending Home Sales and Refinances

Meteorologists are now predicting that early next week Hurricane Sandy will either pass close by or make a direct impact on New England. This storm is potentially huge, rivaling last year’s Hurricane Irene and the Perfect Storm of 1991.

  • If you are closing on a property next week, you may want to consider pushing up the closing to before the hurricane makes landfall on early Tuesday. I realize that may not be possible at this point, but it’s worth a shot.
  • If you have not secured a homeowner’s insurance policy, you should probably wait until the storm passes as most carriers will not write new policies right now.
  • If you are closing on a purchase or refinance after the storm passes — and especially if the Federal Government declares a Federal Disaster Area –be prepared to have a re-inspection of the property before closing. A hurricane considered to be an Act of God and as a result the borrower will be required to pay for any re-inspection fee. These re-inspections range from $125 to $200. You will receive notice from your lender and re-disclosures prior to closing. This will also likely delay your closing
  • If there is substantial damage to a home you are purchasing, you’ll have to look to your purchase and sale agreement as to whether you have a right to pull out of the deal or proceed, provided you get the benefit of any insurance proceeds.

Hurricane Safety Precautions & Information

Important Links

Pre-Planning:

  • Plan an evacuation route to the nearest shelter or “safe” area and keep a map handy. During emergencies, shelter locations will announced on the radio.
  • Replenish emergency kits and supplies.
  • Get lots of batteries and flashlights!
  • Secure important documents from possible damage or move to a safe location.
  • Develop a list of important phone numbers.
  • Develop a plan to secure loose objects around the house; trim branches and trees.
  • Ensure that your pets have collars and identification tags.

Prior to the Hurricane:

Secure all loose objects outdoors.

  • Secure all windows using plywood.
  • Fill your vehicle with fuel.
  • Charge all batteries (i.e. phone, lamps, flashlights, radios, etc.)
  • Listen to the emergency broadcasts of the storm.
  • Be prepared to evacuate with emergency supplies to a predetermined location.

During the Hurricane:

Stay in doors and away from windows.  Keep to the center of the building on the ground level.

  • Listen to the emergency broadcast on the radio or television.
  • Turn off all electrical devices and appliances that are not needed.
  • Stay away from coastal waters, rivers, streams or other flooding areas.
  • Do not try to cross flooded areas with your vehicle.
  • Listen for instructions from emergency officials when the storm is over.

Emergency Supplies and Kits:

First aid kit and personal medications

  • Drinking water
  • Ice Chest
  • Lighter, matches and candles
  • Clothing, personal toiletries
  • Sleeping bags and blankets
  • Portable radio and flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • Non-perishable foods
  • Manual can opener
  • Important documents
  • Quiet games, books, or toys for children

Local Insurance Claims Numbers

Acadia Insurance (800) 691-4966
AIG (Global Energy) (877) 743-7669
Chartis (formerly AIG) Private Client Group 888-760-9195
Andover Companies: Cambridge Mutual & Merrimack Mutual (800) 225-0770
Chubb Group (800) 252-4670
Commerce (800) 221-1605
Fireman’s Fund (888) 347-3428
Great American (888) 882-3835
Guard Insurance Group (888) 639-2567
Hanover Insurance (800) 628-0250
Hartford Insurance (800) 327-3636
Hingham Mutual (After hours claims) (800) 972-5399
Mass. Property Insurance Underwriting (800) 851-8978
Trident (After hours claims) (800) 288-2502
Tower (877) 365-8693
Quincy Mutual (800) 490-0047
Safety Insurance (800) 951-2100
Selective Insurance (866) 455-9969
Splash Program (Emergency Pollution related claims) (866) 577-5274
Splash Program (Emergency Non-Pollution related claims) (800) 746-3835
Travelers Personal lines:
(877) 425-2466
Commercial:
(800) 832-7839
Utica National (800) 216-1420
Vermont Mutual (After hours claims) (800) 445-2330
Zurich/Maryland (800) 565-6295

Good luck!!!!

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Utility, Gas Pipeline, Access, Drainage & Prescriptive Easements, and More!

When you are considering purchasing a home in Massachusetts, the property may have the benefit or burden of an easement. Most easements and restrictions are quite “harmless” and standard, however, some can have a major impact on future expansion possibilities and the right to use portions of the property. In this post, I’m going to go through the most common types of easements and how they can affect the value and use of your property.

What Is An Easement?

In plain English, an easement is a right that another person or company has to use your property. They don’t own your property, but the easement gives them the legal right to use your property as specified in the easement instrument. The property that enjoys the benefit of the easement is sometimes referred to as the “dominant estate,” and the property over, under, or through which the easement runs is sometimes referred to as the “servient estate.” Easements are usually recorded in the registry of deeds, but sometimes they can arise from “implication” or “by necessity.” I’ll explain those later.

Utility Easements

The most common types of easements in Massachusetts are utility easements for such things as overhead and underground power lines, cable lines, gas lines, and water mains. These easements allow the utility companies to use portions of residential property to provide their respective utility services. Sometimes, the easements will show up on a plot plan or survey, and some will be found recorded in the title, usually when the lot was first laid out. The majority of these easements do not materially affect the use and expansion of your property, however, the one type of easement to take note of are high pressure gas line easements.  For obvious safety reasons, these easements usually carry with them strict restrictions on what can be built on or near them. Here is a good article on gas pipeline easements, albeit from Pennsylvania, but the law is generally the same here.

Driveway or Access Easements

Another common type of easements that are found in Massachusetts are access easements for driveways and the like. Properties with shared driveways will often have easements enabling such sharing– or they should! These easements should also provide for common maintenance and upkeep responsibilities and expense. Other types of access easements include walking and bike paths and beach access – very common down the Cape and on the Islands.

Drainage Easements

Another common type of easements are drainage easements which are typical for newer subdivisions. Drainage easements allow for one lot to drain its storm water onto another or into a detention pond.

Prescriptive Easements

If you have heard of adverse possession, then you know what a prescriptive easement is all about. An easement by prescription is an easement acquired through adverse possession – which is the hostile adverse use of someone else’s property for 20 or more continuous years. Prescriptive easements arise where people have acted as though an easement has existed but there is no instrument of easement recorded at the registry of deeds. For example, a prescriptive easement can arise if a neighbor’s family has used a walking path on the neighbor’s property for over 20 years. twenty years. I’ve written extensively on adverse possession in this post.

Easements by Implication and by Necessity

An easement by implication is found in the law when there is no recorded easement, but where the circumstances show an easement was intended to exist. It usually exists where there is common ownership of a lot, the seller conveys a portion of the land under current ownership, and both parties intended to create an easement at the time of conveyance. If someone claims an easement by implication which negatively affects one’s property, the owner’s title insurance policy, if any, will typically cover that situation. Easements by necessity occur when a property is sold in a land-locked configuration without any legal access. An easement is therefore created “by necessity” to prevent the land-locking. An adverse easement by necessity would also be covered by an owner’s title insurance policy.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. They can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

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When you are considering purchasing a home in Massachusetts, the property may have the benefit or burden of an easement. Most easements and restrictions are quite “harmless” and standard, however, some can have a major impact on future expansion possibilities and the right to use portions of the property. In this post, I’m going to go through the most common types of easements and how they can affect property.

What Is An Easement?

In plain English, an easement is a right that another person or company has to use your property. They don’t own your property, but the easement gives them the legal right to use your property as specified in the easement instrument. The property that enjoys the benefit of the easement is sometimes referred to as the “dominant estate,” and the property over, under, or through which the easement runs is sometimes referred to as the “servient estate.” Easements are usually recorded in the registry of deeds, but sometimes they can arise from “implication” or “by necessity.” I’ll explain those later.

Utility Easements

The most common types of easements in Massachusetts are utility easements for such things as overhead and underground power lines, cable lines, gas lines, and water mains. These easements allow the utility companies to use portions of residential property to provide their respective utility services. Sometimes, the easements will show up on a plot plan or survey, and some will be found recorded in the title, usually when the lot was first laid out. The majority of these easements do not materially affect the use and expansion of your property, however, the one type of easement to take note of are high pressure gas line easements.  For obvious safety reasons, these easements usually carry with them strict restrictions on what can be built on or near them.

Driveway or Access Easements

Another common type of easements that are found in Massachusetts are access easements for driveways and the like. Properties with shared driveways will often have easements enabling such sharing– or they should! These easements should also provide for common maintenance and upkeep responsibilities and expense. Other types of access easements include walking and bike paths and beach access – very common down the Cape and on the Islands.

Drainage Easements

Another common type of easements are drainage easements which are typical for newer subdivisions. Drainage easements allow for one lot to drain its storm water onto another or into a detention pond.

Prescriptive Easements

If you have heard of adverse possession, then you know what a prescriptive easement is all about. An easement by prescription is an easement acquired through adverse possession – which is the hostile adverse use of someone else’s property for 20 or more continuous years. Prescriptive easements arise where people have acted as though an easement has existed but there is no instrument of easement recorded at the registry of deeds. For example, a prescriptive easement can arise if a neighbor’s family has used a walking path on the neighbor’s property for over 20 years. twenty years. I’ve written extensively on adverse possession in this post.

Easements by Implication and by Necessity

An easement by implication is found in the law when there is no recorded easement, but where the circumstances show an easement was intended to exist. It usually exists where there is common ownership of a lot, the seller conveys a portion of the land under current ownership, and both parties intended to create an easement at the time of conveyance. If someone claims an easement by implication which negatively affects one’s property, the owner’s title insurance policy, if any, will typically cover that situation. Easements by necessity occur when a property is sold in a land-locked configuration without any legal access. An easement is therefore created “by necessity” to prevent the land-locking. An adverse easement by necessity would also be covered by an owner’s title insurance policy.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. They can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

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Common Eviction Defenses Ruled Unavailable To Squatters Who Lived Rent/Mortgage Free For 3 Years

In a April 10, 2012 ruling, the Massachusetts Appeals Court just made it easier for foreclosing banks to evict squatters of foreclosed properties. This is one of the few pro-bank Massachusetts decisions coming out of the foreclosure crisis, and should help speed up the disposition and sale of foreclosure and REO properties which, in turn, should help the housing market.

The case is Deutsche Bank v. Gabriel, and can be downloaded here. The defendants were all members of a single family living  at 195-197 Callender Street in Dorchester for over 28 years. In 2009, the property went into foreclosure, and Deutsche Bank acquired title by foreclosure deed. As has become common in neighborhoods throughout Boston, the foreclosed upon family refused to leave, and Deutsche Bank brought eviction proceedings against them.

The family fought the eviction tooth-and-nail, and asserted the very common statutory defense based on poor property conditions. This defense, if successful, can prevent a landlord from recovering possession. Aside from irony that the family had been living at the premises for 28 years and was therefore the clear cause of any bad property conditions, the Appeals Court held that the family were squatters (and not tenants) with no legal entitlement to raise this defense. Barring another appeal, the court cleared the way for the eviction, some 6 years after the foreclosure and presumably with the tenants living rent and mortgage free the entire time.

With the housing market turning around, this decision is some long-awaited good news for those dealing with REO and foreclosed properties. Squatting tenants will be easier to evict and properties should be back on the market faster. Bad news for those fighting foreclosure, but good news for the real estate market.

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate and eviction attorney. For more information, please contact him at 508-620-5352 or info@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

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I cannot believe I’m writing this post, but yes it’s true, the real estate market in Greater Boston, Massachusetts has now come full circle and bidding wars are back. Don’t believe me? Just read this Boston Globe article from today.

Now that bidding wars are back, buyers and sellers have questions, so we’ll try to answer them here. I’ve also asked a few local real estate agents to offer their expertise as well.

What Are The Legal Issues Surrounding Bidding Wars?

A bidding war arises when there are several competing offers for a listing at the same time. There are really no hard and fast legal rules with bidding wars. Contrary to popular belief, a private seller in Massachusetts is not legally obligated to accept the highest offer made during a bidding war. A seller can be as financial prudent or as irrationally arbitrary as she wants in deciding which offer to accept. A seller may decide to forgo the highest offer in favor of a lower offer due such factors as the financial strength of the buyer (i.e., a cash buyer), because the buyer waived inspections, or simply because the buyer wrote the sellers a lovely letter about how wonderful their home is! (Read on for one agent’s advice on letter writing).

Legally, an offer is simply an invitation to negotiate, and provides a buyer with zero legal rights to the property. An offer does not create a legally enforceable contract — unless it is accepted and signed by the seller.

For real estate agents involved in bidding wars, they have an ethical and fiduciary duty to get the highest and best offer for their sellers. There is nothing illegal about a seller or their agent creating a bidding war, so as to pit one bidder against each other. A listing agent is doing a good job for their client in creating such a market for a property. Ethically, a real estate agent must be truthful and honest when communicating with all prospective buyers and cannot make any material misrepresentations, such as lie about an offering price. Agents must present all offers to their clients, however, the ultimate decision to accept an offer always remains with the seller.

There are different ways to manage a bidding war, and again, there are no special legalities for it. Some agents will set a date by which all preliminary bids have to be in. If there are only two bidders, an agent can go back to the lowest bidder and ask if he or she would like to re-bid. An agent can continue that process until one of the bidders backs out. If there are more than two bidders, some agents will set a second round of bidding with a minimum price of the highest bid in the preliminary round. If no one bids in the second round, the agent can return to that high bid. Bidding wars are fast moving, so buyers need to be able to react quickly.

Generally, disgruntled buyers who lose out on bidding wars do not have a legal leg to stand on — unless their offer was accepted and signed by the seller or there is clear proof an agent lied about something important. That is why making your offer stand out in a bidding war is so important.

Buyers: How To Make Your Offer Stand Out In A Crowd

In a bidding war, buyers ask how can they maximize their chance to be the offer the seller accepts? Gabrielle Daniels, of Coldwell Banker Sudbury, offers this great advice on her blog, LiveInSudburyMa.com:

  • Make your offer STRONG. If you know that there are other offers on the property, make your offer financially strong as possible. If you believe the house is worth asking price, offer asking price. Forget about the TV shows that tell you to offer 90 percent of asking. That is ridiculous – UNLESS that is what the house is worth. Every situation is different. Every house is worth something different. There are no “general rules” about what to offer.
  • Be prepared. Have your pre-approval ready. Sign all of the paperwork related to the offer (seller’s disclosure, lead paint transfer, etc.) Write a check, leave a check with your agent. It is better than a faxed copy of the check. Don’t leave any loose ends.
  • Show some love to the house (and the seller). Write a letter to the sellers, tell them why you love the house and why you are the best buyer for the house. Sure, this is a business transaction, but it is one of the most personal business transactions in which you will be involved. Your real estate agent should be able to help you with this.

For more great tips for buyers involved in a bidding war, read Gabrielle’s post, Multiple Thoughts On Multiple Offers.

Sellers, How Can You Take Advantage of Bidding Wars

For sellers in a bidding war market, it all comes down to pricing, as Heidi Zizza of mdm Realty in Framingham explains on her blog, MetrowestHomesandLife.com:

I had a house listing in Natick this past year. The house valued out to around $620,000. We could have gone to market at $629,900 or $639,900 and had many showings that eventually would land us an offer around $610,000 or so. We figured that at that price it would take the average days on market which was (if memory serves correctly) close to 90 days. We decided to go to market at $599,900. The house got so much attention we had a HUGE turnout at the first showing/Open House and had 4 offers by that evening all competing and all over asking. The highest bid was $620,000 and we sold the property in one day. You too can do the same thing. Market your house at a price that is so attractive you will be best in show. Your buyers will let you know it, and you will definitely get an offer, maybe even several!

For those of us in the real estate business who have weathered the storm of the last 4-5 years, this is “all good” as we say! The more bidding wars, the better!

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Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. They can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

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Updated (2.9.12 6:30pm)

In the largest national settlement since the tobacco litigation, the Boston Globe is reporting that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is expected today to sign on to a settlement brokered by attorneys general nationwide with five major US lenders over the banks’ role in the country’s foreclosure crisis. As we wrote about here, in December of last year AG Coakley pulled out of the settlement and brought a historical lawsuit against the big lenders over foreclosure abuses.

As reported in the Globe, Coakley has been been negotiating for days with lenders over the pact, which has been months in the making. Massachusetts is one of only a few states that have yet to agree to the settlement, which reportedly could total between $25 billion and $30 billion. The money is being promised by Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citibank, and Ally Financial Inc.

According to Coakley’s office, Massachusetts estimated total share of the settlement is nearly $318 Million:

  • Massachusetts borrowers will receive an estimated $224 Million in benefits from loan term modifications and other direct relief.
  • Massachusetts borrowers who lost their home to foreclosure from January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2011 and suffered servicing abuse would qualify for $14.6 Million in cash payments to borrowers.
  • The value of refinanced loans to Massachusetts underwater borrowers would be an estimated $32.7 Million.

Banker and Tradesman is reporting that homeowners still living in underwater properties may get up to $20,000 each for principal reductions. That may not be nearly enough for many victims of foreclosure abuses. It’s unclear how much money will be available for much needed mortgage principal reduction and loan modifications.

However, the state was told yesterday it could sign on to the pact without giving up its right to litigate other issues related to the five lenders and how they conducted foreclosures, according to the Globe. Under terms of the tentative agreement, Coakley apparently will still be able to pursue claims against MERS and lenders for foreclosures in Massachusetts without having the proper paperwork.

For more information, here is the Attorney General’s Press Release.

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January in the real estate industry is typically the time for the new year market outlook. For this coming year many of us have seen the template on the macro-economic data which most impacts the real estate industry: 8.5 % unemployment in the latest report, 30 year mortgage rates at record lows at or below 4.0%, and 15 year mortgage rates at or below 3.25%.

Rather than run a standard metrics-based market forecast this year, I decided to survey a cross-section of Massachusetts real estate realtors and mortgage professionals to hear from them on the upcoming spring and the 2012 real estate market in its entirety. Overall, each of the real estate professionals I contacted were optimistic. They tend to see the low interest rates and improving economy as the drivers of a busy 2012 housing market. Thus, here is a compendium of professionals I surveyed:

“I am optimistic that interest rates will remain low at least until the presidential elections. The uncertainty that has constrained spending and lending will keep things from taking off until there is a clearer picture of what policies will be in place (intervention and regulation vs. deregulation and free markets).

The increasing debt woes of EU members creates short term demand for our mortgage bonds and treasuries which drives down interest rates. This won’t be fixed overnight.

The housing collapse hangover continues to cause problems. The economy and in particular the housing market is still too weak to suffer increased interest rates. Rates will remain low until the cash on the sidelines is invested, employment improves and housing sees some recovery. The Fed has shown that they will move to buy mortgage backed securities and treasuries if we see rates start to rise and I can’t see them sitting on their hands if rates rise and threaten to derail this slow economic recovery.

This is an incredible time to buy a home with prices low and the cost of money so low as well.”

–Loan Officer, Bank of Canton, Boston, Brookline and Route 128 suburbs

 “I expect the 2012 real estate market in the greater Boston area to be stable. Overall, buyers will continue to have the upper hand but I don’t think we are going to see any precipitous drop in either sales prices or the number of sales. If interest rates remain low it continues to be a good time to get into the market knowing that you are getting in somewhere close to the bottom.”

–Realtor, Keller Williams, Cambridge,

 “As we embark on the new year there are many reasons to be optimistic. Rates are expected to remain at all time lows for the next 12 months and there is plenty of inventory for home buyers. More importantly, we are starting to see better listing prices from sellers who are clearly more realistic about what to expect. Contrary to what the media would have consumers believe, there is plenty of financing available for qualified buyers – and it doesn’t always require 20% down. First time buyers are surprised to see how affordable it is to own their own home, and with programs available with as little as 3% down and no PMI I expect to see a big surge in this demographic.”

–Loan Officer, Fairway Mortgage, Route 128 Suburbs

 “I see a slow start to the Spring, but a steady stream of inventory equal to purchasers. The best place to be is in a move-up, as buyers will find a greater gain on their more expensive home in spite of possibly losing a bit on the sale side. It seems that there are more foreclosures on the horizon with stable amounts of short sales, another way for a buyers to make immediate gains. Buyers will still dictate values, relative to condition and inventory. The mortgage guidelines have become stricter, so getting a pre-approval from a reputable lender is increasingly important. Sellers should request to see one immediately from a prospective buyer and buyers should be educated about the borrowing and the buying process.”

–Realtor, Realty Executives, Framingham,

 “I have an above normal number of pre-approvals for January.  I’m starting to see movement in the market.  A lot of high-end buyers.”

–Loan Officer, Citizens Bank, Route 128 Suburbs,

“Brookline real estate should receive a spike upwards during the spring market like it always does. It looks like the economy has improved slightly which could also help the confidence of the buyers.”

–Realtor, Coldwell Banker, Brookline

 “I see purchases up 40% for the year, and refinances down slightly.”

–Loan Officer, Mortgage Network, Route 128 Suburbs

 “With 2011 now behind us, real estate agents and others related to the housing industry are hoping that 2012 will bring a significant improvement to the number of units sold and at least stabilization, if not an increase in the median sales price.”

2011 ended with a nice up-tick in sales according to the National Association of Realtors, however, sales remain depressed, as are several of the realtors I spoke with in the Metrowest and Central Massachusetts areas. Central Mass, in particular, seems to have borne the brunt of the home sales price reductions and sales lag. Unit sales within the Route 128 belt have held up nicely, although many homes have experienced a 5-10% appraised value drop, year over year.

Interest rates have held steady at near record lows. While this is good news for first-time home-buyers and relocating workers, as home affordability is better than at any time in recent memory, many sellers are frustrated.

As home prices continue to drop, more sellers are finding themselves with little or no equity in their homes.  This not only makes them reluctant to price their home to market and sell quickly, for many of them, current rules on Loan to Value, are making them unable to take advantage of today’s low interest rates and refinance.

So what will 2012 bring?  A slight improvement in unit sales, and perhaps a bottom in home prices (I hope!).  Here are my reasons for this conclusion:

  1. Job creation – Over the past several months, it appears that the job market is improving.  The Massachusetts unemployment rate dropped to 6.8% in December.
  2. Continued Low Interest Rates – While we may see an increase in 30 year fixed rates during the next couple of months, as the national economy shows signs of improvement, I do not expect a dramatic rise in rates.
  3. Helping Underwater Homeowners –
  4. Homebuilder Sentiment – Nationally, homebuilding company optimism is making a strong recovery.  Locally, several builders I have spoken with think 2012 will be their best year ever.  Prices may be down, but in many cases so are cost of materials and labor.

There are a few other reasons for optimism including an increase in household formation, as well as talk of programs to rent REO properties, which may help reduce vacant homes and stabilize prices.

–Loan Officer, Greenpark Mortgage, Metrowest and Worcester County

We have a lack of inventory in the greater Franklin area. More buyers and renters than properties on the market. A lot of sellers I talk to are waiting “until later in the year” to list. They need to get started on their preparations now because “later in the year” will be here before you know it!

–Realtor, Hallmark Sotheby’s, Franklin/495 Area

“I feel that the market will be very good for buyers and sellers this spring.

Buyer can take advantage of the great rates and prices. It’s a great time to upgrade to a bigger and better home. It’s also a great time to buy an investment property since rents are on the way up.

On the listing side we need more inventory since most of the homes on the market now are stale and overpriced. I’m a strong believer that if the home is priced well it will sell fast.”

–Realtor, Keller Williams Realty

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Marc E. Canner, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney with offices in Needham and Bedford, Mass. He is a principal of TitleHub Closing Services LLC and the Law Offices of Marc E. Canner.

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Welcome back Guest Blogger, Gabrielle Daniels Brennan, from Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Sudbury, MA, Check out her fantastic blog, Living In Sudbury (www.liveinsudburyma.com).

What Is Your Massachusetts Home Really Worth?

OK folks, you want to know what your house is worth? Stop obsessing over your town assessment and online estimates. At the end of the day, your house is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

But while you follow the sale prices of your neighbor’s house and e-mail me to ask what your house is worth (sight unseen), I’ll explain to you that it is neither an exact science, a mathematical equation, or a guesstimate. So many factors go into the value of your house. In this case, perception is, for the most part – reality. The location, the condition, the square footage, the updates, the amenities, the lot, the neighborhood, the neighbors, proximity to school, the floorplan – and so much more. Size matters, but it’s not the only thing.

It’s so easy to want to use the two words interchangeably, but please know that an assessment and an appraisal are totally different things.

ASSESSMENTS: (Think – measurement rhymes with assessment) Assessments are based upon the town’s opinion of value of the land and the value of your house, based on the measured square footage and condition (excellent, very good, good, fair and poor). The square footage includes everything in the house – closets, hallways, two-story foyers, stairways, etc. So, although you may add up the square footage from each room, it’s not the same. The taxes you pay are based on your assessment. Years ago, houses were priced close to, or above, their assessed value. If a house were priced below the assessment, it was featured as a fabulous thing. Priced WAY BELOW assessment, translated, meant: “Don’t forget your checkbook as you’re running like a madman to the open house.”

These days, assessments may be in the general vicinity of the asking price. Not a lot of weight is placed on the assessed value as it compares to the true market value. Most are priced around the assessed value, especially if they sold in the past 10 years.  The assessor’s office does not take into account all of the items within a house that a buyer perceives as valuable (age of systems, paint vs. 1970s wallpaper, neighborhood full of kids the same age, master bathroom rivaling the one at the Four Seasons in Nevis, etc.) Just the square footage, value of the land and the town’s rating of the neighborhood.

APPRAISALS: An appraisal is a valuation made mathematically by a real estate appraiser for the purposes of providing security to the lending institution. The bank wants to be sure that the money it is loaning – for a refinance, home equity loan, line of credit or a purchase – can be recouped in today’s market if the owner defaults on the loan. Essentially, they need to know that they would not have a problem selling the house for the amount borrowed.

The appraiser formulates his/her appraisal based on the sale prices of the houses nearby that would be comparable for the square footage, the amenities, and the condition. In some towns, it’s not necessarily apples to apples, because a house down the street may have been foreclosed upon, thus skewing the value of the subject property.

Appraisals used to be more of a formality, and now they are extremely strict. As a result of the mortgage debacle, banks have cracked down and the rules have changed. Banks used to be able to communicate with the appraisers – now they have been prohibited from having direct communication. If you have recently refinanced and your appraisal came in at one price, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that price is what you would get from a buyer if your house went on the market.

ZESTIMATES: I think Zillow is an entertaining and somewhat informative website. It is a great site to search for homes and to take advantage of all of the interactive features. The “Zestimate” is Zillow.com’s term for “estimate of the value of your house.” For houses in Middlesex County, Zillow states that its accuracy is 99 % of the homes in Middlesex County that are on Zillow. Ninety-nine percent of homes in Sudbury are on Zillow. Ninety-nine percent of those have “Zestimates.” Of that 99%, only 32% sold within 5% of their Zestimate. Fifty-eight percent sold within 10% of its Zestimate and 82% sold within 20% of its Zestimate. Median error is 8.3%.

Dizzy? This means that if your Zestimate is $800,000, your sale price may be closer to $640,000 or $960,000. It’s a pretty big spread! So, fun site – yes. Accurate – not really. Why? The information pulled by Zillow is information that is available online – and if one piece of data is incorrect (it happens all the time) then everything is skewed.

Zillow does not know what streets are busy, what houses have just updated their kitchen and bathrooms, furnaces, roofs, etc. Zillow also does not know the motivation of sellers. So, if your neighbors won the lottery and just wanted to sell the house so they could sail around the world and sold for about $50K less than they could have – according to Zillow, your house just went down $50K, also.

Unless he or she has a really good sense of humor, please don’t tell your real estate agent that you disagree with his/her extensive analysis because your “Zestimate” states “X.” It would be like telling Todd English that you know how to make his signature dish because you just Googled the recipe. So, enjoy the site, have fun searching, reading the real estate news, etc., but don’t get excited or freak out because of your Zestimate. It will likely change the next time you log on.

COMPARATIVE MARKET ANALYSIS: This is the best, and most accurate, way to know the value of your house. A comparative market analysis is written by a real estate agent. It would best completed by an agent who knows the market, knows each house that your’s would be compared to, and has his/her hand on the pulse of the buyers. A real estate agent preparing the market analysis should take into account everything about your house – the square footage, the condition, the style, the location, the demographic of the potential buyers, the market conditions, the intangibles, and the perceived value within the town.

We then analyze the house in comparison with the houses that are on the market, have accepted offers, are under agreement and have sold (closed). A market analysis conducted today would not include sales from the spring as it was a different market. It’s also very important to have a sense of what comparables appraisers will use when appraising the house for the buyer’s mortgage company.

So, assessments (pain in the assessment = taxes), appraisals (think = approximate), Zestimates (Zillow.com), market analysis (call me/real estate agent).

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Welcome back Guest Blogger, Realtor Gabrielle Daniels Brennan, from Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Sudbury, MA! Gabrielle and her mother-partner, Carole Daniels, just launched a fantastic blog, Living In Sudbury (www.liveinsudburyma.com), which our company, HubConnected, designed and created.

Having grown up in Sudbury and now settled there with her family, Gabby’s knowledge of the Sudbury and surrounding market is unparalleled. Plus, she re-defines “concierge” service, going so far as to ensure that her buyers meet their neighbors ahead of time, get local nannies, and find the right preschool. Gabby is writing today about the mutual respect buyers and sellers should have for each other during the real estate process.

Home Buyers And Sellers, You CAN Just Get Along!

Once upon a time there was a newlywed couple house-hunting in the suburbs. They held hands as they strolled into each house, they conversed with their real estate agent about every detail of their wedding and giggled like sixth graders whenever they spoke the words “husband” or “wife.”

Then, they found the house of their dreams. The dreams that mirror “happily ever after” — it was the house they imagined having babies (2 boys and 2 girls – the girls would be twins of course and would share a room painted with Benjamin Moore’s Cotton Candy).

The happy couple told their real estate agent that they wanted to make an offer for asking price, closing the exact day that the sellers wanted to close. They had enough money from their wedding gifts and unfortunate passing of Great Grandpa Charlie to pay for the house in cash. The husband dabbled in construction, so every item that appeared as a result of the home inspection would be “no big deal.”

Both sets of parents came to see the house and everyone oooh’ed and ahhh’ed instead of bringing up the fact that the kitchen wasn’t updated, or that the family room was a little smaller than what they had thought it would be, or that the garage was under the house. The parents all talked about how happy they were and they never said anything that remotely sounded like “YOU paid ____ for this??? Our house cost $37,000 when we bought it …” And then the sellers threw a welcome party for the buyers before they moved in – just to make the proper introduction to the neighborhood.

I’m sure you are thinking that this story is a work of fiction. Nope. Well, aside from the buyers volunteering to pay the asking price and the gushing in-laws, the concept of a truly pleasant real estate transaction doesn’t have to sound so foreign. Without compromising the financial objective of either party, the real estate transaction can be pleasant and satisfying to all parties involved.

The decision to buy or sell a home is as much a personal transaction as it is business. It’s an exciting one, and a process in which I truly love being involved. And although it’s certainly not as straightforward as a show on HDTV about finding the right house, it doesn’t have to be challenging. As much as buyers would like to say that they won’t buy with their hearts, that is crazy – of course they will. It’s a home. It’s where you live. It’s where your heart is. Your life is not one big business transaction.

Everyone remembers the details of their real estate transactions. Even if they bought or sold their house 12 years ago, they will tell you exactly how the buyers or sellers acted, the items negotiated during the home inspection, the credit they received, what they negotiated during the purchase & sale agreement, and the details that still make them happy or cringe.

They may not remember the date they bought their house, but they will remember everything about the closing.

I have been involved in scores of real estate transactions. When multiple persons are involved in the decision-making process for a major life event, so much can get lost in translation and people don’t always behave in a way that they, let’s say, would be proud of if a TV crew were following them around. In addition to the number of family members and friends who know EXACTLY what is best for you, there are many people involved in a real estate transaction — buyers, sellers, two real estate agents, two attorneys, possibly two paralegals, one mortgage broker, one appraiser, at least one inspector, and, sometimes, the nosy neighbor.

If my intention with this piece were to promote the value of experienced real estate agents, this would be the part where I emphasize that it is the role of the real estate agent to quarterback the entire team involved to ensure that everyone wins.

In general, buyers are excited to buy a house. When an offer is made, it is the beginning of negotiations with the seller with the goal of consummating the sale of the home.  In today’s market, prices have adjusted and many sellers are having an understandably difficult time grasping the reality of the market.

Because of the resources available in 2010, today’s buyers are also the most knowledgeable, well informed and cautious. The market value of a house is what a buyer is willing to pay. Without giving up any money on the sale side and overpaying on the buy side, there are so many ways in which to make the real estate transaction one that is not so painful.

My thoughts below may seem pretty uncomplicated, and that is my objective. It is easier to have a smooth and seamless transaction than it is to have one that feels more like an act of Congress. It is a business transaction, but the basis of the transaction is emotional. You certainly don’t have become new best friends, but cordial is always appreciated.

1. MUTUAL RESPECT. The tone of the entire transaction is set with the first round of communication between both parties.

*   BUYERS: Be respectful of the sellers and their real estate agent. This does not translate into paying more. It shows that you will be a pleasure to deal with. Appreciate your sellers. They have cared for and maintained the house you fell in love with.

SELLERS: Appreciate your buyers. They love your house enough to buy it. If you receive an offer the first day on the market, it is because your house was priced right and the buyers know the market. Don’t be greedy, it will backfire.

2. DON’T TAKE THE MARKET PERSONALLY

*   BUYERS: If a seller decides not to accept your offer, it has nothing to do with what great people you are and how many friends you have in common. It’s usually about the financial picture.

*   SELLERS: Most likely, you didn’t overpay for your house.  You paid what the house was worth when you bought it. It’s exactly what the buyers want to do now – pay what the house is worth in today’s market. I’m certainly not suggesting that you don’t get frustrated or upset if you are taking a loss or not netting what you had planned, just don’t take it out on your potential buyers. What you “want” and “need” to get for your house is irrelevant. Buyers will pay what they feel it is worth and their mortgage company will lend based on what they feel it is worth.

3. WORK SMART. CHOOSE YOUR REPRESENTATION CAREFULLY.

*   Work with real estate agents and attorneys with whom you are comfortable and have trust. This isn’t the time to cut corners and do someone a favor. You deserve to have the best people on your team.

4. HICCUPS

*   Every transaction has their “thing” – something that needs to be clarified, negotiated, extended, explained. Know this ahead of time so when your own situation arises, you know that it’s normal and just needs to be dealt with.

5. NEIGHBORS

*   SELLERS: Keep in mind that the buyers are now going to have your former neighbors as neighbors.

*   BUYERS: Keep in mind that your soon-to-be neighbors are your sellers’ current neighbors.

PeopleSudbury Wayland MA Real Estate Homes like to talk, especially about real estate.

At the end of the day, it’s about common decency. It’s about mutual respect between the buyer and seller of the same house. As much as this is a business transaction, it is even more a personal one.

Gabrielle Daniels Brennan and her mother, Carole Daniels are The Daniels Team of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Sudbury. You may contact them by phone at 508-277-6956 (Carole cell), 617-320-8150 (Gabrielle Cell), or by Email to gabrielle.daniels@nemoves.com

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My partner, Marc Canner, and I just returned from the Agent Reboot Conference in Las Vegas where we were promoting our new Real Estate Social Media company, HubConnected (click for more information). We learned a lot of new information about social media for real estate agents. But what really struck home was how horrible the Las Vegas, NV real estate market is, and how lucky we are to be based in Massachusetts.

How bad is the Las Vegas real estate market? Check out these stats:

Las Vegas home values have plummeted from a high of $294,000 in 2006 to $121,000 in July 2010. That’s a 59% drop.

Meanwhile, the foreclosure rates are still off the charts, comparatively. In the last month alone, approximately 13,000 Nevada  houses and condo units received a foreclosure notice, and that’s down 13.9% from the same six-month period last year. Extrapolating, that’s roughly 156,000 foreclosure for the last 12 months! Mind blowing numbers…

The Massachusetts Real Estate Market

As the above graph indicates, the Massachusetts real estate market is now officially in recovery mode, gaining from the lows of 2009.

By contrast, only about 4,100 Massachusetts homes received a foreclosure notice last month. What makes this data really amazing is that the Nevada population is around 2.6 Million, while Massachusetts is triple that at 6.5 Million.

That’s why Nevada has been the #1 state for foreclosures for 3 years running, where a whopping 1 in 84 households are in default or foreclosure. And that’s why the Las Vegas real estate market is all about foreclosure, REO properties and short sales. Thankfully, that’s not so here in Massachusetts.

So, the lesson from Las Vegas is that we Bay Staters actually have a lot to be thankful for here. It could be a lot worse. And hopefully, when it comes to real estate, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!

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A National Association of Realtor’s report released Wednesday indicated that home purchases fell 27% in July, a drop that jolted the real estate industry, according to the Wall Street Journal, and sent shock waves through the broader economy. As a result, a number of economists provided dire warnings of a continued down slide in real estate prices.

At first blush, this news could have the “echo chamber” effect of  turning the purported downturn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, discourage consumer confidence, and sidelining a number of prospective Massachusetts home buyers from the fall housing market.  Here are 5 reasons why the national housing report won’t impact the Massachusetts real estate market.

1.  Massachusetts Has a Strong Housing Market.

Massachusetts has bucked the national trend as its housing market has remained strong. Indeed, parts of the Massachusetts housing market actually saw a surge in activity in July 2010:

  • From July ’09 to July ’10, these towns had an surge in sales:
  1. Norwood (+117%)
  2. Bedford  (+78%)
  3. Easton (+27%)
  4. Brookline (+20%)
  5. Melrose (+20%)
  • Several towns saw an  increase in year-to-date median home prices in July, including:
  1. Cohasset (+25%)
  2. Marblehead (+12%)
  3. Dennis (+6%)
  4. Norwood (+5.9%)
  5. Melrose (+4%)

2.  The June 1st Time Tax Buyer Credit Caused An Artificial Decrease in July Purchases.

The government stimulus program brought out the seasonal first time buyer’s in full force during June. Thus, the normal sales cycle was altered which skewed the July numbers

3.  Massachusetts Is Always Out In Front Of The National Numbers

The national housing report gives equal weight to markets blighted with foreclosures and economically hard hit areas like Detroit, Las Vegas, Florida, Arizona and parts of Southern California. Greater Boston has historically been a unique “inelastic” market along the lines of Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. Negative national trends do not necessarily correlate to the Massachusetts real estate market.

4.  “It’s the Economy, Stupid.”

Massachusetts has a strong and diverse economy, a number of high paying jobs (no, I’m not running for governor), a very limited number of new housing starts, and several industries that have constant employment turnover- a tried and true recipe for a hot housing market.

5.  Historically Low Interest Rates

The average rate for a 30 year mortgage has fallen to 4.5%, a 50 year low! Prospective borrowers who pass on this- caveat emptor “buyer beware.” A number of economists predict that the Fed will gradually ease rates back up to counter inflation.

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A Special Guest Post By Gabrielle Daniels Brennan, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Sudbury, MA. Check out her Blog, Living in Sudbury www.liveinsudburyma.com!

Similar to the obsession over Massachusetts real estate and addiction to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is our addiction to The Bachelor / The Bachelorette TV series. Many of us really didn’t want to admit that we were glued to the TV/DVR on Monday nights, or that we conveniently didn’t want to make plans, for fear of missing this show. For those who have much better things to do than to watch, the series revolves around a single bachelor or bachelorette (deemed eligible) and a pool of romantic interests (typically 25). The Bachelor/Bachelorette then go through a *grueling* series of dates with the pool of potential mates, weekly-elimination style, with the winner getting the “final rose” and possibly a marriage proposal.

As a busy Metrowest Massachusetts Realtor and an admitted fan of the show, I can attest that the process that each Bachelor and Bachelorette go through to find *true love* can be easily translated to the real estate home buying and selling process.

Buying & Selling Real Estate Is A Lot Like Matchmaking

Buying and selling a house is serious business. For most, you are buying or selling your largest single asset. In addition to needing data and supporting information to make a sound business decision, there is tremendous emotion that goes into the process. Getting married is more serious (well, to some), but the process is comparable. At the end of the day, if you have grown out of a house, you can sell it. Not as easy in a marriage.

There are so many commonalities between matching Bachelors/Bachelorettes and Home Buyers/Sellers. There is no such thing as a “typical” transaction/relationship. When representing either side, it’s so important to understand the people and what makes each person tick. On the Bachelor, the first night cocktail party actually makes a lot of sense from a home buying perspective. So often, on the first day out with a Realtor, a home buyer will see everything that fits the criteria “on paper” that they think they want in a house. Just because you want a 4 bedroom/2.5 bath Colonial, doesn’t mean you will like all of them. Many get eliminated from consideration on the first day. Unlike the show’s host, Chris Harrison, my job is to understand why you eliminated specific suitors and to make sure that you aren’t introduced to any more!

The Bachelor/Bachelorette Desperately Need A Real Estate Agent!

Jake & Vienna, (c) ABC, The Bachelor

If The Bachelor or The Bachelorette producers are truly serious about helping its “star” find love, I think that Host Chris Harrison should behave more like a Buyer’s Agent during the next season of The Bachelor. For those of you who already appreciate and understand the true value of Buyer’s representation, you are one step ahead. For those of you who think you are getting “a deal” without Agent representation, I have 3 words for you: Jake and Vienna.

Last season’s Bachelor, Jake, had no help. Vienna, his now former fiancée, was the pretty house with the nice big kitchen and partially finished basement. She is the house that is lived in, a house that is ready for you to entertain in. But there isn’t much upstairs. Bedrooms are small, possibly mold in the attic, the poor quality roof needs to be reshingled every few years, ice dams in the winter, and the garage door doesn’t close (catch my drift?).  As soon as the season ended, so did they.

If, like a Real Estate Agent, Chris Harrison were acting in the best interest of the Bachelor/Bachelorettes, it would have been his responsibility to not only introduce the Bachelor/ette to the appropriate suitors matching their needs, but to:

  1. Assess the TRUE value of each suitor (house)
  2. Give the Bachelor/ette some history about the suitor and the suitors’ family (neighborhood/community)
  3. Provide information that would reveal any work that has been done to the house, before it came on the market, along with permits, etc.
  4. Work with the Bachelor/ette on their financing – will they be able to afford their choice? What will it cost to maintain the relationship?
  5. Disclose any and all research about their history. If any liens (restraining orders) are in effect, this would be important to know
  6. Very importantly – negotiate EVERYTHING on behalf of the Bachelor/ette
  7. Manage the home inspection (home visits) – make sure the Bachelor/ette is asking the right questions
  8. Make sure that everything proceeds smoothly prior to and at the closing (Fantasy Suite and beyond…)

Getting That Final Rose (The Keys)

Ali & Roberto, (c) ABC, The Bachelorette

Bottom line is that your Real Estate Agent is there to guard and protect your real estate purchase and your wallet. We want you to be as sure about your decision as Ali seems to be with this season’s winner, Roberto. We aren’t here to tell you how to decorate or to follow you around a house like the helicopter date in Bora Bora. We are here to guide you, to tell you if we feel you are making a mistake (Jake and Vienna). To negotiate for you. To point out the big issues that we see while you are ogling the gorgeous marble in the master bath (Ed & Jillian). If you want someone to agree with everything you are doing, bring your BFF along. It could be the most dramatic home purchase process ever or it could be truly enjoyable and exciting (Trista and Ryan).

When buying a home, you don’t want to make a mistake. You don’t want to second-guess anything (Jason & Molly). As Real Estate professionals, it’s our preference that you don’t show up on the cover of US Weekly in tears (or the equivalent). If you decide to buy or sell on your own, don’t come crying to us “After the Closing” when you realize that you overpaid for the house that has taken 3 years to sell or that your Buyer couldn’t get their financing and now you can’t close on your purchase (Brad Womack). We would rather be handing you the final rose at your closing.

Gabrielle Daniels Brennan, Tel: 617-320-8150 Email: gabrielle.daniels@nemoves.com

Sudbury Wayland MA Real Estate

Carole Daniels & Gabrielle Daniels Brennan

The Team of Daniels and Daniels

Carole Daniels and Gabrielle Daniels Brennan are the #1 real estate team in Sudbury. As a top producing, award winning Mother/Daughter team, Carole offers over 31 years of successful Real Estate Sales and Marketing experience. Daniels and Daniels are #30 in New England and within the top 1% of Agents internationally. Gabrielle and Carole have been a team for 7 years. Prior to Real Estate, Gabrielle spent over a decade in sports and event marketing for ESPN, The Olympics, Coca-Cola, Arby’s and NIKE.  They work 24/7 for their clients and love what they do. For more information go to: www.liveinsudburyma.com.

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The Wall Street Journal Blog has a very interesting article on the recent demise of McMansions:

America’s love affair with McMansions continues to wane:  The size of new single-family homes completed last year fell 3.2% to 2,438 square feet, according to the National Association of Home Builders trade group, which analyzed Census data.

It’s the second year of downsizing, officially ending an expansion that spanned nearly three decades: The average home sized peaked at 2,521 square feet in 2007. It came in flat in 2008 and fell in 2009 as builders built smaller, less ornate homes priced lower to compete with foreclosures. The new generation of homes has fewer bedrooms: Just 34% of last year’s homes had four or more bedrooms. Between 2005 and 2009 – years that include the building boom – the proportion of homes with three bedrooms jumped from 49% to 53%.

Fewer bedrooms means fewer bathrooms. The percentage of homes with three or more bathrooms came in at 24% last year, down from a peak of 28% in both 2007 and 2008.Home sizes have fallen before, but this time the change might stick around for some time.

“We also saw a decline in the size of new homes when the economy lapsed into recession in the early 1980s,” says David Crowe, the National Association of Home Builders’ chief economist. “The decline of the early 1980s turned out to be temporary, but this time the decline is related to phenomena such as an increased share of first-time home buyers, a desire to keep energy costs down, smaller amounts of equity in existing homes to roll into the next home, tighter credit standards and less focus on the investment component of buying a home.”

I’ve witnessed the steady influx of McMansions into my own 1960’s era Sudbury neighborhood, and I dealt with them as a zoning board member. There are obvious pros and cons with the trend. I’ll raise some thoughts, and open up the dialogue.

A dilapidated property converted into a McMansion can be beneficial for property values and  neighborhood aesthetics. Local zoning boards have come up with good guidelines to minimize the impact of larger houses in a neighborhood of smaller houses. However, on a macro level, McMansions tend to reduce the stock of otherwise suitable affordable housing stock within a community–and that can have long term effects. That 3 bedroom multi-level will do just fine for many first time home buyers. But the sprawling 4,000 s.f. McMansion is unaffordable to most. Once a McMansion is built, the affordable home which it replaced is gone from the housing stock, and will most likely not be replaced as builders aren’t interested in those types of starter homes anymore.

It’s encouraging to see the market self-regulating and providing a shift back to smaller and more affordable homes. I think that’s good for everyone.

Your thoughts?

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