Home sales rebounding in the western suburbs
Brendan Cavalier and his wife, Emily, thought they would have their pick of homes when they began house hunting in Boston’s western suburbs.
But nearly a year later, the Cavaliers, who rent in Somerville, are still looking for a four-bedroom house in the Natick area, after being outbid by $20,000 on a 1960s Colonial that eventually sold for about $450,000.
It’s been a rude awakening for Brendan Cavalier, who works in the financial services sector and has socked away enough cash for a substantial down payment.
“I could believe it - I thought we were in a housing recession,’’ he said.
No anomaly, the Cavaliers’ experiences fit into a larger trend that has seen the real estate market in the area’s relatively affluent communities defy most national and even statewide trends.
In many local towns, home prices are stabilizing and even rising in the teeth of what is still a very tough market, real estate statistics show.
Acton, Dover, Concord, Lexington, Needham, Newton, Sherborn, Wayland, and Weston saw price increases last year, according to the Warren Group, a Boston-based real estate publisher and data company.
The increases in median single-family home prices range from just under 1.1 percent in Lexington, where the median was $701,000, to 13.6 percent in Dover, with a median of $940,000.
Condominium prices followed much the same pattern. While condo prices in Acton fell 11 percent, Concord, Lexington, and Newton, Sudbury, Wayland, and Wellesley saw increases ranging from Newton’s 0.1 percent to 23.2 percent in Lexington.
By contrast, the Massachusetts median single-family home price dropped 3 percent last year, to $286,000, according to the Warren Group. Single-family home sales were off 6 percent. Statewide, condo prices rose 2 percent to $270,000 last year.
Some upscale communities, such as Newton and Needham, are perennial favorites among home buyers, even during down times, and have seen little change from their peak prices during the housing bubble, brokers said.
“Those towns are the gold towns,’’ said Brigitte Senkler, a sales associate at Coldwell Banker in Concord. “They have a very stable economy, they have good schools, and they are great places to live.’’
And this year is expected to be more of the same, especially in towns at the top end of the price scale, industry analysts say.
“Towns like Lexington and Newton, those towns will always be desirable,’’ said Lesley Palmiter of William Raveis, who specializes in Natick and Wellesley, among other communities. “If they have suffered much of a depression in price valuation, it was momentary. Now it’s going back up,’’ she said.
But even less affluent suburbs are experiencing at least price stability, with Natick seeing a modest 3.2 percent drop in its median single-family home price to $387,000, while single-family homes sales rose 5.8 percent.
While sales are still below prerecession levels, there are signs that activity is picking up as well, according to real estate brokers.
The last few months have been unusually busy, real estate agents reported.
It’s an observation backed up by an increase statewide in the number of pending sales, which rose more than 11 percent last month compared with December 2010, according to reports by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.
An improving local economy, especially in the biotech, high technology, and financial services sectors, is one factor behind the price stability, Palmiter and other brokers said.
The mild weather and recent signs of employment growth are also helping give the market a boost during a time of year it typically goes into hibernation, Palmiter said.
“It’s been the busiest December and January I’ve had in my 24-year career,’’ she said.
Still, one obstacle to a recovery remains a relatively limited inventory of homes for sale after several years in which sellers have been reluctant to test the market.
That has left some buyers like the Cavaliers frustrated. Despite having saved up enough for a 20 percent down payment, they are finding it difficult to find a four-bedroom, 2,200-square-foot home in the $400,000 to $500,000 range, at least in the Natick area.
Instead, Brendan Cavalier said, they are finding aging Capes and ranches in that price range, with significantly less space.
He’s now looking in Ashland, where prices, while lower, have also been on the upswing.
“We just had to keep moving west - drive until you qualify,’’ he said.
But the dearth of attractive homes on the market could change as prices continue to move up, encouraging more sellers like Stephen and Lorna Mynott to take a chance.
With Stephen retired and working part time, the Mynotts had been dreaming of selling their 4,000-square-foot Colonial in Natick and moving into something simpler.
Encouraged by signs of an improving real estate market, the couple recently took the plunge, putting their home up for sale.
While they don’t have a buyer yet, a steady stream of visitors through their house in recent weeks during what are traditionally the winter doldrums have the Mynotts optimistic.
They are preparing to sign a purchase-and-sales agreement for a townhouse at the old National Guard armory in downtown Natick, Castle Courtyard.
“We thought it was well laid out and the architecture was pretty unique,’’ Stephen Mynott said. “We just fell in love with it.’’