Monday, January 31, 2011

GREEN LIVING: Insulation

It's akin to Goldilocks and the three bears. One bowl of porridge is too hot. Another is too cold. And finally, after much deliberation, she finds one that is "just right". Except in this case, though, it's not about porridge. We're talking about insulation.

Insulation's efficiency, along with its environmental impact, ranges widely. Let's look at a few of the most popular insulations on the market today, and maybe find one that is "just right" for you.

First, why do we insulate our homes? According to the Department of Energy, "Heating and cooling account for 50 to 70% of the energy used in the average American home. Inadequate insulation and air leakage are leading causes of energy waste in most homes."

So in short, insulation makes your home warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and it keeps more money in your pocket in the process.

But how much insulation you need can be entirely dependent on the climate of the surrounding area. Use this quick zip code guide to figure how much insulation is necessary in your region.

This will help you establish what R-value (the rating system used for insulation) is proper for optimum efficiency in your home. The higher the R-value, the greater the effectiveness of the insulation. By simply picking the right insulation, even if the material itself is not green in nature, you will be saving energy, and thus making a contribution to a healthier environment.

Here a few typical forms of insulation:

Blankets: These come as rolls or batts and are made from flexible mineral fibers, including fiberglass and rock wool. On the positive side, this form of insulation can be bought with a flame-resistant facing. Additionally, it comes in standard sizing, made to fit between wall studs and floor joists. On the other hand, fiberglass and rock wool are known eye, throat, and skin irritants. And fiberglass is made through an energy intensive manufacturing process, and many fiberglass products contain formaldehyde, a possible carcinogen.

Blown-in: Blown-in loose fill is done by professionals by using equipment to blow in loose fibers or pellets. This can be done with cellulose (a great green option), fiberglass, or rock wool. On the pro side, it is good for oddly shaped areas that rolls don't form to. On the con side, cellulose not mixed with foams is apt to settle and to absorb moisture.

Foam Insulation: And finally, there is foam insulation. Foam insulations, however, are made from petrochemicals and are not recyclable.

You may have found your "just right" fit in the forms above, but there are still greener options now gaining in popularity. These include recycled paper insulation, recycled denim, hemp, and cotton. Be sure to talk to your contractor about what options would be a good, and green, fit for your new home.

Carla Hill Realty Times January 19, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

JUST FOR FUN: Groovy Bear eats Psychedelic Mushroom

HOME MAINTANENCE: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Your Closet

It's really no secret. We are a nation of consumers. Watch television for just one evening and you'll know of a dozen sales and promotions happening in your local area. Whether it's retail or sale, there are more than a handful of us that have consumed our ways to a stuffed closet.

Call it early Spring cleaning. Call it a simplification. Organizing and cleaning out your closet can be a great selling tip, because buyers do and will open your closet during a walk-through. And one stuffed to the rafters will appear small and cramped, no matter it's real size.

There is, however, the altruistic side. Today there is an unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent. This translates into around 15 million unemployed Americans. That is why it is important to lend a helping hand to members of your community. Unemployed families still need clothes, even after the paychecks stop.


Consider what it is that you really need. Do you have clothes that don't fit? How about clothes and shoes that you really don't need? Are there items that aren't your "style" anymore?

Many of us like to hold onto clothes that we think we might wear again. But use this rule of thumb. If you haven't worn it in the last year, then it is time to donate.


Resist the urge to refill your closet once you've downsized! "But what about that new pair of boots I've been eyeing?" you say. Find creative ways to reuse items you have already bought. You may be surprised at how much variety you have in your closet when you rely on what you already have. And for those green activists out there, the fewer new items you buy, the less you consume. Every item that is manufactured takes a toll on the economy, through the power used to run the factories, chemicals and oil used to create certain fabrics, and even the gas it takes to ship items to the store.


Start locally. Do you have relatives or friends who would welcome children's clothes? Kids grow fast and many families are struggling to afford bigger sizes. Most communities have local thrift, Goodwill, or Salvation Army stores that will gladly take your donations.

There's also a great site called that allows you to exchange kids clothes with families from all across the country. Traders can get a box of clothes for only the cost of shipping at $5.

Adults need donations, as well. Job interviews and changing seasons may put many adults at a disadvantage. Donation means your old piece of clothing can be given a new home.

Cleaning out your closets is a winning situation. It's good for the community, good for sellers, and of course, it's good for the environment! So start your closet on a reduce, reuse, recycle diet today!

Carla Hill Realty Times January 20, 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

NEIGHBORHOODS: Reclaiming the center

Midsize cities rediscover the allure of downtowns, attracting millions to transform them into 24-hour neighborhoods of businesses and homes

Just when you thought downtowns were dead, a renaissance is taking shape in cities across Massachusetts.

In Quincy, officials are plotting a $1.3 billion plan to reinvent the city center with hundreds of new homes, restaurants, and stores. In Lowell, a developer is moving forward with an $800 million project to rebuild a large section of the downtown. Similar efforts are planned or underway in Worcester, Springfield, and New Bedford.

The trend is rooted in the belief among many developers and city planners that the era of the monolithic shopping mall is over, and that people want to live, work, and shop on Main Streets that reflect a community’s culture and history.

“People are looking for variety, and they want their downtowns to feel more like an experience,’’ said Ken Narva of Street-Works LLC, a New York development firm spearheading the Quincy project. “We’re starting to get away from the homogenized malling of America.’’

Midsize cities across the country are rediscovering downtowns that were once thriving commercial districts, but deteriorated into sleepy collections of retail stores lacking the options and convenience of suburban shopping malls. Over the past half-century, urban planners have tried many strategies to bring new life to struggling central business districts, from creating pedestrian malls to relocating government offices to building vast indoor shopping plazas.

Today, the principle behind revitalization efforts is to make downtowns not just shopping areas, but 24-hour neighborhoods with homes, offices, and entertainment venues where residents can shop, dine, and mix at movies and concerts. Such efforts helped transform downtown Providence, for example, into a thriv ing cultural center and business district with local artists, new restaurants, and popular retail stores.

“We’re developing these spaces with the idea of civic life being part of a lifestyle,’’ said Tim Love, a principal of Utile Inc., an architecture and planning firm in Boston. “These [downtowns] give people the ability to walk to the retail store, the community meeting, or the Italian restaurant. People have choices that are immediate.’’

Friday, January 28, 2011


Lagging real estate market offers little relief

Though the recession knocked down home prices over the past few years, the price of keeping a roof over your head in this area is still not close to most people’s idea of cheap.

A regional planning agency found that in 15 communities south of Boston, more than 40 percent of households pay 30 percent or more of their income for housing. And across the state, there are nine communities, including Brockton, where more than half of the households pay at least 30 percent.

Richard Camiolo, a 54-year-old disabled veteran from the Vietnam era, said he could afford a house only because of a government program that knocked down the interest on his mortgage. He paid $250,000 in August for a Cape-style home on Little Sandy Bottom Pond in Pembroke.

“I never thought I could buy a place,’’ Camiolo said, but then his sister, a real estate agent, “found a special loan’’ from the US Department of Agriculture. After waiting for years to buy, and with prices down because of the recession, he said, “It was time to make a move.’’ His five-room, three-level house is 18 years old, and sits on a 5,000-square-foot lot.

The study conducted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, based on US Census Bureau data from 2005 to 2009, looked at the percentage of households that spent 30 percent or more of their income on housing. For homeowners, the calculations included mortgage payments, insurance, taxes, and utilities, among other items. For renters, it included rent and utilities.

The 30 percent figure was used because, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, a household that pays that level or more of its income for housing is “cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.’’

The MAPC report did not reflect the cost of housing so much as the financial impact on household finances in each community. For instance, some area communities with high housing prices had fewer households struggling to keep up, thanks to their higher incomes. In Hingham and Sharon, where the average assessed values for homes were approximately $660,000 and $430,000, respectively, only about one-third of the households paid 30 percent or more of their income for housing, the report found.

That contrasts with less wealthy communities, such as Brockton and Hull.

Average home values are under $200,000 in Brockton, but more than half of the households pay 30 percent or more of income to keep a roof over their heads. The percentage is nearly as high in Hull.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

RENTAL DEVELOPENT: A rental revival

Years of dormancy in affordable housing construction may be ending as contractors complete new apartment projects in the region

In its better days, the Pickle Factory housed, by turns, a once illustrious brewery, a national sheet music publisher, and the R & S Pickle Works, its namesake. Now, after lying vacant for nearly three decades, the Pickle Factory is again humming with activity.

Affordable housing projects are underway again, thanks to an infusion of federal stimulus funds and the return of banks and other real estate investors that had been traditional financiers of such developments.

Mission Hill
62 mixed-income units, plus three artist living/work spaces

Jamaica Plain
30 affordable units

Jamaica Plain
36 low-income units

48 units

Fall River
97 mixed-income units for seniors

75 units

350 units, 25 percent affordable

220 units, 25 percent affordable

75 units for seniors

SOURCE: Development firms
Its brick facade is being cleansed of accumulated graffiti, while construction crews for the WinnCompanies are busily finishing 60 apartments and several artist studios, which will be dubbed the Oliver Lofts — a nod to the printing company, Oliver Ditson.

Across from a city housing project at the borders of Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, and Roxbury, the area is hardly up and coming. Down Heath Street, for example, the American Brewery Lofts is still auctioning off unsold condos, four years after the building opened.

But the Oliver Lofts building is different in one fundamental way: All of the units are apartments, and most will be geared toward those with limited incomes. And in this way, the building represents a revival in residential construction in communities across the state.

Dead in their tracks just two years ago because of the financial crisis, affordable housing projects are underway again, thanks to an infusion of federal stimulus funds and the return of banks and other real estate investors that had been the traditional financiers of such developments.

While commercial builder EA Fish Development has a number of projects on the drawing board, managing director Matt Mittelstadt said, “The only ones that are really getting done are affordable housing.’’

The additional housing comes at a crucial time: “The demand has been staggering,’’ said Richard Thal, executive director of Jamaica Plain Neigh borhood Development Corporation, which is completing two low-income apartment buildings on Centre Street.

A lottery the organization held for 30 units yielded more than 1,400 applicants.

That kind of demand helped persuade investors to return to the affordable housing market. Many of these developments finance construction by selling federal tax credits to banks and other lenders and specialized investors. But the credit crisis of 2008 wiped out demand for the tax credits. For example, the largest buyers of the credits, the mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, were taken over by the US government in 2008 and pulled out of the tax credit market.

“We had the dubious distinction of having more delayed affordable housing projects than anyone else in the Commonwealth,’’ Thal said of his Jamaica Plain organization’s standing at the time.

While developers such as Thal have been able to sell tax credits again, they’re not getting as much money for them, leaving gaps in financing that the builders have to scramble to fill.

What’s helped is that over the past two years Massachusetts received more than $170 million in federal stimulus money for affordable housing and has also provided additional resources to help finance projects and leverage private investment. This has resulted in the creation of more than 2,000 affordable rental units, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

The financing situation has improved to the point where even several long-planned, controversial projects in wealthier towns and suburbs, where there tends to be stronger resistance to large apartment-style buildings, have been able to get going. In West Concord, for example, the Trammell Crow company finally began work on a 30-acre site for a 350-unit apartment complex, while AvalonBay Communities Inc. broke ground late last year on a 220-unit complex in Cohasset. As required under the state’s 40B affordable housing law, 25 percent of the units in the Concord and Cohasset developments will be rented at lower prices for qualifying tenants.

The apartment sector is also benefiting from the fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis and the economic recession. With many more middle-class residents shut out of home ownership, demand for reasonably priced units is not just from the poor.

For example, the builder of the Oliver Lofts in Jamaica Plain initially planned that all 60 apartments would be reserved for low- and moderate-income tenants. Now though, about a quarter of the units will be rented at market rates, eight reserved for formerly homeless families, and the rest for low-income applicants.

“We wanted the building to reflect the diversity of the area,’’ said Gilbert Winn, managing principal with the company.

Ted Siefer Boston Globe January 13, 2010

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Doing the Numbers: 4th Quarter 2010 and 2011 Outlook

2010 has come to and end and so has a tumultuous year in real estate. The market held steady the first half of the year due to the extension of the homebuyer tax credit. A combination of extremely low interest rates and the tax extension deadline positively impacted single-family home sales and prices across the northeast.

As many analysts predicted, the second half of 2010 saw a dip, bringing the real estate industry back to reality. Although mortgage rates fell to historic lows-you could get a 15-year FRM at 3.5 percent and a 30-year FRM at close to 4 percent-low consumer confidence and a stubbornly sluggish job market decreased demand for housing. In addition, the high amount of foreclosures continued to put a question mark on the outlook for housing. According to a report by the Mortgage Bankers Association, “Headwinds from defaults and a rising rate of new foreclosure applications keep the housing outlook muddied.”

However, amidst some of the adverse rhetoric on real estate, the 4th quarter showed parts of the northeast faring better than expected compared to same time last year when looking at some key market indicators, such as average sales price. Below is a breakdown of these numbers:

Single Family
MA- up by 4.9%

MA- up by 13.3%

Single Family
MA- down by 20.5%

MA- down by 27.3%
Single Family
MA- up by 22%

MA- up by 15.7%

Average sales prices are up across the board in the northeast, however, other indicators are mixed. Here are some key points to be aware of in the market for 2011:

The Federal Reserve’s purchase of 600 billion dollars of treasury securities will help keep interest rates low and prop up the market

Interest rates are still at historic lows…still a great time to buy

Consumer confidence is on a general rising pace-consumers are starting to pull out their wallets again According to a study by RBS Economics Research, 2010 saw the best holiday season for retailers in 5 years

Other major economic indicators are positive. For example, the stock market is seeing a robust increase for the beginning of 2011. According to the New York Times, “the first day of trading (in 2011) saw the market reach its highest levels since 2008”

If you’d like to know more about how your town fared this quarter and year-to-date, visit’s local housing data matrix. Click on the chart below to see more detailed data for parts of the northeast. And let us know if these numbers accurately reflect what’s happening in your market!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

JUST FOR FUN: American Appetites

[The 916ml Trenta size is] more than the average capacity of the human stomach, and enough caffeine to stand in for a defibrillator.

MODERATELY PRICED REMODELING: Pull-out Shelves: Gliding to a Hardworking Kitchen

Add pull-out shelves to your existing base kitchen cabinets and you’ll stay organized, frustration-free, and never lose an item in the back of a cabinet again.

Pull-out shelves unleash the storage potential on a typical 24-inch deep, 30-inch wide, lower kitchen cabinet. With standard shelves, you have to stoop down (ouch) and peer into the dark recesses to see what’s back there. Mmm, peanut butter—that expired in 2008?

Eliminate this Neverland of lost pots and pans—and peanut butter—simply by retrofitting your existing cabinets with pull-out shelves.

Pull-out shelf basics
The beauty of pull-out shelves is that you’ll bring the contents of the cabinet out into the light of day with one easy tug—a boon for anyone with limited mobility. Most pull-out shelves feature a shallow lip around the edge so that items don’t tumble off as the shelf glides in and out.

Pull-out shelves typically come with full-extension gliding hardware that supports up to 100 pounds. However, most manufacturers recommend keeping the load to 75 to 80 pounds maximum.

Retrofitting existing cabinets with pull-outs is usually easy—most cabinets have adjustable shelves that are easily removed. If your shelving is fixed in place, however, you’ll have to consult a woodworker to see if the shelves can be taken out.

Sizes and styles
Pull-out shelves come in standard or adjustable sizes to fit various cabinet interiors. They are available in three basic materials:

solid wood (usually the most expensive and well-made).
plywood sides combined with medium density fiber (MDF) bottoms.
metal wire that’s lightweight and easy to install, but also the least substantial.
You’ll also find a variety of specialty options such as pull-out shelves with slots for storing trays, baking pans, or lids. Other options include bins that hold waste baskets and units that swing out from corner cabinets. Look for pull-out shelves at home centers, discount stores, and online.

Costs and caveats
Prices for individual shelves start at about $13 for a low-end wire or plywood and MDF unit, up to $745 for a solid wood specialty unit for a corner cabinet.

If you purchase the shelves yourself and hire out the installation, expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $600 for a full day’s labor. At about $20 each, for example, 24 shelves would cost about $730 to $1,200, installed.

If top-quality work is important to you, custom cabinetmakers will build and install pull-out shelves. Typical costs are $135 to $210 per shelf, installed. In an average-sized kitchen with 12 base cabinets and 24 shelves, expect to pay $3,240 to $5,040 for custom-made pull-out shelves.

Keep in mind that some cabinets aren’t as well-suited to pull-out shelves. Narrow shelves, for example, may require a pull-out that glides on hardware installed on an existing shelf. The pull-out will likely work best for spices or small items

Jan Soults Walker December 29, 2010

Read more:

Monday, January 24, 2011

HOME MAINTANENCE: How to Inspect Windows, Doors to Stop Air and Water Leaks

Inspect windows and doors regularly to stop air leaks and water seeps that create high energy and repair bills. We’ll show you how.

Take a look at windows, doors and skylights to stop air leaks, foil water drips, and detect the gaps and rot that let the outside in and the inside out. You can perform a quick check with a home air pressure test, or do a detailed inspection. Luckily, these inspections are easy to do. Here’s how to examine the barriers that should stand between you and the elements.

Big picture inspection
A home air pressure test sucks air into the house to reveal air leaks that increase your energy bills.

To inspect windows and other openings:

Seal the house by locking all doors, windows, skylights, and shutting all vents.
Close all dampers and vents.
Turn on all kitchen and bath exhaust fans.
Pass a burning incense stick along all openings—windows, doors, fireplaces, outlets—to pinpoint air rushing in from the outside.
Windows and the outside world
Air and water can seep into closed widows from gaps and rot in frames, deteriorating caulking, cracked glass, and closures that don’t fully close.

To stop air leaks, pinpoint window problems.

Give a little shake. If they rattle, frames are not secure, so heat and air conditioning can leak out and rain can seep in. Some caulk and a few nails into surrounding framing will fix this.
Look deep. If you can see the outside from around—not through—the window, you’ve got gaps. Stop air leaks by caulking and weather stripping around frames.
Inspect window panes for cracks.
Check locks. Make sure double-hung windows slide smoothly up and down. If not, run a knife around the frame and sash to loosen any dried paint. Tighten cranks on casement windows and check that top locks fully grab latches.
Door doubts
Check doors for cracks that weaken their ability to stop air leaks and water seeps.
Inspect weather stripping for peels and gaps.
Make sure hinges are tight and doors fit securely in their thresholds.
Inspect skylights
Brown stains on walls under a skylight are telltale signs that water is invading and air is escaping. Cut a small hole in the stained drywall to check for wetness, which would indicate rot, or gaps in the skylight.

To investigate skylight leaks, carefully climb on the roof and look for the following:

Open seams between flashing or shingles.
Shingle debris that allows water to collect on roofs.
Failed and/or cracked cement patches put down the last time the skylight leaked.

Lisa Kaplan Gordon House Logic January 7, 2011

Read more:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

BUILDING COMMUNITY: Improve the Infrastructure of Your Community

New community infrastructure enriches your neighborhood—and maybe your home value, too. Follow these four tips to get upgrades that boost your neighborhood’s curb appeal. It takes time and effort, but lobbying local government for sidewalks, crosswalks, street lighting, and other community infrastructure:

Creates a sense of community.
Makes an area more desirable to home buyers. Indeed, appraisers keep score of community infrastructure and amenities when valuing homes.
Sets your ‘hood apart from others with similar homes—especially in a competitive real estate market.
A local REALTOR® can tell you which infrastructure upgrades will offer the most value to your community. Then it’s up to you to work with local government.

1. Who controls community infrastructure?
Call your mayor or councilperson’s office to find out which office of your local government handles infrastructure upgrades and additions. Does your city or town have any short- or long-term plans to develop a grid of sidewalks or street lighting?

“Developing a system of sidewalks leading to a downtown, shopping district, or local school adds more value to the neighborhood than disjointed sections of sidewalk,” says Cheryl E. Kuck, public information officer for the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation.

The pitch: Saying that the infrastructure project is something your community needs is better than something it wants.

Example: If you want sidewalks, argue that kids need them to walk safely home from school rather than saying you need them because they’ll improve your home value.

2. What is the community infrastructure approval process?
You might have to get a certain number or percentage of people who live near the project to sign a petition saying they approve.
You might need to hop aboard a lengthy process involving a zoning or planning board.
Once you know the process, figure out how to present your case.

3. Who picks up the tab for community infrastructure projects?
It’s not cheap. Concrete curbs and sidewalks cost about $15 per linear foot for curbing and $11 per square foot for walkways. Streetlight and crosswalk costs differ depending on their design.

Funding sources may include:

Local, state, and federal tax dollars
Assessments charged to home owners (Local officials may be able to offer relief or deferrals to seniors.)
Bonds issued by local government and paid back over many years
Money set aside by government for capital improvements

4. How do I deflate the naysayers?
One strategy: Emphasize health.

As Americans become more conscious of the environment and their health, crosswalks and sidewalks are a good way to get your neighbors out of their cars.
A walking-friendly neighborhood will hold its value better than a similar neighborhood that’s not walkable.

Support for community infrastructure projects can quickly snowball. “Building community support helps to sway local council people to your side,” says Charlie Zegeer, director of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.

Myra A. Thomas December 2, 2010

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

MARKET ON THE RISE? Forecasters expect home sales to rise

ORLANDO, Fla. — The housing market could gradually begin to emerge from its doldrums this year, industry analysts said yesterday, but their forecast depends on a steady ramp-up in hiring and for the US jobless rate to get no worse than it is right now.

And even if their outlook proves true, a full housing recovery is still more than two years away. The forecast delivered at the International Builders’ Show sees economic growth sharply lifting home sales and residential construction over the next two years, but from near-historic lows posted last year.

Many home builders, however, remain unconvinced that a recovery is brewing. Most, like Lennar Corp., at best see the market not getting any worse.

Still, forecasts by David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, and Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft are cautiously optimistic.

Crowe’s forecast hinges on the US jobless rate getting no worse than 9.4 percent and employment growth accelerating to a pace of 200,000 jobs a month by the end of 2012.

“Home sales are going to struggle, but they will follow employment,’’ Crowe said.

Single-family home construction will rise 21 percent to 575,000 this year, Crowe said.

Nothaft also sees home construction rising about 20 percent.

Associated Press January 13, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

JUST FOR FUN: Stop-motion graffiti genius Blu teases his DVD:

LOCAL REAL ESTATE NEWS: Plans unclear for Evergreen’s closing plant

For sale or lease: huge solar manufacturing plant in Devens. Like new. Motivated owner.

Evergreen Solar Inc.’s decision this week to close its two-year-old solar panel factory in Devens in March raises questions about what — if anything — can fill the gaping void at the former Army base.

Several real estate professionals said it could be hard to quickly find a company to buy or rent the building, particularly given the sluggish economy and the structure’s massive dimensions — nearly a half-million square feet.

“There is pretty limited demand for anything of that size,’’ said James Umphrey, a principal with Kelleher & Sadowsky Associates Inc., a commercial real estate firm in Worcester. “I would think you would have to say it’s going to take a couple years.’’

Evergreen Solar owns the building and has a 30-year lease on the land from a quasi-state development agency.

It also won more than $58 million in public subsidies to build the facility, so the state government has a keen interest in the plant’s disposition.

It’s unclear what the company plans to do with the building. An Evergreen spokesman last night said he was still trying to track down information. And state officials said Evergreen has not told them its intentions for the plant.

But Umphrey and others said the building could be ideal for a large manufacturer looking to open a factory quickly, particularly since the building is so new.

“It’s not good news for Devens, but I wouldn’t put it in the catastrophic category,’’ said David Begelfer, chief executive of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks, a commercial real estate trade group. “The silver lining is that the right kind of company can come in at an existing facility for an attractive price.’’

Begelfer said Massachusetts has generally been successful in attracting companies to Devens since the military base closed in 1996, because it has so much space to offer and an expedited permitting system.

The sprawling 4,400-acre community now boasts more than 75 businesses that employ more than 3,500 people, including a $650 million drug manufacturing plant built by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (Like Evergreen, Bristol-Myers received millions in state incentives to build in Massachusetts.)

But Evergreen was one of its biggest developments, accounting for roughly one-fifth of the workers in Devens.

The Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, the quasi-state agency that oversees Devens, said it will continue to woo innovative companies.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

LOCAL NEWS: Whole Foods announces move to Jamaica Plain

Upscale organic food supermarket company Whole Foods today announced it will open an outlet in the diverse Jamaica Plain neighborhood, moving into the space now used by the Hi-Lo Foods on Centre Street, the company said.

“Whole Foods Market has been keenly interested in developing a Jamaica Plain location. We are now eager to become active members of such a strong, diverse neighborhood and to open a store that is reflective of the vibrant community,” Laura Derba, Whole Foods Market North Atlantic regional president, said in a statement. The newest location, at 415 Centre St., will be the fourth Whole Foods Market in the Boston area, the company said. Hi-Lo has been open at the location for decades. It was known for its stock of Latin American foods.

The company, which says it is the country's leading organic and natural food supermarket, said each of its stores is designed to fit the community where it's located. The Jamaica Plain Gazette reported last week that Hi-Lo was closing after 46 years.
"In keeping with the company’s mission, Whole Foods Market plans to source a wide variety of products that meet its strict quality standards as well as the diverse needs of their shoppers," the company said in a statement.

The building will undergo several months of renovations, the company said. Once opened, it will employ about 100 people. The company said it has a long-standing history of hiring people from the community and nurturing the careers of those it hires.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NEW DEVELOPMENT: Tardy smart growth

Eight area communities signed on to a law rewarding dense development, but five years later only Lakeville and Norwood have completed projects

State legislators approved a new law in 2005 to give communities more local control over proposals calling for dense development — something that had been lacking under Massachusetts’ older affordable-housing statute. But five years later, only a handful of cities and towns have successfully completed the projects proposed under the so-called Smart Growth Act.

Eight communities south of Boston — Bridgewater, Brockton, Easton, Kingston, Lakeville, Norwood, Plymouth, and Sharon — signed on to “smart growth,’’ establishing zoning districts that allow for dense development in strategic locations, such as near transportation hubs or commercial areas. In return, they received hundreds of thousands in cash incentives, along with the 2005 statute’s promise of a $3,000 “density bonus’’ for every unit built.

The one string attached to cash, however, has begun to make communities with stalled or abandoned projects worry over the state’s next move. The Smart Growth Act, also known as Chapter 40R, has a “claw back’’ provision that gives incentive recipients three years to show progress or return the money.

Kingston and Bridgewater, both recipients of $600,000 incentive payments and now arriving at the three-year mark, are waiting for the state’s knock on the door. Kingston’s once-promising 1021 Kingston Place mixed-use project was abandoned last winter after drawn-out court appeals undermined the developer’s financing. Property owner Mary O’Donnell has since decided to pursue a solar and wind farm.

Kingston Town Administrator Jill Myers said it would be painful to return the $600,000 incentive payment, but not fatal to the town’s finances. “We’ve kept that money in a separate account,’’ she said.

That’s not the case in Bridgewater. The town’s $600,000 incentive payment, up for claw-back in September, was spent shortly after it arrived in 2008, to help keep the town’s operational budget afloat. Meanwhile, the 594-unit proposed expansion to the Waterford Village apartment complex, adjacent to the MBTA station and Bridgewater State University, has gone nowhere.

The state’s listed status for the project says it all: “Time of future development is highly uncertain.’’

Bridgewater officials say they plan to contact the state Department of Housing and Community Development to see what options are available to the town.

Town Council member Michael Demos, a former selectman, said his town’s plight isn’t surprising, given its lack of future planning. He said Bridgewater, in a financial pinch, decided to use the incentive money without considering the potential for the proposed project to fail.

“Going forward, I’m confident, with the change of government, the town will no longer think it can continue to deal with its budgetary issues in a reactive way,’’ Demos said in an e-mail. Bridgewater replaced its Board of Selectmen with a nine-member Town Council on Jan. 1.

As for Easton’s Queset Commons, where permits are in place for the opening phase but a citizens’ appeal of a Conservation Commission ruling has temporarily stalled activity, officials say an extension of the state’s deadline would help.

“Once we get [the appeal] settled, we’re ready to go,’’ said developer Doug King.

Easton Town Administrator David Colton said the three-year deadline for progress is up in about six months. The town has already spent much of the $350,000 state incentive, he said. About $280,000 went to capital projects, and the remaining $70,000 into the general fund.

“Obviously, if we can’t do what needs to be done by the deadline, we’ll be asking the state for an extension,’’ Colton said. “The delay in the project has not been our fault, and the economy isn’t what anybody anticipated back in 2008.’’

Town Planner Brad Washburn said Easton is counting on Queset progressing. “About $2 million in infrastructure improvements by the developer are included in this,’’ he said.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NEIGHBORHOOD DEVELOPMENT: Focusing on Fort Point: 31-story Atlantic Wharf adds two more tenants, further transforming Boston’s waterfront

With its sail-shaped design, Boston’s newest skyscraper is a 31-story invitation to the city’s newest gathering spot on the water.

Atlantic Wharf - Boston's newest skyscraperThe glass-walled tower at the corner of Congress Street and Atlantic Avenue is the largest development yet in a decades-long effort to transform the Fort Point Channel into a contemporary waterfront with residences, restaurants, boating tours, and cultural institutions.

And in addition to being one of the few to open during a slowdown in the commercial building sector, the $550 million Atlantic Wharf complex will probably be the last large property built on the downtown side of the city’s waterfront for some time. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino last year moved to restrict the size of buildings along the new Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, just inland from the channel and waterfront.

Yesterday, developer Boston Properties announced the latest additions to the complex: steakhouse Smith & Wollensky and the Boston Society of Architects, which will also run architecture tours in the area from its new offices.

“It’s all about activating this space for the public,’’ said Michael Cantalupa, a Boston Properties executive. “You can expect performances, art and architecture, and restaurants that will spill onto the plaza.’’

The property features an expansive plaza on the waterfront and a series of new docks that will allow for water-taxi service, tour boats, and private docking for small vessels.

Later this month the building’s first major office tenant, investment firm Wellington Management, will begin moving into the 18 floors of space it has leased in the complex.

Over years of planning, Boston Properties made multiple revisions to Atlantic Wharf, most significantly reducing the number of residences there to 86, from 165 units, while increasing the amount of office space.

Designed by CBT Architects, the complex occupies a long city block between the Fort Point Channel and the Greenway. It includes a seven-story residential structure along Atlantic Avenue, and a 31-story office tower whose base is fashioned out of the former Tufts and Graphic Arts buildings. Those buildings were gutted to make way for new offices, public event space, and ground-floor restaurants.

Smith & Wollensky, recruited in part by Menino, will open a 10,000-square-foot restaurant on the channel side this summer, with outdoor bar and dining. The restaurant will retain its existing Boston location on Arlington Street.

Atlantic Wharf will ultimately contain four other restaurants, including a coffee shop, casual lunch spots, and another fine-dining restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. The coffee shop is expected to be operated by Sorelle, which has two locations in Charlestown. The operators of the other restaurants have not been announced, although Boston Properties said at least one will be operated by a celebrity chef.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

LUXURY HOMES: Boston Luxury Condo Market / What Recession?

In Boston in 2010, there were 348 condo sales with sales prices over $1mm. The average sales price of these condos sold in the over 1mm mark was $1,903,697. The median price of the 348 sales was $1,525,000.

The highest recorded sale in Boston for 2010 according to the MLSPIN was the penthouse at 51 Commonwealth Avenue. This property sold for $10.8m.

The total dollar volume of these sales was $662 million.

Just to put this into perspective, I reviewed the 2009 statistics as well. In 2009, there were only 238 total sales over $1mm in the Boston condo market and the total dollar volume of these sales $414mm.

Download Boston Luxury Market Sales Over 1 Million in Boston 2010

Saturday, January 15, 2011

WASHINGTON (December 27, 2010)—2010 has been a year of real estate contrasts. The market has seen a gradual stabilization of sales and prices, yet challenges facing the nation have led some to question the value of home ownership for families, communities, and the country.

“People are passionate about the American dream of home ownership, and this passion underscores how important home ownership is to our nation,” said NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I. “Owning a home has long-standing government support in this country because home ownership benefits individuals and families, strengthens our communities, and is integral to our economy.“

In the first half of the year, the extended $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit and expanded home $6,500 tax credit for repeat buyers helped encourage sales and stabilize home prices. Home buyers in 2010 have also benefited from historic affordability levels, with the combination of record low mortgage rates coupled with rising household incomes. The NAR Housing Affordability Index currently shows that a median-income family with a down payment of 20% has 184.2% of the income required to purchase a median-priced home.

“Low interest rates mean real money for today’s home buyers,” said Phipps. “Buyers who purchased a median-priced home five years ago with an FHA mortgage requiring a 3% down payment would have a monthly mortgage payment of $1,650. With today’s interest rates and median home prices, that same buyer would pay $1,150 per month—a $500 savings. That’s a savings of $6,000 per year.”

Despite record affordability and buyer incentives, rising foreclosure rates and concerns about proper foreclosure procedures led some to question whether owning a home was a good personal decision.

Friday, January 14, 2011

MARKET TRENDS: Pending Home Sales Rise

While credit remains tight as we move forward into 2011, top economists expect that if the job market revives this year, and interest rates rise only moderately, the housing market could experience a boost.

Pending homes sales are already on the rise. The National Association of Realtors' Pending Home Sales Index reports that pending homes sales rose in November by 3.5 percent.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said historically high housing affordability is boosting sales activity. "In addition to exceptional affordability conditions, steady improvements in the economy are helping bring buyers into the market," he said. "But further gains are needed to reach normal levels of sales activity."

Across the nation, we see regionally diverse markets, however. The Northeast saw pending home sales rise by 1.8 percent, but this figure is still 6.2 percent below November 2009. The West also saw a stunning 18.2 percent jump. This jump leaves it within 0.4 percent of year ago levels.

Both the Midwest and South saw declines, though, in pending sales. The Midwest declined 4.2 percent and is still 7.7 percent below year ago levels. The South fell only 1.8 percent.

"As we gradually work off the excess housing inventory, supply levels will eventually come more in-line with historic averages, and could allow home prices to rise modestly in the range of 2 to 3 percent in 2012," Yun said.

For now, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage remains in the low five percent range, which is near a historical low. The extension of Bush-era tax credits, as well as renewed hopes of job growth could very easily translate into more sales on the housing market horizon.

Carla Hill January 4, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

JUST FOR FUN: Hip Hop meets Fiddler On The Roof

Anything can happen in a mashup

2011 PREDICTIONS: The market will stabilize — but don’t expect boom

The Massachusetts housing market will remain stable in 2011, with no dizzying ascents or dramatic drops.

With home buyer tax credits of up to $8,000 long gone, the new year should see more natural balance between supply and demand. An improving economy should entice more potential buyers to take the plunge, while sellers, who have been waiting out the downturn, put homes on the market in hopes of stronger prices and better bargaining power.

Foreclosures, meanwhile, will slow in 2011 as the number of struggling homeowners decreases, either because they have already lost their properties or were helped by the improving economy. Between January and November of last year, foreclosure petitions, the first step in the home seizure process, declined. That will translate into fewer homes taken this year.

Still, the climb will be slow and long. Home sales, which slowed significantly during the second half of 2010, should pick up slightly in the spring, but will still be restrained by tight credit, tougher lending standards, and lingering economic uncertainty. Interest rates, which hit historic lows in 2010, won’t set any new records. But they should not spike over the next year.

Home values won’t budge much either. Prices in Massachusetts are largely anchored by the relatively small inventory, which creates competition among home buyers. In the past, that has led to quickly rising prices. But overall housing prices will be restrained by the large number of foreclosed homes heading into the market, especially in the suburbs and rural areas of the state.

The state housing market, of course, is an amalgamation of smaller and diverse local markets. Homeowners in Boston’s downtown and higher priced suburbs, where values held up relatively well during the recession, should see some lift in sales and prices as wealthier residents grow increasingly comfortable spending again. Lower income communities, however, will still struggle because of stricter lending requirements that will deter many first-time and moderate-income home buyers.

Massachusetts homeowners were hurt less by the national housing downturn that wiped out billions of dollars in home equity. Nationally, median home prices dropped by more than 30 percent in the downturn, compared to 20 percent in Massachusetts. Since hitting bottom in 2009, home values here have increased by about 7 percent — with some dips and surges along the way.

Most housing industry analysts do not expect 2011 to provide any surprises, but then again, few predicted the recession in 2008. Paul Willen, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said it’s difficult to predict the exact moment when buyers will stop worrying that homes will lose value and start to panic that values will rise rapidly, leaving them priced out of the market.

“The minute it happens, it is sort of a surprise,’’ he said. “Unexpected things happen in the housing market a lot more than they should.’’

Jenifer B. McKim Boston Globe January 2, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

UPBEAT PREDICTIONS: Construction will start to pick up

Development activity will pick up in 2011, helping to end a building slump that has persisted for much of the past two years. But don’t expect an explosion of new projects.

The volume of construction will steadily increase throughout the year, with most developers focusing on rental housing, the only real estate product in strong demand. The trend will be particularly pronounced in Boston, where more than a half-dozen 200-unit plus apartment projects are planning to begin construction, including the first homes in the 20-block Seaport Square development on the South Boston waterfront.

Still, large segments of the commercial development market will remain frozen. Almost no one will build office towers because rents remain too low to justify the cost of new construction. Average asking rents for top-flight office space in downtown Boston are hovering around $49 per square foot, well below the $70-to-$80 per square foot price that makes the construction of skyscrapers economically attractive.

The only exceptions will be companies like Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. and the pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG, both of which have enough cash to build new complexes with minimal or no financing. Liberty Mutual is planning to proceed with a $300 million tower in Boston’s Back Bay, and Novartis is plotting a $500 million expansion near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

But most companies will hold off building new headquarters, especially with existing office space still available at bargain prices in 2011.

Weakness will also persist in the luxury condominium market. Sales and prices increased in 2010, and will do so again this year. The shaky economy, however, has left vacancies in large Boston projects such as the W Hotel and residences, and 45 Province Street — two projects that serve as cautionary tales for any developer or lender sizing up a condo project.

And, with both condo and office markets sluggish, many of the region’s largest projects — mixed-use developments, including offices, stores, and homes — will remain stuck in neutral.

One barometer of the commercial real estate market will be the fate of the former Filene’s site in Boston’s Downtown Crossing. Work there stalled more than two years ago, and its owners are now trying to sell it.

A deal will probably get done, but it will take several months of planning and design before construction finally moves forward on the blighted site. Moreover, any new proposal will be significantly scaled down from the original, which called for a 39-story tower with offices, condominiums, stores, and a hotel.

The bidders now considering the site are talking up less expensive plans for apartments and stores at street level. Plenty of lenders should be willing to finance such a development, but few will put themselves on the line for anything bigger or bolder.

And that will be the theme throughout the commercial building market: Projects will begin to advance, but slowly, and on a much smaller scale.

Casey Ross Boston Globe January 2, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BUYING & SELLING: Home-buying contracts rise in November

Signed contracts to purchase homes rose in November, the fourth increase in five months. That should give the housing market a boost in the first few months of 2011 because there’s usually a one- to two-month lag between a sales contract and a completed deal.

Economists caution that a big reason for the increase is that people are buying foreclosed homes, which sell at steep discounts and weigh on the market.

Another obstacle is a sudden spike in the 30-year fixed mortgage rate, which only weeks ago had fallen a 40-year low.

Still, many economists expect sales to gradually rise as the economy adds jobs and home prices stabilize.

“Sales appear to be picking up, and we expect better sales in the next several months,’’ said Patrick Newport, a housing economist at IHS Global Insight. “A lot of that is because the job market is improving.’’

The National Association of Realtors said yesterday that its index of sales agreements for previously occupied homes increased 3.5 percent last month from a downwardly revised reading in October. Contract signings were up in the West and Northeast, but down in the South and Midwest.

A reading of 100 indicates the average level of sales activity in 2001, when the index started. It was above that level during the boom years, sank during the recession, and surged temporarily when the government offered tax incentives to spur sales. When the credits expired in April, the index sank again.

Completed home sales — which the realtors group measures in a separate report — are expected to total about 4.8 million units this year. Analysts consider 6 million a healthy pace. The last time sales were lower was 13 years ago.

A third of the pending sales probably will be foreclosures or short sales, in which a homeowner sells a house for less than what is owed on it, association spokesman Walter Molony said. That tracks with the average for the year. These distressed sales go for discounts of up to 50 percent in some of the hardest-hit areas.

Many economists expect home prices to drop another 5 to 10 percent in the next six months before stabilizing. Prices fell in 20 of America’s largest cities in October, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index, released Tuesday.

And now mortgage rates are on the rise. This week, the average rate on 30-year home loans rose to 4.86 percent from 4.81 percent, mortgage giant Freddie Mac said, the highest level in seven months. The average rate on the 15-year loan rose to 4.20 percent from 4.15 — the highest in six months.

Associated Press December 31, 2010