The Commonwealth Blog

Monday, March 2, 2020

The 2020 Real Estate Market

What will the rest of 2020 look like for the real estate market? Now that we’re near the end of the first quarter of the year, it’s easier to guess how things will go through December, although making accurate projections is always difficult. Here are six strong trends that are likely to govern the real estate market for the remainder of 2020:

1. Mortgage Interest Rates Continue to Drop

According to Freddie Mac, mortgage interest rates declined in 2019. As of January 2020, the average rate was just 3.62%. Most experts expect this trend to continue. Lower interest rates let buyers spend more on property because they’re spending less on servicing their loans.

2. Baby Boomers Are Ready to Sell

The Wall Street Journal reports that 21 million baby boomer homeowners may be ready to sell. As this generation ages and retires, owning and maintaining a large home is no longer attractive for many of them. If a lot of boomers sell, many young families will have the chance to buy spacious homes at financially friendly terms.

3. Rising Rents Make Buying Better

Rising rents, driven by an increased demand for housing, make buying a better option than renting for many people. Young people with job security are ready to invest in homeownership instead of continuing to rent an apartment.

4. Expect More New Construction

The U.S. Census Bureau has found there is a boom in new construction of privately owned residential housing units. Smaller cities all over the country are filling their open areas with new housing.

5. A Crash Seems Unlikely

Any time there’s a boom in real estate, some pundits automatically start looking for the next downturn in the market. It’s impossible to be certain, especially in an election year, but as long as the job market stays strong and unemployment stays low, a housing crash seems unlikely.

6. Gentrification Is Still a Factor

When the economy is doing well, there’s always a push for urban renewal. Unfortunately, these renewal efforts often drive property values up and force low-income people out of the area. Gentrification can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view.

Nobody can predict the future with complete accuracy, but the trends are clear. Based on how things are going as of March, 2020 is shaping up to be a good year for real estate. If you’re thinking of buying or selling a home, now could be the right time to move.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Is Real Estate Investment for You?

Real estate investment is so popular because it tends to offer reliable returns over time. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, the average price of homes in the United States has risen steadily for the last 60 years, except during a few economic downturns. In addition, there are many ways to invest in real estate:

Rentals: Real estate investing is a long-term game. When you own a rental, you’ll have a steady source of income while you wait for your property’s value to appreciate.

House Flips: If you'd rather have a more immediate return on your investment, you might consider flipping houses. This strategy involves buying inexpensive, often run-down houses, renovating them to improve their value, and selling them at a profit as soon as possible.

Ask the Right Questions

Despite the potential for safe returns in the long run, real estate investing isn’t a good choice for everyone. Before you invest, make sure you're ready by asking yourself these three questions:

Do I Have the Skills for Real Estate Investment? Most successful real estate investors have a similar set of skills. They’ve learned how to monitor the real estate market and understand it well enough to know the best time to invest. In addition, homes need regular upkeep and maintenance. Even if you are planning to do all the work yourself, you will deal with subcontractors regularly—this takes management skills.

Am I in a Strong Market? Every successful real estate investor knows when to get out of a bad market. Before you decide you invest, make sure the market you’re looking in is headed up, not down. It’s usually wise to invest in the same market where you live unless you are extremely familiar with the another one and visit it regularly.

Can I Afford to Lose My Money? Every investment is a risk. Even when you've done all your homework, unexpected circumstances can ruin your investment overnight. If this will put you and your family at risk, you're better off keeping your money and staying out of the market.

Real estate investment can be an exciting, lucrative activity. Some people even turn their real estate investment hobby into a full-time job. Is real estate investing right for you? These questions can help you find out.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Picking the Perfect Vacation Home

Do you have a favorite vacation spot in the Greater Boston area? If you long to return to the same destination again and again, maybe you've thought of buying a vacation home there. Buying a vacation home can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. If you make the right choice, you’ll have a beautiful place to retreat from your normal routine whenever you want to go there. However, if you choose poorly, you could end up with a money pit that you have to try to get rid of without losing your shirt. How do you make the right choice? It will take plenty of planning and research. The challenge is to take the emotion out of the process and evaluate the problem dispassionately and intelligently. If you think buying a vacation home could be for you, here are four important considerations that will help you make the right choice:

What Is Your Perfect Vacation?

The process starts by deciding what your perfect vacation looks like. Do you enjoy relaxing on vacation, or do you prefer to stay busy? Do you prefer the ocean or the mountains? Whatever you like to do when you’re on break, make sure your vacation home is convenient for it.

How Far Is Too Far?

The ideal vacation home should be a fair distance from your everyday home, or it won't feel like a vacation. On the other hand, do you want to sit on a plane for three hours every time you visit? Think about getting a vacation home within driving distance, especially if you plan to bring family and friends with you when you visit.

What About the Rest of the Time?

We aren’t on vacation year-round. What do you plan to do with the house when you aren't there? Some vacation homeowners just leave it empty so it’s always ready for them when they feel like visiting. Others rent their homes to other vacationers, which can be a great source of extra income. If you go this route, you’ll have to consider whether or not to use a property management company.

What About the Future?

Do you plan to keep your vacation home in the long term? Are you thinking of retiring there? Your future needs aren’t urgent, but it’s still important to consider them before you buy.

Owning a vacation home can be a dream if you buy the right one. Use these tips to pick the perfect vacation home for you and your family.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

What is There to Do in Chatham?

Large cities are popular with young professionals, but it can be difficult and costly to raise a family in one. When you live in a city, simple things like finding a safe place for your kids to play outside are more challenging. You can either pay a premium to get a house with a yard or live in a smaller place and take your kids to the park regularly. The challenges have driven many families to buy homes in smaller nearby towns and commute to their jobs in the city. If you work in or near Boston but would rather not live in a busy metropolis, Chatham, Massachusetts, could be the perfect place for you. Chatham isn’t big, but there are plenty of fun, relaxing things to do here. These are five of our favorites:

Visit the Beach

There are several beaches in Chatham, including Chatham Lighthouse Beach, Harding's Beach, Ridgevale Beach, and the whimsically named Cookie Cove beach. These beaches are open to everyone. Once you become a permanent Chatham resident, you’ll have access to additional locations like Schoolhouse Pond, a freshwater beach popular with kids.

Seal-Watching Tour

There are six charter boat companies in Chatham that can take you on a seal-watching tour you’ll never forget. These animals may look clumsy and awkward on land, but they are graceful and quick once they hit the water. Be sure to take this tour in different seasons to experience the full life cycle of these amazing, intelligent sea creatures.

Summer Concert Series

During the summer months, many Chatham residents go out on Friday nights for a series of concerts in the park. The bands play a variety of music that’s suitable for the whole family. If you're new in town, this is a great way to get to know the locals. Come early and bring a blanket just in case it gets chilly.

Play a Round of Golf

There are more than a dozen world-class golf courses within a half hour of Chatham. You can play a quick nine holes at Chatham Seaside Links or challenge yourself to complete all 36 holes at the Captain’s Golf Course. Either way, you'll enjoy scenic views of the Atlantic.

Activities for the Kids

The City of Chatham hosts several kid-friendly activities, including boating, creative art classes, day camps, and the summer science program. Boston proper might be more fun for adults, depending on their interests, but your kids will never be bored in Chatham.

Chatham is a small town, but it’s only a short drive from some of the biggest metropolitan areas on the East Coast. It’s a fantastic place to live, work, play, and raise a family. If you’re considering a move, contact our Chatham branch to speak with a local expert.

Monday, February 17, 2020

5 Ways Cambridge, Massachusetts Made History

Sometimes it seems like you can't turn around in New England without stumbling upon the site of a notable historic event. The area around Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a stellar example of this rule. Over the last 400 years, Cambridge has been the site of many happenings that changed the course of American history. Here are five historic hallmarks that make Cambridge unique:

A Big Name in Education

As the most recent Massachusetts settlement at the time of its founding, Cambridge was originally called Newtowne. In 1638, it was renamed after the university in Cambridge, England, in recognition of the settlement’s own new academic institution: Harvard.

First U.S. Army Camp

During the Revolutionary War, the Cambridge Common hosted the first American army camp. George Washington used the nearby Vassal-Craigie-Longfellow House as his headquarters.

Massachusetts Constitutional Convention

When it came time for Massachusetts to formally secede from England, the young state needed a constitution. John Adams and the other delegates spent three months in Cambridge debating, writing, and finally ratifying the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which went into effect in 1779.

First U.S. Printing Press

The written word has always been an integral part of American government. The Founding Fathers based many of their ideas about revolution on the writings of the famous philosophers John Locke, Charles Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among others. Once Stephen Day set up the first American printing press in Cambridge in 1638, it didn't take long for entrepreneurs to establish a thriving publishing and printing industry, eventually helping colonial leaders spread the teachings that encouraged support for American independence.

First Published Poet in America

Life in the American Colonies was hard, and the average life expectancy was short. While some wealthier people had access to the latest literature, books were scarce for the average colonist. Cambridge resident Anne Bradstreet overcame the odds to become an accomplished poet. In 1650, a collection of her poems was published with the ambitious title The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America.

If the study of history shows us anything, it's the fact that unlikely people in unlikely places can make an impact on our timeline every day. In 400 years, who knows what sites our descendants will cherish? Cambridge’s track record suggests that it may be the perfect place to make a little history of your own.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Get Back to Nature in Dover

Dover, Massachusetts, is one of the many bedroom communities that surround Boston, but unlike some of the others, the residents of Dover are dedicated to maintaining open space, making this small town feel more like an old woodland village. Dover features miles of shaded trails and forested areas suitable for bird-watching, hiking, or leisurely walks. If you feel a connection with the outdoors, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Dover. Here’s a list of our five favorite places to nurture your love of nature.

Pegan Hill

This 400-foot hill is the highest point in the Dover area. It's named for the Pegan Indians who lived in the area until the 1760s. When you reach the top of the hill after a moderate walk up the one-mile trail, you'll be rewarded with an amazing view. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Monadnock nearly 90 miles away.

Powisset Farm

If you want to experience what life was like 300 years ago, Powisset Farm is the place to do it. You'll find busy barnyards, idyllic pastures, and a working kitchen where you can sample traditional foods. When you're done on the farm, take the loop trail to the nearby Oak Forest.

Chase Woodlands

Even though this forested area is just a few miles from four busy freeways, the peace you'll find here can make you feel like you're in an isolated wilderness. Farmers cleared the area for agriculture about 200 years ago, but today, the land has almost completely reverted to its natural state. You'll find over two miles of gently sloping trails here. Even after you’ve explored every last inch of the two miles of gently sloping trails, you'll want to visit these woods again and again.

Peters Reservation

Unlike many of the destinations on this list, the scenery at Peters Reservation isn't completely natural. Landscape architect Fletcher Steele carefully designed the trails and understory of this forest to make it accessible to all. If you want to experience the reservation from a unique vantage point, plan to visit by canoeing or kayaking down the Charles River.

Noanet Woodlands

Any outdoor enthusiast will find plenty to love at Noanet Woods. The land encompasses a secluded forest, four ponds filled with local flora and fauna, an old industrial mill, and a hill with commanding views of the Boston skyline for those who reach the top. With more than 17 miles of trail, there's always something to explore in this 600-acre landscape.

When you visit Dover, Massachusetts, you'll only be a few miles from some of the busiest cities on the Eastern Seaboard, but serene, natural settings are there to enjoy for anyone who seeks them out.

Monday, February 10, 2020

5 Places to Visit in Lexington

With a population of 32,000, Lexington, Massachusetts, may be a small city. However, it’s big on history. This is where the British Redcoats famously fired the first shots of the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775, changing the course of world history forever. No matter where you go in Lexington, there’s a strong sense of Americana, whether or not the attraction explicitly focuses on the city’s place in history. Here are our picks for the top five places to see.

Wilson Farm

Wilson Farm has operated in its current location on Pleasant Street for 126 years. The farm originally grew crops like beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, and turnips to sell at the nearest market, which was in Boston at the time. James Wilson volunteered to transport produce to the market for the local farmers, and business boomed from there. Today, Wilson Farm not only continues to sell fresh fruit and produce but also serves as a model of sustainable farming practices.

Lexington Green

If you are a fan history, you cannot miss Lexington Green, the site of the first battle of the American Revolution. Fittingly, it’s also the site of America's oldest war memorial. The Minuteman Statue designed by the famous sculptor Henry Kitson commemorates the historic events that took place in the earliest days of our nation.

Willard’s Woods

In the 1870s, this 100-acre site operated as an orchard. Today, the residents of Lexington have allowed Willard's Woods to revert to its natural state. This popular recreation area features three miles of trails, two streams, and a bike path. If you love nature, you'll enjoy the boardwalk that leads to a pond filled with wildlife.

Wagon Wheel

Just as Wilson Farm does, the Wagon Wheel sells fresh fruit and produce. This family-operated business also features a florist, a gift shop, a nursery, and a restaurant. Lexington has grown over the years, but the Wagon Wheel farm stand has always maintained the friendly small-town feeling.

Gallery Twist

This art museum features an amazing variety of artwork by the region’s most celebrated artists, showcasing about five new exhibits every year. Be sure to call and check their schedule before you visit.

Lexington, Massachusetts, is a hallmark of classic New England, but it also has a distinctive environment that isn’t quite like anywhere else. Schedule a visit to see what else Lexington has to offer!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Thinking of Buying a Foreclosed Property?

Depending on where you look when you’re house hunting, you may find quite a few foreclosed properties on the market. These houses tend to sell for low prices, but they may come with issues. Before you get serious about foreclosed properties, check out our list of the pros and cons of buying them. First, what is a foreclosure? When a homeowner can’t make their payments, the lender may repossess the property. They’ll usually sell it in a foreclosure auction soon afterwards. When you’re researching foreclosed houses, you may also see the words “real estate-owned property” (REO). REO properties are the foreclosed homes that didn’t sell at auction.

The Pros

  • Foreclosed homes are typically eligible for traditional home loans.
  • Banks are eager to sell foreclosures. They may be flexible on closing costs, down payments, price, and more.
  • If you have the money on hand to pay the outstanding balance, you’ll be in a commanding position to negotiate from.
  • Foreclosures come with clear titles.

The Cons

  • When you buy a foreclosure at auction, you pay in full immediately.
  • Foreclosed homes often need repairs and upgrades, which can be very expensive.
  • Sometimes, the previous owners aren’t gracious about losing their home and may damage the property or cause other trouble for the next owners.

If you’ve weighed the ups and downs and buying a foreclosed property still sounds good to you, here’s how to get started:

  1. Find Some Foreclosures: You can find foreclosures through newspaper listings, public records, or an online search.
  2. Verify the Foreclosure Status: Before you do anything else, make sure the properties you find are still in foreclosure.
  3. Visit the Properties in Person: There’s no substitute for seeing a house and the neighborhood with your own eyes. It’s always a good idea to get a home inspection if possible.
  4. Get a Title Search: Few things are worse than buying a home only to find out later there’s a lien on the property. Protect yourself with a title search.

The best advice for anyone buying a home is to talk to a realtor first. Realtors have the knowledge and experience you need to avoid a bad deal. Buying a foreclosed property can be a great move, but make sure you go in with both eyes open.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Boston's Must-See Buildings for Architecture Fans


If you're a fan of architecture, you'll find a lot to love in Boston. Early American settlers founded this city nearly 400 years ago. It has witnessed some of the most pivotal events in United States history. The city’s historical status makes it a virtual time capsule of architectural styles. A list of iconic buildings in Boston could have hundreds of items, but we pared it down to seven of the most spectacular.

Fenway Park (4 Jersey Street)

Perhaps no other building embodies the spirit of Boston like Fenway Park. The oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, it has been the home of the Red Sox since 1912. Over the years, the infamous “Green Monster” has denied thousands of would-be home run hitters.

Johnson Building of the Boston Public Library (700 Boylston Street)

Master of modern architecture Philip Johnson designed this wing of the Boston Public Library Central Branch. Though its architecture differs wildly from the nearby McKim building, the Johnson building fits in and stands out at the same time.

Massachusetts State House (24 Beacon Street)

John Hancock gave up his cow pasture to provide the building site for the Massachusetts State House. When it opened in 1798, the builders sheathed the dome in wood shingles. Copper replaced the original roof, followed by 23-karat gold. The upgrades weren't just about aesthetics—the wood shingle roof was prone to leaking.

Park Street Church (1 Park Street)

If you're a U.S. history enthusiast, you'll want to visit Park Street Church. The adjacent cemetery is the final resting place of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and other giants of the American Revolution. The 217-foot steeple made this church the tallest building in Boston when it was completed in 1809.

City Hall (1 City Hall Square)

In the 1950s, a new style of architecture called Brutalism gained prominence. Boston’s City Hall is a fantastic example of the style. Its blocky appearance and use of poured concrete make it stand out from its surroundings.

Old North Church (193 Salem Street)

This church, the oldest in Boston, will live on forever in American legend. Before Paul Revere made his famous ride, he looked to the steeple of the Old North Church to find two lanterns, the signal that the British were coming by sea.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (Columbia Point)

The stark white exterior of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum grants this building the feeling of a memorial. I. M. Pei may be one of the most famous names in architecture now, but when he was chosen to design this building, he was just starting out. It's a stellar example of his signature style. The seven buildings here are just a small sample of the architecture you'll find in and around Boston. The city is a must-see for any lover of architecture or history.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Planning the Budget for Your Custom Home

Having a custom home built from the ground up is one of the most ambitious projects a family can ever take on. Just planning the budget for your project is arduous enough—setting one is difficult and sticking to it is even harder. Maybe you’d rather skip budgeting and pay as you go along, but that would be a mistake. If you don't make a budget, the costs of your project can quickly get out of hand, turning your dream home into a nightmare that you'll be living in for the next 40 years. Setting your budget can be an emotional process—it's the time when your dreams and reality collide. Here are five tips for taking the stress out of budgeting:

1. Where Are You?

Every home needs a piece of land to sit on. Depending on where you are, the price of land can vary enormously. You can't build a home without buying land, so its cost is a logical budget starting point.

2. Size Matters

There are no absolute rules, but custom homes typically cost between $100 and $400 per square foot. This cost can vary based on your location, the materials you choose, and how much construction is going on in your area.

3. Finishes and Materials

Building a custom home almost always involves compromise. Do you want more square footage, for example? You may need to sacrifice the high-end fixtures and finishes. Many people go in thinking they need the most expensive materials to build the best-quality house, but spending more on a great design is usually the better bet.

4. Plan for Missteps

With a project as complex as a custom home, you'll likely face unforeseen costs and delays. Maybe you need to wait for a building inspection. Maybe the tile you chose is back-ordered. No matter what the cause is, just know that something will probably happen. When you set your budget, be sure to leave some extra room for cost overruns.

5. Budgets Are Flexible

There’s one last thing to remember: The budget is there to serve you. If the one you set originally is too tight, you can change it. Planning expenses is a preliminary step that you'll take before you have all the answers. If you need to change the budget, do it. Even though planning a budget takes little more than a pencil and paper—nothing compared to the power tools and heavy machinery used during your home’s actual construction—it can still be a daunting task. Thinking carefully and leaving yourself some wiggle room will set you on an easier path.

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