The Value of a Single-Family Home in Boston's South End


The South End single family home is a very hot commodity. There really only are a couple of hundred of them in this neighborhood of 3,500 brownstones which, by the way, makes us the largest area of attached Victorian brownstones in the country.

But if we look at the comps over the past few years starting in 2006 through present day, we see that on a price per square foot basis, they have steadily increased for South End single families. In 2006 there were 10 sales at $607 a foot and then following right through, $577 a foot in 2007, $566 in 2008, $555 a foot in 2009, which represented a trough in the market and, frankly, that did parallel the market as a whole. We began to climb out of it in 2010 at $582 a square foot, that was with 20 sales, $640 a foot in 2011, $670 a foot in 2012, and $766 a square foot on average for single families in 2013 to this point with 12 sales being achieved.

A few things to note about that. First of all, there are sales that have been achieved at much, much higher levels. The right South End single can easily clear $1,000 a square foot right now. So that's a whistle that only dogs and buyers can hear as far as what distinguishes something that's worth less from something that's worth more and, certainly, a good agent can. But a few other things: the price per square foot metric is a means of understanding value. And it's an important one, but it's really only one. And I think in particular with single family homes, though it's often used, it's important to note some of the limitations of that metric.

First, there are typically diminishing returns in a less mature market price per square foot for larger properties. Simply that a larger property will sell for less per square foot. That becomes less true in markets where the wealthy want to be, because as you become a place that the wealthy want to be, they will pay more nominally and per square foot for what they want.

Secondly, with single families, you have more circulation space. Therefore, you do have space that's not in a living room or in a bedroom, you have more of it. And so, frankly, the prices per square foot for single families will tend to be a little bit lower than for condominiums.

And third and--I think most importantly--unlike condominiums, the square footage of single family homes is not typically certified. Which means that you need to be able to go apples to apples and a good agent can help you with this, as far as noting whether or not, for example, a basement is included and against what standard are we comparing. Have we gone to the outside wall with measurement, which I refer to as the "New York Through-the-Wall and Down-the-Hall" method of measuring, very popular in Boston these days. These are all things that are factors that impact value if you're going to use the per square foot metric.

But one thing is for sure, by any metric the South End is becoming more and more popular, the single families are few and this is a sector that is likely to remain very strong in the years going forward.