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Beige Book Boston Real Estate 1st Report of 2017

Boston - First District

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Residential Real Estate
Continuing recent trends, residential real estate markets in the First District showed robust increases in sales and prices relative to last year. Closed sales for single-family homes and condos increased in all six First District states as well as in the Boston metro area (five of the six First District states and Boston reported changes from November 2015 to November 2016; Maine reported on October 2015 to October 2016). Massachusetts recorded the most closed sales on record for the month of November. As usual, many contacts cited falling inventories as an issue: inventories decreased year-over-year in every reporting region. A contact in Massachusetts reported that "with such little inventory, buyers needed to be quick with their best offers from the start."

Home prices also rose year-over-year. For single-family homes, the median sales price increased in every reporting region. The same was true for condos, except in Vermont where prices decreased slightly.

Overall, contacts were optimistic about the outlook for the end of the year and into 2017. Many said rising interest rates would stimulate buyers to make offers at the end of 2016, but they did not expect further moderate increases in interest rates to restrain the region's consistently strong buyer demand.

Commercial Real Estate
Conditions in commercial real estate markets across the First District were stable in recent weeks. Office leasing activity was steady or modestly slower in the region's major metro areas. Investment sales activity and sales prices for prime commercial properties in Boston were also stable, as foreign investors were undeterred by higher interest rates and a stronger dollar. One contact estimated that office rents in greater Boston increased 10 percent on average in 2016. Apartment construction activity slowed in recent months in both Boston and Portland, while office construction was stable at a slow pace in Boston and minimal in the rest of the region.

The outlook among contacts was cautiously optimistic, with significant uncertainty related to domestic politics. Contacts across the District expected capitalization rates to increase in 2017 to keep pace with rising interest rates, noting that such increases imply that rents will have to increase and/or valuations will have to decrease. On balance, contacts anticipated that property values will remain flat in 2017. Apartment construction activity was expected to slow further in coming months as borrowing costs continue to rise and lending terms continue to tighten, but prospects for new office construction appeared brighter for 2017 in light of rising office rents and low office vacancy rates around the region.

Summary of Economic Activity
Business activity continued to expand in the First District at the close of 2016. Both retailers and manufacturers cited modest to moderate increases in revenues in recent weeks compared with a year earlier. Software and information services firms reported strong order increases in the fourth quarter. Commercial real estate markets were mostly steady in the region; in the Boston area office rents increased and sales prices for commercial properties were stable. Residential real estate markets across the region continued to experience increases in both sales and prices. Although none sought substantial additions to headcount, a number of firms reported difficulty finding workers to fill openings. Prices were largely stable. Most responding firms cited a positive outlook, expecting end-of-year growth rates to continue in 2017.

BEIGE BOOK REPORT - JULY 2016

Federal Reserve.gov

Residential Real Estate
Residential real estate markets in the First District remain strong. Five of the six First District states, as well as the greater Boston metro area, reported sales and inventory trends for the period May 2015 to May 2016; New Hampshire reported on trends between April 2015 and April 2016.

Closed sales of single-family homes are up by moderate-to-large margins in every state in the District, and pending single-family sales increased at a slow-to-moderate pace depending on the state. A contact in Rhode Island considers a summer slowdown "unlikely" in light of strong recent sales. Median sales prices for single-family homes are on average up modestly from a year ago--with Vermont and Connecticut reporting moderate price declines and the remaining states reporting small-to-moderate increases. Condominium sales figures varied across states. Closed sales of condominiums are up in all states except Connecticut and Vermont, while pending sales increased in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and decreased in Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont. As in the single-family market, median condo sales price changes are moderate, with the exception of a large over-the-year decline in Rhode Island. However, a contact in that state believes the decline is likely transitory because the data are prone to volatility.

For both single family homes and condos, inventory is down in every reporting region. In addition, number of days on market decreased from a year earlier in all states reporting such data, as did months' available supply of both single-family homes and condominiums. Contacts continue to attribute the lack of inventory to a combination of lack of new construction and a dearth of sellers coming to market.

Despite persistent inventory issues, contacts are optimistic. Those in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island all expressed a positive outlook, primarily attributable to strong buyer demand. They cite stable employment figures and continued low interest rates as the key factors supporting such demand.

Commercial Real Estate
On balance commercial real estate markets appear stable or improving in the First District. In greater Boston, a modest slowdown in office leasing is reported, especially for high-rent space, but rents are steady amid low vacancy rates. Office leasing activity held steady at a moderate pace in Portland and Providence, but in Hartford activity remains light and some firms gave up space. Investment sales activity is down in Boston from last year's brisk pace. However, industrial sales activity picked up recently in Boston and parts of Connecticut, and a Portland contact sees a strong industrial property market with potential for new construction. Throughout the District, office construction remains limited in light of high building costs. Infrastructure construction is on the rise in Rhode Island, and hotel construction is planned for greater Portland. A regional lender to commercial real estate reports an uptick in loan demand at his firm amid reduced competition from other lenders. The outlook for Connecticut's commercial real estate market remains somewhat pessimistic based on weak job growth in the state. A Boston contact expects the Brexit vote to exert downward pressure on economic activity in the U.S. and the region, but notes that the vote should also boost foreign investment in Boston's commercial real estate market. Elsewhere in the District contacts are cautiously optimistic for commercial real estate but see risks as tilted to the downside based on global economic and political uncertainty.

Boston's Next Mega Tower

Boston's Winthrop Square Could See One of These Eight Mega-Towers

Courtesy of Tom Acitelli of Curbed Boston.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority just put out the formal call for proposals for redeveloping the city-owned Winthrop Square Garage in the Financial District. Per Tim Logan at the Globe, the BRA is looking an "iconic ... innovative" tower that could run to around 700 feet high, immensely tall for Boston and just under the limit the Federal Aviation Administration mandates because of nearby Logan Airport (no relation).

Eight developers and development teams have already proffered ideas for the garage, and, given the formal request, the BRA now expects more to filter in, including updates of the original eight. This octave gives a good sense of the sheer scope of any Winthrop Square development. Let's dive deep:

  • Millennium Partners, they of the game-change-y Millennium Place and Millennium Tower (Millennium!), pitched a 750-foot spire with 360 residential units and 14 floors of office space as well as 41,000 square feet of retail, including a market arcade. 
  • Thomas O'Brien, a former director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, would turn the garage site into a public plaza and then build a 780-foot tower with 700 apartments and condos across the street in a deal with the Franciscan friars who run St. Anthony Shrine Church. O'Brien would also build a public school. (For comparison's sake, know that the Hancock is 790 feet high.)
  • Accordia Partners would build a 750-foot building with 140 condos, a public gallery, retail and a 275-room Le Meridien hotel (it would join the one near M.I.T. in Cambridge).
  • A team that includes Hudson Group North America, developer of downtown Boston rental Radian, proposed another 750-foot tower, with 156 condos, 288 apartments, a 300-room hotel, public space and retail.
  • Trinity Acquisitions would build a 51-story building with 276 hotel rooms, 328 apartments and 261 condos.
  • The Fallon Co., which is behind so much of the recent construction in the Seaport District, pitched two buildings connected by a podium. One would be 75 feet and contain apartments; the other would soar to 700 feet, with 32 floors of apartments and 18 of condos. There would also be an open retail concourse.
  • Steven Belkin of Trans National Properties, who once proposed a 1,000-foot tower at the site (yup), is back with a 740-foot pitch now. It would include apartments as well as 100 condos (built by McMansion kingpins the Toll Brothers). There would also be a retail galleria; an "Innovation Sculpture Park"; and an "Innovators Walk of Fame." Belkin would also build on an adjoining site he owns at 133 Federal Street.
  • Finally, Lincoln Property Co. would build a 47-story tower with 29 floors of offices, a hotel with at least 250 rooms, six floors of condos and retail.

Developers have six weeks now to pitch the city. Stay tuned.