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Beige Book Report - September 2015

First District--Boston

Residential Real Estate
Closed sales of both single-family homes and condominiums increased on a year-over-year basis in all six First District states in June. Contacts in the real estate industry say that sellers seem to be recovering from the harsh winter weather, and increased activity that began to show up in the last Beige Book continues. June represented the first year-over-year increase in closed sales of single-family homes for Massachusetts in 8 months. In Boston, where sales increased 10.2 percent, the volume numbers were near record highs. Median sales price increased from a year earlier on single-family homes in half the First District states and fell in Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine. Contacts in Massachusetts characterize the price appreciation as modest. Pending sales increased from July 2014 for nearly every state in the First District; the exception was condos in Maine. Inventory has decreased in every state but Connecticut. Massachusetts contacts say building and zoning laws continue to make new construction difficult. Contacts say low inventory has created a strong "sellers' market." Additionally, the available months of supply decreased in every state's single-family home market. The number of days spent on the market also decreased for both single-family homes and condos in most New England states.

Contacts express a generally optimistic outlook as the market continues to recover from the unseasonably slow winter. Some note that sellers may still be working on repairs before putting homes on the market and expect upward trends in sales and prices to continue into the fall. Many are weary of the inventory shortage and express concern that rising prices and potentially increasing interest rates will begin to present financing issues for buyers

Commercial Real Estate
Contacts in the First District give mostly upbeat reports concerning the region's commercial real estate markets. Extending trends reported last time, office rents in Boston continue to climb, office vacancy rates continue to fall, and investors are pushing prices for Boston's commercial properties to near all-time highs. A few Boston contacts note that, over the past couple of years, the pace of delivery of new office space has been slow relative to historical norms under similar market conditions, contributing to the recent surge in rents. However, contacts also report that there has been a modest uptick in office construction activity in Boston's Seaport and Financial districts, involving a combination of pre-leased space and unleased space, and in some cases incorporating additional uses such as retail and residential space. Construction of hospitals and related facilities also continues to expand in the Boston area.

In Providence, office leasing activity experienced only a very modest summer slowdown, maintaining a decent pace that is expected to strengthen come September; a contact in that city reports that the number of large blocks of vacant office space is down considerably in recent months. The Portland area continues to see strong leasing activity across the office, retail, and industrial sectors, pushing vacancy rates into the single digits, and the city's hotels are enjoying very high occupancy rates. In Hartford, leasing activity is light amid flat economic activity but the city's investment sales market remains strong and has recently attracted the interest of foreign buyers. A regional lender to commercial real estate notes that his bank saw a recent spike in loan payoffs resulting from an increased number of property sales among its borrowers; at the same time, it struggles to secure new lending opportunities amid fierce competition from insurance company lenders and from the commercial mortgage backed securities market.

The shortage of skilled construction workers and accompanying wage pressure continues to weigh on the outlook for construction activity in Boston--according to one contact, within the next six months relevant labor costs in the metropolitan area could rise to levels that would significantly curtail construction activity relative to current plans. With the exception of a Hartford contact--whose outlook is modestly pessimistic--most commercial real estate contacts are optimistic concerning leasing fundamentals moving forward, but Boston contacts continue to be "nervous" about current high sales prices and low capitalization rates.


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