The Boston City Council voted overwhelmingly on June 13 to impose new regulations on home-sharing sites such as Airbnb that operate in the city.
The 11-2 vote ensures that the chamber could override any veto from Mayor Marty Walsh, though such a veto is unlikely as Walsh has called for reining in the use of such sites.
The new regulations target tenants and investors who rent out apartments on a per-night basis. The rules largely spare smaller owner-occupied properties such as two- and three-family homes. Units in those can still be rented out if the owner is there.
The regulations also establish a city registry for short-term rental hosts, who will have to pay a $200 fee to join it. That registry will be publicly available, ostensibly making it easier for residents to know who or what is renting out space in their neighborhoods through Airbnb.
For two years Airbnb and our Boston hosts have worked closely with the Mayor and members of the City Council to share helpful data and collaborate on fair home sharing policy. Today’s disappointing vote is proof that our community’s feedback and concerns were not heard. The new ordinance unfortunately creates a system that violates the privacy of our hosts, and prevents Boston families from making much-needed extra income in one of the country’s most expensive cities. We’re hopeful there will be an ongoing discussion on these topics so that our community can continue to fight for their ability to share their homes and make ends meet.
Hospitality trade group the Massachusetts Lodging Association, which has supported new regulations on Airbnb, sent out this statement:
Today, Mayor Walsh and the Boston City Council demonstrated true leadership by acting to protect Boston from exploitation at the hands of wealthy, out-of-town interests who have been buying up thousands of housing units in order to turn them into illegal hotels. Today’s action preserves the rights of real home-sharers while reining in the bad actors who are contributing to Boston’s skyrocketing housing costs and wreaking havoc on many of our neighborhoods.
Now, the state legislature must act to ensure that Airbnb pays its fair share of taxes and abides by a common set of health, safety and non-discrimination rules across the Commonwealth.
Mayor Marty Walsh does plan to sign the legislation into law.
My goal in regulating short-term rentals is to responsibly preserve affordable housing while still allowing Bostonians to benefit from this new industry. I look forward to signing the legislation & continue monitoring impacts to ensure it serves its purpose in our neighborhoods.
Developer Related Beal has filed detailed plans with the Boston Planning & Development Agency that would add two new buildings to Kenmore Square—one of which Boston’s most famous sign would bestride.
The plans include incorporating 660 Beacon Street, which has been holding up the famed 60-foot-by-60-foot Citgo sign since 1965, into one of the new buildings.
The prolific Related Beal bought 660 Beacon and several other buildings in the area in 2016, touching off speculation that the sign was doomed.
Organized opposition to its demolition arose even before the sale, when former owner Boston University announced it was putting the buildings on the block. Related Beal and the oil concern behind the sign struck a deal in March 2017 intended to keep the clarion beaming for decades.
Plans include construction of an eight-story property called the Commonwealth Building at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Deerfield Street. It would have 130,000 square feet of modern office space, 10,000 square feet of retail, 60 underground parking spaces, and rooftop terraces with what Related Beal describes in a release as “unmatched views of Kenmore Square and the Charles River.”
As for 660 Beacon, it would be renovated and incorporated into a 143,000-square-foot Beacon Building, per the developer, “an adaptive re-use development that will include more than 110,000 square feet of re-positioned office space and 18,000 square feet of retail space.”
Related Beal expects the office space to go quickly in the Boston-area’s rather scorching office market. It cited a recent brokerage report which concluded that “[office] vacancies in Boston and Cambridge will remain at or near all-time lows.”
The developer wants to start construction during the first three months of 2019. Stay tuned.
For homesellers, even in a market with next to nothing for sale, timing is everything. Listing your home on a certain day — and even a certain time of day — may make it sell faster and for more money.
Thursday is the most popular day for agents to debut new listings, and homes listed on that day apparently sell fastest, according to Redfin, a real estate brokerage. Redfin analysts based their findings on a sample of 100,000 homes that sold in 2017. It used Sunday, the worst day to list, as a baseline and then calculated the relative advantages for every other day.
Homes listed on Thursday sold an average of five days faster than homes listed on Sunday. Redfin also found homes listed Thursday were more likely to sell within 90 to 180 days.
"Our market is programmed to look at houses Thursday and to plan their weekends out," said Marshall Carey, a Redfin agent in Washington, D.C. "You really want to have the most eyes on your property, and Thursday seems to be the day to do that."
The theory is that most people tour listings over the weekend, and they begin planning their weekends on Thursday. Redfin found that a home gets five times more views on the first day it is listed than on subsequent days. This is likely because most online real estate sites offer alerts of new listings to potential buyers. Before the internet, new listings were put in newspapers on Sundays, advertising open houses, and some even in late editions Saturday night, but the model has completely changed.
A home is offered for sale in Chicago, Ill.
"I normally aim for Thursday or Friday," said Peggy Ferris, an agent with Compass. "I don't like to put it on too early because then agents want to show it and you lose the really good momentum for an open house on Sunday."
Sunday open houses are still popular but losing the momentum they used to have now that people can tour homes in pictures and video online. In today's incredibly competitive market, some sellers are getting offers without home tours or getting tour requests immediately. Offers are coming in even before the first open house.
"In this competitive market, most of the agents are sort of abiding by the Thursday, Friday and then taking offers on Tuesday," said Karen Kelly, also with Compass. "I like to give everybody a shot and take a look at 10 offers instead of just one."
While listing the home later in the weekend can create more urgency, listing it slightly early, on Wednesday, could actually get your more money. Homes listed on Wednesday had a $2,023 advantage in sale price over homes listed on Sunday, according to Redfin, although analysts there could find no clear reason as to why. Most agents I spoke with didn't buy that finding but were definitely interested to hear it.
"I think false," said Jennifer Myers, a real estate agent with Dwell in the D.C./Virginia area. "It's not just what day you list but also your entire strategy."
Myers agrees with the Thursday plan but adds a specific time of day. She puts her new listings online at 5 p.m.
"The afternoon is better because on Thursdays all of us are listing, and so if you list in the morning, you end up actually on Page 2 of the listing, you end up further down, and you want to be on the top," she said.
A meditation courtyard with a reflecting pool. An open-air yoga studio hung with silken hammocks. A medicinal garden planted with calming herbs.
It may sound like a tour of an ashram, but these are some of the features that mark a trend in luxury real estate: the mindful mansion.
“Mindfulness is paying attention—it’s being present in the moment. When you build and design a house, you can design it in a way to cultivate mindfulness,” said Jeny Mathis, who created the gauzy yoga studio for her home in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga., about 30 miles outside of Atlanta. Ms. Mathis, 46 years old, who teaches aerial yoga, often starts her day in a hammock, meditating.
The path to inner peace may lie in the right amenities, or so the rising popularity of wellness real estate would suggest. Upscale home buyers are demanding eco-sensitive homes built with natural products—and opting for interior design that incorporates nature to reduce stress and promote mental clarity. To lure the enlightened buyer, luxury developers are offering morning yoga, mindfulness coaches and meditation chambers with ergonomic cushions.
“It’s not just about physical health, people are also thinking of how our space affects us emotionally,” said Katherine Johnston, senior research fellow at the nonprofit Global Wellness Institute, who headed a study that tracked the expansion of the wellness industry into the real-estate market.
In Palm Beach, Fla., sales have begun at the Amrit Ocean Resort and Residences, set to open in 2019. Buyers of the 182 “wellness residences,” priced from $700,000 to over $4 million, can opt for heated reflexology floors, circadian lighting systems and vitamin C-infused showers. Dilip Barot, CEO and founder of Creative Choice Group, Amrit’s developer, said every homeowner will be matched with a personal wellness consultant to advise on mindfulness, sleep and relaxation—as well as fitness and nutrition. A large communal meditation room will offer chants via headsets, and cushions designed for extended periods of sitting.
Walden, a 600-acre “nature-focused retreat” on California’s Monterey Peninsula, is being pitched as a place where Silicon Valley elite can escape their screens and cultivate mindfulness.
Travis Rice meditates in his Jackson Hole, Wyo., home in a space that doubles as a tea room. The house got a $1.2 million remodel to make it more focused on wellness. PHOTO: GREG VON DOERSTEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
“It’s like Thoreau going into the woods to find peace and quiet—you think a lot differently when you are sitting under a 200-year-old oak tree,” said Nick Jekogian, Walden’s developer. The undeveloped lots, which average 20 acres and have ocean views, are $5 million each; buyers are urged to spend a night or two in a sleeping pod to experience the landscape before building homes.
The Mathis’ home in Georgia, completed last year for about $1 million, was the first to break ground in Mado—a new wellness-focused neighborhood that is part of the Serenbe planned community. Its centerpiece is a medicinal garden—a 1-acre “food forest” with edible native plants. Next year, a naturalist will lead workshops for residents on how to use its St. John’s wort and other plants for homeopathic remedies and tonics.
In the Wyoming home, pine paneling was replaced with earthen plaster; the hearth is a monolithic stone slab. PHOTO: GREG VON DOERSTEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
To create her home, Ms. Mathis and her husband, Gil, 47, a real-estate agent, turned to Wellness Within Your Walls—an organization that offers guidelines on building practices that reduce contaminants, and certifies products low in toxins, including paints, textiles and formaldehyde-free doors. The house has large windows and high ceilings for maximum airiness.
“Being able to see green from every window—it’s fascinating to me how that really does impact your mood and well-being,” Ms. Mathis said. Other design elements are more subtle, such as the use of one soothing color for the walls and trim rather than contrasting shades, to create a sense of continuity and openness.
Evan Mack and her fiancé, Travis Rice, took their mountain home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., down to the studs for a complete mindfulness makeover that cost $1.2 million in 2015. They worked with Veronica Schreibeis Smith, whose Vera Iconica Architecture firm specializes in “wellness architecture,” to replace varnished knotty pine paneling with walls of earthen plaster and baked steel. The white oak floors have been pocked with dents and ripples to provide some of the stress relief of reflexology, hitting pressure points on the foot.
“Every person says, ‘This floor feels amazing on my feet,’” said Ms. Mack, 36, a private chef and co-founder of Joan of Sparc, a membership-based personal-development website. “When sunlight hits the floor, it looks like wind on water.”
Pam Merle in the massage room of her Lake Nona home in Florida, which is on the market for $4.5 million. PHOTO: BETSY HANSEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Ms. Mack and Mr. Rice, 35, a professional snowboarder and filmmaker, can meditate, practice yoga or nap in their Japanese-style tea room-—a former vestibule transformed into a cozy space with a barrel-vaulted ceiling and a heated floor. The tea table is on a winch so it can be lowered out of the way.
“That was designed as a space for introspection—it’s all about holding you and nurturing you,” said Ms. Schreibeis Smith.
At Lake Nona, a 17-square-mile planned development in Orlando, Fla., about 1,000 residents are active participants in a long-term study on health and well-being conducted by the Lake Nona Institute, a nonprofit established by the community’s Tavistock Development Co. in 2010. Free yoga classes are offered in a Lake Nona park, and integrative-medicine advocate Deepak Chopra led an open-air guided meditation last year that drew hundreds of residents. A customized version of Dr. Chopra’s health and wellness app, Jiyo, designed for Lake Nona residents, will be launched in June.
Ms. Merle in the meditation garden of her home. PHOTO: BETSY HANSEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Natalia Foote, 37, moved to Lake Nona with her family in 2015 and one year later became a yoga teacher. She and her husband, Mike, 36, a lab-services salesman, built a bright blue home for $451,000. The couple, who have begun meditating since moving into the community, are members of the Lake Nona Life Project, which tracks health and wellness through biannual surveys.
At Lake Nona’s Golf and Country Club, Pam Merle and her husband, Didier, a partner in a satellite broadcasting company, designed a walled meditation garden with a reflecting pool just inside the entrance of their 9,000-square-foot home. Their 2.4-acre property also features a swimming pool, a lap pool and a hot tub. The Merles, who have a 17-year-old son, have put their home on the market for $4.5 million but plan to stay in the community.
The 1,900-square-foot meditation garden is peaceful, with travertine floors, palm trees and a screened ceiling to keep out bugs. The dark-bottomed pool is filled with circulating saltwater.
“We wanted to have a more quiet, secret spot where we could be more solitary—we liked the idea of meditation,” said Ms. Merle, 52, who sits on a cushion near the pool for an early morning moment of mindfulness.
“It can be used as a party space as well,” she adds.
Boston’s housing market, fueled by strong economic growth, has been blisteringly hot the past few years — and nearby towns and cities are basking in the warmth and glow. With few exceptions, communities in or near Boston have seen Massachusetts’ biggest gains in median home prices between 2012 and 2017, even in already expensive markets like Brookline and Cambridge. The Boston real estate bonfire has now spread to once-affordable pockets of the city like Southie and Roslindale, and gateway cities like Lynn, Lawrence, and Brockton.
“Real estate is about jobs,” says Timothy Warren, CEO of the real estate market tracking firm The Warren Group in Boston, which also publishes Banker & Tradesman. “Just being close to the Seaport and Kendall Square and these centers of good-paying jobs, that makes a big difference.” No surprise, then, that all 12 of this year’s hot communities offer subway or commuter rail service to the city and its jobs.
Our desirable dozen have seen the largest leaps in single-family home values across four different price categories (more than $1 million, $750,000-$1 million, $500,000-$750,000, and under $500,000). Results are based on median single-family home price increases from 2012 to 2017, using sales data from The Warren Group. (We’ve excluded cities or towns with fewer than 75 single-family sales last year or in 2012.)
While we highlight the very hottest of local markets, nearly all of Greater Boston has experienced a dramatic surge in home values. It’s hard to find a community inside Route 128 where median, or midpoint, home prices didn’t climb at least 30 percent since 2012.
That’s great news for folks who bought their home in the post-recession slump. But if you’re on the other side of the homeownership divide, these steep increases are nothing to celebrate. “Affordability is a big issue, and creating new housing is difficult, so we’ve got real problems there,” Warren says. “We can’t sustain this kind of growth if we don’t have [affordable housing].”
BOSTON, MA — Starting soon, the overlook area on City Hall Plaza will transform into something called "The Patios" complete with a daily beer garden, ice cream, mini-golf, and puppies. Yes. Puppies.
It's part of a a three year plan put together by Boston Garden Development Corp and the City of Boston to revitalize the plaza at City Hall and create "a vibrant welcome public space." The city contracted Boston Garden Development Corp, a subsidiary of Delaware North to oversee the effort.
And the summer Pop Up opens on May 4 and will be there through August with special events and food trucks
The area will feature a beer garden from Wachusett Brewing open daily, ice cream from Honeycomb Creamery from Cambridge mini-golf, a mobile book program from Boston Public Library and picnic promotions from Boston Public Market.
"The Patios project is a flexible public space that brings a scale of intimacy to a place famously the opposite," said Smith in a statement.The city commissioned Sculptor Jeff Smith to help design the area, including an art installation entryway and patio design made of local, reclaimed wood that will display a Boston sign. Smith is a sculptor and filmmaker who built the 'Smallest House' in the World and is now on a mission to popularize the perfect shape. He has created sculpture using salvaged material for some three decades, according to his website.
So when will the beer garden be open? Every day. Wachusett will rotate through their selection of beer on tap and also feature several guest brewery tap takeovers to bring variety to those who visit.
WACHUSETT Beer Garden Hours
MONDAY-WEDNESDAY: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
THURSDAY + FRIDAY: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
SATURDAY + SUNDAY: noon to 10 p.m.
But you're here for the puppies, aren't you?
Those fuzzy adorable ones will be brought to City Plaza by Shultz's Guest House, a 501c3 dog rescue shelter, based in Dedham. Its mission is to rescue lost, homeless and abandoned dogs in the southern part of the country; to provide for the medical care, sheltering, and transport; and to focus on adoption of healthy puppies and dogs.
Each Wednesday, "Wag Wednesday" from noon to 2 p.m. you can come play with some of their furry friends and learn more about their adoption process.
Residential Real Estate Heading into spring, residential real estate results in the First District continued to reflect sellers' markets. Closed sales for single family homes and for condos were up in Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island, while other areas experienced moderate decreases. (Vermont reported combined results for single family homes and condos. All First District areas but Connecticut reported changes from February 2017 to February 2018; a technical issue caused December 2017 to be the most recent data from Connecticut.)
Because of ongoing inventory shortages, all reporting areas but Vermont reported increases in median sale prices for both single family homes and condos. A contact from Maine pointed out that negotiations over multiple offers may be fueling higher median sale prices: "multiple-offer situations [are] happening on a regular basis, especially on properties at $250,000 or less." Inventory dropped by double-digit percentages year-over-year across all area markets. A contact in Massachusetts noted that "inventory is so low and demand so high that many low- and moderate-income home buyers are being left on the outside looking in."
Notwithstanding the prospect of rising interest rates, contacts cited eager buyer populations and were optimistic about activity levels in coming months.
Commercial Real Estate Reports from First District commercial real estate contacts were mixed, but positive on balance. Office leasing demand remained strong in Boston, especially in the urban core, leading to further increases in rents. Providence saw stable, healthy office leasing activity and modest upward pressure on rents. Office leasing remained slow in the Portland area and weakened further in Hartford. Industrial and warehouse space enjoyed robust demand in most of the First District, with the exception of Connecticut. A Portland contact reported that industrial rents in that city increased 20 percent from a year ago in response to demand from diverse users including small manufacturers, while a Boston contact said that demand for retail fulfillment centers had driven up industrial rents in the Boston metro area.
Nonetheless, contacts say that both industrial and office construction have been restrained by the fact that building costs remain high relative to rents. Multifamily apartment construction was expected to slow moving forward amid slower or flat rent growth in most areas. By contrast, condominium development activity increased in both Boston and Portland. Investment sales activity was stable at a slow to modest pace depending on location. Two Boston contacts perceived small increases in capitalization rates for office properties that were seen as consistent with increases in interest rates. Commercial real estate contacts were optimistic on balance.
The former London offices of the White Star Line—famous for the RMS Titanic—have been converted into seven luxury residences priced up to about $27.5 million
Oceanic House, built in 1907. PHOTO: JASON ALDEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
On April 10, 1912, the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton to New York. To book their passage, many of its wealthy seagoing passengers ascended the stone steps of Oceanic House, headquarters of the White Star Line in London.
The Titanic calamity spelled a long, slow death for the White Star Line, and Oceanic House, lavishly built in 1907, fell into decline. But now, after a circa $35 million restoration, the 33,000-square-foot building has been converted into seven luxury residences priced up to about $27.5 million.
When London-based Misland Capital bought Oceanic House in 2012 for around $28 million, the building, located in the St. James neighborhood of London’s West End, was in a sorry state. After being sold by the White Star Line it was sold on to a bank, the British government and eventually to a kitschy Tex-Mex restaurant.
“It was tired, with decrepit ceiling tiles and a dormer added in the 1960s,” said Peter Rochow, director of Misland Capital, a firm that manages the assets of British businessman Peter Green and family, who have substantial property holdings in London. “Some of the windows were broken, and it was generally very neglected.”
The biggest structural challenge of the renovation was to remove the ugly dormer and rebuild it, using Welsh slate tiles to clad the roof and Portland stone to recreate its original decorative pediment.
The dining room in the penthouse. PHOTO: JASON ALDEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
This space now holds the penthouse’s open-plan living room and dining room, divided by a double-sided fireplace, with views of the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben from one of its two terraces.
“You will not need a clock in this apartment, that’s for sure,” said Simon Fernandes, a partner at Strutt & Parker, the apartments’ joint selling agent along with Beauchamp Estates.
The decor is simple: dark timber floors and a monochrome color scheme enlivened by touches of a rich, deep blue—a nod to the ocean. The Poggenpohl kitchen has a mix of taupe gloss and charcoal cabinets. There is also a study and second living room. The property comes furnished right down to spaghetti waiting to be boiled on the cooktop.
The penthouse’s lower floor, accessed by a black polished plaster stairwell, has four bedroom suites, some with original porthole windows. Wood paneling is a constant theme, a subtle nod to the décor of Titanic’s first-class cabins, but interior designers Morpheus London have kept overt nautical references firmly in check.
The penthouse bedroom has a porthole-shaped window. PHOTO: JASON ALDEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
This 5,496-square-foot penthouse is listed for about $27.5 million, while apartments—in rooms where the White Star Line’s clerks would once have had their offices—start at $6.1 million for a 1,604-square-foot, two-bedroom property. One of the seven apartments has already been sold to a German-American couple.
In the seven weeks since they formally went on sale, Mr. Fernandes said second-home buyers from China, South Africa, North America, and Europe, as well as British buyers looking to downsize from country houses, had expressed interest in Oceanic House.
In terms of its location, St. James’ sits on the fringes of prime central London and lacks the cachet of, say, Mayfair or Knightsbridge. However Mr. Fernandes pointed that Oceanic House, seconds from Trafalgar Square, has an average price of $4,200 per square foot. In prime central London average prices are typically between $5,600 and $9,800 per square foot.
Prime London prices have taken a Brexit-related hit since 2014, with average falls of around 7%, according to estate agent Knight Frank.
But Mr. Rochow is resting his faith in the building’s unique history, the quality of its design, plus the weakness of the pound. “We are confident, but we know we are not in the same market we were in in 2014,” he said. “We are going to have to work a little bit harder.”
Today's housing market is arguably one of the most competitive in history. A record low supply of listings, coupled with extraordinarily high demand from the largest generation, mean fast-rising home prices and more people going after the hottest properties. Bidding wars are now the rule, rather than the exception.
So how do you win a bidding war? Best to be prepared before you even begin your search and to carry equal amounts of patience and humor with you … if possible.
Decide on your absolute maximum price. This factors in the monthly payment on your mortgage (if you need one), property taxes, homeowners insurance, potential homeowner association or condominium fees, and a general estimate of monthly upkeep (lawn care, pool guy, unforeseen repairs). Then start looking for homes priced slightly less than that maximum. This gives you some wiggle room in the bidding war.
1. Come with cash. Not everyone can do this, but if you can make an all-cash offer, you will have an advantage. In certain very hot markets, investors are heavy, and they usually come with cash. Sellers don't want to deal with the possibility that your loan might not come through, or they may not want to wait the extra time for the mortgage processing, so they prefer cash. In some cases they may even cut the price a bit to get the cash. Coming with cash can actually double your chances of winning a bidding war, according to Redfin, a real estate brokerage. You can always take out a mortgage after the deal closes.
2. If you don't have all-cash, try waiving the financing contingency.That is when the deal is contingent on your loan being approved by the lender. Be careful though, you don't want to end up on the hook for cash if the loan doesn't come through, so get a fully underwritten loan pre-approved from your lender before submitting your offer. This could improve your chances of winning a war by 58 percent, according to Redfin.
3. Try a personal letter to the seller. I did this once myself, and it worked on a deal I never expected to win. Selling a home is just as emotional as buying one, especially for sellers who have lived in the home a long time and have raised their kids there. Sellers want to know a little about the people taking over their precious nest. If you're a young family, write about how you can see raising your children in the cozy family room and how you already envision them playing in the back yard. Write about how much you love the neighborhood and want to become an active part of it. DO NOT tell the seller if you plan to gut the home. That could gut the deal.
4. Finally, don't be afraid to walk away. The last thing you want to do is get over-emotional and overstretch your budget. Don't be house-poor. That defeats the whole purpose of the investment.
And remember, there will always, always be another perfect home.
John Ryding, RDQ Economics chief economist, and Phil Orlando, Federated Investors chief equity market strategist, provide their outlook on the markets and economy after last week's comments by Fed Chair Jerome Powell on interest rates. We don't need a Fed put, says Orlando.