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Best Cities in Massachusetts for Homeownership

Homeownership in any market requires keeping a vigilant eye on your finances and staying up to date on local market trends. While Massachusetts’ high home values make it harder for new homebuyers to find affordable homes, they do reflect the desirability of the state.

Buying and owning a home here isn’t cheap. The median value of a home from 2013 to 2017 was $352,600, about 80% higher than the U.S. median of $193,500. The ongoing cost of owning a home is also high: $754 per month, versus the U.S. median of $474. That doesn’t include mortgage costs.

LendingTree set out to get a picture of homeownership — and offer tips for potential homebuyers — in six main areas throughout the state.

We studied metropolitan statistical area (MSA) and micropolitan statistical area data from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey from 2013 to 2017. A micropolitan area has 10,000-50,000 residents.

In particular, we looked at median home value, unemployment rate, average commute time, median home value appreciation and median change in yearly housing costs, which measure the cost of homeownership. Not only do the metrics help potential homebuyers make smart purchase decisions, but they also help shed light on homeowners’ quality of life in Massachusetts.

Key Findings

  • The Barnstable Town Metro Area is the best place for homeownership in Massachusetts. It has a high median home value ($366,000), low unemployment rate (5.5%), and home values have increased from 2013 to 2017 (1.78%).
  • The second best place for homeownership in Massachusetts is the Boston–Cambridge–Newton Metro Area. This area has the highest median home value ($396,400), second lowest unemployment rate (5.6%) and the greatest increase in median home values from 2013 to 2017 (8.69%).
  • The Pittsfield Metro Area is the worst place for homeownership in Massachusetts. This area has the lowest median home value ($199,600), higher unemployment (6.8%), and median home values decreased from 2013 to 2017 (by 4.31%).

The best cities for homeownership in Massachusetts

1. Barnstable Town

Barnstable Town is the principal town of Cape Cod, both in terms of population (45,193) and land area. Seven villages comprise Barnstable, which has several major amenities, including a community college, a hospital and a municipal airport. The town enjoys reliable bus transportation year-round and adds train service during the summer to accommodate vacationers.

Perhaps that’s why the median value of a home here was $366,000 in 2017 — higher than the state median value of $352,600. Home values appreciated by 1.78% from 2013 to 2017, but the cost of homeownership only increased 0.18% in that time.

Based on data from Robert Paul Properties, a brokerage with offices throughout Cape Cod, demand could continue to hold prices up in Barnstable, especially for entry-level homes. Paul Grover, the owner of Robert Paul Properties, said those homes go for $250,000 to $300,000.

For homes priced under $499,000, there was just a 3.27-month supply in the mid-cape market, which includes the towns of Barnstable, Dennis and Yarmouth, according to the 2018 Robert Paul Report for the Cape Cod, Boston and South Coast areas.

At 5.5%, the unemployment rate was higher than the 3.6% rate for Massachusetts at the end of December 2017, and the average commute time was 23.3 minutes.

2. Boston, Cambridge and Newton MSA

The metropolitan statistical area of these three cities had the highest median home value of any other MSA in the study, but a number of mitigating factors kept it in second place. Its unemployment rate was higher than that of Barnstable, at 5.6%, and workers had an average commute time of 31 minutes. This area had the highest median home value appreciation, at 8.69%, and it had the highest change in homeownership costs, at 1.71%.

3. Providence, R.I. and Warwick, Mass. MSA

This MSA made the list with a median housing value of $260,500. There are some key reasons it didn’t rank higher: The unemployment rate in the market was 6.9%, significantly higher than the state’s overall rate of 3.6%, and the average commute to work is about 25.8 minutes. Median home values actually slid 1.14% between 2013 and 2017.

Those factors kept the Providence–Warwick MSA out of the top ranking, but at least the market saw a reduction in its homeownership costs (-2.62%) from 2013 to 2017.

4. Worcester

Worcester is known for several museums, including the historic Salisbury Mansion, a restored house in the Georgian style that is part of the Worcester Historical Museum. There’s also the EcoTarium — the museum of science and nature — and the Worcester Museum, which features the extensive and famous Higgins Armory collection.

Worcester makes the list with a median housing value of $255,800. The picture of homeownership is mixed, however, as the median home value price actually depreciated by 0.31%. The area’s unemployment rate was 6.3%, and the town has the second-highest average commute time: 28.4 minutes. At least one metric worked in this city’s favor, however: the change in homeownership cost was -1.83% between 2013 and 2017.

5. Springfield

Springfield comes into the ranking with a median housing value of $218,400 and a median home value appreciation of 0.37%. But Springfield has a number of obstructions to becoming a top city for homeowners in Massachusetts, including an unemployment rate of 7.5%, the highest in the survey. The average commute time is a short 22.8 minutes, and homeownership costs dropped 0.40%.

6. Pittsfield

Pittsfield rounds out the ranking for Massachusetts with a median home value of $199,600. Still, Pittsfield must overcome a number of metrics to become a more attractive community for homeowners. Median home value dropped 4.31% between 2013 and 2017. Unemployment was much higher than the state’s average, at 6.8%, but at least the average commute time was only 20 minutes. Another metric worked in the township’s favor: its change in homeownership costs was only 0.21% in the 2013-2017 time period.

Homebuying tips for Massachusetts

By now you have a sense of what the top areas have to offer homeowners in Massachusetts, but how do you join their ranks, and do so comfortably? Here are some tips.

Research the market

Diligent market research is the most important step. That includes not just doing web searches for homes in the areas where you want to purchase, but also conducting in-person research.

“Homebuyers really should come out and look at the inventory and get their own sense of what you get for $300,000, $400,000 or $500,000,” Grover said. “It does pay off to be prepared and educated, because things can move quickly on the market.”

For instance, In January 2019, 707 detached single-family homes sold in Boston, the tenth highest sales volume for homes sold in January. It was an 11% decrease from the number sold in January 2018 — 794 — according to the Greater Boston Association of Realtors.

Don’t let the lower volume fool you, though, because that reduced volume sent competition, and prices, up to record highs. The median sales price reached $590,000, a 7.3% increase from $550,000, the median price recorded in January 2018.

Get a strong start with a preapproval

Grover said he always encourages buyers to approach sellers with a preapproval. On high-priced properties, it is not unusual to see offers with a mortgage contingency, Grover said. Mortgage contingencies are clauses that detail when the buyer needs to secure a mortgage. Even cash buyers are encouraged to present sellers with proof that they are qualified to buy the property.

Secure funding from a desirable lender

Sellers often prefer to see preapprovals from conventional lenders because they might have more mortgage products to offer buyers and help them afford the property. Don’t count out local or regional banks, however, Grover said. Local institutions are viewed as more savvy about the workings of the immediate markets in which they do business.

Find an agent with tight local connections

You might have searched for listings using a popular real estate site’s local map, and you might have saved a few searches to dive into deeper. Now it’s time to find a real estate agent. If you see a local agent’s headshot and contact details listed next to your targeted property, be sure to do your homework about the agent before agreeing to work with that professional.

“Sometimes that agent has paid to have their face posted next to the property listing,” Grover said. “It could be an agent who does not know that local market area, so beware.”

Get to know that local agent well. Have they sent their children to the local schools? Find out if they belonged to an area golf club or if they have ever been involved in civic or cultural activities. You might not pick up on those characteristics by doing a web search and clicking a professional’s information online.

“When supply gets tight,” Grover said, “it is important to have an agent who is really connected to the community.” This is critical in a competitive market for buyers, because an agent with tight local connections will be aware of potential listings before they hit the market and can alert you to opportunities that suit your needs.

Consider an early home inspection

Sometimes clients at Robert Paul Properties have done a home inspection prior to making an offer. Buyers have, in the past, brought a builder that they know to look at the property with them so that they can make a stronger offer, Grover said.

Methodology

The methodology for this study was simple and straightforward.

1: Collect metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) and micropolitan statistical area from the U.S. Census Bureau using 2017 population data.

2: Each MSA and micropolitan statistical area was ranked on a scale from 31 (Best) to 1 (Worst) for five different metrics. Those metrics are:

  • Median Home Value (31-Highest Value, 1-Lowest Value)
  • Unemployment Rate (31-Lowest Rate, 1-Highest Rate)
  • Average Commute Time (31-Shortest Time, 1-Longest Time)
  • Median Home Value Appreciation (2013-2017)(31-Greatest Appreciation, 1-Smallest Appreciation)
  • Median Change in Yearly Housing Costs (2013-2017)(31-Smallest Cost Change, 1-Greatest Positive Cost Change) – The formula for this metric is

(((Monthly Housing Costs for 2017 *12)+(Real Estate Tax for 2017))/ ((Monthly Housing Costs for 2013 *12)+(Real Estate Tax for 2013))-1)

3: An average score was then calculated for each MSA based on the scores they received for each metric.

4: The MSAs and micropolitan statistical areas were then ranked on a scale of 1 (Best) to 31 (Worst) based on their average score.

5: All metrics were ranked equally.

Data

All data were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau. More information on where the data came from is provided below:

2017 Median Home Value, Monthly Housing Costs, Real Estate Taxes

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filtered for Financial Characteristics for housing units with a mortgage — 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

2017 Unemployment Rate and Median Commute Time

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filtered for Selected Economic Characteristics — 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

2013 Median Home Value, Monthly Housing Costs, Real Estate Taxes

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filtered for Financial Characteristics for housing units with a mortgage — 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates
 

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