Housing report predicts demand for transit-oriented, higher density development
Greater Boston’s housing market will improve, but buyers and tenants may seek different types of housing, according to the Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2012 released Wednesday by the Boston Foundation.
The survey, by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, estimates that the region’s developers may need to double or triple annual housing production to meet demand through 2020. But buyers are expected to seek smaller, more transit-oriented developments, as retirees seek to downsize and new buyers look for more affordable housing that suits their smaller households.
“Once again, in 2012, we see signs of recovery in the housing market along all of the standard measures we have tracked — rising home sales, low vacancy rates, recovering prices, high rents, growth in permits and a decline in foreclosures should set the stage for growth,” said Barry Bluestone, the study’s author in a statement. “Whether this is leading to a return to the normal patterns that have prevailed in past decades or whether it signals a major transformation of the Greater Boston housing market is the big question this time around.”
Under one scenario, the total number of new households in Metro Boston is expected to increase by 120,000 between 2010 and 2020, the survey said. With vacancy rates at historically low levels, that scenario estimates that the region will need to produce at least 12,000 new units of housing each year to accommodate growth. From 2005 to 2011, annual housing production has run at half that amount – an average of 6,000 units.
Under a second scenario, the difference is more striking. In a region with continued labor and employment growth, the region would need another 191,000 units by 2020, more than triple the recent rate of output, the report said. The mix of housing in this scenario shifts as well, to one favoring the construction of more multi-family housing units.
In both scenarios, half or more of the new housing units projected for the region would not be single-family homes – but multifamily housing. In current trends, 48 percent of new households would opt for housing in multi-unit condominium or apartment complexes. That rises to 53 percent in the more robust growth scenario.
The Boston Foundation report comes as the Patrick administration has set a goal of creating 10,000 new multi-family units annually. On Tuesday, Gov. Deval Patrick detailed the new Compact Neighborhoods program, designed to encourage and create well-planned housing that fulfills the demand for homes near jobs and transit.
The initiative promises to complement smart-growth programs by providing incentives to encourage residential development near the MBTA and town centers. The program will recognize communities planning for economic and housing growth, and will offer Chapter 40B relief and priority consideration in discretionary funding programs, such as the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, the governor said.
by Thomas Grillo
MBTA Selling Six-Foot-Tall Old Green Line Train Door for $150 at Gift Shop
What weighs more than 50 pounds, is more than five-feet-tall, can’t be shipped in the mail and makes the perfect Holiday gift for a loved one?
No, it’s not a statue of Justin Bieber for your niece.
It’s the door to an old MBTA Green Line train.
On Thursday, the T gift shop bragged about the availability of the $150 wood veneer door on Twitter.
“Is MBTAgifts really selling a door removed from a decommissioned MBTA Green Line Boeing LRV? You betchya!” they wrote.
On the T’s Gift Shop website, the transportation company is now selling off two of the doors, which were removed from Green Line trains no longer in service.
“This is an authentic cab door from a Boeing LRV. This door was salvaged from the last of the Boeing cars at Riverside Yard in 2011 before being scrapped,” according to the T’s gift shop website. “This door features the iconic wood veneer typical of the inside of the Boeings.”
According to the MBTA, the door weighs roughly 50 pounds, and stands at a whopping six-feet tall, so it is bound to take up some space in your home.
Don’t worry, there is no way to get scammed by someone trying to sell a fake MBTA Green Line door, though. The T ensures buyers that “this item is an authentic piece of equipment decommissioned by the MBTA,” and comes complete with a “Certificate of Authenticity” upon purchase.
There is one downside to trying to buy the limited edition Green Line doors, however—they can’t be shipped in the mail.
That means, you need to lug this giant piece of old fake-wood around on your own. You can buy the door for only $150, too. That’s money well spent for some memories from the old Green Line days, you know, before they stopped using wood paneling.
The door is featured in the T Gift Shop’s “Newest Items” section, alongside some of those T tokens that went out of commission this year, and are now selling for $25.
The online Gift Shop first opened in June of 2011 in an effort for the T to raise some extra non-fare revenue. That means, if two people buy the two doors available, that’s nearly $300 to go towards the MBTA’s debt, and keep them from raising the fares again next year.
According to an MBTA spokesman, the store has raised approximately $223,000 gross sales earning the MBTA $30,000 in royalties. Next week the store is on track to sell their 25,000th product.
The items are sold and shipped from a store called Ward Maps, which is owned by Steven and Brian Beaucher, in Cambridge. The duo are contracted with the transportation agency to run the online store at no extra cash to the MBTA. The contract runs for the next four years.
by Steve Annear
Solar Panels and the Increased Value of Your Home
It seems like most of you that we talk to understand the benfits of owning a solar system. Financially, installing a solar system is better than many other investments you could make. But we are often asked how owning a solar system affects the resale value of your home.
The great news is that robust research has shown across US markets that installing a PV solar system increases your home value. But how? A 2011 study preformed by the Ernest Oralando Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory studied aproximately 72,000 homes bought and sold between 2000 and 2009 in California. Of homes with PV solar systems installed, they found an increased home premium price of between $3.9 and $6.4 per installed watt with the bulk of the systems appreciating thier home’s value about $5.5 per watt. This corresponds to aproximately a $17,000 increase in home value (which incidentally coincides with the net installation cost of a system after tax incentives.) So you are recouping your installation cost during the sale of your home, AND you’ve been benefiting from reduced electrical costs during the time you’ve occupied your home.
So, why does it increase your home value? There are a number of different ways to look at this. Those who are environmentally conscious may see tacit benefit in owning a green home. Finacially, the often quoted number is that for every $1 per year in utility saving you increase your home value by $20. The thought behind this is that a buyer can translate utility savings into an increased mortgage value without increasing the overall cost of buying a home. More energy efficient homes also sell more quickly. The bottom line is that the value of your home goes up (even though in most areas a PV solar system will not affect your home appraisal value or tax!).
There are a number of factors that the studies cannot take into account - factors that may either postitively or negatively affect your home value in any given market. These could include:
- Are buyers likely to be green-conscious?
- How old are the panels?
- How much electricity are your panels actually generating?
- What are current electricity costs in your area?
- How does the tax assessor value panels, and what would the tax increase be?
- How much money are potential buyers likely to save given how long the average buyer plans to stay in the house?
There are also many benefits that studies aren’t able to consider. There are many social benefits when you commit to live a greener life style, there are the obvious positive environmental impacts, and since you are tied into the grid, your solar system helps lessen the load on power plants during peak solar hours of the day!
by Sarah Hesch, Boston Solar
The Many Connections Between Transportation and Health
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched their “New Public Health” website last year with the goal of meeting community members where they are to talk about public health. A lot of those conversations happen online, and they explore the connections between public health and policy decisions related to everything from education to transportation. Last week, they published an interview with U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood.
They also put out a complete and convincing infographic showing why sustainable transportation modes are a key component of any public health strategy — and any healthy and prosperous community.
It highlights the positive health correlation between transit and health — and suggests that maybe the walk home from the train station is the best part of your commute. Experts say people are willing to walk a quarter mile to a bus stop and a half mile to a rail station. The more bus stops and rail stations there are, the more people get those healthy 19 minutes of walking, too.
Walking and biking as part of your commute can reduce obesity and your risk of a crash. And job sprawl that makes it harder for people to walk or bike to work cost communities money.
But don’t take my word for it — take it from the public health experts.
by Tanya Snyder
Giving back to the electric grid
City embarks on program to build energy-positive housing — homes that produce more electric power than they consume
The proposition sounds far-fetched: Build a home in Boston so efficient that it produces more energy than it consumes, and price it for less than $400,000.
But on Tuesday, Mayor Thomas M. Menino will kick off a building program designed to do just that, at a groundbreaking for the city’s first so-called energy-positive homes.
While the technological feat itself is significant, perhaps as noteworthy is the fact that public officials and private builders agree such homes can be built using straightforward designs and materials that won’t break the bank.
“It’s really not rocket science,” said Kamran Zahedi, president of Urbanica Inc., the developer building the first wave of homes, on Highland Street in Roxbury. “People are now realizing it’s good business to build in this way.”
Urbanica is one of three companies selected by the city to design and construct 10 energy-positive homes — those that produce more energy than they consume annually — on city-owned land in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. Eleven teams submitted proposals in a city design competition for the development rights, and city officials said the high level of interest will lead to additional projects in coming years.
“There are a lot of architects and builders that have the expertise to do this,” said Sheila Dillon, director of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development. “We see this project as something people can learn from and then begin to build on larger sites using the same energy practices.”
Construction of efficient homes is beginning to rise across the United States. Although there is no accurate count on the number of energy-positive homes, commercial contractors have started building them around the country. Depending on the market where they are being built, prices range from $180,000 to $400,000.
The Urbanica project achieves its energy-positive goals largely through the use of rooftop solar panels, although the homes have numerous other energy-efficient features. City officials said homeowners should be able to sell excess power to their electric company and use the proceeds to further lower their utility costs.
Each of the four town homes will have 39 solar panels that should produce more electricity than a typical household consumes during a year. The houses will face the sun so they need less electricity for lighting during the day, and will be air-sealed and have double insulation to maintain comfortable temperatures without as much heating or cooling. Other measures include high-efficiency windows, Energy Star-rated appliances, and a smaller heating system that uses less duct work and electricity.
The houses will have three bedrooms, 2½ baths, and about 1,800 square feet.
Specialists in energy-efficient building say that demand for such homes has risen significantly in recent years, especially as home builders try to differentiate themselves by emphasizing environmentally friendly products.
“We’ve got builders trying to focus their entire product line in this direction,” said Drew Smith, president of Two Trails Inc., an energy consulting firm in Sarasota, Fla.
“We’re seeing demand for this in affordable housing and in multimillion-dollar homes,” he continued. “People used to say it was something only the rich could afford, but that’s not the case anymore.”
Smith said his business has grown consistently in recent years, even as Florida’s housing market has struggled to recover from the foreclosure crisis and broader economic downturn. He is now looking to expand to Las Vegas.
In Boston, Dillon said, the three builders designated by the city will price their homes for less than $450,000. In addition to the Urbanica project, GFC Development will build two town houses at 64 Catherine St. in Jamaica Plain, and a team of Sage Builders and Transformations Inc. will build four homes at Highland Park in Roxbury. The latter two projects are expected to start by early next year.
Dillon said the city has not set a specific goal for the number of energy-positive homes it wants to build in coming years, but it is already beginning to explore additional development sites.
“Building in an efficient way and contributing energy back to the grid is one of the mayor’s top priorities,” Dillon said. “And to be able to so in such a way that produces housing for middle-income families is really perfect for us.”
by Casey Ross
Will People Pay More for a Green Home?
Green remodeling and building is the hottest trend in the construction industry. McGraw-Hill Construction recently reported that the green homes share of the construction market is expected to rise as much as 38 percent by 2016. Does this mean that more homes will sprout solar panels and feature bamboo flooring? Not necessarily.
Growth in green remodeling is being propelled by an interest in energy efficiency. Straightforward steps such as upgrading insulation and installing energy-efficient windows and appliances are considered “green remodeling”. So is smart design to increase a home’s function without enlarging its footprint.
Most Boston homeowners want to go green to reduce their impact on the environment and live in healthier spaces, but they are pragmatic about it. Improvements to increase energy efficiency are popular because they lead to measurable payback and greater comfort. Sustainably harvested lumber, low VOC paints, and products made with recycled materials are typically embraced if the costs are comparable to traditional materials. Green products that are priced significantly higher than traditional materials are often dismissed.
The biggest change that I have seen in the past few years is the value that the homeowner now places on energy efficiency. Home designs and materials that minimize energy use are often a priority in renovation, rather than an afterthought.
Homeowners are willing to pay for greater energy efficiency during remodeling, but are they willing to pay more when a house is on the market? An article in the Chicago Tribune reported that green-labeled homes in California sold for 9 percent more than typical California homes. In Boston, where heating costs are so much higher, I’d like to think that energy-efficient, green homes are also worth more to homeowners, but I’m not sure that is the case yet. I don’t recall seeing many ads that tout low annual heating costs or space efficient designs as key selling features, but I’m optimistic this is the direction that we are heading.
If you have done green remodeling, what have you done, and why? If you have chosen not to do it, why?
Head of the Charles Regatta
Nothing says Fall in Boston quite like the Head of the Charles Regatta! Head on down to the river this Saturday or Sunday to watch rowers from all over the world, from juniors to Olympians, compete in the world’s largest two-day rowing event. The weather forecast is shaping up nicely for a great weekend of racing!
Personally, this will be my 14th straight year in attendance, four times as a competitor, and it’s always an excellent event. Thousands of spectators pile onto the bridges and line the river for miles on both the Cambridge and Boston sides, vendors sell food and merchandise, and free samples abound! My recommended areas to watch the racing - the Week’s Footbridge area close to Harvard Square, and the Eliot Bridge area next to Cambridge Boat Club - your best chance at seeing collisions, as the racing can get tight under these bridges, and vendors are within close walking distance.
The event is free, and it’s a quintessential Boston experience that’s not to be missed!