Restoration vs Development in South Boston

After viewing the unique property at 928 East Broadway in South Boston recently, I started thinking about the line separating historical preservation and new development. The client who was interested in the property is an investor whose intent was to tear down the existing structures and build a new condo development on the land. It is not as though the developer could not appreciate the charm and significance of the Second Empire mansion built in 1867, but the land would be worth more to him with a new building than with the existing structure. He’s not alone as most of those who have shown interest in the property have had similar plans.

South Boston mansion at 928 E BroadwayAs a single-family home of over 6066 square feet the mansion with a mansard roof offers a significant amount of space for any neighborhood in Boston’s downtown neighborhoods. The current price of 2.3 million dollars looks good considering any other property in Boston’s central neighborhoods with over 6000 square feet is asking for over 4 million dollars. But once you factor in an adjustment for location (the competing properties are all in Back Bay or Beacon Hill) and the need for a total renovation the perceived savings disappear. Consider a middle of the road 250 dollar per square foot renovation and you are looking at a 1.5 million dollar restoration project.

The cost concerns are one reason most potential buyers have been looking at the property for development, but the other reason is the half acre of land located on East Broadway a block from the beach and Pleasure Bay. Only one property on the market in Boston’s central neighborhoods offers as much land and it is a parcel in New Market Square zoned for commercial use.

“Given the investment potential of a half acre corner lot a block from the Atlantic Ocean, why has it not sold?”

Good question.

Part of the answer has to do with two parcels existing on one deed, each with encumbrances on each other, but the biggest potential hurdle may be resistance to leveling an historic residence. The property is not listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places or any other list of protected property, but it is an historic property.

928 East Broadway was built in 1867 for James Collins, a wholesale liquor distributor and a real estate investor who developed much of the City Point area of South Boston during the late 1860’s to late 1880‘s. The remaining large scale frame mansard residences in Boston include the Manning/Johnson House at 69 Thomas Park and 928 East Broadway. The home features an unusually deep set-back, in part because Colins owned the entire block now bordered by East Broadway to the South, Farragut Road to the East, East 3rd Street to the North, and P Street to the East. Before Day Boulevard was constructed, the plot of land owned by Collins was oceanfront property.

Collins built brick homes at 936-942 East Broadway for his children

The Queen Anne brick row houses Collins built for his children

In 1884, Collins hired architect Patrick W Ford to build the Queen Anne brick row houses located adjacent to his residence at. Collins built these homes for his children and in 1890 he built the more utilitarian row houses at 823-833 East Third Street for his employees.

The recent history of 928 East Broadway is more humble as it served as a boarding house as recently as 2006.

I assume, as have most of the potential investors, proposals to tear down the existing building will be met with objections from abutters and the neighborhood association.

I can see the argument for historical preservation and love Boston for its sense of history, especially when it comes to its wide-ranging examples of different architectural styles. The problem is when those with no financial stake have the ability to restrict progress and affect the finances of a landowner. It is a fine line, one that must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and in better ways than I have seen recently.

Personally, I would love to see the mansion at 928 East Broadway restored to the elegant single-family home it once was. But without the checkbook to see it through, does what I want matter?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I would like to know what you think about 928 East Broadway and regarding restoration vs development in general.

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Is the Benjamin Mansion Boston’s Finest Restoration?

It is not often I walk through a home and see so many correct choices made on a development project.

I recently had the honor of previewing the single-family home for sale at 74 Beacon Street for an international buyer client I have been working with. The townhouse was originally built in 1828 by architect Asher Benjamin, who was best known for the Old West Church and the Charles Street Meeting House. Some say the wealthy buyers of these Asher Benjamin mansions chose the Beacon Street location because they viewed the newly formed “flat of Beacon Hill” as a superior location to the steep slope of Mt. Vernon Street. Although, in reality, these mansions were located near the city dump at the bottom of Beacon Street when built. Not until Back Bay was filled in did the area start to transform into the prime real estate we consider it today.

The Benjamin Mansion at 74 Beacon Street

One of the developers involved in the restoration grew up in a townhouse in London and her knowledge was an asset as the development team undertook a three-year gut-renovation project. The result was a restoration blending old-world detail and modern amenities. Some of those amenities include a heated rooftop endless infinity lap pool, deeded parking and a Brimmer Street garage space, an elevator, two roof decks, a patio, smart home technology, and a laundry room GQ found worthy of a Tom Brady photo shoot.

The price does reflect the quality at $1769 a square foot which is a price usually reserved for the first block of Comm Ave, Louisburg Square, and high-end buildings such as the Mandarin Oriental or the Carlton House.

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The Real Estate Sales Market's Paradox of Choice

I recently watched an episode of TED Talks featuring psychologist Barry Schwartz discussing the Paradox of Choice (also the name of his book). According to Barry Schwartz, the American mantra of more choices equaling more freedom, which in turn results in more welfare is not only wrong, it is harmful. Too many choices affect a person”s ability to choose by causing decision paralysis, unable to make any choice at all. If the person does make a choice, she often becomes dissatisfied with the choice made, because, she believes a least one perfect option will be present among the multitude of options. If the one chosen turns out to fall short of perfection, buyer”s remorse can set in and the blame often falls on her own ability to make a correct decision. A fear of this buyer”s remorse can also prevent a person from taking action at all because we are aware of our heightened expectations resulting from living in a time of limitless choice.

http://youtu.be/VO6XEQIsCoM

After watching Barry Schwartz’s lecture I started thinking how it relates to the online casino current Boston real estate sales market. I hear complaints from buyers and fellow real estate agents regarding the low inventory and how new listings to the real estate sales market are selling within days of being listed. When the sales market was saturated with inventory, property sat and sat. It’s hard not to make the connection between buyers having fewer options and their increased ability to make a decision.

According to MLS data, from March 15th-April 15th of this year (2012) 289 single family homes and condos were listed for sale in the downtown Boston neighborhoods, 225 properties went under-agreement, and they averaged 31 days on the real estate sales market. The same time period last year (2011) there were 377 single family home and condos listed for sale in the downtown Boston neighborhoods, 184 went under-agreement, and spent an average of 120 days on the sales market.

Barry Schwartz said “the secret to happiness is low expectations.” It is because when expectations are low, the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised is present! Many agents and sellers feel the current real estate sales market is a pleasant and welcome change after the mortgage crisis a few years ago. And buyers, knowing there are few options, are less likely to talk themselves out making a decision on their new home. The result is less stagnation in the market, which is good news for both buyers and sellers of property.

If you are interested in searching property for sale or speaking with a Realtor, contact the Realtors of Matthew and Alisa Group Real Estate.

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A Brief History of Fenway Park on its 100th Anniversary

One hundred years ago tomorrow, the Red Sox, Boston’s most beloved sports franchise, moved into its current home. Over the span of the past century, Fenway Park has served as an entertainment center for the people of Boston. The park is referred to by many as a “cathedral of baseball” is the oldest stadium in use by a Major League Baseball club and is considered one of the most well-known sports venues in the world. The Red Sox are hosting a free open house at Fenway Park today from 9am-7pm with fans having access to the warning track, the inside of the Green Monster, and other areas inside the park not normally available to fans. Current and past Red Sox players will be on hand for autographs as fans are allowed to tour the historic building at their own pace. The following history of Fenway Park is a brief primer to get you ready for today’s Fenway Park open house.

100th Anniversary of Fenway ParkAnd do not forget Friday’s 100th Anniversary game against the New York Yankees has a 3pm start time with a nod to the time games started before the days of stadium lights and night games. The pre-game ceremony will feature 1912 throwback jerseys, over 200 past players, and a stadium-wide toast that will attempt to break the record for largest ever toast. The Red Sox ask for everyone to be in their seats by 2pm to take part in the toast.

Opening Day at Fenway Park

Fenway Park hosted its first game on April 9th, 1912, an exhibition between the Red Sox and Harvard, a game won by the professionals. The regular season opener was scheduled for April 17th, but the game was rained out. Three more games, including the traditional morning and afternoon game doubleheader held to concur with the Boston marathon, were also cancelled. After the rain subsided, at least one of these games could have been played, but fans were turned away amid sunshine and clear skies because the field was declared unplayable, left uncovered during the storm because a new tarp had yet to arrive.

After the delays to Opening Day, Fenway Park hosted its first Major League contest on April 20th, 1912. Navin Field in Detroit, which was later known as Tiger Stadium, also debuted on the same day, and the two ballparks shared the distinction of the oldest stadium in MLB until Tiger Stadium was demolished in 2009. This leaves Fenway Park as one of only two “classic” ballparks in use, the other being Wrigley Park in Chicago.

Fenway Park grass painted to commemorate 100 year anniversaryWith ongoing coverage of the Titanic disaster, the enthusiasm for Boston’s new stadium was somewhat dampened in the days leading up to its opening. Two days after the Titanic survivors arrived in New York, Bostonians showed up in force for Fenway Park’s official opening. John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, mayor of Boston and grandfather of future president John Fitzgerald Kennedy, threw out the first pitch, as he would also do at one of the World Series games held in Boston in the fall of 1912.

The 24,000 fans in attendance for Opening Day went home happy as the club defeated their rival New York Highlanders (renamed the Yankees the following year) 7-6 on an 11th inning single by Tris Speaker. Among those in attendance were the Royal Rooters, considered the rowdiest fans in baseball. The club was led by a man named “Nuf Ced” McGreevey, who has the distinction of tending America’s first sports bar, The Third Base Saloon. This establishment where “you went before heading home” was a museum of Red Sox memorabilia McGreevey obtained from his friends on the Red Sox roster.

Although praised for its intimacy today, fans in 1912 were not used to seats as far from the action as those found in the right field of Fenway Park. Despite this criticism, overall reception at the time was positive. Fenway Park solidified its place in Boston that first season when the Red Sox won 105 games and captured the World Series. By winning three more championships in the next six years, this dynasty further ingrained Fenway Park into the city’s identity.

The Real Estate Behind Fenway Park

The Red Sox moved to Fenway Park from the smaller Huntington Avenue Grounds, which sat on what is now the site of an indoor athletic facility on the Northeastern University campus. As with most real estate transactions, money played a role. The Huntington Avenue Grounds had hosted approximately 10,000 fans for its largest crowd ever even though the official capacity was much less. Along with Fenway Park’s additional seating and the increased revenue from more fans, a new park in an attractive area would increase the club’s value, an important consideration since owner John Taylor was entertaining thoughts of selling the Red Sox.

Yawkey Way, home to the Red Sox, Boston's American League Baseball ClubIn early 1911, Taylor’s family, which earned their fortune through real estate, was involved with several real estate entrepreneurs in forming a committee focused on developing the emerging Fenway neighborhood. Two weeks after the forming of The Fenway Improvement Association, Taylor’s father bought the future site of Fenway Park at public auction. The Fens were largely undeveloped at the time, but the location was only a few blocks from growing Kenmore Square and the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street, major thoroughfares at the beginning of the twentieth century much as they are today. After the site was secured, Taylor decided to relocate and not to renew his lease for the Huntington Avenue Grounds. With plans to develop a new ballpark underway, Taylor sold half the club with the contract naming him the overseer of construction and landlord of the new ballpark. John Taylor claimed the name Fenway Park came from the stadium’s location in the Fenway neighborhood, however, considering Taylor’s family owned Fenway Realty Co. the ballpark’s name could be the first example of stadium-naming rights in North America.

Design and Construction of Fenway Park

In the preceding years, the MFA, the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum, and Symphony Hall were all built roughly a mile from the site that would become Fenway Park. While those buildings were built by the city’s Irish working class, they were intended for the enjoyment of the Brahmins and the other members of Boston’s elite class. Fenway Park, by contrast, would be built for the people of Boston.

Fenway park plaque commemorating construction in 1912 and remodeling in 1934Fires had destroyed a number of wooden ballparks in the previous two decades including the double-decked South End Grounds, home of Boston’s National League club. One result a the fires was a move toward steel and concrete stadiums, a new wave which began in 1909 and included stadiums such as Ebbets Field, Comisky Park, and Wrigley Field.

For Boston’s first steel and concrete ballpark, Taylor hired James McLaughlin as chief architect and the civil engineering was done by Osborn Engineering, a large firm based in Cleveland. Osborn Engineering was a major player in the stadium boom of the early twentieth century, designing Navin Field simultaneously, a few years later involved in the construction of Braves Field, Boston’s other modern major league ballpark, and then designing Yankee Stadium in the early 1920’s.

Ground was broken on September 25th,1911, the day permits were granted for construction of Fenway Park. The total cost of the project would be $650,000 which at $15.7 million in 2012 dollars is an amazing real estate value, especially when you consider the current ownership group spent $285 million on renovations over the last ten years.

Fenway Park was built on the lot John Taylor’s father had purchased at auction, an irregular-shaped parcel of 365,308 square feet. The field could have been built in a more symmetrical shape by only using part of the parcel, but Taylor instructed the architect to use the entire lot. The result was a field much larger than required by the game as it was played at the time, an era known as the Dead Ball Era. Prior to the 1920’s, the preferred style of play consisted of line drives and hit-and-run plays. In fact, the year prior to Fenway park’s opening saw Frank Baker lead the American League with 11 home runs and entire clubs hit less than 20 home runs over the course of the year.

Survey of Fenway Park lot in 1917

Because no one hit the ball that far, it was not an issue for the left-field fence to be placed against Landsdowne Street, only 300ft from home plate. The architect was instructed to maintain the alignment of the Huntington Avenue Grounds with the 3rd base line pointing almost due north, which kept the sun from batters’ eyes during games that began at 3pm, the standard start time of games in the era. If distance had been a concern, Landsdowne Street could have been acquired and incorporated into the design. By 1958, this was not the case as owner Tom Yawkey tried unsuccessfully to annex Landsdowne Street for expansion and renovation of Fenway Park.

Along Landsdowne Street, a wall was built that would be the precursor of the Green Monster, Fenway Park’s signature feature. The wall was 25ft high, a wooden wall plastered with ads and was built for a couple of reasons. The parcel of land the park was built on was sloped and after being graded, the field was lower than the surrounding streets. The wall served to both hold back Landsdowne Street and kept nonpaying fans from watching the game for free.

1918 version of Monster Seats were in the field of play on Duffy's CliffA slope of dirt on the field side of the wall was used to further support the wall. This slope became known as Duffy’s Cliff after star Red Sox left-fielder Duffy Lewis, who became adept at playing the unusual feature. Although technically in play, many fans watched the game seated in the field of play on the 10ft embankment because it provided a good view of the action. To maximize seating for the 1912 World Series games bleachers seating a thousand fans were built on the embankment. Duffy was spared from navigating the crowd since any hits into the fans were ruled a ground-rule double.

The wall has seen a number of changes over the years before becoming the Green Monster we know today.

  • In 1934, a manual scoreboard was added and the wall was covered in concrete and tin.
  • In 1947, the ads were removed from the wall and it was painted green to match the rest of the park.
  • In 1976, the wall was covered in a hard plastic.
  • In 2003, seats were added to the top of the wall. These seats, known as “monster seats,” are among the most popular in all of Fenway Park and are sold on a per game basis to winners of a lottery instead of in season-ticket packages. In 2012, over 300,000 people applied for the roughly 30,000 seats available over the course of the season.

The wall at Fenway Park known as the Green MonsterBefore the seats were added to the top of the Green Monster, a net on top of the wall caught balls, protecting cars on the street below. Groundskeepers would climb a ladder built onto the wall to empty the net, and the “ladder to nowhere” remained attached to the wall. The “ladder to nowhere” is another quirk of Fenway Park, but it is an urban legend that the ladder is the only ground-rule triple in major league baseball.

The original plan for Fenway Park was for a double-deck park like Navin Field and the South End Grounds to allow for more fans and the revenue that would come with them. The plans for a second deck were put hold with the home opener only six months away. The final design used for construction called for a single uncovered grandstand surrounding the infield and bleachers in right field, but the plans left open the possibility for a second deck to be built in the future. However, not until an auxiliary press box was added for the 1946 All-star Game did Boston have its first double-decker ballpark since the South End Grounds were closed in 1914. Without the second deck, Fenway Park’s seating capacity was around 29,000, which was less than most other ballparks built around the same time, but Fenway Park was nearly three times the official capacity of Huntington Avenue Grounds.

After 84,000sf of grass was removed from the Huntington Avenue Grounds and transplanted in Fenway Park, baseball was ready to be played behind the new park’s depression-style red brick facade. The Kenmore Square area features buildings of similar architecture and height, allowing Fenway Park to blend in to its surroundings unlike other major sports venues. Unlike these structures imposing over their environment, Fenway has a markedly utilitarian appearance and the lack of bulk is also attributable to the field sitting below street level. A famous story tells of Roger Clemons to Boston in 1984 and taking a cab from Logan Airport to the ballpark. Once they arrived at Fenway Park, Clemons said to the taxi driver, “No, Fenway Park, it’s a baseball stadium. This is a warehouse.” Not until the driver told him to look up at the lights did Clemons believe he was outside a major league stadium.

The red-brick depression-style facade of Fenway Park

Changes to Fenway Park Over the Years

Fenway Park took its current shape in 1934 when new owner Tom Yawkey took over with the capital allowing him to spend lavishly toward rebuilding the park. Three months prior to opening day, a fire leveled much of the improvements and Yawkey redoubled efforts, hiring an army of workers during the height of The Depression. The project consisted of a seven month stretch of construction and after two fires set back progress Yawkey instituted an around-the-clock schedule. Yawkey’s improvements and renovations to Fenway Park were one of the largest depression-era construction projects in Boston, second only to the Tobin Bridge, and Yawkey’s use of union labor endeared him and his version of Fenway Park to Boston residents. The major changes Yawkey made to the ballpark in 1934 included:

  • Leveled Duffy’s Cliff.
  • Covered wall in concrete and tin. Yawkey also had his and his wife’s initials painted in Morse code on the wall where they remain today.
  • Installed a manual scoreboard in the base of the wall, which is the last hand-operated scoreboard in the American League.
  • Replaced wooden bleachers with concrete structures.

Changes continued over the years as seats were added and the outfield wall was moved to increase capacity. The last change to the playing field was when Yawkey built bullpens inside the right-field fence. Yawkey’s reasoning for the relocation of the bullpens, was to aid new star Ted Williams by pulling in the fence 23ft and making it easier for the right-handed hitter to hit ball out of the playing field. The area became known as Williamsburg, but Williams hit less than three dozen of his 521 home runs into the bullpens.

Fenway Park media box behind home plate

In 1999, plans were announced to demolish and rebuild Fenway. The public voiced stiff resistance despite ownership and Boston media (including Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan) considering it inevitable. In 2002, a group led by John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucciano bought the Boston Red Sox and began engineering studies toward renovating Fenway Park. The group decided renovation was preferred over rebuilding and over the next ten years they spent $285 million on renovations and improvements. The result is a critically-acclaimed restoration project that succeeded in modernizing and expanding capacity without compromising the intimacy and character that make Fenway Park what it is. After renovations were declared complete in 2012, engineers estimated another 40-50 years of useful life.

Despite the current owners not planning for any additional major renovations, any future changes to Fenway Park will require a thorough permitting since it was announced in 2012 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Another recent accolade for Fenway Park was when the American Institute of Architects placed Fenway Park on its list of 150 buildings that defined “The Shape of America.” One member of the AIA noted, “The odd thing about Fenway is that probably of the top 150 buildings that we’re dealing with on the list, this one exhibits the least sense of intentional design by one hand.”

Miscellaneous Fenway Park Facts

  • Fenway Park currently has over 700 consecutive sellouts and counting. The streak began on May 15, 2003 and in 2008 the Red Sox organization broke the Major League Baseball record of 456 consecutive sellouts.
  • Fenway Park leads all MLB stadiums in hot dog sales by selling 1.5 million Fenway Franks a year.
  • Fenway Park once housed a candlepin bowling alley below the ballpark. The bowling alley was removed during the recent renovations so management offices could be expanded, but wood from the lanes was repurposed for the countertops of a bar built on the right-field pavilion.
  • At one point, the owner of the New York Yankees held the mortgage on Fenway Park as collateral for a loan.
  • Prior to 2004 reengineering, heavy rains would cause Boston’s sewage drains to back up to the point where fish would be able to swim from the Charles River to the field at Fenway Park. Once the water drained, fish as big as a foot long would be left on the field.

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The Mason House: Back Bay’s Latest Historic Mansion for Sale

The Mason Home: Million-Dollar Historic MansionNot too long ago I wrote about the Ames Webster Mansion at 306 Dartmouth St in Boston’s Back Bay, the incredible historic mansion that has been on the sales market for just shy of 800 days. At the time I wrote about the Ames Webster Mansion, there was no comparable property in Boston proper. This has now changed as The Mason House has come onto the sales market.

I recently had the privilege of touring The Mason House at 211 Commonwealth Ave and I feel it was a privilege. The Mason House is a single-family mansion built in 1883 by Rotch & Tilden architects in the Colonial Revival style for William Powell Mason. Situated across from the Commonwealth Mall between Exeter St and Fairfield St, every aspect of this home was designed with meticulous attention. The facade of the building is a seemingly simple brick exterior, but once inside, the grandeur within is revealed to the fortunate few to walk through the entrance. The moment you open the immense door and are welcomed into the incredible foyer, you do feel like one of the fortunate few.

The Mason Home's Formal Salon at 211 Comm AveThe basics of this brick mansion are as follows: 5 floors, 11 bedroom, 9 bathrooms, 14 fireplaces, private terrace, enclosed garden, elevator, au-pair suite, two wet bars, butler’s kitchen, and a heated garage that fits up to 5 cars. All of these features found in one Back Bay home is unique, but what truly sets this home apart from other multi-million dollar mansions are the exquisite details. For example, the beautifully patterned moldings along the crown, walls, and fireplace in the formal salon gives an air of delicacy and refinement. The formal dining room with coffered ceiling and restored mahogany paneling exudes formality and regality.

The Mason Home features an incredible music roomThe piece de resistance has to be the music room added in 1897. I believe the music room is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy with a stained-glassed skylight set into the coffered half-dome ceiling at the room’s entrance. The dome in the center of the room is believed to be the first architectural element in Boston designed specifically for electric lights, which were used to illuminate the stucco ceiling details. The music room was added by Fanny Mason, the daughter of the William Powell Mason, who founded the Boston Symphony and the Peabody-Mason Music Foundation. In this room, Fanny Mason hosted many musical performances by renowned artists of the time.

The Mason House seems immense and overwhelming as a whole, but each room achieves an intimacy that can make you feel comfortably at home. This trophy property is available for the asking price of $17,900,000 and since the previous owners have renovated many of the rooms (including the kitchen) for our modern times, very few renovations would be needed for the new owners to call it home.

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Buying a Home: How Do You Know If You Are Ready?

If you have been searching for rentals in Boston in the last couple years, you may have noticed that it is tough. Inventory is limited and prices keep rising. There are three things renters can do. One: pay the rising rates. Two: look farther outside the city than originally planned. Three: stop renting and purchase. Many people today feel that investing in real estate is safer than investing in stocks and with good reason. Real estate in Boston has not been hurt as much as the rest of the country and rentals in the city are consistently in high demand. If you are on the fence on buying real estate, here are a couple signs you may be ready.

Buying real estate in Boston may be a better option than rentingOne: you know what you want. If you have a realistic idea of the size you need and the location where you want to live for the next few years and you  haven’t found it on the rental market, take a look at what is on the sales market. The rental market in Boston favors landlords. The inventory is limited and owners can get not only their asking price but also first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and security deposit (each equal to one month) and not have to pay a broker’s fee.

Two: you have the finances. The upfront costs of renting an apartment in Boston are higher than most cities around the nation. Many people looking for quality rentals in Boston  are surprised how little they get for the money. With many banks loosening restrictions on who can get mortgages, it is worth your time to speak with a mortgage broker about types of loans and available rates.

If you are weary of buying because you do not want to be locked into a mortgage on the chance your career moves you to another city, keep in mind that you could hold onto your home as an investment property. With a tenant paying rent, you can build equity while someone pays your mortgage for you.

Contact the Realtors of Matthew and Alisa Group Real Estate if you are interested in learning more about purchasing a home.

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Ink Block Project Slated for Former Boston Herald Site

Ink Block development to be built on the former Boston Herald siteThe proposal for the Ink Block development has been made public and a new vision for this area of Boston’s South End neighborhood is a drastic departure from the current state of the area once known as the New York Streets. The New York Streets neighborhood was Boston’s first victim of urban renewal in the late 1950s, a vibrant multi-ethnic neighborhood turned into an unwelcoming industrial wasteland in order to keep the Boston Herald from leaving Boston.

After fifty years at the site, the Boston Herald closed down their production at the South End location known as One Herald Square. The sounds of reporters on the phone and typing out stories ceased. The print presses were shut down. The company moved their offices to the new Innovation District in Boston’s Seaport and began paying The Boston Globe to print and distribute their newspapers circulated in the Boston area.

With the Boston Herald site shuttered, the focus turns to what will become of the 6 acre site they left behind. The site, which runs along Harrison Avenue from Herald Street to Traveler Street, is owned by National Development, which bought the property five years ago. National Development is based in Newton and has been involved in many local developments such as Station Landing, a residential and retail complex in Medford; the Kensington project, a 27-story residential building across from the Ritz-Carlton in Downtown Boston; the Marriott Residence Inn in Charlestown’s Navy Yard; and Longwood Center, a life-sciences building in the Longwood Medical Area. National Development plans to develop the project known as Ink Block with Patrick Purcell, Boston Herald publisher, as a minority investor.

Last week, National Development went before a group of local residents at Project Place to discuss the Ink Block proposal it had submitted to the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The Ink Block proposal requires the demolition of the current building known as One Herald Square and envisions in its place four new structures with a total of 475 apartments, a grocery store, retail shops, restaurants, and over 400 parking spaces. The completed Ink Block project will total 550,000 square feet total with 85,000 square feet allocated to ground floor retail. The four buildings will be metal, glass, and brick, each distinct in appearance from the others. One building will be five stories tall, two will be eight stories, and the fourth nine stories. The Ink Block plans were designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects.

The Ink Block apartments will be spread out over all four buildings and will include lofts, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom, and 3 bedroom apartments. Rents have not yet been determined for the apartments, but 15% of the units will be affordable. All the affordable housing will be on site.

Ink Block apartment amenities will include a roof deck with pool, theater, fitness center, cyber lounge, bicycle storage, shared car service (Zipcar), shared bike service (Hubway), and electric car charging stations. The garage will offer around one parking space available for every two residential units.

30,000 square feet of the project is allocated for a grocery store. Community members were pleased with this announcement, saying the area has a void when it comes to nearby grocers. The news was tempered when National Development said the desired Whole Foods was not among the grocers currently in talks despite the developer’s pursuit of the national upscale chain. It was mentioned that an urban Stop & Shop has experience in similar locations.

UPDATE: New York based Wegman’s supermarket has expressed interest in opening a Boston store and Danny Wegman, the chain’s chief executive, toured the Ink Block site during the last week of March. Wegman, in a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said, “We believe we belong in Boston, not just in the suburbs.’’ He also toured sites in the Fenway.

LATEST UPDATE: Whole Foods Market has agreed to anchor the retail portion of the Ink Block project with a 50,000 square foot store, which will be the largest Whole Foods Market in the Boston area. The store will feature a full selection of organic and natural foods, a wine selection, prepared foods, a gelato bar, and an outdoor cafe seating area on Harrison Avenue. In a prepared statement, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said, ”This is a huge milestone for the neighborhood, and I am proud to welcome Whole Foods to the South End.”

National Development said the goal of the Ink Block project is to create a more inviting pedestrian-friendly area and to this end the proposal calls for wider sidewalks and the bulk of parking to be hidden in the interior of the structure. The vision of a human-scale development is the result, in part, of a proposal National Development submitted last spring for a smaller project that was derided by neighbors as uninspiring and suburban. Since that last proposal, approval of the Harrison-Albany Corridor Strategic Plan allowed for bigger development. The community wants Ink Block, as the first new development in this part of the South End, to set a tone and it appears National Development is listening.

The Ink Block developers did not purchase three adjacent buildings on Albany Street

Three adjacent buildings on Albany Street

Although most of the reception for the new Ink Block proposal was favorable at the recent Project Place pitch, some questioned National Development’s choice to not buy three adjoining properties along Albany Street. Those three properties appear empty, recently vacated by an insurance company, a taxi stand, and F.W. Webb. The detractors claimed National Development missed the opportunity to develop the site to its true potential, but the company said their analysis showed the current market would not bear the larger project.

The finished Ink Block project will be one of the largest residential developments in Boston, built on one of the few large plots available for development in the city. The plan is for Ink Block to be built in phases. The first building will be a nine-story building on Herald Street, followed by a five-story building facing Harrison Avenue and housing the grocery store, and then an eight-story building facing Harrison. The fourth building, facing Traveler Street, may be delayed until construction and occupation of the first three buildings. The entire Ink Block project is projected to be completed before 2016 and cost around $125 million.

To discuss how the proposal of the Ink Block project will affect investment property in Boston’s South End neighborhood, contact our Realtors.

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Parking in Boston: Parking Options at Every Price

Parking in Boston can be difficult, expensive, and time consumingParking in Boston can be a nightmare. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

In order to qualify for a resident permit that allows for parking on the street in one of Boston’s neighborhoods, the car has to be registered and insured in Boston. Unless the car was previously registered in New York City, insurance premiums will most likely increase with a Boston registration.

Resident street parking can be more or less painful depending on the neighborhood. The worst neighborhoods for parking in Boston are Beacon Hill and the North End, and honorable mention goes to Back Bay. All three have more residents with cars than streets for parking.

Once you find a parking spot you have to remember which day of the week street cleaning occurs in the neighborhood or it will be towed. In a snow emergency, the car cannot be parked on a main street or it will be towed. The good news is you can sign up for email alerts through the City of Boston’s No Tow program.

If searching for parking in Boston does not sound appealing, renting a parking space is an option. There are parking spaces to rent all over Boston with prices varying all over the city. One uncovered full parking space can start at $250 a month in Back Bay. The starting rate for a garage parking space in Back Bay can be $375 a month and valet garage spaces are even higher.

If you are flexible, there are a couple ways to save some money on renting a parking spot. Renting a tandem spot can cost $200 a month. A tandem parking space is wide enough for one car but long enough for two. To prevent either driver from blocking the other, each will each exchange keys with the other. Also, many garages offer a reverse commute option which is ideal for those who live in the city and work outside the city. These reverse commuting options have different hours depending on the garage but the standard allows for access between 4pm-8am during the week and anytime on weekends and holidays. The garage will usually allow for one or two sick days a month. These reverse commute spots can start as low as $115 a month.

Buying a parking space in Boston can also be an option but those price tags can come as a bigger surprise. One space in Boston can start at $30,000 but it can also go as high as $300,000. In 2009, an outdoor, uncovered parking space, one block from the Public Garden, was sold for $300,000. This sale beat the previous record of $250,000 for a spot at 31-33 Commonwealth Ave.

If you are relocating to Boston and are not ready to live car free, contact the Realtors of Matthew and Alisa Group Real Estate. We will be happy to either help find properties that include parking or help navigate parking solutions in Boston.

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Boston’s Historic Mansion Nobody Wants…

Various Highlights of Ames-Webster Mansion in Back Bay

Boston is filled with historic real estate. Originally built to house the elite, many properties in Boston have been converted into luxury condos, commercial spaces, or museums. There are a few, however, that retain their original glory as single-family mansions. One in particular is the Ames-Webster Mansion in Boston’s Back Bay.

The Ames-Webster Mansion is located at 306 Dartmouth Street, situated on the corner of Dartmouth Street and Commonwealth Avenue at the heart of Back Bay. A 26,000 square foot brick mansion such as the Ames-Webster is not common in Boston real estate and to be honest nothing about this multi-million dollar mansion is common.The Ames-Webster Mansion holds 50 rooms, 28 fireplaces, and 6 parking spaces.

The original building at 306 Dartmouth Street was designed and built by renowned architectural firm Peabody and Stearns in 1872. John Sturgis, who also designed the original Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, is credited with the redesign and enlargement of the property in 1882 to a single family home for Frederick Ames, who was, in his time, called “the hub’s richest man” by the Boston Globe. The home has had few owners since which means few renovations and the survival of the original ornate detail intact throughout the home, such as the stained glass skylight designed by John La Farge and the murals Benjamin Constant painted around the skylight.

This historic mansion is a true example of a trophy property. It has everything: location, size, prestigious pedigree, and it’s zoned for commercial use as well as residential. Yet it has been for sale for over 700 days and was originally priced for $23 million with the price dropping to $18 million last November.

With the economy the way it is, not too many people have $18 million on hand, but there are properties in the United States of this magnitude (and greater) that have sold over the last year. How has this one stayed on the market? Many theories could answer this question, but I like to believe it is haunted, a detail the owners would have to disclose* to potential buyers. I’m not saying it is haunted, but if it were, that could be scaring away potential buyers.

Boston Historic Ames Webster Mansion at 306 Dartmouth Street in Boston's Back Bay

*Fun Fact: The only instance of the term “paranormal activity” in Massachusetts Law is in relation to stigmatized property.

Update: It turns out someone wanted the Ames-Webster mansion after all. The property sold on March 15, 2013 for $14,500,000.

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