121 Beach Street #703: Modern Loft Living in the Leather District

The Leather District is located near South Station between Chinatown and Downtown Boston. This neighborhood was first developed as leather factories in the late nineteenth century and converted into an urban residential neighborhood in the late twentieth century. Due to its smaller footprint than most Boston neighborhoods, quality listings are not easy to come by. Which is why Matthew Gaskill and I are excited to announce our new exclusive listing at 121 Beach Street #703!

Built in 1913 by architect Arthur H. Bowditch, 121 Beach Street was originally built to sell leather with the street level used for display and the levels above meant for manufacturing. In 1998 the building was converted to twenty-five residential condos and one commercial condo, but maintained the original barrel-vaulted ceilings and brick & beam structure.

Living Area at 121 Beach St 703Our listing is unit #703, a 1688 square foot open-layout loft priced at $750,000. This unit features two spacious bedrooms, two full renovated bathrooms, and an open-concept living and dining area with plenty of storage, which is perfect for entertaining. Located on the seventh floor (one level higher than surrounding buildings), this unit gets wonderful light with north and south exposures and has great views of the downtown Boston skyline to the north. This unit can be rented out, so if you are looking to invest in real estate, this is something you will want to see. The building is professionally managed and the condo fees are under $500 and include everything except electric and gas. The building is also pet friendly.

Master Bedroom at 121 Beach St #703

121 Beach Street is conveniently located steps from South Station, Downtown Boston, and the Financial District. In a less than a 10 minute walk, you can find yourself in Fort Point enjoying some of the best restaurants in Boston, such as Sportello and Menton. Just another 5 minutes away you can be in Seaport enjoying more great restaurants and  and fun nightlife Temazcal Cantina and the new 75 on Liberty Wharf. If the 10-15 minute walk is too far, located 2 blocks away from 121 Beach Street is O-Ya, the best rated sushi restaurant in Boston.

Getting in and out of the Leather District is a cinch. With South Station down the street you can access the Red Line to Cambridge, take the commuter rail or Amtrak to Providence or New York, or pick up the the Sliver Line to the Boston’s Logan Airport. Driving is also easy with the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) and I-93 ramps a few blocks away.

121 Beach Street #703 offers an urban loft feel that doesn’t come around too often in Boston. With this location and what the area has to offer, I hope you get a chance to see it before its gone. An open house is scheduled for 1-2:30pm on Sunday November 4th, 2012. To schedule a private showing, contact the Realtors of Matthew and Alisa Group.

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How Real Estate Developers Shaped Beacon Hill and America

The Mt. Vernon Proprietors developed Boston’s Beacon Hill into the neighborhood we know today and in the process they shaped the way real estate development would function during the formative years of the United States as a nation. Although we can see their legacy in the development of Beacon hill, their contributions to real estate development in the United States is even greater. As what was probably the first real estate syndicate in America, their model shaped the way America was built.

A real estate syndicate is a group of investors pooling money and using the funds as a whole to fund real estate projects. The funds could be used to acquire property in its entirety or as an equity contribution to the project along with a mortgage, which would fund some portion of the project.

The Mt. Vernon Proprietors were founded in 1795 by Harrison Gray Otis, Jonathan Mason, Charles Ward Apthorp, and Joseph Woodward. Members of the group changed frequently, but partners included the famed architect Charles Bulfinch, Hepzibah Swan, William Scollay, Dr. Benjamin Joy, and Henry Jackson. In the same year they founded, the Mt. Vernon Proprietors bought an 18.5 acre cow pasture from an agent working on behalf of the painter John Singleton Copley, who had been living in England for the previous 20 years. When it took place, it was the largest land transaction that had taken place in Boston and included the land bordered today by Mt Vernon Street, Louisburg Square, down Pinckney Street to the Charles River, along the shoreline to Beacon Street, and up Beacon Street to Walnut Street, which connects with Mt. Vernon Street. This was such a large plot of land that it would be 30 years before Louisburg Square and the land west of it was laid out.

Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill in BostonThe majority of the tract was hilly pasture, not valuable until the Massachusetts State House was built at the top of Beacon Hill in 1798. The plot of land where the State House was to be built was bought from the heirs of John Hancock, the first Governor of Massachusetts and the man with the world’s most famous signature.

Harrison Gray Otis had been appointed to a town committee to select the new site of the Massachusetts State House and a scandal ensued when it was discovered he was involved in the purchase of the newly valuable land. John Singleton Copley protested the sale, but after a decade of legal arguments the sale was upheld.

The Mt. Vernon Proprietors planned to use their land as a new residential area for those whose fortunes had grown due to Boston’s merchant trade. The group’s surveyor, Mather Withington, and Charles Bulfinch created separate development plans, but both proposed large lots ranging from 60 by 160 to 100 by 200. Bulfinch’s plan focused on freestanding mansions with lots large enough for stables and gardens, as was common practice in the South End and West End at the time, and a few homes were built following Bulfinch’s specifications. Withington’s development plan was eventually chosen, a plan which proposed the laying of Mt. Vernon Street, Chestnut Street, Pinckney Street, and Walnut Street as they are today.

The work of laying the streets began in 1799, with the streets aligned in an east-west orientation with limited access from the less desirable North Slope, which was referred to as “Mt. Whoredom” at the time. During this early stage of development, Mount Vernon, the Western peak of Boston’s three hills cut by 50-60 feet. The country’s first gravity railroad was used to transport the dirt downhill and into the water, increasing the developer’s land by filling in the area now occupied by Charles Street and part of the Flat of the Hill.

Beacon Hill map as planned by the Mt. Vernon ProprietorsThe early homes built on the Mt. Vernon Proprietor land were of great dimensions, following the vision of Charles Bulfinch. Harrison Gray Otis commissioned Bulfinch to build a home at 85 Mt. Vernon Street. Bulfinch bought the parcel west of Otis in 1805 and divided it into the two lots at 87 and 89 Mt. Vernon Street on which he built large freestanding mansions with a shared driveway.

Along with these homes, the Massachusetts State House at the top of Beacon Hill was also designed by Charles Bulfinch. At the time architecture was more of a hobby than an occupation and Bulfinch was employed as a member of the city’s Board of Selectman and Boston’s Chief of Police. Although, Bulfinch would go on to become the first American to practice architecture as an occupation and he would design many more buildings around Boston before heading to Washington D.C. to work on the Capitol.

After the initial estate sized lots were sold and developed on Mt. Vernon Street, the Mt. Vernon Proprietors decided these homes were not in the best interest of their investment. Because of this the rest of the land was laid out in more dense blocks of row houses and even the gardens of the original estates were developed, thus the mansions at 89, 87, and 85 Mt. Vernon Street appear to be incorporated within a developed block.

Among the houses associated with the Mt. Vernon Proprietors surviving today are:

  • 29A Chestnut Street, built on a speculative basis in 1799
  • 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, and 74 Beacon Street were built in on a speculative basis in 1828 after being designed by architect Asher Benjamin.

Other homes in the Beacon Hill neighborhood are associated with individual members, but these represent efforts of the group.

For more information on property for sale in Beacon Hill or to own your own piece of history, contact a Realtor from our team.

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Investment Property: Where to Start

Buying Investment PropertyOne of the biggest misconceptions I’ve heard from clients who are interested in buying investment property, is they are going to make livable income from their investment right away. More people have the desire to take advantage of the low mortgage rates and feel buying investment property is a safer investment than buying stocks. This is can be true, however, investing in real estate should be thought of as a long term commitment and must be done wisely.

Depending on what type of property you invest in you may be able to start a steady cash flow, but when you buy investment property, you should think of it as a way to build wealth not get rich quick.

If you buy an investment property in an established neighborhood, this would be considered a low risk investment. In Boston an example would be Back Bay or Beacon Hill. A possible drawback would be the prices would be higher to buy an investment property. However, the positive side is in Boston, where the rents are only going up, the tenant’s rent would cover most is not all of your operating costs, which include mortgage, condo fees, maintenance, and taxes. Little to nothing will be left over for shopping, but after your mortgage is paid off (by someone else), the investment property is now worth a lot more than you originally paid. The goal in these established areas is a safe investment with appreciation and key metric is appreciation rate.

If you buy an investment property in an area that doesn’t have the demand as the established neighborhoods, the risk is higher. In Boston an example could be areas of Roxbury or areas of Dorchester. The drawback would be that you wouldn’t be able to charge as high for rent but the buy in would be less and the money you do collect from rent would more than cover your mortgage and leave some extra cash on hand. Your investment property may not be worth much more than you paid for but the capital of your mortgage would be paid off quicker and you would be able to generate a profit quicker. The goal in riskier areas that do not offer the same appreciation rate as the most established areas is cash flow and the key metric in determining cash flow potential is cap rate (or capitalization rate if you aren’t into the whole brevity thing).

Buying either type of investment property should not be rushed into. Once you buy a property, you are still responsible for maintaining it. If your only experience with how to be a landlord comes from The Ropers on reruns of Three’s Company, we can help. For more information about buying investment property, contact the Realtors of Matthew and Alisa Group Real Estate.

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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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Posted in Boston Property, Investment Property, Property for Sale, Real Estate Development, Renovation, Restoration, ROI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments