Sunday, March 18, 2012

Location, Location...and Lowell

Today's Sunday Globe Magazine ran a piece about 11 commonwealth towns and cities whose real estate values have weathered the storm of recession and the busting of the housing bubble.
Only one of the municipalities -- Great Barrington -- is west of Lowell.

The article notes that, "Some of the winning communities -- such as Somerville, Charlestown, and Jamaica Plain -- are especially attractive to young professionals, particularly since home prices in these spots are more within reach (though still well over the state median)."

Of course, that all depends whose reach you're talking about. The median values in Somerville, Charlestown, and JP are, respectively: $445,000, $620,000, and $500,500. Especially with the way loan information verification and minimum required down payments have changed in the last several years, I have no clue how a young professional is going to plunk down a payment, and then afford to keep up with, notes that large. Absent a rich (and generous!) family member or some great investment skill/luck, that's hard for a lot of young people to do.

Enter Lowell.

Assume a young professional single person or couple is employed or going to school in Boston or its immediate environs. Maybe they're set in what they're doing, or maybe they want to keep options open, but they realize that most of the likely options are in or near the Unofficial Capital of New England, and want to buy a place and stay within reasonable commuting ease/distance. With Brockton excepted (equidistant from Boston and Providence, both less than 30m), the other Gateway Cities (if we're using MASSInc's original list of 11), just aren't going to let you do that.

New Bedford and Fall River, at twice Lowell's distance from Boston, work for commutes to Providence but not up to the Hub of the World (I'm sure some people do it, but most would not. Worcester, Haverhill, and Fitchburg all have mass transit options, but if you needed to use a car sometimes, would cause you WAY more headaches over the course of a commuting year than Rte 3-128-93 would (not that it's easy to do except in off-peak hours, but still...)

Of course, Holyoke, Pittsfield, and Springfield aren't even in this equation.

For people looking to buy, but priced out of Cambridge-Somerville-JP-Charlestown and still looking to commute to Boston, or at least keep the option alive, you'd be down to just Lowell and Brockton as far as the original 11 Gateway Cities go. Oh, and Lawrence.

Without even getting into a which-of-these-cities-offers-the-most for people hypothetical scenario with a predictable outcome, or explaining why I would RATHER live in Lowell than in the trendier yuppie-burgs, I would just point out the obvious but sometimes-underappreciated Lowell's geography is an important factor in its appeal.


JoeS said...

If the State could promote business development in the Gateway Cities it could distribute economic growth more evenly and take some of the high cost burden away from the central area around Boston. But this business development has to be more about productive jobs than commercial sales outlets, so as to create wealth instead of taking it.

The New Englander said...

JoeS -- MUCH agreed. I also think that if the right critical mass could build, a Gateway City could itself become a magnet for people interested in [insert name of specific field]. Gateway City as bedroom community for commuters is only better than the alternative if the alternative means it's tumbleweeds and boarded-up windows. The way better option, as you said, would be Gateway City as wealth generator and business draw.

The hard part, of course, is building that critical mass to begin with...or just being lucky enough to have the *next big thing* wind up in your backyard.

JoeS said...

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."--- Seneca

Lowell is laying the groundwork, but must chase the opportunity. UML is a good place to hunt.

boiester said...

such an important piece. thank you for making the point that affordable is a very loose term in MA.