Home Buying in Boston>Question Details

Crystal, Home Buyer in San Marino, CA

Advice on home-buying and community selection in the Boston area.

Asked by Crystal, San Marino, CA Wed Feb 25, 2009

We are moving to the Boston area this summer, from Los Angeles. My husband will be working in Newton and I will be working in dowtown Boston. We have 3 children and are looking for a good community with great public schools and good commuter train/T access to downtown. We will need (at minimum) a 4 bdrm/2 ba home. What communties would you suggest and when would we need to make an offer to move into a home mid-August? Does the inventory of homes increase substantially during the summer months?

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Hi, Crystal-

First off, I want to warn you that this is a very long post. Your question is simple, but the issues it raises are complex. I try to give brief answers to Trulia questions whenever possible, but it’s hard for me to be brief when there are many things for a consumer to consider.

I'm going to echo Melissa's recommendation that you work with a member of NAEBA (of which I'm not a member) or a member of the Massachusetts Association of Buyer Agents (MABA, of which I'm both a member and director). Both organizations place the issue of consumer protection at the center of their missions, whereas most Realtor-related organizations have the success and well-being of real estate agents at their core.

It's always advisable to work with a buyer's agent whose company won't have the listing for any home you may be interested in buying. There are too many potential conflicts of interest, because negotiations take place throughout the transaction, not just when you make your offer. You have the right to expect full, fiduciary-level representation from start to finish when you buy a home, and you'll get that with a NAEBA or a MABA agent. You'll never have to sign a form, required by the state, asking you to consent to dual agency with a MABA or NAEBA member.

Even when dual agency is done 100% correctly, the agent cannot give any information or advice that helps one client at the expense of the other. So you could be in the middle of the process and, if your agent or their firm has the listing for the home you want to buy, you could be suddenly fending for yourself, without the full, unfettered advice of your agent.

And so-called designated agency is only a little better than dual agency, IMO. In this scenario, the company is in dual agency. That is, the company has agents representing both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction. But the company passively designates the two agents to represent the two clients.

Designated agency presupposes that every agent will be able to protect 100% of a client’s information from 100% of the other agents in the firm 100% of the time. They claim there will never be a faxed offer or a pre-approval letter that's seen by, or a conversation overheard by, another agent within the office who might represent the seller or an agent who might have a competing buyer-client for the property you’re interested in. Having once worked in one of the largest real estate companies in Massachusetts, I know that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to construct a 100% effective firewall.

Also, some companies offer bonuses to their buyer agents whose buyers purchase a home listed by that company. So, as a buyer, you might have reason to be suspicious if your agent is talking up the benefits of a home listed by his or her firm. You don’t have that concern with a buyer’s agent whose company doesn’t also represent the seller.

Some companies even encourage listing agents to have a separate buyer’s agent on their team, so the listing agent (and firm) can retain a piece of the action and stay within the rules of designated agency. But how can you, as the consumer, be absolutely sure that no information is shared among these agents, particularly when the teams have worked closely together for years, or they’re made up of husband/wife or mother/son agents?

You can find more information about MABA at massbuyeragents.com.

I also recommend working with agents who have attained the CRS designation. Only 3.7 percent of all Realtors have the CRS, yet we handle approx. 25 percent of all the residential real estate sold in the U.S. Unlike most Realtor designations, CRS requires a combination of classroom instruction and years of practical experience and proven production. This high threshold means if you’re working with a CRS, you’re working with someone who’s either been in the business for a very long time, or they’ve helped clients buy or sell lots of property within only a few years. Either way, you’re very likely to get an agent who’s seen it all before, and who really knows what they’re doing under any market conditions.

A good buyer’s agent will have no vested interest in which property you choose to buy. This interest could come from some incentive within their company, or it could come from a territorial limitation. I began my career based in Brookline, Newton, and Jamaica Plain. I’ve also had experience showing and helping buyers buy in about 90 different cities and towns throughout Eastern Mass. since then. I regularly work in all of the cities and towns the other people have talked about in their answers, and I have no fear of venturing into a new city or town outside the fringes of the Boston metropolitan area. So I have no vested interest in trying to point anyone to a specific town or area.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Mar 14, 2010
(Part II)

Further, as real estate agents, we have to be very careful not to fun afoul of Fair Housing laws by crossing any lines where we could be seen as steering buyers toward or away from specific towns or neighborhoods. So, for a whole host of reasons, it's important for home buyers to find an agent who won't be tempted to make overt or implied recommendations of specific homes, neighborhoods, or towns, especially if the recommendation is self-motivated. The decision of where a buyer should live should be made solely by the buyers, themselves, without influence from real estate professionals.

The cities and towns mentioned by the others each have their own style, their own flavor. You should absolutely gather information and narrow your focus by checking websites and talking with local friends and coworkers to get their opinions and recommendations. Ultimately, however, you really should visit the communities in person to make your own evaluations.

For my clients, I liken the process to a funnel. You can start the process with a wide or a narrow funnel. If you start with a wide funnel, you’ll have many more options to choose from, to the point where the process could become overwhelming. If you start with a narrow funnel, the process will be much more manageable, but you might miss an outstanding opportunity by limiting your options too much.

One last thing: If you don't already have a great agent to help you with your home sale in San Marino, I can hook you up with someone there who'll be focused on getting you a great result.

Best of luck, and let me be among the first to say, “Welcome to Massachusetts.” My wife and I moved here from Ohio in the 1980s, and we love it here! We wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Bill Kuhlman, CRS, green
GRI, ABR, CBR, ASR, C-CREC, SRES, RECS
Kuhlman Residential Real Estate
2007-2008, 2010 President of the Board of Directors for
The Massachusetts Association of Buyer Agents
2010 President-Elect of the Board of Directors for
The Mass. Chapter, Council of Residential Specialists (CRS)
781 444-1399
http://www.BillKuhlman.com
Web Reference: http://www.BillKuhlman.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Mar 14, 2010
Crystal:

Great questions and you have a wealth of great brokers here to help you. I am born and raised in this area and work in Weston which abuts Newton. The driving force behind your question is ultimately going to be price driven. Once you identify your price point then you will be able to narrow down the towns. I always recommend that relocating buyers go to the Massachusetts state education site which is http://www.doe.mass.edu/ and other great site is http://www.mbta.com which is our state transit site.

Please visit my website if you would like to learn more about one of the top real estate teams in the region.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sat Mar 13, 2010
Hi Crystal,

How long are you looking for a commute to be? Arlington, Newton, Wellesley, Weston are all very nice towns with great school systems. I do however recommend you work with a NAEBA (National Association of Exclusive Buyer's Agent) member.

As a member, I only work with buyers so I never have a conflict of interest. My company and I advocate and negotiate the lowest terms for our buyers and we protect our buyers in the process. If you are interested in any further information about NAEBA or Buyer's Choice Realty, feel free to call me. I'd love to set up a home buying consultation or conference call with you to discuss why you should work with me(:

Call me,

Melissa K. Addis
Exclusive Buyer's Agent
Buyer's Choice Realty
617-875-0990
http://www.buyerschoicerealty.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Mar 11, 2010
Hello Crystal:

There's some really good information in these posts. I agree with Johnston/Lynch that most people who are centering their commute around Newton will probably end up "along the Pike". From a commute perspective, it just makes the most sense. You don't mention your budget, so it's hard for most of us to really narrow in on the right location. I've included a list of towns in the area that I cover that have short commute times to Newton. It's town name, a "reasonable" budget, (reasonable defined as I'm not worried I can find you a home that fits your needs), and average commute time. Commute times are estimates and will vary quite a bit depending on your final destination and start point. Please note that in communities that are listed if they have a lower price point, and a lower commute, than that is a sign that the neighbors are not as fond as that public school system. People vote with their feet, and they pay more to be in communities that they feel offer better schooling. I would also encourage a look at http://www.boston.com/mcas, which offers an overview of the standardized testing results in MA. These towns all have Commuter Rail (T) access, as they follow the rail. From East to West:
Town-------------Budget----------Commute
Natick:-----------700-800 --------20 mintues
Framingham---450-550--------25 minutes
Southborough--600-650-------25 minutes
Marlborough----450-550--------30minutes
Hopkinton--------575-625-------30minutes
Westborough----600-650-------35minutes
Northborough---550-600 ------40minutes
Shrewsbury------500-600-------45minutes

Obviously, you can spend more in these communities, and you will if you are hoping to get either very young or very large housing. But you can find homes that are 25 years or less with 4 beds, 2.5 baths at these prices with out too much trouble.

Matt Heisler
Web Reference: http://14wolfpen.info
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Mar 8, 2009
A good place to look is The Boston Globe's real estate website. It will give you a good overview of various neighborhoods, the type of houses available, and market pricing. Best of luck.

wavedeva
(former Boston home owner)
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 6, 2009
Crystal,

Most of the people I deal with coming from Los Angeles love the Jamaica Plain district of Boston MA. Actually, I just moved a couple from San Francisco to Jamaica Plain last November (on Myrtle St). I have another professional who just moved from LA, she's working at Mass General and wants to live in "JP". It's best to see whats available in these areas and see what fits your concerns and budget.

Right now there are 25 single families on the market in Jamaica Plain, a testament to demand. Route 9 is minutes away to Newton, and the Orange Line T will take you Downtown in less than 15 minutes.

Another option is Brookline, which is a little pricer. The plus is that they have the best schools around, this comes with a price tag of at least $700ish for 4 bedrooms and up.

Visit this web-site and search MLS, http://www.ShaunsHouses.com. You'll see whats available and where these areas are because it is integrated with Google Maps. I suggest a long weekend trip to really walk around, especially since it is getting warmer. I do emphasis walking, Boston is a walkable city as is Brookline.

Best Wishes,
Web Reference: http://ShaunsHouses.Com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Mar 6, 2009
Hi Crystal,

The majority of your new home listings will enter the market between March 1st and the end of May. Historically, 60+% transactions for the year take place within this window. The driving factor tends to be folks who want they move finalized and family settled before the next school year begins.

With the current lending environment, you should allot 45 to 60 to close on a home once you've identified it. Given your time-line, that would put you in to June/July. Most buyers look at between 10 and 12 homes before making a decision and that process takes about 6 weeks on average.

You will be able to find the style of house you are looking for in one of Boston's suburban communities. Given what you've outlined so far, Metro West would provide good schools and also commuter access to downtown Boston.

There is a great website you should check-out - http://www.schooldigger.com - which ranks local schools both public and private.

I'd be happy to discuss your goals in greater detail and to provide you with the information you need to get the process started.

Feel free to call or email me at 617.861.3642 or john@bostoncityhomes.com.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Feb 26, 2009
Crystal,

You have a few choices of towns with good schools, T access, and reasonable commutes. Your budget will significantly impact the town you choose. My team in recent years has helped over a 100 people close on properties in the Metro Boston area. We have become known for helping people find both a town and a home.

Give strong consideration your commute. Since your husband will work in Newton and you in Boston, staying on or around the Mass Pike is reasonable (Rt. 90 on the map.) Of course there are many exceptions.

Some great towns that have Boston access via a commuter rail and great schools, but add significant driving time to Newton, are: Concord, Lexington, & Winchester. These towns have an active town centers, New England flavor, and a suburban feel. It is also reasonable to think you would have to drive to the commuter rail.

The following is a list of towns east to west that might work for you. I have added the average price for 2008 of 4 bedrooms homes sold. Do keep in mind there are some large ranges. So search online to see what you can get. To get their schools rating I find http://www.GreatSchools.net to be very good.

Town / Avg. 08 Sale Price for a 4bed
Brookline - $1,122,500
Newton - $893,572
Belmont - $838,613
Needham - $835,251
Wellesley - $1,122,051
Natick - $584,764

The town information at: http://www.bestplaces.net

The train “T” has two systems, the commuter rail and the traditional T. The commuter rail is a large train with service in and out of Boston with access to suburbs and runs on a commuter friendly schedule. The T is something the runs more frequently, makes more stops, and services both local access to Boston, Newton, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. http://www.mbta.com/schedules_and_maps/rail/

As for timing, your could start looking now, to get comfortable with towns and what their communities have to offer. Then have an offer accepted around June will get you into the home by August.

I am happy to forward you detail town data, statistics, and more comments about each town. Good luck!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Feb 26, 2009
Hi Crystal,
There are several communities along the T line with great schools. Part of your choice will depend on a balance of your budget for housing, type and size of home, and commute distance. Newton, Needham and Wellesley are top Notch. Natick, Hopkinton, Southboro are also great schools although a little further outside of the city, You can check out the schools and do comparisons on many websites including mine below or go to http://www.mass.gov as well. What would be helpful is to come out and do an area tour. In MA to be in by august you shoild secure a home by end of June at the latest. The largest inventory is usually spring. right now inventory is low.
Regards,
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Feb 26, 2009
Dear Crystal,

there a few communities with great schools and T/commuter train access to downtown for you and your husband to choose from: Newton, Brookline, Needham, Wellesley. You can Google any of those on the internet to get specific information about each community.

To move in mid-August, you'll need to make an offer on the house sometime in the 1st 2 weeks of June if you' need a mortgage financing. Nowadays, lenders need up to 45 days to process the mortgage and you need to allow yourself about a week for an inspection. Those who are able to buy with no mortgage contingency can close in about 2 weeks. You'll also need to give yourself enough time to drive around, schedule appointments to see the properties...

The inventory in family oriented communities, typically, increases between early Spring to early Summer as people with kids try to synchronize their move with the end of school year. I usually start working with those who move into the area via my website http://www.boc-re.com where they can ask me questions and sign up to receive property listings that match their criteria. Have fun house hunting!
Web Reference: http://www.boc-re.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Feb 26, 2009
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