Boston vs. Providence, Part 1: Real Estate

By Chris Dallas

When I first decided to tackle the subject of Boston vs. Providence, I thought to myself, “I could write a short book on the subject”.  Honestly, the subject simply overwhelmed me.

Also, I knew no one in his or her right mind would want to take the time to read a short textbook written on the subject by yours truly.

So, how do I go about passing along some interesting information on this tale of two beautiful cities?  And why me?

I have lived the majority of my adult life, beginning with attending school, in Boston in the early 90’s.  Having a background in architecture, I have always been connected and aware of the change that has taken place in Boston.  My experience in Providence also runs deep as I have been spending time there, albeit less frequently, since the early 90s as well – yes, right there on College Hill.  You see, while I was in school in Boston one of my close friends attended RISD.  During those college years we would visit each other about twice a semester.  I recall the old bus station downtown, how gritty it was compared to today’s Kennedy Plaza.  The transformation of College Hill was also incredible to see, let alone the other projects completed over the years.  Providence is truly a Renaissance City; however Boston too has had a very significant face-lift.

Personally, I have to say that I truly love them both and feel blessed to live in and know both these great cities very well.

As usual, I digress.  My apologies.  My goal today is to let the homeowners and/or buyers in the Providence area know that hope is truly around the corner.  No, I don’t have a crystal ball, or was visited by an all-knowing being.  My logic is much simpler.  For years, I have been told from real estate colleagues in both markets that the Providence market is traditionally 2 years behind the Boston market.  Taking their word for it, with that said my advice to buyers on the fence about buying is to get moving because the Boston real estate market is back!

Many of you may not know this, but I now commute from Boston to Providence.  My wife was fortunate enough to land a great job in Boston, but the downside is I now commute.  We are presently renting near Harvard Square.  Although we are happy with our rental, we, just like many people are looking to buy a home.

In my previous life, we would with no doubt look to buy a condo in our beloved South End.  However, life is different now.  We have a 2-year-old daughter who seems to have more stuff than us.  We need more space, and hence are looking for a single-family home to store all that stuff.  Since we are not big on commuting (God bless those who do it) we have decided to try to find a home in either Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury or, if at all possible, a home in Brookline.

I attend broker open houses during the week and like every other buyer, search the existing inventory for a home that meets my family’s needs and budget.  When we are not working on weekends, we are attending Open Houses on Sundays just like every other buyer.   Here is the kicker… Both broker open houses and Sunday public open houses in the areas I mentioned are PACKED!  I’m not kidding when I say in the span of 1.5hrs 40+ groups/families walk through the recently listed home.  In most cases, these homes are under agreement the next week!  While many have yet to close, they seem to sell for right around the asking price.

Why is this happening in Boston and not Providence?  That is a great question.  I think it has to do with the consumer mentality – after any scar or injury, its human nature to take time to heal.  In Boston, the wound seems to have healed!  Besides, an interest rate of around 4% doesn’t hurt either.

The other factor is the high cost of renting.  The collective conscience of Bostonians these days is “why should I pay $2,800 for a 2 bed when I can buy a 3 bed home with a payment of around that same price?”  So once again, in my opinion, these are the factors to the recent hot market:  1. The mental aspect, 2. The low interest rate and 3. The high cost to rent vs. own.

Here’s the good news for Providence.  In looking at past traditional real estate trends, Providence real estate follows Boston.  What happens in Boston will eventually happen in Providence.  Quite frankly, I think it’s happening a lot quicker than the traditional 2-year delay.

Reviewing the MLS data for today’s Providence market, I am seeing homes going under agreement much faster today than 2-3 months ago.  Spring market is just around the corner, and with that I believe Providence real estate is set for a rebound to hopefully a healthy, balanced market.

If you have been on the fence thinking of buying, now seems to be the time.   If you don’t believe me, go check out some Sunday open houses in Boston to see for yourself.  Providence is right behind.
Thanks for reading.