Some say 2011 was one of the worst years on record for housing sales since 1945. Collectively that may be accurate, but there were many pockets of success throughout the country that should not be discounted. Real estate groups including Trulia, KCM Crew and Inman News have contributed thoughtful insights on housing market trends on the macro level, but it can be difficult to decipher what that means on the local level.
So how did Arlington fare this year as compared to the rest of the country? Here are some highlights that we have pulled together:
· In September, the Boston Globe reported that some Massachusetts areas were experiencing a rise in home values.Arlington was included in its list of strong and growing real estate communities.
Despite the dire headlines of the past year, we are seeing certain consistencies percolate which bode well for Arlington. Time and again there are characteristics which keep our town strong, and these will continue to keep Arlington ahead of the curve in 2012:
1. Lots of local colleges = smart people = job growth = higher employment rates = stronger real estate market. That's a lot to digest all at once, but the bottom line is that strong employment and healthy real estate go hand-in-hand. The Boston area churns out hundreds of thousands of highly educated graduates every year. Some leave, but many stay on to hire and be hired. Arlington has proximity to Boston on its side.
2. Supply and demand. Basic economics also fuel Arlington's success. Arlington is surrounded by desirable towns: Lexington, Belmont, Cambridge and Winchester. The cost of owning a home in these towns is often significantly higher, making it difficult for first-time buyers to get 'in.' Arlington offers more affordable price points that are attractive to buyers who want to live close to Boston - making competition for these homes high, and supply more limited.
3. Good schools. Good schools have long been an economic indicator for strong communities. A town that invests in its schools invests in its community. If the schools are suffering, other services and amenities may start to slide as well. There are other towns in close proximity to Boston that struggle because of failing school systems - proximity to a city alone does not guarantee a strong community.
So while the outlook for Arlington is looking good, what about the 2012 real estate market as a whole? Now that banks have figured out that they can't lend money to people who are not capable of paying them back, and people are realizing they can't buy homes they can't afford, we should start to see a slow uptick in the market. But with 1.5 million homes still in the foreclosure process and buyers backing out of home purchases last minute because they can't get the funding they thought they would, it will be a slow climb.
But I'll let you in on a little secret: Slow is not always bad. That's right. Now, say it with me: Slow is not always bad. If we don't want another real estate market built on a house of cards, we need to rebuild this industry on a solid foundation and with structure that can withstand other economic, political and environmental bumps down the road. For every boom there is a bust, and slow but steady growth has a higher likelihood for long term success.
Finally, if you have been on the housing sidelines waiting to see how it all plays out, 2012 is looking like a good time to get back in the game. Mortgage rates will continue to remain low - which equals free money as compared to years past - but probably not for much longer. And as the market starts to make the upswing prices will start to go up and supply will go down.
There's your 2012 update, now it's your move.