West Roxbury has big draws for young families

Buying News West Roxbury
Centre Street in West Roxbury is pictured.
Centre Street in West Roxbury is pictured. Wikimedia Commons

After one of the recent snowstorms, Karen Hickman didn’t have to shovel her driveway, because her neighbor did it.

“Somebody up the street who has a Bobcat plowed every single driveway,’’ she said. “All you had to do was get your car out of the driveway, and he did the rest.’’

Hickman lives in West Roxbury — a Boston neighborhood with a strong suburban vibe.

It’s a pretty telling anecdote, said Hickman, a lifelong resident and real estate agent, of West Roxbury’s community spirit.

The neighborhood’s proximity to three commuter rail lines and other major bus routes makes it a desirable place for young families and older single professionals, who want the perks of city life but don’t want to be in the thick of it, according to Michael Iceland, director of West Roxbury Main Streets (WRMS) — a nonprofit focused on economic revitalization in the Greater Boston area. In other words, you can have a front yard, but still get to downtown Boston in 30 minutes.

Recent years have also seen an uptick in bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants in West Roxbury. There are banks, numerous religious institutions, and a Roche Bros. supermarket.

“Historically, West Roxbury is a very owner-occupied community,’’ Iceland said. “People live here for the long term, houses get passed down through the family, making for an even tighter housing market.’’ According to a study published by WRMS, the average length of residence for homeowners is 22 years, while the average is 18 years in Boston and 13 years across the country.

West Roxbury is about 80 percent white, and about 50 percent of the population is age 45 and above, according to the WRMS study.

The neighborhood has been hot in recent years, making for a very low-inventory market. It’s been especially popular among young families seeking an urban-suburban lifestyle mix who may be priced out of the neighboring Brookline and Jamaica Plain.

In 2014, 60 percent of West Roxbury properties listed with real estate company Redfin accepted multiple offers, according to Redfin. Forty percent of all homes in the neighborhood were sold above the listing price.

That same year, the median sale price was $407,000, a 7.1 percent increase from 2013, and an 18 percent increase from the median five years ago, Redfin stats show.

“Parts of the neighborhood, near the commuter rail stations or the Roche Bros. [near the Highland commuter rail station] supermarket are pushing $1 million, and that definitely wasn’t the case a few years ago,’’ said Redfin agent James Gulden.

“And developers have been chomping at the bit to build more properties,’’ Gulden added.

There are simply more buyers trying to live in West Roxbury than there are homes to buy, Hickman said.

It’s especially sad for families, Hickman said, who moved out of the neighborhood back in the ‘70s due to desegregation of the Boston Public Schools system through the system of busing students to different schools, which incited racial protests and riots.

Many white families who couldn’t send their children to private or parochial schools left Boston and its public school system, she said. Hickman attended a private Catholic school, so she stayed put.

“A lot of kids who were my age, and their families moved away and settled in new towns,’’ Hickman said. Since the ‘70s, prices have risen dramatically that these families could not afford to come back to West Roxbury, she added.

For the neighborhood’s older generation, who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time and want to downsize, options are limited, Hickman said.

“Since the inventory is low, there’s no place for them to downsize into, so they’re keeping their homes for longer,’’ she said.

Hickman and her husband are looking to downsize. “I think people weren’t expecting the market to be as brisk as it is,’’ she said. “If I knew there would be this many people looking, I would have started earlier.’’