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What locations are hot for first-time home buyers?

Buying Boston Cambridge Dorchester East Boston Jamaica Plain Medford Melrose South Boston West Roxbury
Medford. Median days on market (August): 7. Median sale price: $416,000. Homes sold: 46. Source: Redfin. Photo by John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons.
Priced out of Boston, some buyers are turning to Medford. John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons

Many of Boston’s first-time home buyers are expanding their searches wider than they’d like just to find something affordable, agents say.

Buyers who are priced out of Cambridge and Somerville are looking at Medford, Malden, and beyond, according to Gary Dwyer, broker/owner of Buyer Agents of Boston. “There’s a lot of compromising going on with buyers these days,” Dwyer said. “They’re recalibrating their expectations, and for most, location is more important than size.”

Dwyer said many first-time buyers want a property in excellent condition, but if they’re willing to take on a project or two, they can find good deals.

“For under $500,000, there are parts of Dorchester and Roslindale that can work for you,” said Jack Enright of William Raveis Real Estate. “Dorchester is hot because of what is happening in Southie. Prices in Dorchester are between $156 and $617 per square foot. Newer buildings near the Southie line will go at the high end, but something that needs work would be toward the lower end.”

Hyde Park is still affordable, but agents say that’s not enough incentive for many buyers, who see it as too far from downtown and lacking the accessibility and amenities of other neighborhoods.

“Prices in West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain have gone through the roof,” Enright said. “If you want to be close to public transportation, you’re probably going to look in Roslindale, but it’s not going to be big.”

Steven Cohen of Keller Williams Realty pointed out that neighborhoods that were once considered affordable get pricier and push buyers into less desirable ones. “People used to go to Jamaica Plain because they couldn’t afford the South End,” Cohen said. “Now, an appreciable number of residents self-selected to JP. Today, if you can’t afford Jamaica Plain, you go to Roslindale. If you can’t afford Roslindale, you go to Mattapan. This is the story of Boston since 1970.”

Relatively low condo prices in East Boston are drawing buyers across the water, as long as they can be near public transportation, said Emily Ingardia of Donnelly + Co. “I’ve got a buyer looking out at Orient Heights, which used to be considered too far from downtown, but if you’re near the T, shops and restaurants will come,” Ingardia said. “There are some people who have been buying in Chelsea, but a lot of people aren’t comfortable with how easy it is to get into Boston from there.”

Ingardia said she is beginning to see more price reductions than she has in a few years. If buyers are patient, she said, they might see high-priced properties in their neighborhood of choice fall within reach.

In addition to traveling farther from downtown to find an affordable place to live, buyers who do their homework can get mortgage help as well, according to David Solomon Lazowski, area manager of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp.

While some people may opt for a five- or seven-year adjustable-rate mortgage, they are harder to qualify for and not without risk, Lazowski said. “The lower payment might make you more comfortable, but you have to take into account the worst-case scenario,” he said. “The initial rate might be 3.5 percent, but it could jump up to an 8.5 percent rate. You can also get a $600,000 conventional loan with as little as 3.5 percent down, though FHA and through MassHousing. There are also down payment-assistance programs out there.”

Agents agree that with persistence, flexibility, and creativity, it’s still possible for qualified buyers who don’t have trust funds to break into Boston’s white-hot real estate market — at least for now.

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