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Social distancing is rendering parking even more precious. What to know

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Boston-Commute-Traffic
Prepandemic traffic on Route 128 in Lexington. Fewer people wanting to take mass transit out of fear of contracting COVID-19. Joanne Rathe/Globe staff/file

Once upon a time, parking spots seemed to be losing favor in Boston. Bike and bus lanes were consuming them, with parking fines increasing to fund the changeover. There was a lot of debate about how many — and how soon — offices and homes could go up around T stops so people didn’t have to drive as much.

Garages and lots in prime areas traded for tens of millions of dollars to developers. And e-scootersbike shares, and ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft were going to make private cars that much more superfluous to city living.

Much of that’s changed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Real estate site Zumper reports that the total number of searches on its platform for Boston homes with parking spots increased 12.9 percent from January and February to March and April. There was a 7 percent increase for similar Cambridge homes. Meanwhile, ridership on the T’s subways and trolleys is down more than 92 percent, MassLive.com reports.

A lot of that has to do with the state’s stay-at-home advisory. But the searches for homes that come complete with parking belie a possible shift coming out of the pandemic: fewer people wanting to take mass transit out of fear of contracting COVID-19 — social distancing is nearly impossible at most hours on the T — and more people wanting to drive (even though prepandemic Boston had some of the worst traffic congestion on earth).

Less Arnold, a senior vice president at brokerage Compass, said it could also be a small sign of a larger coronavirus-driven trend.

“Suburban buyers are looking for garages, and city buyers are doing the suburban flight specifically so they have places to keep their cars securely but also have storage — and just they don’t want to be around anyone,” Arnold said. “I am having conversations with people who I never thought would leave the city.”

With more people seeking parking — and for those who might not be able to land a garage—it’s time to bone up then on the parking nomenclature often found in Boston-area real estate listings.

First, there’s “deeded parking.” That means an owner, a developer, or a landlord owns the space outright. These spaces usually trade with homes, but individual deeded spots in neighborhoods have been known to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars on their own.

And some sellers will do just that: sell the home and the space separately. Hence the phrase “deeded parking available” in some listings, notifying prospective buyers and renters upfront that they will have to pay extra for the spot. Also, note that deeded spots might not necessarily be just outside a home — but rather in a garage or on a side street. In newer developments, the spots are often on-site, however.

Then there are spots available for lease. These are exactly that: spaces you can rent. Both rental and deeded spots, as well as ones that brokers may have secured independent of a residential property, may show up as “off-street parking” or “off-street parking available” in listings. Inquire about the details.

Finally, there’s “on-street parking.” Owners and tenants secure these through their city or town with proof of residency and not through renting or buying a home. Some municipalities such as Boston award them for free; others such as Somerville charge in most cases.

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