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Report: Condo buyers are scooping up units beyond Boston’s center

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South-Boston-Skyline-David-Ryan
South Boston and the Boston skyline as seen from the Quincy shore in January 2019. David L Ryan/Globe Staff

The death of Boston’s urban housing market during the pandemic may have been greatly exaggerated.

Some buyers are ditching the city for the suburbs, many news stories allege, and they aren’t wrong. Condo prices and sales in some urban core neighborhoods like Beacon Hill, Back Bay, and the South End softened over the first quarter, but they shot up in areas farther out, according to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Warren Residential’s first-quarter condo report for the city.

The average condo sales price in East Boston, $699,710, was up more than 24 percent since the end of 2020. Homes are also moving a lot quicker, as listings spent 22 fewer days on the market on average in the neighborhood. Roslindale’s average condo sales price last quarter, $567,008, was up nearly 14 percent. Condo prices in Roxbury shot up nearly 59 percent last quarter, but the number of transactions was small: Fifteen condos sold there in the first quarter compared with 55 in East Boston and 45 in Roslindale.

The Berkshire Hathaway team chalks some of the growth up to younger renters looking to seize on rare opportunities in the city for a first-time home. 

“They were the people who wanted to maybe take the leap from renting to buying and to get that extra bit of space or outdoor space or whatever it might be,” said Nick Warren, founder and CEO of the real estate firm. “That made those particular neighborhoods a little bit more attractive during the first quarter than some more of your blue-chip markets like Back Bay.”

Related story: Mass. single-family prices surge, condo sales gain momentum

Some more established homeowners still stuck to the city but sought more space in neighborhoods like Dorchester, where prices increased nearly 3 percent.

Warren attributes some of the softening in pricier neighborhoods to one of the largest buyer pools drying up over the past year. “The empty-nesters who normally sold their big house in the suburbs and took that cash to move into a managed luxury condo building were the first to pump the brakes,” he said. “I think that’s why you see some of these more expensive neighborhoods kind of leveling off a little bit more than the East Boston-type neighborhoods.”

But Warren and other brokers aren’t singing a swan song for Back Bay, the Seaport, and other high-profile enclaves. Open house activity is picking up as the state makes strides in its COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Warren said. 

Prices may have softened, but activity across urban core neighborhoods like the South End and Beacon Hill increased from 721 transactions through April of last year to 938 sales in the same timeframe this year, according to the Multiple Listing Service and LINK real estate databases.

“The Boston housing market and upward trends have shown resiliency through the pandemic,” said DJ Gendreau, a realtor with Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “Some may be moving out of the downtown area in order to achieve extra square footage or outdoor space, but there will always be a fresh group of people craving city living.”

Highlights of the report, including the average sales price, the difference between the first quarters of 2020 and 2021, and the number of days on the market:

*Downtown includes Chinatown, Faneuil Hall, Financial District, Leather District, Midtown, and Theater District

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