Making Your Landlord Rich?

I figure that my first post should help my readers understand where I’m coming from – literally. Last winter marked two years of skimming the real estate ads on a couple of sites, and watching prices fall, and fall, and fall…until we could afford something utterly fantastic. We ended up in Ryal Side, a south Beverly neighborhood, after 2 months of house hunting. At one showing, I climbed a driveway in my Columbia Ice Dragon boots, and then pulled our agent and my girlfriend up the slick ice while holding onto a fencepost. It was worth it; it was hard, but we got an amazing deal – the seller was motivated, the market was stagnant, and we held most of the cards.

There are two groups of people in particular who should give Beverly and Salem a good, hard look.


The first are the folks who are clinging to their ridiculously expensive apartments in places like Arlington and Cambridge. The commuter rail puts you in North Station in 30 minutes from the Beverly Depot, and more trains run on that line than on any other in greater Boston. If you aren’t in a position to pay half a million dollars or more for a condo, and you want great restaurants, diverse neighborhoods, things to do, and space of your own, you need to see Salem and Beverly. The tax break will pay for your commute, and lower-end real estate in Cambridge, Arlington, and even Somerville and Jamaica Plain often…well…

The second group is people relocating to Mass. It’s beautiful on the North Shore, and convenient, and AFFORDABLE. You can be ½ hour from downtown Boston, and 10 minutes from the beach, with excellent Indian, Japanese, and Mexican food within walking distance. Urban Mass. can murder your budget quick, or drive you inland – and if you see my little slice of heaven, you won’t settle for that! One place we looked at was snatched up by a family from out of state who bought it sight unseen – I think the guy had a friend from high school check it out for him. Sounds nice, but I doubt there were any other 3 bedroom houses for $240k that were as cute as that one – not in a neighborhood that’s popping like historic Salem. I’ll let you know what’s going on down there later this week…now I’m curious.

  • Ilsa

    Great site! Now that we are relocating to the Bay Area, real estate is DEFINITELY on my mind. I can’t believe I am moving from a four-bedroom house in Pittsburgh for which we pay a mortgage of $800 a month to renting a dinky 2 bedroom apartment in San Fran for $2800 a month.

    Maybe I can talk Dave into moving to Mass. instead ;-)

  • Shorty

    Hmmm….but my ridiculously expensive neighbourhood is filled with hot girls driving Subarus and I can bike to to work. Trump that Beverly boy.

  • http://xxx One o’ your Arlingtonian friends

    Hmmm, ’tis better to cling with roommates than to cling in a town on one’s own?

  • mike.martin

    Ilsa — yeah, SF rents are every bit as bad as Boston. I lived in Pittsburgh for a while, though…it’s cheap for a reason. These goofy tax refund checks aren’t going to keep the poorer parts of the country out of a recession — withdrawing from collapsing job markets and heading for the coast isn’t a bad gamble, if you can pull it off. Good luck.

  • mike.martin

    Shorty, hot Subaru drivers aside, I worry that the 30-somethings I know who are living like 20-somethings are going to be broke, bitter 40-somethings. It’s time to build a nest egg, and real estate (and the tax breaks) are the right way to do it. Work out $700 per month — a normal rent for 1 room in a 3 bedroom in Jamaica Plain — over 10 years. That can be equity in something you own, or it can be your landlord’s Escalade. Fight the power.

  • mike.martin

    Arlingtonian — I hated having roommates when I was 18; the stupid drama and conflict is not worth the break in rent. At 35, I would tolerate a non-romantic roommate who was dead, or possibly in a coma…. But you have a point. I’m going to try to do an article on making friends via Craig’s List in your new area. Beverly and Salem are both real PLACES, though — they aren’t suburbs or cul-de-sacs or bedroom communities (at least not down here in South Beverly). Salem is more urban and racially diverse, but — hey — people TALK to each other here, instead of pulling on their ipods and pretending they’re alone like they do down in Boston.

  • SF bound Dave

    Hey Mike,

    Yeah, the bay area has its charms and we’ll be sampling them a bit later this year. At least it will be sunnier!

    I’ve been thinking about a real-estate “truth” that I keep encountering in cities — I think the amount one cares about minor differences between neighborhoods (e.g. Castro vs. Haight in SF) is inversely proportional to the similarity of the living quarters to those the person really wants. When you live in a closet, the neighborhood matters more?

    Whaddya think?


  • Mike Martin

    It’s true. I lived in an illegal basement apartment in Cambridge for a while, and without Central Square — well, there’s no way in hell. I don’t have The Plough and Stars or bluegrass at the Can Tab or 5 different Indian lunch buffets right out my front door…but I have off street parking, and a shed, and a garden, and a real dining room….