The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 24, 2003


Carlisle real estate still attractive in slower market

Carlisle real estate is in a period of uncertainty. Data provided by Carlson GMAC Real Estate indicates 42 homes were sold in Carlisle during the first eight months of 2003, a downturn from last year when 52 were sold during the same time period. However, according to Town Assessor John Speidel, a fall upturn may be in process, as four homes over one million dollars went under agreement in September. Up to that point, there had been ten through August versus fifteen during the same period in 2002.

In spite of price adjustments and lengthening time on the market, real estate brokers remain cautiously optimistic about Carlisle. While no one predicts an immediate return of the "go go" years, there is a sense the town has many advantages that will keep demand reasonable, even as area real estate markets slow down.

Sales slow but moving

Phyllis Cohen of Barrett Real Estate credits slow sales early in the year to bad weather and the uncertainty of war in Iraq. "Now that we've entered a period of calm, with the stock market recovering and good weather," she wonders, "where is everybody? Out apple-picking?" She adds, "It's frustrating for sellers when attractively-priced homes get fewer buyers than expected." Noting recent sales of million-dollar homes she adds, "It may take a little longer, but there are still good buyers out there."

John Murray of Coldwell Banker indicates "inventory is higher than we're used to" but "sales are not too far from normal." He adds, "Things are selling, there's no question. It's definitely better than last year at this time" when talk of war dampened buying enthusiasm. Murray says Carlisle is "doing okay" compared to other area towns. "Much of the upper end, $2 million and more, is hurting somewhat, but the $1 million plus level (typical of Carlisle) is still good."

Charlie Blair of Carlson says, "There are buyers out there, but they're selective because there's so much on the market. Properties are selling, but not fast enough." He credits high inventory to the fact that "quite a few homes were built at the same time at the same price point in Tall Pines, Davis Road, Ice Pond . . ."

He also points to competition from surrounding towns such as Weston, Sudbury, and Lincoln where prices are softening and inventory is up due to "some development, but mostly people out of work." He contrasts the situation to 1989-1990 when "it was the middle manager who was laid off. Now it seems to be the executive level that's hit hardest."

Buyers taking their time

"We're missing a sense of urgency from buyers," adds Cohen. "A lot are taking their time." With plenty of inventory, prices leveling off and interest rates relatively stable, there's less of a "buy now" mentality. The recent small rise in interest rates "hasn't had much impact, especially on the high end." In this environment, an increase in interest rates might almost be welcome says Cohen. "Buyers might begin to feel, 'I have to do something now.'"

Cohen adds, "Sellers want it to be like two years ago, and that's not going to happen." But she advises patience as the market enters a period of more normal sales that may look slow when compared to the hot Carlisle market of recent years. "Six months to sell is more what we were used to" before the boom. With plenty of inventory, "Buyers look for extras - an inlaid floor, or a fabulous kitchen." They are also less willing to take on a fixer-upper. Cohen advises sellers, "With more competition, make sure the polish is there."

She dismisses comparisons to the late '80s when "nine out of ten closings had a sad story," adding, "I'm not seeing that. If that's out there now, it's very quiet." Murray notes that, while he has heard other brokers complain about unemployment "I haven't run into that personally."

Prices falling or adjusting?

Blair advises sellers, "Price competitively. Price is everything right now." Reviewing the week's listing sheet, he notes eight area properties that have just dropped their prices, including homes in Concord and Sudbury that have come down significantly. He points to a house on Aberdeen that dropped its price from $1.3 million to $1.08 million in order to spark buyer interest, and says that while unusual properties, "those with lots of land, or a pond" are holding value, competition is heavy for the "standard colonial."

Cohen says Carlisle has an advantage in offering a good inventory of new construction, a segment in which "prices are not softening that much" She says "Buyers want new homes, they don't want to have to renovate or fix up." While many new homes have seen original asking prices lowered, she believes this may be a result of over-aggressive pricing. "Are prices dropping, or finding where they need to be?"

Another indication that prices are holding is the escalation of pricing on the lower end. "It's almost rare to see a listing under $700K," notes Cohen. Spiedel also points to the lack of low-end sales this year, saying only two "hands off" sales under $500,000 have occurred within the past year (excluding three that involved selling to relatives or friends) as opposed to 2002 when 14 homes sold below that level.

Developers haven't gone away.

Speidel cautions that anyone believing development in Carlisle is at an end because homes are taking longer to sell is wrong. "Two large properties, one of 145 acres, have been taken out of Chapter 60 (agricultural, forestry, or recreation restriction)," and owners have paid large penalties to regain control. "Why would you do that if you didn't intend to develop?" he asks. He adds, "There are 900 acres in Chapterland [under restriction]," and with land prices above $500,000 per building lot, there could be a huge incentive for owners to withdraw these lands from protection.

Cohen also believes development will continue. "Builders aren't nervous. They take the long view, and are overall optimistic." She adds, "Development is going forward. There is a significant new development coming on. No one is putting on the brakes." She remembers the days when many townspeople predicted Tall Pines would never sell, and the high demand for those houses when they became available. "Those days will come back," she predicts.

Carlisle keeps its attraction

"Carlisle is the most sought-after town regionally," says Murray. "It's unique. The closest competitor is Lincoln, but Carlisle has an extra - every location is quiet, while Lincoln has two highways and a train going through." He adds, "Carlisle is easy to sell. People want a pristine rural town, and the schools are a big draw."

Cohen says buyers feel their investment is secure in Carlisle, and notes it has many features families seek, "rural charm, excellent schools, community pride, and a good location." While sales used to "turn on and off like a faucet" as buyers spilled over to the town as a second choice when inventory was low elsewhere, "now Carlisle has cachet" and is very often the first choice.

"Things have been managed well. I commend the town," says Murray, noting that in spite of development, "Carlisle's character has been preserved." As for the lack of services, he says, "People want a balanced approach to living. I ask them to imagine when they enter town each night from work, and their blood pressure drops twelve points - isn't that more valuable than having a Market Basket next door?"

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito