Report Shows Investors are Gobbling Up Homes Across Greater Boston
New research found one in every five homes sold to an investor from 2004 to 2018, with significant impact on lower-income neighborhoods of color
November 28, 2023 - BOSTON - Both renters and homebuyers in the Greater Boston area have seen firsthand that market conditions have only worsened over the last several years. After backing off a little in the early stages of the pandemic, rents have surged well above pre-COVID levels in many cases, and home sale prices are among the highest in the country and continue to rise. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) has found that competition from highly capitalized investors and cash buyers is taking over a significant share of the Greater Boston housing market and pushing out traditional buyers of both single-family homes and multi-family apartment buildings. This research puts data behind a notion that people have had for years: speculators are driving up housing costs in Greater Boston.
“Homes for Profit: Speculation and Investment in Greater Boston,” examines the prevalence, characteristics, and spatial patterns of residential property speculation in Greater Boston. It found that 21% of transactions in Greater Boston in the years spanning 2004 through 2018 were by an investor or “speculator.” The research also shows investor purchasers are more likely to buy properties with cash, purchase homes at a discount, and flip properties for profit, making it even more difficult for families and owner-occupant buyers to purchase a home.
“That statistic alone is staggering, especially when we consider how crowded the Greater Boston market has become,” said MAPC’s Interim Director of Data Services Jessie Partridge Guerrero and the report’s lead author. “More than 130,000 transactions were made by investors over the period we reviewed, and most transactions (87%) were for single-family homes and condominiums. Investor activity also increased from 16% of purchases in 2004 to 23% in 2018.”
MAPC will host a webinar on Thursday, November 30 at 12:00 p.m. to present the research and host a panel discussion. Guest panelists include: Angie Liou, executive director, Asian Community Development Corporation; Brian An, PhD, director, Master of Science in Public Policy Program, Georgia Institute of Technology; Tim Reardon, chief of data and research, Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities; and Katie McCann, rent control campaign coordinator, City Life/Vida Urbana. Register at: mapc.ma/HomesforProfit.
While the entire Greater Boston region is plagued by high housing prices and housing scarcity, the activity of investors varies across the region. MAPC’s research showed that investment activity was highest in neighborhoods with relatively low housing prices, a high percentage of renters, and the highest share of BIPOC and immigrant populations. This creates competition in neighborhoods where home prices were once moderately affordable, which results in rapid increases in home values and rents, which is a major driver of displacement.
“The numbers don’t lie – lower-income neighborhoods of color are those most likely to experience housing speculation,” said MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen. “These communities have experienced the effects of redlining and racism for generations. Today, many of these neighborhoods are home to some of the last remaining unsubsidized affordable housing in Metro Boston – both for renters and for first-time homebuyers. But instead of serving these constituents, they are going to speculators.”
“Homes for Profit” found that investors are much more likely than non-investors to purchase in cash; investors are more than twice as likely than non-investors to purchase in cash when buying condominiums and three-family buildings, and more than three times as likely when buying single-family and two-family homes. The analysis also investigated residential property flipping, which is defined as any property that has been sold within two years of its most recent purchase date, with some exceptions.
Institutional and large investors were most likely to flip the homes they purchased. From 2004 to 2018, 20% of single-family and 17% of two-family buildings purchased by institutional investors were flipped, as were 21% of single-family and 19% of two-family buildings purchased by large investors. In comparison, just 7% of single-family and 8% of two-family buildings purchased by non-investors were flipped over the same period. Flips take lower-priced houses off the market for potential owner-occupant buyers, and re-sell them at a higher price, significantly higher when an investor is doing the flipping.
To conduct the analysis, MAPC relied on real estate transaction data purchased from The Warren Group, which includes all residential property transactions in the MAPC region from 2000 through 2022. The data include the address of each property, the name of the buyer – whether it is an individual, company, trust, or bank – the property type, and the previous sale date and price of the unit, along with many other details. With this information, MAPC was able to provide evidence about investment in Greater Boston’s housing market that, to the agency’s knowledge, does not otherwise exist.
MAPC recommends that state and local governments take actions to reduce speculative real estate investment and to mitigate its impacts on tenants and local housing markets. Policies that reduce speculation can result in increased housing stability for Massachusetts tenants and expand access to homeownership for individuals and families, particularly first-time homebuyers. Changes to taxes and financing can also rein in speculation and help balance local housing markets. In areas where speculation is occurring at higher rates, policies that generate revenue from speculative transactions and expand funding for affordable housing production and other community investments can help mitigate and reduce the amount of residential displacement that may occur at the neighborhood and community levels.
Senior Communications Specialist