Hartford Leads Area in Growth of Home Prices
But Higher Prices Limit Choices of Those with Lower Incomes
by Mike Swift
Home purchases by immigrants. Demolition of the city's worst public
housing. Educational and financial programs that expanded the pool
of homebuyers. Slow but visible progress on a massive state-financed
downtown building program.
And, perhaps most of all, rock-bottom housing prices that persisted
well into the economic boom of the 1990s.
Those factors have combined to give Hartford a surprising regional
distinction: The city had the largest growth in housing prices by
percentage in Greater Hartford over the past five years.
A new survey by the Capitol Region Council of Governments found
that the median housing price in Hartford jumped by 76.5 percent
between 1999 and 2004, the largest increase by percentage in the
29-town region. The next largest percentage gains were in Suffield,
Marlborough and West Hartford, which recorded growth of 73 percent,
69.7 percent and 64.1 percent, respectively.
At a median sale price of $148,300 in 2004, Hartford's median housing
price in 2004 is not reminding anyone of Beacon Hill in Boston or
the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The Hartford median is less than
half that of the priciest town, Avon, at $361,665. But Hartford's
housing values match a surge in values in other Connecticut cities,
notably in New Haven and Bridgeport.
For the first time since 1997, Hartford does not have the lowest
median housing price in metro Hartford. That distinction now belongs
to East Hartford, where the median sale price of a home was $145,000.
As recently as 1999, the median sale price of a home in Hartford
“I remember we couldn't give stuff away in the Linden [a
downtown Hartford condominium building], and now, just try to buy
something there,” said Curtiss Clemens Sr., president of Century
21 Clemens & Sons Realty Inc. “The prices had dropped so
dramatically in the city that when this resurgence came up, they
went up a lot more quickly.”
While the substantial jump in housing prices many towns recorded
during the first years of this decade were good news for those who
own a home, higher prices are becoming a barrier to homeownership
for many people, the CRCOG study said.
Higher housing prices are “really limiting the choice for
individuals of low and moderate incomes,” said Mary Ellen Kowalewski,
director of community development for the council of governments.
Three years ago, 40 percent of the region's homes sold at prices
affordable to “moderate income” households -- those earning
80 percent of the region's median income. The current median income
is $48,024. In 2004, just 23 percent of homes sold for $141,000 or
less, prices affordable to people at that moderate income threshold.
The share of homes affordable to “low-income” people,
households with incomes less than half the regional median, slipped
to 8.4 percent in 2004 from 15 percent in 2001. The largest number
of sales in the Capitol Region, the CRCOG survey found, were between
$300,000 and $500,000 -- well above the range considered “affordable.”
Affordable housing also is becoming more concentrated in fewer
communities. Nearly half the homes defined as affordable to low-
and moderate-income people in 2004 were in Hartford and four towns
east of the river: East Hartford, Manchester, Enfield and Vernon.
But three other towns east of the river -- Bolton, Marlborough
and Somers -- had fewer than 10 affordable sales each in the past
In Hartford, stronger housing prices are a boon to developers such
as John Reveruzzi, who hopes to convert the historic Capewell Horse
Nail Co. factory into condominiums selling for $100,000 to $185,000.
“People are anticipating that there is going to be life in
the city of Hartford. That's really what all this reflects,” said
Reveruzzi said he has about 10 reservations for Capewell units,
including one from a University of Connecticut football fan who lives
out of state and wanted a place to stay for games at Rentschler Field.
“Those are the extremes that you've never had,” the
The CRCOG study was based on the 12,798 home sales recorded by
municipal assessors in the 29-town Capitol Region between July 1,
2003, and June 30, 2004, a one-year record for number of sales.
In Hartford, prices for condominiums, single-family, two-family
and three-family homes all jumped by more than 50 percent between
1998 and 2004.
Real estate agents familiar with the Hartford market say there
are many reasons why the city's housing prices have climbed out of
the cellar. Low interest rates, down payment assistance programs,
housing educational programs and other efforts by government and
nonprofit groups have enabled more people to become homeowners.
Many Latinos and members of immigrant groups such as Bosnians have
moved into the city's home-buying market, Clemens said. Blue Hills,
the West End and Forster Heights in southwest Hartford are among
the areas that have seen strong growth in prices. A shortage of supply
in downtown condominiums and single-family homes across the city
has helped to drive up prices.
The development of new regional magnet schools may be encouraging
some middle-class parents who did not consider Hartford before because
of the public schools, said John Guszkowski, author of the CRCOG
Whatever the cause, Kim Nichols, owner of MB Merski Real Estate,
said there are slim pickings for owner-occupied housing in downtown
Hartford. Two of the largest downtown owner-occupied housing complexes,
Bushnell Tower and Bushnell On The Park, have only one unit for sale
each, Nichols said.
“Condos are hot. We don't have many downtown, and we're desperate
for them,” said Susie Hatch, a broker with Coldwell Banker
who specializes in the downtown market.
“Adriaen's Landing -- no, we don't have the developer for
Front Street,” Hatch said. “But the convention center
is in and is going to be ready to go, and the hotel is going to be
ready to go. The Civic Center is under construction and on its way
to happening. You've got a lot going on, and I think people are feeling
positive about the economy in general.”
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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