This four-bedroom Leominster home, being marketed by Townsend Center Realty, is listed at $308,900.

Homebuyers priced out of the Boston housing market are discovering Worcester County communities and that could be one of the factors driving single-family homes sales in the central part of the state, according to the region’s real estate agents.

While seven counties experienced a slight slump in single-family homes sales the first part of the year, Worcester County had an increase in home sales from January through July compared to the same period last year.

Sales of single-family homes shot up more than 8 percent in Worcester County, according to Warren Information Services, a sister company of Banker & Tradesman that collects home sales data from the registries of deeds throughout the state. Some 3,786 single-family homes were sold through July of this year, almost 300 more transaction than were conducted during the first seven months of 2000, according to WIS.

Likewise, prices for single-family homes in Worcester County also increased – although not as sharply as some other parts of the state. The median sales price for a single-family home in Worcester County in the first half of the year was $162,000, about $20,0000 more than during the same period last year.

“We may be a bit more affordable than the other counties, which has led us to not experience the slowdown quite yet,” said Laura Shifrin, broker-owner of Townsend Center Realty and central region vice president for the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

Realtors cited other factors for the strong home sales in Worcester County this year, including land availability. Many Worcester County communities have acres of undeveloped land that are ripe for new subdivisions. In fact, new homes have been springing up in many towns, despite efforts in some communities to restrict building.

“We have what some of the other counties don’t have – inventory,” said Conrad Allen, president of the Greater Worcester Board of Realtors.

Allen said there are several new subdivisions that have been recently completed or about to be finished in communities like Dudley and Charlton. Buyers moving into the new homes are freeing up their homes, which can be sold to first-time homebuyers, he said.

Allen, who is the broker-owner of Re/Max One Realty in Webster, credits the new subdivisions and affordable prices in Worcester County for keeping home sales up. Some of the communities he cites, like Dudley and Webster, have experienced a steady rise in single-family home sales.

According to WIS, 52 single-family homes were sold in Dudley through July, compared to 42 a year ago. In Webster, 67 single-family homes were sold this year, five more than last year.

With developments like Perryville Farms, a 39-home subdivision on 61 acres in Dudley where a buyer can purchase a brand new 2,000-square-foot house for $220,000, Worcester County seems like a bargain compared to Greater Boston communities where new homes can cost as much as $400,000 or more.

Allen said there are other benefits to Worcester County, including location. Central Massachusetts towns are within an hour’s drive to Hartford, Conn.; Providence, R.I. or Boston, and are close to major highways and routes.

If the location isn’t enough to draw people to Worcester County, the region also has low taxes and excellent school systems – features that are attractive to young working families, said Allen.

“We’re just kind of a hidden jewel,” Allen said.

Another factor that may be helping home sales is that the job market is a bit more stable in the central part of the state, where many residents are not tied into the failing high-tech industry.

A lot of residents work in the service, banking and biotech industries, instead of the dot-coms field, which has witnessed major layoffs elsewhere, according to Allen.

The housing market hasn’t been holding up as well in Middlesex, Suffolk and Norfolk counties, all of which had fewer single-family home sales the first half of the year. In Middlesex County, single-family home sales dropped 16 percent between January and June, from 5,599 to 4,705.

Likewise, Suffolk County home sales fell from 807 to 687, a 14.8 percent decrease.

Norfolk County home sales were slightly more stable, falling just 10.4 percent, from 3,131 sold the first half of last year to 2,805 sold the first six months of this year.

Shifrin, who handles many sales in the southern portion of Middlesex County, said prices are rapidly rising in Southern Middlesex County towns like Townsend, Pepperell and Groton, and buyers are resisting the increase.

“We’re finding some of the homes are staying on the market double the time they used to in some areas because of the rise in prices,” she said.

While unit sales are down at Townsend Center Realty, sales volume is up. The lower sales in Southern Middlesex County are the result of the “lack of reasonably priced inventory,” said Shifrin.

In fact, single-family home sales fell in all three of the communities mentioned by Shifrin, while prices jumped considerably.

The median single-family home price in Pepperell, for example, increased almost $100,000 in two years – or more than 55 percent – from $179,000 to $278,950 today, according to WIS. However, single-family home sales in Pepperell fell 30 percent within a year – from 66 to 46 at the end of July.

Where once buyers could find homes in some parts of Southern Middlesex County for $140,000 to $180,000, now it is extremely difficult to find a home in that price range, Shifrin said.

“We have nothing under $209,000 [on the sales market] in Townsend,” she said.

If Shifrin’s company did have houses priced below $200,000, the homes would sell quickly because that is the price range people are searching for, she said.

In contrast, there are some parts of Worcester County, like Fitchburg and Leominster, where buyers can still find single-family homes under $100,000.

The price increases in Middlesex County have made it more difficult for first-time homebuyers, but there are still homes under $200,000 available, said Michele Busler, one of the broker owners of ERA Squanicook Assoc. in Townsend.

Busler, who is president of the Northern Worcester County Board of Realtors, said people are attracted to the region because it’s affordable and picturesque.

Busler’s firm, which also handles sales in the western part of Southern Middlesex County, Worcester County and parts of Franklin and Hampshire counties, has also seen tremendous sales over the last few years in communities bordering Southern New Hampshire.

Busler said Pepperell, Townsend, Ashby and even Dunstable and Tyngsboro have had very strong sales during the last few years. She said the demand for housing in those areas is still there but the supply isn’t.

As for the future, Realtors expect strong home sales to continue in Worcester County.

“I think it is going to remain strong. We may see prices level off and not appreciate at the rate they were,” said Busler.

Home Sales Increase in Worcester County

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min