Coins on a table, a red up arrow and house. The concept of the rising price of real estate

Central Massachusetts, it’s your time to shine in the spotlight of being a hotter-than-hot housing market.  

Sales figures in recent months show several towns in Worcester County like Northborough, Webster, and Grafton seeing some of the highest jumps in home prices from a year ago.  

Don’t pour one out for Nantucket or the glitzy “W towns” around Boston like Wellesley and Winchester quite yet. Home sales in all these enclaves are healthy and home prices remain high.   

But it is a remarkable ascent for towns and cities to the west that have waited in the wings for decades for Greater Boston’s economic boom times to distribute deeper into Massachusetts.  

“There are so many great communities out here. People used to think if you went beyond Interstate 495 all you’d see was cows, and that’s not the case anymore,” said Kathy McSweeney, a broker associate at Lamacchia Realty and president of the Realtor Association of Central Massachusetts. “There’s really a lot going on out here. 

Area Offers ‘Bang for Your Buck’ 

Both condominium and single-family home sales prices in Central Massachusetts are on the rise. The average price of a condo in the region was $281,157 in May 2019, according to the Multiple Listing Service data provided by the RACM. That number swelled to $360,641 in May of this year.  

The average single-family home price sold in Central Massachusetts in May 2019 was $365,695. But that figure surged to $521,065 in May of this year.  

“COVID really changed the way people live in their homes. So many people that needed to be closer to Boston – you don’t necessarily have to do that anymore, so they’re realizing they get a little bit more house for their money the further west that they go,” McSweeney said. “That lands them in either Middlesex County or, if they want a little bit more bang for their buck, then they go out to Worcester County.” 

Some of the Worcester County towns seeing the biggest spike in year-to-date median sales prices compared to the same time last year include Northborough (up 27.84 percent), Athol (a 25.71 percent increase) and Webster (24.17 percent to the good) according to home sales data compiled by The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman. Towns in Middlesex County seeing hefty price jumps so far this year compared to the same time in 2021 include Chelmsford (21.27 percent more than this time last year) and Acton (a 17.61 percent jump).  

Brokers note buyers craving more living space drove people outside of Boston’s urban core, but some say other factors are at play, too. 

“On a similar note, companies that historically have been in the city centers have made some shifts,” said Nicholas Pelletier, president of the North Central Massachusetts Association of Realtors. “But as proximity to the workforce is maybe not as important in terms of a direct location [due to increased remote work], the companies are able to relocate out. What we’ve seen is a big push in that, before the pandemic that was kind of like inside I-495, and since the pandemic, some companies have moved well outside 495.” 

Displacement a Concern 

The “will it ever happen?” question dangling over Worcester revitalization was finally resolved in recent years with the arrival of Polar Park, the new stadium for the relocated Worcester Red Sox triple-A Minor League Baseball team. New life science and office space as well as residential developments are springing up downtown around the stadium.  

But revitalization can also lead to displacement of long-time residents. It’s a well-told story from Cape Cod to Kendall Square. Is there any concern of that extending to Central Massachusetts?  

The Worcester metropolitan area also ranked 10th in a recent National Association of Realtors study of U.S. regions with the fewest number of home listings now compared to January for buyers earning $50,000 per year. 

“Things are leveling out a little bit. Last year, certainly the market was very hot, and people were getting priced out with multiple offers,” McSweeney said. “We’re not seeing quite as many now. It’s still a great time to be a seller, but it’s getting to be a little bit of a better time to be a buyer.” 

That’s good news after months of surging interest rates that make borrowing money to buy a home more expensive. First-time homebuyers and those on a budget were widely seen as the most-impacted by rising interest rates – but those very well could be the ones finding more opportunity in Central Massachusetts at the moment than in Greater Boston.  

“There’s a saying that you marry the house, but you date the interest rates,” Pelletier said. “Rates are always going to change, and I think that what people are starting to realize is that they maybe just need to readjust their expectations in terms of maybe needing to save up a little bit more or maybe they need to look in a slightly different area.” 

Prices on the Rise in Central Massachusetts

by Cameron Sperance time to read: 3 min