Cambridge Market Gets Mondo Condo In Wake of Tax Reform, Appreciation

If you are not living in a student dormitory, finding cheap housing in Cambridge is nearly impossible. But the alternative to renting an apartment or buying a home--the condominium--is beginning to look more and more attractive to buyers.

Due to increased availability and fears of what the new tax law might bring, condominiums are now more affordable than they have been in years.

"A lot of people want to sell and get their capital gains before January 1. More investors have their property on the market because they won't be getting the write-off they got before," said Carie B. Graves, a seller with the Cambridge Condominium Collaborative.

Because land is difficult to find in Cambridge, a lot of condominiums are being converted, Graves said. The laws in Cambridge make it impossible to convert an apartment building into condominiums. However, since there is a need for affordable housing, conversions are taking place from two-and three-family homes to condominiums.

"This is a healthy time for buyers," said Philip L. Fishman, president of Harvard Square Realty. With the softened market and lowering prices, people who are looking are finding good buys, he said. "First-time buyers will probably buy a condo," he said.

Fishman also said there has been a rise in student buying in the past couple of years due to the tax advantages and possible resale value. The price of condos in Harvard Square range from $150,000 for a one-bedroom to a $1,000,000 or more for three or four bedrooms, Le Vaux estimated.

Jean Le Vaux, former president of the Cambridge Council of Realtors and currently president of Le Vaux Realty, views the falling prices of condominiums more as a correction than a regression.

Approximately 4300 of the total 18,000 commercial and family dwellings in Cambridge are condominiums, said Richard M. Brescia of the Cambridge Assessor's office. Lately there have been a lot of townhouse developments and rowhouses constructed, he said. Brescia said that about 75 units are built per year in Cambridge.

Harvard Professor of Economics John F. Kain said that the one significant exemption kept in the present tax law is the owner-occupancy provision. "At some level that remains a very attractive feature for ownership. It is also part of what prompts the drive for condominiums," Kain said.

The buyers have been mainly professional, Le Vaux said. "A lot of high-tech people coming to the Boston area will find their way to Cambridge," she said.