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National and local housing-market predictions for 2014

Here are five housing-market predictions for the nation: Mortgage rates will top 5 percent, mortgages will be easier to secure, inventory will stabilize, home affordability will decline, fewer people will own homes.

OK, we’re not in the position to argue with the first two items, but we have some nuanced quibbles with the last three items, so here are our general Big Think predictions for the Massachusetts/Boston housing markets in 2014:

Massachusetts inventory will not stabilize: Sure, more sellers may finally get off the fence and decide to sell this spring. And there is some more housing being built. The current incredibly lopsided seller’s market can’t last forever.

But there’s simply not enough housing being built in Massachusetts to even come close to truly stabilizing inventory and prices. It’s why prices have been relentlessly rising for the past two decades now in the state. Does anyone really think that dynamic is suddenly going to go away next spring?

There will be pockets of price declines in Massachusetts: All of the above is not to say we won’t see some price relief in some selective areas. Rental price competition in the Seaport area actually broke out earlier this year, due to the flood of new units hitting the market there. We could see this in other city neighborhoods in 2014 or 2015.

For instance, take a look at the “under construction” projects listed by the DowntownBoston.org. That’s a lot of new housing units for a relatively small area. Sooner or later, those new units will make a price difference, though probably in late 2014 and 2015 (or later), depending on when they’re finished.

But, again, it’s not enough – and the new supply of housing is not geographically spread out enough. Boston alone can’t be the one building 80 percent of the new housing stock in the state. Something fundamental has to change elsewhere.

Marty Walsh isn’t stupid enough to stop high-end housing construction: Marty Walsh is a smart man and knows the construction industry. So the new mayor, who takes office next month, won’t (and shouldn’t) interfere with the current high-end housing-construction in the downtown. Those projects are providing badly needed construction jobs and they’re helping relieve the overall housing crisis, to an extent, in the region. The trick is to get more housing built elsewhere in the city.

Marty Walsh won’t get much housing built outside the downtown area – at least in 2014: As Paul McMorrow has noted: Boston’s housing solution lies outside the downtown. He focuses on Allston to make his point that the city needs to build more in non-downtown neighborhoods like Allston, Roxbury, Dorchester, Hyde Park, West Roxbury, South Boston, Roslindale, Brighton, Mattapan etc.

It won’t be easy because of some neighborhood opposition. And so it will take time. But if Walsh focuses on new housing in these neighborhoods – while not disrupting the ongoing boom in the downtown – he could end up seeing results by the end of his first term.

Some cities will pick up housing construction: Some smaller cities, such as Somerville, Melrose, Medford, Revere and others, get it: Build housing near T and commuter-rail stations and people will come. Maybe not at the feverish pace now seen in Boston. But there are encouraging signs of more “transit orientated” housing activity going on in the state.

The suburbs aren’t going to change – at least not in 2014: The suburbs are simply not going to change. They don’t want more housing, or, more specifically, family housing. A few condo projects here and there, well, OK. But not family housing that can lead to more students in their school systems. And state lawmakers, who ultimately represent those suburban voters, are not going to go against their constituents’ wishes.

It would take a miracle to change their minds.

But, hey, this is the season of miracles, so maybe … Ah, never mind. It ain’t going to happen.

And that’s our big-think post of the month, if not the year.

Read other posts about: Massachusetts real estate

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