When Meryl Appelbaum put her family’s Newton Corner home on the market for $1.89 million last month, her agent got her a good offer in just two weeks.
But there was one problem.
“There was nothing out there that made it worthwhile to sell,” said Appelbaum, who was looking to downsize but stay in Newton.
Anything going for $1.5 million or less — the price she was hoping to pay — either needed renovations or was sold as soon as it was listed. So, she backed out, and took her house off the market.
“It’s nuts,” said Appelbaum’s real estate agent, Margaret Szerlip, vice president of Karp Liberman & Kern Sotheby’s International Realty in Newton.
Szerlip and several other area real estate agents say the number of homes for sale in affluent Greater Boston communities has been shrinking compared with previous years — and the dramatic lack of inventory has been compounded by home owners like Appelbaum, who hold off selling for fear they’ll have no place to go.
“It’s a catch-22” said John Dulczewski, executive director of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors, who said several of his agents have faced similar situations with clients who hold back on selling their homes.
The lack of inventory has hit Brookline, Newton, Cambridge, Needham and West Roxbury especially hard, several agents say.
And it was exacerbated by the historic snowfall this year, said Szerlip.
“It was the worst winter in 11 years” for sales, she said.
Agents say that by March, they typically see an uptick in sales, but not this year.
“We started noticing this early in the fall, and it’s continued,” said real estate agent Bill Lawson, who works in Brookline.
Finally, he said, “there’s a bit more activity now that the snow is gone.”
But he also said some sellers looking to stay in town have grown wary about letting go of their homes.
From January to March, much of Greater Boston’s wealthier towns — especially Brookline, Cambridge and Newton — saw year-over-year drops in inventory, according to numbers from the Greater Boston Association of Realtors. Brookline and Cambridge each saw about a 50 percent drop in the number of houses and condos on the market in March. Brookline, in particular, saw a significant drop in year-to-date listings by March compared with last year.
The supply squeeze means that almost anything selling in Brookline for $500,000 to $800,000 goes quickly and for well above the asking price, said Lawson, who works for Chobee Hoy Associates.
Szerlip said a Chestnut Hill condo she recently listed sold in just a weekend for above its $368,000 asking price — in a cash deal that gave the owner a September move-out date. Though she said anything for about $1 million sells rapidly, she’s even confident a home she’s co-listing for $3.5 million on Commonwealth Avenue in Newton will be quickly snapped up.
“We have a lot of showings on that and someone is going to buy that,” she said.
In addition to the tough winter, other reasons for the decline in inventory include owners with mortgage woes and strict zoning that’s keeping new homes from being built, said Dulczewski.
“In the short-term,” said Dulczewski, “I don’t hear anything from the brokers and agents that things are improving.”