A Million Dollars Doesn’t Buy Much House in Boston

A Business Insider study found Boston was the second least affordable place to drop a million bucks on housing.


Real estate photo via Shutterstock

Boston has the dubious honor of being near the bottom of a new ranking: that of how much real estate $1,000,000 will buy you. The study conducted by Business Insider crunched data from housing list price data from real-estate brokerage Movoto.com and real-estate marketplace Zillow.com and found that Boston was the second most expensive city for buyers. $1 million will get you just 2,092 square feet here.

In San Francisco, a million gets you 1,502 square feet, making it the most expensive city in the study. You’ll probably be surprised to see New York behind Boston at 2,358 square feet per million bucks, but if you removed the boroughs and considered only Manhattan, the number plummets to 650 square feet. Yikes. In which cities does $1 million buy you a proverbial palace? Topping the list were Detroit, Cleveland, and Memphis. (It all calls to mind the Buzzfeed list “Six Castles that Cost Less than an Apartment in NYC.”)

The study basically finds another metric to tell us something we’ve long known: Boston is way more expensive for home owners than more modest cities, and not by a factor that accounts for our higher incomes. Trulia conducted a study last year comparing median incomes to housing prices and found that even taking into account differences, Boston (and San Francisco and New York) was one of the least affordable cities in America. Describing the study, The Atlantic Cities’ Emily Badger wrote, “The gulf between those two numbers means that the most expensive U.S. cities aren’t just unaffordable for the average American middle-class family; they’re unaffordable to the relatively well-off middle class by local standards, too.”

Indeed, the hollowing out of a middle class in Boston city limits does seem like an inevitable result of statistics like this one. “If I had a million dollars,” The Barenaked Ladies once thought, “I’d be rich.” If by rich, they mean that they’d own a two-bedroom row house in the South End, then they’d be right.

  • jkushner

    And in London, $1million will buy you a garage space! its all relative

  • Chris Canary

    in 1977 I had a 2 bedroom apartment in Charlestown for $106 a month on Ruterford Ave. We moved to Monument Sq, 3rd Floor, 2 bedroon, including heat, with a bridge, monument, skyline, high school view. It was outrageously expensive for the time…$290 a month.
    My sister had an apartment in Southie, City Point, 1 bedroom, 1st floor, $30 a month. My grandmother paid $45 a month for a 2 bedroom, not including anything.

    My mother owned a house in Savin Hill Ave in Dorchester.
    A single family,10 room house with a yard, and a driveway. Parquet floors, marble fireplaces, stained glass, the works.
    That house cost $9,500 in 1972.
    $3000 down and $98,98 a month for 10 years.

    In 1989 I lived on Marlborough St. in the Back Bay.
    Studio Apt, $90 a week. My BF had a 1 bedroom apt on Jersey Street for $470.

    I could ever afford to live in Boston again.
    If I did, I would have huge resentment issues over paying $2000 a mo for some place I KNOW cost $75 a month when I used to live there.
    I could never justify paying so much. I shake my head when I see what my friends there pay and wonder, FOR WHAT? They can have it. Boston prices are insane.There are WAY nicer places to live for a LOT less.

  • Frederick Wright

    Even though my spouse and I are comfortably into the ‘top 4%’ of income, there is no way we could ever afford to a home in Boston, not any more. As recently at the late 90’s we could have, but not now. Prices have escalated beyond the reach of all but the truly elite and their trust funds. Worse still (and this is something that the article above fails to note) our housing stock in Boston is largely decrepit, ramshackle pre-war triple-decker crapholes, each of which needs hundreds of thousands of dollars of renovation to bring it up to code. The vast majority has been held by greedy, lazy, slumlords renting to students for decades. Not one penny has been invested in maintenance.

  • Katherine21

    My grandpa owns a Property there in Boston.