Commentaries Community Real Estate

Commentary: Real Estate Agents Must Protect the Essence of the North End

North End real estate agents have got to start protecting the golden egg laying goose that is the North End. North End real estate agents live or die by the reputation of this neighborhood, the reputation that the North End is a community, a community in which we know each other by name, we care about each other, we care about the neighborhood and care about how it looks, how it feels, how it is. North End real estate agents live or die by the reputation of this neighborhood as a village that helps raise happy children safely, the reputation of this neighborhood as a village we care about, and care about each other.

North End real estate agents have to stop killing this goose. How are North End real estate agents killing the golden goose that’s their livelihood? When North End buildings were all family-owned apartment buildings, tenants wouldn’t dream of partying loudly into the night, urinating off the fire escape into the street, pelting police officers with beer cans–the landlord lived in the building, with kids, and sometimes, Mom–the really old lady dressed in black.

Now, lots of those apartments are condominiums with unit rented by an absentee landlord. There’s no longer a landlord in the building, no Super. And so because tenants can, they often do. There’s no shame the next day, no relationships with the landlord’s children, mother–the old lady dressed in black.

So how do North End real estate agents stop killing the golden goose?

Simple. They stop showing North End condo units to investors, to people buying units only to rent them. A condo owner who has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase the home in which s/he lives cares differently than a tenant who only pays a couple thousand dollars a month to someone s/he never sees—the money just transfer from bank account to bank account.

What if North End real estate agents made a pact to show condo units only to buyers looking for homes to live in — and not just while they go to school.

Can you imagine an owner peeing off the fire escape? Tossing beer cans at cops? Partying loudly and abusively on the roof? Putting out trash irresponsibly? Letting the property deteriorate? Neither can I.

Tommye-K. Mayer, North End condominium unit owner of 27 years welcomes commentaries on community issues via email to Responses to this commentary can be posted below in the comment section. Opinions are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of 

42 Replies to “Commentary: Real Estate Agents Must Protect the Essence of the North End

  1. NE real estate cannot prevent investors from buying a condo based on whether or not they intend to rent it. That is discrimination. Once you buy a condo, it is yours to do with as you please. Are the real estate agents going to check whether or not a condo they sold is being lived in by owner, or rented? The plan will not work, with all due respect to T.K. Mayer

    1. No Liz, a North End real estate agent cannot “prevent investors from buying a condo. But they can choose not to show units to investors, showing units to buyers looking to purchase a home. That is all I’m suggesting.

      And now that the condo market has shifted to a seller’s market (more people looking to buy than people looking to sell, sellers won’t lose out, North End real estate agents won’t lose out. We simply get more owner-occupied condominium units in the North End.

      1. Yeah, back out the investors and you’ll have fewer people looking to buy, therefore less of a ‘sellers market.’ That’s the last thing we need, property values going down because we’re trying to force buyers out of or away from our market.

        Additionally, why would an agent decide to not show a unit to a qualified buyer, regardless of their intentions with the property post purchase? Agents work off commissions, I have a feeling I could get backlash on this, but, they just want to get the sale off, collect their money, and move on to the next deal. At least that would be my goal if I were an agent. I understand some agents may live in the North End and want to do biz with future residents vs. investors but nobody ever said you have to use an agent from the North End to broker a property.

        Your proposition is a) not possible to implement and reinforce, and b) even if you could implement the ‘pact,’ it would impact the neighborhood negatively. Econs just dont make sense.

    2. Liz,
      Having purchased my unit after going to a real estate office, I know real estate agents talk with potential buyers trying to sess-out what kind of property a buyer is looking for, how they intend to use it… It’s pretty easy to determine whether a buyer is looking to buy a home or to buy an investment. There’s no requirement that an agent show a property to anyone. I’m only suggesting that in the present market investors aren’t the only ones looking for condo units in the North End. People looking to buy a North Endhome to live in are widely available. It’s really a rather simple idea.

      1. it doesn’t address the issue that you don’t need a north end real estate agent to buy a home in the north end.

  2. Thats a horrible idea. Same supply with lower demand = lower property values. Additionally if an investor wants to buy a condo in the North End they’ll find a way to do it regardless of what kind of ‘pact’ the local brokers have.

    1. No one is forced out of North End. High rent and mortgages don’t chase the NE people away. They choose to leave. When parents pass away, their families renovate and rent. I see this over and over again. So, who is greedy? The old NE is of the past. Everyone loves to blame the college kids, but, who rents to them? The Italians who have moved out! This is so obvious to most people.

      1. Liz , I will be the 1st to agree with you that some Italians sold out [literally] but some people were forced out & priced out which is basically the same thing & trust me many did not choose to leave.

    2. JR I agree with you. If investors want to buy condos, they’ll find a way, regardless of any ‘pact’.

  3. the shame is the is no more north end; residential rents and mortgages are so high, it has forced people out and prevented those who want to return from coming back. this is not just an absentee landlord problem, its a greed problem. The neighborhood is largely now only affordable to students with rich parents paying rent and wealthy outsiders who do not do anything to keep the cultural traditions of the neighborhood. pretty soon the Pinkberrys and Wealthy socialites will have homogenized the no.end to mirror the backbay…sad…very sad.

    1. Pamela,sadly you are correct I don’t know who Tommye-k Mayer is but the 1st paragraph of his Golden Goose commentary describes a NE that no longer exists.

      1. LizI’m sad Michaeld that you don’t live in a North End community in which we know each other by name, we care about each other, we care about the neighborhood and care about how it looks, how it feels, how it is.

        I live in a North End in which a 5 minute trip to the post office takes 20 because I always run into somebodies I want to talk with & catch up with . And in that now a 20 minute trip I’ve learned about and added to ideas to make the neighborhood even better. Consider all the greening of the North End–the flowers & plantings that didn’t exist 27 years ago when I moved here. In fact, after my house-warming party, I found someone had spray-painted “Nigger-lover” on the outside brick wall to my unit. Apparently umbrance was taken to some of my guests.

        You’ll have to check out my Cultivation & Cobblestone Reclamation/Asphalt Removal Projects in Lombard Place for a taste of what you think no longer exists in the North End, but that does.

        We must be the change we want to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi

        I do my best to live that credo, and part of that change has to be encouraging people who care about their homes to live with us in our neighborhood.

        Personally, I don’t do “can’t.” I look for how we can.

        Michaeld, I want you to have the neighborhood in which we know each other by name, we care about each other, we care about the neighborhood and care about how it looks, how it feels, how it is, the North End I have.

        Shall we meet for coffee? a cocktail? glass of wine?

        1. Tommye,I appreciate your reply & offer & I agree that the potential of making the NE the utopia that you describe is there.If you could combine the education of the newcomers with the wisdom of the old guard you probably could solve most of the problems here & make this neighborhood safer & cleaner for all.But with all due respect after reading [and witnessing]the many reports of drunken parties & assaults, b & e’s [breaking & entering] the larceny & vandalisim reports the drug problems that everyone ignores plus the day by day week by week month by month photos & complaints of filth & trash left on the streets & sidewalks I just don’t see a neighborhood where everyone holds hands & sings we are the world.

          1. I agree, and I cant say this is correct but I believe a lot of these events (Drunken parties, assaults, B+E’s etc) are committed by non-residents. I would guess a small percentage of the illegal activity that takes place in the North End is actually committed by residents. Rather than focus on manipulating the housing market in the North End, what can we do to better police the disobedient out-of-towner’s?

    2. How is charging market value rent equated to greed?? I honestly don’t understand this argument from everyone. The north end happens to be a desirable location for both residential and commercial properties, which in return has lead to increased rental figures. Can you explain how renting a property at market rates, even if they are a lot higher than before, is greedy. Owning and renting property is not a “non-profit”. The point is to actually make money on these properties and if they happen to be higher than before then good for them. But please, that isn’t greed.

    3. No one is forced out of North End. High rent and mortgages don’t chase the NE people away. They choose to leave. When parents pass away, their families renovate and rent. I see this over and over again. So, who is greedy? The old NE is of the past. Everyone loves to blame the college kids, but, who rents to them? The Italians who have moved out! This is so obvious to most people.

  4. Thank you, Tommye. The North End is certainly seeing more investors and a decrease in the population that has an interest in the sustainability of this neighborhood as a residential community. Local realtors shouldn’t be blamed, but they may be able to play a role in advocating for and securing some protections. One of the protections we need is a neighborhood master plan, along with updated zoning. The City’s Zoning Code has for 20 years or more required a North End Neighborhood Plan, but the BRA has never produced one and apparently still has no interest in doing so (we need a separate planning agency in this city, but that’s another topic of discussion). With a master plan, zoning can then be updated to protect the residential interests while also ensuring a vibrant commercial/retail presence that primarily supports the neighborhood. Zoning and new or strengthened by-laws might also also stem the growing conversion of long-term rental units to short-term residences, such as hotel suites, “executive suites” and unofficial dormitories. Our Neighborhood Council and Neighborhood Residents’ Association should not be supporting applications from owners who intend to convert units to short-term living spaces or have a history of providing student housing to the economic exclusion of other possible renters. To control the spread of student housing in our neighborhood, the City should also require universities and colleges to house their undergraduates – all of them – at reasonable room and board cost. I would also like to see more condominium documents have caps on the percentage of the building’s units that can be non-owner occupied at any one time – maybe this can be added to the City’s by-laws. Buildings with these restrictions tend not to be problem properties and are more likely to have residents that have a sense of neighborhood stewardship. Under a new mayor, I also hope the City will stop giving huge tax breaks to wealthy developers and corporations and create tax and grant programs that directly help landlords who live in their buildings or have a history of caring for their buildings and maintaining affordable rents. These owners need help to be able to maintain and improve their properties, rather than be forced to sell to investors when keeping the buidling becomes economically impossible.

    1. Dave, good to see you chiming in. I hate to think anyone saw me “blaming” North End real estate agents for the status quo. I prefer to think the idea of a possible role for North End Real estate agents in how the neighborhood evolves just never occurred.

      As far as an updated North End Zoning Plan. I think now is the perfect time for a Skunkworks North End Rezoning plan. You know the history of CA/T Parcel 13 that was just a big traffic island until a small group of North Enders re-worked the maps & ended up appending the land to Parcel 12 where it could be an access-able/usable piece of land.

      I think that if the North End continues to wait for the BRA to do it, it’ll never happen, but if the North End (residents *&* business working together) were to present a proposal to Mayor Walsh–oh it wouldn’t be accepted wholesale, there would be negotiation–there might finally be a North End zoning plan.

  5. How….and who…is going to stop real estate agents from selling condos to investors whom they believe will rent to college kids? Please, tell me how this law could be enforced. It cannot.
    And, tell me how we can put further burdens on colleges by expecting them to build more dorms, by providing more student housing. Who is going to donate funds?

    1. Dakota,

      please. Not everything has to be a “law.” I truly believe it simply hasn’t occurred to North End real estate agents how detrimental to their livelihood it is to keep selling to condo unit investors. I think perhaps it hasn’t occurred to North End real estate agents that they can play a role in reversing this neighborhood destroying trend.

      I truly believe that North End real estate agents care about the North End but perhaps haven’t considered another way of doing business now that the neighborhood has changed from owner-occupied apartment buildings to individually owned condominium units in unsupervised condominium buildings.

      I’m not proposing a “law.” I’m only positing a re-thinking of common practice.

  6. Liz, I totally understand your comment on real estate, but isn’t it illegal for one to buy a condo or
    rent an apt. and run it as a bed and bath? There is a lot of this going on down the North End,
    and wouldn’t this put them in a different category? What these people are collecting for rent in
    a week, most people don’t collect for monthly rent. I also think this would include tax evasion. Doesn’t the city have to be informed of these
    people renting their condos or apts. as Bed and Baths? I know real estate agents have to be
    very careful because nobody wants to get sued, but I can’t help think about the real estate agent
    who rented to the guy on Salem St. who wanted to blow up the Zakim Bridge. We really don’t know
    who is entering the neighborhood, especially if they are running bed and baths, illegally. The other
    thing I would like to mention that is frightening, one of the 911 terrorist was renting on the 23rd
    floor of a high rise in the North Station area. How extensive are the background checks on these
    people? Do real estate agents have the right to do criminal background checks? I know most of
    the absentee landlords think of their properties as cash cows, but where does that leave us that
    think of our residences as our homes??? We know the North End is not the same neighborhood
    it was at one time, and neither is our country or the world, for that matter, but what protection do
    we have?

  7. I think we all want to see some sort of preservation of the north end. However, I believe that there is this polarizing idea that pins “socialites” against “traditional north enders.” The “socialites” are not the problem. Young professionals have lived in the neighborhood for years and we have seen a boom in young families from these so-called socialites choosing to live in the city vs. moving to the suburbs. Additionally, retirees are more frequently making a move to back to the city after spending years in the suburbs raising families. As a result, you have a high demand for city living from wealthier buyers. These factors are the main contributors to the consistent rise of property values in the North End and in the city at-large. This demographic, however, shares the interests of those who want to keep the North End a family friendly neighborhood. The increasing number of students is a completely separate problem. There is one legal way to keep them out of the neighborhood. They can only be priced out. A neighborhood can not have barriers to entry based on any discrimanating factor, and it shouldn’t. Whether we like it or not, price is the only legal form of discrimination. So to say that we must keep the neighborhood affordable while pushing the students out is a bit of a paradox.
    Accepting more and more “socialites” is a catalyst to reducing the student population,
    On a shorter term basis, landlords should be held more accountable for the actions of their tenants. Penalties should be stiffer for repeat offenders.

    1. Flash…..there’s the best idea I’ve read, and it makes sense. Landlords should be responsible for their tenants/buildings. There are many ‘absentee’ landlords.

  8. The author doesn’t understand our free American market. As someone who sells to many investors in other neighborhoods, I can tell you that none of them rent to students. Not one prudent investor would do so. It is a lot of headaches and sometimes financially expensive in fines and repairs. This does not mean that the 20 and even 30 years of age group are not the ones to make problems. Any intelligent owner and real estate person with a care about their reputation should be screening, interviewing, and thoroughly checking references. NO students, no pets, no smoking is a good policy for potential renters. Does anyone want to see their investment money go out the window?

    Let’s analyze the greedy landlords like the ones who pushed out the nice small business man for the 7/11!!

    1. That landlord is an old time North Ender who has lived here since arriving from Italy over a half century ago.

    2. I guess that tells a story right there. You are calling them “investors” rather than residents. I’ve never seen an “investor” sweeping up in front of the building they have invested in. Investment is different than “home”.

  9. All due respect, the real estate market in Boston is entirely broken. The market rewards bad behavior on the part of realtors, so appealing to reason doesn’t work when the folks doing the best are the scummiest in the business. I’d buckle up, because powerful legislative change is the only factor that could better protect neighborhoods, and that ain’t happening anytime soon. The North End is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

    1. Dear Resident,

      If as you say, “the real estate market in Boston is entirely broken,” isn’t it our duty to posit ideas in the hopes of fixing said “entirely broken real estate market?

      My favorite quote, indeed, a point on my personal compass urges, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi.

      What if North End Real Estate Agents (many of whom are our neighbors) suddenly recognized the role they can play in maintaining the amazingness of this neighborhood–that it IS a neighborhood.

      What if appealing to reason is actually in North End Real Estate Agents’ best interests (as I believe it is.). What if?

      What’s the worst that could happen?

      Quite frankly, I think the worst that could happen would be the status quo where North End Real Estate Agents keep showing to investors & the absentee landlordism just gets worse.

      But what if North End Real Estate Agents realized that the Animal House-ism of the North End isn’t in their best interests. What if It’s in their best interest to promote community by showing property to buyers who will live in & become part of the neighborhood & partake in the community? What if?

  10. The majority of suggestions/practices that are described here are actually prohibited and protected against by Massachusetts General Laws.

    For example, a North End Real Estate agent misrepresenting the available inventory to a potential buyer is in violation of the law. The real estate agent is obligated to treat one potential buyer the same as the next regardless of what they intend (or what the agent believes they intend) to do with the property.

    Another example would be a real estate agent refusing to rent or sell to college-aged adults. This is discrimination. If a 21 year old Suffolk University Undergraduate Student is economically qualified of renting/purchasing that apartment then they cannot be prevented from doing so.

    The above practices are protected by MGL Chapter 151B, Section 4.

    Landlords and real estate agents ARE allowed to refuse housing to individuals with a criminal offense on their record if they believe that person poses a risk to safety of other tenants, neighbors, the neighborhood, etc. This is certainly an avenue that real estate agents can explore in an effort to protect our neighborhood.

    Once again, I appreciate everyone’s enthusiasm as well as the concerns for one another and our neighbors. There is no need to stoop to vigilantism or unethical (and illegal) practices to protect ourselves. By putting our heads together we can come up with resourceful and strategic solutions that will not only solve this issue, but hopefully bring the neighborhood closer together in the process.

    1. Seriously Matt? Please cite the Massachusetts General Law that requires a real estate to show property to someone one interested in buying a condominium unit for the purposes of renting.

      If this law exists, I stand corrected an do apologize for suggesting illegal activity..

      1. “13. For any person to directly or indirectly induce, attempt to induce, prevent, or attempt to prevent the sale, purchase, or rental of any dwelling or dwellings by:

        (c) implicit or explicit false representations regarding the availability of suitable housing within a particular neighborhood or area, or failure to disclose or offer to show all properties listed or held for sale or rent within a requested price or rental range, regardless of location;
        (d) false representations regarding the listing, prospective listing, sale, or prospective sale of any dwelling”

        1. The law cited above is part of a law regarding discrimination based on race, color, creed, national origin, gender, ancestry. You can read it here:

          It defines protected classes. Students are not a “protected class.” Nor are investors.

          This absolutely does not prevent a blanket refusal to rent to students or to relay that a policy is to sell to owner occupants. In fact, in Beacon Hill, landlords did just that, which is partly why so many Suffolk students are here.

          1. I’m aware of the rumor of Beacon Hill landlords and their refusals. But how did they accomplish this? The property prices are higher there, whose to say that the Suffolk students weren’t just priced out as opposed to some direct action. It would be good if someone who has some defining action like a sample rental agreement form Beacon Hill would post it. But the term blanket refusal sounds dubious to me, since I am sure that some absentee types wouldn’t go along with this unless it were somehow force fed to them.

  11. I’m not sure what real estate agents can do to solve the problem absentee landlords. A lot of these properties start off as owner occupied and then the owner moves away and hands over the rental to an agent. These are usually the worst types of properties. The owner collects as much rent as they can grab, the agent gets their commission up front and no one cares beyond that point until the tenant eventually stiffs the landlord of their rental income. At these prices, it is difficult to buy today and get a decent rate of return, particularly if the property is heavily leveraged. An investor would do better to pick up a place at an auction rather than deal with a realtor. The person accountable is the person selling the property. They can refuse offers. But the reality is, sellers take the money even at the expense of their former neighbors.

    Bottom line is: People are greedy and getting greedier. Just my observation, does anyone see anything different? In this case I would be more than happy to be wrong.

    1. Dear “Another Opinion,” while admittedly, as you state, “A lot of these properties start off as owner occupied and then the owner moves away and hands over the rental to an agent,” what if other condo unit property weren’t sold to *investors* only looking to rent?

      A step, I admit, but I truly believe if Investor Ownership were shunned in the North End, we’d have less of a problem. And if our Real Estate Agents explained to potential Investor Owners how this sort of activity degrades the fabric of the community, and owners also rejected bids from buyers not intending to live in the North End, we cold turn things around.

      As far as I know, Investors are not a protected class & so, I’m not seeing “discrimination.”. Please feel to correct me, with cites, if I’m wrong.

  12. All:

    I do appreciate all the opinions shared about the North End and its long history and wonderful feeling of community. I have been here for over 20 years myself as a resident and a business owner and will say the feeling, appearance and mood in the neighborhood has shifted over the years.

    It’s not a real estate agents job to police those who want to invest in North End properties.

    I would suggest the quickest and most effective way to shift the “Investor” trend is to meet with your own condo association and implement clear “rental restrictions” for your building. Many buildings in the city have these rules which in many cases eliminates an investors desire to purchase units in particular buildings.

    The real estate community here loves the North End hence the reason they chose to represent Buyers and Sellers in such a great community.

    Have a look at your condo documents and by-laws and make some changes to how the building handles rentals.

    I am sure you will see a difference if the condo associations made a “Pact” as it relates to rentals.

    Best of luck

    1. Chris!

      This is EXACTLY the sort of contribution I was hoping to elicit. Exactly what sorts of “rental restrictions” can be written into Condo docs? I am all ears for language. My building has gone from minority rental to majority rental WITH the roof-deck partying students/20-somethings…
      I have established a ~half a million dollar home in which I’m also *&* playing unpaid & insulted Dorm Mother. What language can be inserted in the condo docs?

  13. A mandatory interview and background check conducted by “the Board” (consisting of owner/residents) similar to the NYC Co-Op process would sift out “undesirables” and increase a population consisting of mature and respectful residents. It works!

  14. Thus far, with the exception of the last entry in this post, I see no interest (or effort) that supports the Condo Board model originally created to enforce common property By-Laws. This means there is no process in place to enforce property rules, or hold owners and/or occupants accountable for breaking them. There is also virtually no awareness of fundamental things like % of owner occupancy, turn-over, or worse, what demographic your fellow unit owners are renting (or selling) to.

    Condo ownership here in the NE, regardless of total units or square footage, means signing-up for “pricey” communal living with-in earshot of your neighbor (no more entire house with front yard). It means warming up to the fact that your hard earned personal property is physically abutting another’s. It is a true test of learning respect and co-existence with others in close vicinity. It is to everyone’s advantage to be aware of the basic Condo By-Laws and pitch-in on some responsibility. All common areas including the front steps are yours to share. Getting a reputable property management co. can help take the load off. Condo living can be the right model if it is governed and managed responsibly.

    To sum things up, yes, our NE neighborhood demographic is changing. We have no choice but to embrace it. But for this to work, we must be more present and involved. The North End is poised to be the “IT” neighborhood. It is our job to care for our buildings and make them places people are proud to live in. If it looks like we don’t care, no one will.


    President Condo Board Trust, Owner and Occupant 2003-2013

    1. Anon,

      Really, really liking your reasoned ideas-focused contribution to this thread. I wonder whether North End common property By-Laws haven’t been robustly enough crafted. I’m wondering whether you have experience/knowledge of By-Laws North End Condominium Associations need to write into their documents, & if so, would you be willing to lay these out?

  15. I find it very difficult to change condo by-law documents. Changes usually have investment properties screaming that restrictions violate their rights (of course no mention in anyone’s constitution or bill of rights guarding investors), but they do occupy a vote. It would be worthwhile for someone to actually site restrictions and the verbiage used in existing rules, plus the process in Massachusetts. For instance, I am part of a condo association in another locale and the state requires review and sign-off by the county government in order to implement changes to the condo rules. What approvals are required in Massachusetts currently? The condo docs that we have in our place pre-date these recent issues.

    But if you feel that this is a real estate agent’s responsibility to police buyers, I think you are dreaming. This is how they make their living selling properties. Also, if you assume that all realtors derive from our neighborhood that is also not true. Had a guy from Andover calling me asking whether I wanted to deal with an “aggressive young” agent. Got the impression that he would sell to someone who said they were from Al-queda.

  16. It is not about who owns the property, it is about who the owner chooses to rent to, and if that owner has a lease addendum with a clause against parties, and chooses to enforce that clause. My agency rents many North End apartments every year to professionals who do not disturb the peace. There are many excellent landlords in the North End who do not tolerate the “partiers.” There are also a few, who really don’t seem to care. Why not do a letter campaign to them to ask them to not rent to students, or to enforce some rules.

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