South Shore can weather current economic downturn, he says.
Tom Hastings has developed real estate through the good times and the bad. But the president of Hingham’s Hastings Cos. says he is not overly worried by the current real estate crisis.
As the 56-year-old Hingham resident told the Hingham Rotary Club in January, Hastings maintains the worst of the national downturn will largely skip the South Shore.
Since founding his real estate development company in 1972, Hastings said he has weathered two major real estate downturns, and this one seems relatively mild by comparison. He cites a 23 percent increase in Hingham’s home sales last year over 2006 as a promising sign.
Hastings’ most recent developments have also given him cause for optimism. His Back River luxury townhouse development on Back River Road, off Beal Street near Lincoln Street (Route 3A) has already sold 22 of 45 units and is expected to sell out by year’s end, and Hastings recently received approval for a 40-home subdivision on 100 acres in Foxboro.
How has the residential real estate market changed in the South Shore over the last three decades?
I think that the level of buyer sophistication has changed tremendously in a town like Hingham. Hingham was always affluent. It was always upscale, but now it’s really the epicenter of the South Shore, the way Wellesley is for the western suburbs and Marblehead is for the northern suburbs.
The level of sophistication and wealth of the buyers moving into Hingham has changed dramatically. The variety of product that’s built reflects changes in people’s lifestyles a lot more. It used to be just single-family detached homes, apartments and a few condominiums. Now there’s a variety of product. I think the South Shore has become a lot more contained in that there’s a lot more jobs existing on the South Shore (and) there’s a lot more retail development on the South Shore.
There’s been a lot of bad news in the real estate market lately, but you’ve expressed optimism. What makes you so optimistic?
I think we’re insulated somewhat from the severe changes that are happening in other parts of the country. And I think we’re poised for great growth.
What I noticed is that each previous downturn (in the late 1970s and early 1990s) was different in terms of what they’ve affected and how they’ve affected it. And I noticed that there was a price crunch at the beginning of 2005 in Massachusetts. In some communities it was more dramatic than others, but there was a definite price crunch starting at that time. So we’ve been blowing off steam ahead of the rest of the country. The rest of the country really didn’t start to have a contraction until the summer of 2007.
The other thing is that we don’t have an over-supply. There’s very little product being built in Massachusetts, so there isn’t the overhand of single-family homes and condominiums that there was in 1989 to 1991. There isn’t the glut of office and retail space like there was in 1989 through 1991. And although the financial markets are going through some severe gyrations right now, our banking industry is very sound.
What challenges do you see facing the South Shore real estate industry?
I think that the biggest challenge is that the town government system that Massachusetts has through home rule, where each town individually regulates their development based on a political system, as opposed to most of the country where development is regulated on a regional or county-wide system, a professional system. (It) kind of shoots the Massachusetts economy in the foot.
Where do you see real estate development within the region headed in the future?
When I moved here 25 years ago, there were 12 builders that lived in this town that were part of the community and nobody needed to tell them to do a good job. They took great pride in their work and built great houses that people enjoyed and became a part of the community. Unfortunately, the process in Hingham has become so adversarial that all of those 12 homebuilders are either out of business or retired. And that, to differing degrees, is happening throughout the South Shore. It’s (allowed) more larger professional builders that can exert the dollars and the team of lawyers necessary to be able to obtain approvals (to move in).
A.J. Bauer may be reached at email@example.com.