New Builds & House-Hacking in Worcester

3 Replies

Hi all,

I own a duplex in Worcester that I'm currently house-hacking... both first home and first investment property that I'm coming up on a year of owning and it's been great so far. The more I see and learn about this city (I relocated here), the more I feel like it's a fantastic area to be that's in the midst of both a seismic and rapid transition to becoming a top-tier place to live and great destination for young people like myself. I took the express train to Boston out of Union Station for a work event a few weeks ago and I was amazed at how many people were taking on it and commuting in from Worcester.

Being around here, and especially in the busy summer months, I have noticed what seems to be an incredible volume of new residential construction happening. Within just 1/4 mile of my house in a well-established neighborhood, I've counted 5 ongoing or recently completed projects that are now for sale. The most popular style seems to be the very common and recognizable "attached single family" - a single structure of two side-by-side townhouses with a garage, 2-3 bedrooms, 1.5-2 baths, with four total exterior walls and a shared roof. Textbook example photo below:

https://media.mlspin.com/photo.aspx?mls=72435280&n=0&w=1024&h=768

The prices of these places are jaw-dropping to me. A hot market and what I assume is high demand for this style has them going for upwards of $300k per side in many instances. I am sure builders are making a killing on these as it's practically the definition of killing two birds with one stone to get $600k out of a single construction that's not much larger in total square footage than a nicely-sized single family home.

It's my personal opinion that owning one of these types of units would not be a great idea as you are conjoined by default to your neighbors and there's an inherent possibility of headaches and disputes down the line with a shared roof, landscaping, street frontage, etc. However, the idea of owning a whole one of these as a two-unit duplex and house hacking it is EXTREMELY intriguing to me. My feeling is the features, finishes, and quality of these units would attract desirable, long-term tenants and a good builder should mitigate ownership headaches as well as avoiding your typical "old-house" problems like lead paint, asbestos, horsehair plaster walls, etc.

One thing I'm not seeing is a deviation in the system for these. I've never seen one offered as a package with both units together, nor a string of these constructed and offered for rent rather than for sale. I'm sure it's a matter of builders and agents not fixing a system that isn't broken. Research tells me market rent for these types of units runs $1800-2400 depending on size and location. That's tough considering prices are ~$300k as mentioned, but I think that's also a larger issue that's affecting anyone trying to get into the Worcester market as a whole right now. I love the idea of buying a plot of land and having one of these built, maybe even modular, but I can't imagine getting any kind of a break as a "2 for 1" special on the going rate since it's practically a guarantee that two attached units can be sold separately for top dollar anyway.

To get to my point, I am just curious if anyone has any rental experience with these types of properties? Possibly even house hacking in one? Would be really curious to see any stories about building / buying one of these as a whole to own both units as well, or even just general experience.

Cheers!

Kevin

I have thought the same thing for years.  Worcester has what is called Zero Lot Line zoning.  This allows these to be sold as 1/2 a house and not as condos, so no condo documents need to be created or anything.  The issue comes 30 years from now when you do your roof and they dont.  There are a couple of these out there that you can put back together if you want.  I also know a builder who has some lots and you could purpose build them for rentals if you want.  Let me know if you are interested in chatting about this.  I am in Worcester almost every day. 

Originally posted by @Brian J Allen :

I have thought the same thing for years.  Worcester has what is called Zero Lot Line zoning.  This allows these to be sold as 1/2 a house and not as condos, so no condo documents need to be created or anything.  The issue comes 30 years from now when you do your roof and they dont.  There are a couple of these out there that you can put back together if you want.  I also know a builder who has some lots and you could purpose build them for rentals if you want.  Let me know if you are interested in chatting about this.  I am in Worcester almost every day. 

Brian, that's great information! Thanks a lot for sharing. That info on the Zero Lot Line zoning pretty much solves the "mini mystery" I had in my head of wondering why there are SO many of these single family attached duplexes around here. I totally agree with your assessment - I am sure things get tricky when it comes to shared maintenance like roof repair since there are no formal documents and procedures in place.

Really interesting that you know some builders and lots available for these. My current idea, if the financials work, is to have my fiancé take out an FHA loan next year to buy or build one of these and graduate to "higher tier" house hacking while still keeping my current small duplex as a rental. I'll send you a connection request - would be great to chat sometime as I know relatively no one in the Worcester market.

Cheers,

Kevin

 

Builders typically try to hold their lots and save them so they always have something to build on.  I may be able to find a builder who you can contract to build a duplex and work with your financing.