Enter the Stanton & Tierney Real Estate office. Walk down the center aisle between several desks. Sitting at the far end, Pat Tierney talks to an Internet service provider and then is put suddenly on hold. She sees me and hangs up. “ I can deal with that later.” Her office entrance is a wall of French doors swung wide open to let in all the light and activity of the outer office. Pat can easily speak to anyone there, barely having to raise her voice. But there’s only one other person at work, Michael, a realtor on her staff, focused on his monitor. The rest of the desks are empty and no phones are ringing. This is the epicenter of real estate in Hyde Park and there’s not much shaking.
Pat Tierney and her partner Jackie Stanton have been riding herd on Hyde Park real estate since 1982 and Pat says that it has never been this bad. She has sold hundreds of homes, this is her third economic cycle, she says, and prices have not dropped this far this fast since she got her license. It was bad when she started, the early 80s were a time of spiking high interest rates and increasing property values, so houses weren’t widely affordable, but nothing quite like what’s going on now. She estimates that the decline in value is about 20% and despite a glimmer of hope reflected in stronger than last year sales volume, her contacts in the banking business are predicting another round of foreclosures that are likely to keep the market in the dumps until the spring of 2010.
For Pat the news isn’t all bad, in fact she doesn’t seem depressed by the reality at all. She’s a big fan of Hyde Park, having moved here as soon as her husband graduated from law school in 1973. She fell in love with the handsome old houses, gardens and house lots bigger than in most other Boston neighborhoods and a variety of people who inspire her now as much as ever. She loved raising her three children here. She points out that Hyde Park has more green space, more tennis courts and basketball hoops than most other neighborhoods. She adds that you can fish in Turtle Pond, walk or canoe along the Neponset River, play golf at the George Wright and amazingly there’s a row of three performance halls on Fairmount Ave. dating back to the early 20th century which promise to keep the dance and drama scene here lively for years to come. Hyde Park, she says, has always been known for its diversity, its welcoming nature and as a place where people go out of their way to live.
“People who live here mostly come from someplace else. There are very few natives.” And she ticks off the names of many of the people on my street. She knows everyone. She rattles off names faster than I can think and she knows what each of them do, where they live, how long they’ve been here and what many of their aspirations are. She tells me that Hyde Park is home to Boston’s fire commissioner, police commissioner, the heads of public works, human services and basic city services. And of course it almost goes without saying, the home of the Mayor. There are a lot of people with money out there and Hyde Park is a place that people want to move to.
There are problems, of course. The business district is haphazard and for some reason hasn’t quite blossomed like Jamaica Plain or Roslindale or even Brighton and there seems to be a plethora of businesses whose storefronts are shabby with no thought put into design or aesthetics. There are glimmers of hope, a new restaurant that offers a fine meal and a wine purveyor whose product line is broad and affordable, and a rezoning process about to get underway that will help spruce things up. “But,” she says, “the worst by far is the problem of perception.” For some reason, and she doesn’t know why, Hyde Park has a bad reputation. She speculates that reporters who make their way out here, ten miles from city hall, do so mainly to report bad news. Even when there’s neutral news, like a food critic visiting the new hot spot, the Boston Globe reporter felt it was necessary to mention that crime here wasn’t as bad as it seemed. “Have you ever heard of a food critic reporting on crime in her critique?” The lively arts community, the long history of peaceful coexistence of blacks and whites, the diverse lifestyles, the rich cultural history, the accessibility to wild parklands and recreation areas and the relatively inexpensive housing market go unreported and largely unnoticed by the rest of the city.
Maybe that’s a good thing, Pat, that’s one of the things we like. We’re staying.