John Lepore, of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England, says buyers’ changing tastes, coupled with concerns about Hartford’s fiscal health and its impact on education, police and fire protection, and other city services have throttled consumer demand for large, “jumbo’’ homes in the city’s West End.

 

This Scarborough Street mansion in the city’s West End recently sold for a quarter of its original $3.1 million original asking price after three years on the market, brokers say.

Recent news indicating significant growth in Hartford's overall grand list masks a disheartening reality for one of the city's property segments: Sluggish sales and declining values of larger houses and mansions.

Area brokers specializing in the marketing and sales of "jumbo" houses sized 4,000 square feet and larger say units in that segment not only are taking longer to sell, but generally do so way under their original asking prices.

West Hartford residential broker John Lepore and other realty observers cite changing buyers' tastes in which younger Millennials eschew expansive, multi-room dwellings in favor of smaller houses and apartments in or near downtown. Consumer concerns about Hartford's fiscal health, which bears directly on the city's property-tax rate to fund schools, police and fire protection, and other municipal services, too, factor in the diminished demand, observers say.

"It's impacting the saleability at least for larger homes,'' said Lepore, of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England.

Hartford City Assessor John Philip also has noted the trend of fewer sales of large city houses, particularly in its West End, bordering West Hartford. Overall, Philip said that the city's 2016 revaluation showed "residential values in general were a drag on grand list growth."

To underscore the trend, Philip and other experts point to what's described as the immaculately updated mansion at 150 Scarborough St., in the city's West End, which recently sold after languishing on the market for nearly three years.

The 11,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom, eight full-bathroom dwelling on 2.34 acres originally was listed in May 19, 2014, with a $3.1 million asking price. It closed in early January at $775,525. Its property tax bill currently is around $45,000.

Broker Rob Giuffria, of Tea Leaf Realty in West Hartford, said his search of Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data for Connecticut houses for sale found just seven Hartford houses listed above $500,000 that were sold in the past 12 months, through this January, at a median price of $120 per square foot.

But in the previous 12 months, through Jan. 2016, only five city houses above $500,000 sold at a median price of $138 per square foot, Giuffria said.

Hartford's declining jumbo home values are in contrast to those in several neighboring communities, where median house prices for larger properties have been stable.

West Hartford, for example, recorded 102 sales of houses priced at $500,000 and up at a median $186 a square foot between Jan. 12, 2016 and Jan. 13, 2017 vs. the 90 dwellings in that price category that sold for $190 a square foot the previous 12-month period, Giuffria said, citing MLS data.

Avon, also based on MLS data, had 101 sales of houses priced $500,000 or more at a median of $160 a square foot between Jan. 12, 2016 and Jan. 13, 2017 vs. 96 sold at a median of $161 a square foot in the year-ago period.

"It's safe to say … Hartford's [home price per foot] has decreased at a greater rate than those two surrounding towns,'' Giuffria said.

Meantime, Hartford's overall housing market did improve in 2016. The number of single-family home sales rose 11 percent with 284 houses trading hands, while the median sales price increased 13.1 percent to $123,250, according to the Commercial Record.

At the same time, Hartford's commercial property values have increased significantly, according to a preliminary analysis of an Oct. 2016 revaluation by the assessor's office, thanks to new developments recasting former vacant properties into habitable apartments and/or retail and office space, and more residents and business tenants filling up space downtown.

Market factors

School quality remains a top priority among potential homebuyers, but the perception lingers that Hartford's schools are less so, Giuffria said. But that aside, "in general it's harder to sell big homes in all towns because conspicuous consumption is out of vogue,'' he said.

"It's a change in behavior,'' Giuffria said. "Even younger buyers who can afford bigger homes aren't buying them.''

Another cloud over Hartford's jumbo-house market, he said, stems from a row between the city and mostly unrelated residents — eight adults, three kids — living together in another home at 68 Scarborough St.

The city sued, claiming the arrangement violated its residential zoning code. But last October, it withdrew its suit against the so-called "Scarborough 11,'' who described themselves as "intentional family."

"[Hartford] Planning & Zoning needs to come out one way or another on how they're going to treat the definition of 'intentional family,' '' Giuffria said, "so buyers can make a decision on whether they want to buy there.''

As with almost any property, there is a point at which potential buyers will set aside their concerns if the price is right, Lepore said.

He noted his recent sale of a West End house — "not one of the mansions" — on North Beacon Street. Within a week of listing, the house went under contract at $4,000 less than its $579,000 asking price, the broker said.

"Like all trends,'' Lepore said, "things are never permanent.''