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Two and three family multifamily homes in Cambridge and Somerville.

Two and three family multifamily homes are a significant and popular portion of the residential housing stock in Cambridge and Somerville. In the past year 10.26% of residential sales in Cambridge and 26% of residential sales in Somerville were two and three family multifamily homes. Multifamilies were built in response to the need for inexpensive worker housing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The economics of a multifamily are favorable compared to a single family; the cost of the land, basement and roof are spread among two or three apartments  Because of the rental income, owning a two or three family can be also significantly less expensive than a single family. In recent years, many two and three families have been converted into condos. Our team has been involved in many condo conversion projects over the past several years.

There are a wide variety of two and three family homes in Cambridge and Somerville.


The most common decker home is the triple decker (also called a three decker). A triple decker is a freestanding building with three single level apartments stacked over each other. The apartments in triple deckers have windows on all four sides giving them more light and air than a row house or tenement apartments. Most triple deckers include front and rear porches and flat roofs. Many have bay windows for additional light. Decker variations include:

- Two family decker with two stacked apartments

- Six familiy decker consisting of two connected triple deckers

Non-Decker Two and Three Families

There are a wide variety of non-decker two and three family homes throughout Cambridge and Somerville. Many are Victorian, Greek Revival, Colonial, American Foursquare, and Italianate style homes that resemble single family homes. Many two and three families were originally single family homes that have been subdivided.

Philadelphia Style Two Family

A Philadelphia (also called Philly style) style two family home features a first floor apartment with stairs to one or two bedrooms (and sometimes a bathroom) on the second floor. The origin of the name is a mystery, as this type of home did not originate in Philadelphia. The Philly layout is highly desired by tenants, homeowners, condo buyers, and developers. It allows the first floor apartment to be more spacious and to feel less like an apartment. Most Philly style homes are cross gabled, with dormers and front and side bays. Many feature Gambrel roofs and cove ceilings. The neighborhoods around Davis Square, Teele Square, and Powder House Square in Somerville have a high concentration of Philly Style homes.


Side-by-side multifamily homes have apartments next to each other instead of stacked. This type of multifamily typically has private entrance doors, as well as private front and back yards. Architectural styles run the full gamut.

The Two and Three Family Multifamily Market in Cambridge and Somerville

The market for two and three family multifamilies in Cambridge and Somerville is an appreciating seller's market. Inventory is extremely constrained and demand is very strong. For comparison we looked at inventory in the much weaker market of 2008.


2/9/2008: 24 properties
2/9/2013: 7 properties


2/9/2008: 90 properties
2/9/2013: 9 properties

Median prices are up significantly and with current market conditions appreciation in 2013 is highly likely. For comparison we compared median sale price in 2012 versus 2008.

Up 30%

Up 15%

Zoning Laws

Investors, homeowners, and developers need to be aware of the complex zoning laws that affect multifamily properties. Zoning laws regulate usage, living area, height, setbacks, parking, number of units allowed, dormers, etc.

It is critically important to perform due diligence prior to proceeding with a purchase to determine the legal status and allowed usage of a property. In our experience, many multifamilies do not have a certificate of occupancy on file, making it difficult to determine the legal status of the property. Getting competent legal advice can avoid a lot of future problems. Keep in mind that zoning is a local issue, so hiring professionals with local experience is a must.

Two and Three Famlly Condo Conversion

Many two and three family homes in Cambridge and Somerville have been converted to condominiums.

Many owners of mult-family properties have converted their properties to condos and made a profit. Developers also purchase multi-family properties and convert them to condos in hopes of making a profit.

The reward for a successful condo conversion is a profitable return on invested capital. However, mistakes in any of the many aspects of the process can lead to significant losses for the investor.

We have advised and represented developers in the acquisition, development, and marketing of condominiums. Criteria for a successful condo conversion include:


Some neighborhoods are a better market for condos than others. In Cambridge and Somerville the primary factor determining a good location is access to a T (subway) station. Most condo buyers prefer a location within a 15 minute walk to a T station. Of the T lines, the Red Line is the most popular because of its direct access to Harvard, MIT, Mass General Hospital, and downtown Boston.

Off Street Parking

The demand for off street parking is a function of location. If the location is very close to a T stop, a university, shopping, and employment centers there is less need for parking. The further that a condo is from these amenities the more important it is to have off street parking. For example, condo conversions in the central neighborhoods of Cambridge have been successful without off street parking. Non tandem and garage parking are in high demand and add significant value to condos in any neighborhood.

Condition of the Property

Often the expense of rectifying structural and environmental problems is too high to justify acquiring. Some multifamilies were poorly built to start with and have become structurally deficient. In our opinion, these should be avoided.

Building Layout and Architecture

We have looked at hundreds of mult-families over many years. Some layouts are much better for condo conversions. Generally, condo buyers prefer an open living/dining/kitchen layout. Layout problems such as poor placement of common stairs, excessive hallways, small rooms, and low ceilings are expensive or impossible to rectify. Additionally, there is a wide range of architectural quality. Condo buyers, especially at the higher price positions, prefer homes with high ceilings, lots of light, quality materials, and a high level of architectural design.
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