It was a joy for Cathy Angelini, the sales director at the St. Regis Residences Boston, an under-construction luxury condominium, to see back-to-back showings in late 2021 after a long sales drought.
The deal was struck on the spot when a Pfizer employee agreed to buy a 16th-floor condo with a view of the Boston Harbor for $4.85 million. The same unit was also targeted by a Moderna executive two hours later. Upon hearing of the coincidence, Ms. Angelini told him, “He just looked at me, completely serious and said, ‘I want the same home, but I need to be one floor higher than Pfizer.” Right there, that day, he reserved an option to purchase a 17th-floor unit for $4.95 million, she said.
In the decade since Moderna’s founding in 2010, employees from the company have descended on the Boston-area real estate market to buy homes since the company’s “blockbuster” Covid vaccine led to its first profitable year in 2021.
With millions of doses of the vaccine on the way, Moderna more than tripled its workforce in the Boston area. During 2020, 470 more employees joined the company, which had approximately 830 at the end of 2019. As a result, Covid announced plans to double its production space and lab space in Norwood to increase its vaccine production by 50% the following year. As of the end of 2021, Moderna had 2,700 employees earning a median salary of $133,064, according to its financial statements. As of now, more than 3,200 people work for Moderna.
“They had urgency and they were willing to compensate people,” explained Dave Melville, founder and CEO of Bowdoin Group. In 2019, the company generated just $60 million in revenue with a loss of $514 million. Moderna reported revenue of nearly $18.5 billion and net income of over $12 billion in 2021, the first full year the vaccine was sold. Stock prices peaked at $497.49 in August 2021, up roughly 345% from the stock’s January 2021 price of $28.
Noubar Afeyan, the company’s co-founder and chairman, and Stéphane Bancel, its CEO, became billionaires during the 2021 spike. In May, Bancel announced that he would donate his after-tax funds from his original Moderna stock options, which amount to approximately $355 million, to charity. The stock was trading around $167 per share as of July 20.
As Moderna’s financial fortunes grew and its employee numbers expanded, the company also witnessed substantial real estate purchases by both new and longtime employees. The company’s headquarters in the Kendall Square neighborhood of Cambridge is located near this uptick in sales, which Lori Orchanian of Coldwell Banker Realty calls “the Moderna halo effect.”
In the past, large companies have brought workers into small towns. Retail giant Walmart, for example, has attracted dozens of employees to Bentonville, Ark., while Amazon has opened warehouses around the world therefore creating various job opportunities. “The direct effect on housing isn’t just around the headquarters, it’s submarkets that are commuting distance,” according to Sam Chandan, director of the Center for Real Estate Finance Research at NYU Stern.
As early as mid-2021, Manny Sarkis of Douglas Elliman noticed a spike in Moderna buyers from out-of-state, many of whom were willing to pay a premium in order to buy a property quickly. “These aren’t buyers who are going to be browsing for two to three months,” Mr. Sarkis said. “These are buyers who are flying in to buy a home.”
The halo effect of newly hired, relocating Moderna executives was notable on the luxury end of the market. Neal Dahiya, a Moderna litigation director who previously worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb in New Jersey for eight years, joined the company in January 2021. Records show he bought a $3.45 million house in Cambridge in June 2021. Mr. Dahiya didn’t want to say anything about this. Mr. Dahiya left Moderna on July 22, a spokesperson explained.
A 22-year veteran of Amgen, Ms. Nicholson joins Moderna in September 2021 as VP of supply chain design. Her husband, Michael Nicholson, and she bought a house in Westwood for about $2.5 million, as per the records. She did not respond to a comment request.
Moderna’s chief human resources officer, Tracy Franklin, arrived at the company from Merck, a New Jersey-based company, a few months before the pandemic began. Franklin and her husband purchased a house in Boston in April 2021 for about $6 million, according to records. No response was received from Ms. Franklin.
Luxurious digs were not just available to newly relocated Moderna employees. A few longtime employees purchased luxury properties in Boston, New York, and Cape Cod between 2021 and 2022.
Huang, chief scientific officer of Moderna Genomics, bought the condo in June 2021 for almost $3.9 million, according to records. In February 2022, he purchased an $8.1 million condominium at the Soori High Line in New York. Dr. Huang declined to comment.
In October 2021, as per the records, Melissa J. Moore (Chief Scientific Officer for scientific affairs) and her wife, Janet Kosloff, purchased a waterfront property in Provincetown for $4.95 million. Paul Martini, a moderna scientist, and Jonathan Hawkins, a producer, bought property in Provincetown as well. A beach home was bought by them for roughly $2.5 million in April 2021, and the Crown & Anchor entertainment complex was acquired for about $7.3 million in November 2021. In December 2021, Mr. Martini bought a condo for nearly $1.9 million in Boston. Requests for comment from Ms. Moore and Mr. Martini were not returned.
When the company’s fortunes surged in 2021, even employees with modest budgets stepped up their efforts. Mr. Dougherty said he worked with a couple, both employed by Moderna, who began looking for a home in September 2020 with a $1.9 million budget. As their search progressed, their budget “evolved” almost weekly, he said. The property they purchased in March 2021 was worth $4.3 million.
“There’s a lot of wealth in the region that’s just kind of unlocking a bit,” he said.
A Moderna spokesman stated in response to a request for comment regarding staff real estate purchases: “As a major employer in Massachusetts, and as we grow our global footprint, we are proud to continue to attract the best and brightest talent in the biotech industry and beyond.”
In June 2022, according to real-estate brokerage Redfin, the median price for luxury homes in the Boston metro area was $2.2 million, an increase of 15.79% from June 2021 and nearly 30% from June 2020.
Just before Christmas 2021, Angelini said her Moderna buyer put down 20%. “I don’t think he was concerned about price,” she said. As soon as he ensured the condo had water views, he said, “Just get me higher.”