Hunting for a starter home in Greater Boston? Good luck.

bGlobeBy Michael Bodley | The Boston Globe

Greater Boston is running out of starter homes.

Many communities in Eastern Massachusetts often have just a handful of homes for sale for less than $500,000, and inventory has been shrinking rapidly in recent months. While the region has long struggled with a shortage of properties across the range of prices, supply is drying up fastest at the lower end of the market, according to an analysis of Boston-area data by real estate website Zillow.

Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow, said the lack of enough starter homes threatens to upend the traditional path to home ownership treasured by generations of Americans.

“This is really starting to, for lack of a better word, mess with the entire market,” Gudell said. “You don’t have that normal flow of people being able to enter the bottom of the market and sell and move into the middle — it really disrupts this flow that we used to see.”

The scarcity shows a real estate market in hyperspeed: Homes are selling in a matter of days, hours even. Typically, inventory builds over the course of the season as new homes come on the market; now, with properties being snapped up as soon as they’re listed, buyers often just have a few choices, and those, too, disappear quickly.

“The train has left the station, and anyone who waits is missing it,” said Mary Gillach, whose Brookline-based real estate firm markets homes in the Boston area. “It’s not a matter of waiting. It’s not coming. It doesn’t exist.”

While the Boston area experienced a surge in new housing construction in recent years, most has been at the high end of the market, and much of that has been rentals. It’s all done little to relieve the pressure on people who can’t afford million-dollar mortgages.

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