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Top Spots to Live 2014

Greater Boston’s Top Spots to Live

13 communities where the real estate market is sizzling. Plus honorable mentions and the places where condos are hottest.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Now that the economy’s recovering, home values in many places are on the rise. “In Greater Boston it’s going gangbusters,” says Timothy Warren, CEO of The Warren Group, the Boston-based real estate tracking firm that provided the price data used here. The following 13 communities saw the biggest single-family home-price increases from 2012 to 2013. In three cases — Newburyport, Roslindale, and Somerville — the current median price is actually higher than in 2005, the former market peak. (To avoid skewed data, we only considered communities with 50 or more single-family sales.)

One factor driving up prices, Warren explains, is that after a seven-year slump in the market, “there’s a lot of pent-up demand.” Many first-time home buyers had put off the big purchase amid scary headlines about foreclosures and short sales. “These people are having babies now and are still in apartments,” he says. “They’re eager to get out and move on with their lives.” A second factor is that interest rates, while still low at around 4.5 percent, have been inching up for the past year or so. “That movement has spurred people to get out there and try to buy something this year for fear rates may go up even more,” Warren says.

More: Honorable mentions | Where condos are hottest

HAMILTON

Hamilton, MA 4/22/14 For a magazine story on top spots to live, Hamilton is well known as an equestrian paradise, with the median single-family home price of $470,000 in 2013. This is one of the newer developments.

michele mcdonald

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Median single-family home price in 2013 $470,000

Change since 2012 27.06%

Population 8,394

michele mcdonald

Pictured, grand homes like this aren’t hard to find in Hamilton. Above, Myopia calls itself the nation’s oldest active polo club; the first game took place in 1887.

Residential tax rate $17.40

HAMILTON IS WELL KNOWN as an equestrian paradise, with a number of full-service stables and Myopia, the country’s oldest active polo club, which also sponsors regular fox hunts. “But there’s so much more to it than just horses,” says Devlyn Brackett, a realtor at By the Sea Sotheby’s in Beverly Farms who sells regularly in Hamilton. She cites good schools — the Hamilton-Wenham district’s 2013 MCAS composite performance index was as high as 94.2 out of 100 — youth sports and camps, a “cute downtown,” Chebacco Lake, and community events like free summer concerts in Patton Park. There’s something for everyone in the real estate market, too, from farmhouses to raised ranches, with prices ranging from $299,900 for a 982-square-foot three-bedroom to a cool $4.5 million for an 11,318-square-foot manse built in 1906.

FYI: General George S. Patton Jr. had a vacation spot in Hamilton; he died before realizing his dream to retire there.

IPSWICH

Median single-family home price in 2013 $434,500

Change since 2012 32.47%

Population 13,175

Residential tax rate $13.43

IPSWICH HAS MORE than one claim to fame, with the most surviving First Period (1626-1725) houses in the country, the iconic fried-seafood restaurant the Clam Box, and, of course, pristine Crane Beach. But there’s a lot the casual visitor might miss. “It’s a very welcoming town,” says Pam Carakatsane, the town clerk, “very community-oriented.” With two town greens, a wealth of restaurants (including three rated “very good to excellent” by Zagat), a vibrant arts scene, and miles of hiking trails, there’s “a little bit of everything,” according to Sarah Winderlin, a vice president at J Barrett and Company realtors. The inventory runs from condos under $200,000 to large single-families for more than $1 million. “It really does offer a lot,” she says, “and gives buyers a lot of options.”

LAWRENCE

Median single-family home price in 2013 $180,000

Change since 2012 28.53%

Population 76,377

Residential tax rate $15.61

AFTER DECADES OF DECAY, a turnaround is finally in sight for Lawrence, with a commuter rail station that opened in 2005, a vibrant ethnic restaurant scene, mills and warehouses transforming into office and living space, and older housing stock being restored. Its downtown area is still in transition, but Mayor Daniel Rivera points out there is plenty of incentive for small businesses in the form of micro-lending and development programs. “We have no place to go but up,” he says. Though much of the housing stock “could use some sprucing up,” he adds, there’s a waiting list for mill lofts, and neighborhoods like Mount Vernon and Colonial Heights boast cute single-families under $250,000.

KINGSTON

michele mcdonald

Kingston, MA 4/21/14 For a magazine story on top spots to live, Kingston is chosen because it has so many options for water lovers - Silver Lake to the north, Kingston Bay to the east, Jones River and dozens of ponds. It prides itself on its small town atmosphere and the housing stock includes raised ranches, classic Colonials and older farmhouses. Prices start at $200,000 and oceanfront can be had for mid $700,000s.

michele mcdonald

Pictured, the housing stock in Kingston includes classic Colonials and raised ranches. Above, the shoreline along Kingston Bay is a major attraction.

Median single-family home price in 2013 $335,000

Change since 2012 30.35%

Population 12,629

Residential tax rate $16.68

WITH SILVER LAKE to its north, Kingston Bay to its east, and Jones River and about two dozen ponds in between, Kingston offers water lovers options galore. You can paddle your canoe or kayak through any of several large swaths of reserve land. Or join Jones River Landing, which touts itself as “perhaps the oldest continuously operating boatyard in the country,” to have access to the river from the property. Kingston prides itself on its small-town atmosphere, and though zoning restrictions control growth, new homes — notably in Indian Pond Estates, which has a country club — are available alongside the town’s many raised ranches, classic Colonials, and older farmhouses. Prices start at around $200,000, and even oceanfront can be had for as little as the mid-$700,000s.

FYI: The Old Colony commuter rail will take you from Kingston to Boston’s South Station in one hour.

LINCOLN

Lincoln, MA--4/24/2014--Top Spots to Live--The John H. Pierce House (cq), built in 1900, and more than 30 acres was gifted to the Town of Lincoln. A section of the Lincoln Center Historic District (cq) is photographed, on Thursday, April 24, 2014. Photos by Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff Topic: 051114topspots Reporter: Elizabeth Gehrman

pat greenhouse/globe staff

Lincoln, MA--4/24/2014--Top Spots to Live--Children play near "Lincoln," by DeWitt Godfrey. The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (cq) is photographed, on Thursday, April 24, 2014. Photos by Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff Topic: 051114topspots Reporter: Elizabeth Gehrman

pat greenhouse/globe staff

Pictured, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum stretches across 30 acres. Above, Lincoln’s John H. Pierce House is available for weddings.

Median single-family home price in 2013 $1,037,500

Change since 2012 22.06%

Population 6,362

Residential tax rate $14.41

PAUL REVERE WAS CAPTURED HERE by British soldiers in 1775. Today, Lincoln has happier associations, including great schools — ranked as high as 99 percent in MCAS scores — 1,600-plus acres of conservation land, large lots, and attractions like Drumlin Farm, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Gropius House, and Codman Community Farms. With Lincoln’s median household income 179 percent that of Massachusetts as a whole, first-timers may find buying in a challenge. But the housing stock is eclectic, with farmhouses, Capes, Colonials, Tudors, ranches, horse properties, and contemporaries starting at about $700,000 for 1,981 square feet. The town has a rural feel, though it’s only 15 miles from Boston. Says realtor Jeannine Taylor of the town’s Barrett Sotheby’s office: “It’s like a quintessential little New England village.”

FYI: The Thoreau Institute in Lincoln lays claim to the premier collection of materials on the author.

LYNN

Metro - 08Lynn - Lynn, MA - 08/07/2012 -- A 2-mile-long promenade traces Lynn Shores, Red Rock Park (pictured) and Nahant Beach Reservation, hosting cyclists, joggers and walkers throughout the day.(Tamir Kalifa for The Boston Globe)

tamir kalifa/globe file

Median single-family home price in 2013 $219,111

Change since 2012 21.73%

Population 90,329

Residential tax rate $17.13

“A BAD RAP has bird-dogged us for years,” says Lynn’s director of community development, James Marsh. He’s hoping that will change once people start to notice how much the city has to offer. Bracketed by Lynn Shore Drive, with its expansive views of the Atlantic, and Lynn Woods, a 2,200-acre reserve that’s a favorite of dog walkers, Lynn also features a public observatory in High Rock Tower, a renovated 165-slip marina, and Lynn Auditorium, where headliners like B.B. King come to jam. The city’s housing stock is a mixed bag; small condos can be had for less than $100,000 and handyman specials abound — but you might also nab a grand ocean-view gambrel for $799,000, a fraction of what you’d pay in, say, Gloucester, and about a 25-minute train ride from downtown Boston.

Pictured, Lynn’s Red Rock Park.

NEWBURYPORT

Median single-family home price in 2013 $496,000

Change since 2012 28%

Population 17,416

Residential tax rate $14.16

“WE CALL IT A SEAPORT for all seasons,” says Ann Ormond, president of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “We kind of have it all.” Newburyport is easy to get to — just 2½ miles from Interstate 95 — yet the city sits right at the confluence of the Merrimack River and the Atlantic; it’s been a commercial port since Colonial days. Its lively downtown, centered around the brick Market Square complex but fanning out to encompass blocks and blocks of boutiques and restaurants, is a tourist draw in summer. There are year-round charms, too, with an active arts association, an annual Eagle Festival, when sightings of the birds are common, venues for live music, hiking in Maudslay State Park, and several historical attractions. Home values are particularly strong here: The median single-family price in 2013 was almost $40,000 higher than the market peak in 2005. Housing tends toward Colonials and Federals and can range from $75,000 for a studio condo to almost $2.5 million for a large single-family on the water.

ROSLINDALE

Roslindale, MA--4/24/2014--Top Spots to Live--This playground near Fallon Field is next to South Street (in center), also known as Doctor's Row. Various scenes in Roslindale are photographed, on Thursday, April 24, 2014. Photos by Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff Topic: 051114topspots Reporter: Elizabeth Gehrman

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Roslindale, MA--4/24/2014--Top Spots to Live--Raina Casey-Magleby (cq), 3, will get her third haircut of her life at Centre Cuts Salon & Spa. She looks at styles with her mother, Melinda Casey-Magleby (cq). According to Roslindale Village Main Street, there are 12 salons and barber shops in the square. Various scenes in Roslindale are photographed, on Thursday, April 24, 2014. Photos by Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff Topic: 051114topspots Reporter: Elizabeth Gehrman

pat greenhouse/globe staff

Pictured, a mom and daughter visit a salon. Above, a playground sits along so-called doctors’ row.

Median single-family home price in 2013 $410,000

Change since 2012 24.62%

Population 28,680

Residential tax rate $12.58

VISITING “ROZZIE” TODAY, it’s hard to believe that the 1970s marked a period of decline for the Boston neighborhood, with vacant storefronts, vandalism, and arson. That started to change in 1985 when then city councilor Tom Menino helped establish the now-common Main Streets program here. “It’s come a long way,” says Eric Madsen, an agent with Vogt Realty Group in West Roxbury who lives and sells in the area. “I love it because you come home from work and can be at any of five different restaurants within five minutes.” It’s a diverse neighborhood 15 minutes from downtown Boston yet surrounded by green space, from the George Wright Golf Course to Franklin Park and Arnold Arboretum. The housing stock, too, is diverse, with everything from condos — starting as low as $104,900 — to town houses to triple-deckers to Victorians. Notably, the median single-family home price in 2013 was $25,000 higher than the former market peak in 2005.

FYI: In 1873, the city of Boston annexed West Roxbury, of which Roslindale was a part.

PEPPERELL

Median single-family home price in 2013 $295,000

Change since 2012 21.9%

Population 11,497

Residential tax rate $15.86

THE TOWN OF PEPPERELL IS AS PICTURESQUE as they come, with rolling meadows, the Nissitissit and Nashua rivers running through it, more than a dozen ponds, forest trails, and even a covered bridge. It’s conveniently situated for commuters to Worcester and Nashua and has a historic town center, riding facilities, an active senior community, and soccer, Little League, skateboarding, and more for kids. “It’s a very warm and welcoming kind of town,” says Deborah Hayes, an agent with CW Lorden Real Estate in Pepperell. “Everyone knows each other.” New or old, Colonials predominate and run from about $150,000 for a four-bedroom that needs updating to $440,000 for new construction with close to 2,400 square feet. 

SALEM

Salem, MA 4/22/14 For a magazine story on top spots to live, Salem is a North Shore harbor settlement that will always be known as the witch city, but is much more. The venerable Peabody Essex Museum, founded in 1799, is a treasure of art, including Martitime art. Sydney Ferrigno, 10, left, North Haven, CT, points out a wooden sculpture of a boat to her mother Debbie Ferrigno, middle, and her sister, Morgan Jasmin in the East India Marine Hall.

Michele McDonald

Salem, MA 4/22/14 Salem is a North Shore harbor settlement that will always be known as the witch city, but is much more. It has a uniquely rich architectural history, according to the Peabody Essex Museum, with every major American architectural style. Single families are priced at about $238 per square foot according to the story.

Michele McDonald

Pictured, stately homes — and reminders of their creators — can be found throughout the city. Above, the Peabody Essex Museum showcases maritime art and more.

Median single-family home price in 2013 $300,000

Change since 2012 20.05%

Population 41,340

Residential tax rate $16.73

“WE DON’T WANT to be known just as the witch city,” says Dan Fox, co-owner of MerryFox Realty in Salem. This quintessential North Shore harbor settlement will never shake the epithet, but it is indeed much more than its infamous history. The venerable Peabody Essex Museum, which traces its start to 1799, is a trove of American, Asian, African, and maritime art, while just outside its doors is a bustling city center, with waterfront restaurants, shops from the crunchy to the cosmopolitan, and attractions like the House of the Seven Gables and Pickering House, the oldest private home in the United States. Condo development in the city center has taken off in recent years, and there and in converted older homes, says Fox, “you get a lot more square footage and often higher-quality finishes than you would for the money in Boston.” Try $369,900 for 1,536 square feet, for instance. Single-families, too, are priced right; the median list price for all properties is $206 per square foot.

FYI: By 1790, Salem was the country’s sixth largest city and, thanks to maritime trade, the richest per capita.

SOMERVILLE

16davissquare - Cassandra Steed and Lisa DeFreitas are dressed for a "Sassy Saturday" at Buffalo Exchange in Davis Square. (David Lyon for The Boston Globe)

david lyon/globe file

Davis Square’s Buffalo Exchange Boutique.

Median single-family home price in 2013 $540,000

Change since 2012 20.47%

Population 75,754

Residential tax rate $12.66

SOMERVILLE, ONCE KNOWN AS DOWNTRODDEN and later as the cheaper alternative to Cambridge, has finally come into its own. Areas like Davis and Porter squares are every bit as chic as their pricier sisters farther south on Mass. Ave.; Winter Hill and Union Square are thriving, thanks in part to business assistance programs and infrastructure improvements from the city; and Assembly Square is now a busy shopping center, with new housing, retail, and office space coming. Walk Score says Somerville is the seventh most walkable when compared with US cities of all sizes, and the ease of getting around will only increase when the Green Line Extension becomes reality. Real estate values reflect the good vibes: The median single-family home price in 2013 was a staggering $111,500 higher than the market peak in 2005. As the most densely populated community in New England, Somerville is filled with multifamilies, many of which have been or will be converted to condos. Prices vary depending on the neighborhood, but expect to pay around $397 per square foot.

TYNGSBOROUGH

Tyngsborough, MA - 7/23/09 - Despite the weather and recession, farms north of Boston are doing better than ever. Exterior shot of Parlee Farm in Tyngsborough. (Globe staff photo/ Bill Greene) section:nowk, reporter:conti,

The Boston Globe

Median single-family home price in 2013 $346,750

Change since 2012 22.72%

Population 11,292

Residential tax rate $16.78

LIKE PEPPERELL, JUST ONE TOWN OVER, Tyngsborough is the kind of place where you want to “sit back and relax,” according to Michael Brown, broker-owner of Century 21 G.J. Brown in Dracut and Lowell, which often lists properties in the town. “Put your feet up, enjoy nature.” Tyngsborough has every bit of the laid-back, small-town feel of its neighbor to the west, but with Route 3 running right through its center, it provides a quick commute to Lowell, Nashua, and Interstate 495. Lot sizes are large, and there’s a preponderance of Colonials and quite a number of fixer-uppers. Nicer three- and four-bedrooms start in the low $300,000 range.

Pictured, Parlee Farms in Tyngsborough.

FYI: Tyngsborough bills itself as “The Gateway to the White Mountains” of New Hampshire.

WEST BRIDGEWATER

Median single-family home price in 2013 $282,000

Change since 2012 20%

Population 6,916

Residential tax rate $16.49

WEST BRIDGEWATER IS A BUCOLIC bedroom community with easy access to both Boston, only 30 miles away, and Providence, 32 miles, so it can be a good choice for two-commuter couples. Just 3 miles from the shopping centers and restaurants of Bridgewater, it has remained a quiet town with typical New England appeal: a gazebo in War Memorial Park, a steepled white church, a tiny center with an imposing Town Hall, a post office, and three Dunkin’ Donuts. Farmland, a rail trail, the Town River, and several protected areas, including a state forest, help it keep its pastoral character. Susan Souza, a sales manager and broker in Bridgewater’s Jack Conway office, notes that 82 single-family homes sold in 2013, almost double what moved in 2012. “If houses go on the market,” she says, “they sell quickly.” It’s no wonder, when less than $200,000 can buy a fixer-upper.

Pictured: War Memorial Park.

FYI: West Bridgewater’s War Memorial Park is located on the site of the Ames Shovel Company, begun in the 1770s.

More: Honorable mentions | Where condos are hottest

Elizabeth Gehrman is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.
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