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How the Globe created the Dreamtown Finder formula

When it comes to buying a home, there’s nothing but decisions, decisions, and more decisions.

What town is best for me and my family? Are the schools good? Can I walk to a good restaurant and stores? Is it too far (or too close) to extended family?

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And of course: Can I afford it?

Buying a house is always a difficult decision, a tug-of-war between the hard logic of a small house with a fast commute time balanced against the emotional appeal of the spacious house and large yard far from the highway.

To help people decide what communities they might want to consider, the Globe has developed an online tool, called Dreamtown Finder, using a wide variety of data.

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Using the tool, users can decide how important various factors are to them, and the Dreamtown Finder steers them to a set of options. Everyone has a different set of criteria, of course, but the factors we chose for the tool include the following: schools (SAT scores), people similar to you (age, education), fun (movie theaters, restaurants), hipster (number of colleges, Starbucks, hybrid cars, for example), location (crime, public transit, grocery stores), and housing costs (assessed values).

The Boston Globe used more than 15 different types of data to compile Dreamtown Finder, including sources from the state and federal governments. The data was divided into different categories and weighted, to help readers analyze their scores.

Schools: SAT scores from 2011-2012; student-teacher ratios, 2011-2012. Source: Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

People similar to you: Age and education data. Source: US Census.

Fun: The number of restaurants, theaters and museums. Source: Tripadvisor, other online sources.

Hipster: The number of colleges per resident; percentage of renters versus buyers; percentage of hybrid cars versus non-hybrid cars; the number of Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Starbucks per resident. Sources: US Census; state Department of Revenue; various companies.

Location: Crime rate, including violent and property crime; the number of public transit options; the number of historical sites per resident; the percentage of acres that are “open space”; the number of grocery stores. Sources: FBI; MBTA; MassGIS; Infogroup, Census.

Housing costs: Average assessed values. Source: Department of Revenue.

Matt Carroll can be reached at mcarroll@globe.com and followed at @GlobeMattC.
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