If you’re a single mom looking for good schools for your son...

Stacia Cooper likes living in Salem, and was pleased to see it near the top of her Dreamtown Finder results.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Stacia Cooper likes living in Salem, and was pleased to see it near the top of her Dreamtown Finder results.

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?

And of course: Can I afford it?


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

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Using the tool, people 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 available in the tool include schools (SAT scores), people similar to you (age, education), fun (movie theaters, restaurants), hipster (number of colleges, Starbucks, hybrid cars), location (crime, public transit, grocery stores), and housing costs (assessed values).

Some people do not have to look hard for the town they want to live in. Stacia

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Stacia Cooper likes living in Salem with her son.

Cooper has rented in Salem for 15 years, and now wants to buy.

“It’s a community I’ve embraced, and it has embraced me,” said Cooper, a 46-year-old upstate New York transplant who has a 7-year-old son. “I like walking down the street and people knowing you and you knowing them.”


She said she loves the museums and movie theaters in Salem. Plus, it is on the water.

“If you can’t find something to do in this town, you’re not looking too hard,” said Cooper, who works for the city’s Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs.

She wants something small: a house or a condo in a two- or three-family. She is not afraid of a little work but is not interested in a fixer-upper.

“No money pits,” she said. And like almost everyone else, price is an issue.

“I have to be thrifty because of my price range,” said Cooper. “I don’t want to lay in bed at night thinking, ‘How can I afford this?’ ”


Fortunately, she is not in a rush. She is perfectly willing to wait for the right property to appear.

“There’s no hurry for me to jump on something,” she said.

Cooper tested Dreamtown Finder, and found that the top communities recommended for her were Cambridge, Newburyport, Westborough, and — surprise! — Salem.

Cambridge and Newburyport “work fine for me,” she said, although Cambridge is pricey.

“I’m glad to see [Salem] in the top four,” she said.

We tried Dreamtown Finder using a variety of other scenarios, too.

Take, for example, a married couple with young children. They are very interested in schools, and have a modest home-buying budget. The top Globe North towns for them, according to Dreamtown Finder: Essex, Wenham, and West Newbury.

A 23-year-old single person, on the other hand, might not be interested in schools, but is very interested in categories we called “fun” and “hipster.” His or her top communities, according to Dreamtown Finder: Cambridge, Boston, and Somerville.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Block 11, a new cafe in Somerville is opening Monday, and it promises to be one of the hippest coffee houses in the neighborhood. The owner of Block 11 is the same as Diesel Cafe, which has already established a hipster crowd.

A retired couple might be interested in the categories called “fun” and “people similar to you.” Top picks: Rockport, Essex, and Nahant.

Another couple interviewed by the Globe, Jessica and Heath Luedde of Stoneham, know what is most most important to their family: schools. Both 35, they have two young boys, 5 and 2.

So they have sold their house on a busy street and are looking for a new home in Bedford.

“It’s a very good school system for the money,” said Jessica, a public sector attorney. “We can’t do Wellesley. This is a good balance. And we also have friends in town.”

They have also been in the city, living in South Boston before moving to Stoneham. Both still work there, Jessica part time, and Heath full time selling rare coins for Bunker Hill Sales Associates.

As with others, the appeal of city life lost some luster as the Lueddes’ children neared school age.

“Before, proximity to the city was more important. Now it’s not so important,” said Jessica, who grew up in rural Pennsylvania.

They have sold their Stoneham house, so are hoping to buy quickly, if not in Bedford, then perhaps Andover or Carlisle. There is also the possibility of renting in Bedford until the right house pops up, and their son can start kindergarten in the fall.

Ideally, they hope to buy a 2,400-square-foot house, with three or four bedrooms and two or 1.5 baths.

Not everyone wants to buy and not everyone is concerned about school systems.

Christina Pascucci and her boyfriend, Chris Ciampa, are looking to rent in Boston. The 27-year-olds are looking to “live life more,” said Pascucci, who now lives in Melrose.

They have not settled on a neighborhood yet, although they have friends in South Boston. She also liked what she saw in the Savin Hill neighborhood of Dorchester, where another friend lives.

She said she is eager to try living in the city, after spending most of her life on the North Shore. She lived one year in the city while she was an undergraduate, but that was it.

“It will definitely be a transition, but I think it will be a good transition,” she said. “We would be total newbies to the experience, but we feel it would be the right fit for us.”

They already do some things in the city:

Both are on a kickball team in Boston, and their teammates all live in the city, she said.

Pascucci works now as an administrative assistant in Peabody. Ciampa works in Chelmsford.

Where you live depends on the situation you are in, she said.

“We always gravitated to the North Shore because that is all we knew for so many years,” Pascucci said. “We were comfortable, a little too comfortable. So we wanted to make a move to the city.”

Let us know what you think of the Dreamtown Finder online tool. You can find it at and you can reach Matt Carroll at Follow him on Twitter @globemattc.