Brand Equity: Dover
For the second year, Dover saw the fastest five-year price growth west of Boston. Its small size and well-regarded schools lend this pastoral community a certain exclusivity, says Marie Presti, broker/owner at the Presti Group in Newton. “Dover just has a brand,” she says. “I think when you’re always rated among the top 10 schools in the state, you’ve got people who want to be in that town.”
The schools were what drew Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Town and Country realtor Mariam Priestley to Dover when she and her husband moved from England more than 20 years ago. But they have no plans to leave now that the kids have graduated. “It’s a quiet, peaceful town of semirural character—there’s only one traffic light,” Priestley says. “Yet it’s within a few miles and easy reach of stores” in Natick, Wellesley, and Needham centers, she adds, as well as the commuter rail and Route 128.
Meanwhile, the median price of a single-family in runner-up Brookline—that leafy oasis enveloped by Boston on three sides—rocketed toward $2 million, a price Mary Gillach of Gillach Group says even doctors are finding difficult to pay.
That Big Town Feel: Framingham
Another Natick neighbor, Framingham saw prices surge 34.5 percent in the past five years, a period when the state’s largest town officially became a city. Lifelong resident and Realty Executives realtor Kathy Foran says that, while many people associate Framingham with its downtown area or Route 9 corridor, it still feels like a small town. “When you drive out to the northwestern part of town, there are hundreds of acres of working farms, there’s Callahan State Park, there are beautiful rolling meadows,” she says. “People don’t realize they’re still in Framingham.”
With access to the Mass. Pike and the commuter rail, Framingham is in a commuting sweet spot halfway between Boston and Worcester, Foran says. And compared with bordering communities such as Sudbury and Wayland, buyers here can, ahem, get the max for the minimum, to borrow a slogan from Framingham-based retail juggernaut TJX. Last year’s winner in this category, Hudson, remains an even more affordable option farther west, offering both country lanes and a busy downtown.
Keeping Good Company: Watertown
Nearer to Boston, Watertown has seen its fortunes rise as a cheaper alternative to neighboring Newton and Cambridge. “Throw a baseball and you’re in Newton, where the prices are twice as high,” says Gillach.
Despite its lack of subway and rail service, Watertown has been drawing younger buyers priced out of Boston and its premium abutters. And developers have been keen to cater to those young professionals, building new labs, offices, apartments, and retail space; construction at Arsenal Yards, a mixed-use development along the Charles River, is slated to wrap up next year. Meanwhile, older two- and three-families are being converted into turnkey, remodeled condos.
“Watertown has come up the last couple of years because developers have gotten better deals on multifamilies than they could in Brookline or Newton, yet it’s the same distance to Boston,” says Presti, who adds that there simply aren’t many two- or three-family properties left to buy in Newton at any price; most have already been converted to condos.
Mid-priced runner-up Burlington has likewise ridden the costly coattails of a neighboring town, as new construction builders have run out of properties in high-priced Lexington and are now training their tear-down targets on Burlington. “That’s the challenge for first-time home buyers: In some of these towns you’re competing against the rehabbers if the house is small enough,” Presti says. One of her clients placed an over-asking price offer on a modest Burlington ranch in early March—only to learn that the sellers received 16 other offers.
THE WINNERS WEST OF BOSTON IN THREE PRICE CATEGORIES
> Under $500,000: Framingham
Median single-family price: $456,000
Change since 2014: +34.5 percent
> Runner-up: Hudson
Median single-family price: $388,500
Change since 2014: +29.5 percent
> $500,000–$750,000: Watertown
Median single-family price: $720,000
Change since 2014: +36.4 percent
> Runner-up: Burlington
Median single-family price: $574,000
Change since 2014: +34.4 percent
> Over $750,000: Dover
Median single-family price: $1,246,750
Change since 2014: +45.5 percent
> Runner-up: Brookline
Median single-family price: $1,997,500
Change since 2014: +32.9 percent
WHAT YOU GET FOR ABOUT $620,000 WEST OF BOSTON
38 York Avenue | Watertown
Square feet: 1,700
Lot size: 0.14 acre
Bedrooms: 3 Baths: 2 full
The fireplace, backyard, and prime location on a tree-lined street make up for the dated kitchen in this roomy 1954 Cape.
This story has been updated to reflect that the Arsenal Yards project will be completed in 2021, and that Mariam Priestley is a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Town and Country.
Jon Gorey is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.