WESTWARD HOME: MILFORD
High home prices in Boston’s immediate suburbs have long pushed buyers to look farther west — where communities like Milford await. “I absolutely love Milford,” says Josh Lioce, a realtor and lifelong resident whose great-grandparents settled here in the 1920s.
Milford is a small city in its own right, Lioce says, with a population that doubles during the workday thanks to employees of companies such as Waters Corp. and Consigli Construction — many of whom grab lunch at beloved Italian-style delis Oliva’s Market or Gene’s Variety. Although prices are rising quickly, homes here still come at a discount compared with neighboring towns such as Hopkinton or Medway.
Affordability is also the main draw for runner-up Framingham, says realtor and longtime resident Diane B. Sullivan — along with great city services and school options, convenient commuter choices, and perks like the nationally acclaimed Jack’s Abby brewery. “We are so popular right now, but I think it’s been a sleeper town for many years,” Sullivan says.
WAKE-UP CALL: WALTHAM
Buyers have also woken up to Waltham — making it hard for some longtime locals to stay, including Lizzy’s Ice Cream owner Miriam Benitez. Lizzy’s has been a mainstay of Moody Street for so long that young adults with fond childhood memories of the shop now return looking for work, Benitez says.
Benitez, who grew up in Waltham and later attended youth soccer games and library story times with her own kids there, says it’s a strong community — one that supported local businesses like hers through the pandemic. But with so much going for Waltham — a thriving dining scene, a pair of universities, a new high school in the works, and access to the commuter rail and Route 128 — prices have raced out of reach for some. “I moved to Framingham,” Benitez says, “because the houses were just too expensive in Waltham. I couldn’t really buy one here.”
Benitez now commutes along the Mass. Pike through runner-up Natick, which attracts buyers with its historic New England town feel. “We have a lovely downtown near Natick Common, with a year-round farmers market,” Sullivan says, plus several new and rebuilt schools. Prices have risen considerably, though, with a lot more homes approaching seven figures.
NATURAL PROGRESSION: LINCOLN
Despite a commuter-friendly perch near the junction of Routes 2 and 128, the quiet, small town of Lincoln eschews suburban sensibilities for a more rustic landscape of farmland and forest. “It’s not a town where you see lots of large, manicured lawns,” says Gwyn Loud, who moved to Lincoln from Cambridge with her husband back in 1968.
More than 40 percent of the town’s open space is protected. That includes areas like Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, but also private lots, where homeowners have put conservation deed restrictions in place. During amphibian migrations each spring, road signs warn motorists to watch for wood frogs and spotted salamanders. And Lincoln’s lone shopping center, next to the commuter rail station, is owned by the Rural Land Foundation, so even the grocery store and coffee shop are indirectly funding conservation efforts.
Buyers in the same price bracket craving a tree-bordered-sidewalk setting would do well to consider next-door Lexington, which boasts charming suburban neighborhoods, a busy town center, and some of the state’s highest-ranked public schools.
But Loud loves the untidy and “scruffy” feel of her town, where bird- and pollinator-loving residents let their shrubs grow with relative abandon, and where lighting is limited at night to protect wildlife. “There’s just a real appreciation of nature,” she says.
WINNERS IN THREE PRICE CATEGORIES
1. Under $500,000: Milford
Median single-family price: $400,000
Increase since 2015: 39.3 percent
> Runner-up: Framingham
Median single-family price: $496,000
Increase since 2015: 38.5 percent
2. $500,000–$750,000: Waltham
Median single-family price: $660,000
Increase since 2015: 40.4 percent
> Runner-up: Natick
Median single-family price: $715,000
Increase since 2015: 36.7 percent
3. Over $750,000: Lincoln
Median single-family price: $1,319,500
Increase since 2015: 39.6 percent
> Runner-up: Lexington
Median single-family price: $1,300,000
Increase since 2015: 39 percent
WHAT YOU GET FOR AROUND $650,000 WEST OF BOSTON
3 Hickory Hill Lane | Framingham
Square feet: 2,312
Lot size: 0.46 acre
Bedrooms: 4 Baths: 2 full, 1 half
There’s a stone fireplace in the family room of this 1971 Colonial and a deck off the kitchen overlooking the large backyard and in-ground pool. (Listed by Deborah Feldman, Coldwell Banker.)
Jon Gorey is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.