With a lack of inventory around the region, the task of finding a home remains precarious for buyers. We looked at the 36 Greater Boston cities, towns, and city neighborhoods where demand — and prices — have surged the most (in three price categories) over the past five years. Here are the nine communities north of Boston that topped the list.
TOP SPOTS NORTH OF BOSTON FOR UNDER $600,000
Top spot: Lawrence
Median single-family price: $430,000
Increase since 2017: 68.6 percent
Erika Hernandez attended fifth grade in Lawrence, returned for high school, then headed to Boston for college. In 2013, she came back, this time for good.
“I have decided this is where I want to continue developing myself professionally and be close to friends and family,” says Hernandez, who was recently named executive director of ACT Lawrence, a nonprofit that provides financial counseling and homebuyer programs.
Lawrence was once home to the world’s largest dam and mill complex, but the textile industry — and its jobs — disappeared in the mid-20th century, and the city struggled economically. But recent years have seen a revival. Home buyers are catching on: The 2022 median home of $430,000 is up 11.4 percent from just a year earlier. This is the second year in a row the city has appeared on the Top Spots to Live list. Hernandez says she’s been seeing residents priced-out by newcomers.
Lawrence is a dynamic and vibrant place, Hernandez says. There is an evolving arts scene, restaurants that taste like home for the city’s large and varied Latino population, and a surge in young, innovative entrepreneurs starting businesses. Hernandez is particularly fond of El Taller (Spanish for the workshop), a bookstore, coffeehouse, and event space that has become a gathering place for the city’s creative types.
“This community has been more than just a place to live,” Hernandez says.
Median single-family price: $566,500
Increase since 2017: 60.5 percent
Median single-family price: $445,000
Increase since 2017: 60.5 percent
Lowell, known for the University of Massachusetts campus and its historic mills, is one of the state’s biggest cities with a population of about 114,000 people. It’s a mix of cultures, history, and the arts, with celebrations including the Lowell Folk Festival and for Khmer New Year. Amesbury is tucked between the Merrimack River and the New Hampshire border. Technically a city — population 17,000 — it has the feel of a small town with a walkable village center.
TOP SPOTS NORTH OF BOSTON FOR $600,000 TO $800,000
Top spot: Tyngsborough
Median single-family price: $627,500
Increase since 2017: 63percent
Tyngsborough is right on the New Hampshire border and has an eye-catching 1931 green bridge that crosses the Merrimack River. Mike and Heidy Santiago own the popular restaurant Mami Luz’s Café that overlooks the bridge and serves Colombian and American dishes. Despite being situated between the large cities of Lowell and Nashua, New Hampshire, Mike Santiago says, Tyngsborough retains a “small town feel.”
While Tyngsborough lacks a real downtown area, spots such as Mami Luz’s create an environment where locals can connect, which is exactly what the couple intended. “We get a lot of regulars that come here almost every day,” he says. “A lot of people seem to know each other.”
The couple live in Nashua but hope to move to Tyngsborough at some point. When they do, they’ll be able to choose from a variety of styles of single-family homes on large lots (one Colonial, newly on the market for $599,000, sits on 2.15 acres), as well as town houses and other options.
Locals have quick access to hundreds of acres of forests, meadows, and wetlands, including the Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest and an 80-acre preserve, Sherburne Nature Center and Trails, where even pets are welcome.
And more people are starting to discover Tyngsborough, Heidy Santiago says, partly because of events such as the annual Festival of Trees, featuring dozens of decorated Christmas trees, as well as workshops and crafts in two of the town’s historic buildings.
Median single-family price: $625,000
Increase since 2017: 62.9 percent
Median single-family price: $600,000
Increase since 2017: 58.7 percent
Salem residents say there’s plenty of culture in this town besides witches and Halloween madness — for example, the world-class Peabody Essex Museum and an expansive restaurant scene. The city is popular with empty nesters and has an urban feel without Boston prices. Another plus: commuter rail access. Merrimac, once a center for the manufacturing of horse-drawn carriages (and later automobiles), combines a rural feel with a historic downtown. The oldest section is Merrimacport, along the Merrimack River, south of Interstate 495.
TOP SPOTS TO LIVE NORTH OF BOSTON FOR OVER $800,000
Top spot: Newbury
Median single-family price: $915,000
Increase since 2017: 84.5 percent
Newbury borders Newburyport but has more than twice the land area and, because it’s inland, fewer greenhead flies, says Candice Fontas, who lives in town and has a dual career as a hairstylist and a real estate agent with Engel & Völkers. “People are definitely more spread out, but a big chunk of Plum Island belongs to Newbury,” Fontas says. “You can get a resident sticker, and we have our own special parking lot.”
Newbury residents likely head to Newburyport if they want to shop or go out to eat, but Newbury does have a post office, library, convenience store, and flower shop, Fontas said. The village of Byfield is home to the popular barbecue of the Rusty Can (expect a wait).
Boston is about 50 minutes away by car, but commuter rail is available in Newburyport and Rowley. Housing stock is mostly single family, but be warned: there’s little inventory, Fontas says. “Buyers are calling us and asking if we can knock on doors for them and mail letters to try to get people to sell them houses.”
Median single-family price: $1,355,000
Increase since 2017: 58.5 percent
Median single-family price: $1,138,000
Increase since 2017: 58.1 percent
Easily accessible off Route 128, Manchester-by-the-Sea is made up of stately homes surrounding a compact downtown packed with locally owned restaurants, small shops and boutiques, and a spacious waterfront park overlooking a picturesque harbor. The schools, which share a district with neighboring Essex, rank among the best in the state. Arlington splits the difference between the vibrancy of the city and the more serene pleasures of the suburbs, with an appealing blend of coffee shops, restaurants, parks, and shady, tree-lined streets. Its excellent schools and easy commute into Cambridge and Boston make it popular with young professionals and families.
HOW WE SELECTED THE TOP SPOTS TO LIVE FOR 2023
Determining a “best” place to live is a subjective exercise, one with as many possible outcomes as there are home buyers. To arrive at this annual list of Top Spots, we rely on the finite but nonetheless valid wisdom of supply and demand: Sharply increasing home prices suggest that these are communities many people want to call home. We analyzed median home prices from 2017 and 2022 to find the biggest five-year increases across three price tiers for each region. In the suburbs, we looked at single-family data from The Warren Group, excluding communities with fewer than 50 sales in 2022. For Boston and Cambridge neighborhoods, we used median home price data — which include both single-family and condo sales — from real estate brokerage Redfin.
Susan Moeller is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. With additional reporting by Sarah Shemkus and Robin Van Impe. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.