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 south of Boston that topped the list.
TOP SPOTS SOUTH OF BOSTON FOR UNDER $600,000
Top spot: Brockton
Median single-family price: $430,000
Increase since 2017: 62.3 percent
Several of the commonwealth’s older, smaller cities saw a resurgence in recent years as home buyers tried to find something under the 2022 state median price of $550,000. That includes Brockton, birthplace of the famous boxer Rocky Marciano and once known as the Shoe City for its scores of shoe factories. Although it’s also the home of the Fuller Craft Museum and the approximately 100-acre Stone Farm Conservation Area, the city wasn’t necessarily on buyers’ most-desired lists until real estate started spiking.
“There were certain buyers who had these conceptions about what Brockton was, until they were able to really see it firsthand and really drive through and see what they’re getting for their money,” says Alex Jean-Baptiste, who owns Just The Best Real Estate in Plainville, part of Keller Williams. He considers Brockton a hub that offers plenty of convenience itself, but is also close to Boston and the coast. With renewed interest, prices have been rising: A four-bedroom, 1.5 bath Cape on an almost-acre lot close to the Easton line was listed recently for $570,000.
Michele Simmons, 36, grew up in Brockton, left, and then moved back. She works as a business relations manager for a life insurance company and likes Brockton because it’s within a reasonable driving distance of Boston and Providence. “It has some connotations; people, you know, think of it as a big, bad city,” Simmons says. “I grew up on the west side of Brockton, a really nice neighborhood. And there are several really nice neighborhoods, and I’ve always felt perfectly safe.”
Simmons also likes Brockton’s diversity. The city is 33 percent white, 42 percent Black, and about 12 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the census.
“I would prefer to be in a diverse area,” she says. “I don’t want [my daughter] to grow up sheltered or scared of people because they’re a different color.”
Median single-family price: $545,000
Increase since 2017: 61.3 percent
Median single-family price: $401,000
Increase since 2017: 60.8 percent
Wareham used to be known as the Gateway to Cape Cod, until Interstate 495 diverted traffic from Route 6. Now it’s being rediscovered for its 54 miles of shoreline, village center, and convenience of national chains, such as Walmart, and the Wareham Crossing outlet mall. The town is taking advantage of Cape traffic woes with a new slogan: “It’s Better Before the Bridges.” Meanwhile, Plymouth, the commonwealth’s largest town in square miles, offers a wide variety of housing, from condos to town homes to single families. Its downtown has a new (and younger) night life scene with busy bars and restaurants and the Spire Center for Performing Arts.
TOP SPOTS SOUTH OF BOSTON FOR $600,000 TO $800,000
Top spot: Mattapoisett
Median single-family price: $645,000
Increase since 2017: 65.0 percent
The word is out about Mattapoisett, population 6,500, which perches on the edge of Buzzards Bay, about 10 miles from New Bedford and about 20 from the Bourne Bridge. Mattapoisett started as a center of shipbuilding and saltworks but, being on the coast, morphed into a summer community. Now, it’s being discovered by year-rounders, partly because the South Coast is — finally — due to get commuter rail service late this year. Carl Hubacheck, the town’s only cranberry grower, moved to Mattapoisett in 1991 and says he was told to just keep quiet about it because it was the “best-kept secret on the South Coast,” he says. “It really is.”
But it’s not a secret anymore. Median prices have increased here over the last five years more than any other town in this area south of Boston. Hubacheck says even some “of the Hollywoods and athletes” have homes here, including actor Sam Waterston, known for Law & Order and Grace and Frankie. An 1880s-era historic home on the waterfront is listed at over $3.8 million.
The town has beaches on Buzzards Bay and is still a fishing center, with lobster and scallop boats, Hubacheck says. Or, you can take your seafood on a plate at the classic Turk’s Seafood, just east of the town center.
Mattapoisett has its own elementary schools but as part of the Old Rochester Regional District, with Marion and Rochester, sends students to regional middle and high schools. Schools are excellent, with small class sizes, Hubacheck says. The high school has an enrollment of just over 600 students this year.
Things are quiet in the winter but pick up in summer when there are Fourth of July events on the waterfront and the summer folks are in town, Hubacheck says. And real estate speculation has picked up because of the commuter rail. But at least for now, it remains, as he puts it, a “nice little town.”
Median single-family price: $660,000
Increase since 2017: 50.9 percent
Median single-family price: $639,000
Increase since 2017: 48.6 percent
Easton is tucked between I-495 and Route 24, and features some relatively new homes, such as a four-bedroom, 2002 Colonial on 1.47 acres listed for $869,000. The town is proud of Stonehill College and the historic buildings designed by 19th-century architect Henry Hobson Richardson, including the Ames Free Library and Oakes Ames Memorial Hall. On the other side of Route 3, Marshfield residents contend they have the best beaches on the South Shore, from popular Rexhame to quiet Green Harbor. The town has a lively esplanade, a convenient downtown area, and homes ranging from converted cottages to massive hilltop mansions. And, it’s a quick drive to two MBTA rail stations.
TOP SPOTS SOUTH OF BOSTON FOR OVER $800,000
Top spot: Scituate
Median single-family price: $895,000
Increase since 2017: 64.2 percent
Scituate, on Massachusetts Bay between Marshfield and Cohasset, used to be considered the affordable town on the South Shore, partly because it was harder to get to before the Greenbush Line of the commuter rail opened in 2007.
But the commuter rail here, and rising prices in neighboring South Shore towns, have made it more appealing for those looking to be near the city and the water, despite the town’s reputation for being buffeted by storms.
Recent listings included a six-bedroom, four-bath oceanfront home for about $3.9 million and an open-floor plan, inland three-bedroom for $675,000.
Reneé Jennings and her husband were first attracted to Scituate because it felt more like a small town than a suburb and was economically diverse, she says. The couple have four children and have now been in town 24 years. “There’s a good amount of flavor to the town,” says Jennings, 54. “I wasn’t looking for a cookie-cutter lifestyle.”
Jennings now teaches preschool in Hingham but used to work at a coffee shop on Scituate Harbor, where she encountered most everyone in town. “It was the best part of everything,” she says. “I met such great people. I met the firemen. I met the policemen, the lobsterman. I met the electrician I use now.”
The family is now in its third Scituate house, about a mile and half from the beach. They have no plans to move, even though the Jennings are about to become empty nesters. A retired couple lives on one side of them; a young couple on the other. “Scituate has that variety,” says Jennings. “You can see goodness no matter what you do for a living.”
Median single-family price: $1,265,000
Increase since 2017: 61.7 percent
Median single-family price: $1,150,000
Increase since 2017: 59.5 percent
Westwood is in the corner where Interstates 95 and 93 meet, so in some ways it’s more a western suburb than the coastal South Shore. Need to get to town? It has two commuter rail stations, one an Amtrak/MBTA station with a parking garage, as well as MBTA bus service. The town prides itself on its schools, and developed University Station, a mixed-use development on 130 acres featuring retail, housing, and a hotel. Hingham offers residents a bit of everything, from quiet, tree-lined streets dotted with stately Colonials to distinct shopping areas. It boasts scenic beaches, massive Wompatuck State Park, a picture-perfect harbor, and a fun farmers market. You can get into Boston in about 30 minutes via commuter rail or year-round ferry.
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.