2015 Top Spots to Live: The best streets in Greater Boston
From Andover to Weymouth, Back Bay to Newton, these streets win honors for their curb appeal, amenities, and other distinctions.
HOW WE MADE OUR PICKS
In February we surveyed members of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and other real estate agents, asking them to identify the top streets in Greater Boston based on criteria such as curb appeal and proximity to amenities like playgrounds and restaurants. We supplemented our own editorial research to arrive at these choices.
EAST BROADWAY / SOUTH BOSTON
If you love the city but can’t quite imagine paying a quarter-million for a 12-by-17-foot studio in the Back Bay, East Broadway may be your dream street. “It’s definitely where the action is,” says Jackie Rooney of South Boston’s Rooney Real Estate. With everything commercial at one end, a beach at the other end, a 6-acre dog-friendly park in the middle, and lots of public transportation options a short walk away, the location is hard to beat. The housing stock runs the gamut — condos (going for $516 per square foot in the first quarter of this year), single-families ($380 per square foot), and the occasional multi.
South Boston at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $542,750
5-year change: +21.8%
Median condo sale price: $500,000
5-year change: +37.4%
ORCHARD STREET / CAMBRIDGE
You’ll need patience to buy on Orchard Street, which has seen only four sales since 2012, ranging from a three-bedroom condo for $685,000 to a 3,236-square-foot single-family built in 1896 for $1.52 million. Parallel to Mass. Ave., Orchard is only about a half-mile long, starting a few blocks from Davis Square in Somerville (a portion of the street is in that city) and running south one way to Porter Square in Cambridge. The area offers more than a few amenities, not the least of which is being smack in the middle of all kinds of entertainment and night life options, but the street still feels quiet and removed. With multi-families, a smattering of single-families, and many condos carved out of mostly relatively modest (for Cambridge) Victorians, Orchard Street is worth the wait.
Cambridge at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $1.25 million
5-year change: +45.6%
Median condo sales price: $580,000
5-year change: +36.5%
BABCOCK STREET / BROOKLINE
Connecting Harvard Street in Brookline to Comm. Ave. in Allston, Babcock is a city street with a suburban feel thanks to trees shading the sidewalks on either side and tidy lawns fronting its Victorian-era single- and multi-families, which sell for prices in the millions. But condos in well-maintained older brick buildings are the predominant housing style here; in the past three years they’ve sold at prices ranging from $300,000 for a studio to $800,000 for a 1,448-square-foot three-bedroom. Not bad considering that no matter where you live on Babcock you’re less than a mile from restaurants, shops, parks, BU, and, perhaps best of all, a Trader Joe’s.
Brookline at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $1.57 million
5-year change: +35.7%
Median condo sales price: $640,000
5-year change: +36.8%
MARLBOROUGH STREET / BACK BAY
A street that needs no introduction to those who know Boston, Marlborough is among the grandest thoroughfares in the city, packed with mansard-roofed row houses and accented by brick sidewalks, colorful front gardens, and street lights modeled after gas lamps. Because it’s nearly all residential and one way (except for the block between Arlington and Berkeley), Marlborough has a neighborhood feel despite being a few short blocks from the shopping and restaurants of Newbury and Boylston streets, steps from the Esplanade, and never more than a mile from the Public Garden. But save your pennies: The average price per square foot in the first quarter of this year was more than $1,000.
Back Bay at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $7.38 million
5-year change: +177.7%*
Median condo sales price: $888,500
5-year change: +7.7%
* Fewer than 10 single-families sold in either 2009 or 2014.
Central Street / Andover
They don’t get much more “American dream” than Central Street, with its church spires, picket fences, flat, grassy lawns, and something-for-everyone housing styles, from historical Colonials and Italianates to mid-century Capes and tasteful contemporaries. “These are homes of great stature that stand up and call your attention to them,” says Andover Keller Williams agent Susan Rochwarg. “But you can get in without buying a big Victorian.” While many properties sell for well over a million dollars, a recent condo conversion included a one-bedroom walk-up that went for just $187,500. From anywhere on the street, you’re just a short hop to the center of town, Phillips Academy boarding school, and Interstate 495.
Andover at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $579,500
5-year change: +11%
Median condo sales price: $229,900
5-year change: -2.2%
MASCONOMO STREET / MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA
The upside: If you lived here you’d be walking to Singing Beach now. The downside: Only 20 houses have sold on Masconomo Street since 1994 — the three most recent for prices between $5.1 million and $7 million. Still, if you’re one of the fortunate few, Masconomo has views of the Atlantic to the east and Manchester Harbor to the west. “Some of the houses are pretty priceless because of the views,” says Holly Fabyan of J Barrett & Co. in Manchester, “and because people don’t want to move. There are a lot of family homesteads.”
Manchester-by-the-Sea at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $787,500
5-year change: +6.6%
Median condo sales price: $425,000
5-year change: +9.3%
ATLANTIC AVENUE / MARBLEHEAD
One of the longer streets on our list at 3 miles, Atlantic Avenue starts at a nondescript intersection in Swampscott and travels right into the heart of Marblehead’s Old Town, pressing beside the water near Preston Beach en route. “It’s a very prestigious road, and it’s got character,” says Michele Meadows, an agent with Salem’s Tache Real Estate who likes the stretches of Atlantic Avenue in both Marblehead and Swampscott. Colonials, Capes, garrisons, bungalows, and foursquares, often on generously sized lots, all mingle freely but have one effect in common: “As you’re driving down Atlantic,” Meadows says, “you think, ‘Oh, I’d take any one of these houses.’ ”
Marblehead at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $590,000
5-year change: +15.7%
Median condo sales price: $328,000
5-year change: +18.2%
BELLEVUE AVENUE / MELROSE
Melrose is one of those subdued suburbs that tends to be overlooked. But there’s much to recommend it, including its convenient commuter location about 9 miles from Boston, its good schools, its proximity to Middlesex Fells Reservation, and its small-town Main Street, lined with boutiques and restaurants (including worth-a-trip Turner’s Seafood). “It’s very, 9 similar to Arlington,” says Linda Hutchinson of the town’s Brad Hutchinson Real Estate, “but more affordable.” Less than a half-mile long and easily accessible to downtown Melrose, Bellevue Avenue, in the Country Club neighborhood, has “bigger, grander” houses than much of the town, with a price-per-square-foot of around $230 in 2014. Hutchinson calls it “one of the most prestigious streets in the city.”
Melrose at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $477,000
5-year change: +17.3%
Median condo sales price: $287,500
5-year change: +22.5%
BOSTON POST ROAD / WESTON
“The cachet of living on Boston Post Road is that you’ve got the beauty of country living with the ease of urban convenience,” says Amy Mizner, a principal at Benoit Mizner Simon & Co. in Weston and Wellesley. The historic road — originally a Colonial mail route between New York and Boston — is also called Route 20 and stretches 3 miles across Weston. Low stone walls right out of a Robert Frost poem and acres of green in either direction meet amid a bustle of commercial activity in the town center, while the road joins with Route 128 at its eastern end. The mix of well-kept historic estates and traditionally styled smaller homes go for around $390 per square foot.
Weston at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $1.40 million
5-year change: +27.8%
Median condo sales price: $844,950
5-year change: -10.1%
SALEM END ROAD / FRAMINGHAM
Nothing if not historic, Framingham was founded on land originally belonging to Thomas Danforth, a Harvard College official and a magistrate sympathetic to the “witches” in the 1692 Salem trials who helped several of them relocate to the area that became known as Salem End. The street remains a haven today — a winding country road just south of Route 9 and minutes from the Mass. Pike, with a range of homes from the affordable to the high end. While most of the old farmhouses are gone, there’s still a lot of choice if you lean toward Colonials, Capes, ranches, or contemporaries, with an average single-family sale price of $500,441 in 2014.
Framingham at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $349,250
5-year change: +14.3%
Median condo sales price: $145,000
5-year change: +20.8%
OTIS STREET / NEWTON
In less than a mile, Otis Street has two sections: one in commuter-friendly Newtonville, where 2014’s average list price was around $2.3 million, and the other between Walnut and Lowell streets. The latter, because it’s near Newton North High School, is busier and therefore a little less expensive. But with century-old Shingle Styles, Victorians, Colonials, and, rarely, new construction, the street is “nice overall, everywhere,” according to Mary Ann Figoni, director of sales at Centre Realty Group in Newton. And Newton itself has been getting plenty of national notice lately, being named first among Time magazine’s “5 Best Places for the Rich and Single” in 2012 and first of 247wallst.com’s “America’s 50 Best Cities to Live” last September. “Every time you turn around,” says Figoni, “we’re winning some kind of award.”
Newton at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $971,500
5-year change: +30.6%
Median condo sales price: $572,000
5-year change: +41.8%
CURVE STREET / CARLISLE
“Gorgeous” is the word Laura Baliestiero, a Coldwell Banker agent in Concord, uses to describe Curve Street in Carlisle, noting its meandering path through pasture land and cornfields, under forest canopy, and along cranberry bog and conservation land. “You’re 40 minutes from Boston,” she says, “but you feel like you’re in the middle of Vermont.” Equestrian estates are not uncommon, but even tiny Capes in Carlisle sit on 2 or more acres of land. Current, representative listings include a 1974 three-bedroom raised ranch for $699,900 and a gut-renovated 1892 farmhouse for $1.12 million.
Carlisle at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $790,000
5-year change: +19.7%
Median condo sales price: N/A
HINCKLEY ROAD / MILTON
Home to former governor Deval Patrick and state Senator Brian Joyce, half-mile Hinckley Road, in the Columbine Cliffs neighborhood of Milton, is a quiet suburban street bursting with curb appeal. It’s close to public transport, the Neponset River Reservation, quaintly commercial Milton Lower Mills, and, for drivers, the Jamaicaway, Route 128, and I-93. Stately single-family Colonials — mostly of four bedrooms or more, with large, flat lots — are the most popular housing style here, but inventory has been low in the past few years, with only five selling, at an average price of $280 per square foot.
Milton at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $545,000
5-year change: +16.2%
Median condo sales price: $343,000
5-year change: -7.9%
MARTINS LANE / HINGHAM
Nature lovers take note: Martins Lane is a 0.7-mile straight shot from four-lane Summer Street — which connects with Route 3A for easy access to Boston, the Cape, and the town of Hingham, including the new Shipyard complex of shops and restaurants — to World’s End, a 251-acre nature reserve surrounded by water that offers dog-friendly walking or jogging trails, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and no-lifeguard swimming. Nantasket Beach in Hull is also nearby, and moorings are available in several locations around town. Good to know, since you might need a little retreat to nature once you see the prices of the Martins Lane manors, which start at around $1.2 million.
Hingham at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $662,500
5-year change: -1.1%
Median condo sales price: $631,800
5-year change: +11.2%
PROSPECT HILL DRIVE / WEYMOUTH
Surrounded by water, Prospect Hill Drive, on Weymouth Neck, has views of the Harbor Islands in Hingham Bay on one side and Weymouth Back River on the other. Yet you’ll pay thousands less than you would for a water view in, say, Gloucester — if you can find something. “It’s a tight-knit community,” says Brian Molisse, broker/owner of Molisse Realty Group, with offices in Marshfield and Weymouth. “There are not many sales up there; people tend to stay.” And why not? They’re only about 10 minutes from Hingham, with its shops, restaurants, and commuter boat to Rowes Wharf, a half-mile to 36-acre Webb Memorial State Park toward the east, and the same going west to a town beach.
Weymouth at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $325,000
5-year change: +10.2%
Median condo sales price: $188,950
5-year change: -3.1%
WOODLEIGH ROAD / DEDHAM
Cherry Lane, Bailey Lane, and Woodleigh form a peaceful, very private enclave in the center of family-friendly Dedham, nestled right up against 128 between the Blue Hills Reservation and Hyde Park and West Roxbury. The claim to fame of the Oakdale neighborhood, as it is known, is its bevy of “Baileys” — that is, molding-heavy Colonial Revivals designed by Boston architect Henry Bailey Alden in the early 1900s. Every now and then one comes on the market; the last one was a five-bedroom, 4½-bath that sold in 2014 at $1.17 million. Keep watching and you might get lucky.
Dedham at a Glance
Median single-family sales price: $393,250
5-year change: +12%
Median condo sales price: $262,300
5-year change: +12.2%
> Highest median single-family sales price in Massachusetts in January — $1.4 million in Wellesley
> Lowest — $120,000 in Springfield
> Highest median condo sales price in the state — $737,500 in Brookline
> Lowest — $164,900 in Haverhill
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the beach name in Marblehead.