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Globe Magazine | Top spots to live

10 Boston-area communities where the home market is soaring

These are the cities and towns with the highest price increases in Eastern Mass. — plus, some affordable alternatives with a similar vibe.

Davis Square in Somerville.
Davis Square in Somerville. (Globe Staff/file)

High prices and low inventory make these heady days — at least for sellers. It’s hard to believe that just 10 years ago housing values began falling around the nation, signaling the start of what would become the worst economic downturn in more than seven decades. In 2005, the median price of single-family homes in Eastern Massachusetts reached a pre-crash peak of $465,000. By 2009, that figure had plunged nearly 13 percent, to $407,500.

But the Commonwealth suffered less than many other states, and rebounded faster. That’s why this year we’re focusing on the metro area’s cities and towns that have experienced the biggest percentage jump in single-family sale prices between the dawn of the turnaround in 2010 and the end of 2015, the most recent year with complete sales information available from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. (To avoid skewed data, we considered only communities with 75 or more single-family sales in 2015.) And for each of the 10 winners, we’ve included places with a similar vibe but lower median prices. Happy hunting!

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SOMERVILLE

Median single-family price $725,000

Change since 2010 + 80%

Median condo price $561,000

Change since 2010 + 56%

It’s been years since Somerville, once considered a good place to avoid, started turning the corner to become the vibrant, increasingly pricey community it is today. Neighborhoods from Davis Square to Union Square have transformed both organically and, like Assembly Square, by design. “The city is very well managed,” says Manish Kumar, president of Maven Realty, making life easier for a diverse collection of residents. “There are people who’ve been here two years and people who’ve been here 50 years,” Kumar says, “and they all really care about the place.” Bargains are still out there, but only on properties that need work. “If you want a deal,” says Kumar, “pull up your sleeves.”

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If you like Somerville, try . . .

“Medford, Medford, Medford,” says Kumar. Proximity to Boston and Cambridge, good government, diversity, and lively city centers helped raise Medford’s median single-family price by 8 percent from 2014 to 2015, to $463,500, and Kumar expects the gains to continue. “Whether the Green Line [extension] comes or not, I think Medford is still the next big place.”

JAMAICA PLAIN

Eliot Street in Jamaica Plain.
Eliot Street in Jamaica Plain. (David L. Ryan/globe staff/file)

Median single-family price $820,000

Change since 2010 +59%

Median condo price $450,000

Change since 2010 + 39%

Long known for its funky, artsy feel, Jamaica Plain has seen a precipitous rise in baby carriages in the past few years, according to Erik Gould, broker/owner of Focus Real Estate. “There are a lot more activities geared toward families with young children,” he says. “I know a lot of parents who are making an effort to raise their kids here despite the challenges of living in a city, to expose the children to the open-mindedness and diversity that city life brings.” Among the draws for kids of all ages: JP encompasses or abuts more green space than any other neighborhood in Boston; it has great public transportation; shops and restaurants abound; and a sense of community pervades, from the Footlight Club theater to the farmers’ market.

If you like Jamaica Plain, try . . .

Boston is putting a lot of money into developing JP neighbor Roxbury, Gould says, and “that’s starting to get the attention of people looking to buy.” With a median single-family price of $307,500 — and a location closer to downtown than Jamaica Plain — Roxbury looks like the deal of the century.

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CAMBRIDGE

The Charles River in Cambridge.
The Charles River in Cambridge. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/file)

Median single-family price $1,343,500

Change since 2010 +56%

Median condo price $625,000

Change since 2010 +47%

Cambridge has made our Top Spots list for five of the past seven years, and it’s easy to see why, with its extreme walkability, easy public transportation, eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, and the strong sense of identity imparted by Harvard University and MIT. “There’s a European quality of life in Cambridge,” says Charles Cherney, a broker with Hammond Real Estate in Harvard Square. “It has aspects of true big-city living and aspects of easier suburban living all rolled into one.” The drawback, especially for first-time buyers, is that it ain’t cheap. But on the plus side, if you can afford it, Cambridge is “as close to recession-proof as a community can possibly be.”

If you like Cambridge, try . . .

Medford, especially close to Tufts, is again the runaway choice from the pros. “It’s more in keeping with the way of life in Cambridge” than other near suburbs like Arlington, Cherney says. “People in Cambridge who’ve added Somerville to their search list have now started to look near Tufts as well.”

NEWTON

Near Newton City Hall.
Near Newton City Hall. (Lane Turner/Globe Staff/file)

Median single-family price $1,117,600

Change since 2010 +50%

Median condo price $620,000

Change since 2010 +54%

With excellent schools, proximity to several major highways, and a median household income that’s more than double that of the United States overall, Newton has always been a desirable location — if you can afford it. “Years ago Newton Proper was south of the Mass. Pike and north of Route 9,” says Mike Spurr, owner/broker of Newton Centre Associates. “Now even in other areas, which tended to be more affordable, you’re still finding $900,000 town houses.” The good news is that if you can grab them before a developer does, there are always a few starter homes, sometimes for under $500,000. “But you’re going to take a hit,” he adds, “whether it’s on a busy street or a tiny lot, or it might need a lot of work.”

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If you like Newton, try . . .

Waltham is a great alternative,” Spurr says, though he points out that the high school can’t compare with Newton’s (he adds that your big savings on housing could mean affording a private school). But transportation access is similar and the commercial district is thriving.

REVERE

Revere Beach.
Revere Beach. (David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff/file)

Median single-family price $330,000

Change since 2010 +42%

Median condo price $289,000

Change since 2010 +70%

Like the Somerville of 20 years ago, Revere suffers a perception problem. But with a revamped downtown and ongoing development along its roughly 3.5-mile-long beach, bidding wars are not unusual. People priced out of areas like East Boston are realizing Revere is “very nice and not so far away,” says Silvia Sandoval Guerini, broker/owner of Stonehurst Real Estate Group. Three subway stops, 4 miles to Boston, a straight shot to the North Shore, and being close to Logan Airport are nice, but young families are drawn by Revere’s increasing abundance of kids programs, five new schools in the past 12 years, and educational initiatives that are getting national attention.

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If you like Revere, try . . .

“For people looking to move to Revere,” says Guerini, “the next alternative is Everett and the next after that is Lynn. In Lynn, you can get a bigger house and more land.” And, while Lynn may not have the school stats of Revere, it does have a significantly lower median home price, at $266,000.

BROOKLINE

Larz Anderson Park in Brookline.
Larz Anderson Park in Brookline. (Lane Turner/globe staff/file)

Median single-family price $1,625,000

Change since 2010 +40%

Median condo price $700,000

Change since 2010 +50%

Top-notch schools and high median prices tend to coincide. So it is in Brookline. Niche Rankings, a website that grades K-12 schools not only by test scores but also by using student and parent surveys, puts it second in Massachusetts (after Lexington), with an A+ for nearly everything, from academics to sports and most extracurriculars. The problem is that much of the town’s housing stock is condos and apartments, so a low inventory of single-families has kept prices for them highest in the state. “Parts of Brookline, like South Brookline toward the Jamaica Plain area, still offer a little more value,” says Adam Umina, sales manager for Metro Realty Brookline. “There are still small pockets of opportunity.”

If you like Brookline, try . . .

Though Brighton, with a median price of $582,500, is very college student-heavy, “certain pockets of Brighton locationwise are just as attractive as Brookline for families, and still cheaper,” says Umina.

WALPOLE

Francis William Bird Park in Walpole.
Francis William Bird Park in Walpole. (Rose Lincoln for The Boston Globe)

Median single-family price $505,000

Change since 2010 +40%

Median condo price $282,500

Change since 2010 +15%

Midway between Boston and Providence, Walpole provides the best of both worlds in other ways, too. “It’s quintessentially New England,” says Rossana Gonser, an agent with RE/Max Real Estate Center. “Very quaint, but it’s also close to I-95 and 495 and has a commuter rail.” Because it’s near Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place in Foxborough — and has its own bustling little downtown — Walpole offers big-city conveniences while giving you “the feel that you live in the country.” Large lots and plenty of green space, including bordering Mass Audubon’s oldest wildlife sanctuary, Moose Hill, make living easy. The town is sports-crazy, has good schools, and offers “so much community spirit,” Gonser says. “Everybody in town knows each other.”

If you like Walpole, try . . .

Foxborough also has “a great downtown, good schools, good sports programs, and a sense of community,” Gonser says, “but you can get a little more house for your money there.” Foxborough’s commuter rail stop is open only during Patriots games and other Gillette events, but the extra bang for the buck might be worth a few more minutes in the car.

NATICK

Main Street in Natick.
Main Street in Natick. (Pat Greenhouses/Globe Staff/file)

Median single-family price $555,000

Change since 2010 +39%

Median condo price $342,500

Change since 2010 -7%

Despite new development following the expansion of the Natick Mall in 2007, the majority of the town’s housing stock is still single-families, which contributes to Natick’s small-town feel, particularly as you get farther from the Mass. Pike. With a cute, red-brick-heavy Main Street, a common with a farmers’ market and other events, the Audubon’s Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Center for Arts in Natick, you’ll never lack for things to do, says Karin Torrice of Coldwell Banker on Central Street. “It’s a wonderful place for families,” she says, “and now young couples and singles are discovering it, because the two commuter rail locations let them be close to the center of things.”

If you like Natick, try . . .

Holliston is 15 or 20 minutes away from Natick and closer to Interstate 495 than the Pike, but it’s “probably the most similar” of the nearby burgs, Torrice says. “It feels like a New England town and has a sense of community and plenty of open space,” she says.

EVERETT

Night Shift Brewing in Everett.
Night Shift Brewing in Everett. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Median single-family price $319,000

Change since 2010 +38%

Median condo price $253,000

Change since 2010 +33%

Nestled between Interstate 93 and Route 1 and just across the Mystic River from Somerville, Everett seems poised for a comeback. Former industrial areas are getting cleaned up, with a spate of breweries and distillers drawing young professionals to Norman Street and its environs, a 7-mile bike path cutting through town along an old rail line, and a proposed cleanup of the Malden River for boaters and swimmers. The $2 billion Wynn casino, set to break ground this summer, should bring even more development, and Mayor Carlo DeMaria is vowing to make Everett Square more pedestrian-friendly. Many of Everett’s single-family homes need updating, says broker Gabriel Ochoa of United Brokers, but that helps keep prices affordable.

If you like Everett, try . . .

Ochoa recommends Lynn, with a single-family median of $266,000, or more urban Chelsea, at $307,500. “But prices are going up there, too,” he warns.

CONCORD

The Old North Bridge in Concord.
The Old North Bridge in Concord. (Michele McDonald/globe file)

Median single-family price $960,000

Change since 2010 +37%

Median condo price $588,250

Change since 2010 +65%

With its deep sense of history, understated elegance, and established community of artists and intellectuals, Concord is among the Greater Boston towns Zur Attias, broker/owner of the Attias Group Real Estate, calls “A-list.” Its two retail hubs offer something for everyone, from the high-end retail and restaurants of Concord Center to the yoga-and-health-food feel in walkable West Concord, which has been undergoing significant redevelopment. And if you happen to be looking in the $2 million-plus range, you’ll find inventory relatively high at the moment. “So it’s actually the most affordable luxury real estate and best from a negotiation standpoint.”

If you like Concord, try . . .

More rural Carlisle shares a fine regional school district and “lots of sports teams and activities” with Concord and uses Concord Center as its downtown. Says Attias, “It’s the logical place to look.”


Elizabeth Gehrman is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.