Matt Colleran and his wife, Laura, decided to move to the suburbs after finding themselves cramped in their two-bedroom Brookline condo with the birth of their second child.
While the Collerans knew they would have to move someday, they had long expected to land in Needham or some other community along the Interstate 95 corridor.
Instead, the Collerans bought a 4,600-square-foot Colonial in Hopkinton, eventually finding something at the high end of their $500,000-to-$800,000 price range.
The young family joins a growing number of buyers who have changed their target market from communities near Boston, drawn by the prospect of bigger homes at lower prices in the communities along Interstate 495.
The influx of newcomers, as well as local families moving up to larger quarters, has triggered a rebound in sales and prices along the highway corridor from Pepperell to Marlborough to Wrentham, though with some towns faring better than others, brokers say.
And the Collerans, who moved into their new home in July, are happy that they bought when they did, with real estate prices across the area continuing to escalate.
“It seems like the market has gotten a lot crazier,” said Matt Colleran, an executive with a Rhode Island-based toy company.
While prices are indeed high in Hopkinton, some of the region’s traditionally less-expensive communities, including Bellingham, Pepperell, Plainville, Medway, Milford, Millis, Marlborough, and Wrentham, are showing the biggest price gains, according to the Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, a real estate industry journal.
All were hammered during the downturn, seeing home prices plunge from their peak by 20 or 30 percent or even more.
Wrentham is leading the recovery, with the town’s median price at $406,250, soaring 34 percent during the first 10 months of this year compared with the same period last year, Warren Group statistics show.
Pepperell was not far behind, with a 33 percent leap in its median home price during the same time period, to nearly $300,000. Plainville’s median home price jumped 21 percent, to $365,000. Medway’s median home price increased 18 percent, to $367,000, while Marlborough saw a 13 percent rise, to $290,000.
Milford and Millis both saw median home prices rise 11 percent, to $262,000 and $339,900, respectively, while Bellingham saw a 10 percent gain, to $264,500, Warren Group numbers show.
Sales numbers are up as well, 39 percent in Marlborough and 49 percent in Pepperell, through the first 10 months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to the Warren Group.
Helping drive up sales and prices are buyers fleeing skyrocketing prices in suburbs along Route 128, from Burlington to Newton, all approaching or having surpassed their 2005 price peaks, brokers say.
Median home prices in Needham and Newton are both 15 percent higher than their peaks in 2005, at $747,000 and $882,413, respectively, according to the Warren Group.
“There are folks from Boston beginning to come out to the 495 area,” said Paul Yorkis, broker-owner of Patriot Real Estate in Medway. “They realize there are some really good bargains compared to the inner core of Boston.”
Yorkis and other brokers say they are doing a brisk business with buyers relocating from other states and who face sticker shock when house hunting, especially closer into Boston.
These buyers are trying to find relatively affordable new construction comparable with the relatively spacious homes they are selling in Texas or North Carolina, said Re Gibson, manager of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Franklin office.
And the new homes being built along I-495, especially in its southern tier of communities, are much more affordable to middle-income buyers.
Towns like Franklin and Milford have seen a number of new subdivisions built during the past several years, Gibson said.
As the economy picks up again, builders are starting to rev up construction of new homes, with sales flying at a 14-home subdivision now being rolled out in Plainville, she said.
“You can still buy new construction in our area,” Gibson said. “That eight-room, four-bedroom and two-and-half-bath house on a half-acre lot near the $500,000 mark, you can’t do that inside 128.
“You are still going to find that in Franklin, you are still going to find that in Bellingham or Plainville,” she said.
Other towns along the corridor, like Hopkinton, are seeing less dramatic gains, in part because they did not take the kind of beating suffered by Plainville, Wrentham, and Medway when the market collapsed in the recession.
The median home price in Hopkinton slipped from $560,000 in 2005 to $520,000 in 2011, and is hovering at $527,000 this year.
But buyers priced out of the suburbs closer to Boston are also helping drive up sales in these towns as well.
“We had a great year in 2013 — things bounced back rather nicely,” said Chuck Joseph, broker owner of RE/MAX Executive Realty in Hopkinton.
The average Hopkinton listing is selling after 76 days, down from 105 days in November 2012, said Maureen Eagan, a broker in the Framingham office of Coldwell Banker Residential Mortgage.
And the more desirable homes, either newly built or well maintained and updated, are going fast in towns all along the I-495 corridor.
Eagan rattled off a list of homes in Marlborough, Milford, and Holliston that sold within one day to a week.
“If something is priced right, it will sell,” she said.
Some of that frenzied sales activity, in turn, is being driven by a long decline in the number of homes for sale, with new construction not yet enough to fill the gap.
Statewide, the number of homes for sale dropped in October to 20,716, nearly 20 percent below the figure in October 2012, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors reports.
In Franklin, Gibson used to team up with other agents in her office each week to look at all of the new listings that had come on the market during the previous seven days. It was helpful for the different agents to see what was available that might make for a good fit for one of their buyers.
But now, with homes getting snapped up as quickly as they go up for sale, there hasn’t been a “town tour” in at least seven months, Gibson said.
“When a house comes onto the market, you do get that mad rush of buyers who haven’t seen anything yet,” she said.