Boston Magazine 2/26/19: These Are the Top Places to Live Around Boston Right Now
by Madeline Bilis
Walkable downtowns, hip restaurants, and plenty of living space. How 12 suburban towns are wooing the next generation of homebuyer, one millennial at a time.
FOR THE BEACH BUM
Coastal towns making waves for more than just ocean views.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $415,000 Property Tax Rate: $13.42 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 57 minutes
Sea breezes and (relatively) cheap home prices—what more can you ask for? This former summertime hideaway is now a lively year-round community complete with a bevy of affordable single-families, sparkling condos, and even a revamped waterfront promenade. While the bustle of 1950s Nantasket Beach is no longer, the town’s new Paragon Boardwalk is currently getting an infusion of hipster-tinged nostalgia. Husband-and-wife team Chris and Diana Reale purchased the rundown property in late 2017 and have since upgraded it with an arcade—featuring old-school games, naturally—as well as mini golf and grub from former Clio and Liquid Art House chef Douglas Rodrigues. Plus, commuting into Boston is as easy as hopping on the ferry. Landlubbers need not apply.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $924,000 Property Tax Rate: $11.03 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 46 minutes
A guaranteed parking spot at Singing Beach is one of the best perks of being a year-round Manchester-by-the-Sea dweller—when you finally manage to snag a place, that is. “If things are priced well in Manchester, they don’t last a minute,” says Julie Smith, an agent with Engel & Völkers by the Sea. “People are waiting to get into this town. It’s crazy.” And for good reason: The coastal life here is easy—and convenient. There’s a commuter-rail stop smack in the middle of a walkable downtown packed with shopping and dining options, plus long lists of community events. On summer nights, for example, beach bums of all ages spread out on blankets to watch movies or hear music in Masconomo Park, which overlooks the ocean.
FOR THE SHOPAHOLIC
You don’t have to live on Beacon Hill to enjoy lovely boutique-lined streets. Walk out your front door and into your favorite stores in suburbia.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $378,000 Property Tax Rate: $17.50 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 56 minutes
An artisanal ice cream shop, a craft brewery, a gift store stocked with handmade wares, and, yes, a speakeasy, all within walking distance of one another: What city neighborhood could possibly check all of those boxes? Hudson does. Over the past five years, the once-languishing central Massachusetts mill town has been transformed into a lively, dynamic locale—and people are noticing. Younger city dwellers worn down by sky-high prices are putting down roots here, as are suburbanites. “So many times before, we had found ourselves…sipping crafts beers at Medusa Brewing Company,” says teacher Ryann Hart, who moved to Hudson from nearby Marlborough. “And then we truly hit the jackpot when our dream home came on the market.”
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $1,041,000 Property Tax Rate: $14.29 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 45 minutes
Everyone knows Concord is home to one of New England’s quaintest town centers, with indie shops aplenty dotting Main and Walden streets. But it’s only recently that the town upgraded its second pedestrian-friendly shopping area, the West Concord Village District, with boutiques such as the new Joy Street Life + Home and gathering places like Reasons to Be Cheerful, a cute scoop shop. Less than a five-minute walk away is the Wheelhouse, a coworking space in a former furniture mill that draws artists and entrepreneurs. “Our amenities have changed radically,” says broker Zur Attias, of the Attias Group. That explains the 18-percent jump in sales from 2017 to 2018.
FOR THE ROAD WARRIOR
More time in the car means more charming spaces to stretch your legs outside of it. And in these newly hip exurbs, it means a lot more fun, too.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $431,500 Property Tax Rate: $12.66 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 61 minutes
“I think 50 percent of my buyers are actually coming from Boston,” says Muneeza Nasrullah, owner of Muneeza Realty Group with Keller Williams Realty. So why are urban refugees fleeing to Shrewsbury, just 39 miles west of the city? The establishment of Lakeway Commons, a gigantic mixed-use development at the former site of time-honored retailer Spag’s, for one. “It’s like urban living in the suburbs because you can walk to Whole Foods or Orangetheory Fitness,” Nasrullah says. That, plus Shrewsbury’s charming and walkable town center, complete with a newly renovated library; proximity to Worcester’s sizzling restaurant scene; and combination of millennial-friendly starter homes and higher-end properties for growing families.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $380,000 Property Tax Rate: $16.46 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 51 minutes
Back in the day, the carriage ride from Plymouth to Boston used to drag on for hours. So by comparison, today’s hourlong journey down Route 3 is quite a breeze. While Plymouth’s Colonial roots make it truly the original place to live, it’s the town’s newer developments that have brought it into the spotlight. The Pinehills, for example, bills itself as a “new take on the classic New England village”: The roughly 3,000-acre planned community consists of single-families and townhouses, with shops and restaurants surrounding its own traditional village green. Of course, Plymouth offers plenty of modern amenities, including a new winery and craft breweries. Those just starting out can scoop up small Cape-style homes in the $200,000 range—we’ll drink to that.
FOR THE FOODIE
City-quality restaurants and easy-to-swallow house prices? Welcome home, young epicures.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $607,500 Property Tax Rate: $12.61 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 31 minutes
Ravenous after a long day at the office? Nothing beats coming home to a town anchored by “Restaurant Row.” Waltham’s Moody Street offers the best part of Boston without the hassle, featuring top-notch eateries such as Red Bird, Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions, and dozens of other spots. Nearby, new apartment complexes like the Merc at Moody & Main make it so residents “don’t even have to pull their car out of the driveway” to tuck into charcuterie boards, says Hans Brings, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker. Don’t want to own a gas guzzler? Not a problem—the town has one commuter-rail stop with another just over the border in Belmont, a convenience that’s likely to draw more millennials than ever to Watch City.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $425,000 Property Tax Rate: $15.38 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 43 minutes
It’s a delicious time to be a homeowner in Salem, where some of the area’s top restaurateurs are inching north to meet the demands of the hungry historical town. Take chef Matt O’Neil, owner of the award-winning Blue Ox in Lynn. He recently opened Ledger to much acclaim, serving up New England cuisine inside a former bank. Then there’s Tim Haigh and Larry Leibowitz, the homegrown two-person restaurant group behind beloved wood-fired-pizza shop Bambolina and, more recently, noodle bar Kokeshi. In the mood for cocktails with a view? Just saunter over to the Roof at the Hotel Salem. What’s more, locals can dine out often without pinching pennies, considering the town’s housing stock is surprisingly affordable: Eagle-eyed house hunters will notice single-families hitting the market for under $400,000.
FOR THE COMMITMENT-AVERSE
They’re close enough to the city that you can bike in, but cool enough that you may never want to leave.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $805,000 Property Tax Rate: $12.13 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 24 minutes
Okay, we’ll say it: Arlington is the new Somerville (which, of course, was the new Cambridge). No longer a sleepy suburb, this town gets trendier by the day, attracting artists to its eastern reaches and UppaBaby strollers to the west. A gradual relaxation of Arlington’s Puritanical liquor laws has allowed bars like Common Ground to elbow their way in, while indie maker shop and commissary kitchen the Local Fare hosts innovative food startups that couldn’t possibly afford exorbitant city rents. When it does come time to head into Boston, commuting is as easy as cruising down Arlington’s revamped bike lanes, then hopping on the Minuteman Bikeway all the way to Alewife to catch the T downtown.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $1,777,500 Property Tax Rate: $9.46 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 23 minutes
While it’s not exactly a secret that Brookline’s tree-lined streets are the place to be, the town is now drawing an even younger, hipper crowd eager to shed some of urban life, but not all of it. Case in point? Allium Market and Café, a newly opened specialty food emporium in Coolidge Corner that serves up a mean avocado toast (we did say millennials, didn’t we?). It’s just around the corner from rows of stately Victorians fetching more than $3 million and $700,000 condos in historical brownstones—not to mention top-notch public schools. “It’s a perfect blend of city and suburban lifestyles,” says Diana Kuang, of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage—and one that’s only a 15-minute T ride from Coolidge Corner into Boston, to boot.
FOR THE SOCIAL BUTTERFLY
Parties, events, clubs—finding your crew is easy when you live here.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $625,000 Property Tax Rate: $13.05 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 43 minutes
It’s tough not bumping into your neighbors in this sizable MetroWest suburb with a surprisingly close-knit community. Just ask the folks who pack into the Center for the Arts in Natick to catch concerts, open-mike nights, and films both new and old. On any given weekend, residents select the freshest fruits and veggies at the town’s farmers’ market, say “om” in the woods with PeaksandPoses Trail Yoga, and devour a hot dog (or three) at the 129-year-old establishment Casey’s Diner. While century-old restaurants—and houses—are the norm here, there are also plenty of new-construction abodes for sale: Converted churches have even been known to hit the market every once in a while.
2018 Median Single-Family Price: $612,450 Property Tax Rate: $13.26 Morning Drive Time to Boston: 50 minutes
“Every piece of land that can be built on in Newburyport is being built on,” says William Raveis agent Susan Grillo—see: condos being carved out of antique captain’s homes and brand-new houses springing up on small plots. The kicker? They’re all just steps from downtown. In addition to the shops and restaurants bordering the Merrimack, Newburyport is packed with social clubs. Artists and art lovers flock to the Newburyport Art Association, birdwatchers convene at Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center, and every spring, a music festival called Plumfest hosts local bands and musicians on porches across Plum Island. “There’s something for everyone, depending on what you’re interested in,” Grillo says.
A behind-the-scenes look at new real estate in one of America’s oldest cities.
By Geoff Nudelman
December 31, 2018
It’s an increasingly familiar scene: hundreds of young professionals mill about a farm-to-table lunch, a hip workout gear shop, or a SoulCycle spin class.
Across America, this is a common snapshot in newer cities where affluent 20- and 30-somethings are starting fresh in more affordable secondary markets.
But this particular scene isn’t happening somewhere new. It’s happening in one of the oldest cities in America: Boston.
While the traditional neighborhoods of Beacon Hill and Back Bay are still alive and well, the growth of Boston’s luxury offerings are front and center in Seaport–a neighborhood that was literally underwater until the late 1800s and is now thriving as an example of the future of American living.
“It’s truly an iconic location,” says Janice Dumont, CEO of Advisors Living, speaking about the site of new building Pier 4–a dramatic, curved, 106-unit enclave tucked behind the Museum of Contemporary Art on Seaport’s northern side.
Pier 4’s modern architecture (designed by renowned firm SHoP), full-service amenities, and integrated waterfront living are drawing buyers from far and wide to the urban environment. (Some are paying as much as $4,200 per square foot for penthouses.)
“[Based on all on of this], Seaport has created a new destination within the city,” Dumont says.
As much as a skyline dotted with cranes and construction is dizzying in Seaport, the center of traditional Boston luxury still resides in the #5 neighborhood of our Top 10 Priciest Neighborhoods in America: Beacon Hill.
“It’s a real village and a tight-knit community,” says Manuel Davis, senior vice president of Advisors Living and the exclusive listing agent at the Archer Residences, Beacon Hill.
The full-service, seven-story building (half of which was the original Suffolk University Law School) underscores the immense work and effort required to restore and modernize a piece of living history–and how attractive that proposition is to luxury buyers.
What started as 75 residences of varying sizes has been condensed to 61 condos due to buyer requests, many averaging above $5 million. (Davis could not give specific sales figures, but noted that they have been “robust.” The building will be completed towards the end of 2019.) The Archer Residences had to work with several historical commissions to carefully restore the combined building, retaining Beacon Hill’s trademark charm and style along the way.
Coupled with extremely limited inventory in single-family homes, Beacon Hill stands to remain an epicenter of Boston luxury for some time to come.
Just across Boston Common, the Four Seasons Boston Hotel and Residences remains another mark of traditional Boston affluence. Built in 1983, the residential side of the building has long been home to some of the city’s wealthiest people with a location overlooking the park and one of the earliest examples of modern, full-service amenity living in the area. Since its opening, residences have rarely traded on the market and haven’t been available for long.
The success of the original property spurred Four Seasons to build a large new residential/hotel hybrid tower just a mile-and-a-half away at One Dalton.
“It’s in a class all its own,” says Michael Carucci, executive vice president at Gibson Sotheby’s, which is the exclusive listing agent for the 61-floor project.
While he can’t reveal sales numbers, he did say that the building is 75 percent sold with “sales at a record pace compared to other Four Seasons projects around the world, and at price premiums above the Boston market that are higher than most price premiums achieved by other comparable projects in their respective markets.”
“Boston is becoming such a global destination [for the ultra-wealthy]. A lot of us were wondering: What took so long?” he says.
Opening in spring 2019, One Dalton will bring 160 condos perched above the new hotel, which marks a decided shift in the local luxury market. Three separate floors are earmarked as dedicated amenity spaces, with several floors at the top of the building reserved for unfinished penthouses. Pricing will range from $2.5 million to over $40 million.
Carucci noted that luxury buyers across the entire spectrum–not just the younger set–are looking for all-in-one, live/work/play lifestyles, drawing them to buildings in places like Back Bay and Seaport that are close to major commercial centers.
“There’s no longer an appetite for commuting,” he says. “It’s very important to people to not to sit in traffic anymore.”
Perhaps therein lies much of this newfound attraction to Boston: it’s a highly walkable city. End-to-end isn’t much more than an hour at a strolling pace, and many of these newer projects are taking advantage of the old “location, location, location” adage.
Boston’s next major neighborhood renewal, Lovejoy Wharf, takes advantage of its waterfront location. While Related Beal has already opened a 15-story, 157-unit building right next to the relocated Converse HQ (and complete with an Instagrammable restaurant facing the water), that’s just the tip of iceberg.
This largely quiet residential area sits next to TD Garden and a major transit hub, and as it stands could be Boston’s next micro-hotspot.
“The evolution has been really interesting,” says the Codman Company (TCC) managing director Sue Hawkes (TCC works with several residential properties throughout Boston). “It’s been a niche area that was formerly cut off by some of Boston’s man-made boundaries.”
Besides shoes and brunch, the Hub on Causeway is bringing a major mixed-use development–complete with Boston’s largest supermarket–to a site across the street from the sports arena. The planned residential and office components are aimed at attracting tech and advertising workers–the ones that can afford luxury properties and the required amenities of 21st century living. (Verizon has already pre-leased a significant chunk of the building’s available office space.)
However, all of this new inventory coming online may present new challenges for a city that has traditionally had a tight luxury housing market.
“The developers are going to have to deliver a really good product,” Carucci says, “because over the next couple of years there will be fierce competition for buyers. There’s no question about that.”
Home prices throughout the state continued to rise in July, but the number of actual home sales has decreased for the first time this year.
New figures by The Warren Group show that buying a house is not an easy feat. The median price of a single-family home in Massachusetts has climbed 2.7% in July, to $369,000 and condos have climbed 3.7% to $350,000.
Despite this increase in price, the numbers of homes sold during the month fell by 12.5%, with fewer property owners listing their homes for sale.
Other reports have supported these claims, with a report by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors showing that the number of single-family homes listed for sale this July was down 29% compared to the same time last year.
This decline in inventory of available properties has been going on for 54 straight months according to the reports.
Due to a decrease in inventory, buyers are seeing an increase in prices and intense competition with homes selling at a much faster rate.
Without a boost in supply this trend is suspected to continue throughout the end of the summer.
The speed of the current housing market is no secret, but depending on what neighborhood you’re buying or selling in, this speed can vary.
NeighborhoodX has put out a report looking at the speed at which condos in various Boston neighborhoods have sold.
By analyzing transactions from various Boston neighborhoods in the month of July and looking at data from the number of days condos were on the market, they were able to create a list of the fastest-selling neighborhoods.
Price also played an important factor in this analysis. The neighborhoods where condos spent the fewest days on the market had an average price of $450,000. The average selling price in Back Bay where the average days on the market were the longest, was $1.7 million.
Massachusetts was followed closely behind by a few other New England states, including Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, all in the top 10.
Across the specific rankings Massachusetts was ranked number one for the highest math test scores, highest reading test scores, number two for the highest average ACT scores and number two for the safest schools.
When searching for your new home as a family it is important to consider the quality of the school district and public schools throughout the area you are moving into.
Our advisors can provide guidance on finding a new home that suits all of your families’ needs.