PLACES THE PLUNGE FORGOT (Ten Recession Proof Towns)

Ten towns and neighborhoods where home prices are taking a pass on this whole meltdown thing.

BEACON HILL

Median condo price $480,000
One-year change -3.90%
Since market peak +3.67%

Even in an abysmal market and at the going rate of $728 per square foot, condo sales in Beacon Hill rose 4.3 percent last year, notes Maryann Roos Hoskins of LandVest, who adds that while Back Bay prices surged 19 percent in 2008, they were inflated by the Mandarin Oriental's ultra-high-end condos. Despite tight competition among the city's three ritziest neighborhoods (the other being the South End), experts view Beacon Hill as leading the pack. And with the Liberty Hotel as a swanky new anchor and the rebirth of Cambridge Street as, finally, a tree-lined, strollable avenue, there's no bad side of the hill anymore.

CAMBRIDGE

Median home price $750,000
One-year change +15.66%
Since market peak +12.36%

Median condo price $405,000
One-year change -0.55%
Since market peak -3.46%

Simple economics explains Cambridge's scorching single-family sales and cooler (yet still respectable) condo market. "It comes down to pent-up demand for the relatively limited supply of single-family homes," says Arthur Horiatis of Tory Row Real Estate. "We've had a lot more condos come on the market from new construction and conversions." East Cambridge, where a two-bedroom unit goes for roughly $350,000 to $450,000, has replaced Cambridge-port as the top destination for value-minded shoppers.

HINGHAM

Median home price $632,500
One-year change +1.22%
Since market peak -4.89%

Developers keep loading up Hingham with swag—from golf courses to retail centers—as if it were some South Shore goodie bag. Hingham Shipyard is the latest, spruced up into an enclave of waterfront apartments, town-houses, and luxury condos. Hingham gains another mark in the plus column when Boston restaurant maven Esti Parsons (of Radius, Via Matta, and Great Bay fame) debuts an eponymous bistro, slated to open in late spring.

JAMAICA PLAIN

Median condo price $329,500
One-year change -0.15%
Since market peak +2.97%

Gentrification may have stalled in Dorchester, but J.P.'s reinvention is the real deal. The restaurants are starting to rival the South End's, and the culture is as yeasty as Cambridge's. Most telling, people are staying put, sending the kids to the neighborhood Montessori, and planning out their next decade. Townhomes near Jamaica Pond can fetch north of $1 million; condos in triple-deckers off South and Washington streets offer first-time buyers deals in the $300,000s.

LEXINGTON

Median home price $700,000
One-year change +1.23%
Since market peak -0.71%

In terms of housing options, Lexington's sheer variety of bungalows, elegant Victorians, and midcentury moderns—most within a 15-minute stroll of the bustling town center—is hard to top. The median price of a single-family residence here has barely budged from the 2005 high-water mark of $705,000. Those with a bit less cash to spend, however, would do well to look to the small houses on the Arlington line, which often list in the $500,000s.

MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA

Median home price $762,500
One-year change +12.96%
Since market peak +11.15%

The town's 1990 decision to add the "by-the-Sea" suffix to set it apart from hoi polloi Manchesters elsewhere drew jibes. Now its recession-proof prices are giving M-B-T-S a less manufactured kind of status. The finite supply of century-old mansions overlooking the craggy coastline—evoking Newport at its most gilded—ensures the market's durability.

ROCKPORT

Median home price $499,000
One-year change +4.94%
Since market peak +19.38%

Rockport masquerades as Sitka, Alaska, in the upcoming Sandra Bullock chick flick The Proposal. Despite the sensational setting on the tip of the Cape Ann peninsula, however, this community hasn't turned into a vapid tourist trap. Real-life amenities that include good bookstores, a working lobster fleet, commuter rail to Boston, and an above-average school system have kept values solid.

WELLESLEY

Median home price $1.02 million
One-year change +5.37%
Since market peak +4.50%

Bragging rights are justifiably claimed by buyers who foresaw, pre-1995, the way Wellesley would morph into "Swellesley." Homes still move briskly, selling in an average of 107 days, only about two weeks longer than at the market peak, when it was 92 days. (By comparison, homes in equally tony Dover sit on the market 224 days, on average, up from 130 in 2005.) According to real estate agents, neighborhood living is in vogue in Wellesley, so houses in Westgate or Indian Cliffs Estates command heady prices.

WESTON

Median home price $1.32 million
One-year change +7.55%
Since market peak +9.79%

There's an old adage about renovating to a neighborhood's base line before selling. In Weston, that would mean planting specimen trees and putting in a wine cellar. Builders have pulled back to let the market digest a surplus inventory of $2 million—plus properties, but competition for the "bargains" (anything under $900,000) remains fairly stiff.

WINCHESTER

Median home price $722,500
One-year change +6.96%
Since market peak -1.77%

Plenty of Boston's captains of industry live in Winchester, and it's not hard to understand why. The commute's a dream, and the central, historic neighborhoods are as pretty as they were planned to be in the early 19th century. One slight hitch: A huge spike in popularity with young families has strained a school system that's seen only one property tax override since 1990.


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