Best Places to Live 2013: Starting Out

The threat of yet another rent hike (or new roommate search on Craigslist) scared you straight months ago, and you’ve managed to sock away enough cash for a modest down payment. Congratulations! You’re ready to join the hunt. Sky-high prices may shut you out of the posh suburbs and gold-standard neighborhoods, but here are some great sleeper locations for first-time home buyers.


This North Shore city is charmed and charming.
Median home price; $249,900
One-year change: -3.9%


Salem’s Pickering Wharf, viewed from the water. (Photo by Getty Images)

Salem is luring in all kinds of new nesters, and magic has nothing to do with it. There’s the darling downtown—named the best shopping district in the state last year by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts—which is dotted with restaurants and designer boutiques. There’s also the upcoming $300 million renovation of the Peabody Essex Museum, already considered one of the most important non-big-city players in national art circles. Add it all up, and there’s really no reason to leave town at all. When you do, though, the ongoing effort to make the 20-minute commuter-rail ride into Boston even easier has the MBTA building a new five-story parking garage, and the popular ferry service is also set to expand.

4,312: Number of historical places.


Meffa has become Mecca for young, urban buyers.
Median home price: $355,000
One-year change: +4.6%

Medford used to get a bum rap as the depressed little burg on the far side of the Mystic. Today, though, the city’s open space, new riverside bike path, and happening restaurant scene are attracting young creatives in droves. More than a quarter of the population is between 20 and 35, and no wonder, with single-family homes a third less expensive than similar properties in neighboring Somerville. First-time buyers also flock to two new waterfront developments, River’s Edge and Station Landing, which offer mixed residential and retail use and are within walking distance of the T. And though the Green Line extension is expected to stop here when (if?) it’s completed in 2019, even without that project you can zip into the city via the Orange Line or commuter rail. Oh, and Medford boasts one of the lowest tax rates in the region.

27.7: Average commute time, in minutes.


Welcome to a pond-dotted land of peace and quiet.
Median home price: $461,500
One-year change: -10.4%

People here seem to hold space sacred. Elbow room already abounds in this mellow town at the commuter-friendly nexus of Interstates 95 and 495, and last year, residents voted to designate a 75-acre parcel as conservation land in perpetuity, part of a trend that has kept 77 percent of the terrain undeveloped. Small-town life revolves, appropriately, around the Apple Festival in September, the town’s Sandy Beach, and an ever-expanding network of well-maintained nature trails. First-time buyers set up house in older ranch-style homes, Colonials, or Capes in the $300,000s. And the best part: Since prices here, unlike in other parts of the region, are down 10.4 percent on average over last year, there are plenty of crazy deals right now.

3.64: Incidences of crime per 1,000 people (a very low rate).


The best of city living and new construction.
Median home price: $442,500
One-year change: +10.6%

western southie

On the rooftop of Southie’s Macallen building. (Photo by John Horner)

The wave of development sweeping through the Seaport District continues. Savvy buyers are moving into new condos in the Allele and Macallen buildings at Dot Ave. and West Broadway, and the steady construction of loft-style units is keeping housing supplies flush (a rarity in built-out Boston). Popular South End restaurants and shops are also migrating over—including the upscale Foodies Market—and, in a sure sign of the times, the first Starbucks is slated to open soon near the Broadway T station.

1,516: Number of housing units currently under construction.


by Brian Piccini


In some ways, Dorchester is like the Vietnamese grocers that line Dot Ave. Yes, the conditions aren’t crystal clean. And you have to really wash the vegetables. But you’re still getting a really good product. Dorchester gets a bad rap. It’s larger than the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and the North End combined. It’s a very big part of the city, with dynamic, mixed sections. I moved here in 1999, and now I tell people to know the right streets. There are some phenomenal neighborhoods, and if you can get situated in one of those spots, you’ll get a great buy, a great find, a great house, and great neighbors.

Brian Piccini opened Dorchester’s Dbar in 2006.


Check out all of our Best Places to Live 2013 coverage.

  • Anne

    Western Southie? I think you mean the lower end.

  • Andrew Winson

    I’ve had my rent increased twice in the last 3 years. Salem may be cheaper than Boston, but increasingly not by much.

    Oh, and a 20-minute commuter rail ride? The MBTA’s OWN SITE puts it at 30-35 minutes, and with delays it often stretches to 40-45.

    Is the author confusing Salem with Lynn, 10 minutes down the train line?

    • PeaceBang

      Yes, is the author confusing Salem with AWESOME LYNN, which is a great place to live right now?

      • Andrew Winson

        Not sure if you’re being sarcastic, but… *shrug* It’s getting better. I know a lot of great people that live in Lynn, and while it’s still got a lot of issues, the reputation is a lot darker than the place itself.

        • PeaceBang

          Not a bit sarcastic. I just bought a house in Lynn and I think it’s a totally undiscovered treasure. Bit rough around the edges but absolutely a really cool small city.

  • magpie

    In the ten years I’ve lived in Medford, I’ve seen the birth of a great farmer’s market, the Arts on the Mystic Festival, the Sustainable Energy Fair, and the arrival of some killer restaurants. Too bad the govt is from the stone age.

  • Linda Magnifico

    If your looking to find your next home in Boxford contact a local agent who lives in and really knows the town. I would be delighted to share many of our small town secrets. Linda Magnifico Your Tri-Town Agent!
    Call 978-852-4584

  • Matthew Hale

    “…I tell people to know the right streets.” That’s code for white streets, yes? Nice jacket, douche.

    • PeaceBang

      Oof. Yea. I’m wondering what DBar stands for. One guess.