The Smart Buys in a Scary Market

We know: Between the topsy-turvy prices and the subprime mess, it's a real estate nightmare out there. But after grilling dozens of brokers and hundreds of industry experts, we're pleased to report there are some bright spots for jittery house-hunters (and owners). A road map to 29 neighborhoods and towns that are holding their value, or are poised to be big winners when the next boom rolls around.

New to the Market

You’re looking to purchase your first home. You also want to make sure you’re not going to get burned. Point your search to one of these spots, and know you’ll be making a sound investment.

new to the market

Photograph by Fredrik Brodén


You want in on the gentrification

South Boston

Median condo price: $360,500
One-year change: +5 percent
Five-year change: +34 percent

Despite what looked like a possible oversupply of new construction and triple-decker conversions, condo prices in Southie have barely flinched in the current market downturn. The area’s young, increasingly upscale population, along with a slow influx of trendier restaurants and retailers, points toward a bright future, and some of Boston’s most ambitious developments in decades (the mixed-use Fan Pier project, to give one example) are finally getting under way on the neighborhood’s long-underutilized waterfront.

You need peace and quiet


Median home price: $368,950
One-year change: -8 percent
Five-year change: +10 percent

When it comes to nightlife, Ashland offers little more than cricket symphonies. What it does provide in abundance are small houses and fully loaded townhouses, priced in the $300,000s, that you can swing on a single income. There’s also the promise of future gains: MetroWest has been home to a sales-appreciation gravy train in the past decade, and this town sits at the next stop.


You value stroller room


Median home price: $405,000
One-year change: -4 percent
Five-year change: +18 percent

This burg has become a refuge for ex-city-dwelling new parents reluctant to give up sidewalk life. The Victorian downtown boasts day-to-day amenities (grocery, post office) as well as other essentials for unreformed urbanites (good restaurants, designer boutiques, the obligatory Starbucks), and more than a dozen playgrounds are scattered throughout the leafy neighborhoods. There’s also a new middle school, and a skate park is in the works.

You like a Rockwellian vibe


Median home price: $482,200
One-year change: +2 percent
Five-year change: +24 percent

Part of the so-called Irish Riviera, this erstwhile fishing village has five town beaches, a bike path, and a rec department on overdrive that organizes everything from kids’ cooking classes to a babysitter training course. Starter-home neighborhoods feature shingled bungalows topping out in the low $400,000s, and some solid elementary schools. The new Greenbush commuter rail line gives the town easy access to Boston, making it ripe for price gains.

You like nonstop activity


Median home price: $310,000
One-year change: -7 percent
Five-year change: +7 percent

The tech jobs that arrived when Intel established a campus here 10 years ago have transformed this once-sleepy mill town. Today young families are flocking to it, drawn in part by pristine single-family homes that can be had for under $400,000. Parents push strollers on a new bike path while kids jam on the just-opened downtown skate park; an adjacent splash pool debuts this spring.


You’re handy with tools

West Concord

Median home price: $775,000 (Concord-wide)
One-year change: -5 percent
Five-year change: +24 percent

Industrious DIYers have been sprucing up the small Victorians and multifamily homes in what historically has been the more industrial part of town. That energy has perked up West Concord center, where the town’s original five-and-dime now has company in a quilter’s shop and a wine store. Yet another bonus is entrée to the well-regarded Concord-Carlisle school system.

You prefer an un-suburb


Median home price: $400,000
One-year change: -2 percent
Five-year change: +18 percent

Brandeis and Bentley give Waltham the steady supply of house hunters that is a college-town perk, not to mention racial diversity, lively nightlife, and an impressive crop of restaurants along Moody Street. Commuters benefit from quick access to I-95, Route 2, and two rail stops.



After decades of manufacturing declines, this once-thriving industrial outpost is battling back. Its young, progressive, and openly gay mayor, Kevin Dumas, has opened a bike path, streamlined business-permitting processes, and inaugurated an industrial park. A downtown facelift is under way, and $14.5 million has been committed to the first phase of a $60 million residential complex built around a new bus-and-rail hub. If it also can continue to improve its schools, Attleboro may be poised for another heyday. (Median home price, $283,000; one-year change: -7 percent; five-year change: +20 percent)