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.

Trading Up

You’re moving up in the world, and soon, you hope, into more square footage. These bust-bucking areas also offer the promise of sweet deals and steady long-term gains.

trading up

Photograph by Fredrik Brodén


You’re drawn to the South Shore


Median home price: $605,000
One-year change: +3 percent
Five-year change: +27 percent

For years, no amount of Revolutionary-era architecture or swanky boutiques could disguise this harsh reality: Getting from Hingham to Boston meant a brutal Route 3 commute. Now, at last, a rail line runs through it—specifically the Greenbush line, which since debuting in November has been whooshing passengers to South Station in 35 minutes. If Hingham’s on your wish list, you’d be wise to move fast, says one real estate agent, who predicts that over the next few years the train could tack on another $100,000 to the median home price.

You want to be north of Boston


Median home price: $664,375
One-year change: -5 percent
Five-year change: +17 percent

Originally built as a summer retreat for wealthy city-dwellers, Winchester has a train station bisecting its pretty town center, from which it’s only 20 minutes to North Station. By car, the trip into Boston takes 15 to 30 minutes, depending on traffic. (And when you’ve got a flight to hop, Logan’s just a half-hour cab ride away.)

You’re okay with taking the T

East Cambridge

Median condo price: $402,600 (Cambridge-wide)
One-year change: -2 percent
Five-year change: +17 percent

Already a tech hub, East Cambridge will be soon be home to NorthPoint, a 45-acre mixed-use neighborhood that will feature office space, retail, and parks, as well as a $70 million Lechmere renovation that’s set to open in 2009.


You want to stretch your dollar


Median home price: $485,000
One-year change: +14 percent
Five-year change: +22 percent

If newish 3,000-square-foot spreads make you light up like a chandelier in a double-high foyer, Westford may well be your Valhalla. It has 2,899 four-bedroom properties—we counted—and several hundred with five or more. All the other houses on the cul-de-sac might look just like yours, but the town’s impressive schools and burgeoning corporate tax base make it an all-around good deal. Buyers may soon face increased competition, now that IBM plans to bring 3,000 jobs to the town and neighboring Littleton.

You dig ocean views


Median home price: $610,000
One-year change: +5 percent
Five-year change: +42 percent

The whaling-era sea captains are gone, but their white clapboard houses remain, coexisting in aesthetic harmony with the Victorian, postwar, and contemporary homes that followed (for those looking here, it does help to have a partiality to gray shingles). You’ll pay in the region of $500,000 for a four-bedroom from the 1970s; in the $700,000s for new or updated construction; and sharply upward from there for an antique.

You want pedigree


Median home price: $745,000
One-year change: +2 percent
Five-year change: +29 percent

Young, design-savvy professionals have been finding relative bargains in Newton Corner, where antique farmhouses and 1930s-era homes can be snapped up for $600,000 to $700,000. Your buck may go further still in South Newton’s postwar Oak Hill and Newton Highlands areas. Of course, given its diverse population, enviable town center, and two stellar high schools (Newton South’s SATs have officially edged out Newton North’s), there’s arguably not a bad investment anywhere in this city.


You love a (relative) bargain


Median home price: $899,000
One-year change: -5 percent
Five-year change: +24 percent

The tree-lined streets and clapboard homes epitomize genteel New England living. The shopping district might as well be Newbury Street West. And now, thanks to the softening market, Wellesley offers some good bargains, real estate agents say. In 2005, only 35 houses were priced under $1 million; in 2007, there were 100.

You have money to burn


Median home price: $945,000
One-year change: +6 percent
Five-year change: +31 percent

Dover is venerable enough to make Carlisle seem nouveau riche. The predominantly Republican rural community is 20 miles outside Boston, but a world away in outlook. Anything under $500,000 is considered a tear-down.



Looking out from Hull, the view is stunning: sweeps of ocean and Boston twinkling in the distance. The problem has been that from the outside looking in, the view is far less scenic. Now, however, the town is making progress with its schools—buoyed partly by tax revenues from beach lovers bulldozing cottages to build second homes. “If I had money to invest right now, [Hull is] where I’d put it,” says Jill Duffy of William Raveis Real Estate. Her rationale: Most of the Victorian homes here are on the beach, and they’re primed for restoration. (Median home price, $326,024; one-year change: -13 percent; five-year change: +20 percent)