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.


You might not net as much as you would’ve three years ago. But when you’re ready to cash out (and give up the chores), your nest egg would be put to wise use here.


Photograph by Fredrik Brodén


You’re ready to start having fun


Median home price: $300,000
One year change: -9 percent
Five-year change: +20 percent

For the assiduous, Plymouth has numerous cozy, reasonably affordable waterfront cottages that can be winterized and turned into retirement retreats. For those done with Home Depot runs, there’s the 3,000-acre Pinehills development. With its three golf courses, swim and tennis club, and Village Green restaurant/shopping center, it’s like “Disney World or Second Life to empty-nesters,” says one real estate agent. Different builders have constructed the complex’s varied and neatly packaged neighborhoods (which have quaint-sounding names like Pine Cobble and Winslowe’s View), and options run from huge custom estates to townhouses to 55-and-over condo buildings.

You deserve the good life, damn it

South End

Median condo price: $535,000
One-year change: +11 percent
Five-year change: +34 percent

As boomers vie with their own grown children for the same luxury condos, competition for the best units remains stiff in this highly coveted quarter. Consequently, it can take a windfall from offloading a suburban manse to afford the big three—concierge, elevator, and covered parking. In the more traditional row houses, the influx of “mature” residents is turning pricing schemes upside down: The upper floors used to fetch the higher prices, but since older residents are less interested in hoofing it up the stairs, the parlor units are beginning to rival or even eclipse them in value.


You have a soft spot for sea life


Median home price: $420,500
One-year change: -3 percent
Five-year change: +20 percent

The culture of creative reuse runs deep here, dating back at least to the decision 40 years ago to restore the Federal-era downtown. Today, a lot of Newburyport dwellers are gung-ho green. Local group S.E.E.D. is involved in everything from promoting cellulose home insulation, to raising funds for bike racks downtown in an effort to get people to run their errands on two wheels. The chamber of commerce is also getting in on the act, hosting its first Green Expo last month. Buying local is big here—whether it’s food grown on nearby farms, or handmade goods sold at town boutiques.

You like old-school conservation


Median home price: $1,096,250
One-year change: +27 percent
Five-year change: +32 percent

Composting? Recycling? Community-supported agriculture? Lincoln was doing it before Thoreau set up shop at Walden Pond. Though you’ll pay dearly for the privilege, the outdoorsy rewards of living here are many, courtesy of the powerful Rural Land Foundation (which owns the only mall in town) and like-minded groups that have secured permanent protection for about 35 percent of Lincoln’s land. That open space is now covered with walking trails, or leased to sustainable farmers. The Food Project also does its part by mentoring urban teens to grow organic food for co-ops and shelters. To address the town’s dearth of modestly sized (and priced) houses, planners are taking steps to preserve smaller, affordable homes. Fridolin Hill, Lincoln Woods co-op, and Brooks Road are smart places to start a search.

You enjoy a progressive crowd

Davis Square

Median home price: $424,000 (Somerville-wide)
One-year change: +3 percent
Five-year change: +29 percent

In the new Davis Square Lofts, housed in a group of reclaimed mills, the floors are warmed by an efficient radiant heating system and the toilets gurgle with recycled rainwater. You can almost imagine such features becoming standard for the neighborhood, as its population of students, hipsters, and the kind of older, moneyed urbanites who like to live among them continues to give the place a progressive tilt. Escalating prices had the Davis Square market looking overheated just a few years ago, but those gains are holding steady even as values have cratered in nearby communities.



Haverhill has the assets (and now some of the necessary backing) to become a real turnaround story. Like Newburyport, it has an almost perfectly preserved 19th-century downtown corridor with a colorful history (before he hit Manhattan, Rowland H. Macy opened the first Macy’s dry goods store in Haverhill in 1851; Louis B. Mayer ran theaters here before founding MGM). Attracted by the picturesque architecture and up-and-coming restaurant scene, a pair of bigtime developers are spending nearly $100 million on new mixed-use complexes in the town center, including a 300-unit conversion of a former leather factory near the commuter rail. (Median home price, $270,000; one-year change: -7 percent; five-year change: +8 percent)