Best Places to Live 2010
With its white clapboard homes, clambakes, chowder competitions, rocky overlooks, and artist colonies, coastal North Shore offers a taste of Maine — with a much shorter commute. It also offers stellar public beaches such as Crane and Wingaersheek. Preservation is big here, for both land and water. Because the area isn’t as accessible to Boston, home prices have dipped significantly since the market peak. Given the spectacular natural resources available nearby, though, prices will inevitably bob back up.
> Gold Standard
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $599,500
ONE-YEAR CHANGE: -20.1%
SINCE MARKET PEAK: -17.3%
Yes, the median home price in Manchester saw a hefty drop last year, but all it takes is one major seaside manse to sell (or not) to skew the numbers. Wedged between the brawnier cities of Beverly and Gloucester, Manchester is a community with Gatsby-era grace. In the summer, residents gather at the town-owned Chowder House cottage for its fireplaces, picnic tables, and swings; or they get together on Singing Beach, a quarter-mile of silky sand. But it isn’t all playtime. The Manchester Essex Regional High School is a brand-new powerhouse, and posted some of the state’s highest MCAS scores last year. And while Manchester’s cliff-side mansions tend to go for jaw-dropping prices, you can get a starter home closer to town in the $500,000s.
> Best Value
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $439,500
ONE-YEAR CHANGE: +7.9%
SINCE MARKET PEAK: -9.4%
For roughly $150,000 less than you would pay in Manchester-by-the-Sea, you can buy in Essex and get the same great schools. The town also boasts two public marinas, and the downtown is a string of tourist-supported restaurants, ice cream shops, and antiques stores. Ten years ago, Essex hired its first city administrator, but most major decisions are still made in jam-packed town hall meetings, where newcomers stand next to residents whose families have lived here for generations. Next year, the town is poised to take over Conomo Point, a century-old summer community at the mouth of the Essex River. Homes clustered around downtown list in the $300,000s while farms on Choate Street and antique homes on Island Road, Apple Street, and Lufkin Point Road tend to occupy the top of the market.
> Opportunity Knocks
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: Hamilton, $388,000; Wenham, $550,000
ONE-YEAR CHANGE: Hamilton, –19.2%; Wenham, +21.3%
SINCE MARKET PEAK: Hamilton, -26.1%; Wenham, +5.4%
Yes, they’re technically two towns, but they share many things (a school system, library, rec department, commuter rail station). Right now, these pretty little burgs are like a couple with a seven-year itch, bickering over taxes and the school budget. Once that’s fixed, predicts Realtor Kristal Pooler, “prices will bounce back up.” And there are promising signs: The recent launch of a curbside organic-composting program bodes well for future cooperation. The best deals are found in Hamilton, known for its equestrian estates. Thanks to an ill-timed building boom, the town now has deals to spare. A custom-built Autumn Lane home on 14 acres, for example, went under contract this spring for 25 percent off its assessed value.