Editor's Letter: Sunny Outlook

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES. The editor’s letter I wrote for this issue a year ago was notable for nothing so much as its sense of relief. After a winter that nearly broke New England — almost 7 feet of snow in total and a string of Tuesdays (or was it Wednesdays?) that delivered soul-crushing blizzards — the first day of March last year may not have precisely been spring, but it was more than close enough.

This time around, it’s been the, um, polar opposite. There was that smallish dumping back in October, and the odd dusting over the past couple of months, but as I write this in mid-February, we’ve for the most part been snow-free this winter — just 7.8 total inches. And my computer tells me that it’s 45 degrees outside right now, which is pretty much the average temperature this season. All in all, a vast improvement. (Okay, I agree: It’s not actually an improvement. Climate change scares the hell out of me, too. The point is, it’s warmer.)

Good weather, of course, is important for more than just our collective mood. It’s also a potential boon to the spring real estate season, which in turn is crucial to the overall market. Could this mild winter of ours help the nascent real estate recovery take root? There are small but important signs that prices have begun to stabilize in many parts of Massachusetts. Yes, a depressing 204 cities and towns experienced a decrease in home values so far in fiscal year 2012, but that’s actually a pretty big improvement on the 266 that did so in fiscal year 2011. So things may be getting better. That said, right now is still a good time to buy a home. If you’re lucky enough to be a first-time buyer or to have sufficient equity in your current property, the combination of low prices and rock-bottom mortgage rates means there are exciting opportunities out there.

But where to buy? To help you make that all-important decision, we once again present our popular Best Places to Live package. We logged 600 miles this year, checking out cities and towns all across the region. We talked to insiders, real estate agents, and residents; crunched the important numbers; and threw in a dash of good old-fashioned subjectivity. (Can one amazing supermarket truly be reason enough to live somewhere? Apparently so.) Add it all up, and what you get is this month’s collection of great places you’d love to call home.

Now I’ve got to run. I’m hoping I can still return that unused snowblower I bought in November.