Embracing Your Plan B

Mick Jagger said it best: You can’t always get what you want. Sometimes your dream home in a dream town won’t materialize, making a secondary plan essential. Keep your pulse on these up-and-coming places, all of which offer the highlights of the area’s buzziest towns—without the steep markup.

plan b 1

Urban Family Life, Culture, and a Whole Foods

You want: Arlington
You need: Melrose

Seems everyone with a City Mini wants to live in Arlington. You’ll find similarly sized properties for $120,000 less in Melrose (median home price: $430,000), plus equally lovely Victorian architecture—particularly in the town’s Highlands section—coupled with a busy downtown. And unlike in Arlington, there’s train service to Boston.

plan b 2

A-Plus Schools

You want: Acton
You need: Boxborough

For years, young families descended on Acton because of its award-winning school system. Boxborough, its neighbor to the west, shares the town’s classrooms for grades seven through twelve. But taxes are lower, and prices have dipped slightly since 2012. Lot sizes are large, and the area has a more countrified feel. (The annual Fifer’s Day Parade, wherein residents dress as Minutemen, is a rite of passage.)

plan b 3

Happiness in Horse Country

You want: Wenham or Topsfield
You need: Middleton or Hamilton

Realtors call Middleton Topsfield’s “little sister turned big sister.” The towns share an excellent school system, and prices are a hair lower in Middleton (median is $467,000). And while homes cost a median $486,500 in Wenham, they’re $470,000 in horsy Hamilton. Taxes are lower, too.

plan b 4

The Life of a Country Squire

You want: Dover
You need: Medfield

Real estate agents say to keep an eye on up-and-coming Medfield, which has the woodsy feel of Dover without the sticker shock—with a median home price of $573,000, nearly a quarter of a million dollars less. In fact, prices in this serene community have dropped a touch since 2012, so you just might get a deal.

plan b 5

South Shore Beach Life

You want: Cohasset or Duxbury
You need: Hanover

Hanover has a lot going for it: Easy access to highways and Boston, proximity to the South Shore and Cape Cod beaches, solid schools (it has Greater Boston’s fifth-highest percentage of students going to college). All that without the expense of nearby marquee towns like Cohasset.

plan b 6

An Urban Oasis by the Water

You want: Newburyport
You need: Salem

Both North Shore towns have bustling centers and close proximity to the water, but you can get a home in Salem for $300,000—nearly $200,000 cheaper than in Newburyport. Sure, it’s farther from the highway, but with so much to do, there aren’t a lot of reasons to leave.

Check out more of our Best Places to Live 2014 coverage.