Moving to the Boston suburbs is a big decision and I wanted to provide some insight about the reality of living in the Greater Boston Area from a transplant’s perspective and a former urban planner.
I have driven through almost every eastern Massachusetts town as I love to explore and my background lets me easily identify the components of a town. It’s just something I love to do.
One thing I have found useful is a lifestyle worksheet I developed that will really help you hone in on what you want for your life. If you’re buying a home or a condo with someone else, it’s much better to take the time to fill this out and discuss the options and match your needs with a town. A lot of people think, well, let’s just go out and look, but honestly, you’re busy and this step avoids a lot of disagreements and after you decide on a couple towns, then you can layer the town with the house.
If you are new to Massachusetts home buying, I have another video/post that will walk you through a time-collapsed home buying journey.
One component may be commuting. Assuming that you have a place of employment and you know how long you want your commute to be, let’s talk about driving.
Driving in a car to work …. If you are coming from outside 495 and needed to get into Boston Proper, it can be a two-hour commute one-way in the height of rush hour from 6:30 to 9:00 and on the way home it’s very similar. Say, if you’re coming from Concord, Lexington, Carlisle, or Milton, it’s about 30 minutes. Marlborough is about an hour and Worcester can be an hour and a half. The North Shore can sometimes be one or two hours depending upon which transportation corridor you’re taking. For example, 128 or Route 1. Sometimes people say, I take back roads, but remember too. those back roads are usually slower and they back up too. Typically they are on routes and they feed into rotaries where you have to stop and feed into the circle traffic, so be aware of that. The few freeways we do have, they back up at the intersections where the highways merge. You will also need to get a Masspass if it’s a toll road and they will bill you each time you go through the toll road. So knowing exactly how long it’s going to take is really important and know that the weekends are not a true reflection of the real, true commute time.
Many years, my husband got up early and left by 5:00 a.m. so he would only have an hour commute, and sometimes when we had logistical issues it wasn’t so easy. The transportation studies continue to say that it’s going to get worse over the next decade and I have no doubt that that’s going to be happening here if you’re driving a car.
The Commuter Rail is another option that’s fantastic. Leave the expense and driving to someone else. Know too if you take the Commuter Line, you may need to park your car. Now, parking is not free, so first you have to find the spot and some train stations are impacted. So for example, if you go to Acton you may need to get there by 5:00 a.m. in order to get a spot. If you can walk to the train or ride your bike, that eliminates that fee. Know if you’re going to park there at the lot they will either, you can buy a monthly pass or they will track you by your license plate.
How you’ll get from the rail line to your place of work. If you can walk, that’s great, but some of those corridors and where the workplaces exist are far apart, so you might need to take the T. Now, taking the T is an added expense because the Commuter Rail and the T are separate, and a discussion for another day is why North Station and South Station do not connect, but when you add up the expenses and compare the options, you will find the answer that you need for your life.
How much house for the Money
In general, the further you go out from Boston, the bigger house you get for your money. I think you can see that too from all of the statistics decade over decade. Traditionally, property taxes are higher in towns that have better schools and when I say better I’m talking about the test scores that everyone holds their hat on. Everything from Elementary to SAT scores. I send my clients to a website that I really like because it’s run by the state government and it compares apples to apples. Some of these other ones are privately funded so who can you really trust?
Property taxes, there is a great resources where you can compare the last 10 years of any town. When home shopping, it’s good to know that the taxes are probably going to go up, and over 10 years typically they will double. Also, there is something called a 2% override where local town officials can place an increase on the property tax if approved by the property owners of the town.
Massachusetts is well-known for conservation so you need to decide what type of outdoor recreation you would like to use. I love meadows, so I always want to know where I can walk my dog off leash, and don’t forget about the playgrounds if you have little ones.
What type of neighborhood do you want? There are a lot of houses in Massachusetts that are not in neighborhoods. That was a concept promoted after the war and developed mostly west of the Mississippi as planned communities where builders built large tracks of homes. It doesn’t really exist here, but it does exist on a small scale. Here, those types of neighborhoods are nestled in off main streets and are small in scale, maybe eight to 20 homes, not the 1,000 plus like out west.
Another thing that drove me crazy when I first moved here is that the underlying name of a street when it is a route is a different name, and the roads can change names when you cross over between towns. Oftentimes, I hear people say, we want a cul-de-sac neighborhoods because we want the kids to play in the neighborhood, but one thing that is different from the 1950s is that there are a lot of organized activities that are either funded by the town or they are privately run. So anticipate that your children may want to do some of those activities. For example, my daughter was in dance, but this is true for hockey, piano, and all kinds of other activities. The point is is that while many think this is what we want, our society is changing, and so now sometimes too the cul-de-sac isn’t really a playground anymore. If you’re choosing a cul-de-sac for noise and less cars, that’s a whole nother aspect of life.
One tool, if you are considering moving to the Boston Suburbs, I’ve found helpful is to take a paper map. I know it’s archaic, but when you drive around and mark the areas that you like and those that you don’t like, it’ll help you focus on your search so you don’t waste your time.
Homes are available first come first serve
It takes a long time to find a house and when you do find it, the real estate agent says, okay, let’s put in an offer and the buyers think the agent just wants a fast sale, but the real reason is it’s first come, first serve. Offers are good for 24 hours, and so if you really do have a house that you like, you want to go ahead and submit an offer.
Now, if you go see a house with a listing agent, that is a very, very bad idea and here you can find out why >> Why you do not want the Listing Agent<< and another one on >> How to Get Your Offer Accepted When There are Multiple Offers <<
So let’s get back to the suburbs. Let’s take a look at the size of your lot. The further away you get from the city, the lot will, generally, be larger for the same amount of money. So my question is is do you like to garden? Are you going to hire someone to take care of the yard? And exactly what is it that you’ll do with all of that space?
Community Services & Neighborhood Regional Area
These are things that you will want to ask yourself. Where’s the grocery store, the carwash, the move theater, and the services that you use on a regular basis? The hot new thing is walkable cities, but in the burbs. All of these urban planning features are so important because it is a financial mistake to buy a house with the intention of moving within seven years. >> When will we break even<<
I truly believe there is a community in the Greater Boston Area that will cater to you and your needs, and if you are considering towns on the North Shore or along Route 2 Corridor which is considered “Moving to the Boston Suburbs”, I would love to help you. So please reach out to me and we can get you the information you need.