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The Best Places to Raise a Family: Affordable Living in the Boston and Eastern, Central Massachusetts Areas


Downtown Walpole MA
Town Day Parade, Walpole, Massachusetts.

by Eric Hurwitz. Page updated on 3/15/17. All photos by Eric unless otherwise noted.

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Those who live in eastern and central Massachusetts know that buying a modest, move-in condition home for about 400K is a great bargain. For those who don't live in New England, those prices must seem like sheer lunacy. Some prefer to just visit New England, and that might be a wise idea. Who would want to spend that much money for a home? However, others know that if they're lucky enough to earn a high salary in this region, the prices might not seem all that bad, as the cultural, educational, medical and historical preservation elements help create a high quality of living. It's a shame that many hard-working people of lower or middle class status won't have the opportunity to buy around this region, but for those who do, we have compiled a list of the top, most reasonably affordable places to raise a family. The following towns offer good value for the money (relatively speaking), offer lots of safe suburban and rural living, and good-to-excellent school systems:

Burlington: northwest Boston suburb
Burlington, Massachusetts town common
Burlington town common.

At first glance, Burlington doesn't seem like a sensible choice for affordable living in the Boston area. The suburban industrial sprawl, the huge Burlington Mall, strip malls, fast food chains and all the usual suspects make Burlington look like just another assembly-line suburban town that doesn't know the term "moratorium" when it comes to development.

While there is a strong element of truth to all that, Burlington has some overwhelmingly great features that make this large geographical area of approximately 25,000 residents stand out (100,000-plus, counting commuters working in town). The village green is actually one of the most impressive, undeveloped greens in eastern Massachusetts. Surrounded by old homes and pleasant town office buildings, the town village green is a haven for strollers out for a "real" New England walk, and is particularly amazing during the holiday season when the tree lighting makes it official that you are in New England. It is also perfect for a hot summer night concert "on the green."

Nearby Simonds Park provides one of the best playgrounds in all of suburban Boston with its age-appropriate sections of play areas, lighted tennis courts, a great baseball field, and an outdoor swimming area. This is part of the Burlington tradition of having an active recreation department (all pioneered by Don Roberts many years ago), featuring 11 parks and facilities and including music and art, fitness dancing, adult education , sports, summer activities, tours, leagues special events, workshops, and adventure programs. There's never a shortage of things to do for adults and children living in Burlington, according to those who live, or have resided here. The neighborhoods consist of mostly well-kept ranches with nice yards, although new developments with bigger homes have sprung up in the past several years. There are still some decent homes available for around $400,000, but expect to pay more than that that amount for a prime, move-in condition home (the average cost of a home is nearly 500,000). Additionally, the school system is a good one and improving steadily; it has come a long way in the past 30 years. Details on the schools can be read at the Burlington Public Schools web site.

Burlington is also home to the Lahey Clinic, generally regarded as one of the best suburban hospitals in the United States. It is comforting to know that this stellar medical facility is within minutes, in case of emergency or for having a great primary care physician for the entire family.

Suddenly, the suburban sprawl makes more sense and is more tolerable, as living in a quiet town with one of the finest hospitals in New England, one of the best shopping malls in Massachusetts (The Burlington Mall features 155 specialty shops and is anchored by Macy's, Nordstrom and Sears), an endless array of restaurants (it has really become a prime destination for "foodies"), and quick access to Routes 128, 3 (20 minutes to New Hampshire) and 93 (leading to Boston) make Burlington a serious contender for great, affordable suburban living.

More on Burlington
Burlington realtors: advertise your business right here for below market value ad rates!

Foxborough: southwest Boston suburb
Foborough, Massachusetts town common
Foxborough town common.

Foxborough is known as the home of the esteemed New England Patriots and adjacent Patriot Place with its great mix of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, but this mid-sized town is so much more than that. Blessed with one of the nicest village greens in New England, the downtown section of Foxborough seems less like a Boston suburb and more like a quaint Vermont town. Like all classic New England small towns, the village green is the center of attention -- a small oasis with park benches, old-fashioned tall lamps, a gazebo, well-kept walkways and well-manicured lawn, and in the spring and summer, flowers in bloom. Foxborough -- located at the intersection of Interstates 95 and 495 -- is 24 miles south of Boston. It seems like a million miles away from the state capital, as well as the football stadium and the "anytown," strip mall look of Route 1.

The Foxborough village green serves as a very attractive rotary with steady traffic driving around the circular piece of land. The tree-lined side streets near the downtown offer great, big homes, many Victorians and colonials, and provide a perfect stroll to the town center.  Locally-owned shops and restaurants along with stately churches are walkable from the village green.

The median cost for a home in Foxborough is just over 462,000, at this writing, according to Realtor.com, but you can still find some good homes closer to $400,000.

While certainly not a vacation destination -- but perhaps an ideal town to live if considering making the move to New England -- Foxborough is worth a visit with its great village green and a walkable, pleasant downtown. Sit on a village green bench, enjoy the leisurely pace, visit a few local shops and you just might find Foxborough more authentic than the high profile "vacation" towns.

More on Foxborough
Foxborough realtors: advertise your business right here for below market value ad rates!

Walpole: southwest Boston suburb
Downtown Walpole, Massachusetts
Downtown Walpole.

Walpole is three towns away from Boston in the southwest direction. Farms, several ponds and old-fashioned neighborhoods (separated by ponds, streams and woods instead of buildings) with small to mid-size homes and kids actually playing outside make Walpole a great place to raise a family. You can get a decent home starting at about $400,000, although most move-in condition homes typically sporting a quarter acre of land well surpass that price -- still a good deal in the Boston area. Residents seem more friendly than in other Boston suburbs, perhaps due to the influx of people moving from urban Boston neighborhoods who are grateful for the opportunity to have more land, better safety, and the chance to be close to their parents from the old Boston neighborhoods. The town center is well-defined and pleasant, with unique and thriving independently-owned stores, several fine restaurants, a beautiful new public library that gets a great daily turnout, and a quintessentially "New England" village green (actually, there are three town commons in the center, an amazing asset for scenic purposes and town events). Meandering suburban and country roads off-shooting from the downtown make for wonderful neighborhoods and drives. Common St., right off the center, has some of the nicest, stately, historic big homes in eastern Massachusetts. Just off the town center is the Walpole Town Forest- an exquisitely-kept 300-acre oasis wonderful for walking. The pedestrian-only White's Bridge -- passing over a tranquil section of the Neponset River -- will make you feel like you are in rural New Hampshire.

East Walpole has a peaceful village-like setting with fine neighborhoods to walk, a terrific restaurant (204 Washington), pizza place, hair salon, and other businesses. Also in East Walpole is Bird Park. This pastoral gem boasts 89 acres of gentle rolling parkland framed by tall, majestic trees and a scenic part of the Neponset River. Large stone walkways lead you past open, grassy fields, small walking bridges overlooking the water, mature shade trees, tree groves, and ponds. Recreational opportunities abound -- a well-constructed playground for children five years-old and younger, tennis and basketball courts, cross country skiing, picnic areas and a bandstand for concerts.

North Walpole features some truly spectacular newer homes, some appealing farms, impressive modestly-sized homes with big lots, tranquil Willett Pond where "lakefront" homes on Bullard St., have a spectacular view of some very clean water, and the 365-acre Adams Farm -- a perfect place for a quiet New England hike. Over the North Walpole line in Westwood is the Bubbling Brook ice cream stand. Bubbling Brook means the official start of warmer weather to many local residents (and falling into a depressive state when they close for the season after Columbus Day). Set beside some rolling farm land, Bubbling Brook looks like your classic ice cream stand with its outdoor windows framed by lines of people, picnic benches and bright under-the-roof lights warmly illuminating the nighttime. They also have indoor dining, with some good nightly specials.

Walpole is one of the last great bargains in the Boston area, has an impressive school system, the pastoral Norfolk Agricultural School (a four-year regional high school providing high quality academics and vocational/technical education) and is every bit as nice-looking as some of the more expensive towns. The population is just under 24,000, but Walpole is essentially a small town with a large geographical area (22 square miles) -- this space allows room to roam for everyone in this suburban gem of a town. Walpole is also a great sports town, renowned for its high field hockey teams and some terrific football and baseball teams (and most recently, hockey!) through the years.

The median cost of a home in Walpole is around $514,000, at this writing, according to NeighborhoodScout.com.  I have seen some bungalows and ranches around $400,000, but the town is getting more expensive. Now is the time to buy before more people discover this relative hidden gem, in my opinion.

Ultimately, Walpole is a pleasant, family-oriented place with a true small-town, old-fashioned feel. It is a must-see when looking for a home in the Boston area.

Rossana Gonser, real estate agent in Walpole, Massachusetts

More on Walpole


Shrewsbury: western Boston suburb, Worcester suburb
Shrewsbury, Massachusetts town common
Shrewsbury town green.

A pretty New England village green, neighborhoods with quarter to half acre lots, a superb school system, easy access to major highways, and 15 parks --including the beautiful Dean Park-- makes Shrewsbury a suburban dream. The west side does border some Worcester city elements, but the neighborhoods there are decent enough. Other parts of town rival the neighborhoods of Boston suburbs selling homes for twice the price. Another great aspect to Shrewsbury is that most of the commercial and industrial endeavors are kept on Routes 9 and 20, away from the heart of the town. The median value of a home in Shrewbury is $424,000, according to NeighborhoodScout.com.

More on Shrewsbury
Shrewsbury realtors: advertise your business right here for below market value ad rates!

Hopedale: southwest Boston suburb, Worcester suburb
Hopedale, Massachusetts Town Hall with restaurant
Hopedale Town Hall with The Town Common diner as part of the building!

Hopedale is a peaceful, little town about 30 miles southwest of Boston and 30 miles northwest of Providence, RI. Hopedale's mix of fine old homes, a quaint downtown with many historic buildings (there's a great, little breakfast and lunch restaurant called the Town Hall diner in the 1887-built Town Hall!), a centrally-located playground and a serene river to watch the sun go down makes for a nice place to raise a family. This beautiful small town was once a Utopian village in the 1840s based on a modified socialist platform, and then later evolved into an industrial giant with the birth of the former Draper Corporation (once the largest manufacturer of automated cotton looms in America). Churches, schools, municipal buildings (including a recreation center with a bowling alley!), community park and the town common are centered around the downtown -- the way things used to be like in New England. Along the way, you'll find street names that clearly reflect the town's vision during its industrial heyday: Social St., Freedom St., Hope St., and Progress St. Today, Hopedale is one of the most quiet towns in the suburbs and a great place to walk and get to know the neighbors as there is a friendly, welcoming vibe.  The median value of a home is around $299,000, at this writing, according to Zillow.com.

More on Hopedale
Hopedale realtors: advertise your business right here for below market value ad rates!

Wakefield, northwest Boston suburb
Wakefield, Massachusetts
Wakefield town green and Lake Quannapowitt.

It's hard to believe that tranquil Lake Quannapowitt, in Wakefields just off manic Route 128. The Lake offers numerous recreational opportunities, including a lovely four-mile walk around the scenic body of water. A pretty town green, open park land and a playground offer additional scenic and recreational opportunities at this jewel in the middle of northwest suburbia. Wakefield also has a nice, old-fashioned downtown with charming, old brick town buildings, a classic New England village green, independently-owned local shops, an impressive restaurant scene, and convenient parallel parking. For a town with a population of around 25,000, the Lake and small-town downtown make it seem like a much smaller town. The median home value in Wakefield is around $491,000, at ths writing, according to Zillow.com.

More on Wakefield

Wakefield realtors: advertise your business right here for below market value ad rates!

Maynard, western Boston suburb
Downtown Maynard, MassachusettsThe demise of Digital Corporation nearly ruined the town, but Maynard still has a sunny downtown with locally owned shops, some beautiful old colonial homes, a low crime rate and enough in the parks and recreation department to keep the kids busy. The schools are fine and the air smells cleaner than in other suburbs. The legendary Maynard Outdoor Store -- dating back to 1950 -- is a great example of an old-fashioned, downtown, locally-owned business, offering name-brand clothing, footwear, camping and sporting goods. In addition, Maynard is close to historic Lexington and Concord and only 35 minutes west of Boston.

The median price of homes currently listed in Maynard is $337,450, at this writing, according to Zillow.com.

 More on Maynard
Maynard realtors: advertise your business right here for below market value ad rates!


Holden, western Boston suburb, Worcester suburb
-- A quiet rural suburban Worcester town that has a sleepy downtown, reasonably-priced homes, a highly-rated school system and a central location that makes driving to all six New England states a breeze. The median price of homes currently listed in Holden is around $285,000, at this writing, according to Zillow.com.

More on Holden
Holden realtors: advertise your business right here for below market value ad rates!

Medway, southwest Boston suburb -- Medway has some lovely old colonials and Victorians (especially along Village St.), easy access to Route 495, and a laid-back, safe feeling. It also has one of the better school systems in Massachusetts, as evidenced by good MCAS results. There are no bad sections of Medway, just a plethora of nice neighborhoods. The town has some nice restaurants, especially the Main Street Cafe which serves excellent steak and seafood dinners in a friendly suburban setting. The median house value in Medway is around $442,000, at this writing, according to NeighborhoodScout.com.

More on Medway
Medway realtors: advertise your business right here for below market value ad rates!

Additional resources:
Massachusetts Small-Town Living -- Bay State communities that have held onto their small-town roots, making them traditional, classic towns to live in.

Discover beautiful, historic town greens in Massachusetts


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