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Founded in 1630, Boston is one of the United States’ oldest cities, existing for more than 100 years before the country was formed. This deeply historical city lies on Massachusetts Bay in a shallow basin ringed by soft, rolling hills. As the capital of Massachusetts, it’s the state’s largest city with a population of around 680,000 people. This puts it roughly around the same size as Nashville, Tennessee, or Portland, Oregon. Due to its key role in the nation’s early days, much of Boston’s history is familiar — but there is also much more to Beantown than a few historical landmarks.
Even though Revolutionary War-era history is a well-worn path for some Americans, seeing the sites in person is a far cry from a dusty history textbook. For a history-packed experience, start at Boston Common to follow the Freedom Trail through the city. Boston Common is the oldest park in the US and has served many functions throughout the city’s history, including as grazing lands, a place for punishment, and an encampment for British regiments. Today it serves as a public green space.
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile-long walk, but will likely take the entire day to complete, since you’ll pass so many interesting sites, buildings, and museums along the way. The Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, and the location of the Boston Massacre are all notable stops. Lunch can be found at Faneuil Hall, a center of commerce where the Sons of Liberty publicly proclaimed their opposition to the British Crown. Today, it is a historical landmark and marketplace with an adjacent indoor/outdoor mall. At the waterfront, the Freedom Trail finally ends at the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy, the USS Constitution. Some additional historical places of note in the city include the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, and the 1.6-mile Black Heritage Trail through Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood — which comprises multiple stops at private residences and community buildings associated with the Black community in 19th-century Boston as they worked for equal rights and equal access to education.
Aside from the past, present day in Boston is equally fascinating. Whale watching cruises are available at Boston Harbor, and the New England Aquarium on the city’s waterfront is counted among the best aquariums in the nation. Boston is also home to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, dedicated to the life and work of Massachusetts native and 35th American President, John F. Kennedy. Art aficionados will be endlessly entertained in Boston with the Harvard Art Museums, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, while the musically inclined will enjoy a trip to Symphony Hall, where the world-class Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops perform.
A few other places of note in the city include Fenway Park, the lauded home of the Boston Red Sox, Harvard University, the oldest higher learning institution in the nation, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the top academic institutions in the world.
With celebrated schools like Harvard and MIT, it is no surprise that Boston’s economy is teeming with bright minds and interesting industries. Naturally, thanks to the city’s historical significance, tourism remains a top economic driver, but biotechnology, engineering, higher education, information technology, finance, and marine trade are all key components in the Boston economy. Two Fortune 500 behemoths, General Electric (GE) and Liberty Mutual Insurance call the city home.
Of course, with such deep historical roots, there are many examples of colonial-era architecture throughout the city, and beyond the 1700s, there are some stunning examples of 19th and early 20th-century design. The towering Trinity Church, built in 1872, is a rugged, Romanesque-style building with heavy walls, rough stone, and an imposing 211-foot central tower. The Boston Public Library, the country’s first free municipal library, dates back to 1854 and wows visitors with its imposing, cathedral-like reading rooms done in a Renaissance Revival style. Finally, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, though constructed in the early 20th-century, echoes a 15th-century Venetian Palace, complete with ornate arches and an opulent central courtyard.
It would be easy, then, to assume that most of the notable architecture in Boston dates back at least 100 years, but this is far from the truth since many of Boston’s most celebrated buildings are from the modern era. 200 Clarendon, formerly known as the John Hancock Tower, is one of the most recognizable features of the Boston skyline. Constructed in 1972 using lots of glass to create a minimalist-modernist skyscraper, it’s frequently cited as one of America’s most beloved buildings by the American Institute of Architects.
Two structures at MIT also stand out. The first, the MIT Kresge Auditorium, dates back to the 1950s and showcases a mid-century modern design with a thin-shell reinforced concrete structure. Its appearance is bold, simple, and sculptural. Second on the list is MIT’s Stata Center. Designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 2004, this deconstructivist-style building is all odd angles and tilts, leaving the impression of an almost Dr. Seussian-type structure.
With private residences, however, the tastes run a bit more classical in Boston. Federal, Italianate, Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Second Empire, and Colonial Revival are all heavily featured and date their popularity back to the 19th and early 20th-centuries. With Federal, Greek Revival, and Colonial Revival, these tend to be intensely symmetrical homes with columns and ornamental garlands and motifs, while Italianate, Queen Anne, and Second Empire tend towards the more bombastic, imposing, and ornate with some featuring asymmetrical facades and mixed textures.
Yet when it comes to local listings, Realm found that many houses, despite their varying exterior and interior designs often have a few features in common. You might think that the harsh New England winters would drive the focus indoors, but with fewer warm months, Boston homeowners do their best to make the most of their good weather. Realm’s data analysis shows that decks are the most popular amenity in the Boston housing market, with mentions in 53 recent real estate listings. Patios ranked third in popularity, mentioned in 31 listings, and landscaping was mentioned in another 18 listings. Given the city’s cold winters, it’s no surprise that roofing (32 mentions) and HVAC work (19 mentions) rounded out the top five most popular features. This is also comforting since a city like Boston can have a lot of older homes on the market.
Unsurprisingly, given the city’s age, Realm’s data analysis found that many of the homes in the city date back to the late 19th-century. In fact, most homes in the city were built in 1890. It’s very important for potential homeowners in Boston to find a home inspector who has experience assessing older homes. These historic homes can hold lots of charm and beauty, but there can be serious structural problems lurking below — which could be costly to repair.
Just like any home, the foundation will need a close inspection. Wood beams that are integral to the home may have decayed due to age, rot, ants, termites, or the effects of weather or water. The foundation will have settled over time, which can lead to uneven flooring or plaster cracks in the walls. An 1890s house may need stabilization to make the home level and even, but the good news is that this usually isn’t too much of a financial burden. Specifically in the Back Bay and South End areas of Boston, there has been an issue with rotting pilings. These neighborhoods were built on a landfill and the wooden pilings need to remain submerged in water, otherwise, they will rot and snap. This became an issue when a drought in 2016 dried out much of the water the pilings were sitting in. If you’re looking at homes in those two neighborhoods, pay extra attention to the foundation.
Another thing to look out for in older homes: undersized rafters in the roofing, which can lead to visible dips in the roofline and will require bracing. This can be more difficult depending on what kind of living space exists directly below the roof. If it is an uninhabited attic, it’s usually not so bad, but if it is a finished room, the bracing may be more expensive and timely to complete.
Older homes may have leaky windows from warped wooden trims or wooden siding that’s expensive to maintain. The siding needs to be repainted every seven years, and over time, it will warp and crack.
Furthermore, homes in 1890 were not built with insulation, plumbing, electricity, or heating and cooling systems. This means that all of these things were added later and may require updating or maintenance depending on when and how they were installed. During the energy crisis in the 1970s, lots of older homes had insulation installed, and though some came out all right, others were shoddily done and may require a bit of fixing. Plumbing may be improperly vented, while lines could be constructed out of older materials like galvanized steel or polybutylene, neither of which are likely to be performing well anymore. Depending on the age and condition of the electrical system in the home, the wiring could be old, damaged, or faulty. Finally, since heating and cooling were added later, it’s possible that there are some rooms in the house with no heat source, and chimneys may not have clay tile liners, leaving the home more vulnerable to fires.
Older homes are gorgeous and can be an absolute dream once they’ve been fixed up, but they will require a skilled, knowledgeable hand. Realm’s dashboard can help homeowners calculate the financial burden of their renovation as well as the long-term value they’ll be adding to their property once their projects are complete.
Despite the potential headaches of an older home, Boston homes are at very low risk for naturally occurring floods and fires. Realm’s data analysis found that 100% of Boston homes were not in a flood zone and 100% of Boston homes were outside of a designated perimeter for a wildfire that has occurred in the last five years. So even though homeowners might have to fuss over the foundation, they can cross spontaneous flood or fire disasters off of their worry list.
Is Boston a good place for real estate?
As of October of 2021, it appears that real estate in Boston has appreciated over 98% in the last decade, and has been appreciating annually at a rate of 7.1%. This figure is higher than the national average, which means that Boston real estate is valued higher than most real estate in the US. The prices are forecasted to rise in the next year, so homeowners in Boston are certainly enjoying increased property values right now.
Is Boston expensive to live in?
Yes, but many think it is well worth the cost. Despite the vast difference in their sizes, Boston is almost as expensive as New York City, and as of the spring of 2021, the cost of living in Boston was 48% higher than the national average. Yet, as with anything, there is a tradeoff. For the higher sticker price, residents of Boston enjoy a world-class city with access to fantastic hospitals, schools, restaurants, and entertainment.
Will housing prices fall in Massachusetts?
After a blazing hot summer in the real estate market, pricing has dipped in the fall of 2021. Though it is still more expensive than years past, it would appear that the Boston housing market is becoming slightly more buyer-friendly. Do not mistake this to mean cheap, however. Homes are still historically more expensive in 2021.
Is now a good time to buy a house in Boston?
If buyers have the cash ready, the fall and winter of 2021 will see home prices dip after a relentlessly rising summer housing market. So, in short, yes. Prices are finally dropping and interest rates are still quite low. Traditionally, January has boasted the lowest prices in the past, probably due to the bitter cold.
We currently cover most standalone, single-family homes