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Neighborhoods near Cambridge?
March 31, 2014 9:25 AM   Subscribe

I am considering moving for a job in Cambridge MA. I know nothing about the neighborhoods, and need help.

Cursory inspection of Zillow tells me that it's going to be hard or impossible to find anything like what we currently have: about 2700 square feet on 1/2 acre, walking distance to elementary school, maybe 5-10 minutes to daycare and work. (We are currently a family of three, including one toddler.) We actually moved not long ago from a 1500 square foot house without a garage or basement, and are loving the extra space. We're willing to go a little smaller, sure, but would be sad to downsize all the way back.

What areas/neighborhoods should we look at? Work would be towards the south end of Cambridge. Ideally any commute would be on the T or commuter rail, but I'm willing to consider driving if it's not too long, and if it's not too stressful and trafficky. House budget: say up to 750,000 or 800,000?? Which is a lot more than we paid for our current house.

(Asking anonymously because I work in a small profession, and could be identified by this locale question plus my other posting history.)
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you specify by "south"? Cambridge sort of bends a little, and "south" Cambridge is actually Boston. :)

I grew up there, can answer many questions for you.

Most expensive part=west Cambridge, near Fresh Pond. East Cambridge, near MIT, is cheaper, and you can find some good neighborhoods in North Cambridge, near the Arlington line. Your budget seems in line with what's available.

(For the record: people who can't afford to live in Cambridge, [or now Somerville], live in Arlington.)

The schools are generally good, though half empty now since a lot of parents put their kids in private school. Am not as familiar with the schools now as I used to be. There are a few housing projects, like the Rindge Towers and Walden Square, but they seem to peacefully co-exist with their gentrified, hipster neighbors.

Have you seen a specific house that you like? I could tell you about that neighborhood.

Good luck! Love Cambridge. When you get here, let's plan a meetup!
posted by Melismata at 9:39 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

I just moved from Seattle to the metro-west area and I am working in Holden (just north of Worcester).

Give my age and the fact that I'm not really a fan of living in the suburbs (I live in Marlborough right now), I am also looking at moving into Cambridge and just sucking it up and making the drive into Worcester.

How does this help you, you ask? Well I am working with a real-estate agent (Coldwell Bankers) to help me find 1 bedroom apartments and I feel that, that is the way to go. They just have a lot more inventory of places than you may be able to see.

Given the prices and the rental market here as compared to other cities in the US, I think that finding a real estate agent might be the way to go, if you don't mind paying their fees.

Thus, I suggest finding a good agent who knows Cambridge well enough to help you find exactly what it is that you are looking for!

I wish you much luck for I know how hard that search is!
posted by rippersid at 9:51 AM on March 31

Are you set on a single-family or open to a duplex/multi-family? Do you absolutely want to be in Cambridge? Where is the job? That would help target commuting suggestions. The general consensus is that Arlington Schools > Cambridge Schools > Somerville Schools, but there are lots of other small towns in commuting distance. And I have friends whose kids are very happy at Peabody Elementary in North Cambridge, where you can often get a bit more space. East Cambridge has pretty much zero lot lines and tiny or no yards.
posted by chocotaco at 9:53 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

There are definitely houses to be had for that price range, but they are not going to be 2700 sq ft or with that size lot unless you are willing to look a lot further out than Cambridge. We are closing on a house in Medford at the end of April, so I've been immersed in the real estate market in this area for the last few months, and I can share more specific information if you want to memail me some details. That said, I don't know anything about the schools, but you might consider Waltham. The commute is not going to be short, but there are commuter rail stops in Waltham, and my experience is that generally you can get a lot more for your money there than in Cambridge. Arlington, as others have mentioned, is also a possibility.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:13 AM on March 31

I really doubt you'll be able to get half an acre within an easy MBTA commute of Cambridge - Cambridge is an "urban suburb" and even the really, really nice houses (of which there are many) have relatively small yards. There are towns that have more space on the commuter rail line that goes to Porter Square, but that's on the northern edge of Cambridge, and then you'd have to transfer to the Red Line. And you'd probably have to drive to the Commuter Rail stop.

So you'll definitely have to make a tradeoff between "short commute" and "lots of space." Which is more important to you? If it's lots of space, you can look to the areas around Acton and Concord, which are on the Commuter Rail and known for great schools. If it's a short commute (and more generally being close to urban amenities), you'll want to look at Cambridge and Arlington, both of which are wonderful for families.
posted by lunasol at 10:15 AM on March 31

Maybe Watertown? Commuting to Cambridge from Watertown is not bad (involves buses though), and property prices are lower. I don't know how good the schools are though, and a half-acre will probably be difficult to come by. Alternately you might want to look into places on the Fitchburg commuter line - you can take that line to Porter Square in Cambridge then transfer to the Red Line (to Kendall, I'm guessing?), which is easier than going all the way into Boston and then transferring to the Red Line. I live in Somerville in a neighborhood with lots of families near Medford and Arlington and I commute to Kendall via subway or bike. Actually South Medford might be an OK option, too.

My coworkers commute from places like Medford, Waltham, Cambridge, Lexington, Somerville, Boston, Watertown.

If you really want that half-acre yard, I think you'll need to go further out (to the commuter rail or someplace where you can drive to Alewife, the end of the Red Line). Housing within subway distance of Cambridge is pretty densely packed, as a rule. But if you're OK with having a park nearby or something instead, that opens up your options a lot. I think you're more likely to find a 2700 sq ft house you can afford than a 1/2 acre lot you can afford.
posted by mskyle at 10:15 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

Oh and one other thing: if you're interested in Cambridge but worried about losing the yard, know that Cambridge has so many nice green spaces, especially along the Charles River. There are also tons of little pocket parks throughout - it's a very green city.
posted by lunasol at 10:17 AM on March 31

Take a look at the local real estate on You will be very hard pressed to find that sort of space on the Red Line, but you may be able to get closer if you're willing to drive or take the commuter rail to Porter Square and switch to the Red Line.

Watertown and Waltham aren't bad choices if you're willing to drive. If schools are important, there are some (relatively) affordable homes in Arlington and Newton, both of which are an ok car commute.
posted by ldthomps at 10:31 AM on March 31

There are parts of Arlington that are walking distance to the end of the red line (Alewife) -- I would recommend looking there. Your yard won't be as big as you're used to, but it is possible to get a decent-sized condo with a yard and a garage for your budget, I think. My neighbors just sold their place for about 450K, and they had everything you're looking for, just smaller.
posted by cider at 10:34 AM on March 31

IMO forget Cambridge proper. The housing market seems particularly insane lately, and you'd never get even close to the space you're used to on your budget. The school system doesn't really warrant the prices either. Check our Arlington, Belmont, Lexington, West Newton if school district is important. If not, look also at Waltham, Somerville, Watertown. The further you move from Boston/Cambridge the more space you'll get.
posted by Behemoth at 10:35 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

Experience: lived in various places in central and eastern MA as well as southern NH from 2000 to 2008. Grad school in Boston for one of those years and a job in South Boston (with a hellish commute from the Worcester area) for another one of those years.

Forget about having any decent amount of land in Cambridge in your price range. You'll certainly be able to find a nice house in Cambridge on that budget but you won't have much land.

If a shorter commute is more important to you than having lots of land, I'd second the recommendation of Arlington. It's less expensive than Cambridge. Your commute would likely involve a short drive or bus ride to the Alewife T stop, which is on the Red Line, which passes through most of Cambridge.

Watertown's very nice, but you'd need to drive or take a bus.

Depending on where in "South Cambridge" you'll be working, Somerville might be doable for you as well.
posted by tckma at 10:37 AM on March 31

I forgot to add that Cambridge has a few great things going for it vis-a-vis the suburbs, if you're willing to sacrifice space. 1. Heavy "in-lieu" payments from the universities means that residential taxes are ridiculously low. 2. They have a free and awesome "junior kindergarten" program of which I am really jealous. 3. The public library is by the far the best, most child and adult-friendly library I have ever been to. They have gerbils and movies in the kids' area! Comfy couches for nursing babies! Staff who play music instead of shushing you! Vending machines for snacks that you are allowed to eat! (Can you tell I love that library?)
posted by chocotaco at 10:39 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

I was going to recommend either Arlington or Watertown, too.

Neither is that far from Cambridge for commuting purposes and you'd be more likely to find what you want in housing. However, you will not have a 5-10 commute in this area ever. Just doesn't happen.
posted by zizzle at 11:06 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

As others have said, you'll have to balance your commute with your desire for space. I'd look in Arlington, within walking or busing distance of Alewife. Cambridge schools are not that great, from what I understand. Redfin is a pretty good resource for area housing prices. Belmont also has wonderful schools but is much whiter and more suburb-like, as well as being more expensive than Arlington. You actually might get lucky and find something out in Newton, where the schools are lovely and the yards can be larger -- but it won't be anything super lovely for that price, you'll probably need to fix it up.
posted by woodvine at 11:08 AM on March 31

(Your Newton commute would be Green line to Red line, though, which won't be a picnic, as the Green line is very slow.)
posted by woodvine at 11:09 AM on March 31

(Not necessarily depending on where in Newton. Could do an express bus to downtown and then the Red Line or the Green Line depending on the area. Or also depending on the area, the green line to Hynes and the 1 bus into Cambridge.)
posted by zizzle at 11:13 AM on March 31

We just moved from the west coast of Canada to the Boston area as well for a job in Cambridge. Cambridge won't have the combination that you are looking for in that price range but looking in outlying areas will help you. You will have to decide if size of house and yard are important or commute time is. That said, we have bought a house south of Boston (Holbrook)that is 30 minutes on the Red Line into Cambridge. It is a 10 minute drive to the T and we bought 2800 square feet on 1.6 acres for $500,000. We weren't as worried about schools though and don't really now the rating in that area. Your budget could get you closer. South Shore is not an area you would want to drive/commute from but public transit is quite good in the Boston area. Another website we used for house searching was Good luck
posted by BostonCannuck at 11:28 AM on March 31

I'd suggest you avoid ANY area that will have your normal commute involving the Green Line.


I opted to walk to class in grad school, unless the weather was absolutely, positively HORRID (and I mean Snowpocalypse horrid, not "oh a little bit of rain") simply because more often than not, I outpaced the Green Line by doing so.
posted by tckma at 12:17 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]

In line with what BC said, you might want to look at the opposite end of the Red Line: Braintree and Quincy will be cheaper than Arlington and Watertown, with houses more likely to include yards.

Heck, you might even take a quick look at the areas around the Broadway and Andrew stations (South Boston). Urbanites who can no longer afford the South End or Jamaica Plain are heading in that direction, much to the chagrin of the natives.

Both of these options put you in weaker school systems compared to Cambridge and Arlington, however.
posted by underthehat at 12:45 PM on March 31

Forget urban metro Boston if you want a half acre or thereabouts. Arlington might be more you speed, or further north/west from there. You might find something in your price range (well, on the upper upper end of your price range) but you'll need to commute by something other than the T (commuter rail towns are automatically more expensive, I've found).

If you're going to need to drive into town forget the South Shore entirely, the commute will kill you.
posted by lydhre at 1:33 PM on March 31

Watertown and Belmont are great options. If you get a house near the 71 or 73 bus lines (my auburn st and trapelo rd respectively) you will be within a 20 minute bus ride to Harvard square. Many places in these two suburbs have yards but also proximity to stores, groceries and restaurants. I see a ton of families in watertown.
posted by permiechickie at 3:30 PM on March 31

Belmont schools are far superior to those of the surrounding towns (I currently live in Belmont, and used to live in Arlington), if that's a consideration, and especially if your kids need special ed services--Belmont is much more willing to spend money on services than many other towns. But it's also a very quiet town. Very convenient for commuting by T to Cambridge. My commute into Harvard Sq. is only 20 minutes by bus, and I live almost at the furthest point away from Cambridge. It's not a great town for walking around and hanging out, especially for kids. Arlington is much more vital feeling, with 3 commercial areas with all sorts of stores and lots of great restaurants.
posted by primate moon at 6:32 PM on April 4

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