Headed to Beantown, but I promise not to call it Beantown.
April 23, 2012 12:39 PM   Subscribe

We're moving to Boston. Where should we live?

Some notes on our background:
- We're in our early 30's, no kids, but having kids in the next 18-ish months.
- We want 2-3 bedrooms with 1.5-2 baths.
- We're not yuppies, but you 'd probably call us liars if you met us.
- We're not big on nightlife. Would rather have access to pubs/sports bars, cool (but not expensive) restaurants, ike life work in Boston?).
- We'll have one car but rarely drive it. I'll take public transportation and/or a bike to work (<---how does bike life work in Boston).
- I'll be working at a Cambridge or Downtown-based technology startup.
- Our combined annual household income will be ~$140K.
- Lived in Seattle (Queen Anne, Belltown, North Beacon Hill) and Los Angeles (Manhattan Beach) for 8 years. Loved both of them for very different reasons.

What questions should I be asking you (I'll ask publicly here after I've left my job) and what questions should I be asking myself.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you looking to buy a house or rent?

You'd probably be better off renting first, then buying later once you know the lay of the land. I'd suggest a residential neighborhood that's close to the MBTA, such as Brookline, South Boston, Jamaica Plain or Somerville. Any of these areas are reasonably priced, close to neighborhood spots and have on-street parking.

Boston is very bike friendly!
posted by floweredfish at 12:52 PM on April 23, 2012

My husband instantly said "Somerville"--I was thinking specifically around Davis. I see a ton of young families any time I'm around there.

He added, on the Boston side, Hyde Park, West Roxbury or Dorchester.

In any of those places, you can rent, but if you want to buy, your options will likely be much slimmer.
posted by chiefthe at 1:01 PM on April 23, 2012

Where will you be working? And are you thinking about school systems yet? If you want to buy, you're going to want to think about schools.

I'm hesitant to recommend neighborhoods because, if you plan on using the T, I don't want to direct you to a ninety minute commute. So knowing where you'll be working would be a big help!

I recommend not living in Boston proper if you'll be utilizng the public schools -- your five year old could end up being bussed an hour to his/her school from your neighborhood. I hear tell that Cambridge schools aren't doing so great, either, from people I work with who have put their kids into private schools.

Brookline has an amazing school system, but it can be prohibitively expensive to live there. But it's incredibly family friendly. I used to live just over the border in Allston, and we spent most of our weekend time in Coolidge Corner. Even at your income if you want to buy. If you want to rent, you're in pretty good shape.

Davis and Porter Square areas of Somerville are incredibly nice areas and have lots of families. Don't know how the schools are.

If you don't mind living a further out, Arlington is incredibly nice, but they have some ridiculous laws on the books (no live music?). But it's definitely not as urban as other areas.

But it'd be easier to help you if we knew where you'd be working.
posted by zizzle at 1:02 PM on April 23, 2012

I'd look for something in East Cambridge -- no easy T there, but definitely bikeable, decent busses, and relatively inexpensive for an up-and-coming neighborhood with great bars and restaurants. Easy to get downtown or into Kendall/Central Squares for work. Somerville (Davis Square area especially) might work for you for similar reasons.

Jamaica Plain is kind of a pain to get anywhere. There's no T out there (and I think I heard due to service cuts the green line is going to stop going to Heath Street, which wasn't very far into the area to begin with), no easy access to any of the major freeways if your spouse needs to commute via car to work, and it's just a haul even on a bike. But it is a lovely neighborhood.
posted by olinerd at 1:03 PM on April 23, 2012

You could afford even nice-ish areas of Cambridge and the Back Bay. The key to being the happiest commuter is to only have one subway line - so you may want to try Davis and Porter (North Cambridge family-friendliest T areas) to have red line access, JP for orange line access, or the Back Bay/Brookline for Green line access (the Green Line is really only tolerable if you're on the D Line as you go further out, in my opinion - the others are Slow).

Welcome to town!
posted by ldthomps at 1:06 PM on April 23, 2012

Seconding Somerville around Davis and Porter Square (they are right next to each other). Also, Inman Square in Cambridge. Lots of cool pubs and restaurants. Close to the T. Awesome neighborhoods.
posted by carmel at 1:22 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a four good friends, two couples, both married, and in your demo--earlier thirties, progressive professionals with young kids. They both live each other in Jamaica Plain and love it. One couple moved out from Cambridge, another from downtown. Memail me if you want hook-ups. I'm sure they'd be happy to chat.
posted by vecchio at 1:26 PM on April 23, 2012

Jamaica Plain is kind of a pain to get anywhere. There's no T out there (and I think I heard due to service cuts the green line is going to stop going to Heath Street, which wasn't very far into the area to begin with), no easy access to any of the major freeways if your spouse needs to commute via car to work, and it's just a haul even on a bike. But it is a lovely neighborhood.

This is wrong. The Orange Line cuts through the middle of JP, and is a major T line--no trolleys sharing the roads with surface traffic, which is what you'll get most places west of the city proper. The Orange will get you downtown in ~15 minutes, and depending on where your office is going to be located, might be a much quicker ride than the Red Line. Generally, if you're working north of the river, the Red Line will be the faster option. In JP, if you end up living "pond-side" (look at a map of the Orange Line bisecting the town; west is pond-side, east is park-side), you'll be near Centre Street, which is the exciting part of town (shops, bars, and restaurants). If you live park-side, you'll be in a slightly seedier neighborhood, but still easy-walk to the train and medium-walk to the nightlife.

I'm in JP (parkside) and love it. I have friends in Somerville (Davis Square, mostly) who are equally happy, and I'd probably be equally cool in either place. JP is much cheaper if you're looking to buy, and so I am there. JP is also filled with parents of young kids, as it is generally more affordable, but most people move to the 'burbs or Arlington the day their kids start elementary school, as Boston Public Schools can be an adventure.

I'm always happy to talk neighborhoods if you're looking south of downtown--MeMail me!
posted by Mayor West at 1:27 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

No T in JP? Not so! Stony Brook, Green Street, and Forest Hills stations on the Orange Line are all in JP. And the 39 bus goes straight up Centre St / Huntington Ave into Copley Square, for an easy commute downtown. Live near Jamaica Pond if you can afford it--it's glorious!

But yes, as everyone else says, it will be much easier to advise you if we know where you and your wife will be working.
posted by jesourie at 1:29 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would recommend seeking out a good real estate agent, although I know they can be hard to find. When I moved from Chicago and was looking for a place to rent, I was lucky enough to find a broker who knew the city incredibly well and was so helpful. She also had information on places that I never would have found on my own.

Brookline is great and everyone loves it. You see a lot of young parents, families, etc. But real estate is expensive! You may also want to check out Watertown, which is just north of Brighton and east of Cambridge. It's a nice, quiet neighborhood, although not quite as lively as others. Jamaica Plain is the new place to be - affordable options and lots of young people.

If you are taking the T, however, that should be a major concern! I wouldn't move anywhere that forced me to take more than one line to get to work.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 1:32 PM on April 23, 2012

Oh, right, and Boston isn't exactly Bike Friendly, but it's getting so much more so! I bike commute year-round between Cambridge and Downtown, and it's getting so that there are more bike lanes and such (great in a town with super-narrow streets compared to your west coast experience), but there are also a Lot more bikers. I find these days that bikes are Everywhere - both great for getting us more visible and annoying for their being slow / and or biking unsafely.

But! Boston is really compact, and I find it very easy to bike most places within 128. It's still easier than driving and trying to find parking most of the time. Beware that Cambridge, Somerville, and sometimes even Boston cops will ticket you for doing things like blowing through red lights.
posted by ldthomps at 1:35 PM on April 23, 2012

Arlington or Newton are going to get you the most bang for your buck vis-a-vis school systems. Brookline has the best school system, but real estate is at a premium because of that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:40 PM on April 23, 2012

My partner and I lived in two different places in East Cambridge, and even though I didn't like living the in the Boston area very much at all*, I liked living there. Very walkable and bikeable, a lot of great restaurants, pubs, and shops in nearby Inman Square, and an easy T or bus ride to many more of the same. We actually lived about halfway between the Lechmere and Kendall Square T stops, which was nice because they're different lines so we could decide whether to walk to the appropriate station or transfer to our desired destination line.

Somerville in general, and Davis and Porter Squares in particular, is also quite nice and full of interesting things to do and eat and see.

Boston proper is very expensive, the parking situation is even more dire, and the local politics and public school situation can be problematic.

Working with a broker to find the right place is pretty common, and surprisingly helpful. I assumed it was kinda scammy when we first started looking for apartments, but we found our first place there with a broker, and learned a lot about the different neighborhoods, what we could expect to pay, and what we really wanted in an apartment along the way.

If you are committed to keeping your car, be aware that parking for most apartments/condos/multi-family homes is whatever you can find on the street, or in some neighborhoods private individuals rent out their unused garages for fairly ridiculous weekly or monthly rates. We kept our car because it was useful for the occasional Costco trip and roadtrips, but it was kind of a PITA to deal with moving it for street sweeping and shoveling it out from under the snow in the winter.

*It was mostly the weather. Since you're not coming from a similar climate, you'll want to be prepared for very cold winters, dry air in the winter, snow and all the associated annoyances, surprisingly hot and humid Summers, and only a couple weeks a year of Spring and Fall. I'd also already fallen in love with the SF Bay Area, and the Boston area has an incredibly different feel and personality, so my relationship with the city was doomed from the start.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:43 PM on April 23, 2012

Questions you should be asking yourself:

-What kind of neighborhood do I want to live in? Dense/urban? Suburban? Somewhere in between?
-How much of my $140k/yr income do I want to spend on housing?
-Do I want to buy or lease? (If you think there's a good chance you'll leave within 3-5 years, you might not benefit from owning, although if you're on a corporate relo that'll help with realtor commission, loan points, etc.)
-How do I feel about cycling to work when the weather turns to...gets bad?
-How will having a child affect all this- mode of transport, type of neighborhood, importance of school quality

I'm 36, my wife and I have a 4 year old son, and we moved to the Boston area in March 2011. We bought a home in Melrose, and feel like we made a good choice. The most relevant factor you mentioned that I'd comment on is the likelihood/possibility of children; with a kid, your ability/willingness to rely on public transport may go down (sometimes you just want to get where you need to be without warning and ASAP). Also, when you're trying to get/keep your kid asleep, you'll take a rather dim view of noisy neighbors, so condos or homes that are close together might be undesirable.

I've got more thoughts in my head that may be relevant than I can list here without morphing into TL;DR mode...please feel free to meMail me if you have specific questions or want to hear more of my honest, highly opinionated thoughts.
posted by EKStickland at 2:00 PM on April 23, 2012

I am biased because I am about to buy a condo in Jamaica Plain in, like, a week, but yes: it is pretty great.

It does depend on where you're working, though. I work from home so it doesn't matter to me at all. The orange line is quite convenient and right in the middle of JP. I used to work in Central, and the commute would run 35-45 minutes. My partner still works in Central, and he either takes the train or bikes (in which case it's about a 25-minute ride). There is a nice bike path running through most of JP in the Southwest Corridor Park -- that gets him partway there, and then I think he bikes on Mass Ave the rest of the way.

There is a lot of nice stuff on Centre Street, and even the residential area (i.e., most of it) is very pleasant to walk around in. The Arboretum is right there; Jamaica Pond is right there -- the access to green space was one of the main reasons we decided to move here. There is also a nice neighborhood-y feel to it that I find is absent from parts of Cambridge, at least, I think because people settle here for longer, and Cambridge has so many college students who only stay for a few years before moving on.

I am happy to ramble on about how great JP is if you want to hear more. I don't know that much about the kids/schools aspect though, so you should check with someone else about that.
posted by little cow make small moo at 2:12 PM on April 23, 2012

I lived in JP, just blocks from the Forest Hills T. An awesome neighborhood with a great mix of families and singles, easily accessible to the rest of the city. I had a car at the time and drove that to work because I was on the night shift but I parked and took the T everywhere on the weekends. Definitely consider JP.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 2:13 PM on April 23, 2012

East Arlington, the area around Spy Pond, is an excellent place to live. It's within walking distance of Alewife T station, allowing you to catch the Red Line through Cambridge and down to Boston. Housing prices are high but nothing like as ridiculous as Cambridge. It's a clean neighborhood. Lots of houses there for rent. I lived there for several years and was very happy.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:19 PM on April 23, 2012

More specifically, look in the square of Route 2/Lake St/Mass Ave/Alewife Brook Parkway. (I used to live on Mary Street.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:32 PM on April 23, 2012

Nth'ing Davis square and Porter square - I lived between Harvard and Porter for a couple of years, and really enjoyed that stretch.

(Boston is very walkable - if you're a certain type of person, Porter - Harvard - Central - MIT - over the bridge to the Commons and the Public Gardens with stops for brunch and coffee and a couple of good bookstore browses along the way is a rather nice weekend morning. You end up close enough to Chinatown to call it a day on a delicious note.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:39 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in Davis Square in Somerville and love it, although I have no idea what the schools are like here. Depending on how much furniture you have, you could consider renting for a year just to get your feet under you before trying to buy a place. If so you could rent in my neighborhood for $2-3000 per month, depending on amenities.

If you do consider renting try padmapper.com to find places.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:41 PM on April 23, 2012

You sound a lot like my wife and I. Cambridge or Somerville would both meet your needs. I've lived in the Boston area since the 90s, and in Cambridge since 2003. If you have any questions, or if I can help you get moved/settled, drop me an email and I'll be happy to do what I can.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:05 PM on April 23, 2012

Somerville! Or Cambridge. You will love it!
posted by araisingirl at 5:53 PM on April 23, 2012

Boston is so much a city of neighborhoods that you'll do well to rent, so you can spend time wandering around the city to find what you like and don't. Things can change block-to-block. I loved living in Cambridge (specifically Cambridgeport) but hated Davis (too trendy and too many fratboys). But I lived on the Tufts side of Davis which colored the experience. Head towards Porter from Davis and things get a little more low-key.

Anyway, Cambridge and Somerville are both solid picks, but just find a place that seems decent and spend your weekends exploring. Public transport is good and it's pedestrian friendly city, so it's easy to get around and see things.
posted by 6550 at 6:44 PM on April 23, 2012

Totally biased- but I love JP, but the rents have gone up substatially in recent years- we're talking 1800-2500 for a two bedroom. And the biggest issue in Boston is the lead laws-if you plan on having a baby don't tell any of the landlords- while it is technically illegal not to rent to families of young children it happens more then most would like to admit- any apt in Boston that has children under the age of 6 must be de-leaded and the process is costly.

JP is great for everyone- both before kids and after- and although there are a lot of issues with the Boston Public Schools- Jamaica Plain is one neighborhood where the schools are good and many people send their kids to them- myself included. there is a great main st- Centre, with great restaurants bars and shops, a really active political community and wonderful greenspace.

As to the above poster who suggested Hyde Park and West Roxbury- I would say those two neighborhoods don't have good public transportation and are much more residential.
posted by momochan at 8:01 PM on April 23, 2012

Seconding Cambridgeport - you're pretty close to the T at Central and its attendant amenities (food, bars, etc.) but I remember it having a more residential, less city-ish feel. I only lived there for a summer, though, so grain of salt, etc. Porter Square and the Spy Pond area (mentioned above) would probably be worth looking at as well.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:41 PM on April 23, 2012

Belmont. Quieter than Cambridge and only 8-16 minutes by bus (30 min - 1 hour walk) into Harvard Square. Has a very highly-regarded public school system. Has plenty of good eats (the best Chinese food anywhere at Shangri-La on the Cambridge border). And easy access to green spaces where you can forget you are in a dense suburban area. I moved here from Somerville about 10 years ago, and haven't looked back. I don't even mind that Mitt Romney lives here. (Well, maybe a little.) There's a good variety of housing options, too.

Watertown is Belmont's lower-rent analog to the south (and has a kickass library), has more of a melting-pot, working class feeling, and even more good eats. And Watertown has all the pubs Belmontians flock to, as Belmont's a mostly-dry town.

Waltham is the bigger town to the west of both, and is the gateway to 128/95.

Arlington, to the north of Belmont and west of Cambridge, is a more New-Englandy version of Belmont, and also mostly dry.
posted by not_on_display at 9:27 PM on May 9, 2012

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