What Home Features Appeal to Young Families?

by c21commonweath_ldowling 16. May 2016 16:36

If you’re selling a home in an area with good schools, walkable neighborhoods, parks, and a highly-engaged community, your listing is likely to attract young couples with kids. However, you can’t just rely on your location to sell your home—if you’re anticipating showing your home to young families, think about the features that are most likely to appeal to this demographic. To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of 6 features that are likely to stand out to young families.

A Move-In Ready Home

Some young homebuyers without kids might like the idea of purchasing a fixer-upper and putting in the work to make it a comfortable home, but most parents are looking for a home that their family can live in immediately without any costly renovations or time-consuming repairs. If there are repair projects that you’ve been putting off, make sure to finish them before you list your house so that you don’t raise any red flags with young parents.

Hardwood Floors

Anyone with children or pets is likely to appreciate hardwood floors, as these will be much easier to clean and lasts longer than carpets.

A Fenced-In Yard

Kids need outdoor play space, so it’s no surprise that a yard is one of the most important home features for young families. If you have a yard but it isn’t currently fenced in, consider adding a privacy fence (after checking your homeowner association rules and utility easements, of course). A fence around your yard will give children and pets a safe place to play and can yield a 50% return on your investment.

Indoor Play Space

As any families who have spent a winter in the northeast know, it’s important to have designated indoor play areas when the weather’s bad. A designated playroom can be appealing to young parents, as it can give their kids a space to spread out their toys without spilling out into the main living area. If your home has a spare bedroom or den, consider staging it as a playroom.

Energy-Efficient Features

If your home has energy-efficient appliances, windows, or other features, highlight them in your listing. The opportunity to save on utilities and live in an environmentally-friendly home is likely to appeal to young homebuyers.

An Open-Plan Kitchen

 

A kitchen is a home’s hub, and increasingly, families are choosing to eat together in open-plan kitchens with central islands rather than congregating in a formal dining room. A kitchen with an open layout can also make it easier for parents to prep meals and keep an eye on kids in the living room at the same time. If you’ve been planning to renovate your kitchen before listing your home, consider choosing an open floor plan.

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Why You Shouldn't Rely on Zillow Estimates Alone

by c21commonweath_ldowling 16. May 2016 16:33

If you’ve spent any time on the popular real estate site Zillow, you’re no doubt familiar with their ‘Zestimate’ tool. Enter your zip code into their Zestimate search bar, and you’ll see a street map populated with estimated home values for properties in your area. You can also input information about your own home to get an estimate of its value.

It’s a handy tool, but it’s not one you should rely on too heavily if you’re planning to set a listing price or make an offer on a home you want to buy. Zillow’s algorithm relies on a combination of publicly available data and user-submitted data, and as a result, there’s significant room for error.

How Zillow Calculates Home Estimates

The data that Zillow uses to come up with their Zestimates can be broken up into three main categories:

  • Physical Attributes: this can include the house’s square footage, lot size, and location, as well as certain amenities within the home
  • Property Tax Data: this is data that is pulled from your tax assessor, including property taxes paid and exceptions to tax assessments
  • Transactions: this includes past sale prices for your home and recent sale prices for comparable homes in your area

Zillow has data on an estimated 110 million homes around the country, but some neighborhoods and individual properties have more data available than others. Zillow will use all available data to calculate an estimated value range for a property, and if limited data is available, the range will be wider. 

Limitations with Public and User-Submitted Data

It’s important to keep in mind that Zillow’s estimates can only be as accurate as the data available, and there may be errors or limitations within the data set they use to evaluate your home. Let’s start with data about your home itself: Zillow’s algorithm can factor in easily quantifiable features like square footage, but it won’t be able to quantify certain features, such as a newly renovated bathroom, that could increase your home value. The exception to this is when you’ve done renovations that required permits from the city, in which case this data should be available through your local tax assessor.

Unfortunately, public data from the tax assessor is never completely infallible, and there may be errors that could cause your home value estimate to be high or low. If you discover any incorrect sales data or tax records, you can report this to Zillow.

While you may be able to correct inaccurate sales data for your own home, it gets a little more challenging when there’s a sales record error for another home in your area. Because Zillow factors in comparable home sale prices when calculating the value of your property, just one inaccurate home sale record in Zillow’s database can affect the Zestimate for multiple homes in the area. 

Your Zestimate: A Starting Point, Not an Appraisal

Zillow itself cautions that their Zestimate “is not an appraisal” but is rather “a starting point in determining a home’s value”. While there’s nothing wrong with using Zillow to get a general estimate of a home’s value, it should not be the sole tool you use in coming up with a listing price for your home. To get a much more accurate home value estimate, work with a professional appraiser, as well as a CENTURY 21 Commonwealth agent. An experienced real estate agent can provide a comparative market analysis, giving you a better understanding of your property’s current value.

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What Features Help a Home Sell Fast in Boston?

by c21commonweath_ldowling 9. May 2016 13:42

Homes in Boston are in high demand, and as a result, houses listed for sale usually don’t stay on the market for long. In fact, a 2015 analysis found that in June of that year, the median time a house was on the market in Boston was just 14 days. However, keep in mind that this is just the median, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your house will sell that quickly if you list it today. 

If you are thinking about selling your house, you may be wondering what features you can include in the listing to improve your odds of finding a buyer quickly. Below are a few features that can help a house sell fast: if your home has any of these features, you’ll want to highlight them.

Fireplaces

With our cold winters, fireplaces can be appealing to Boston home buyers. A fireplace isn’t going to be the home’s primary heat source, but it can help create a cozy ambiance—and provide much-needed warmth if a storm knocks out the power. 

Separate Laundry Room

According to a Kipling survey, 93% of home buyers want a separate laundry room. Having a separate laundry room can provide additional storage space and help homeowners keep clutter out of their living rooms.

Garage

While a garage may not be a make-or-break feature for a Boston home on the market, it can help attract buyers. Like a laundry room, it provides additional storage space, and it also gives homeowners a covered space for their cars, which is particularly valuable in the winter.

Walk-In Kitchen Pantry

Again, this comes down to storage space. Walk-in pantries give homeowners additional space for food and less commonly used kitchen appliances so that the kitchen itself doesn’t become too cluttered.

Stainless Steel Appliances

Modern stainless steel appliances can make a big difference in a home listing: in general, houses with stainless steel appliances come off the market about 15% faster than the national average.  

Energy-Efficient Windows

Energy Star-rated windows can reduce energy bills by up to 15%, and features that help reduce utilities costs are almost always appealing to home buyers.

History

While this may not hold true in every city, older homes tend to do well in the Boston housing market. One 2015 study found that 85% of Boston houses built between 1877 and 1899 would sell within 90 days. This may in part have to do with the neighborhoods these older homes occupy: because Boston has well-developed historical areas, many home buyers are interested in living in neighborhoods with older houses that are close to the city center.

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Renting vs. Buying in the Boston Area

by c21commonweath_ldowling 9. May 2016 13:28

With rent on the rise across Boston, it’s no surprise that many renters are beginning to think they’d rather pay a monthly mortgage and build home equity than give a significant chunk of their paycheck to a landlord. But when does it make the most sense—for both your finances and your lifestyle—to buy instead of rent in the Boston area?

Cost to Rent vs. Cost to Buy in Boston

In the fourth quarter of 2015, the average monthly rent in Boston passed the $2,000 mark. Of course, it’s important to note that there can be a lot of variation from neighborhood to neighborhood. The average rent in Mattapan is around $1.23 per square foot, for example, while it’s $3.54 per square foot in Back Bay.

Of course, there’s a wide range of home prices as well, and due to the variability of increasing rent rates and home appreciation rates, it can be difficult to determine at what point it’s actually more cost-effective to buy a home. According to one estimate reported by Boston.com, the average breakeven point (at which the cost to buy equals the cost to rent) is 3.4 years across the whole city, but this goes down to 1 year in the Roxbury neighborhood and up to 7.2 years in Beacon Hill.

Considerations before Buying a Home

The monthly cost to rent vs. the cost to own a home in Boston isn’t the only factor you’ll need to consider. If you’re thinking about buying a house or condo in the area, ask yourself:

Can I afford the upfront costs? In addition to the down payment, you’ll need to have enough saved up to cover the closing costs.

Can I afford a monthly mortgage with my current income? With the high rent prices in some neighborhoods, a 30-year fixed mortgage may actually consume a smaller percent of your monthly income, but you’ll still need to crunch the numbers and determine what you can afford.

Can I afford additional homeowner expenses? The cost of utilities, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, and basic maintenance can often add up to $10,000 or more per year.

Where do I want to live? If the cost of housing in central Boston is too much for you, you’ll likely need to start looking for houses in nearby suburbs or towns. Consider how important it is to you to live in an urban or suburban area.

How long do I think I’ll live in my home? It takes time to build home equity, and taking into account the cost of selling, you could actually lose money if you buy a home and sell it a year or two later. If you’re thinking about buying a home, ask yourself how confident you are that you’ll still want to be living in it 5-10 years down the road.

What’s more important to me: having the freedom to personalize my home or having a landlord handle the upkeep? When you own your own home, you’ll obviously have the freedom to renovate, add new features, and landscape your property. However, you’ll also be responsible for all maintenance and repairs. 

Ultimately, there are a lot of financial and emotional considerations that go into buying a home. If you think you’re ready to take this major step, talk to a CENTURY 21 Commonwealth agent.

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Realtors Have a Huge Opportunity to Market to Boomers

by c21commonweath_ldowling 2. May 2016 10:58

Baby boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1964) have reached or are nearing retirement age, but for the most part, they’re not interested in moving to retirement communities. Instead, they’re looking to move to upscale houses or condos in busy urban centers like Boston. 

While the majority of boomers say they want to stay in their current home, a Demand Institute study found that a substantial portion (37%) are planning to move in the next few years. Of those who are planning to move, 46% plan to look for homes with more space, while 54% plan to downsize. Of course, downsizing doesn’t necessarily mean buying a less expensive property; a significant number of retirees want luxury amenities in a smaller home that doesn’t require as much maintenance as their current house. 

When downsizing, many retirees head from the suburbs to thriving city centers. Two thirds of people over the age of 65 say they prefer to have neighbors of diverse ages rather than living only around people their own age, and many boomers also cite easy walkability as something they’re looking for in their neighborhood.

With walkable neighborhoods, cultural amenities, and recent growth in luxury condo development, Cambridge and the greater Boston area are becoming popular areas for affluent baby boomers, and Boston realtors have a unique opportunity to market to home buyers within this demographic.

Appealing to Baby Boomers

Realtor.com listed Boston as one of their top picks for markets in which they expect to see the most retiree buying activity in 2016. So what are some of the features that baby boomers are looking for in Boston area homes?

Single-family homes. According to the Demand Institute, the majority of baby boomers prefer single-family homes over multi-unit housing.

Yards or gardens. While baby boomers may be motivated to downsize by a desire to reduce their home maintenance requirements, 69% still want their new home to have a yard or garden, according to the Demand Institute.

Complexes with upscale amenities. Those retirees who are looking at condos or apartments in Boston are most likely to be interested in buildings that offer full services, such as a gym and a pool.

Elevators or single stories. Aging-friendly features are becoming more important to boomers as they enter their golden years, and many home buyers are looking for single floor properties—or condos/apartments with elevators.

Covered parking. With Boston winters, covered or indoor parking may be non-negotiable for retirees who no longer want to spend their mornings scraping ice off their car windows.

A vibrant neighborhood. Many baby boomers are motivated to move into the city because they want to be within walking distance of restaurants, grocery stores, theaters, and other amenities that may be more spaced out in the suburbs.

As more and more affluent baby boomers retire and send their youngest kids off to college, realtors in the Boston area need to be thinking about how to market to this generation of savvy home buyers, many of whom will also be selling a house as they prepare to downsize.

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Should You Work with a Real Estate Agent or Sell Your Own Home?

by c21commonweath_ldowling 2. May 2016 10:41

If you’re about to sell your home, you may be wondering whether you should work with a real estate agent or go the For Sale By Owner (FSBO) route. Going it alone is much less common than working with a real estate agent; in fact, only 8% of all 2015 home sales were FSBO. Of those who did sell their home on their own, the most commonly cited reason was to save money on an agent’s commission.

However, deciding to sell your home alone may still come with unexpected costs and more legwork than you’re anticipating. If you do decide on the FSBO path, make sure you fully understand what goes into selling a home and are able to handle all the responsibilities.

If You Sell Solo, Be Prepared for Heavy Lifting

Home selling requires a lot more than just inviting potential buyers in for a tour. If you sell your home on your own, you’ll need to be prepared to:

  • Determine the value of your home 
  • Evaluate the condition of your home and schedule repairs
  • Take high-quality photos of your home and write sales copy
  • List your property in classified ads and on real estate websites
  • Stage your home
  • Put together flyers, brochures, and other printed materials
  • Schedule showings
  • Screen potential buyers
  • Negotiate with the buyer’s agent
  • Know the current regulations for closing a sale

Benefits of Working with an Agent

There’s a reason why the majority of home sellers choose to work with a real estate agent: realtors in your area will be incredibly familiar with the current housing market, local regulations, and effective marketing techniques. A licensed agent will have up-to-date information on recent home sales in your area and can help you avoid the costly mistake of either overpricing or underpricing your home. They can also syndicate your listing through your local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to attract more potential buyers.

Real estate agents are likely to have industry connections that could be valuable to you. For example, your real estate agent could help you find the local title company with the best services and rates, or could recommend a contractor when you need to make home repairs.

Because it’s an important part of their profession, a real estate agent will also know how to take attractive home pictures, create compelling brochures, set up virtual and in-person home tours, and post to the websites that are most likely to attract buyers. They may also have a list of buyers who have been looking for a house like yours.

Still wondering if the services a real estate agent provides are worth the commission? Contact a CENTURY 21 Commonwealth agent in your area to learn more about how they can help you sell your home.

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The Biggest Trends in Millennial Home Buying

by c21commonweath_ldowling 25. April 2016 13:10

Millennials (the generation born between 1980 and 1995) are increasingly becoming first-time home buyers. In fact, approximately 32% of all home buyers are members of this generation. So what exactly are millennials looking for in their first house, and what obstacles do they have to overcome to make that major purchase?

Challenges for Millennial Home Buyers

Millennials are waiting longer than older generations to buy their first home, and for many young adults, this delay is due in large part to student loan debts. Students graduating from college in 2014 took out an average of $28,950 in loans, and 53% of adults under the age of 35 cite their student loan debt as a top reason for putting off their first home purchase.

Saving up enough money for a 20% down payment is another considerable challenge for aspiring millennial home buyers. A 2016 survey conducted by Apartment List found that 37% of millennial renters haven’t saved any money for a down payment, and for those who are saving, the majority are putting aside less than $200 a month. 

The Desire to Be a Homeowner

While affordability can be an issue for millennials, especially for those who have only recently graduated from college, most do aspire to own a home someday. The Apartment List survey also found that 79% of millennial renters aspire to purchase a home in the future, and a separate Choice Home Warranty survey revealed that 30% of young renters plan to purchase a home in the next five years. Homeownership appears to be a higher priority for women; more than twice as many millennial women than men said they planned to buy a home within the next six to ten years.

Almost half of all millennial renters who want to buy a home cite their desire to own their own property as their primary motivation, but this certainly isn’t the only reason renters are making the leap. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) found that average rent across the US increased by 15% in the past five years, while the average income of renters increased by just 11%. (In Boston, the average monthly rent was over $2,000 for the first time ever in 2016). With monthly rent often costing more than a mortgage, more and more young adults are choosing to start building their home equity rather than paying a landlord.

What Home Buying Millennials Want

With home prices rising in major city centers, millennials are increasingly looking for houses in suburbs that are still close to urban amenities. According to NAR, the number of millennials purchasing homes in city centers decreased from 21% in 2014 to 17% in 2015. In addition to looking to the suburbs, almost three quarters of millennial home buyers are looking for a property that could be a long-term investment and that could accommodate their future family.

How Millennials Are Looking for Homes

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that millennials are more likely than any other generation to use smartphones and mobile apps to search for homes. In fact, more than half of all millennial home buyers search for properties on their phone, and 26% of those young adults end up purchasing a home they originally found through a mobile search.

Although they may use mobile technology more than older generations, millennials still largely choose to work with real estate agents when purchasing their first home. In fact, 89% of millennials who have already purchased their first home bought that home through an agent.

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Best Boston Suburbs for First-Time Homebuyers

by c21commonweath_ldowling 25. April 2016 12:39

The high demand for housing in central Boston has made it challenging for first-time home buyers to find what they’re looking for while staying in their budget. In popular central neighborhoods like Jamaica Plains and Charlestown, the median home price is over $740,000, and homes in neighborhoods like Cambridge and Beacon Hill regularly sell for several million.

Fortunately, there are close-in suburbs that offer more affordable starter homes with easy access to Boston and its urban amenities. Below are our picks for some of the most affordable and desirable Boston-area suburbs for first-time home buyers. (All median home prices are based on 2014 estimates compiled by Boston Magazine). 

Saugus

Median home price: $321,000

For home buyers who are looking for lots of green space within easy commuting distance of Boston, Saugus may be an appealing option. This small suburb is close to the nature preserves Breakheart Reservation and Lynn Woods and is just 9 miles northeast of Boston. It has plenty of single-family houses, townhomes, and condos in an affordable price range.

Danvers

Median home price: $363,000

Located about 20 miles northeast of Boston and close to the Massachusetts coast, Danvers is a good bet for anyone who is looking for a spacious home at a reasonable price per square foot. Danvers and the nearby town of Salem are both known for having a strong sense of community and lots of local events, including Danvers’ weekly farmers’ market.

Woburn

Median home price: $374,950

For home buyers who dream of living in a renovated early 20th century house, Woburn offers a substantial number of older, well-maintained properties. In addition to beautiful historical homes, Woburn also offers convenience for city commuters: the town is just 9 miles north of Boston and lies just south of the intersection of I-93 and I-95.

Medford

Median home price: $420,000

The close-in suburb of Medford (located just 5 miles northwest of Boston) is an appealing choice for young professionals and families. As in Woburn, older homes are relatively common, but there are also plenty of newer townhouses and condos.

Wakefield

Median home price: $427,750

Wakefield is located about 14 miles north of Boston and is directly on the Haverhill/Reading Line. Although small (it’s home to only about 25,000 people), it has a vibrant community, and local events are regularly hosted on the town common. Home buyers will find lots of classic Colonial and Cape-style homes, as well as some more modern condos.

Melrose

Median home price: $475,000

Like Wakefield, Melrose is on the Haverhill Line, about 10 miles north of Boston. Although it’s certainly possible to spend $600,000 or more on a single family home in this increasingly popular suburb, there are also many more affordable starter homes and townhouses. Residents of Melrose enjoy easy access to hiking and biking trails at the Middlesex Fells Reservation, and the town is considered one of the safest areas for families with young children.

If you’re a first-time home buyer who is interested in living relatively close to Boston, take the time to tour some of the surrounding suburbs. A CENTURY 21 agent can help you find a home you’ll love at an affordable price.

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What to Do When Your Partner Wants to Move & You Don't

by c21commonweath_ldowling 17. August 2015 11:55

Partner wants to move

You and your partner are at an impasse: one of you wants to move to a new home, but the other wants to stay put. If you’re the person who wants to stay in your current home, you may be concerned with the cost of moving and the hassle of selling (if you and your partner are homeowners). Your partner, on the other hand, may be convinced that the benefits of moving outweigh the costs. How do you break the one-to-one tie vote?

Listen to Your Partner’s Reasons for Wanting to Move

Give your partner a chance to share their reasons for wanting to move. Are they hoping to have a shorter commute to work? Looking for a bigger space? Interested in being closer to certain amenities? If your partner’s reasons for wanting to move are primarily based on certain in-home features, you may be able to remodel. If the reasons are related to the location, though, a remodel probably won’t be the best compromise.

After listening to your partner, discuss your reasons for wanting to stay. Your partner should grant you the same respect you showed them and listen to your rationale without interrupting.

Look At Homes for Sale in Your Market

If you and your partner own your home and your partner remains convinced that it’s time to sell, suggest that the two of you look at home listings in your market. This will give you a sense of how much you could reasonably expect to get for your home, which will help you better evaluate the financial benefits of moving.

If you and your partner currently rent but your partner wants the two of you to buy a home, look at listings in the area your partner wants to move to and discuss how big a down payment the two of you could afford and how much you could reasonably pay each month for your mortgage.

Do the Math

In addition to thinking about the down payment and mortgage for a new home, you and your partner will need to consider all the other transactional fees involved with buying and selling real estate. These include real estate fees, title search fees, title insurance, appraisal expenses, and legal fees. You’ll also need to think about property taxes—especially if you’re talking about a move to a county with higher property tax rates.

Go Over the Pros and Cons 

While cost should factor into your pros and cons list, you and your partner should also discuss the less obvious advantages and disadvantages of moving. Would moving require you to be farther from your family? If you have kids, would you be moving to a better school district? Would it cut down on commute times, or make them longer? Discussing these factors will help you and your partner to understand one another’s perspectives and to come to a well-informed decision.

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Unique Small Towns Near Boston - Perfect for a Day Trip!

by c21commonweath_ldowling 14. August 2015 12:06

Sites and attractions found in the bustling and picturesque nearby towns provide even the most savvy traveler unique and interesting new experiences. If you’re fortunate enough to live here, time is on your side and will allow you to experience all that this community offers with no concern of “getting it all in” during your ever-so-brief vacation. For those who require planning with time constraints, below are some attractions within a 45-minute radius that will pique the interests of history buffs and literature enthusiasts.

Salem, Massachusetts

A mere 30 minute ride from Boston’s North Station, Salem offers year-round history lessons—including the Salem Witch Museum, highlighting the Salem witch trials from 1692; some of New England’s best museum tours—including the reconstruction of the 171-foot three-masted Friendship; and historic homes—including the House of the Seven Gables, which inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

Concord, Massachusetts

A 35-minute ride from Boston’s North Station to Concord places you in one of the most famous communities in American History. The North Bridge claims home to the phrase, “The shot heard ‘round the world” as our colonists fought off the British soldiers in 1775.  This is also the community where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women (the Orchard House) in 1868 and where Paul Revere’s immortalized lantern resides. Walk the same trail taken by British soldiers and minutemen on April 19, 1775 and gain a deeper understanding of the issues of those days that led up to the War of Independence and the beginning of our freedom.

Lexington, Massachusetts

Take the Red subway line and 25 minutes will place you where “the first blood was spilt” in the Revolution, according to Gen. George Washington. Three historic houses, the Buckman Tavern, the Munroe Tavern and the Hancock-Clarke House (host to John Hancock), are just a few stops on the Minute Man Visitor Tour provided by the Liberty Ride—a free re-boarding tour that includes Lexington and Concord.

Lowell, Massachusetts

The movie buffs in your family will appreciate Lowell as the inspiration for Magnificent Mills, Jack Kerouac and, the Oscar-winning, The Fighter; your engineers will be inspired by a tour of the Merrimack River—the waterpower that ignited our Industrial Revolution; and your crafters will take delight in the New England Quilt Museum, boasting a collection of more than 300 antique and modern quilts. A 45-minute ride from Boston’s North Station, this enchanting community is worth every minute.

New Bedford, Massachusetts 

The New Bedford Whaling Museum, a 25 minute subway ride, provides insight into Herman Melville’s thoughts as he wrote Moby Dick after returning from his own voyage. 

Quincy, Massachusetts

Visit the home of two of our nation’s most famous politicians—John Adams, our second U.S. president, and his son, John Quincy Adams, our sixth! Walk or ride the free trolley bus and tour the home to four generations of Adams, still boasting the original furnishings. Navy buffs will appreciate a tour of the USS Salem, a flagship of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, built in what is now the Naval Shipbuilding Museum. MBTA’s Red Line to Quincy Center Station is a quick 25 minute ride.

Whether you live in Boston or you are considering real estate in one of Boston’s many beautiful surrounding communities, a small investment in a train ticket or a short drive can provide experiences like no other American community.  

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