(For the statistics, please click the Newsletter No. 4 link to the right to view)

By Sally Ackerman Eaton:

Rachael Burger, the Director of  Information and Community Outreach at
ePlace, has put together statistics for the purposes of comparing neighborhoods  within Boston, nearby cities Cambridge and Brookline, several suburban cities,  and some of the suburbs west and northwest of Boston. 
Our report includes statistics that demonstrate changes from 2005
(considered the peak of real estate values in the last decade) to 2011, as well
as the change in values from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011. Most reports of  real estate statistics are aggregated to combine all the communities in Boston  or the eastern region of Massachusetts, whereas Rachael’s table of statistics illuminates the wide variation in the values of different communities.  Our region is much more diverse than one would think from media reports. 
This is ultimately good news for our economy.
Our table provides median prices for condominiums and single family
homes as reported by the Multiple Listing Service.   There is a lot of data to think about.  For the purposes of this discussion, I will limit my comments to the trends in the median values of single family homes  (the columns in the middle of the table).

It is striking to observe that from 2005-2011 the areas of Boston
with the lowest property values (and incomes) saw the greatest erosion of
equity, while the wealthiest areas saw large gains. Specifically, East Boston
lost 42%, Roxbury lost 31%, and Dorchester lost 21%.  OUCH!!!  Meanwhile, the  single family owners of the South End saw a 50% gain, those on Beacon Hill saw  an 11% gain, and Back Bay saw a 39% gain.   YIKES!!!

 All the suburban cities, with the exception of Somerville (up 10%),
which is bolstered by the universities, saw values decline from 2005-2011.  For many, there was some improvement  between 2009-2010, but some retrenchment between 2010 and 2011.  Over the seven year span, cities with lower median values saw the largest erosion. Everett fell by 37%, Malden by 24%, and Newton, with the highest median value of $760,000, fell by only 6%.

 Among the suburbs Arlington (up 2%), Lexington (up 3%), Wellesley
(down 1%) saw the most price stability for the period from 2005 to 2011.  Belmont also showed some stability (down 2%).  Sparsely populated
towns, such as Lincoln where only 40 homes sold in 2011, showed volatility.  For the seven year period, Lincoln fell by 22%, went up 23% in 2009-2010, and fell again 8% from 2010-2011.  For most towns, there was some recovery reflected in median prices for  2009-2010 and some retrenchment in 2010-2011.

I believe that the towns that showed the most price stability have  a large inventory of homes that are around the median price.   Although surely there are high end houses in Arlington, Lexington, Wellesley, and Belmont, there are also many neighborhoods where the lots are  small. The homes on these lots may be improved, but they are not usually torn down. Towns like Lincoln and Weston remained farming communities for a longer  period.  Thus, they are  comparatively land rich with many two acre lots and attractive to those who want  to build estate-like homes.  A growing proportion of homes for sale in these communities are at very high prices.  

Due to space constraints of a newsletter, my comments about the
housing statistics are brief.  I do not anticipate that we shall see a marked change in real estate values in the next few years.  Should you desire,
I can do a more in-depth analysis of any of the towns in this report. Please
contact me for more information.

(The data is sourced from MLSPIN and is the 2011 Median Home Prices and Number of Sales for Selected Communities within and near Route 128 and price change since  2005 peak)

I want to draw attention to a few events in particular.  The Urban Nutcracker is a Nutcracker for the “everyman.”  The cast is multicultural.  The music is classical Tchaikovsky intermixed with arrangements by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.  The sugar plumb fairy is a good as any I’ve seen.  This is a “child friendly” performance. 

The Boston Boy Choir of the Archdiocesan Choir School at St. Paul’s Church is very special.  I love hearing those boy sopranos sing the descant in “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.  St Paul’s Choir School is the only choir school in the United States.

Finally, the Millennium Choir is exceptional.  Their power and harmony are breathtaking.  If you miss this, you will have another chance to see them in March, at the New England Conservatory Gospel Jubilee.


Boston Ballet Nutcracker

November 25-December 31, times vary

The Boston Opera House


539 Washington Street



Jose Mateo Nutcracker

December 1-18, times vary

The Sanctuary Theatre


Old Cambridge Baptist Church


400 Harvard Street


Urban Nutcracker

December 3-18, times vary

Wheelock Family Theatre 


200 Riverway 




“Holiday Pops” 

December 2-24, times vary

Symphony Hall 




“A Bach Christmas”

 December 15 at 8:00, December 18 at 3:00

Handel and Hayden Society


NEC Jordan Hall   



“A Ceremony of Carols”  

December 9 at 7:00, December 16 at 7:00

“Carols in the Square”        

December 11 at 3:00, December 18 at 3:00

The Boston Archdiocesan Choir School


St. Paul’s Church 


29 Mt. Auburn Street


“In Times Like These, We Need…” 

December 11 at 4:00

Unity Gospel Choir   


Marran Theatre at Lesley University

39 Mellon Street


“An Italian Renaissance Christmas”

December 18 at 5:00

The Coro-Dante with Period Instrument Orchestra     


The Dante Alighieri Society


41 Hampshire Street


“This Shining Light”

 December 11 at 3:00, December 16 at 8:00

The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus

December 17 at 8:00, December 19 at 8:00

NEC Jordan Hall   




NEC Millenium Choir

December 16 at 8:00

Remus Auditorium  


Museum of Fine Arts 



Christmas Revels
December 16-29, times vary

Sanders Theatre  


Harvard University 



Holiday Shopping

SoWa Holiday Market

December 10, 11:00-7:00

Cathedral High School


7 Union Park Street


Stebbins Gallery Holiday Sale

December 3-5. 9-11, 16-18, 19-24

First Parish Church

Noon to 7:00

Harvard Square   



Holly Fair

December 10, 10-5:30

Cambridge Center for Adult Education

December 11, noon-5:00

42 Brattle Street 



I recently attended a presentation by Frank Nothaft, PhD, Chief Economist at Freddie Mac, who discussed expectations for the 2012 housing market.  His focus was national and his news was discouraging.  Consumer confidence remains weak, the unemployment rate is stubbornly high at 9%, and the inventory of unsold homes remains high.  Nothaft differentiated this recession from historical recessions because it is driven by the burst of the housing bubble and the resulting wealth (or lack thereof) effect.  There are no quick fixes.

Massachusetts presents a better picture than the nation as a whole with a 7.3% rate of unemployment and a lower rate of mortgage default (4.3% vs 5.5%) than the nation.  Housing prices in the Boston metro area have fallen 15-20% vs 30% nationwide.  However, aggregate statistics do not tell all.  We at ePlace notice that demand varies greatly according to price point, property type and location.  Although I will not have a detailed statistical summary to send you until 2011 ends, I can make the following observations.

Prices in Cambridge have stayed even since 2006.

Prices in Boston neighborhoods vary widely.  Values have gone up since 2006 in Beacon Hill, Back Bay and parts of the South End.  In Roxbury and Dorchester, prices have declined by 50%!!

Prices in Brookline have risen since 2006.

Newton presents a mixed picture since its housing stock is so diverse.

The values in the close-in suburbs of Belmont, Lexington, and Arlington have stayed even or risen slightly since 2006.

The market continues to be soft for single families outside of Rte 128.

If you are getting ready to buy or sell a house, however, you must look closely at data with a professional.  Houses under $1 million have greater demand than houses over $1 million, multi-families are scarce and desirable for certain buyers, and one and two- bedroom condominiums near the T in the city sell with multiple offers.

It is more affordable to own a house in the Boston area than it has been for many years because of low mortgage interest rates, lower housing prices, and stable incomes.  The rental market has become extraordinarily tight and expensive because many have chosen to rent instead of buy in the last few years.  In fact, Boston is now the third most expensive rental market in the nation behind New York and San Francisco.

I believe that the combination of buyer affordability and high rents will increase the numbers of buyers in the market during the spring of 2012.  Please contact me if you are interested in buying or selling a home.  I look forward to helping you.

Have a wonderful holiday season.

Blessings, Peace, Joy,

Sally Ackerman Eaton

  Mission:  “City Living” is the periodic newsletter that I write to review and make recommendations regarding Arts and Entertainment opportunities in the Cambridge/Boston area.  Real Estate choices involve bricks and mortar considerations, but ultimately reflect a vision that we have of a desired lifestyle.  My goal is to enhance your vision.  If you prefer to unsubscribe from this effort, please let me know.

The city offers a myriad of opportunities for art, theatre, music and intellectual stimulation. Through my real estate practice, I seek those who enjoy these occasions.  Many of my clients are empty nesters who are returning to the city as their children move on.  Others are young couples who are leaving the city for the space that the close suburbs offer their growing families.  My single clients tend to be committed urban dwellers.

My attention of late has been on the themes of renewal and the inventive mind.  I hope that this issue of my newsletter will encourage you to think about occasions to learn and grow. 

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  Announcing my web and Facebook Pages!  Please visit:  CLICK HERE and “Like” me for automatic notification about events and opportunities.

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  In the late spring, the MFA and the Boston Institute for Psychoanalysis sponsored three well known author/speakers to talk about life after the age of 50.   Sarah Lawrence- Lightfoot spoke about her recent book, The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years after 50.   Sarah, through her presentation, was the most stunning example of continuous personal renewal.  Her voice has a rich alto timbre and a soothing cadence.  Her words have the encouraging quality of major chords.  Her eyes are large and wide, affirmative and embracing. She is open to what people have to say and always to learning something new.  In various ways, the people she interviewed for her book encountered life’s limitations and found the confidence to take new risks.  They grew and deepened their experiences.

Peter Sacks, the second speaker, described going through a very difficult period in his 40s during which relationships were lost and he, an accomplished poet and writer, suffered writer’s block.  He began to paint because it was all he could do.  He showed us some cell phone generated home movies of him working.  His narrative is hindsight because while he is actually painting, his ideas flow and emerge without any conscious understanding or censoring.  He works on a huge canvas and builds his work with paint, the printed word, fabric, and rope, among other materials.  His work is abstract and best understood in the context of his history from South Africa.  He has become an internationally recognized painter whose work is acquired by museums such as MOMA in New York. Peter Sacks gave the audience an inside look at the creative process. www.PeterSacks.com.

The final speaker, George Vaillant, is someone to whom I feel a personal connection. I used to attend his lectures and case conferences regularly when I was in my twenties and working for the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge Hospital where he was on the Harvard Medical School Faculty.  George is unique among psychiatrists in that he has spent his career studying adult mental health and adaptation.  His role in this symposium on reinvention was to explain exactly how people grow.

Reflecting on data from his longitunial studies, George spoke of the inevitability of conflict and pain in life and how our minds creatively rearrange the sources of conflict so that we may survive.  This defensive self-deception evolves. When immature, it leads us to trouble.  In maturity it can foster creative problem solving and successful adaptation. For example, faced with an unpleasant truth, an immature person may avoid the topic; a mature person will find ways to consciously put aside what is difficult  and address it slowly over time.

George Vaillant discusses all of this in detail in his books The Wisdom of the Ego and Aging Well. 

George speaks in a manner that is unmistakably from the upper class, but there is no snobbery intended.  He will pause as if to be sure he is selecting le mot juste.   He uses wonderful metaphors and offers vivid examples from life and literature.  He is full of affection for the people in his studies and he leaves his audience smiling.  Read about him at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/06/what-makes-us-happy/7439/  and watch him at http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1460906593?bctid=22804415001

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  When I last lived in the city during the 1980’s, Boston’s South End was a pretty derelict place.  The streets closest to the Prudential Center had started to trend up, but most of the area was dilapidated and unsafe.  What a difference the end of Rent Control and a growing economy can make!  The South End comprises the area bounded by East Berkeley Street (east), Mass. Ave. (west), the Prudential area (north) and Albany Street (south).  It is the site of the largest Victorian row home district in the United States.

Tremont Street bisects the neighborhood with block after block of good to great restaurants plus many independent boutiques.  Boston Center for the Arts at 539 Tremont has expanded to include six performance spaces, gallery, studio, and rehearsal space.  A recent Saturday in June, I wandered the area to participate in the South End Garden Tour, an annual event sponsored by the South End/Lower Roxbury Open Space Land Trust. Spectacular private gardens and elegant Victorian parks pervade this area.  Union Park, created in 1851, is a particularly stunning garden oval with two fountains.  Montgomery Park, not far away, is privately owned and managed through a Trust established in 1867 for the owners of the 36 (now 78) households that abut and surround the park. This sylvan oasis was a dump full of trash and debris during the South End’s rooming house period (1890 – 1970). The park is the backyard to these homes and is entered from private patios and through three gates from the surrounding streets. It is an inspiring example of civil society and civic pride and has been voluntarily lovingly restored beginning in the 1970s.

A copper beech tree, once almost dead, now thrives and its shade can be appreciated by sitting on the circular bench that has been built around it.  Perennial gardens and specimen trees abound.  On the day of my visit, I encountered a cellist, a painter, and a resident cat whose job it is to chase the rodents away. www.montgomerypark.org/history.htm

At the southern end of the area is SoWa, which stands for South of Washington. 450 Harrison Avenue is an anchor with its artist studio lofts and retail gallery space along an attractive promenade.  On the first Friday of every month, studios and galleries are open from 5-9pm.  Visitors wander from gallery to gallery sampling wine and cheese.  The next First Fridays are October 7th, November 4th and December 2nd

Gurari Collections: Antiquarian and Contemporary Arts excels in its dedication to the inventive mind. Russ Gerard, owner, is an architect with long experience in academia and the commercial world.  Some may have met him when he owned an antiquarian map store on Beacon Hill.  Russ engages his patrons with inventive art and unusual scientific objects and instruments, many of which hail from the early to mid twentieth century.  This gallery appeals to the intellectual and the aesthete.

Wendy Artin, one of the artists featured at the Gurari Gallery, deserves considerable attention. Her nudes are breathtaking.  She draws no lines at all, but paints the effect of light and shadow using monochrome watercolor.  Then, in her studio, she scales up, employing charcoal on a special paper to represent the form.  Using tiny marks with the charcoal to illuminate the light and the shadow, graceful and sculptural human bodies emerge.  One has a visceral reaction to their beauty.  They are perfect.

Look for a show at Gurari Collections in November dedicated to Wendy’s newest work which involves architectural and human forms from Roman antiquity.http://www.gurari.com/ and http://www.wendyartin.com/.

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Diane Paulus, Creative Director of the American Repertory Theatre, intended to create a more focused and intimate version of Porgy and Bess and she has given theatre goers and music lovers a great gift through this production. It will be performed at the Loeb Drama Center until October 2, 2011, after which the production moves to Broadway.  I predict multiple Tony awards.

With the encouragement of the Gershwin and Heyward estates, Paulus assembled a creative team to adapt the masterpiece to the modern audience.  She and her  team, comprised of Suzan-Lori Parks (Pulitzer Prize winning playwright) and Diedre Murray (OBIE Prize winning composer), sought to move this masterpiece from the Opera form that it has taken in the last 40 years to a Musical Theatre representation.  The dialogue has been altered to make it more dramatically complete and the musical arrangement allows for more gospel and spiritual influences to be felt. However, this adaptation preserves the same compelling story of the crippled man and the prostitute who fall in love, and the stunning and timeless Gershwin music. Audra McDonald plays Bess and Norm Lewis plays Porgy.  Both have won many Tony awards.

The Cambridge audience that I was part of spent many minutes on its feet applauding thunderously and shouting “Bravo” while the cast looked at us with gratitude and delight.  The world has changed so much since 1935 when Porgy and Bess originally opened in Boston before going to Broadway.  Think of all the new people who are going to adore this wonderful musical story!

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Shopping, Restaurant, and Business Directory

Gurari Collections

Wendy Artin’s website
United South End Artists website

SoWa Artists Guild and First Fridays  

Sunday Open Market at 450 Harrison                   

South End/Lower Roxbury Land Trust

Ellis South End Neighborhood Association

Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association

Montgomery Park Website