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I am interviewing in Cambridge, MA for a job. My family consists of a 5 year boy and my wife. We are excited about the opportunity to live in or near Cambridge.
The thing that excites us most about this move is living in an area where we can walk or take convenient public transportation to the places we would need to access regularly. Like, Trader Joe's (we love that store!) the bank and a good place for swimming lessons for my son. He has been training since he was 3 and we would really like to keep it up. We would also love to get rid of our vehicles although I will need space for my company car at my apartment. That brings us to the most important consideration and the point of my post. Where should I be looking for 2 bedroom apartments with all those things in mind? Plus, walking distance to an exceptional elementary school for 1500 dollars or less? I love college towns but REALLY do NOT want to be living next to college kids either. I know I am aiming high here, but suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
You may need to compromise in some areas. For nice areas with good schools and access to public transit, you might want to check out Newton and Brookline in neighborhoods along the T's green line branches. The compromises are that:
these locations would not afford the quickest commute to Cambridge because there would be a transfer on the subway;
the fact that there may be a relatively small selection of rental properties in your price range, especially in Brookline, and you may need to live in a duplex;
and the fact that Newton and Brookline are more inner suburban kinds of towns rather than urban, so there is less shopping very nearby than there would be right in the city, though both towns do have local commercial districts.
Newton and Brookline do, however, offer top schools and access to public transit.
Arlington is another inner suburban town, which has a bus line connecting to the T in Cambridge. The schools there have the reputation for being solid but not necessarily in the very top tier.
I don't know a lot about the schools in Cambridge. If the schools met your standards, you might consider living right in Cambridge. In many neighborhoods in Cambridge you'd have more of an urban experience, more shopping and dining options, etc., very nearby than you'd have in the other towns I've suggested. Despite the presence of Harvard and MIT, Cambridge is generally not known for having neighborhoods with a lot of noisy students. If you really wanted to make sure to eliminate any concerns about this possibility, the neighborhoods to avoid in Cambridge would be Harvard Square, Kendall Square, and maybe any areas along the river between the two colleges, like Cambridgeport.
I would also say Belmont may be an alternative option that borders Cambridge and Arlington. Belmont's schools are highly ranked; the high school is within the top 20 for the state. Saying this, I know a Boston Globe article this week mentioned that Belmont may be considering cutting arts, music, and foreign languages at the elementary level.
The one negative with Belmont is the cost to live there; there's not much single family housing under $400K. Many people, though, are willing to buy a condo in a two- or three-family building for less than $400K so their kids can go to Belmont's schools and have a short commute by bus or train to Cambridge.
Cambridge, I heard, has a lottery system for their public schools. This means that your child may or may not attend a school of your choice. So if you're considering Cambridge, I would suggest you investigate how the lottery system works for the public schools before you move there.
Thanks very much for the responses. @Ogre, I see what you mean about the trade-offs, what is the downside of living in a duplex? What do you know of the neighborhood surrounding Porter Square in Cambridge? It interests me mostly because of the train lines that intersect there. Do you know if I could find a 2 bedroom apt for around 1500/month?
@Wivenhoe, My wife and I both are both bi lingual and art and music education are important to us. Where can I find out if those kinds of programs are offered in the different towns we may consider?
Both Arlington and Belmont border Cambridge and, as a result, have art and music programs. The Crown Princess of Japan graduated from Belmont HS. There are tons of bilinguals in both Arlington and Belmont, though I think there is a greater percentage of Chinese/Japanese-Americans in Belmont (I think it's 20%).
The Trader Joe's in Arlington is on MA Ave, near the Lexington line. They have the small shopping carts there, which my 5-year-old son loves.
Arlington and Belmont have places for art and music and sports. I'd start with the town's parks and recreation departments, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and then google (i.e. Belmont, MA music programs or Arlington, MA art programs). I know there are smaller programs around both towns for art and music. I know the Robbins Library in Arlington has flyers and brochures on local art and music programs downstairs in the children's room. Belmont Public Library and neighboring public libraries most likely do as well.
Powers Music School (Belmont), see Powers Music School - Belmont MA - Programs (http://www.powersmusic.org/programs/programs.html - broken link)
FYI - I don't know whether you plan to enroll your son before the school year ends or when your son's birthday is, but bear in mind MA public schools (except Cambridge and Medford) hold back kids for kindergarten with late birthdays until the following year.
Brackett School in Arlington is one of the top elementary schools in the state.
Thanks for your response, the more we think about things the more likely we are to focus in on Cambridge, MA and not the surrounding towns. Mostly because of the mass transit situation. If we truly can get rid of our personal vehicles the savings is very attractive. And a look at the school choices and the curriculum gives me confidence. If I am wrong PLEASE let me know. In addition, do you or anyone reading this post think it's possible to get a into a nice neighborhood in Cambridge for $1500/mo 2bd 1 bath. We don't expect anything fancy just safe, warm, dry and quiet. From a look at the mass transit trains it looks like Porter Square area is best. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.
It can be tough to find any decent apartment within your price range in parts of MA, especially around parts of Cambridge and Boston. I'm not saying it's impossible. I'm saying it may take time and effort. If you see something you like, you've got to be quick about it. Decent, reasonably priced apartments go quickly. You never know though, you could get lucky - be the first person to view an apartment and grab it.
I was looking around Arlington, Belmont, and Lexington around Sep/Oct for $1500 for a 2 bed/1 bath too - even then it was tough. We ended up moving to the North Shore for a bunch of reasons, including housing and rental costs.
We looked briefly at Cambridge, but we didn't look too closely (to be honest). We knew we wouldn't be able to afford to buy anything more than a small apartment in Cambridge.
You can get around metro Boston area with one car and a 5-year-old boy. I don't know how easy it is without a car, especially in terms of getting out of the city and shopping at the big box stores and supermarkets. Boston is not NYC and while public transportation is good here it's still not NYC. The subway and commuter trains are not as frequent, particularly on the weekends, and you cannot go in certain directions (i.e. no public transit goes north-south between Arlington and Belmont or Belmont and Watertown).
Many people live in Cambridge and are very happy. I love Cambridge, but it's expensive to buy there. If you can find something within your price range, I say best of luck to you. On the other hand, if you're planning to stay here permanently, possibly buy, and cannot afford Cambridge, you might want to think twice about Cambridge. Personally, I think you might get more bang for your buck in Arlington or Belmont, but I could be wrong.
Good points, I think at our son's age, since he will just be going into kindergarten we stand a good chance to get away without a car. I hope anyways and I really want to give it a try. Thanks for the information regarding the apartment situation. It sounds like NYC was a few years back. Did you use an apartment service or just Craigslist?
I agree with Wivenhoe that there may be options in your price range in Cambridge, but few enough that you may have to really dig for them, and be prepared to pounce on a rental that looks good, before someone else beats you to it.
Some time ago, Porter Square was sort of a blah, basic neighborhood. It seems to have seen an influx of young professionals in the past few years. The area would probably still be fine for a family at this point. Porter Sq. does not yet seem to have become as totally dominated by the young professionals scene as some other areas, such as Davis Sq. in Somerville just up the road from Porter Sq.
When we moved in March, we looked at CraigsList but ended up signing a nine-month lease at an apartment complex near the Belmont line because we had to get housing immediately. We simply didn't have a lot of time, though my husband was looking at apartments around Newton in March before my son and I moved back to MA from NYC. In hindsight, I wished we signed a much shorter lease at the apartment complex than nine-months so we could have vacated the apartment complex sooner, but we were hoping our co-op in NYC would have sold within 9 months and it didn't.
In Sep/Oct, I looked on CraigsList, wicked local, and boston.com under the rental section for apartments. I called immediately (within hours of a posting) when I saw an apartment on the North Shore advertised on boston.com. I was the first one to see the apartment and we signed a lease immediately. We had to pay a broker fee though, but it was worth it. It took me about a month or so to find the apartment on the North Shore. I saw a lot of crappy and overpriced apartments before then, including in Concord, Lexington, and Newton.
Like Ogre said, you've got to be prepared to pounce on a rental if it's decent and reasonably priced before someone beats you to it. Some of the housing market for buying may have tanked a bit in MA, but the rental market is still quite strong.
I will also say to be prepared for the 5-year-old to need time to adjust to his new surroundings, school, and routine. Little people are not always receptive to change (lol), especially when their routines gone off kilter. I would try to make the move as easy on your 5-year-old as possible. Even the best 4- or 5-year-olds in the world need time to adjust with a move.
FYI - there's an excellent playground at Cambridge Commons when the snow eventually melts. No bathrooms though. Welcome to MA from a native.
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