A tale of two cities.
Is Somerville the new Cambridge…?
And that being said…should I purchase and remodel a home in Somerville or Cambridge? Which is a more intelligent move?
There’s no doubt Somerville, MA is strongly on the up and up. As a city, Somerville is coming into its own in a big way.
You may have heard this phrasing of ‘the new Cambridge’ bandied about while doing business or living in Boston. It’s an interesting concept and I’ve heard this refrain on many fronts, from real estate and investment to community work.
So…is Somerville the new Cambridge?
Somerville is Somerville. Cambridge is Cambridge. They are sister cities — both are vibrant, lovely communities with many similarities.
Clients considering a new home purchase and remodel or an existing home remodel in either Somerville or Cambridge, MA will likely win either way. Both Cambridge and Somerville are wonderful Boston neighborhoods with an abundance of positives and parallels that have only continued to develop over the course of 2020. In reality, both are excellent neighborhoods and some of the best arenas for investment, family living, and development in New England. They have similarities, but are also distinct cities with their own nuanced cultures, history, and beauty.
We have executed high-end and luxury home design and remodels extensively in both Somerville and Cambridge over the past two decades and have multiple ongoing currently in both — I thought I’d share my thoughts on this as we move into 2021.
As a current overview snapshot of each neighborhood, here’s a current look:
- • Settled: 1630
- • Population: Approximately 118,000
- • Area: 7.1 square miles
- • Average home sale price: $1,100,000
- • Number of homes on the market: 104
- • Price per square foot: $771
- • Real Estate value increase in the last 12 months: 4.7%
- • Real Estate value increase in last 10 years: 59.17%
- • Real Estate value increase since 2000: 101.47%
Cambridge has a special and cultured air to it — as home to Harvard, MIT, Lesley University, and Hult Business School, an educational ethos and culture tends to permeate Cambridge. This intellectually rarified air has attracted some of the most brilliant minds in the country who have in turn made their homes in Cambridge. Roughly 27% of Cambridge’s residents are students and approximately 30% of Cambridge residents are from outside the US — giving it a uniquely multicultural and worldly atmosphere.
Cambridge maintains a small town feel while being one seemingly long football pass from downtown Boston (in reality less than 4 miles from the center of Cambridge to downtown Boston). The Longfellow Bridge spans the Charles River and connects Beacon Hill to Cambridge — it’s about a 15-minute drive from central Cambridge to Logan International Airport. Cambridge comprises thirteen distinct neighborhoods and five “squares” (intersections really — Central, Porter, Harvard, Inman, and Kendall).
There are over 600 restaurants, bars, and cafes in Cambridge — a large portion of this are independent enterprises and small businesses that are delicious and give the area a tasteful and inclusive vibe. One of my favorites is Broadsheet Coffee Roasters located right behind Harvard Yard — they are simply exceptional and I highly recommend.
Cambridge is green with a passion for sustainability. There are over 16 parks in Cambridge alone, and ample green space, sports fields, parks, tracks, dog parks, and walking areas. Cycling is a thing — both for the enjoyment and exercise it affords as well as the positive impact it has on the environment. One can cycle from Cambridge to downtown Boston in about 25 minutes and there are bike lanes on all the major roads. Cambridge is actually considered the 8th best biking town in the entire United States.
The seasons are striking and pronounced — Spring is vibrant, Summer is sunny and hot, and the Fall is classic New England with beautiful colors, a chilly tang in the air, a hint of woodsmoke and delicious coffee. Winter is…cold. Think snow, plows, and trying to defrost your car — you either love it or hate it.
Cambridge is a wellspring of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To say Biotech and tech innovation are huge in Cambridge is a massive understatement. Swiss giant Novartis announced the transfer of international research operations from Basel, Switzerland to Cambridge in 2003 and Cambridge/Boston are now home to over 1,000 biotech firms. Kendall Square alone is home to over 120 within a single mile accompanied by outpost offices of Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
Per www.thepharmaletter.com, “While there are several commonly-cited reasons for the present pre-eminence of the Cambridge-Boston USA, biotech cluster, it’s clear that the hub is greater than the sum of its parts.
According to one estimate, the main hub in Cambridge contains firms that have attracted over $14 billion in investments from venture-capitalists.
And while the area plays host to an array of biomedical firms, both very small and very large, a cornucopia of suppliers, contract research organizations, investors, lawyers, and others have also been built up to support them…”
Vibrant Kendall Square in Cambridge is viewed as a biotech hub:
“Kendall Square, the epicenter of the scene, plays host to hundreds of biotech firms, all within walking distance of each other, and with such density comes a multiplying effect.
While the area had long been the epicenter of the sector in Massachusetts, it wasn’t until 2010 that Kendall Square became the clear flag bearer for biotech when the main landowner, MIT, made a series of investments to rejuvenate the neighborhood.
It is estimated that more than 10 million square feet of laboratory space has been fitted out in the last ten years, adding almost 50% to the existing supply.”
Added to the above is the tech startup scene in Cambridge which includes scores of companies including HubSpot, Placepass, Jobcase, and Root Robotics.
Brilliant and successful professionals usually desire unique, aesthetic, and amazing homes that forward their values and lifestyle. This is what we specialize in — acting as the creative paintbrush and practical tool for their personal artistic vision when it comes to creating a home.
We will be completing two beautiful projects in Cambridge this month that we have taken from conceptual design through full home remodel. In keeping with Cambridge’s ethos and values we take a sustainable design approach with reclaimed wood design elements and an emphasis on natural light and finishes.
You can see two of our beautiful Cambridge projects here:
Now let’s take a look at Somerville — sister city to Cambridge with many unique and appealing qualities of its own.
- • Settled: 1629
- • Population: Approximately 81,000
- • Area: 4.22 square miles
- • Average home sale price: $972,500
- • Number of homes currently on the market: 105
- • Price per square foot: $545
- • Real Estate value increase in last 12 months: 12.5%
- • Real Estate value increase in last 10 years: 122.88%
- • Real Estate value increase since 2000: 227.32%
Somerville is similar to Cambridge, yet with a character clearly its own. If you are from Somerville — you are from SOMERVILLE — not Cambridge or Boston. If you speak to a local the distinction is clearly there to be made and they are not to be identified or collapsed into one another.
There are many positives to Somerville — here are some of the primary ones as I see it:
Somerville’s real estate market and values are exploding — growing at nearly twice the rate of Cambridge.
Home purchase prices in Somerville are significantly cheaper than Cambridge — about 20-25% cheaper as a rough rule of thumb as of this writing. Somerville borders Cambridge and the distance to downtown Boston is only slightly further.
Somerville was strong on manufacturing for decades and these facilities are now being upcycled for vibrant and ambitious startups. There is ABUNDANT construction occurring in Somerville on multiple fronts — from residential work and condos to the 1 billion dollar, 2.4 million-square-foot Union Square redevelopment project.
And this ambitious project…is a game-changer.
The New Kendall — Somerville’s Union Square. Part of a strategic effort to remake Somerville’s image and reputation, Union Square will present an attractive and more affordable option to Cambridge’s Kendall Square. The Pippen to Cambridge’s Jordan if you will— “an astounding 1.2 million-square-feet of science and tech office and lab space is set to open in the center of Union Square in the next half-decade.” says Fast Company Magazine. Think $35 per square foot rents in Somerville’s Union Square compared to $75 per square foot in Cambridge’s Kendall Square — despite the fact that the two venues are 1.5 miles apart. That’s attractive any way you slice it.
Tufts University is on the border of Somerville and Medford. Tufts is one of the best schools in the nation (yes, I’m biased as it is my alma mater) and has the nation’s oldest graduate school of international relations — the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy. The presence of Tufts lends similar academic and cultural values to Somerville as the prestigious educational institutions do to Cambridge.
The Green Line of the MBTA is currently being extended into Somerville which will provide access to 5 new stops in addition to the current single stop on the Red Line in Davis Square and a small handful of Orange line stops. This will markedly simplify and streamline the commute from Somerville to downtown Boston and make it easy to access the Green line from nearly anywhere in Somerville.
Meanwhile, Davis Square in Somerville is a vibrant cultural hotspot, and like Cambridge, there are many wonderful restaurants, eateries, and coffee shops throughout Somerville. Two of my favorite Somerville venues are Bloc Café on Bow Street and Forge Baking Company on Somerville Ave. For straightforward and utterly delicious classic Boston fare there is Leone’s Pizza and Subs. Family-owned and operated since 1954 and a favorite of Boston actor Chris Evans, Leone’s is excellent and currently open for takeout.
We’ve completed multiple whole-home design and remodeling projects in Somerville. One aspect I am proud of is Somerville’s willingness to innovate and lead on the sustainability front — showing the beauty and importance of sustainable design and its positive impact on the environment.
This is a beautiful and innovative passive house retrofit we are designing for a client in Somerville and which will be moving into construction shortly. It’s a fully custom design and will use 90% less energy than a standard home — exceptionally beneficial for the environment.
This is a beautiful two-story home addition we have designed and built-in Somerville:
So there you have it — both Cambridge and Somerville are special cities with wonderful, brilliant residents — many of whom are innovating in a diverse array of fields. In my opinion, two of the best cities in the world to create an ideal home, raise a family and pursue one’s dreams.
Somerville is the next — well Somerville. A strong, resolute city coming into its own which if all goes according to plan will share leadership roles on the biotech and tech stage with Cambridge over the next decade. This is a potentiality that could truly impact the world.
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