Location: What is your “sense of place”?

Violin, electric guitar, saxo¡phone arranged in that order standing on base against whte background, representing different musical genresLast week, this editorial in the Globe, “Making arts policy a priority”, got us thinking. Thinking about, not the politics nor specific funding issues mentioned in that opinion piece, but about how blessed we are here in Eastern Mass. to have so many places to encounter the arts. Whether you live in Boston proper, in Metrowest, on the South Shore, the North Shore, down on the Cape, or anywhere in the region, you’re just a relatively short way from being able to view great paintings, sculpture, listen to live music from top performers ranging from the classics to the latest popular acts. That’s not true everywhere. We New Englanders didn’t end up calling Greater Boston “The Hub of the Universe” for no good reason! As the Globe writes, “The arts are not merely an add-on — a luxury — but an essential component of the state’s quality of life. The Massachusetts arts community encompasses roughly 6,000 arts and cultural organizations that support more than 45,000 jobs.” We sometimes forget how lucky we are to live in such a center of the arts, and might not appreciate also how much it does for our economy. But for many of us here in Eastern Massachusetts, this knowledge that access to the arts is readily available, is an important part of our “sense of place” – part of what makes it truly feel like “home”.

Stylized illustration of a busy Boston street, with signs indicating
The arts around Boston – from the linked Boston Globe editorial. Illustration by Ean Spangler for the Boston Globe © 2014 Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC

Then another encounter, this one over a dinner of fish and steak sandwiches with friends, discussing house-hunting while chowing down, brought up more of the “what do you need for a place to feel like home?” issue. Two of our Discount Packing family and a couple of our pals ended up chewing over the whole bit of “in-town or out of town”, “how close to transit?”, “What’s there to do in this town?” We ended up kicking around “must-have”, “nice-to-have”, and “don’t-need” lists, along with a “don’t-want” one too. With some surprises on those lists. They’d just returned from a day of hectic house hunting in a shore town about an hour out of the city, so this was the big dinnertime discussion.

One of our house-hunting couple friends is a bit of a city-lover, even though they both have decided to find a place in a seaside town.They don’t want to drive into the city area (who can blame them!) so suddenly, being on an express commuter line became a “nice-to-have”, and at least on a not-too-bad connection on transit was a “must-have”. Not because of job commutes, because they’re soon retiring, but to make access to museum, symphony, and other cultural events, relatively easy.  At the same time, it turns out that being in-town isn’t really that important to either of them, not even the city-buzz-needing spouse. As long as it’s not much more than an hour away on a usually one-seat, or one-seat plus local transit or quick cab ride, it’s all good. Even political activity, to circle back to the Globe’s editorial, can come into play. One of our friends gets involved in local and national politics, and wants to be near to volunteer opportunities for political campaigns – again, at least reasonably close by easy-to-connect multi-modal public transit.

You might think that an outer neighborhood, in the city or an “urban village” type of suburb (for example, parts of Brookline, along Comm Ave or Beacon) might be fitting, but it turns out our friends are “in the city or all the way out of it” folks. Whereas others love the “in-between” of a suburb or near-city location. But for our friends, it’s “in or out”, but “all the way out of it” better have an express commuter option! Have you really thought about your preferences in this regard? You may surprise yourself, if you start to explore it.

Our takeaway from all that? You need to write your very own “opinion piece” about what are your “sense of place” priorities. The arts being part of it, but also so many other things, not all of them obvious at first glance. Especially if you’ve just “fallen in love with this house”, as so many home shoppers do when their Realtor® shows them a home which seems “perfect”.  You really need to have this discussion, with your family members, and with yourself, and on more aspects of “What do I want?” than you might first think. Sure, the old cliche, cliched because it’s so true, is “Location, Location, Location” when it comes to Real Estate. But what does “Location” really mean, to you? Everybody thinks about “How close to stores?”, if they have or plan to have children, “How close to schools?” and “Is the school district good?” You might want to know how close is the nearest church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or other house of worship, of your particular faith if you’re a member of an organized religion. Or the size and closeness of local parks.

Go deeper. Dig into your and your family’s less-obvious needs, wants, likes: volunteer opportunities, preferences about how they travel (some folks love to drive, others see it as a chore, some folks even love traveling by commuter train or bus because they can just watch). And don’t stop at the obvious point: “I love skiing” doesn’t necessarily have to translate to “I need to live near a big ski area”, but it might mean that certain parts of Metrowest or the North Shore, with quick access to Rt. 93 and 95 up to the ski regions, would work out better for you than an equivalent suburb on the South Shore. That might also fit better with your other needs, family economy, and job opportunities.

You might love going to the symphony and the Pops, and to art museums. But, do you need an in-town home near Huntington Ave so that you can just stroll to Symphony Hall or the Museum of Fine Arts? Maybe you do, and we have a list of trusted Realtors and other real estate professionals who can help you find the right condo, townhouse, or apartment near there. Or anywhere else in Greater Boston, Eastern Massachusetts, or nearby areas elsewhere in New England, like that ski house! But maybe, just being no more than one hour on the T into town and one Green Line ride to the museum or concert, is just fine, while that suburban, or smaller-city, or shore town living otherwise matches up better with other things on your “sense of place” list. Maybe a condo a block or three  off Comm Ave in Brookline gives you the balance of urban village living, a good school district, and pretty quick access onto the Pike extension to get out of town on weekends. Or maybe that’s the worst of all compromises for you, while a dream home for somebody else!

Point is, go beyond the obvious, and neither overlook, nor over-emphasize, specific needs. You might want the seashore and a nice beach town, but do you need to be all the way down on the Cape? Or will that make it too hard for you to do your weekly, or monthly, or occasional visits to the MFA while being in one of the South Shore towns on the T Commuter Rail might be the perfect balance, for you? There’s no “right answer” here, other than your own.

If you’re honest with yourself about what your real needs are, and what’s a “nice to have” vs a “must have”, our Realtor friends can help you even more. They are experts on not only housing, but on all the elements and amenities of life in the areas they serve. Our Realtor list is organized by region – so please take a look and let one of them help you in your perfect-home search. Perfect, as in perfect, for your sense of place.