Home to Harvard and MIT, Cambridge Will Endlessly Inspire You

Just outside of Boston, the Massachusetts town is filled with historic Victorian homes and a vibrant array of community activities.

There’s something autumnally idyllic about college towns—and none will make you want to wrap your sweatered arms around yourself while gazing at the changing leaves more than Cambridge, Massachusetts, just northwest of Boston.

Regardless of whether you graduated from Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or not, Cambridge has a lot to offer.

“The city is very much driven by those two universities,” said Lauren Holleran, vice president of Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty in Cambridge. “There are also so many amazing facilities open to community members. I can cross Harvard Yard on my commute to work. I am so grateful to have access to such gorgeous institutions.”

Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher learning in the country, has produced iconic presidents from John Adams to Barack Obama, world-altering activists like Helen Keller and visionary entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Notable alumni of MIT include Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin—as well as 27 Nobel Prize winners.

In short: You’ll find no lack of inspiration in this town.

“Cambridge’s Kendall Square is also a hub where the biotech industry is currently booming,” noted Holleran. “MIT is where the talent is, and companies want to be close to that.”

Holleran said that like many other university towns, there’s a lot of movement in Cambridge. “With all the students, faculty members and administration, there’s a lot of churn—people coming in to buy a home, then leaving again,” she said.

That cyclical market has its upsides. “We’ve been incredibly insulated from economic downturns. Because people both have to come into town and have to leave because of university job cycles, there’s always demand in the market, which helps insulate it,” said Holleran. “For example, in 2009 or 2010, other towns right outside of Boston lost 20–30% of average sales price value, but in Cambridge, our average price dropped just 3%.”

The demand is further driven by the market’s static housing supply. “Cambridge is basically 100% built,” explained Holleran. “The homes were largely built in the late 1800s, and nobody wants to knock down a historic, beautiful house. Without the ability to build new inventory, there is a constant demand for existing supply, which makes our prices stay on a constantly accelerating path.”

Indeed, Redfin rates the Cambridge housing market an intimidating 92 out of 100: “Most Competitive.” At the time of publication, the average sales price was listed at $960,000, up 2.2% from last year, with homes selling around 3% above list price.

In Holleran’s experience, that competition can be truly brutal, though the strong can persevere.

“Buyers need to be incredibly patient and as emotionally disengaged as possible,” she advised. “We joke with new buyers that we have to ‘drag them through the pit of despair.’ After a couple of weeks, everyone’s expectations level—either their budget goes up, or they get used to what they can get. At that point, they're through the pit of despair.”

For those who love historic homes, the wait—and the compromise—is worth it.

“Cambridge consists mostly of Victorian homes built between 1870 and 1910,” said Holleran. “Some were built a little later, in the ‘30s and ‘40s. They feature high ceilings and beautiful architectural detail. They vary from recently updated to complete disrepair; our homes constantly go through cycles of renovation.”

Cambridge has both a residential and urban feel as neighborhoods are fairly dense. Because of this attractive dichotomy, many suburbanites are now eyeing a move. “There’s a real push to return to urban centers,” noted Holleran. “More and more buyers want to cash out of their big homes in the suburbs with big yards and trees to take care of. My guess is that we are going to continue to see high demand.”

In the end, demand and competition are high because Cambridge is a rightly sought-after place to live, work and play.

“I am raising four kids in Cambridge. It’s such a fun place to raise a family. There’s something electric in the environment and always something going on,” said Holleran. “The universities provide so many opportunities for the community to get involved, from lectures to concerts to farmers markets to sports events. The quality of life here is just so awesome.”