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Should you stretch to buy into a power 'burb?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 14, 2010 07:22 AM

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Absolutely not - that's my quick answer.

But given the responses to my recent post on a couple just in from the Midwest who chose Woburn over Lexington, I appear to be in the minority here.

What I held up as a refreshing example of common sense and heartland values, others saw as a tale of real estate folly of the highest order.

The couple - I changed their names to Ted and Joan and for good reason given the heated responses my post generated - overpaid by shelling out nearly $650,000 for a spanking new, four bedroom Colonial in Woburn, according to some of the comments from the regulars and not so regulars who follow this blog.

Maybe, but that clearly got them a lot more house - and in better shape - than anything they could afford in Lexington.

But some of the responses left me wondering whether reflexive snobbery is playing a bigger role than I would have thought in steering buyers into some towns and away from others.

Check out this comment.

"What a dummy. Woburn over Belmont & Lexington. At his price range he could have easily afforded something nice in those towns. Rookie mistake. Location, location, location..... There's a reason people pay a premium for those nice towns.

Woburn has a new high school. Great. Who cares about the physical asset of the school when the students and teachers within it don't score as high as the two other communities mentioned.

His kids could have been rubbing shoulders with (other) well polished kids. Now they'll be brought down by their peers instead of being pushed to be better.

And remember, don't drink the water..."

To be fair, this response was pretty extreme. Most of those commenting, even if didn't like the idea of buying in Woburn, were more thoughtful than this.

But if this isn't just simple, outright snobbery, well then what is it?

Still, I have an even bigger problem with this comment - the idea your child's future hinges on whether you can afford to buy into a town with an elite public school system.

OK, so you stretch and overpay for some fixer-upper near a busy highway in a tony town. Congratulations! But what's to say your child, given his or her personality, will thrive in a hyper competitive school system?

In the end, the family atmosphere inside your home, and whether that promotes intellectual curiosity and emotional stability, is far more important than the SAT scores of the local high school.

My wife spent her high school years in a dying manufacturing town in Ohio and went on to Smith College. Not alone, she hung out with other nice, smart kids, who also went on to do other interesting things. Woburn's new high school would put Howland High to shame, but Karen has fond memories of her high school years.

Woburn is a fine choice, as is Natick, Dedham, Norwood, Walpole and a host of other middle-class suburbs that don't have the cachet of a Weston or a Lincoln, but are still great places to raise a family without risking bankruptcy.

Don't let the housing snobs steer you wrong.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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