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Looking for a holiday home bargain? Try the northern suburbs

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 20, 2012 07:23 AM

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Yes, head north, but please stop at the New Hampshire border. We like you here, and besides, the Live Free or Die state is overrated, but that's a topic for another day.

Essex County is listed at a surprising No. 8 on Trulia's list of the "healthiest" real estate markets in the country.

We are talking about a nice mix of suburbs and small towns and cities, ranging from coastal Salem, Gloucester and Newburyport inland to Andover, Haverhill, Boxford and Topsfield.

For a nice change, the survey is not based on price fluctuations but rather other factors that make for a more balanced and potentially rewarding market.

Essex comes out near the top nationally for strong job growth, low but not completely anemic vacancy, and a healthy price per square foot number, according to Trulia. There's also a relatively low foreclose rate as well.

The only markets Trulia judged to be even healthier than Essex are Houston, San Francisco, Bethesda, San Antonio, Austin, Seattle and Omaha. Heady company!

Job growth in Essex, which includes part of the 128 and 495 beltways, is at a healthy 2.5 percent, not quite Houston's boomtown 3.6 percent, but not bad.

More importantly right now for Boston area buyers, many of whom are struggling to find a few half decent homes in a tight market, inventory is low but not as anemic as the western suburbs or Boston.

The vacancy rate in Essex is 2.5 percent, considerably higher than Middlesex County's much too tight 1.5 percent, but still within a very healthy range.

Nationally, vacancy rates range from a super-tight 1 percent in San Jose to 5 percent or more in still hard-hit markets like Florida. (In Detroit, for example, vacancy stands at a stunning 12 percent.)

Buyers may find more down to earth prices in Essex as well, with a median of $189 per square foot a good step below Middlesex County's $218 a square foot, says Trulia.

Are you house hunting or selling a house north of Boston? What's your experience?

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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