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Mass. Appeal Author:Prashant Gopal Date:03/25/14 Click:

There's a lot more to Massachusetts than world-class schools and seemingly undefeatable sports franchises like the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox. From the rolling foothills of the Berkshires in the west to Boston's stately Beacon Hill and the beaches of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket in the east, it is also one of the most beautiful states in the country.

For $12 million you can own 9,000 square feet of urban comfort on five floors in Back Bay, Boston's most prestigious neighborhood. A waterfront estate with a deepwater dock in Cape Cod is selling for $16.5 million. And $15 million will get you a 19th century castle in Great Barrington, complete with seven towers and, yes, a dungeon.

"You have easy access by land, sea, or air -- you can get to this place from Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York," said Thomas Wallace, owner of Wallace & Co. Sotheby's International Realty in Martha's Vineyard. "And yet because of the preservation of New England charm, it's a great escape."

Luxury Market Maintains Momentum

Brian Back, a Realtor with Boston's Gibson Sotheby's International Realty, said the luxury market in the city has remained strong despite the real estate slowdown. Last year 33 homes in Boston sold for more than $2 million compared to 24 sales in 2006 and 19 sales in 2005.

The city's priciest neighborhoods include Back Bay, which spreads out along the Charles River across from Cambridge (home of Harvard University and MIT); and adjacent Beacon Hill, where the main shopping thoroughfare, Charles Street, is dotted with antique shops and caf;eacute;s.

The weak dollar is attracting foreign buyers, some of whom might be reminded of Europe by the city's public spaces, architecture, and outdoor cafes. The city is also filling up with empty-nesters, Back said.

"They've been driving into the city for years, fighting traffic to go to their favorite restaurants and shops," Back said. "Now they've decided they want to walk to them."

The Boston area is a job center, and many of its residents are employed in health care, higher education, and technology. In addition to the area's many schools, hospitals, and financial services companies such as State Street (NYSE:STT - News) and privately held Fidelity Investments, the largest employers are Raytheon (NYSE:RTN - News) in Waltham, Staples in Framingham (NasdaqGS:SPLS - News) and BJ's Wholesale Club (NYSE:BJ - News) in Natick.

Suburbs and Second Homes

Wealthy homeowners looking for more elbow room are attracted to suburbs such as Brookline, Marblehead, Manchester, Wellesley, Weston, and Newton, which offer quaint downtowns, historic architecture, and good public transportation.

Farther-flung Cape Cod is largely a second-home destination -- as are the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, which swell in population in the summer despite the fact that they can be reached only by plane or ferry.

"Cape Cod is more densely populated; you have more residential development and commercial development," Wallace said. "There is not a shopping mall on Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard."

You won't find any traffic lights in Nantucket either, said Carol Coffin, who co-owns Nantucket's Coffin Sconset Real Estate with her husband, Bernie.

"We only have stop signs and we have cobblestone streets and bike paths everywhere," Coffin said, adding that the island is incredibly safe. "In the past, everyone used to keep their keys in the car . If someone stole your car, where are they going to go? This is an island."

The entry-level price for a home on Nantucket is about $500,000, Coffin said. Last year, 7.5 acres of land in the Dionis Beach area sold privately for $26.5 million, she said.

Martha's Vineyard, which has attracted famous vacationers including former President Bill Clinton, former anchorman Walter Cronkite and movie director Spike Lee, has a population with a greater mix of incomes, Wallace said.

"The Vineyard market is more of a cross-section of visitors who want to be very informal about their visits," he said. "People don't make a big fuss when Walter Cronkite walks into the hardware store."

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