Winthrop Street in downtown Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Harvard is based
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Harvard and Yale may be North America’s most famous universities but the east coast home cities of these two “Old Ivies” could barely be more different. Harvard is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an affluent and famously left-leaning locale, once named the US’s most liberal city in a study by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research. It is nicknamed, not always admiringly, the “People’s Republic of Cambridge” and was the first city in the US to elect an openly gay, black man as mayor.

Yale’s home is in New Haven, Connecticut, a city that has earned the unfortunate reputation of being one of the most crime-ridden and ghettoised in the US.

In Cambridge the average property is worth $478,000, up 12.5 per cent year on year, and comfortably outstripping the $421,000 average recorded in August 2008, according to property website Zillow. Charles Cherney, vice-president of Hammond Real Estate, points out that about 80 per cent of the city’s properties are apartments, making these figures appear artificially low. He estimates the current price for a detached home at about $1.4m – a price tag which he says is not deterring buyers in a buoyant market. “I have never seen the market as hot as it is now,” he says. “There is heated competition in all price ranges and in all neighbourhoods.” The reason for this sudden spurt, says Cherney, is threefold. “I think that it is a combination of low interest rates, a reduced inventory, and a recovering economy. It is a perfect storm.”

And, of course, there is much to recommend Cambridge. The university means that it is not short of bars, nightclubs, shops and restaurants, but it is not as frenetic, crowded or noisy as larger cities. It is also pleasantly leafy, with parks dotted across the city. Residents include academics from Harvard and MIT, the two biggest employers in town, and professionals working in the city’s thriving science and technology sector. Commuters can take the red line subway to Boston, only three miles away.

For Cherney’s money, the top neighbourhood is West Cambridge. Its heartland is Brattle Street, known as Tory Row since it was originally home to a clique of wealthy landowning loyalists who rejected the Declaration of Independence. Today the homes of these renegades are mostly in use by institutions such as the Cambridge Historical Society, but turn-of-the-century and postwar detached homes on Brattle Street sell for between $2.5m and $10m-plus. A six-bedroom Italianate house just moments from Brattle Street is currently on the market at $5.8m. The 6,134 sq ft property on Berkeley Street dates from 1852 and has been recently renovated. It is available from Hammond Real Estate.

As well as its Victorian and turn-of-the-century detached family houses with large gardens, West Cambridge is within walking distance of Harvard Square, considered the heart of the city, and full of shops and restaurants. It is also close to the university, making it popular with graduate students who gravitate to the fringes of the area seeking value for money. A modern, colonial-style house adjacent to West Cambridge is available with Hammond Real Estate, priced at £850,000.

Another key area is East Cambridge, once considered a distinctly “blue collar” district. It is now up and coming, says Cherney, largely thanks to a strong ripple effect of buyers priced out of the West and its location beside Kendall Square, home to the city’s thriving science and technology sector, which numbers some 200 companies. Google, Microsoft and Amazon all have offices there.

And Kendall Square, once a sterile business district, is seeing the arrival of shops, restaurants and coffee bars which is adding to the lifestyle appeal of East Cambridge. Homes here are also historic but smaller than those in West Cambridge. Many have been converted into flats, and a two-bedroom property of around 1,100 sq ft could cost in the region of $500,000.

The market in New Haven is a different story. Average prices stand at $161,300, up 2.6 per cent year-on-year but struggling to return to the August 2008 peak levels of $195,000. These suppressed prices reflect residents’ average incomes of $29,604 in a city blighted by unemployment and high crime rates. Adding to New Haven’s woes, race relations are often highly strained, particularly in The Hill, in the southwest of the city.

A five-bedroom house on Bradley Street, New Haven, priced $899,000

In contrast are gentrified areas like East Rock, a magnet for university professors who like its large homes and public park. Steve Rivkin, a broker at Planet Realty LLC, estimates that East Rock’s older-style brownstones and Tudor- or colonial-style homes (originally built for shipping magnates and factory owners) sell for about $750,000. Currently on the market is a five-bedroom home on Bradley Street, just a mile from East Rock Park and seconds from the university campus, available for $899,000 from Pearce Real Estates.

East Rock is also popular with graduate students, earning it the nickname Grad Haven. The presence of younger residents means that there are cafés, bars and restaurants opening up. It is also, said Rivkin, a safe neighbourhood. “Or as safe as anywhere in New Haven,” he adds.


Buying guide

● Violent crime in Cambridge runs at a rate of 4.70 incidents per 1,000 residents per year, compared with 13.53 incidents per 1,000 in New Haven. Property-related crime in Cambridge is recorded at 38.39 per 1,000, and 52.96 in New Haven

● The median household income in Cambridge is $69,017, almost twice New Haven’s $39,094

● About one in five of New Haven’s residents (22.8 per cent) is aged 18 or under compared with about one in ten (11.4 per cent) in Cambridge

● In Cambridge 73.1 per cent have a bachelor’s degree or higher by the time they are 25, compared with 32.1 per cent in New Haven

● Cambridge is five miles from Logan international airport. New Haven has direct train links to New York in two hours, and is three miles from Tweed New Haven airport

What you can get for . . . 

$500,000 A two-bedroom condo in East Cambridge or in the city’s fashionable Porter Square district

$1m An eight-bedroom period house in East Rock, New Haven, or a modern three-bedroom townhouse on the fringes of West Cambridge

$5m A period, detached house on or off Brattle Street, West Cambridge, with four to six bedrooms


Letter in response to this article:

Square looked more town than gown/ From Mr Fred Safier

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