WGBH News Stephanie Leydon
The hilly street where Amanda and Mark Linehan live with their three-year-old daughter, Georgia, is lined with well-tended bungalows. There's a basketball hoop set up on the sidewalk and plenty of trees. One thing routinely disturbs the suburban quiet: when a house goes up for sale and is open to the public.
"There's hundreds of cars," explained Linehan. "You can't even pull into your driveway, there's so many people coming to look at every single one that goes on the market."
She's sympathetic to those legions of house hunters. She and her husband looked long and hard before finding their home. They considered Cambridge, hoped to find something in Somerville and, ultimately, ended up further north in the city of Malden.
"When we realized how little we could get for our money closer to the city, we realized that this was, really, the best of both worlds," said Linehan.
Growing up in Natick, Malden is not a community where she ever imagined living. There was no cool factor, no reason to make the trip. Fast forward to 2017, and Malden's reputation and reality are quickly changing. The online real estate company Redfin ranks Malden's Edgeworth neighborhood as the sixth hottest in the country. The ranking is based both on interest measured by online views of real estate listings and factors crucial to any real estate transaction: location and price.
It's still possible to find a three-bedroom home for under a half million dollars in Malden. Redfin agent Travis Speck says $650,000 is the high end for a single family and condominiums start at $250,000. Nothing lasts long.
"It's much more competitive this year," said Speck. "Maybe we saw 15, 20 bids on a single property [last year] and now I see 25 to 30 bids."
Seven miles north of Boston, Malden is sandwiched between Routes 93 and 1. The real selling point, however, is Malden Center's MBTA station. It's a 10-minute ride on the Orange Line to downtown Boston.
"It's our saving grace," said Mayor Gary Chistenson. "I ask many people when they come to Malden what was the draw, and it's great to hear â diversity, three separate school systems in our city â but the one that trumps them all is convenience."
Christenson is capitalizing on the appeal of the city's public transit hub. The fortress-like city hall building that separates the train station from the city's commercial street will be torn down this summer. There are plans to replace an empty building with a robotics center. The city is in talks to build a minor league baseball stadium.
At the heart of the downtown transformation are the new apartment buildings that ring the commercial center. In the last five years, Malden has green lighted the construction of 1,000 new units. The mayor hopes the apartments will attract single people and couples without children, easing the demand for the rest of the housing stock.
"We're trying to provide density in downtown to support businesses and then in outlying neighborhoods, we're trying to get people to make their roots in our city," explained Christenson.
Many of those new apartments have yet to be built, but already the downtown is thriving in a way it hasn't since it was a shopping destination in the 1970s.
"I never thought I'd see that kind of activity again," said Neil Sullivan, "It's coming back."
Sullivan grew up going to the Jordan Marsh and Woolworth's stores that anchored the business district. The storefront where his mother used to bring him to buy shoes now houses his cafe, Cornucopia. Nestled amid a mix of restaurants, barber shops and the popular entertainment outlet Boda Borg, Sullivan says business has been so brisk, he hopes to expand his hours to nights and weekends. He says he routinely fields inquiries from people interested in buying his business.
"I'm lucky to be here," said Sullivan. "Trust me when I tell you that."
Amanda and Mark Linehan feel the same way. In the six years since they've moved here, they've seen fewer discount stores and more restaurants. They figure it's only a matter of time before Starbucks comes to town. There's another change they've been tracking, too Ã¢ÂÂ the value of homes in their neighborhood.
"The things that are going on this street are $100,000 or $200,000 higher than what we paid," said Amanda Linehan. "I don't know if we could afford our own neighborhood anymore."