For several years now my wife and I have been researching towns of Eastern Massachusetts to find the best neighborhood to begin a family. In 2006 the real estate bubble in the Northeast finally began to deflate, and for the first time in a decade it became a real estate buyer's market. Coupling the favorable market conditions with regular seasonal lows, we felt the time was right and this winter our search intensified.

We considered factors such as the best schools, lowest crime, amount of open space, commuting distance, housing prices, and overall quality of life. Each year Boston Magazine publishes comprehensive spreadsheets which rank nearly 200 Massachusetts towns by more than 30 factors, including population, average house prices, percent change in prices, student spending, SAT scores, MCAS scores (Science/Math, English), crime rates, contamination, open space, disease rates, average age, and much more. Although this data is published in tabular format as a magazine insert, on some years Boston Magazine made the data available via Excel or CSV document download. We've kept some of these downloaded comparisons and found them to be very handy.