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by Scott Van Vorrhis, originally published in the Boston Globe on March 2, 2015  (edited for space purposes)

Spring may seem a long way off right now, but housing demand is already busting through the roof in Natick.
More than 3,000 buyers have expressed varying degrees of interest in Natick through Redfin’s website and its agents, notes Nancy McLaughlin, listing specialist for the western suburbs.

“Buyer demand has just been incredible—it’s off the charts,’’ she said.

It’s one of a number of signs that Natick is coming into its own after living for years in the shadow of neighboring Wellesley and other posh western suburbs.

In fact, McLaughlin sees Natick following a similar path as Needham, a middle-class town that went upscale as buyers priced out of Weston, Wellesley, and Wayland flooded in.

Buyers are bidding up available homes, and, in relatively bucolic and upscale South Natick, even tearing down older homes to make way for newer and larger models, she noted.

Today a single-family home in Needham costs a median of $915,000, closer to Wellesley’s median of $1.5 million than to Natick’s $465,000. This price is up over 8 percent from the same time last year, according to The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.

Natick Center is also becoming an attraction for more urban-minded buyers and renters, with a mix of artsy shops, small-town retailers, restaurants, and an arts center that routinely puts on shows by top performers.

Still, buyers are scrambling to compete for available single-family homes in the more suburban-style subdivisions and neighborhoods across town as well, McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin is seeing buyers intent on breaking into Natick, as opposed to simply looking at Natick as one of a number of potential towns to live in.

“It is becoming a destination,’’ she said.