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Best Places for City Slickers to Buy an Old House

14 fantastic, urban neighborhoods to get a great deal on a historic house

Asylum Hill, Hartford, Connecticut

Courtesy of Ken Johnson/NINA Hartford

The Neighborhood

Asylum Hill is named after the Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, which was located here until around 1920, when it was moved to West Hartford and (thankfully) renamed the American School for the Deaf. In the late 19th century, the neighborhood—a 15-minute walk west of downtown—was considered one of Hartford's best. Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and several politicians lived here. Nowadays, it's home to a diverse mix of singles and couples, many of them first-time home buyers, as well as empty-nesters looking for an urban lifestyle. Local employers include Fortune 500 companies Aetna and the Hartford Insurance Group, as well as St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.

The Houses

The neighborhood features an array of Queen Annes, Shingle-style homes, Colonial Revivals, and Italianates; its Sigourney Square District contains over 200 homes on the National Register.

The Prices

Homes here cost anywhere from $80,000 for a fixer-upper to $300,000 for a fully restored Queen Anne. More often than not they've been renovated, but project seekers can still strike gold.

Why Buy Now?

NINA Hartford, the Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, offers fully rehabbed historic properties as well as—no surprise—old homes that need resourceful people to save them from destruction to prospective home buyers at reasonable prices.

Among the best for:

Retirees,

First-Time Buyers,

City Slickers,

Queen Annes,

Northeast

North End, Boise, Idaho

Courtesy of Dan Everhart

The Neighborhood

North End is one of Boise's oldest neighborhoods, and children walk to school here to this day, gathering around Hyde Park, the district's National Register-designated retail area, or on the trails that snake through Camels Back Park and the Boise Foothills. A growing job market includes employers such as Micron Technology, the Mountain Home Air Force Base, Hewlett-Packard, and St. Luke's Regional Medical Center. In addition, there is a smoothly running school system that consistently graduates kids with SAT scores above state- and national averages.

The Houses

Homes were first built here in 1878, and the neighborhood features a variety of styles, including Queen Annes and cottage bungalows. The entire residential district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Prices

Restored homes in North End range from $300,000 to $3 million, and there are still plenty of restoration candidates starting at about $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

Not only is Boise's North End a great place to land a historic property, it's also a great place to score the good life. The city made Forbes magazine's list of "Best Places for Business and Careers" in 2007. Homes here are in demand and stand to hold their value.

Among the best for:

Families with Kids,

Outdoor Enthusiasts,

City Slickers,

Northwest

Sherman Hill, Des Moines, Iowa

Photo by John Hallstron

The Neighborhood

"A local resident once said, 'You will know our revitalization efforts were successful when families start moving back into the neighborhood,' " says Sherman Hill Neighborhood Association president Donna Hallstrom. That day has arrived, with young families and couples making their way from the 'burbs into this historic neighborhood in recent years. Despite its comprising only 210 buildings, this urban enclave is packed with amenities, including the historic Hoyt Sherman Place, a meetinghouse with an art gallery and performing arts center. Sherman Hill has its own 185-student, pre-K through fifth grade elementary school; older kids commute to schools around the city.

In the Flood Zone

While many areas of Des Moines have experienced intense flooding in recent

weeks, Sherman Hill, which is on high ground, was unaffected.

The Houses

Queen Annes, Italianates, and other Victorian-era homes dating from the 1870s through the turn of the last century dominate. Foursquare and Craftsman styles can be found, too. Some homes appear on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Prices

Smaller unrenovated houses go for as little as $50,000, while a restored Victorian can cost up to $350,000.

Why Buy Now?

Prices are low, and there are incentives to invest. The Neighborhood Finance Corporation, a local nonprofit mortgage broker, provides assistance for purchasing and improving historic homes, and the state's Historic Resource Development Program also provides grants.

Among the best for:

Bargains,

City Slickers,

Families with Kids,

Queen Annes,

Midwest

Old Louisville, Kentucky

Photo by Courtesy of Mary Martin

The Neighborhood

Stately homes face one another across lush, gaslit "walking courts," and yards overflow with geraniums and magnolia trees here. Residents treat gardening like a competitive sport, their efforts celebrated by seasonal garden tours. Central Park, a 17-acre municipal green space designed by famed architect Frederick Law Olmsted, sits adjacent to the neighborhood, which was developed in the 1870s. Old Louisville is just a stone's throw from the University of Louisville, and the city's top employers include health insurance provider Humana, bourbon producer Brown Forman Corp., and Republic BankCorp., a financial holding company.

The Houses

Old Louisville has 48 blocks' worth of Queen Annes, Second Empires, and Stick Victorians. Other styles include Italianate, Tudor, and Georgian Revival, and while many have been restored, others are clamoring for work.

The Prices

A rehabbed manse might run you about $275,000, and prices top out at $800,000.

Why Buy Now?

People gobbling up homes in this neighborhood feel it might one day have the cachet of Boston's Beacon Hill and other comparable treasure troves. But for now, the prices are far cheaper.

Among the best for:

Queen Annes, City Slickers, The South

Dayton's Bluff, St. Paul, Minnesota

Photo by Amy Handford

The Neighborhood

A large historic district with about 18,000 residents, Dayton's Bluff overlooks downtown and the Mississippi River valley. Many of this neighborhood's modest homes were built during a growth spurt in the 1880s, when a brewery, a factory, and railroad workers gathered around the local streetcar line. Today, Dayton's Bluff is a diverse urban enclave bursting with restaurants, churches, shops, and galleries (run and stocked by the many artists who call this neighborhood home).

The Houses

The city has designated 600 houses and other buildings as historic, and there's no shortage of other vintage properties to choose from, including Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Arts and Crafts houses. While many have been restored, there are plenty of fixer-uppers, including long-vacant properties.

The Prices

Selling prices range from $20,000 for an abandoned property to $50,000 for a historic house in need of work to $300,000 for a lovingly restored Queen Anne.

Why Buy Now?

Prices are low, and there's help for home buyers, too. Restore Saint Paul, a private preservation group, provides low-interest loans to would-be owners of historic homes. The nonprofit Dayton's Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services offers down payment assistance, low-interest loans for repairs, and even help finding contractors.

Among the best for:

Bargains,

Fixer-Uppers,

Craftsman Houses,

First-Time Buyers,

City Slickers,

Art Lovers,

The Midwest

Find homes in St. Paul

The Shaw Neighborhood, St. Louis, Missouri

Photo by Dawn Griffen, Circa Properties

The Neighborhood

Living in the Shaw Neighborhood is sort of like waking up on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis. The Victorian era is all around, from the wide streets lined with hundreds of early-20th-century homes showcasing well-maintained gardens to Tower Grove Park, which borders the Shaw, with grass tennis courts, pavilions, and hundreds of varieties of trees and shrubs. As the neighborhood's stately homes have been refurbished, dozens of new, locally owned cafes, pubs, restaurants, and galleries have opened. The nearby Missouri Botanical Garden, with its massive tropical habitat beneath a geodesic dome, is one of the nation's little-known treasures.

The Houses

Most were built between 1880 and 1940. Aside from pristine rows of brick Victorian-era Queen Anne and Second Empire homes, other styles include Arts and Crafts, Georgian, and English Tudor.

The Prices

An unrestored Victorian here can be had for as little as $125,000; one in top-notch shape will cost twice that.

Why Buy Now?

The Shaw neighborhood has been on an upward trend for more than a decade and shows no signs of flagging, despite the current housing crunch.

Among the best for:

Fixer-Uppers, First-Time Buyers,

City Slickers, Queen Annes, The Midwest

Find homes in St. Louis

Near South, Lincoln, Nebraska

Photo by Heidi Hoffman

The Neighborhood

On weekends, Near South residents can be found playing with their kids in

small playgrounds or spending family time at the Lincoln Children's Zoo and other parks within walking

distance. Credit for the family-friendly vibe goes in part to the Near South Neighborhood Association, which has promoted

revitalization, preservation, and development of green space since 1972. Near South has a grocery, a bakery, and coffee shops, plus two recently

overhauled elementary schools. It's a 5-minute commute from downtown

Lincoln, home to three major hospitals that provide thousands of jobs.

The Houses

American Foursquare, Neoclassical, Tudor, Colonial-Revival and Richardsonian

Romanesque, as well as Italianate homes dating from 1869 to the 1920s.

The Prices

Restored homes in Near South's Mount Emerald Historic District, Lincoln's

first National Register neighborhood, sell for $200,000 and up—but in the

nearby South Capitol Mall District, an area poised to host the next revival,

a fixer-upper can be had for as little as $100,000.

Why Buy Now?

To get in on Nebraska's Valuation Incentive Program, which

encourages high-quality renovation by freezing property taxes at a home's

prerehabbed rate for 8 to 12 years (yee-haw!).

Among the best for:

Bargains,

Fixer-Uppers,

Families with Kids,

City Slickers,

Midwest

Find homes in Lincoln

Newlands Heights, Reno, Nevada

Courtesy of Melia Harmon

The Neighborhood

A friendly, old-fashioned family neighborhood in a city where teens dependably ace the SATs, Newlands Heights is secluded, on a bluff over the Truckee River. It boasts a cache of vintage 19th- and 20th-century houses, the focus of Protect Newlands, a group working to preserve the neighborhood's architecture and small-town feel. The Heights was named for a U.S. senator, Francis Newlands, who built his Shingle/Queen Anne house, now a national historic landmark, on the bluff in 1890. While the casinos employ many in Reno, the University of Nevada, Reno is also here, along with high-profile companies like Pfizer, Pepsi, and Amazon.com.

The Houses

Styles include Colonial Revival and French Chateau, plus smaller Spanish Colonial Revival and Craftsman bungalows. Some date to the late 19th century, but most were built between the 1920s and 1940s.

The Prices

A handsome three-bedroom 1930s Tudor goes for a price in the low $400,000s. A

fixer-upper version might run around $350,000. Larger Colonial Revivals cost in

the millions.

Why Buy Now?

Reno is experiencing a general decline in housing prices, making an investment here an enticement for those who love to gamble.

Among the best for:

Luxury Houses,

City Slickers,

Families with Kids,

The Southwest

Atlantic Heights, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Photo by Richard Candee

The Neighborhood

Built circa 1918 as a self-contained village for shipbuilders and their families, Atlantic Heights sits a mile from downtown Portsmouth and overlooks the Picataqua River. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the neighborhood is known for its strong community ties, public schools with active PTAs, and gardens and parks, including Hislop, home field of the 2007 Little League world champions. The city, featured in Money and Sperling's lists of the best places to live, is served by three airports and is home to four colleges, a technical school, and a naval base. Residents commute to jobs in Boston and Portland, Maine.

The Houses

Many homes here are modeled after English cottages. Most houses are brick and sport a pitched or gambrel roof, a postage-stamp front yard, and a garden in back. Cape Cods, built in the 1950s, dot the river.

The Prices

A fixer-upper goes for $180,000, while a restored or renovated house might cost $250,000—considerably more if it is a historic property with a river view.

Why Buy Now?

Prices here are lower than elsewhere in Portsmouth, partly because the houses in Atlantic Heights are small. The city has a program to aid first-time home buyers; it provides down payment and closing assistance and low-interest loans.

Among the best for:

Families with Kids, City Slickers, Northeast

Victorian Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York

Photo by Courtesy of <a href="http://flatbushgardener.blogspot.com/" target="_blank">Chris Kreussling, Flatbush Gardner</a>

The Neighborhood

Victorian Flatbush, in one of Brooklyn's six original villages, can catch those who wander into it by surprise—even New Yorkers, many of whom have never heard of this architectural anomaly. Indeed, the 'hood's outstanding lineup of freestanding Queen Anne and English Tudor homes set along broad, tree-lined streets renders it much more Charles Dickens than "Welcome Back, Kotter." Just a subway ride away from Manhattan, Flatbush is also a short walk from 585-acre Prospect Park.

The Houses

Hundreds of Queen Annes, Tudors, and other Victorian-era homes line the streets, though house hunters looking for single-family properties may have to undo old multifamily conversions.

The Prices

Fixer-uppers are available for $600,000 to $900,000 (cheap by Big Apple standards); a restored home will run you a cool million or more.

Why Buy Now?

Brooklyn real estate, on fire since the 1990s, remains largely unscathed by the national housing crisis. A constant influx of people means the chances of declining property values are slim to none.

Among the best for:

City Slickers, Luxury Homes, Queen Annes, The Northeast

Brady Heights, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Photo by George and Jana Aveilhe

The Neighborhood

Brady Heights existed before Oklahoma was a state. The area, originally known as the Silk Stocking neighborhood, saw hard times before making a comeback in the 1980s. Now on the National Register of Historic Places and just blocks from downtown Tulsa, Brady Heights is adjacent to the Tulsa branch of Oklahoma State University and encompasses an eclectic choice of housing, populated by a diverse mix of owners and renters. Four churches and an active community group that helps older residents take care of their homes provide the social glue.

The Houses

Tate Brady, an early city booster and real estate entrepreneur as well as the neighborhood's namesake, built his mansion here in 1907. You'll also find bundles of bungalows and Foursquares built between 1900 and 1924, along with Colonial Revival, Folk Queen Anne, Folk Victorian, Craftsman, Italian Renaissance Revival, and Prairie School houses.

The Prices

An undated Foursquare might go for $160,000, while a bungalow in need of work can be had for less than $40,000. Got your eye on the Tate Brady mansion? It's for sale—for only $989,000.

Why Buy Now?

Two words: Forty grand! As George Aveilhe, a Brady Heights Neighborhood Association board member, puts it, "You can get a really nice antique house here for a very reasonable price."

Among the best for:

Bargains,

First-Time Buyers,

City Slickers,

Craftsman Houses,

The Midwest

Broadway-Armory District, Providence, Rhode Island

Photo by Sarah Vukovich; New England Preservation Collaborative, Inc.

The Neighborhood

This evolving area on the west side of the city, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has about 1,000 buildings, mainly dating to the 19th century. The neighborhood is anchored by the 1907 Cranston Street Armory and an adjacent park. Add a lively mix of long-term and first-time homeowners, stores, restaurants, bars, and even a dog park, plus proximity to Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, and you have the "hippest, coolest neighborhood in Providence," according to Kari Nel Lang, director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association.

The Houses

Houses are primarily of the Victorian era, including Queen Annes, Italianates, Second Empires, and a smattering of Greek Revivals. Some have been restored, though there are plenty in need of TLC.

The Prices

Foreclosed Victorians often sell for less than $100,000, while historic houses in good shape range from $200,000 to $1 million.

Why Buy Now?

Along with reasonable prices, there's help for home buyers. The Providence Revolving Fund offers loans to purchasers, and there's also assistance available from the city and the state, which offers tax credits for certain types of restoration work.

Among the best for:

First-Time Buyers,

City Slickers,

Art Lovers,

Queen Annes,

The Northeast

Georgetown, Texas

Photo by Wayne Ware

The Neighborhood

Georgetown once served as a staging area for cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail. These days, the town's historic center bustles with boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants, but it still looks like a scene from a John Wayne Western. Georgetown is located on the edge of the Texas Hill Country, and is home to Southwestern University, recently named one of "America's Best Value Colleges" by the Princeton Review. Plus, it's only 30 miles away from hip-and-happening Austin.

The Houses

Late-19th-century Queen Annes and Greek Revivals as well as beautiful 1930s Arts and Crafts and Stick Victorian homes are scattered throughout the area.

The Prices

Price tags on fixer-upper bungalows sometimes read as little as $90,000, though grander homes here can run in the millions.

Why Buy Now?

Old homes with Western flair are dang hard to come by, and these are close to Austin, the best little hot spot in Texas, with music, food, and culture that gets better by the minute.

Among the best:

Art Lovers, City Slickers, Luxury Homes, Craftsman Houses, The Southwest

Third Lake Ridge, Madison, Wisconsin

Photo by Gary Tipler

The Neighborhood

Third Lake Ridge, a 30-block area two miles from downtown and the University of Wisconsin, was settled in the 1850s and prospered when it became a destination for German and Norwegian immigrants after the Civil War. It is now one of two local districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wisconsin's capital city is known for its progressive politics, neighborhood activism and preservation, and stellar educational institutions: Madison's highly lauded elementary, middle, and high schools make the city a magnet for families. Besides the state government, the University of Wisconsin and the growing high-tech and biotech industries are major employers.

In the Flood Zone

Though Wisconsin lies within the region hit by the 2008 spring floods, Madison has not been greatly affected; the Third Lake Ridge community has been untouched by floodwaters.

The Houses

Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Prairie School, and Craftsman houses are all here, along with more modest bungalows. The most coveted homes span the neighborhood's mile of Lake Monona shoreline.

The Prices

The range goes from $160,000 for a rough-around-the-edges Craftsman to $1 million for a lakeside mansion designed by Prairie School architects Louis W. Claude and Edward F. Stark.

Among the best for:

Craftsman Houses, Families with Kids, City Slickers, The Midwest