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Best Old House Neighborhoods 2010: Cottages and Bungalows

Here are 22 spots with cozy homes and architecture that celebrates the simple Craftsman aesthetic

Best Old House Neighborhoods 2010: Cottages and Bungalows

For our third annual Best Places to Buy an Old House contest, what we looked for was simple: oft-overlooked neighborhoods populated by people who share an appreciation of finely crafted homes that have plenty of past and lots of future. And what we found—with the aid of our friends at PreservationDirectory.com, who helped us contact thousands of neighborhood groups, real estate agents, residents, and preservationists for nominations—was mighty impressive.

Here are 22 spots with cozy homes and architecture that celebrates the simple Craftsman aesthetic.

Anchorage, Alaska

Photo by Linda Lane

Unlike other Alaskan cities, Anchorage didn't start out as a fishing town or mining camp. Established as a port for the Alaska Railroad in 1914, transportation—both commercial (two airports) and military (two bases)—has long since dominated the economy. But it's the unique blend of urban sophistication and rustic charm that entices over 40 percent of the Alaskan population to live here. Downtown is a mix of modern skyscrapers and old wood-framed architecture. With Denali National Park just a day trip away, six mountain ranges surrounding the city, and dozens of meandering creeks stocked with salmon, Anchorage is a true outdoorsman's paradise.

The Houses

A 1964 earthquake and landslide damaged many of the city's older homes. But you can find mid-century Ranches starting around $200,000. Expect higher prices downtown, where rows of charming World War II–era saltbox-style houses line the streets and a few early-20th-century log homes still stand.

Why Buy Now?

Sure, home prices are a little high here, but there's no income or sales tax.

Kiplinger.com named Anchorage the number 1 pick for its "Top 10 Tax-Friendly Cities" last April.

Among the best for: City Life, Cottages and Bungalows, Outdoor Activities, Singles, West and Northwest

Capitol View, Little Rock, Arkansas

Photo by Courtesy of Holly Hope

Located just outside downtown Little Rock, Capitol View is a classic first-tier suburb, with small houses surrounded by mature oaks and overgrown gardens. The neighborhood started out as a blue-collar hub for machinists, furniture craftsmen, and workers on the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway. These days it's a haven for singles and families looking for fixer-uppers in a laid-back community. Many residents walk or bike on the trail that runs along the Arkansas River to get to their jobs downtown.

The Houses

Most are Craftsman bungalows, but there are a few shotguns, foursquares, and Queen Anne cottages, too. Many homes are built on hillsides overlooking the Arkansas State Capitol building, but homes in the northeast section of the neighborhood offer views of the Arkansas River. Prices are from $80,000 to $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

After two decades of neglect, abandonment, and rental units run by slumlord owners, Capitol View, and downtown Little Rock, made a comeback in the 1990s, drawing first-time homebuyers and disillusioned surburbanites. Their efforts to celebrate the neighborhood's history and architecture earned Capitol View a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

Among the best for: Cottages and Bungalows, Easy Commute, Families, Fixer-Uppers, Singles, South, Walkability, Waterfront

West Adams, Los Angeles, California

Once home to Los Angeles's wealthiest 19th-century bankers and mining execs, West Adams seems like a studio backdrop for the set of a perfect small town. It's become a shared secret among those of more modest means, who love its authentic feel in a city often chided for its artificiality. In recent years, residents have been restoring homes, showing how collectively invested they are in its future. "When you have everyone working together to preserve and maintain a neighborhood, it's a very powerful approach," says longtime resident David Raposa.

The Houses

This is L.A., so even traditional styles, such as Craftsman and Mission, are glitzed to the max with detail.

Why Buy Now?

Fixer-upper bungalows that were selling for $350,000-plus a few years ago can now be had for $250,000. Most of West Adams is in a "historic overlay zone," which protects home facades and keeps property values rising.

Among the best for: City Life, Cottages and Bungalows, Families, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, Gardening, West and Northwest

Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

Photo by Joel Bradshaw

Away from the surf and sand of downtown Honolulu, Manoa is a valley where Craftsman homes and tropical gardens line the streets instead of tourists and resorts. Some of the first taro and dairy farms were located here, and light mists and cooler temperatures keep the vegetation lush. But these days, many of the area's thousands of residents work at the University of Hawaii campus in southern Manoa and spend their free time tending their large lawns or hiking the area's mountainside trails.

The Houses

Some of Honolulu's oldest homes are located here, many of which are well maintained. Preservation of period architecture is due in part to the outreach of Malama o Manoa, a 17-year-old organization that publishes biannual newsletters and sponsors walking house tours to educate residents on architectural history. No single style dominates—Tudor Revivals and Colonial Revivals stand alongside Craftsman bungalows and cottages. It's Hawaii, so expect prices to hit the million-dollar mark. Smaller listings start at $600,000.

Why Buy Now?

If you're looking for a place with an authentic Hawaiian identity and have the means to splurge, Manoa offers a unique urban setting with a small-town feel. "We really feel like an island within an island," says resident Thalya DeMott. Manoa's geographic isolation, bordered by mountains on three sides, has helped create this communal closeness, but if you tire of the neighborhood's meandering steams, abundant foliage, and familiar faces, the city's beaches and businesses are just a short trip away.

Among the best for: City Life, College Towns, Cottages and Bungalows, Easy Commute, Gardening, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, Waterfront, West and Northwest

North Mayfair, Chicago, Illinois

The Neighborhood

Like Polish sausage and deep-dish pizza, the Craftsman bungalow is both ubiquitous and beloved in Chicago. And one of the few places you can still score one for a reasonable price is North Mayfair. Here you'll find block after uniform block of sturdy, tree-shaded brick bungalows occupied by an affable mix of old-timers, many of German and Swedish descent, and new residents. But what we like is the neighborhood's stubborn determination to maintain its historic character through the North Mayfair Improvement Association, founded in 1929. The group just succeeded in its effort to get part of the neighborhood listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is adamant about keeping out-of-scale building developments at bay.

The Houses

Brick bungalows with Craftsman-style built-ins and stained glass.

Why Buy Now?

Property-tax freezes are available for those looking to restore older homes. Prices are (temporarily) down. Though rare, we found a fixer-upper bungalow for $218,000.

Among the best for: City Life, Cottages and Bungalows, Families, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, Midwest, Singles

West Central Neighborhood, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Photo by Chris Ruckman

Whether it was the owner of an electric plant, a hardware wholesaler, or the proprietor of a railroad-car works, most of Fort Wayne's early businessmen called West Central home. From 1830 to the 1950s, they built grand houses in myriad styles, from Federal to Prairie, along the neighborhood's brick-paved streets. While the area fell into decline in the 1960s and '70s, its easy walking distance to a re-energized downtown Fort Wayne is attracting a new generation of residents. The majority of the statelier homes have been restored, but there are plenty of fixer-uppers still available—mostly sturdy little factory workers' cottages packed with as many details and fine craftsmanship as their larger neighbors.

The Houses

Here you'll find best-of-the-best examples of brick Federals, sprawling Prairies, ample American Foursquares, and Greek Revival cottages, as well as breathtaking examples of Richardsonian Romanesque houses designed by the Indiana-based architectural firm Wing and Mahurin. Homes range from a very affordable $50,000 to about $250,000.

Why Buy Now?

The tough-as-nails neighborhood association is vigilant about maintaining West Central's beauty, garnering it a place on the National Register. The association also sponsors an annual home-and-garden tour that attracts thousands. Expansive parks and newly designated bike lanes are getting residents here on a health kick. And downtown Fort Wayne—home to a new minor-league baseball stadium and the beloved Mad Anthony Brewing Company—is just steps away.

Among the best for: Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, Fixer-Uppers, Gardening, Midwest, Victorians, Walkability

The Longfellow Neighborhood, Iowa City, Iowa

Photo by Bill Whittaker

Twenty years ago, many of the houses in the neighborhood were rundown and on the brink of being converted into apartments. But with designation of the last of its three sections as a local and national historic district in 2002, the community solidified its passion for preservation and began rebuilding, renovating, and repairing anew. Today, its collection of about 900 unique homes near the University of Iowa attracts families and professionals alike. The house prices are reasonable, the schools superb, and the emphasis on local art and culture refreshing. Recently, residents started a massive public art project, putting up sculptures and historical markers throughout the neighborhood.

The Houses

From Queen Annes to Craftsman bungalows, the houses span a century of building and start in the mid-$100,000s. But the neighborhood's real gems are its smattering of tiny stone-clad, thatched-roof cottages along the east side of Ralston Creek, known for their use of salvaged material and built by local architect Howard Moffitt from 1920 to 1940.

Why Buy Now?

If the charming homes and friendly folks aren't enough to draw you to Longfellow, there are always the state tax credits (from funds allocated by the Iowa State Legislature) on historically appropriate exterior, interior, and site renovations.

Among the best for: Bargains, City Life, College Towns, Cottages and Bungalows, Families, Midwest

Historic Midtown, Wichita, Kansas

A diverse mix of college professors, young professionals, and longtime locals populate the beautiful homes sitting on spacious lots in Historic Midtown, Wichita, Kansas. The neighborhood borders the Arkansas River and downtown Wichita, with the arts district, new 15,000-seat arena, and the historic NoMar International Theater—an old vaudeville house undergoing rehabilitation—all just a short walk away. Those looking for good eats to top off a night of entertainment will enjoy the almost completed 21st Street International Market, an open-space destination for ethnic cuisine and products.

The Houses

There are plenty of bargain homes here, from fixer-upper Craftsman bungalows to Folk Victorians that need just a little bit of TLC. Midtown tends to be a little less pricey than nearby Riverside or College Hill, with homes ranging from $50,000 to $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

As a neighborhood, Historic Midtown has struck the perfect balance between honoring the past and looking to the future. The prices are right, the people exceptionally friendly, and with Wichita State nearby, there's always something to see or do.

Among the best for: Bargains, Gardening, History Happened Here, Fixer-Uppers, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, Small Town, South

The Garden District, Monroe, Louisiana

Photo by Courtesy of Pamela J. Levatino

The Garden District in Monroe, Louisiana, is celebrated for its tree-lined streets and overflowing flora. But Monroe's version is decidedly more laid back—and affordable. The area borders the Ouachita River on its northern and western sides, and Forsythe Park, which offers tennis and volleyball courts, a nine-hole golf course, and a public boat launch. It's the kind of neighborhood where the kids all walk to school and young families host rotating dinner parties.

The Houses

The earliest homes were built between the late 1800s and early 1900s, though construction continued up until the 1950s. Styles include Tudor, Spanish Mission, and Craftsman, as well as several large Dutch Colonial Revivals. Home prices range from around $80,000 to $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

Southern charm, safe streets, friendly neighbors, and good schools are drawing long-term suburbanites back to the more urban Garden District. Home prices have remained steady throughout the recession, and there are plenty of fixer-uppers available at bargain prices.

Among the best for: Bargains, City Life, Cottages and Bungalows, Families, Fixer-Uppers, Gardening, Outdoor Activities, South, Walkability, Waterfront

Forest Park Heights Historic District, Springfield, Massachusetts

Photo by Courtesy of ChooseSpringfieldMass.com

Bordering a 735-acre city park, the Forest Park Heights Historic District is home to nearly 600 of western Massachusetts' finest houses. The neighborhood was developed in the 1890s, when an electric trolley system connected downtown Springfield to the park. In the next 30 years, the area became the exclusive province of the city's most important businessmen, bankers, and civic leaders.

The Houses

The neighborhood boasts a mix of Colonial and Tudor Revivals, Queen Anne, Craftsman, and Shingle Style homes, dating from the early 1900s. Homes here are shockingly affordable. For example, a 3,600-square-foot Colonial recently sold in Forest Park for just $200,000. Check out Choose Springfield, Massachusetts, a website touting Springfield's amazing homes and neighborhoods.

Why Buy Now?

Affordability is the draw. As the economic tides have shifted and turned over the years, Forest Park Heights has remained a relatively stable middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood. Many who live here have come from pricier markets, including Northampton and Boston, seeking less costly old homes.

Among the best for: Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, Easy Commute, Northeast, Victorians

The Villages, Detroit, Michigan

Yeah, times are tough in Detroit. Still, we can't overlook its bargain-hunter's bounty of architectural riches—just one reason we're betting on the city's survival. Although the Motor City's economy is in tatters, the people who live in The Villages, a collection of six historic neighborhoods three miles east of downtown, remain upbeat. "There's a richness in this neighborhood," says resident Kathy Beltaire. "The houses are beautiful and the streets are walkable, but the people here are the best part—they really care." These days, nice-as-can-be multigenerational families who have lived here for decades continue to welcome first-time buyers who appreciate intricate woodwork, front porches, and spacious urban yards. If you can nail down a job in this city's tough economy, your money goes a long way here.

The Houses

The Villages offers more than 17 architectural styles, from Craftsman to Richardsonian Romanesque. The largest, most elaborate homes are in Indian Village, where prominent Detroit architects Albert Kahn and William Stratton designed grand Georgian Revival and Federal Revival homes for the city's first auto barons in the early 1900s. Smaller cottages and rowhouses can be found in nearby West Village. Whatever your tastes, there are houses to be had in The Villages for less than $100,000.

Why Buy Now?

Not only will you get more house for your buck, you may just help fuel a Motor City comeback. That comeback already has a strong human foundation, thanks in part to the commitment of The Villages residents, who continue to mow the lawns and maintain the shrubs of the neighborhood's empty and foreclosed homes, anticipating they'll one day attract future neighbors.

Among the best for: Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, Easy Commute, Families, First-Time Buyers, Midwest, Gardening, Singles, Victorians, Walkability

Old Lee's Summit, Lee's Summit, Missouri

Photo by Courtesy of Downtown Lee's Summit Main Street, Inc.

Less than 20 miles southeast of Kansas City, Missouri, and surrounded by three lakes, the once agricultural city of Lee's Summit has turned into the quintessential suburb, with excellent schools and a family-friendly atmosphere. Parades, festivals, concerts, and other fun events are scheduled throughout the year. The town grew up around the railroad, which still runs through the recently revitalized downtown. Some of the finest homes were built by the city's first railroad barons and can be found in Old Lee's Summit.

The Houses

Homes range from $100,000 to $300,000. There's something for everyone here, from 1880s farmhouses to early-1900s Queen Annes, Colonial Revivals, and Craftsman bungalows.

Why Buy Now?

Old Lee's Summit is just outside downtown, where you can find a bustling commercial scene—BBQ joints, ice cream shops, hardware and interior design stores, and more. The public schools are known as some of the best in the state, so if you want to get your family into an affordable home in a neighborhood worthy of a long-term investment, this is the place for you.

Among the best for: Cottages and Bungalows, Easy Commute, Families, Fixer-Uppers, Midwest, Small Town, Victorians, Walkability, Waterfront

Uptown, Butte, Montana

Photo by Courtesy of Mainstreet Uptown Butte

Back in its copper mining heyday, Butte's population peaked at 100,000, with pioneers migrating by the droves, hoping to lay claim to the region's abundant material riches. Rimmed by the Rocky Mountains and nestled on the Continental Divide—within a 2-hour's drive of Yellowstone National Park—the Butte of today is smaller and geared more toward a festival-and-tourism-based economy. But it retains the ethnic diversity of its original settlers and their architectural tastes; you'll find hundreds of historic homes in a range of sizes and styles.

The Houses

The local architecture catalogs two building booms that took place in the 1880s and 1910s to accommodate the influx of miners. Tiny cottages and simple shotguns mingle with grand Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and Italianate mansions. The average price of homes here is $116,000, though fixer-uppers can be found for substantially less.

Why Buy Now?

If you're looking to buy and renovate an old home, you won't be tackling it alone. The Butte Citizens for Preservation and Renovation, a nonprofit, grass-roots organization, runs workshops on brick, window, and interior-wood repair and holds regular salvage sales, where historic building materials can be purchased at reasonable prices.

Among the best for: Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, Fixer-Uppers, History Happened Here, Midwest, Outdoor Activities, Victorians

Central Hastings Historic District, Hastings, Nebraska

Photo by Elizabeth Spilinek

The first wave of residential construction in Hastings took place in 1878, when a handful of houses were built on lots carved out of a 160-acre homestead owned by Civil War veteran and local postmaster Samuel Alexander. Today the most charming fixer-uppers are still found here, just north of downtown. They're well within walking distance of dining and shopping on Burlington Avenue, where an eclectic blend of mom-and-pop shops outnumbers big-box businesses.

The Houses

Ornate Victorian-era houses—Italianates, Sticks, and Queen Annes—paid for with railroad wealth stand beside more modest Prairie-style and Craftsman houses built rebellion of earlier excess. When the now-defunct Naval Ammunition Depot was constructed in 1942, a number of English-style cottages were squeezed into whatever space could be found to accommodate the growing workforce. Fixer-upper foursquares sell for $110,000, while a fully restored Queen Anne costs around $300,000.

Why Buy Now?

Under Nebraska's Valuation Incentive Program, owners of qualifying historic homes who perform substantial renovations (25 percent of last assessed value) are eligible to have their property taxes frozen for eight years at the pre-restoration value. In addition, their property taxes will only rise 25 percent each year for the next four years until they reach the post-restoration value. Take advantage of this perk to convert large Victorian-era and Craftsman houses—divided into apartments during the housing shortage of the 1940s—back to single-family homes.

Among the best for: City Life, Cottages and Bungalows, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, Midwest, Victorians, Walkability

Salisbury, North Carolina

Photo by Courtesy of Historic Salisbury Foundation

We've featured the small Piedmont-region city of Salisbury several times in our Save This Old House column. And with good reason. This place is packed with great old houses, many of them in need of a little TLC—and some dating all the way back to the late 1700s. Salisbury is home to 10—count 'em: 10—National Register Historic Districts, all with available properties.

The Houses

You can still track down an old brick Federal home. But you're more likely to find Craftsmans, Greek Revivals, and Queen Annes. Prices start at around $65,000 for a fixer-upper, but even many beautifully restored homes go for less than $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

Salisbury is home to the Historic Salisbury Foundation, one of the most active and successful historic-preservation groups in the country. Since the 1970s, they've helped save 90 structures from demolition and are deeply involved in revitalizing Salisbury historic neighborhoods by buying endangered houses and selling them to preservation-minded owners.

Among the best for: Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, South, Victorians

Cranston, Rhode Island

Photo by Josh Wood

Sure, Cranston is considered a satellite city of Providence because of its size and proximity. But the former textile and shipping center, which lies just south of the capital, has a solid housing stock and its own burgeoning foodie scene fueled by locally grown produce and ethnic restaurants. On weekends, residents flock to the area's shops and markets. Aside from cooking and commerce, leisure lovers take advantage of their proximity to water; it's Cranston where the Pawtuxet River opens into Narragansett Bay, making the marina a fishing and boating paradise during the summer months.

The Houses

While western Cranston is rife with new housing development, the eastern part of the city is a charming mix of older Capes and Colonial Revivals, some of which feature Shingle Style facades. It's not uncommon to stumble upon an entire block of Craftsman bungalows or earlier Victorian-era homes either. The variety of the houses, their reasonable price tags—many less than $200,000—and the 15-minute commute to Providence appeal to young professionals and new families alike.

Why Buy Now?

Retirees are moving into smaller homes, leaving behind their well-maintained properties.

Among the best for: Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, Easy Commute, Families, Northeast, Singles, Waterfront

Northwest Quadrant, Beaufort, South Carolina

Photo by Courtesy of Evan R. Thompson

If you want to get in on the ground floor of a major downtown neighborhood revitalization, hit up Northwest Quadrant. Once a thriving black middle-class neighborhood, the area—now half white, half African-American—fell on some hard times in the 1970s. But the city and its preservation-minded mayor are determined to breathe new life into it by working with residents to edge sidewalks, clear vacant lots, and push people to buy, restore, and love a house here.

The Houses

They are modest one- and two-story shotgun-style homes, or "hall-and-parlor cottages," as they call them here. Most are close to the street and were built with timber frames, wood siding, and tin roofs. Prices start at $100,000 and top out at $150,000.

Why Buy Now?

This is a great opportunity to live in one of the prettiest waterfront cities in the South. Beaufort is working with the Historic Beaufort Foundation to come up with a master plan for revitalizing the area that will include restoration guidelines and financial incentives. The Quadrant's downtown location means it's within walking distance of restaurants and shops. "These houses are the future of Beaufort," says Evan R. Thompson, the foundation's executive director.

Among the best for: Bargains, City Life, Cottages and Bungalows, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, Gardening, History Happened Here, South, Walkability, Waterfront

Pierre, South Dakota

Photo by Courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

Tree-lined streets, sprawling yards, and quaint stone retaining walls are just a few of the hallmarks of Pierre Hill, a historic residential neighborhood overlooking the Missouri River just north of downtown. The area's early affluent settlers, disgruntled with saloon culture and the fear of flooding, decided to separate themselves from the plateau-situated city and head to the hillside to construct their dream homes. The result: a collection of vintage houses with vernacular touches, such as the prevalence of enclosed porches and foyers, no matter the architectural style, to keep South Dakota's winter chill at bay.

The Houses

Pierre wasn't settled until the 1880s, so most of the homes here date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are tons of foursquares, Prairie-style houses, and Craftsman bungalows, with some high-style Queen Annes mixed in. Prices start around $130,000.

Why Buy Now?

As the state's capital, Pierre's the place to snag a South Dakota government job. There's a push, too, to draw more industry and commerce; a software company just relocated here. If you love the water, there'll always be something to do; boating is big during the summer, while ice fishing and hunting keep outdoorsy types busy all winter long.

Among the best for: City Life, Cottages and Bungalows, Midwest, Outdoor Activities, Waterfront

The Cornstalk District, Harriman, Tennessee

Photo by Courtesy of Knox Heritage

About 4,000 people moved to the small East Tennessee town of Harriman between 1890 and 1892. They came to purchase lots in a new town that was founded by New Yorker Frederick Gates on the principals of industry—and abstention from alcohol. Gates built an elegant house set high on a ridge overlooking the Emory River and named it Cornstalk Heights. While the house is gone, the neighborhood surrounding it remains the site of the best, most beautiful homes in town. And don't worry. A liquor store finally opened here in 1992.

The Houses

Houses range in style from Folk Victorians built during Gates's day to Craftsman and Cotswold cottages and Colonial Revivals built in the early to mid 1900s. Many homes are extremely affordable, ranging in price from $75,000 to just under $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

While many American small towns are simply caricatures of their former selves—tourist destinations with souvenir stores and fudge "shoppes" where the hardware store used to be—Harriman is the real deal: 100 percent authentic small-town America. "It's still a little gritty," says Ethiel Garlington, Director of Preservation Field Services for the nonprofit preservation group Knox Heritage. He means that as a compliment. So if you're looking for an affordable, functioning small town that's just 45 minutes from a good-sized city (Knoxville), Harriman's the place to be.

Among the best for: Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, Small Town, South, Victorians, Waterfront

Junius Heights, Dallas, Texas

Photo by Courtesy of Bill Williams

Like most of Texas, the city of Dallas is obsessed with all things big. But the people of the Junius Heights neighborhood beg to differ. "This is a small-town, front-porch community," says Bill Williams, who purchased a Craftsman here in 2003. Junius Heights is home to some of the city's most interesting residents, including artists, reporters for The Dallas Morning News, and about half the lawyers in town. And it's turning into a haven for families looking to eschew traditional suburban living. That's thanks in part to Woodrow Wilson High School, "one of the best examples of an inner-city high school in the country," according to one resident (and Newsweek magazine). The school provides a top-notch education, as well as entertainment for Junius Heights residents through its excellent theater and athletic programs.

The Houses

Textbook examples of Prairie and Craftsman houses are the mainstay. A handsome 1,600-square-foot Craftsman can cost $149,000, but fixer-uppers go for as little as $80,000. Fully restored houses top out just above $500,000.

Why Buy Now?

Proximity to downtown Dallas, great schools, and recent recognition as a National Register Historic District are driving up Junius Heights' property values and helping the neighborhood maintain its historic character.

Among the best for: City Life, Cottages and Bungalows, Easy Commute, Families, Fixer-Uppers, Southwest

Old Historic Sandy, Sandy City, Utah

Photo by Michael Wilcox

Located in the southeastern corner of Salt Lake County, Sandy City is the kind of place where your neighbors will bring over vegetables picked from their garden and spend the rest of the night shooting the breeze on your front porch. The town's first settlers were actually pioneer farmers. But by the 20th century, mining brought a boom to town, employing hundreds of men at three smelters and two sampling mills. Today, the city is home to around 93,000—many of whom make the 15-mile commute to Salt Lake City for work but enjoy Sandy's good schools, close proximity to major ski slopes, extensive network of hiking trails, and 26 recreational parks.

The Houses

Small starter cottages and fixer-uppers in Old Historic Sandy start in the low $100,000s. A cozy, 2-bedroom bungalow with a well-kept fenced-in backyard was just listed for $168,000. Elsewhere in Sandy, homes range from the $200,000s to the millions.

Why Buy Now?

Since 1960, Sandy's population has grown steadily while continuing to remain one of America's safest cities for its size. It's a good time to buy in the area; a September 2009 report from the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo showed a rise in housing affordability of almost 20 percent from 2008 for the Salt Lake City metropolitan area.

Among the best for: Cottages and Bungalows, Easy Commute, Families, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, Outdoor Activities, West and Northwest

The McKinley Hill Neighborhood, Tacoma, Washington

Photo by Courtesy of Kali Kucera

McKinley Hill, located on the highest point of Tacoma, started out as home to clerks and managers from the Northern Pacific Railroad, which terminated just down the hill at what's now one of the Pacific Northwest's largest transportation hubs. In 1905, the construction of a streetcar line here spurred the building of some of the city's finest homes, built with fine details by master craftsmen working in the city's bustling furniture and shipbuilding industries. The neighborhood went into urban decline in the 1960s and '70s. But it's now gaining favor among young families and singles looking for an older city neighborhood—its modest Main Street has pubs, restaurants, and boutique shops—that still has a little grit and character.

The Houses

Most homes here were built between 1885 and 1929. Styles include well-appointed Craftsmans, Cape Cods, American Foursquares, Folk Victorians, and Tudor Revivals. Prices range from $150,000 to $290,000.

Why Buy Now?

McKinley offers some of the lowest home prices in the Puget Sound region. And its proximity to trains and a light rail system that will soon reach nearby Seattle and the airport is making it an attractive option for commuters. A new preservation nonprofit called Historic Tacoma, formed three years ago, is currently focused on McKinley Hill. Their recent efforts have included restoring the neighborhood's historic 34th Street Bridge, which connects McKinley to downtown Tacoma.

Among the best for: Bargains, City Life, Easy Commute, Families, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, Gardening, Singles, Walkability, Waterfront