Best Old House Neighborhoods 2011: Easy Commute
For the fourth year in a row, we’ve tracked down North America’s most timeless neighborhoods—places where lovingly crafted old houses have extraordinary pasts and unarguably promising futures. With help from our friends at Portland, Oregon-based PreservationDirectory.com—who distributed our nomination forms to more than 14,000 historical societies, neighborhood groups, and preservation nonprofits—we’ve assembled our biggest-ever list of off-the-beaten-path places that are worth eyeing for a great old home.
Put grid-lock traffic in your rearview window and snag an old house in one of these thirty-plus neighborhoods located just a short bike, train, or car ride away from the workplace.
Park Hill, North Little Rock, Arkansas
Small-town values get big-city perspective in North Little Rock’s historic Park Hill neighborhood. Located just across the Arkansas River from the state capital, this cozy bedroom community is characterized by shady, sidewalk-lined streets that allow pet lovers, exercise enthusiasts, and pedestrians to enjoy getting around the old-fashioned way. The community of about 2,000 people attracts many young families who are looking for a close-knit neighborhood just a short car or bus ride from the bustle of Little Rock. Sandra Taylor Smith, who grew up in Park Hill, says “It’s still one of my favorite neighborhoods in Arkansas. It’s convenient, serene, and picturesque.” It’s also a stone’s throw from the Old Mill, the picturesque structure from Gone With the Wind’s opening scene. Small town charm, a touch of Hollywood, and a 7-minute commute? We’ll take it.
Park Hill gets its architectural flair from two distinct periods: The 1920s yielded an array of Revival styles and Craftsman bungalows, while the post-WWII era brought simpler construction, in the form of Minimal Traditional houses. Nestled in with trees at least a half-century old, the neighborhood’s typical one-story homes often go for $100,000 to $200,000, fully renovated. Larger houses, up to 3,000 square feet, top the market at around $350,000.
Why Buy Here?
It’s affordable. Park Hill’s current market boasts several charming houses comfortably priced right around the hundred-grand mark, unheard of in most towns that are commutable to significant cities. Many of them are well-maintained, character-rich abodes. “You get what you pay for—and more,” says Cary Tyson, director of Main Street Arkansas, a program of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. How’s that for a breath of fresh Arkansas air?
Among the best for: The South, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, City Living, First-Time Buyers, Gardening, Outdoor Activities
The West End, Alameda, California
Just off Oakland’s shores, Alameda is a 23-square-mile island in San Francisco Bay. Long heralded for the stunning Queen Annes and California bungalows on its eastern edge, the area’s West End is now getting the attention. The former home of a massive Naval Air Station, the west side’s fortunes changed in 1997, when the U.S. Navy packed its bags, leaving behind enormous hangers. Before long, a new generation of enterprising Californians started to arrive, converting the cavernous spaces into film studios, fitness centers, wineries—even an absinthe distillery. Over the past decade, as retired military families have gradually sold their Arts and Crafts bungalows and Victorian-era cottages, the West End has adopted a new identity. “It’s funky, it’s edgy, and it’s family friendly,” says Kathy Ledner Moehring, a transplanted New Yorker who bought a 1912 Craftsman bungalow here eight years ago. Kathy, executive director of the West Alameda Business Association, notes that good schools and a low crime rate, plus dozens of restaurants and businesses, new and old, make Alameda a perfect family place.
Modest Arts and Crafts bungalows and Victorian cottages generally needing some work are coming on the market at reasonable prices. A 1,377-square-foot bungalow built in 1915 was recently listed at $299,000.
Why Buy Here?
Housing values are expected to rise as redevelopment continues in the area surrounding the former base. An underwater tunnel gets you to Oakland in two minutes, and it’s a 20-minute ferry ride to San Francisco.
Among the best for: The West & Northwest, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, Small Towns, Easy Commute, Walkability
Ghost Historic District, Denver, Colorado
The Ghost Historic District pairs urban energy with small-town charm. It’s the newest area here to be recognized for its notable past—in 2010, it became Denver’s 50th historic neighborhood—but history isn’t what makes residents, a mix of young couples, families, and old-timers, feel at home. The shops, restaurants, and galleries lining 32nd Avenue, a main drag bordering the neighborhood to the north, make the area a pedestrian destination. Lower Downtown, known as LoDo, is a short bike or bus ride away, so those who work in the city’s business and cultural center have an easy commute. Nearby foothills offer convenient access to hiking and biking trails. A communal spirit pervades this area of some 200 homes in northwest Denver. Resident Marilyn Quinn found that out when her neighbors held a potluck party during a blizzard shortly after she moved in. “There are darn good cooks here,” she says.
Most houses were built between the 1880s and 1920s. Old-house enthusiasts will find a variety of architectural styles, including Queen Anne, Dutch Colonial Revival, Tudor, Craftsman bungalows, Norman Cottages, and Foursquares. While prices average around $325,000, a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom, 1901 Victorian sold recently for $245,000.
Why Buy Here?
The Ghost Historic District has seen revitalization for more than a decade but buys remain. As part of Denver’s only ZIP code that hasn’t seen a market dip since 2007, this is the rare slice of city where a buyer can find a deal without fear of the bottom dropping out.
Among the best for: The Southwest, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Waterfront, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Easy Commute
Tariffville Village, Simsbury, Connecticut
In Tariffville, locals are known to hold old-fashioned community cookouts or head to the Farmington River for tubing, kayaking, or rafting. But despite its many pleasures, few people outside Connecticut have ever heard of it. “This place has sort of been forgotten over the years,” says Chet Matczak, president of the Tariffville Village Association. “That’s one of the things that make it such a nice place to live.” The neighborhood of just 320 families is a pocket of Simsbury, about 11 miles northwest of Hartford. Thanks to its small-town New England charms, top-notch schools, and die-hard dedication to historic preservation. Simbsury was included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s exclusive “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” list in 2010. And Money magazine recently named it one of the Best Places to Live in America. We thought we’d add to the list by naming Tariffville one of the best neighborhoods to buy an old house, too.
Greek Revivals and Gothic Revivals in Tariffville date back to the 19th century, while the late 1800s and early 1900s produced a whimsical array of Folk Victorians. Prices range from $180,000 for four-bedroom homes in disrepair (but with plenty of motivating character) to about $400,000 for large houses in beautiful condition.
Why Buy Here?
Tariffville is one of the few places where you can find a five-bedroom home for under $200,000. It’s an affordable hamlet for old-home lovers who want bang for their buck and for families buying for the first time and looking for access to quality education.
Among the best for: The Northeast, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Waterfront, Family Friendly, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Small Towns, Outdoor Activities, Easy Commute
Whittier Mill Village, Atlanta, Georgia
Jan Stephens and her husband were struggling to find a desirable, and affordable, neighborhood near downtown Atlanta—until they discovered Whittier Mill Village. “We had no idea this place existed,” Jan says. “A lot of people in Atlanta have never heard of it.” Hidden on the city’s largely industrial northwest side, along the Chattahoochee River, the residential area was established in the late 1800s for employees of the Whittier Cotton Mills. It started with 30 wood-frame cottages, and many more went up during a 1920s expansion. After the mill shut down, in 1971, the houses remained occupied but the settlement was more or less forgotten by Atlantans. Then, in 1994, the Trust for Public Land purchased the factory property and turned it into a 22-acre park, considerably raising the area’s cachet.
There are 107 original wood-frame cottages still standing, and newer houses built to resemble the old ones have increased the stock. Built in the Queen Anne and Georgian styles, the houses feature pitched roofs, pine millwork, and wide front porches, and are set on quiet wooded lots. Prices range from the mid-$100,000s to more than $400,000.
Why Buy Here?
A new generation is discovering Whittier Mill Village, drawn by the close community and a 15-minute back-road commute to downtown. This side of Atlanta is seeing a market upswing as industrial buildings are redeveloped into lofts, attracting young professionals and new businesses.
Among the best for: , Bargains, Cottages & Bungalows, Victorians, City Living, Family Friendly, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Easy Commute, Outdoor Activities, Gardening
Lower Nu’uanu, Honolulu, Hawaii
Perched above downtown Honolulu and directly below the rain forest, Lower Nu’uanu is a verdant old neighborhood in Oahu’s Nu’uanu Valley, where banyan trees stretch their limbs over the rooftops of carefully crafted houses, and residents enjoy Pacific breezes while taking front-porch catnaps. While people have lived in this area for centuries, most of Lower Nu’uanu’s development came with Hawaii’s annexation by the United States, in 1898. Soon after, hundreds of houses were built here for turn-of-the-century bankers and businessmen, who came from the mainland and Europe to seek their fortunes. Nowadays Lower Nu’uanu is drawing families, since it has one of the best public elementary schools on the island.
Pre- and post-annexation Hawaii was heavily influenced by the California aesthetic—San Francisco was the closest mainland port—and many houses mimic California-style bungalows. Most are one or two stories and have single-wall construction. “Which is fine around here,” says Realtor Bryn Kaufman. “We have such a temperate climate that houses rarely require heating or air-conditioning.” The prices? Well, living in paradise will cost you at least $500,000 if you want a single-family home.
Why Buy Here?
Houses in Lower Nu’uanu are becoming more and more desirable, especially for former condo or apartment dwellers looking for a backyard for their kids to play in, or to plant a tropical garden. While downtown is just a 10-minute drive away, the valley feels far removed from the bustle of this 24/7 city of 375,000 and the millions of tourists who come here each year. Annual temperatures barely budge in these parts: Average highs are 80 to 89 degrees F, with lows of 60 to 75.
Among the best for: The West & Northwest, Waterfront, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, Gardening, Outdoor Activities, Easy Commute
“People used to snicker whenever you mentioned Berwyn,” says photographer Matt Schademann, who purchased a brick bungalow here three years ago. Indeed, many Chicagoland residents only knew of the area because of a sci-fi-movie TV showcase on which the host relentlessly chastised working-class Berwyn. But this city of 53,000, just seven miles west of Chicago proper, is shaking its butt-of-joke status thanks to affordable housing stock, a slew of recently opened restaurants, shops, and watering holes, and an enviable proximity to the Loop. The Chicago Tribune even called Berwyn “the center of the middle-income buyer’s market.” Long ago a stronghold for Czech and Italian transplants, Berwyn is now a choice for families and young suits, as well as artists and writers, looking for a laid-back, livable, more economical alternative to the big city on the lake.
Brick bungalows and English Tudors along with wood-sided Queen Annes are the primary home styles here. Thanks to a long history of single-family ownership, most houses retain their original layouts, many with oak millwork, subway-tiled kitchens, and stained-glass windows. The average bungalow price is around
Why Buy Here?
The Berwyn-to-downtown commute is 15 minutes by car, though Chicago’s closest elevated-train stop is a bus ride away. The tony Oak Park suburb, made famous as the base of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School of Architecture, is nearby, helping to keep housing values stable.
Among the best for: Among the best for: The Midwest, Cottages & Bungalows, Singles, Easy Commute, Victorians
In summer months, when trees are in bloom and DePauw University is on a more relaxed schedule, a walk along Greencastle’s streets will evoke a time when homeowners cut their grass with push mowers and television had yet to supplant front-porch views. Sure, the city of 10,000 gleans plenty of 21st-century energy from the annual invasion of students, as well as the young families who choose it for its quick commute to downtown Indianapolis, just 45 miles away. But Greencastle offers old-fashioned advantages: a historically designated town center, an industrious American work ethic (a handful of plants here support the auto industry), a focus on community, and three soon-to-be National Register historic districts, collectively comprising hundreds of affordable homes.
The Historic Old Greencastle District, the city’s original residential settlement, is the most modest, with a prevalence of Stick-style and Craftsman bungalow homes. The Eastern Enlargement District, largely developed by railroad and industry tycoons at the turn of the 20th century, offers more upscale finds: Italianates, Queen Annes, Tudor Gothic Revivals, and slightly smaller homes with Eastlake details. The later Northwood District has a cache of early-to-mid-1900s homes, mostly Colonial Revivals, Tudors, and bungalows, with a sprinkling of mid-20th-century Minimal Traditional and Ranch. The average price among the homes sold in 2010 was a smidgen under $100,000.
Why Buy Here?
A period home for less than a hundred thousand greenbacks with an easy commute to the 14th-largest city in the nation. ‘Nuff said.
Among the best for: The Midwest, Bargains, College Towns, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Easy Commute
Deering Center, Portland, Maine
Deering Center’s claim to fame: It’s said to be the one place in the U.S. where a child can go to kindergarten on up through college all on the same street. Along with Longfellow Elementary School and Deering High School, the neighborhood’s Stevens Avenue is also home to the University of New England. An early trolley-car suburb, Deering Center was annexed by Portland in 1899. It was ideal for child-rearing, with set-back houses, sidewalks, and an enormous wooded park with hiking trails as a haven from the city. For some years, residents have been fixing up homes by famed Portland architect John Calvin Stevens and peeling mid-century siding from the facades of their historic houses. “We have it all,” says Naomi Mermin, president of the Deering Center Neighborhood Association, citing a diverse population of several thousand, an old-fashioned butcher, and cross-country ski trails at the park as proof.
The streets here display a “higglety-pigglety mix” of home styles, according to Merman, including Italianates, Queen Annes, Colonial Revivals, Foursquares, Craftsman bungalows, Sears kit houses, and a farmhouse-influenced style that locals refer to as the “New Englander,” the majority built in the 20th century’s first half. Prices start in the mid-$200,000s and top out at $500,000.
Why Buy Here?
Want a nearly turnkey nest, rather than a roll-up-your-sleeves project? “This is not a neighborhood where you’ll find houses in bad shape,” Merman says. “Houses in fairly original condition, needing updates but otherwise in good shape, are easy to find.” And many older homes here are multifamily dwellings including rental units; these large houses not only offer income potential, but prove remarkably energy-efficient during Maine’s long, cold winters.
Among the best for: The Northeast, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, City Living, First-Time Buyers, Easy Commute, Walkability
Some 30 miles northeast of Boston is the beachfront town of Ipswich, known to have inspired Theodore Wendel and other American Impressionist painters with its rolling hills, salt marshes, open farmlands, and classic maritime scenery. Ipswich is now home to almost 14,000 residents, including retirees, families, and everyone from working-class fishermen to well-known writers and artists. Environmentally focused preservation societies take great care to protect the town’s natural resources, while locals and visitors enjoy horseback riding on country trails, canoeing and kayaking on the Ipswich River, cavorting on Crane Beach’s white sands, and, of course, feasting on the famous Ipswich clams. Jean Moss, who conducts historic-home tours here, says, “I’ve never lived in a place where people loved their town so much.”
Of the 180 historic houses here, 58 were built before 1725, making Ipswich the home of more First Period houses than any other U.S. community. Typically family owned and rarely found on the market, these early structures are mainly Postmedieval English timberframe dwellings featuring saltbox rearward extensions. Queen Anne and Italianate homes built around the turn of the 19th century are also here, and tend to go for around $600,000. On the lower end, a 3-bedroom 1928 Colonial Revival in need of gut renovation—and a hike from the town center—is listed for $169,900.
Why Buy Here?
You can live near the beach as a one-car family! Ipswich is one of only a few Boston-area seaside towns with its own train station, walkable from the town center.
Among the best for: The Northeast, Waterfront, Retirees, Family Friendly, Small Towns, Outdoor Activities, History Happened Here, Easy Commute, Walkability
Heritage Hill, Grand Rapids, Michigan
This neighborhood is a mecca for people who love historic American architecture. Not only are the homes storied, the fact that they stand is significant to preservation societies across the U.S. Urban-renewal plans for Grand Rapids during the 1960s had doomed this treasure trove of old houses, but the community fought to protect them. In winning the landmark case, members of the Heritage Hill Association set a precedent: Federal planning agencies are now required to consider their projects’ effects on historic properties.
Surrounded by five urban colleges (including Grand Valley State and Kendall College of Art and Design), Heritage Hill is a cultural center, flourishing with artists, philanthropists, and restaurants. Manicured gardens are celebrated here, especially in May, when a public tour offers owners a chance to show off their homes and horticultural skills. Heritage Hill is diverse, with college students, singles, couples, and families from all backgrounds.
The 1,300 homes here include some dating back to as early as 1844, and a remarkable array of styles is represented. You’ll see everything from Italianate and Chateauesque houses to later Tudor Revivals; there’s also a wealth of Greek and Colonial Revivals, Queen Annes, and even a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie-style home. TLC-craving mansions may sell for around $200,000, but if you seek something more turnkey, you could find a loved three-bedroom 1886 Folk Victorian with Eastlake details for around $170,000.
Why Buy Here?
Though short sales and foreclosures haven’t hit Grand Rapids (long the center of the office-furniture industry) as they have Detroit and other automotive cities, the down market hasn’t overlooked Heritage Hill. Today, you can grab the former castle of a lumber baron or wealthy judge—and walk from home to work in the city’s center—for what amounts to pocket change in other places.
Among the best for: The Midwest, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, College Towns, Retirees, Singles, City Living, Victorians, Gardening, Easy Commute, Walkability
Prospect Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota
House hunters and residents alike delight in Prospect Park’s mazelike streets, which are lined with trees planted nearly a century ago and homeowners’ pristine gardens. “In Minnesota, we’re serious about our gardens, and in Prospect Park you can ratchet that up quite a bit,” says Joe Ring, longtime resident and historic preservation committee chair for the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association. Sandwiched between the University of Minnesota campus and the border of twin (and rival) city St. Paul, this neighborhood has loads of character—and characters. “People here have an exceedingly unique mentality,” Ring says of a community that celebrates its political and economic diversity. “If you want a debate,” he adds, “come here.”
Of the nearly 800 dwellings, 92 percent are considered contributors to Prospect Park’s historic integrity. Nineteenth-century Stick Victorians sit next to mid-20th-century bungalows, and most feature original architectural elements. “Residents here have been good stewards,” Ring says. It’s common to find a fully restored 2,000-square-foot home built around the turn of the 20th century for less than $400,000. Bargain hunters may find deals as low as $150,000 for a 1,200- to 1,500-square-foot house in need of updates.
Why Buy Here?
Bargain homes come on the market regularly in Prospect Park, as the neighborhood’s generations cycle, but you’ll rarely find one in disrepair. Loads of century-old neighborhood pride mean you can buy a house that’s been maintained since the day it was built.
Among the best for: The Midwest, College Towns, Retirees, Victorians, Gardening, Easy Commute
Compton Heights, St. Louis, Missouri
In this storied southside St. Louis neighborhood, children cavort on shady lawns bordering massive brick and stone houses, any of which could legitimately be referred to as “our manse.” The streets are named after men of letters, such as Hawthorne and Longfellow. The literary theme makes sense. Compton Heights was developed in the 1880s, and to this day feels torn from the pages of a Victorian novel. The neighborhood has other charms, too. “The homes here are unbelievable!” says Gregory Zavaglia, who with his wife, Cayce, scored a 5,800-square-foot 1911 Beaux Arts house several years ago. The home features stained-glass windows, hand-painted murals, vaulted ceilings, and a red mahogany staircase. A nearby fixer-upper version of the Zavaglias’ house recently sold for less than $200,000.
They were built by the city’s most affluent beer barons and businessmen, who sought out the finest architects and took opulent styles—such as Beaux Arts and Richardsonian Romanesque—to more flamboyant heights. Prices start at around $190,000 for a large house in need of a gut renovation. While many single-family homes have been restored, others, owned by longtime residents, hit the market as excellent shining-up opportunities.
Why Buy Here?
Unlike many urban neighborhoods, Compton Heights has never experienced a period of significant decline. The entire section is listed as a local historic district. A 60-year-old homeowners association keeps things tightly knit, and the nabe is a block from Reservoir Park, a 36-acre green space.
Among the best for: Midwest, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, City Living, Family Friendly, Easy Commute, Walkability
Field Club Historic District, Omaha, Nebraska
This old neighborhood southwest of downtown got its name from the Field Club of Omaha, a smashing-good-time country club that opened here in 1898. Many residents of this shade-tree-studded area are longtime members, and walk over to swim laps or hit some golf balls. Those who forego the annual dues find plenty of free recreational opportunities at nearby Hanscom Park, Omaha’s oldest green space. Joiners or independents, Field Club hangs on to people. “It’s the kind of neighborhood where several generations of the same family might live,” says Jill Nienaber, president of the Field Club Homeowners League, a feisty group that’s protected these green streets and the homes on them from deterioration and—through the many parades and festivals it sponsors—the residents from boredom since 1947.
The oldest properties are ornate and cavernous Queen Annes built in the late 19th century for the city’s wealthiest residents, and overlooking Hanscom Park. Most construction, however, took place between 1900 and 1920, and architect-designed homes from that period are of the Foursquare, Colonial Revival, Mission, and Tudor styles, among others. Prices start at around $125,000 for older homes in need of repair, with the average price about $200,000.
Why Buy Here?
Thanks to the recent completion of a mixed-use development a few blocks north of the neighborhood, a slew of new restaurants, shops, and pubs, as well as a grocery store and movie theater, have opened within walking distance of Field Club. A well-traveled area bike trail lets you pedal your way there in less than 10 minutes.
Among the best for: The Midwest, Retirees, Family Friendly, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Easy Commute, Walkability, Outdoor Activities
Powning’s Addition, Reno, Nevada
“It’s cuter than hell,” Jack Hursh says of the early-20th-century bungalow he owns here in Powning’s Addition. In fact, there are lots of cute houses to go around in this historic neighborhood just west of downtown Reno. Founded in 1888 by C.C. Powning, a transplant from Wisconsin, the area was once popular among turn of-the-century Italian-American immigrants, who took full advantage of the spacious lots the houses offered, planting them with vegetable gardens and the occasional small vineyard. After a rough patch in the 1970s and ’80s, young professionals and retirees starting moving here, and they worked together to fix up its long-neglected properties. “It’s pretty quaint now,” says Jack. “And there’s something to living in a smaller house—and not having a long commute to Reno.”
Most were built between the late 1880s and 1920. Queen Annes and brick Craftsman bungalows dominate the mix. Jack bought his bungalow—with its original mahogany woodwork—for just $77,000, and all he really had to do was update the house’s only bathroom.
Why Buy Here?
Hundred-year-old homes for less than $100,000 bucks? That’s good enough for us.
Among the best for: West and Northwest, Cottages and Bungalows, Victorians, Waterfront, College Towns, Singles, Retirees, Easy Commute, Walkability, Outdoor Activities, Gardeners
Eastwood Park, Minot, North Dakota
They call Minot the “Magic City.” That’s because this settlement an hour south of the Canadian border sprang up—”like magic,” locals say—from nowhere in 1886, when construction of the Great Northern Railway stopped for the winter. Within months, the population swelled to almost 5,000 people, including merchants, railroad workers, and saloon owners. Some established Minot residents built modest Queen Anne, Foursquare, and Tudor homes in a 12-block area across the Mouse River from downtown. Known as Eastwood Park, it is populated these days by families who host an annual arts festival, hold food drives, and try like heck to outdo each other with their Christmas light displays. The schools are good, the streets are safe, and the neighborhood is across a pedestrian bridge from Minot’s center.
Most early-20th-century styles are represented here, including Queen Anne, Tudor, Dutch Colonial Revival, Greek Revival, and Colonial Revival, along with many Sears kit houses. Most are on small lots with detached garages and alleyway access out back. Prices range from $100,000 to the occasional $300,000.
Why Buy Here?
What recession? Minot is a boom town, thanks to a massive oil field discovered outside town a few years back. “Houses here stay on the market for about two hours before someone buys them,” says Minot city planner Donna Bye. The latest census figures haven’t been released, but Bye estimates the former population of 36,567 has increased by at least 4,000 in the last decade. Minot is also home to a U.S. Air Force base and Minot State University.
Among the best for: The Midwest, Bargains, College Towns, Family Friendly, Easy Commute
Oil does funny things to a place. Its discovery in 1897 in the Indian Territory near what would become Bartlesville brought oil men from Pennsylvania who got rich, built elaborate homes to compete with one another, and established a town with an ingrained appreciation for arts and architecture that persists today. The barons clustered along South Cherokee Avenue and the streets parallel to either side; their grand houses stand well maintained, just south of the restaurants and shops of downtown. County assessor Todd Mathes and his wife bought a two-and-a-half-story Foursquare here nearly six years ago. “We had four children and then adopted four girls, so our family doubled overnight,” Mathes says. From the family home, it’s a three-block walk to the cultural center that hosts the town’s homegrown symphony and ballet; a block farther sits Price Tower, a 19-story mixed-use building and one of only two skyscrapers Frank Lloyd Wright ever built.
Starting at about $100,000, you can find Queen Annes, Tudor Revivals, Craftsman-style and a plethora of other bungalows, many of which trade on elements from an eclectic mix of styles.
Why Buy Here?
To sweeten the deal, Oklahoma boasts one of the lowest property-tax rates in the country, and in Bartlesville that means you pay about $1,400 annually on a $100,000 house. “People don’t hate me,” says tax man Mathes. “And they realize the value of good schools and roads.”
Among the best for: The Southwest, Bargains, Retirees, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Small Towns, Easy Commute, Walkability
Melrose Heights Historic District, Columbia, South Carolina
The words “unsung gem” came to mind when we discovered Columbia’s Melrose Heights. Though it’s less than 2 miles from both the state capital building and the University of South Carolina, it manages a low profile. But with family amenities including affordable homes, some of Columbia’s best public schools, and a five-minute commute to downtown, it’s a neighborhood to know. On any given Saturday, joggers and bicyclists share the shady streets, and dads play fetch with dogs—or kids—on the grassy lawns. “We didn’t have to build playground equipment,” says John Sherrer, an eight-year resident and father of two grade-schoolers. “It was there in Melrose Park.” In 2003, the community voted in favor of the neighborhood, founded in 1900, being designated an architectural conservation district. The result: All residents take pride in their kept gardens and eclectic homes, creating block upon block of curb appeal.
Tudor Revival, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, and Prairie styles abound on these orderly streets, with vernacular homes, ’40s brick cottages, and kit houses, like those from Sears and Aladdin, making a good showing. We found a renovated four-bedroom 1936 Tudor Revival in the neighborhood’s heart for $355,000; smaller or less turnkey options can be snagged for under $150,000.
Why Buy Here?
Melrose Heights has reaped benefits from its historic preservation efforts without losing accessibility. “It is not an ‘Old South’ Greek Revival neighborhood with enormous, unattainable houses,” says city planner Jerre Threatt. “It is an intact early-1900s suburban neighborhood with a diverse offering of architectural styles at affordable prices.”
Among the best for: The South, Bargains, College Towns, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, City Living, First-Time Buyers, Gardening, Easy Commute, Walkability
East Nashville, Nashville, Tennessee
Like any great urban neighborhood, East Nashville is home to writers and waiters, schoolteachers and sculptors, accountants and artists, feminists and families. “It’s definitely a cool place, and we have a real mix of folks who choose to live here,” says local activist Carol Norton, who moved to this “neighborhood” of about 25,000 people back in the ’70s. In the decades she’s spent here, Norton has seen East Nashville survive recessions, some seriously bad urban-renewal projects, and a 1998 tornado that nearly eighty-sixed the area. These days she gets a kick out of what a new, younger generation is bringing to the neighborhood—from the tomato-themed festival put on by a team of local artists and musicians each summer to all of the new coffee shops, ice-cream parlors and music venues that seem to open up here on a weekly basis. In fact, part of East Nashville’s charm can be chalked up to the fact that almost all of its businesses are of the local neighborhood-folks variety. “No Applebee’s here,” says Norton.
“I think of East Nashville as an architectural picture book,” Norton says. Indeed, you can find here both modest and majestic examples of Foursquares, Queen Annes, Tudor Revivals, and Craftsman-style bungalows. There are plenty of houses currently on the market in the $100,000 to $200,000 range.
Why Buy Here?
Aside from the affordable housing, East Nashville also provides easy access to Music City, just across the Cumberland River. But the main reason to look here is the sense of community—one seldom seen in cities or suburbs—and the creative energy and camaraderie sustained by its residents and small business owners. It’s what Norton describes as “Mayberry—with a twist.” From young bohemians to growing families to local old-timers, this is a place where everyone belongs and can find opportunity to prosper.
Among the best for: The South, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Cottages & Bungalows, City Living, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Easy Commute
North Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas
Located minutes from downtown, across the Trinity River via the Houston Street Viaduct, North Oak Cliff is no typical Dallas neighborhood. Built on a solid-rock foundation (as opposed to the clay on which most of Dallas sits), the area has rolling hills and majestic trees that provide an escape from the city’s flatness. North Oak Cliff has “the kind of authenticity you just don’t see anymore,” says resident Michael Amonett, who points in particular to the historically preserved architecture. Visitors quickly pick up on something else: a not-so-business-driven way of life, illustrated by an arts scene and exuberant community that’s earned North Oak Cliff an “Austin of Dallas” label. Whether it’s at a craft fair or a Bastille Day parade, locals here celebrate with aplomb.
Tudors and Craftsman bungalows are predominant, and Spanish Colonial Revivals, Spanish Eclectic, and Italian Renaissance houses can be found in smaller numbers. Recently, a restored English Tudor with a custom kitchen sold for $225,000. First-time buyers can find smaller, move-in-ready cottages and bungalows starting at $100,000.
Why Buy Here?
North Oak Cliff seems to seamlessly combine old and new. Michael Amonett lives in the house his grandfather built in 1936, and his story is not unique. Many families have resided here for generations, and their beautifully maintained homes, generally in need of only minor updates, occasionally become available. The area’s property values stand to rise in 2013 with the return of a downtown-bound streetcar system. Our advice? Get in while the getting’s good.
Among the best for: The Southwest, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, City Living, First-Time Buyers, Easy Commute
University District, Salt Lake City, Utah
Young families live alongside professors and college students in this Salt Lake City neighborhood between downtown and the University of Utah campus. Think of the University District as a perfect college town, where residential streets divided by grassy medians are within walking distance of locally owned pizza parlors and coffee shops; and where a sea of residents, donning their finest red and white, migrate to nearby Rice-Eccles stadium on autumnal Saturdays to watch their beloved Utes play football. “People love this neighborhood,” says Realtor Celeste Council, whose clients are drawn to its progressive vibe and the close-set houses, which she says adds to the University District’s sense of community. The neighborhood had a scare in the 1970s when developers started knocking down historic houses to make way for apartments and commercial buildings. But residents fought back, secured new zoning laws, and got a large chunk of the neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Most are brick or clapboard Folk Victorians built for University of Utah professors and employees between 1900 and 1920. Other styles include Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Tudor, and Craftsman. You can get a modest two-bedroom Folk Victorian for less than $200,000, though larger homes are priced $500,000 and up.
Why Buy Here?
Preservation-minded buyers are purchasing and renovating an increasing number of the old houses here, ensuring that this historic neighborhood retains its classic architecture and character. Many smaller, low-carbon-footprint houses are also bringing eco-savvy buyers, who install solar panels, swap thirsty lawns for xeriscaping, and use rain barrels to collect water for gardens. University District residents are also eschewing cars, relying on bicycles and Salt Lake City’s light-rail system to get to and from downtown.
Among the best for: The West & Northwest, Fixer-Uppers, College Towns, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, City Living, Singles, Gardening, Easy Commute, Walkability
Don’t expect to find a food court or Filet-O-Fish in Hardwick anytime soon. “There’s no mall and no McDonald’s,” Andrew Meyer says of his hometown. A 19th-century granite-mining boomtown that went bust, then slogged through the 20th century, Hardwick is back because of food of the not-so-fast sort. Meyer, co-owner of Vermont Soy, grew up on a farm in this town of 3,000 in the state’s northern third. After a stint in Washington as an agricultural aide, he came home, planted beans, and helped turn the town into a cocoon of what foodies call “locavorism.” He founded the Center for an Agricultural Economy, which works with farmers, communities, and agribusiness to develop healthy food. The cooperative kitchens of the Hardwick-based Vermont Food Venture Center assist fledgling food-processing companies, and Claire’s restaurant serves eats from nearby fields. This community of young entrepreneurs, farming families, and supportive elders proves it: Small business can produce significant economic growth.
Many were built at the turn of the 20th century, between the granite industry’s acceleration and crash. Folk Victorians built by mining bosses sport Italianate, Queen Anne, and Second Empire features, and tend to sell in the $125,000 to $200,000 range, according to Realtor Ron Sanville. Classic Capes and Colonial Revivals are common, too, and can often be snagged for less than $125,000.
Why Buy Here?
Hardwick’s Main Street was home to a slew of watering holes in the depressed days. Today, its diverse array of businesses includes a clothing boutique, a bakery, a jewelry shop, a bookstore, and a co-op of micro-businesses, from acupuncturists to accountants. With agricultural jobs growing fast in Hardwick, if you’ve ever considered running off to rural America, this seems one prosperous place to park your tractor.
Among the best for: The Northeast, Retirees, Family Friendly, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Small Towns, Gardening, Easy Commute
Mountain View, Roanoke, Virginia
A few minutes’ drive southwest from downtown Roanoke, picturesque Mountain View is perfectly located in every respect: It’s a cinch of a commute and enjoys stunning panoramas of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Roanoke River. It’s no wonder residents of this neighborhood spend so much time outdoors. Retirees and families enjoy soaking up the scenery along the area’s Roanoke River Greenway, a 5.5-mile paved path perfect for walking, running, and bicycling. When wintry weather moves in, the arty locals flock to the city’s galleries or mountainside wineries, or enroll in dance, music, and other “personal enrichment” classes at the Fishburn Mansion, a National Historic Landmark and community-life hub. Factor in the forty or so classic old homes—built between 1884 and 1924 to house an onslaught of railroad-industry execs—that line Mountain View’s streets, and you may just have the ultimate Roanoke Valley settling spot.
The neighborhood’s housing stock consists predominantly of two-story American Foursquares, along with occasional Queen Annes and bungalows. A renovation movement is on the upswing, and prices and conditions run the gamut. If you’re low on cash and high on motivation, a two-story handyman special can be scored for about $35,000. Higher-end options run between $100,000 and $200,000, and are often fully renovated with preserved original details, such as pocket doors and ceramic tile.
Why Buy Here?
You’ll get a much-needed tax break. In an effort to keep Mountain View’s revitalization clipping along, preservation societies, such as the Virginia Landmarks Register, have secured significant tax exemptions for home buyers who restore historic structures—the more you sink in, the more you save.
Among the best for: The South, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Waterfront, Retirees, Family Friendly, Outdoor Activities, Easy Commute
Eckington, District of Columbia
Forget Bethesda and Arlington. When technology director Steve Rynecki moved from San Diego, California, to Washington, D.C., in 2002, he wanted to live inside the city limits. He also wanted an older place with period details—a Federal rowhouse on Capitol Hill or a red-brick Queen Anne in Columbia Heights. Unfortunately, digs in those neighborhoods were priced over the half-million-dollar mark. So Steve looked to the district’s northeast section and found what he was looking for: an 1893 rowhouse for around $250,000. “The price was right, the architecture was amazing, and the metro a 10-minute walk,” he says. Originally the province of powerful Victorian-era politicians and business owners, Eckington later became a stronghold of D.C.’s African-American middle class. These days, it’s a magnet for anyone looking to eschew the Beltway ‘burbs and find fixer-uppers and freshly renovated homes in a cool, urban spot just a 10-minute drive from Capitol Hill.
Most are brick Federal, Queen Anne, or Colonial Revival rowhouses. We found a renovated six-bedroom 1913 Colonial Revival rowhouse for $249,000. Of the renovations-needed ilk: a four-bedroom brick Victorian-era rowhouse, with a turret, for $345,000.
Why Buy Here?
Government offices have opened around the five-year-old Florida Ave/New York Ave metro stop that’s just a stone’s throw from Eckington. Newly opened restaurants and clubs near the revitalized Atlas District give residents plenty of entertainment options, too. “It’s being discovered as an affordable place to buy a house in D.C.,” adds local Realtor Michelle Buckman, “and there’s a lot of renovating going on.”
Among the best for: The Northeast, City Living, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Rowhouses, Easy Commute, Walkability
Wallingford, Seattle, Washington
Colorful kites flying and kids rolling down grassy hills are common sights in south Wallingford’s Gas Works Park, a 19-acre green space populated by early-20th-century coal gasification structures—decommissioned, rust-colored symbols of Seattle’s industrial revolution. Wallingford is a walkable neighborhood with access to Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail, a 14-mile path for cyclists, joggers, and skaters. A farmers’ market, an independent movie theater, bars, restaurants, and attitude-rocking coffee shops line North 45th Street, the main drag, and with the University of Washington nearby there is a definite college-town feel. “I raised my kids here,” says Kris Murphy, a Realtor who’s lived here for 20 years. “Now they’re teenagers, and they love it.”
Wallingford is known for its Craftsman bungalows, built between 1906 and the mid-1920s, framed with Douglas fir from local mills; most have front porches and lush backyards. Wallingford is built on a gentle hill rising from Lake Union, making for some spectacular Space Needle views. Expect to pay upwards of $600,000 for a 2,000-square-foot home in good condition, or hold out for one needing upgrades in the mid-$400,000s.
Why Buy Here?
Families, artists, old-time Seattle hippies, and new money give Wallingford a creative, entrepreneurial spirit. Easy access to I-5 and SR-99 makes for a quick trip downtown for shopping, culture, and fresh seafood from Pike Place Market.
Among the best for: The West & Northwest, College Towns, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, Singles, City Living, Easy Commute, Walkability, Outdoor Activities, Gardening
The Washburn-Lawrence Neighborhood, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
The historic Washburn-Lawrence neighborhood is in the middle of Wisconsin’s picturesque Door Peninsula, between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. It’s home to about 420 of Sturgeon Bay’s 9,700 residents. Whether they’re gardeners, boaters, or cross-country skiers, retired-age folks and family types of all ages are attracted to the area’s temperate climate; the lake and bay keep summers breezy and winters mild. Canopies of mature maples and preserved sidewalks grace the neighborhood’s residential streets, which are home only to domiciles, bed-and-breakfasts, and churches. Homey cafés, art galleries, and the old-time Third Avenue Playhouse sit just two blocks away in Sturgeon Bay’s walkable downtown area.
Seventy-one of the neighborhood’s 180 dwellings are historic Italianates, Queen Annes, Classical Revivals, or Craftsmans, most built between 1881 and 1931. Bargain hunters with a yen for reno can find restoration-worthy options—usually in need of roof replacement and foundation work—starting around $100,000.
Why Buy Here?
A tourism hotspot, the peninsula hosts 2.2 million vacationers every year. They join locals in the orchards for apple and cherry picking, and attend tastings at local wineries. If you’ve always wanted to open a specialty shop in a quaint town or turn a historic Queen Anne into a bustling bed-and-breakfast, this may be the place for you.
Among the best for: The Midwest, Waterfront, Retirees, Family Friendly, City Living, Victorians, Gardening, Outdoor Activities, Easy Commute, Walkability
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
It’s said that you need to be either a poet or loco to live in Old San Juan, where Old World charm meets decidedly New World eclecticism. Packed into the winding streets of this fortified Caribbean peninsula are artists, students from three universities, shop owners, café culture knockabouts, lawyers, musicians, millionaires, government employees, and the gobierno himself, who lives in La Fortaleza; built in 1540, it’s the longest-occupied governor’s mansion in the Western Hemisphere. Neighbors chat over café con leche at places like La Bombonera every morning, and a walk on the blue-gray cobblestones, called adoquines, leads past impeccable, colorful Spanish Colonial rowhouses on par with those of Madrid.
Restoring a Spanish Colonial, with its 2-foot-thick walls, brick-lined cisterns, and lead-pipe plumbing, is a long, involved process that is strictly overseen by the Instituto de Cultura Puertoriqueña. “They have a say inside and out, down to the hinges,” says Realtor Margarita Gandía, whose mother was one of San Juan’s first Realtors in the 1950s. A shell might go for $300,000. Homes requiring less than a gut-renovation can command $600,000. Finished, properties are worth $1 million or more.
Why Buy Here?
The upside to following strict preservation guidelines is that if the result passes inspection, you’ll pay nothing in property taxes. That status has to be renewed every 10 years, under inspection, which keeps the neighborhood in top form.
Among the best for: The South, Fixer-Uppers, College Towns, Waterfront, Retirees, City Living, Rowhouses, History Happened Here, Easy Commute, Walkability
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Newfoundland stands apart from Canada, an island with its own time zone, dictionary of idiomatic English, and buoyant cultural pride. The downtown district of capitol city St. John’s, built in a geographical bowl on a protected harbor, is a knot of steep streets where a local politician might live next door to a scruffy musician gigging at the Duke of Duckworth pub. Civic-minded residents boast that downtown St. John’s postal code comprises more artists per capita than any other in Canada, and the Newfoundland narrative looms large in the form of a massive gallery, archive, and cultural center called The Rooms that overlooks the area.
“We love our ‘jelly bean’ houses,” says Dale Jarvis of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, referring to rows of three-story Second Empire rowhouses downtown. These structures hew to a remarkably consistent style, all built in the wake of an 1892 fire that burned St. John’s to a nub. Uphill, a smattering of Queen Annes and bungalows reside, perched there by merchants hoping to avoid future blazes. Thanks to offshore oil drilling in the last decade, St. John’s dodged the housing bust, but rowhouses with room for improvement can still be had for $250,000; freestanding homes list in the $500,000 range.
Why Buy Here?
You haven’t had this much fun with color since Crayola came into your life. Local company Templeton Paints has introduced a line of historic Newfoundland hues; the jelly-bean colors, embraced by owners of the downtown rowhouses, are eye candy—and instant motivation to put your paintin’ clothes on.
Among the best for: Canada, Fixer-Uppers, Waterfront, Retirees, Family Friendly, Singles, City Living, Victorians, Rowhouses, Easy Commute, Walkability
The Crescents, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
The Crescents was home to Regina’s upper-crust residents during the early 20th century. While the affluent still reside here, the neighborhood is also a haven for academics and city types looking for a perfect neighborhood for raising kids. Residents can walk downtown to eat dinner at Regina’s gourmand-pleasing restaurants or hike to Mosaic Stadium to watch the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders take on the Montreal Alouettes or the Calgary Stampeders.
Most were built in the early 1900s and are fronted by mature trees and lush landscaping. Houses include Craftsmans, Queen Annes, and Tudors. Prices are from $250,000 to $1,000,000.
Why Buy Here?
The Crescents is a 15-minute walk from downtown Regina, a city of 190,000. But its real selling point is access to Wascana Centre, a 2,300-acre park that’s home to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly building, the Regina Conservatory of Music, and an enormous man-made lake. Thanks to this region’s ample natural oil, gas, and potash reserves, the local economy thrives relative to the rest of Canada and the United States.
Among the best for: Canada, College Towns, Family Friendly, City Living, Outdoor Activities, Gardening, Easy Commute, Walkability
The West Broadway Neighborhood, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Aside from born-and-bred Winnipeggers, the residents of West Broadway include folks of West African, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European descent. The neighborhood is also popular among artists and art students, many of whom volunteer or take classes at Art City, a nonprofit that offers photography, sculpture, and other classes to West Broadway residents throughout the year. This is a friendly, eco-minded neighborhood, where public gardens and composting drop-offs are par for the course. A popular meet-up spot is Stella’s Café & Bakery, a beloved local chain that opened here two years ago. “When Stella’s moved in, it kind of legitimized this area,” says Drew Perry, an instructor at local Yoga North. “It’s definitely turned the corner.”
This densely packed neighborhood—5,200 residents in less than a square mile—dates to the late 1800s. In the years around the turn of the century, merchants and transportation magnates built fabulous homes along Balmoral and Spence streets. Much of the area’s character stems from 208 two-and-a-half-story Queen Annes, stucco Foursquares, and Tudors, which list from $180,000. With luck, you may find 12-foot ceilings, maple and oak floors and moldings, and massive double-pocket doors with etched glass panels inside.
Why Buy Here?
“It’s going to be the trendy new neighborhood,” says Brian Grant of the West Broadway Development Corporation. This organization puts its money where its mouth is, having helped the area score some $16.5 million in government aid for both public and private projects in the past 10 years. Now’s a good time to get in and claim your share of the pie.
Among the best for: Canada, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, College Towns, Family Friendly, Singles, City Living, Victorians, First-Time Buyers, Gardening, Easy Commute, Walkability
Central Halifax, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
“You have to be a certain kind of person to live in Halifax,” says real-estate agent Pam Cherington. “The kind who’s concerned about quality of life.” A love of the water doesn’t hurt, either, since this so-called sleepy city of nearly 400,000 is surrounded by the stuff. Some of the most enviable old homes belong to residents of the Central Halifax neighborhood on the Halifax Peninsula, with its brightly painted townhouses and a five-minute walk to downtown and its restaurants, cafes, and brew pubs—all part of the appeal for the young professionals and growing families who move here. Halifax has a number of universities, too, so there’s a steady influx of young people, some of whom never leave.
The draw here is the late-19th-century cedar-shingled townhouses, with high ceilings, original pine or Douglas fir millwork, and thick crown moldings. Some are two stories with flat roofs; others are two-and-a-half stories with pitched roofs and dormers. The houses, built by Nova Scotia’s sea captains, merchants, and businessmen, can be found in conditions from rundown to impeccably renovated, for prices from just north of $200,000 (USD) on up.
Why Buy Here?
The area declined during the 1980s and ’90s, but has spent the last decade as a destination for house flippers, who updated many a kitchen or bathroom. Those obsessed with attractive resale values, however, have mostly moved on, and those coming in are more likely looking to build a community and stay for the long haul.
Among the best for: Canada, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, College Towns, Waterfront, Family Friendly, Singles, City Living, Easy Commute, Walkability, Rowhouses
Leslieville, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Once gritty and industrial, the east-end Toronto neighborhood of Leslieville (population: 27,000) has gained traction as families, artists, and business owners arrive in droves, lured by the fashionable scene, safe and walkable streets, proximity to local beaches, and—at least by pricey Toronto standards—affordable housing offered here. “Leslieville has completely changed in the past three years,” says Jasmin George, who works at the children’s boutique Baby on the Hip. Hers is one of many new businesses that have opened in Leslieville in recent years, including pubs, restaurants, markets, bakeries, and a cheese shop.
“There’s definitely something enchanting about this place,” says David Dunkelman, a Realtor who runs TorontoNeighbourhoodGuide.com. Three-story Victorian-era rowhouses with steeply pitched gables line narrow, tree-bordered streets. Prices for two-story rowhouses and vernacular-style cottages start at $300,000 (USD).
Why Buy Here?
It’s one of a few desirable nabes near Toronto’s center where a reasonably priced home can be scored. Downtown is a swift 15 minutes by car or trolley, and the nearby Lake Ontario beaches can be reached via foot or bike.
Among the best for: , Victorians, Waterfront, City Living, Family Friendly, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Easy Commute, Walkability, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Rowhouses