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Best Places to Get a Bargain on an Old House

17 great neighborhoods, from coast to coast, where you can get a steal on a historic house

Selma, Alabama

Courtesy of Madden & Associates

The Neighborhood

Situated on the Alabama River, Selma is best known as the starting point for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s mid-1960s voting-rights marches. The city is home to more than 1,250 historic structures and four National Historic Districts, where retirees and other folks find deals in neighborhoods where you can walk to the grocery and the summer sun is distilled through a canopy of live oaks. Selma University, one of the nation's oldest African-American four-year colleges, is located here. Area employers include the Bush Hog rotary-cutter company and International Paper.

The Houses

The Olde Town neighborhood has Selma's finest homes, including sprawling Queen Annes, Greek Revivals, and Italianates. Other districts feature more modest Victorian cottages and bungalows.

The Prices

Truly affordable. You can buy a fixer-upper bungalow for $60,000 or even less, or a massive Italianate for about $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

This is a buyer's market, and hundreds of old homes with original details—and exceptionally low property taxes—are here for the picking.

Among the best for:

Bargains,

Fixer-Uppers, Retirees, The South

Find homes in Selma

Walker Park, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Courtesy of Karen Minkel

The Neighborhood

Set in the Ozark Mountains, and home to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville boasts hundreds of massive old homes, many of which have been gobbled up and restored. But in the Walker Park neighborhood you can get in on the ground floor. Young families, singles, and retirees are renovating this up-and-coming area's homes. Lots of amenities are within walking distance, including the 74-acre namesake park. Fayetteville's public schools rank high in the state, and area employers include Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt, a Fortune 500 trucking company.

The Houses

Modest bungalows and Arts and Crafts–style homes abound, and several streets are lined with pristine shotgun-style houses and Victorian-era cottages.

The Prices

You can get a shotgun for as little as $60,000. And no matter what the size or style home you seek, it's hard to spend more than $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

The neighborhood is undergoing a renaissance, property values are rising, and Fayetteville just completed a master plan to encourage single-family ownership and fund facade improvements in Walker Park.

Among the best for:

Retirees,

Families with Kids,

Bargains,

Craftsman Houses,

The South

Washington, Georgia

Photo by Courtesy of Deborah Rainey

The Neighborhood

It's been said before, but, yes, when you walk through Washington, Georgia, you feel like you've stepped into Scarlett O'Hara's celluloid Civil War world. Washington is one of the most sultry, scenic, and seemingly overlooked destinations in the South, yet it's less than an hour's drive from both Athens and Augusta. Most of the town's homes are located on quiet streets that extend out from its historic public square, bordered by 19th-century commercial buildings filled with restaurants and shops.

The Houses

Washington has more antebellum mansions—sprawling plantation houses, the most coveted of which have massive, fluted columns on four sides—than any other town in Georgia.

The Prices

Antebellum mansions run as low as $350,000, while a 2,000-square-foot Victorian cottage might go for $130,000.

Why Buy Now?

In the past five years, quite a few Washington homes that had been in the same families since the 1800s have popped up in the real estate ads. With generations-long family strongholds here gradually fading out, the town has started to attract preservation-minded DIYers looking to tackle some of the South's most impressive and hard-to-find architecture.

Among the best for:

Bargains, The South

Galena, Illinois

Courtesy of Galena/Jo Daviess County CVB

The Neighborhood

Once the busiest port between St. Louis and St. Paul, Galena features hundreds of eye-popping homes built in the early to mid-1800s by shipping magnates and heavy-hitters in the area's lead mines. Today, 85 percent of the town is a National Historic District, with many homes overlooking the Galena River. The town boasts what the Chicago Tribune dubbed “The Best Main Street in the Midwest,” thanks to its well-preserved commercial buildings. With one of Illinois's top-performing public school systems, Galena is a great place to raise a family. The 15-minute commute to Dubuque, Iowa's five colleges and universities makes Galena a draw for academics as well.

The Houses

Styles include Neo Classical, Federal, Greek Revival, Second Empire, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, and Italianate, the most famous of which is the former home of Ulysses S. Grant.

The Prices

A sturdy Greek Revival or Second Empire home can be had for as little as $130,000.

Why Buy Now?

Galena is perfectly positioned as a bedroom community to Dubuque, which has one of the fastest-growing economies in the Midwest. The homes here are in demand and unlikely to drop in value.

Among the best for:

Families with Kids, Bargains, The Midwest

Madison, Indiana

Photo by John Stacier

The Neighborhood

This Hoosier State town—with 133 blocks of National Register homes and buildings—offers bliss for all walks. Those who like the great outdoors will enjoy Clifty Falls State Park's 1,400 acres. Music lovers will revel in the free bluegrass concerts held monthly at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. And for wine connoisseurs, Madison Vineyards offers regular tastings. Those who need to work before playing will find King's Daughters' Hospital, Madison's largest employer, providing over 1,000 jobs, as well as the cities of Cincinnati and Louisville less than an hour away. And there's also a great spot here for kids to keep busy: The Lydia Middleton Elementary School recently underwent a $15 million restoration.

The Houses

Styles of architecture include Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Gothic Revival, and Arts and Crafts.

The Prices

A shotgun-style Craftsman can be had for less than $100,000; restored Italianates go for three times as much.

Why Buy Now?

Indiana taxpayers receive 20 percent income tax credits on the cost of historic home rehabilitation or preservation.

Among the best for:

Bargains,

Families with Kids,

Outdoor Enthusiasts,

Art Lovers,

First-Time Buyers,

Craftsman Houses,

The Midwest

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

Eastport, Maine

Courtesy of Mary Pottle

The Neighborhood

Here's the best thing about Eastport, Maine: Since it's the easternmost city in the country, residents here receive, literally, the very first sunshine of the day. Located on Moose Island in Passamaquoddy Bay, tiny Eastport (population: about 2,000) was settled by fishermen drawn not only to the abundant shoals but also to a harbor that never seemed to ice over. The town grew into a major shipping port, even rivaling New York. These days, tourists flock here to enjoy Eastport's maritime history and to catch glimpses of whales, seals, ospreys, and bald eagles. It's also a magnet for artists, thanks to its numerous galleries and an arts center that offers classes as well as frequent concerts.

The Houses

Eastport features turn-of-the-century Colonials and Cape Cods, as well as Victorian-era Second Empire and Queen Anne homes.

The Prices

A needy Cape Cod can be had for as little as $100,000, while the higher-end Second Empires run $300,000 and up.

Why Buy Now?

In a state where few of the properties along the water are still affordable, Eastport offers the charm of coastal living and loads of natural beauty, for a reasonable price.

Among the best for:

Bargains,

Outdoor Enthusiasts,

Art Lovers,

Northeast

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

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

Goldsboro, North Carolina

Courtesy of Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp.

The Neighborhood

The city of Goldsboro is hell-bent on making a comeback. For the past two years, the city, the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. (DGDC), and Preservation North Carolina (PNC) have been buying up houses in an effort rebuild the area and increase owner-occupancy. So far, 17 fine old homes have been snatched; a dozen or so more are still up for grabs. The DGDC homes are located blocks from downtown Goldsboro's lively mix of restaurants, taverns, and theaters, as well as the site of a new recreation center (with swimming pool), set to open next year. Goldsboro, located 55 miles east of Raleigh near the 90-foot cliffs of the Neuse River, is the governmental seat of Wayne County and home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

The Houses

Queen Annes, Stick Victorians, and Italianates are all available through the DGDC, ranging in size from 1,100 to 6,400 square feet.

The Prices

DGDC homes are priced to sell, at $19,000 to $45,000. North Carolina offers state income tax credits for up to 30 percent of the costs of rehabilitating historic structures.

Why Buy Now?

Good, cheap historical housing for something close to pocket change. Need we say more?

Among the best for:

Fixer-Uppers,

Queen Annes,

The South

Find homes in Goldsboro

Cathedral District, Bismarck, North Dakota

Photo by Erik Sakariassen

The Neighborhood

The Cathedral Area Historic District is named for the Art Deco Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, whose chimes serenade the neighborhood. Comprising some 20 blocks near downtown Bismarck, it has bragging rights to about 150 homes on the National Register. According to resident Erik Sakariassen, "the Leave It To Beaver theme runs through your head" when you walk the Cathedral District's streets, and newcomers have singled it out as a family place, thanks in part to a solid public school system with a 97 percent graduation rate. Jobs in the energy sector are a draw, with both a working oil reserve and an electrical plant nearby.

The Houses

Homes date from 1900 to 1945 and their "Eclectic Era" architectural styles include Shingle, Prairie, Tudor Revival, Craftsman, Cape Cod, and American Foursquare.

The Prices

A two-bedroom bungalow in need of upgrades can be grabbed for $125,000, while a large two-story Craftsman-style house may sell for as much as $300,000. Grant money is occasionally available from North Dakota's State Historic Preservation Office to assist preservation and restoration projects.

Why Buy Now?

Entry-level homes for less than $150,000 to start, plus plenty of opportunities to trade up in the years to come.

Among the best for:

Bargains,

Fixer-Uppers,

Craftsman Houses,

Families with Kids,

First-Time Buyers,

The Midwest

Find homes in Bismarck

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

Albany, Oregon

Photo by Courtesy of the Albany Visitors Association

The Neighborhood

Albany boasts 100 blocks and four distinct national historic districts' worth of great historic architecture. "No two homes are identical," resident Heidi Overman says of the Victorian-era structures lining streets here. Locals see the Willamette River town as a smaller alternative to nearby Portland and Seattle, and its citizens take pride in its big-city attractions, including museums, theaters, and watering holes. Albany is just 12 miles from Oregon State University, and Hewlett-Packard is also a major employer in the area.

The Houses

When architect George McMath visited in 1977 to inventory historic homes, he found just about every housing style built between 1840 and 1920, including Federal, Gothic Revival, American Farmhouse, Second Empire, Eastlake, Italianate, and Colonial Revival.

The Prices

Home prices in Albany's national historic districts range from $90,000 for a run-down Italianate to $400,000 for a fully restored one.

Why Buy Now?

Get your hands on that $90,000 fixer-upper before it's too late. Despite slumping markets across the country, property values continue to rise here as people put off by growth in Portland and Seattle discover the place's charms.

Among the best for:

Bargains, Outdoor Enthusiasts, The Northwest

Centre Park Historic District, Reading, Pennsylvania

Photo by Cindy Ross

The Neighborhood

You won't be alone if you choose to restore a Victorian-era home in Centre Park, named for the green space at its core. "It's a tight community," resident Michael Lauter says, adding that he can hardly walk his neighborhood's original brick sidewalks without stopping to chat with neighbors. Reading is home to top-notch schools, four universities, and corporations including Carpenter Technology, a stainless steel manufacturer. It's also just a half-hour commute to Philadelphia.

The Houses

Reading's wealthy arrived here in the 1870s, building country mansions mimicking Italian villas and British manors. Between 1900 and 1915, tradesmen and industrial workers followed, erecting Queen Annes and unique brick "Reading German" houses, which are 2½ stories high with mansard roofs and large single dormers.

The Prices

You can snatch up a five-bedroom townhouse here for about $60,000, a large Queen Anne for $135,000, and a full-fledged mansion for less than $600,000.

Why Buy Now?

It's one of the Mid-Atlantic's most perfectly preserved historic neighborhoods—selling at thrift-store prices. Plus, the city provides 50-50 matching grants of up to $5,000 for facade improvements.

Among the best for:

Families with Kids, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Queen Annes, The Northeast

Find homes in Reading

Hampton Heights Historic District, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Photo by Courtesy of Preservation Trust

The Neighborhood

Families flock to this enclave within the revitalized Spartanburg city limits for its small-town sensibility: “This is a tight community,” says Kristi Webb, a Hampton Heights resident with a 6-year-old kid. “Everyone knows our daughter, where she lives, and where she should be.” The district is home to an award-winning public high school, making it a draw for parents, many of whom work in the area's thriving healthcare industry. Downtown Spartanburg—a 10-minute walk from Hampton Heights—is buzzing with restaurants and shops, and the city has increased its focus on family events, like summer concerts.

The Houses

Arts and Crafts and Queen Anne styles predominate, along with Dutch Colonials, Colonial Revivals, and Greek Revivals. Hampton Heights is part of a local historic district, and one-third of the 350 properties here are on the National Register.

The Prices

Homes range from $50,000 for a 1930s Arts and Crafts fixer-upper to $250,000 for a restored Queen Anne.

Why Buy Now?

The preservation Trust of Spartanburg offers down payment and closing cost assistance. Renovations are aided by the organization's salvage warehouse, a source for affordable materials and period details.

Among the best for:

Families with Kids, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Queen Annes, The South

Find homes in Spartanburg

Central Bench Historic District, Ogden, Utah

Photo by Cory Jensen

The Neighborhood

Central Branch, a cluster of about 80 blocks near downtown, had its heyday in the late 1800s when Ogden was a transcontinental railroad stop-off and tycoons put up grand houses. Later, development halted, and those great old homes grew old gracelessly. A new crop of bungalows and ranches crept in during the 1920s, '40s, and '50s, but the neighborhood teetered until the city launched a district-revitalization campaign in 2002, and bargain-seeking home buyers flooded in. "Retirees, young unmarrieds, blue collar, white collar," says Sue Wilkerson, a local broker and landmarks commissioner, describing the current neighborhood mix. Besides the great homes, the biggest draw for newcomers may be the area's boundless outdoors: snowboarding, skiing, hiking, biking, kayaking, water skiing, fishing, and mountain climbing are all within 30 minutes of Ogden.

The Houses

Gothic Revival and Prairie homes are interspersed with Modern, Folk Victorian, and Arts & Crafts styles.

The Prices

Prices range from $125,000 for a bungalow to $320,000 for an updated Queen Anne.

Why Buy Now?

Decent prices and tax credits for qualified restoration sweeten an investment in this up-and-coming area.

Among the best for:

Bargains,

Retirees,

Outdoor Enthusiasts,

First-Time Buyers,

Southwest