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Best Old House Neighborhoods 2010: Walkability

These 22 locations have easy access by foot to local businesses, restaurants, parks, and schools

Best Old House Neighborhoods 2010: Walkability

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.

These 22 neighborhoods make hitting the local shops, restaurants, parks, and schools an easy stroll down a sidewalk.

Union Springs, Alabama

Photo by Courtesy of Joyce Perrin

On Friday evenings about 35 people meet up at Union Pizza in the small southeastern Alabama town of Union Springs to discuss important matters, such as how to properly reglaze a banged-up window, which stain to use on heart-pine floors, or whether or not to restore plaster walls. Welcome to the Newcomer's Club, an informal group from places as far away as New York City and even Belize, whose members have relocated to this struggling small town for one reason: to buy, fix up, and live in one of its many magnificent homes. Once a thriving cotton and railroad town, Union Springs went from a population of 30,000 at the turn of the 20th century to a struggling community of just 3,000 by the turn of the 21st. The newbies are hoping to turn their adopted town around.

The Houses

The showiest homes are the elaborate late-1800s Queen Annes, which feature lots of gingerbread, wraparound porches, and even the occasional turret. Walking through town you can pick and choose from among dozens of homes and buy one for as little as $50,000. "A lot of the people who come here to see one particular house end up buying a different one," says local Realtor Joyce Perrin.

Why Buy Now?

In the decade before the recent recession, Union Springs saw more than a modest amount of investment in its older homes. Those who moved here then remain committed to the town, turning historic abandoned buildings into bakeries, restaurants, galleries, and shops.

Among the best for: Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Small Town, South, Victorians, Walkability

Coronado Historic District, Phoenix

Photo by Michone Dietrich

Once Phoenix had ensured its long-term survival by damming up the Salt River in the early 1900s, developers got down to the business of plotting the future of the growing Southwestern city. And that future was all about suburbs. By 1920 one of the largest was the Coronado neighborhood, home to a middle-class population of merchants, policemen, and railroad engineers living in modest bungalows and Tudor Revival cottages, many fronted by small lots with towering palm trees. These days the nabe is drawing a young, artsy crowd, who like to hang out on their front porches and wave to neighbors who pass by. The neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Each spring, residents show off their homes—and often their DIY handiwork—during an annual house tour and community festival.

The Houses

Small to medium-size Tudor, Craftsman, and ranch houses, built from about 1920 to 1940, are predominant. Prices start at $150,000. Houses often include a freestanding garage out back with matching architectural details. During the Great Depression, many residents converted their garage into an apartment, moved in, and rented their home.

Why Buy Now?

The neighborhood's affordability is outstanding. And while there are still a few dilapidated houses, most are in pretty good shape. Buy a house here and all you'll need to do is pick out the furniture and add a fresh coat of paint.

Among the best for: Bargains, City Life, Easy Commute, First-Time Buyers, Singles, Southwest,

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

Curtis Park, Denver, Colorado

Photo by Courtesy of Colorado Preservation Inc.

Curtis Park was Denver's first streetcar suburb, a neighborhood where prosperous merchants once lived alongside blacksmiths of more modest income. Its architectural treasure trove includes almost 500 late-19th-century homes in a variety of sizes and styles. After a period of decline in the 1960s and early 1970s, things began to turn around in 1975, when much of Curtis Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Since then, a new group of residents has worked to restore boarded-up homes to their original condition. ]

The Houses

Several late-19th-century styles are represented here, including Second Empire, Italianate, and Queen Anne. Many houses feature notable details, such as asymmetrical facades, dramatic rooflines, and quirky millwork. Fixer-uppers average around $173,000.

Why Buy Now?

The prices are right, and the area has been experiencing a cultural renaissance in recent years. The Welton Street Commercial Corridor, which borders the eastern edge of Curtis Park, houses the Black American West Museum and sponsors a summer jazz festival and other events.

Among the best for: Bargains, City Life, Easy Commute, Fixer-Uppers, Southwest, Walkability

Quaker Hill, Wilmington, Delaware

Photo by Jim Bierbaum

Quaker Hill, a charming, landmarked historic neighborhood and one of Wilmington's first, has the same type of colonial-era and Federal rowhouses found in nearby Philadelphia, but at far lower prices. The neighborhood dates to 1738, when Quaker couple William and Elizabeth Shipley came here to build a home, and other Quakers followed. These days, Quaker Hill is attracting young homeowners who are restoring its 18th- and 19th-century houses, many embellished with Victorian-era details.

The Houses

The oldest house was built in 1742, but most of the area's homes were constructed between 1830 and 1870. While Quaker Hill is known for its brick Federal and Greek Revival rowhouses, there are also many Georgian, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Colonial Revival, and other Victorian-era styles. Today, the district retains its diverse architectural character, in part to its designation as a Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places. House prices vary depending on size, age, and condition, but a completely renovated historic home can be had for less than $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

After a long decline in the 1960s and '70s, Wilmington is on the rise. While development along the adjacent Christina River has been slow, it does have a minor-league baseball park, as well as a performing arts center and several upscale restaurants. The neighborhood is also within walking distance of downtown. Despite the bad economy, prices here have stabilized in recent years, though property values might soon increase, thanks to ongoing downtown revitalization efforts.

Among the best for: Bargains, City Life, Easy Commute, Fixer-Uppers, History Happened Here, Northeast, Walkability

Thornton Park, Orlando, Florida

Photo by John Krauklis

Sure, it's just 25 miles from Disney World, but Orlando's Thornton Park neighborhood offers amusements far more sophisticated than Space Mountain and a man-size rodent. Its European-style commercial district of restaurants, pubs, cafes, and shops is where locals go to kick back and relax. And many of those locals reside in beautifully crafted, not-so-big houses located along Thornton Park's brick-paved streets—streets shaded by oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. The neighborhood is also a five-minute walk from Lake Eola Park, an urban oasis where you'll find green space, hiking trails, and dog-walking paths surrounding a tranquil man-made lake.

The Houses

Thornton Park is known primarily for its wood-frame "cracker-style" homes, which feature center hallways (to promote air circulation) and deep porches with long overhanging roofs that help keep the summer heat at bay. Other styles include Craftsman, Mediterranean, American Foursquare, and shotgun homes. A restored 1,300-square-foot bungalow was recently on the market for $215,000, but you can find homes under $200,000 and up to $700,000.

Why Buy Now?

Thornton Park is emerging as a hip urban area that's attracting young homeowners looking for a friendly, walkable community in which to live and raise their families.

According to resident John Krauklis: "The best reason to live in Thornton Park is its proximity to downtown Orlando (a five-minute walk) and Lake Eola—and our weather isn't too bad either."

Among the best for: City Life, Families, First-Time Buyers, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, South, Walkability, Waterfront

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

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

Bangor, Maine

Photo by Russ Harrington

Plenty of writers, musicians, and creative types call this city overlooking the Penobscot River home, but Bangor offers residents more than just its scenic view for inspiration. A collection of museums and the historic Bangor Opera House anchor the downtown district, drawing big-name performers and exhibitions to town throughout the year, while the summer sees the waterfront taken over by the American Folk Festival. Those who prefer outdoor activities over the arts will find a river full of salmon for fishing and a 650-acre park with five miles of walking, biking, and cross-country trails.

The Houses

A former sawmill city, Bangor lumber barons turned big profits in the late-19th century and built grand Italianate, Greek Revival, and Queen Anne houses to match their bank accounts. Homes in the Broadway and West Broadway Historic Districts start in the high $200,000s, but plenty of well-kept older properties with reasonable price tags are scattered throughout the city. The median single-family house price in Bangor is approximately $110,000, but at press time, a charming 1900 Colonial was listed at just $124,900.

Why Buy Now?

The cost of living in Bangor is moderate compared with the rest of the New England region as a whole. The city constantly tops lists of the best places to raise a family and retire, so it seems to cater to just about any homebuyer under the sun.

Among the best for: Bargains, Families, Northeast, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, Victorians, Walkability, Waterfront

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

St. Cloud, Minnesota

Photo by Greg Molenaar

Once named the "Granite City" thanks to its many quarries and stone-finishing businesses, St. Cloud is now known for its strong drive for preservation of historic homes and buildings. Many are flocking to the city to take advantage of its walkability and the perks of being near the culture of St. Cloud State University.

The Houses

Many of the houses were built during the Victorian era and include Queen Annes as well as a selection of Richardsonian Romanesques. Houses can be had starting at $100,000 and top out at about $400,000.

Why Buy Now?

After decades as an industrial city, St. Cloud is refocusing its efforts on becoming a tourist destination billed as "Granite Country USA." The central business district of the downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places, and property owners are being encouraged to perform exterior improvements in a historically sensitive manner.

Among the best for: College Towns, Fixer-Uppers, Midwest, 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

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

Stuyvesant Heights, Brooklyn, New York

Photo by Courtesy of the Historic Districts Council

For years real estate agent Judd Harris kept a close eye on Brooklyn's Stuyvesant Heights. He was waiting to see if it would start attracting the same kind of brownstone buffs who'd helped jump-start the real estate frenzies that have taken hold of nearby neighborhoods Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. These days he likes what he sees. "If you're a buyer looking for lots of architectural detail, this place has a lot to offer," he says. "And homes are still within reach of the average New York City buyer." This culturally rich nabe is shedding its high-crime rep as restaurants, bakeries, and cafes open their doors to new and longtime residents, all of whom want a distinctly Brooklyn lifestyle for themselves and their families.

The Houses

Home to perhaps the most diverse array of townhouses in New York City, ranging in style from Federal to the ubiquitous Italianate brownstone to Queen Anne.

Why Buy Now?

While prices for townhouses were creeping into the millions a few years ago, they've come down of late. Some fixer-uppers are going for as low as $475,000. It won't stay that way.

Among the best for: Bargains, City Life, Easy Commute, Families, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, Northeast, Victorians, Walkability

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

Bennington, Vermont

Photo by Kathryn Kelly

It should come as no surprise that Bennington, a scenic Vermont town known for its antiques shops, pottery, art galleries, and hippie haven Bennington College, is home to dozens of celebrated poets, painters, and musicians. Robert Frost is buried here. And if the town looks like a Norman Rockwell painting, it's probably because his studio was just 20 miles outside downtown. The other part of its appeal is its convenient location: Nestled between the Taconic and Green Mountains in the southwestern corner of the state, it's the perfect weekend retreat for Boston and New York City urbanites looking to escape the grind. If the hometown hospitality doesn't lure you away for good, the Vermont maple syrup just might do the trick.

The Houses

Old Bennington, the site of a colonial settlement and one of three historic districts, has stately Greek Revival, Victorian, and Colonial Revival homes starting in the low $300,000s for fixer-uppers. Moving away from the center of town, 1930s Craftsman cottages list for under $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

Prices in Bennington are a little lower than Manchester and surrounding cities, so if you're looking for small-town living that's close to the great outdoors—and still within reach of a big city—Bennington fits the bill.

Among the best for: College Towns, Fixer-Uppers, Gardening, Northeast, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, Small Town, Walkability

Solar Hill Historic District, Bristol, Virginia

Photo by Courtesy of Solar Hill Historic District Association

Bristol is a city with an identity crisis. Half of it is in Virginia, the other in Tennessee, with the border running down the middle of its main street. But Solar Hill—entirely on the Virginia side—has a distinct personality. Long before 1869, when the observatory for which the neighborhood is named was built, Solar Hill was a stagecoach crossroads. Prominent travelers, including future presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson, made overnight stops. The area has a nice view of downtown, and tons of big, beautiful old houses, whose preservation has become a top priority. The town has newly renovated sidewalks, street lamps, and historic markers that make for easy walking tours.

The Houses

Solar Hill has houses dating to the early 1800s and 1900s. Styles include Federal, Neoclassical, Queen Anne, Italianate, Colonial Revival, Tudor, and Craftsman, priced between $80,000 and $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

Although the district is listed on the state and national historic registers, there are no zoning ordinances affecting property improvement. Bristol is also a great place for music lovers. In 1998 the United States Congress officially recognized it as the "Birthplace of Country Music," where Ralph Peer began recording country musicians, including the Carter Family, for Victor Records in 1927. Bristol is now home to dozens of music venues that attract artists of local and national scale.

Among the best for: Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, History Happened Here, Small Town, Victorians, Walkability, 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

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Photo by Midge Flinn Yost

Only 309 people can call the small town of Harpers Ferry home. But more than half a million visitors stop by each year to see the site of the United States Amory and Arsenal, which John Brown raided in 1859 in a failed attempt to end slavery. Situated at the scenic intersection of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, Harpers Ferry now has a national park built around the historic site. The downtown has old-timey shops and restaurants and a housing stock that looks as attractive as it did in the 19th century, thanks to the Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation.

The Houses

Thanks to limited building lots, subdivision development never took place here. But as the population ages and downsizes, it is easier to find 18th-, 19th-, and early-20th-century houses starting around $150,000. Some of the earliest structures were destroyed during the Civil War, but there are Federal houses from the 1830s still standing in "Upper Town," alongside Queen Annes from the late 1800s.

Why Buy Now?

There's a push for preservation in Harpers Ferry, and the West Virginia government is willing to help bear some of the financial burden of rehabilitation. A 20 percent state tax credit is available for money spent on remodeling a personal residence, and the state has a grant program for project funding as well.

Among the best for: Bargains, Families, History Happened Here, Small Town, South, Walkability, Waterfront

Beloit, Wisconsin

Photo by Courtesy of Beloit Neighborhood Preservation Association

Despite its proximity to Chicago and Milwaukee and its three resident multi-billion-dollar international companies, Beloit, Wisconsin, has managed to maintain its small-town feel and affordable historic housing. Its old-house neighborhoods are just a short walk away from a revitalized downtown district, riverfront, and the cultural and intellectual offerings of Beloit College, known for the ancient Indian mounds on campus.

The Houses

Foursquares run as low as $80,000, while larger, move-in-ready Georgian Revival and Queen Anne homes can be purchased for under $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

Though homes within one of Beloit's historic districts automatically qualify for the state's historic-home tax credit, houses outside the zoned areas may apply for individual listing to receive the 25 percent credit as well. The Beloit Neighborhood Association maintains a list of historic homes on the market, which will help with your search for the perfect home. They've also got a list of recommended local trade and service professionals to help with renovations.

Among the best for: Bargains, College Towns, Fixer-Uppers, Midwest, Small Town, Victorians, Walkability, Waterfront

The Junction, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Photo by Courtesy of Benjamin Ferguson, RE/MAX Hallmark Realty

The Junction wasn't always as welcoming as it is now. In July 2009, The New York Times called the neighborhood's ongoing transition "skid row to hip," and the Junction is gaining favor among young professionals while maintaining a character that's both edgy and artsy. There's also increased interest from young families, who like the Junction's proximity to several of Toronto's best parks. The dozens of locally owned cafes, pubs, boutiques, and restaurants that have opened in recent years are attracting buyers who like the older housing stock tucked away behind the neighborhood's commercial strip.

The Houses

Mostly wood-frame Victorian-era homes with brick facades, with some Edwardian-era brick duplexes and Victorian-era mansions thrown in. Many were divided into apartments over the years but can easily be turned back into single-family residences. Keep in mind that Toronto is a pricey city. Houses start around $300,000 and run to about $500,000.

Why Buy Now?

Businesses and homeowners are flocking here. Best to get in on the action now because home prices will no doubt rise quickly.

Among the best for: City Life, Easy Commute, Fixer-Uppers, Singles, Victorians, Walkability