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Best Old House Neighborhoods 2010: Family Friendly

Whether it's becasue of the good schools, safe streets, or neighbors who look out for each other, here are 22 great places to raise your kids

Best Old House Neighborhoods 2010: Family Friendly

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.

Whether it's becasue of the good schools, safe streets, or neighbors who look out for each other, here are 22 great places to raise your kids.

Capitol View, Little Rock, Arkansas

Photo by Courtesy of Holly Hope

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

The Houses

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

Why Buy Now?

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

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

West Adams, Los Angeles, California

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

The Houses

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

Why Buy Now?

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

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

Harwinton, Connecticut

Photo:

Nestled in the rolling hills of northwestern Connecticut, Harwinton was an agricultural town when it was incorporated in 1737. The community has maintained its rural character through open-space ordinances, the preservation of original stone walls, and support for the protection of a scenic dirt road. While farms are still in operation, many residents now make their living in tool-and-die manufacturing, construction, and landscaping.

The Houses

Whether you're looking to raise a family or retire to a smaller space, you'll find something to suit your needs. The oldest buildings date back to the 18th century, but there are a number of Federal, Italianate, and early-20th-century Colonial Revival homes available in a variety of sizes and prices. The average price of a home at press time was just under $200,000.

Why Buy Now?

In Harwinton you get a lot of land for your money; zoning rules require a two-acre-lot minimum per house. And if you need help tending your lawn, splitting firewood, or researching your home's history, neighbors are friendly and willing to jump in and lend a hand.

Among the best for: Families, Gardening, Northeast, Retirees, Small Town, Victorians

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

The West Side, Pocatello, Idaho

Photo by Courtesy of Mike Theiring & Bob Wallace

Since the mid-1990s, "the West side of Pokey," as locals call it, has transformed itself from beat-down to bohemian. Young, forward-thinking couples are moving here to raise families, and young business owners are opening bookstores, brewpubs, and bike shops catering to those looking for a cool, creative lifestyle far, far away from big cities, like New York or San Francisco. The West Side is also luring outdoorsy types, who love the area's skiing, hiking, hunting, and fishing, and retirees looking for a stimulating college town to live in. (Pocatello is home to Idaho State.) The West Side got its start in the late 1800s as home to hundreds of working-class employees of the Union Pacific Railroad. As the town grew and businesses started moving in, many of Pocatello's more affluent families started coming here, building large, luxurious Queen Anne mansions.

The Houses

Most date from the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the growing popularity of the neighborhood, West Side real estate prices remain affordable, hovering just above the $150,000 mark, but at press time we found a 2,100-square-foot, five-bedroom 1920s house for just $109,900.

Why Buy Now?

Investment in the West Side has been steady since the mid-1990s, when urban pioneers began restoring its old houses and commercial buildings. The economy in Pocatello is surviving the downturn thanks to stalwart employers, such as Idaho State and the medical and semiconductor industries.

Among the best for: Bargains, College Towns, Families, History Happened Here, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, Small Town, West and Northwest

North Mayfair, Chicago, Illinois

The Neighborhood

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

The Houses

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

Why Buy Now?

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

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

The Longfellow Neighborhood, Iowa City, Iowa

Photo by Bill Whittaker

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

The Houses

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

Why Buy Now?

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

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

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

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

North End, Nashua, New Hampshire

Photo by Carollee Hayward

Nashua was originally planned as a manufacturing township by famed American architect Asher Benjamin back in 1823. Today the city, 36 miles north of Boston, has outgrown its original grid footprint and traded its textiles for the tech industry. But the North End's beautiful old homes and large, overgrown maples are the real draw for those tiring of the bustle of Boston's bedroom communities. Still, Nashua is no sleepy New England town, especially for those at home in the great outdoors. The North End borders Greely Park, a place for summer picnicking and evening concerts, and is close to the Nashua River Rail Trail, a newly expanded, 17-mile-long waterfront bike route that takes riders across the Massachusetts border.

The Houses

Prices for the North End's elegant estates have followed suit with the rest of the real estate market. Classic Colonial Revivals and ornate Queen Annes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, once listed in the millions, now start around $300,000.

Why Buy Now?

After years of passing their property down through the family, longtime residents looking to downsize are finally putting their big, beautiful North End homes on the market. If Boston is your work center, you'll get more bang for your buck by buying in southern New Hampshire than in Massachusetts. And with the money you save, you'll have a nice nest egg for renovations.

Among the best for: Families, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, History Happened Here, Northeast, Singles, Victorians, Waterfront

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

Grand Forks, North Dakota

Photo by Brent Krenelka

Looking to settle down and raise a family? Grand Forks consistently ranks as one of safest cities in the country to do so. It also has excellent public schools, and it's home to the University of North Dakota, which provides plenty of intellectual stimulation—and collegiate sports. In short, Grand Forks offers the best of both worlds: a small, tight-knit community set against a stimulating cosmopolitan backdrop.

The Houses

The oldest, most stately historic homes are found in Old Grand Forks along the tree-lined Reeves Drive. A 1901 turreted Queen Anne was listed this past November for just over $500,000. Elsewhere you can find smaller early-20th-century homes starting in the low $100,000s.

Why Buy Now?

Despite the economic downturn, Grand Forks' housing market has remained mostly stable. The median home price has declined only about $1,000 since October 2008, but local real estate agents insist this city is still a buyer's market.

Among the best for: College Towns, Families, Midwest, Victorians

Midtown Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Photo by Courtesy of Amanda DeCort, City of Tulsa Planning Department

If you've ever been to Tulsa, you know it's home to some of the finest—and leafiest—residential neighborhoods in the country. And the finest of the finest are in Midtown. Here's where the Sunday-drive set motors down shady blocks, slowing down to note the contact info from a For Sale sign in hopes of someday living here. The appeal is easy to understand. Aside from beautiful houses, Midtown is home to an urban forest and a massive neighborhood park located along the Arkansas River. Residents also love its walkable avenues, which are lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants.

The Houses

Midtown's best homes were built around the turn of the 20th century, when Tulsa went from cow town to boom town with the discovery of oil. Deep-pocketed oil barons built homes in several classical styles, including Neoclassical Revival, Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival. The bungalows and ranches came later. A slew of teardowns in the past decade made way for newer homes (and some rather unsightly McMansions), but that's slowed down in recent years. You can get a 1,500-square-foot fixer-upper starting at $175,000, though prices tend to climb the closer you get to downtown Tulsa.

Why Buy Now?

This is a well-established neighborhood, with stable home prices and friendly lifelong residents. Its safe streets and good schools make it a prime location for families. And prices vary enough to ensure there's something for everyone, from starter homes to manses.

Among the best for: Bargains, City Life, Easy Commute, Families, First-Time Buyers, Gardening, Outdoor Activities, Southwest, Waterfront

The McLoughlin Neighborhood, Oregon City, Oregon

Photo by Courtesy of McLoughlin Neighborhood Association

Oregon City was the final terminus of the Oregon Trail; in the mid-1800s, thousands of pioneers ended up here searching for farmland, business opportunities, or simply a fresh start. And many of those who succeeded wound up building houses, creating a neighborhood that managed to dodge the economic ups and downs of the last century. This cluster of fine homes is set on a cliff overlooking the Willamette River and punctuated by church steeples.

The Houses

Development here was haphazard. So while there are clumps of similarly styled houses, you're more likely to find a Queen Anne next door to a bungalow next door to a 1950s ranch. Prices range from $150,000 to $200,000 for a 3-bedroom Victorian-era cottage or a bungalow to $250,000 to $350,000 for a large, restored Queen Anne.

Why Buy Now?

No matter what you're looking for—whether it's a starter home or a fully restored 3,000-square-foot manse—you can find it here. Prices are substantially lower than they are in Portland, which is just 25 minutes away.

Among the best for: Bargains, City Life, Families, First-Time Buyers, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, Waterfront, West and Northwest

Cranston, Rhode Island

Photo by Josh Wood

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

The Houses

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

Why Buy Now?

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

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

Junius Heights, Dallas, Texas

Photo by Courtesy of Bill Williams

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

The Houses

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

Why Buy Now?

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

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

Old Historic Sandy, Sandy City, Utah

Photo by Michael Wilcox

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

The Houses

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

Why Buy Now?

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

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

The McKinley Hill Neighborhood, Tacoma, Washington

Photo by Courtesy of Kali Kucera

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

The Houses

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

Why Buy Now?

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

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

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

Downtown Laramie, Laramie, Wyoming

Photo by Courtesy of Richard Collier, State Historic Preservation Office

A former railroad and ranch town, Laramie has a leg up on the rest of Wyoming, both artistically and athletically. As home to the state's only four-year university, Laramie offers theater and dance performances at the University of Wyoming's Fine Arts Center, as well as collegiate football at U. W.'s 32,000-seat Arena Auditorium. But the Gem City caters to more than just its student population. Nestled between the Laramie and the Medicine Bow Mountains, avid skiers can choose from nearby cross-country trails or downhill slopes. The summer months see most of Laramie's 250-plus days of yearly sunshine, letting residents partake in mountain biking, rafting, and trout fishing.

The Houses

Fixer-uppers within walking distance of the university start in the low to mid $100,000s. You'll find cozy little Craftsman bungalows and quaint vernacular cottages built in the 1920s and 1930s, but the true stunners are the Queen Annes framed by the area's century-old cottonwood trees.

Why Buy Now?

Besides being a university town and an outdoorsman's paradise, Laramie is a tax haven. Residents pay no state income taxes, and personal property taxes are among the lowest in the nation.

Among the best for: Bargains, College Towns, Families, Gardening, Victorians, West and Northwest