clock menu more-arrow no yes

Best Old House Neighborhoods 2011: First-Time Buyers

If you're investing in your first home, these towns may hold some special charms for you

Best Old House Neighborhoods 2011: First-Time Buyers

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.

]

Here are our 24 favorite places where newbies to the housing market can find a home that fits their budget and size needs.

Silver City, New Mexico

Photo by Colleen Stinar

Retired professors and young academics alike flock to this former metal-mining boomtown nestled in the foothills of the Pinos Altos Mountains. Part of the draw may be its Old West roots—a former Apache campsite, Billy the Kid is said to have spent his formative years here in the state's southwestern corner. But today, as home to Western New Mexico University and a burgeoning arts scene, and bordering 3.3 million acres of untamed national forest, this community of about 10,000 is a contender for anyone seeking low-key living. "It's a laid-back lifestyle—people go hiking, biking, birding," says real estate agent Colleen Stinar. "It's like Santa Fe, without the pretentiousness." Looking to explore the local terrain? Nature lovers will find an active Audubon chapter and native plant society, while townies inclined to cultural events enjoy art gallery walks, blues and jazz concerts, and experimental theater performances.

The Houses

Clustered around the University and in the city's other five historic districts is an eclectic mix of brick Queen Anne cottages, other Victorian-era homes, Territorial adobes, and bungalows with southwestern flair (some with adobe construction). Prices range from $120,000 to $250,000, depending on size and condition. We recently spotted a restored smaller bungalow—a good fit for a first-time buyer or young family—for $85,500.

Why Buy Here?

New Mexico's property taxes are among the lowest in the country, and Silver City's housing market is affordable compared with other residential oases in this state. Dollars also go far here in terms of the quality of life—the cost of living is somewhat lower than the national average.

Among the best for: The Southwest, Fixer-Uppers, College Towns, Retirees, Family Friendly, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Outdoor Activities

The West Broadway Neighborhood, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Photo by City of Winnipeg, Planning, Property and Development Department

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."

The Houses

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

Leslieville, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Photo by Courtesy of TorontoNeighbourhoodGuide.com

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.

The Houses

"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

Eckington, District of Columbia

Photo by Jennifer Evert

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.

The Houses

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

Martinsburg, West Virginia

Photo by Courtesy of Charles Connolly

"You gave me one quarter too many," Ed Trout beckons to a customer who's hightailing it out of his King Street Coffee & Tobacco Emporium after buying a cup of joe. It's a shining example of how people seem to look out for one another in Martinsburg, a city of 17,000 with decidedly small-town tendencies. Trout was born and raised in Martinsburg, where he spent his childhood hooking catfish and walleye on the nearby Potomac River. He went away for college, but came back in the early 1990s to open his store in one of Martinsburg's historic downtown commercial buildings. Those storefronts also house Italian restaurants, mom-and-pop drug stores, and a full-fledged chocolate factory. Trout says his coffee-and-cigar shop is emblematic of Martinsburg's convivial atmosphere. "It goes back to the old general store days," he says, "where you'd show up each day, say hi to your friends—and just tell your stories."

The Houses

Martinsburg is home to ten National Register Historic Districts, with every American house style imaginable—from Federal to Foursquare. More opulent houses are on King and Queen streets, where 19th-century industrialists who made their fortunes in the textiles mills built large Queen Anne, Georgian Revival, and Colonial Revival mansions. Prices for starter homes begin at less than $100K, but a restored four-bedroom Queen Anne with a huge yard for gardening can be had for $250,000.

Why Buy Here?

This self-proclaimed "Gateway to the Shenandoah Valley" has grown in popularity over the years, as commuters from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore move here for a relaxing change of pace (despite the two-hour journey). A new Macy's distribution center, now under construction, will offer more than a thousand jobs.

Among the best for: The South, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Retirees, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Small Towns, Gardening

North Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas

Photo by Courtesy of Michael Amonett

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.

The Houses

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

East Nashville, Nashville, Tennessee

Photo by Courtesy of Carol Norton

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.

The Houses

"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

Field Club Historic District, Omaha, Nebraska

Photo by Courtesy of Tim Holland

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 Houses

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

Deering Center, Portland, Maine

Photo by <a href="http://www.sandyagrafiotis.com/" target="_blank">Sandy Agrafiotis</a>

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 Houses

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

Elkader, Iowa

Photo by Courtesy of Elkader Development Corp.

"We are the only town in America named after a Muslim revolutionary," says Mary Harstad. Founded in 1846, the place is indeed named for Abd al-Qadir, the so-called Father of Algeria, who fought the French occupation, beginning in the 1830s. His bravery so inspired the founders of the town that they named it after him—with an Americanized spelling. Mary and her husband, Donald Harstad, a successful crime novelist, left their hometown for Los Angeles for several years but realized their mistake and moved back. She walks to work at the Chamber of Commerce, located in the basement of a still-operating 1903 opera house. Elkader's revitalized downtown also features a first-run movie theater and Schera's, a popular Algerian-American restaurant.

The Houses

Many were based on pattern book design by turn-of-the-century architect George Franklin Barber, who helped make the Queen Anne style ubiquitous nationwide in the late 1800s. The houses feature elaborate wraparound porches, second-story balconies, flamboyant spindle-work, and, in many cases, front-yard gardens. You'll find brick Greek Revivals, smaller Folk Victorians, and bungalows, too. Prices range from $60,000 for a handyman's special to $300,000 for a restored Painted Lady.

Why Buy Here?

Elkader, a settlement of just under 1,500, seemingly has no cons: The streets are safe for kids to walk or to ride their bikes, and adults blow off steam fishing or kayaking on the Turkey River. Cedar Rapids, an hour away, can help fill in what is often a small-town blank: gainful employment.

Among the best for: The Midwest, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Family Friendly, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Small Towns, Gardening, Outdoor Activities, History Happened Here

Greencastle, Indiana

Photo by Courtesy of Phillip Gick, Heritage Preservation Society of Putnam County, Ind.

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 Houses

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

Normal Hill, Lewiston, Idaho

Photo by Tricia Canaday

From the front porches of noble Victorian-era houses in Lewiston's Normal Hill neighborhood, one can see cargo ships resting at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, packed with Idaho wheat and ready to embark on export journeys to the Pacific Rim. Located in the Lewis Clark Valley, this city of about 33,000 has the distinction of being the West's most inland seaport, some 465 miles from the coast. One of its most established—and beloved—old neighborhoods is Normal Hill, which got its name from Lewiston State Normal School, a 19th-century teacher's college, and is now home to Lewis-Clark State College. LCSC offers the families and students who live here entertainment options from theatrical performances to basketball games. Locals can also easily walk down Fifth Avenue to the many bars, restaurants, and bakeries in downtown Lewiston.

The Houses

Homes here range from late-19th-century Queen Annes with river views to smaller Craftsman-style bungalows and Tudor Revival cottages, many of which have ample yards for gardening. We found a stunning 1,614-square-foot 1928 Craftsman with all its original built-in cabinetry—and a cool 1940s retro kitchen—for $120,000. Prices for river-view houses range from $130,000 up to $300,000, depending on size.

Why Buy Here?

Lewiston is part of the nation's "banana belt," meaning it has mild winters and hot summers. While we think it's one of the best places in the country to find an old house, Outdoor Life magazine recently named it the Number 1 town in America for sportsmen, due to the amazing fishing and hunting opportunities offered by nearby Hells Canyon.

Among the best for: The West & Northwest, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Waterfront, Cottages & Bungalows, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Victorians, Gardening, Walkability

Whittier Mill Village, Atlanta, Georgia

Photo by Courtesy of Chris Hannah

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.

The Houses

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

Milton, Delaware

Photo by Gary Cooke

"We still have work to do," says Melinda Huff, executive director of the Milton Historical Society about getting her little river town the recognition it deserves. Still, Milton has accomplished quite a bit already. Settled in the early 1680s, the town's Historic District was listed National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Now Milton is in the process of nominating 240 more historic homes on the Register as well. Located near the state's eastern shore at the Broadkill River's head, Milton was, at various times, a 19th-century schooner-building center, the "Holly Capital of the World," and a hotbed for buttonmaking. Nowadays it's just a friendly small town, with nearly 2,000 parents, kids, grandparents, and young professionals who love Milton for summer's sweet corn, cones from King's Ice Cream, and other favorite summer pastimes, like fishing, canoeing, and gardening.

The Houses

About 40 percent of Milton's homes have been restored, but there are still plenty of deals to be had. The Milton National Historic District includes 198 National Register—listed structures—among them Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival homes—plus bungalows and vernacular styles. Some contain wide-plank floorboards taken from sailing vessels, stained-glass windows, hand carvings, and newel posts made of walnut or oak. Currently, an 1830s vernacular home with Federal characteristics is on the market for $200,000, though it needs a fair amount of restoration work.

Why Buy Here?

Anyone who enjoys boating, fishing, or maritime history—which is well documented at the Milton Historic Society's museum—would feel pretty comfy here. Milton is also home to the famed Dogfishhead brewery, so you won't ever have a hard time tracking down some fresh 90-Minute IPA or Chicory Stout.

Among the best for: The Northeast, Waterfront, Family Friendly, First-Time Buyers, Small Towns, Gardening, Walkability

Tariffville Village, Simsbury, Connecticut

Photo by Wanda Colman, Tariffville Village Association

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.

The Houses

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

Ghost Historic District, Denver, Colorado

Photo by Laurie Simmons, Front Range Research Associates Inc.

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.

The Houses

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

Park Hill, North Little Rock, Arkansas

Photo by Courtesy of Cary Tyson

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.

The Houses

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

Historic Garden District, Montgomery, Alabama

Photo by TK

Twelve short blocks from downtown Montgomery, the Garden District is home to 2,500 residents as diverse as its architecture. Young singles and 30-something professionals are drawn to a community that is ethnically varied, socially diverse, and still every bit as genteel as any small town in the old South. Described as a neighborhood "where civility never went away," by local Sandra Nickel, a resident since 1980, the Historic Garden District's sidewalked streets are lined with the charming domiciles of neighbors who greet each other on weekday mornings and head home from work to eat lunch. On weekends, gardening has long remained a passion among local homeowners, and brightly colored vegetables and flora are the pride of the area's oversized lots.

The Houses

Once home to many of Montgomery's early business leaders, the Garden District is a trove of Greek Revivals, Colonial Revivals, and Craftsman-style bungalows in every imaginable condition. At the neighborhood's humble north end, near two interstates and a commercial area, a cottage or bungalow in the full-on fixer-upper category (requiring a roof replacement and gut renovation) might go for as little as $25,000, while a fully restored small home is likely to be priced in the $125,000 to $175,000 range. Houses get larger and pricier—and have generally benefited more from Montgomery's renewal—toward the district's mansion-lined south end, where grand residences sell for upwards of $300,000, depending on size and location.

Why Buy Here?

Montgomery has for the most part escaped the country's employment woes, thanks in part to a Hyundai manufacturing plant that opened here in 2005 and employs 2,700 people. The company's success brought several car-parts suppliers to the region, and thousands more jobs. With all those happily working people, it's no wonder the Garden District is experiencing a revival.

Among the best for: The South, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Cottages & Bungalows, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Gardening, Walkability

Lambertville, New Jersey

Photo by Courtesy of Lambertville Historical Society

Everything from hairpins to toilets was once manufactured in tiny Lambertville. But the former industrial center has changed: This Delaware River enclave is now home to nearly 5,000 artists, writers, retirees, shop owners, and big-city professionals (who brave 45- or 90-minute commutes to Philadelphia or Manhattan, respectively). What Lambertville lacks in population it makes up for in house-reviving spirit. It's a hotbed for carpenters, masons, architects, antiques dealers, and other home-restoration pros, and a destination for those embarking on the endearingly prickly journey of rehabbing an old home. Mornings, you can stroll the Union Street antiques shops or the nearby renowned Golden Nugget Antique Market.

The Houses

A history dating back to 1705 means Lambertville has accumulated a wide range of architectural styles. "Every house is unique," says Holly Havens, a real estate agent who settled in Lambertville in 1995. The town center offers early-19th-century Federal to Greek Revival and later Italian Villa, Gothic Revival, English Cottage, French Second Empire, and Queen Anne homes, as well as 1850s rowhouses built for Irish canal workers. Craftsman bungalows and vernacular cottages dot outlying hills. Those game for heavy lifting can grab a storied house with good bones for a song. We found a two-bedroom Colonial rowhouse dating to the 1700s for $168,000 (yep, it needs work).

Why Buy Here?

If you're looking for a small—but growing—artisan-friendly town, or a commutable rural pocket, Lambertville is your place. "It's Oz," says Havens. "We're so tucked away." And did we mention the deals?

Among the best for: The Northeast, Bargains, Waterfront, Retirees, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Small Towns, Outdoor Activities, Walkability

Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Photo by Vicki Stewart

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.

The Houses

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

South Kingstown, Rhode Island

Photo by Richard Youngken

South Kingstown is a big town in a tiny state: The 57-square-mile community, just north of Atlantic inlet Point Judith Pond, comprises 14 villages, several with historical designation for exemplary architecture. South Kingstown's jewel, the Kingston Village Historic District, founded in the 1700s as Little Rest, earned National Register standing in 1974. The neighborhood is adjacent to the 14,000-student University of Rhode Island, giving its stately blocks a vibrant energy. A bike trail follows a defunct rail line from West Kingston beachward, passing former mill sites in the villages of Peace Dale and Wakefield, where artists and academics have been colonizing old millworkers' cottages and factory buildings. Add in good schools and shopping, and Newport or Providence within a 30-minute commute, and you've got a draw for all ages and professions.

The Houses

Kingston Village Historic District is home to South Kingstown's oldest houses, ranging from Federal and other early-American styles up through the Victorian era's Queen Annes. Peace Dale's vernacular millworkers' cottages charm with their picket fences and cozy front porches, and retail-heavy Wakefield hides a pocket of late-19th-century styles, including Queen Annes, Capes, Colonial Revivals and vernaculars. Recently for sale was an 1891 three-bedroom Colonial Revival in Peace Dale for $185,000.

Why Buy Here?

"It's a lovely, preserved old town," says Catherine Gagnon, who recently purchased a home in Kingston with business partner Ann Danis for $300,000. The two musicians plan to open Lily's at Little Rest, a three-guest-room bed-and-breakfast. They chose South Kingstown for its possibilities, with an affordable market and supportive preservation community, as well as proximity to the beach and plenty of historic sites. "We're excited," Gagnon says.

Among the best for: The Northeast, College Towns, Waterfront, Family Friendly, Cottages & Bungalows, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Outdoor Activities

Melrose Heights Historic District, Columbia, South Carolina

Photo by Courtesy of the Historic Columbia Foundation

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.

The Houses

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

Hardwick, Vermont

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.

The Houses

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

Francestown, New Hampshire

Photo by TK

"We've been open for—hmm—about 197 years now," says Jason Martel, owner of the Francestown Village Store. Indeed, for two centuries, residents of this southern New Hampshire town have been coming here for their groceries, hardware, and just about everything else. "These days, we also carry 450 types of beer and roasted seaweed for sushi," Martel adds. The store is the glue that holds the town of about 1,500 together (and yes, it sells glue, too). Almost all of the buildings and houses here were built between the late 1700s and the late 1800s, when Francestown was bypassed by the railroad. Hindsight says that was a fortuitous turn: Had things transpired differently, the town wouldn't be the charmer of a bedroom community—many residents commute to Boston or Manchester—that it is today.

The Houses

Popular styles include Cape Cod and Federal, many with beautiful English-style gardens. Recently for sale was one of Francestown's few Victorian-era houses, a 2,287-square-foot Queen Anne on a quarter acre, on the market for $225,000. Also available: a 3,056-square-foot 1826 Federal, with an attached barn, for $295,000.

Why Buy Here?

Anyone looking for a quiet, rural community in which to settle down will find a fine option here. But be warned: There is no nightlife here to speak of. "Once I close my doors, the town's done for the day," Martel says. Action awaits about 20 miles away in Manchester, or in Boston, a 90-minute drive. It's a great place for skiers, though, being the home of the Crotched Mountain ski area.

Among the best for: First-Time Buyers, Gardening, Northeast, Small Towns, Outdoor Activities