Best Old House Neighborhoods 2010: Fixer-Uppers
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.
There are plenty of homes in these more than two dozen places where you can find a bargain if you’re willing to put in a little elbow grease.
Union Springs, Alabama
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 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
Capitol View, Little Rock, Arkansas
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.
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.
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
Curtis Park, Denver, Colorado
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. ]
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
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 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
Old Town Historic District, Brunswick, Georgia
Located on a peninsula surrounded by tributaries to the Atlantic, the unspoiled coastal community of Brunswick offers laid-back neighborhoods shaded by oaks. At its center is a quaint, turn-of-the-century Main Street with dozens of welcoming restaurants, cafes, and shops. The city is modeled after James Oglethorpe’s “Savannah Plan,” with homes built around parklike squares.
Brunswick sports a number of Queen Annes, Gothic Revivals, and Second Empires. Homes start at $75,000 for a small fixer-upper and $190,000 for a larger, restored home.
Why Buy Now?
With an expanded marina, new businesses on Main Street, and a progressive, preservation-minded mayor, Brunswick is poised to become a vacation and full-time hot spot. Though overdevelopment has hindered the charms of nearby barrier islands, Brunswick remains largely preserved and refreshingly authentic. “It’s still pristine,” says transplant Julie Martin. “It still feels like a small town, not a tourist trap.”
Among the best for: Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Gardening, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, Small Town, Victorians, Waterfront
North Mayfair, Chicago, Illinois
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.
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
West Central Neighborhood, Fort Wayne, Indiana
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.
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.
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
Founded in 1774 as the first permanent English settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains, Harrodsburg is the kind of place most people think of when they imagine Kentucky. Located about 45 minutes from Lexington, the town is surrounded by rolling countryside, with scattered hand-laid stone walls and prestigious horse farms. Recent facade improvement grants have allowed a sprucing up of the downtown’s turn-of-the-century commercial buildings, which are being offered up to anyone willing to do something interesting with them (a coffee shop and art gallery are in the works). Those with a love for the outdoors will find plenty of hiking and biking trails, as well as top-notch fishing at nearby Herrington Lake.
The most expensive and sought-after homes are Greek Revivals, which sell from $250,000 to $375,000. A Colonial Revival or Queen Anne can be had starting at around $125,000, while Craftsman homes start at just $45,000. Many of the older homes are located in town, though there are plenty of historic farmhouses to be found on the outskirts.
Why Buy Now?
This is an ideal location for anyone looking to escape the headaches of city life and settle down in a quiet, Mayberry-like small town on the verge of a renaissance. After decades spent as an agricultural community, Harrodsburg wants to rebrand itself as a progressive small town by offering up new arts and literary festivals.
Among the best for: Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Gardening, History Happened Here, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, Small Town, South, Victorians
The Garden District, Monroe, Louisiana
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 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
St. Cloud, Minnesota
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.
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
Holly Springs, Mississippi
When it comes to Southern charm, the north Mississippi town of Holly Springs—population just 7,900—has it all: antebellum homes with wraparound porches, tree-lined streets, Dixie-centric film shoots (including Cookie’s Fortune), a literary touchstone (Jan Karon’s Mitford novel series), and lots and lots of history. The town played reluctant host to General Grant during the Civil War, and it’s also where Civil Rights leader Ida B. Wells, an alum of the town’s historic Rust College, began her efforts to end lynching in the South. City life awaits about 35 miles northwest in Memphis, Tennessee, while more rural activities, such as fishing, hiking, and hunting, are just outside town. And if that builds an appetite, chow down at Phillips Grocery, which, according to USA Today, serves up one of the world’s greatest burgers.
Once called an “encyclopedia of antebellum houses” by The New York Times, Holly Springs’ residential architecture runs the gamut from Greek Revival to Gothic Revival and Queen Anne to Italianate. While many houses were destroyed during the Civil War, 60 pre-war examples survive. Homes start around $120,000 for a large brick 1930s Craftsman on a corner lot, while some of the town’s columned antebellum mansions can be had for about $600,000.
Why Buy Now?
Holly Springs isn’t necessarily a booming economic town, but there are plenty of jobs in nearby Memphis, so many looking for affordable old homes that are worth the sweat equity are settling here. The town is also becoming a popular alternative to Oxford, just a half hour south, where rising prices—and, many would say, too many newcomers—are spoiling its small-college-town vibe.
Among the best for: Bargains, College Towns, Easy Commute, Fixer-Uppers, Gardening, History Happened Here, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, South, Victorians
Old Lee’s Summit, Lee’s Summit, Missouri
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.
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
Uptown, Butte, Montana
Back in its copper mining heyday, Butte’s population peaked at 100,000, with pioneers migrating by the droves, hoping to lay claim to the region’s abundant material riches. Rimmed by the Rocky Mountains and nestled on the Continental Divide—within a 2-hour’s drive of Yellowstone National Park—the Butte of today is smaller and geared more toward a festival-and-tourism-based economy. But it retains the ethnic diversity of its original settlers and their architectural tastes; you’ll find hundreds of historic homes in a range of sizes and styles.
The local architecture catalogs two building booms that took place in the 1880s and 1910s to accommodate the influx of miners. Tiny cottages and simple shotguns mingle with grand Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and Italianate mansions. The average price of homes here is $116,000, though fixer-uppers can be found for substantially less.
Why Buy Now?
If you’re looking to buy and renovate an old home, you won’t be tackling it alone. The Butte Citizens for Preservation and Renovation, a nonprofit, grass-roots organization, runs workshops on brick, window, and interior-wood repair and holds regular salvage sales, where historic building materials can be purchased at reasonable prices.
Among the best for: Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, Fixer-Uppers, History Happened Here, Midwest, Outdoor Activities, Victorians
Central Hastings Historic District, Hastings, Nebraska
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.
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
Mesilla, New Mexico
The heart of Mesilla is its historic 19th-century plaza, where locals and tourists go to dine at its top-notch Mexican restaurants and imbibe at its cantinas. Many think of their town as a hidden gem, a place where one can find all the Southwestern charms of tony Santa Fe at a fraction of the cost. Originally part of Mexico, Mesilla retains its authentic south-of-the-border culture and is home to a diverse group of residents who share the frontier credo of “live and let live.”
Most are adobe, built between the 1850s and 1950s. The houses vary in condition, from precarious to pristine. That’s good news, since a fixer-upper here can be had for as little as $100,000, topping off at around $350,000.
Why Buy Now?
Adobe architecture is hot, hot, hot, partly because it’s such an energy-efficient building style. Many DIYers have descended on Mesilla in the past decade looking to restore an adobe house of their very own. Those fixer-uppers probably won’t be available for long.
Among the best for: Bargains, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, Outdoor Activities, Retirees, Singles, Southwest
Stuyvesant Heights, Brooklyn, New York
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.
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
Salisbury, North Carolina
We’ve featured the small Piedmont-region city of Salisbury several times in our Save This Old House column. And with good reason. This place is packed with great old houses, many of them in need of a little TLC—and some dating all the way back to the late 1700s. Salisbury is home to 10—count ’em: 10—National Register Historic Districts, all with available properties.
You can still track down an old brick Federal home. But you’re more likely to find Craftsmans, Greek Revivals, and Queen Annes. Prices start at around $65,000 for a fixer-upper, but even many beautifully restored homes go for less than $200,000.
Why Buy Now?
Salisbury is home to the Historic Salisbury Foundation, one of the most active and successful historic-preservation groups in the country. Since the 1970s, they’ve helped save 90 structures from demolition and are deeply involved in revitalizing Salisbury historic neighborhoods by buying endangered houses and selling them to preservation-minded owners.
Among the best for: Bargains, Cottages and Bungalows, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, South, Victorians
Mount Airy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
With a diverse and progressive vibe that makes some people refer to it as Berkeley East, Mount Airy might just be one of the most interesting neighborhoods in the country. While the abundance of trees makes the place seem like a virtual forest, the foliage hides hundreds of stately stone homes filled with details nailed down by master European craftsmen. Two light rail lines get you downtown in minutes, though biking is extremely popular here.
Houses range in style from wood-frame foursquares to Second Empire stone mansions. Two-families, many of them limestone Second Empires, are extremely affordable, especially if you choose to rent out one side.
Why Buy Now?
Mount Airy is part of the historic Germantown area of Philadelphia, though it’s more affordable than tony Chestnut Hill and experiencing more restoration than Germantown proper. Small businesses and locally owned restaurants are opening along Germantown Road. And Mount Airy has two fierce neighborhood organizations that look out for everyone—and every house.
Among the best for: City Life, Easy Commute, Fixer-Uppers, Gardening, Northeast, Outdoor Activities
Northwest Quadrant, Beaufort, South Carolina
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.
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
Junius Heights, Dallas, Texas
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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