For your next home to be a good deal, it must be priced right today and show potential for appreciation tomorrow. Plus—oh, yeah—you have to want to live there.
To create this list of best-value big-city neighborhoods, we ranked places with over 500,000 in population on housing affordability, economic strength, home price forecasts, and livability using data from NeighborhoodScout, OnBoard Informatics, and CoreLogic. Then we looked for promising, well-priced neighborhoods in our top locales.
1. Charlotte, N.C.
Photograph by Lissa Gotwals
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $164,100
AVERAGE PROPERTY TAX: $2,450
MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME: $63,500
PROJECTED FIVE-YEAR JOB GROWTH: 6.5%
Neighborhood: Plaza Midwood
Just 10 minutes by car from the center of Charlotte, this artsy, bike-friendly neighborhood is an interesting mix of the gritty and the pretty: You’ll see tattoo parlors alongside antiques shops and beautiful historic architecture. Plaza Midwood features new businesses, such as a two-story Harris Teeter grocery store, plus popular restaurants like the Midwood Smokehouse barbecue joint.
Housing is a mix of standalone homes and new condos. Bigger, fancier houses run about $350,000, while smaller places will cost you about $200,000. “The area has held its value well over the years, even in the downturn of the market,” says local Realtor Leigh Bryant. (One caveat: Homeowners in designated historic areas must get approval for alterations ranging from replacing windows to removing shrubbery.)
Drawing the community together is a year-round calendar of public events, including concerts, road races, and a candlelight house tour. Says neighborhood association president Adam Richman: “We’re very diverse but tight-knit.”
Neighborhood: Mountain Island Lake
This low-density region 20 minutes north of the city center—known for outdoor activities and its eponymous lake—is rated one of the most family-friendly neighborhoods in the state by real estate data firm NeighborhoodScout. Convenient to the soon-to-be-completed I-485 beltway, Mountain Island Lake features pretty, spacious homes.
Housing associations within the area, such as Riverbend, provide community pools and parks, and the nearby 1,350-acre Latta Plantation Nature Preserve offers 16 miles of horse and hiking trails.
For those who want “more home” for a lower price, says local Realtor Francine Dupont, Mountain Island Lake is a thrifty alternative to Ballantyne, a southern Charlotte neighborhood often touted as the city’s most family-oriented. Home prices in the Mountain Island Lake area start around $150,000.
2. Phoenix, Ariz.
Photograph by Mark Peterman
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $199,100
AVERAGE PROPERTY TAX: $1,330
MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME: $56,800
PROJECTED FIVE-YEAR JOB GROWTH: 6.0%
Neighborhood: Arcadia Lite
Residents of this eastern Phoenix neighborhood enjoy the ambiance and amenities of adjacent Arcadia— one of Phoenix’s most expensive neighborhoods—at a fraction of the price, thanks in part to smaller lot sizes. Living in 1950s and 1960s ranch-style homes, residents rave about the Arcadia area’s restaurants and stores, like La Grande Orange Grocery, with its coffee bar and pizzeria.
Other perks are bike trails and, just blocks away, Camelback Mountain, where hikers can savor magnificent views. “We love the quiet neighborhood and seeing the great palm trees that line our way home,” says Lindsey Werk, who, with her husband, Evan, just moved here from Cincinnati.
Real estate agent Stephen Caniglia has a house under contract with a buyer who plans to modernize the home—part of an ongoing trend in the area of renovations and teardowns. Unrenovated, smaller homes—about 1,300 square feet—start at around $250,000, he says.
Neighborhood: Desert Ridge
Built in 1996 as the first part of a large planned community, the area that locals often call “Desert Ridge Original” is a family-friendly oasis in northeastern Phoenix.
One of its draws is its accessibility; Desert Ridge sits near the intersection of two of Phoenix’s major freeways, 101 and 51. Other selling points are the public schools, the nature trails running through the community, and 10-acre Cashman Park, which just got a $500,000 face-lift.
Nearby are Desert Ridge Marketplace, a major retail and entertainment center, and the new Mayo Clinic Hospital.
Kristi Jacques and her husband bought a home in Desert Ridge Original two years ago. Now expecting their third child, the couple have traded up to a bigger home a few blocks away. “We love our neighbors,” says Jacques, “and our kids love their school and Cashman Park.” David Tucker, a real estate agent who lives in Desert Ridge, says you can get a 1,500- to 2,200-square-foot home for less than $400,000.
3. Fort Worth, Texas
Photograph by Elizabeth Girvan
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $120,600
AVERAGE PROPERTY TAX: $3,560
MEDIAN FAMILY INCOME: $59,800
PROJECTED FIVE-YEAR JOB GROWTH: 6.2%
Neighborhood: Near Southside
Historic homes and the convenient downtown location give this resurgent neighborhood its appeal. Houses and commercial spaces dating from the 1920s and 1930s are being rehabbed, and new condominiums, apartments, and offices are going up in vacant lots. The result: an urban village smack in the middle of a city experiencing above-average growth.
The main drag, West Magnolia Avenue, is home to a mix of locally owned restaurants, bars, coffee shops, boutiques, and live music and theater venues. Residents can jump on one of the new B-Cycle shared bikes and take a 15-minute ride to downtown Fort Worth.
The more-established Berkeley Place and Mistletoe Heights rank as the pricier areas, says realtor Will Northern, but in transitioning Fairmount and Ryan Place, both of which are south of Magnolia, a fixer-upper can be found for $175,000, or an already renovated bungalow for $275,000 or more.
Neighborhood: Ridglea Hills
Southwest of downtown, this older neighborhood combines quality of life and good public schools at a lower cost of entry than that of nearby Tanglewood, where demand has driven home prices up past $400,000. In recent years, residents have held a Halloween party for kids and a Fourth of July picnic, reports longtime resident Julie Miers. “Our neighborhood has really gotten revitalized with participation from the young families moving in,” she says.
Homes, predominantly brick, sit on large lots among rolling hills, and prices start around $175,000, says realtor Gaye Reed. Prices can be three times that for houses near the private Ridglea Country Club or the small, centrally located Luther Lake. Shops and restaurants lie on the border. Close by Ridglea Hills is access to Trinity Trails, Fort Worth’s network of cycling/walking paths; downtown Fort Worth, with its performance hall and lively nightlife, is a 15-minute drive away.