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Where homes are affordable

Posted by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:24 AM
  • 23 Replies

Where homes are affordable

Residents who live in these 25 growing towns see their incomes go the furthest.

1. Hunter's Creek, FL
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Hunter's Creek, FL
Kids roll along at a July 4th event
Median home price: $80,000
Median family income: $87,801

What was once just a swamp in central Florida has turned into a thriving community of 12,000 residents.

While Hunter's Creek isn't incorporated -- the county runs the schools and police and fire services -- John Rasnic, the head of the Community Association, said "we think of ourselves as a town."

Anchored by the Hunter's Creek Golf Club, the sport is a big attraction here, but so is access to Orlando's theme parks and the Atlantic Ocean beaches -- both of which are just a short drive away.

While many of the homes lining the fairways cost $300,000-plus, there are plenty of affordable alternatives. Condos are particularly good deals lately. Many were converted from rentals during the housing bubble. Now, banks are selling them at "fire-sale prices," said Rasnic.

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by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:24 AM
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by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:25 AM
2. Lake Jackson, TX
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Lake Jackson, TX
Median home price: $125,000
Median family income: $91,922

If you can forgive the hokey street signs scattered throughout town (the main intersection is where This Way and That Way streets meet), Jackson has plenty to offer -- including a great school system and a serene, family-friendly atmosphere.

Dubbed the "City of Enchantment," Lake Jackson was originally planned in the 1940s to house employees of the Dow chemical company. Alden Dow, who designed the town, apprenticed under Frank Lloyd Wright and his early buildings were influenced by the famed architect's aesthetic, said city manager Bill Yenny.

The landmarked Lake Theater, built in 1945, is a survivor of those early years. Visitors will also find windy roads that take them through hardwood forests and past well-kept houses that are valued at a wide range of price points.

See complete data and interactive map for Lake Jackson
by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:26 AM
3. Wesley Chapel, FL
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Wesley Chapel, FL
Median home price: $134,000
Median family income: $89,426

Wesley Chapel has gotten creative during tough economic times in the past. In the pre-World War II years, residents relied on turpentine stills, lumber mills, cattle ranches, citrus groves -- and the occasional moonshine operation -- to help pay the bills.

These days, they're defying the economic slump using more conventional means. The town now is attracting high-paying financial services firms -- and the jobs that come with them.

Raymond James is the latest to announce a new office here. This rich new blood has kept the local economy humming, said real estate agent Jeff Miller.

Add good schools, low taxes, affordable housing, and a location just 25 miles north of Tampa into the mix and Wesley Chapel has stayed in high demand. The population has grown nearly 700% since the 2000 Census count.
by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:26 AM
4. Johnston, IA
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Johnston, IA
Median home price: $181,000
Median family income: $118,055

Local crime news for Johnston is telling: A recent headline proclaimed that a driver for a trash collection company spilled garbage on the highway and was issued a citation.

While many of the law-abiding locals work in nearby Des Moines, Johnston boasts plenty of its own big employers, including Pioneer Hi-Bred, Iowa Public Television and John Deere Financial.

That's helped the area's economy to keep hitting on all cylinders, with unemployment in the metro area under 6% -- more than three points better than the national rate.

And, while Johnston's population has quadrupled over the past 20 years, it's still a place where, "neighbors know and care about the children and families next door," said Mayor Paula Dierenfeld. Other bonuses: "Quality neighborhoods and an excellent school system
by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:27 AM
5. Papillion, NE
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Median home price: $145,000
Median family income: $92,430

According to local lore, early fur traders stumbled across flocks of monarch butterflies and dubbed this area "Papillion" (the French word for butterfly) -- and the name stuck.

A perennial contender for Money's list, this suburb of Omaha offers a stable economy, first-class schools, and many large parks with plenty of family-friendly events.

In late August, for example, residents participate in the annual Midlands Pirate Festival. Even though these residents live hundreds of miles from the closest ocean and many of them rely heavily on farming, these folks prove they are no landlubbers.

Economically, the area is a small dynamo. Darren Carlson, the city's community relations director, said local agri-business is booming and so is military contracting, thanks to a major nearby facility, Offutt Air Force Base.
by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:27 AM
6. Crete, IL
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Crete, IL
Median home price: $147,000
Median family income: $91,939

This Chicago suburb is the last stop for those who want a small town atmosphere with a convenient commute into the city. "After Crete, it's all farmland," said Mayor Michael Einhorn.

Crete boasts good schools, low crime and an almost-bucolic landscape. There are acres upon acres of forest preserve, plenty of hiking and horseback riding trails and an ice-skating park.

Even though many residents earn big-city wages in Chicago, the cost of living is low and homes are particularly affordable, said Einhorn. That has attracted rapid growth over the past decade, during which Crete's population has grown by nearly 25%.

And if the mayor has his way, the expansion will continue. He's pushing to extend a commuter train that will connect Crete with the high-paying financial services district in downtown Chicago.
by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:28 AM
7. Morrisville, NC
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Morrisville, NC
Median home price: $214,500
Median family income: $133,343

This small city has reversed the usual order of suburban development. Instead of businesses moving in after the population of commuters reaches a critical mass, the companies actually came first.

Some of the best-known employers here include Cisco, IBM and Lenovo. Not surprisingly, more than a quarter of all residents are scientists, engineers or computer technicians either in town or in the nearby Research Triangle.

The jobs here have attracted an influx of international tech talent, including many from South Asia. In fact, Asians now make up more than 27% of the population.

The town celebrates its cultural diversity with the "Taste of Morrisville" festival, which highlights different ethnic restaurants in town, including Japanese, African and Indian eateries
by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:28 AM
10. Deer Park, TX
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Deer Park, TX
Median home price: $131,250
Median family income: $80,721

It's just 20 miles outside of Houston, but Deer Park is no commuter kingdom: Many residents work right in town at Shell's refinery and petrochemical plant. The 1,500-acre Shell complex is the nation's sixth largest refinery, employing 1,700 workers.

The plant jobs pay well and the cost of living is low here, according to Debbie Westbeld, the city's Economic Development Administrator. "There's lots of disposable income," she said. "Everybody has a boat or a four-wheeler."

The town is also attractive for its extremely low crime rate, well-funded schools and slow pace. "It's Mayberry R.F.D," said Westbeld.
by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:29 AM
12. Medina, OH
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Medina, OH
Median home price: $128,000
Median family income: $77,357

A suburb of the gritty cities of Cleveland and Akron, Medina has managed to hang onto a small town charm that hearkens back to the 19th century. There's a public square that features a gazebo and hosts events, such as concerts, craft fairs and a farmers' market on Saturdays.

The downtown business district includes some of the area's oldest employers, including a candle factory dating back five generations and a maker of bulletproof shields for army tanks. There are also new businesses, including a plastic technology business and medical care facility.

With the population of much of Northeastern Ohio on the decline -- many have left as heavy industrial companies vanished -- local home prices here have softened. However, thanks to this mix of old and new, Medina has held up better than most.
by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:29 AM
15. Columbia, IL
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Columbia, IL
Median home price: $154,000
Median family income: $90,854

Set amid 500-foot bluffs above the Mississippi (and out of flood danger), this town was originally settled by Germans attracted to the rich farmland. Those bloodlines run through the veins of many of Columbia's residents today, but few are still farmers.

Instead, many residents commute to jobs in St. Louis about 15 minutes away. Some residents stay local, working for one of the several employers in town such as adhesive tape maker, Budnick Converting, and Hoya, an optical glass maker.

Many of the older homes in town are made with bricks fired from local clay. They were built close to the street so there would be plenty of room in back for gardens and livestock. That, said Mayor Kevin Hutchinson, helps Columbia retain "the charm that attracted many German immigrants in the 1800s."
by on Aug. 17, 2011 at 8:30 AM
16. Glendale, AZ
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Glendale, AZ
Median home price: $110,000
Median family income: $64,324

The city of a quarter-million has long played second fiddle to nearby Phoenix. Now, however, it boasts two major league sports teams, the NFL's Cardinals and the NHL's Coyotes. These local arenas also host big-name concerts like Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift.

One more thing the city has over Phoenix: affordability. Glendale has always had reasonably-priced homes. But during the housing bubble, the entire Phoenix metro area, including Glendale, was a hotbed of real estate investing. When the home market crashed, it crashed there harder than most places. That left Glendale teeming with foreclosures, which has made its housing stock even more of a bargain.
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