Last decade's bipolar housing market is over. The ups, the downs, the thrills, the spills — largely behind us. Yes, prices and sales are stuck in neutral in large swaths of the country.
But let's ring in the new decade optimistically, with Walletpop's Top 10 List of the Best Places to Buy a Home in 2011. This mostly unscientific and partially biased list is based on a grab-bag of lifestyle priorities and, yes, thorough reporting.
Here we go, in no particular order:
Austin, Texas: Best all-around city
Median home price: $122,921
Why here: Texas' capital and a great college town, Austin is beautiful and the 12th-most-affordable American metro area. Job growth from 2000 to 2010 was 14.1 percent, according to Trulia; unemployment currently is 7.1 percent, compared with 9.8 percent nationwide. The city's population is growing too. These positive indicators are expected to continue in the coming decade. Fortune 500 companies abound here; it's home to more than 2,000 tech companies. Home prices are reasonable for the $73,747 median family income and let's face it, nobody does BBQ better than Texas.
Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Most affordable town with a view
Median home price: $89,400
Why here: There may be cities with lower median prices (not many), but I'm guessing you need a down coat to live there. This burg comes complete with year-round warm weather and beachfront properties that not too long ago cost a bundle ($400,000+). It's close to Fort Lauderdale and Miami, where residents can go for professional sports and cultural events.
Broomfield County, Colo.: Best jobs
Median home price: $239,000
Why here: Jobs! It also doesn't hurt that the county is tucked between Denver and Boulder, so the scenery is nice too. Job growth in this area exploded 50% during the last decade. High-tech giants Oracle, Ball Corporation and VMware employ lots of folks, and IBM and Avaya are nearby. If you're college-educated, you're in good company: About 38% of the county's residents hold a bachelor's or higher degree, according to the Broomfield Economic Development Corporation. If you ski and hike, we're talkin' bliss!
Durham, N.C.: Best city to retire in
Median home price: $174,900
Why here: Since we're talking about retiring, first on the list of pluses is Duke University's renowned medical center. Also, Duke's popular senior learning program offers 100 courses every term, on campus. So if golf's not your game, but mathematics is, there you go. If, however, golf is your game — you've got that too. Plus Broadway hit shows, concerts and lots of places to hike. Home prices are a steal for what you get.
Woodbury, Minn.: Best place to raise kids
Median home price: $245,000
Why here: There are so many great places to raise kids, but this suburb 10 miles from St. Paul has a lot going for it. Yes, winters are cold (not a small thing), but it's Minnesota — we're talking thousands of lakes. Woodbury has 100 miles of trails for hiking and biking, and is a stone's throw from thousands of acres of parkland. The schools are great, including the Math & Science charter school. 3M employs multitudes, as does state government. What's not to like? OK, the winters. Deal with it.
Warner Robins, Ga.: Best military town for the buck
Median home price: $124,900
Why here: Located midway between Atlanta and Savannah, Warner Robins' housing affordability is the big draw. The median price of a home is $110,000, while the median family income is about $63,000. That leaves some extra dough to hit the local aviation museum, motor speedway and golf club. The city's main employer is the military (home of Robins Air Force Base), bringing engineers and employees from around the globe, so the population is eclectic. The city fared well during the recession.
Madison, Wis.: Best college town
Median home price: $199,900
Why here: A gem of a city located between two lakes, Madison is where it's happening in the Midwest. Home of the state's capital, it's got a top-rated, Big 10 university (with all the sports and cultural events that come with it); affordable housing; tons of eateries and shopping; smart people; friendly atmosphere. You don't have to be a student or the parent of one to buy a home here. A never-ending supply of renters keeps your investment solid. You may end up living here yourself.
Pocono Mountains, Pa.: Best vacation-home location for the price
Population: 340,000 for the whole region
Median home price: $78,000 for Pocono Lake; prices vary throughout the region
Why here: Year-round playground, with skiing in winter, equestrian activities in spring, summertime sailing and hiking in autumn. You can get a two-bedroom home with 1,256 square feet for $99,999 in Mount Pocono; a three-bedroom cottage in 1,255 square feet is listed for $139,000 in Pocono Pines, according to HomeAwayRealEstate.com.
Portland, Ore.: Best city for Gen-Y
Median monthly rent: $1,200
Why here: It's green (literally and figuratively) and it's gorgeous. Rents are a bit higher, but some big companies pay well, such as Intel, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Legacy Health System, Fred Meyer Stores. The attitude is way-laid back and there are tons of venues for merry-making: music clubs, coffee shops and art galleries. When it's not raining, you can bike through the city, hike Mt. Hood and hit the zillions of hiking trails nearby.
San Francisco: Best city, period, price be damned
Median home price: $682,800
Why here: If you have to ask ... The Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, the Bay, the hills, the views, the museums, street cars, cable cars, clubs, nightlife, architecture, coffee houses, bookstores for bibliophiles (City Lights, anyone?), hiking and biking everywhere, Tony Bennett (OK, just in your head), famous hotels and restaurants. Yes, it's foggy in summer, but who cares?
Sources, median home prices: trulia.com and zillow.com