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John Lepore, of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England, says buyers’ changing tastes, coupled with concerns about Hartford’s fiscal health and its impact on education, police and fire protection, and other city services have throttled consumer demand for large, “jumbo’’ homes in the city’s West End.

 

This Scarborough Street mansion in the city’s West End recently sold for a quarter of its original $3.1 million original asking price after three years on the market, brokers say.

Recent news indicating significant growth in Hartford's overall grand list masks a disheartening reality for one of the city's property segments: Sluggish sales and declining values of larger houses and mansions.

Area brokers specializing in the marketing and sales of "jumbo" houses sized 4,000 square feet and larger say units in that segment not only are taking longer to sell, but generally do so way under their original asking prices.

West Hartford residential broker John Lepore and other realty observers cite changing buyers' tastes in which younger Millennials eschew expansive, multi-room dwellings in favor of smaller houses and apartments in or near downtown. Consumer concerns about Hartford's fiscal health, which bears directly on the city's property-tax rate to fund schools, police and fire protection, and other municipal services, too, factor in the diminished demand, observers say.

"It's impacting the saleability at least for larger homes,'' said Lepore, of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England.

Hartford City Assessor John Philip also has noted the trend of fewer sales of large city houses, particularly in its West End, bordering West Hartford. Overall, Philip said that the city's 2016 revaluation showed "residential values in general were a drag on grand list growth."

To underscore the trend, Philip and other experts point to what's described as the immaculately updated mansion at 150 Scarborough St., in the city's West End, which recently sold after languishing on the market for nearly three years.

The 11,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom, eight full-bathroom dwelling on 2.34 acres originally was listed in May 19, 2014, with a $3.1 million asking price. It closed in early January at $775,525. Its property tax bill currently is around $45,000.

Broker Rob Giuffria, of Tea Leaf Realty in West Hartford, said his search of Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data for Connecticut houses for sale found just seven Hartford houses listed above $500,000 that were sold in the past 12 months, through this January, at a median price of $120 per square foot.

But in the previous 12 months, through Jan. 2016, only five city houses above $500,000 sold at a median price of $138 per square foot, Giuffria said.

Hartford's declining jumbo home values are in contrast to those in several neighboring communities, where median house prices for larger properties have been stable.

West Hartford, for example, recorded 102 sales of houses priced at $500,000 and up at a median $186 a square foot between Jan. 12, 2016 and Jan. 13, 2017 vs. the 90 dwellings in that price category that sold for $190 a square foot the previous 12-month period, Giuffria said, citing MLS data.

Avon, also based on MLS data, had 101 sales of houses priced $500,000 or more at a median of $160 a square foot between Jan. 12, 2016 and Jan. 13, 2017 vs. 96 sold at a median of $161 a square foot in the year-ago period.

"It's safe to say … Hartford's [home price per foot] has decreased at a greater rate than those two surrounding towns,'' Giuffria said.

Meantime, Hartford's overall housing market did improve in 2016. The number of single-family home sales rose 11 percent with 284 houses trading hands, while the median sales price increased 13.1 percent to $123,250, according to the Commercial Record.

At the same time, Hartford's commercial property values have increased significantly, according to a preliminary analysis of an Oct. 2016 revaluation by the assessor's office, thanks to new developments recasting former vacant properties into habitable apartments and/or retail and office space, and more residents and business tenants filling up space downtown.

Market factors

School quality remains a top priority among potential homebuyers, but the perception lingers that Hartford's schools are less so, Giuffria said. But that aside, "in general it's harder to sell big homes in all towns because conspicuous consumption is out of vogue,'' he said.

"It's a change in behavior,'' Giuffria said. "Even younger buyers who can afford bigger homes aren't buying them.''

Another cloud over Hartford's jumbo-house market, he said, stems from a row between the city and mostly unrelated residents — eight adults, three kids — living together in another home at 68 Scarborough St.

The city sued, claiming the arrangement violated its residential zoning code. But last October, it withdrew its suit against the so-called "Scarborough 11,'' who described themselves as "intentional family."

"[Hartford] Planning & Zoning needs to come out one way or another on how they're going to treat the definition of 'intentional family,' '' Giuffria said, "so buyers can make a decision on whether they want to buy there.''

As with almost any property, there is a point at which potential buyers will set aside their concerns if the price is right, Lepore said.

He noted his recent sale of a West End house — "not one of the mansions" — on North Beacon Street. Within a week of listing, the house went under contract at $4,000 less than its $579,000 asking price, the broker said.

"Like all trends,'' Lepore said, "things are never permanent.''

Rapper and actor 50 Cent, who filed for bankruptcy in Connecticut this past summer, is again trying to unload his Farmington mansion.

The entertainer Wednesday listed the 21-bedroom, 25-bathroom at 50 Poplar Hill Drive for $8.5 million, the latest in a series of reduced asking prices since 50 Cent first began trying to sell the property in 2007.


50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis James Jackson III, bought the mansion for $4.1 million in 2003, but reportedly spent between $6 million and $10 million on renovations. The megamansion also has been owned by boxer Mike Tyson and was built by real estate swindler Benjamin Sisti, a founder of the defunct Colonial Realty empire.

Douglas Elliman Real Estate, which specializes in high-end residential real estate and has an office in Greenwich, has the listing. The listing broker, Jennifer Leahy, could not be reached for comment.
 


Rob Giuffria, president of Prudential Premier Homes in Farmington and an expert in the area's high-end residential real estate, has said for years that he doesn't believe the property will sell for more than $5 million.


"8.5 million? Not a chance," Giuffria said late Wednesday. "50 would have a better chance being a country music singer."

Jackson had been trying to lease the estate, he told the bankruptcy court in August.

In 2007, the rapper asked $18.5 million for the 50,000-square-foot mansion on 17 acres. That price was reduced four times to $10 million by the end of 2010, the estate on and off the market several times. The most recent listing expired at the end of 2013.

The mansion, which 50 Cent says costs about $67,000 a month to maintain, also has an indoor pool, a gym, racquetball courts and a disco with a "dancing room" that featured stripper poles.

In his Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, 50 Cent's top 20 creditors were owed $28.5 million, and his assets were listed at about $24.5 million.

The rapper also owed money to local firms, including a West Hartford lawn care company, a Manchester heating and air-conditioning contractor, an Agawam, Mass., carpet cleaning company, a Hartford attorney, and a Bristol hot tub company, according to bankruptcy court filings.


Copyright © 2015, Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — High hopes for renovations to the historic Elisha Wadsworth House have been matched by architecturally accurate work outside and what amounts to a brand new, upscale home inside. But the oldest house in the city's West End fell short in one area: sale price.The Prospect Avenue house sold Oct. 31 for $550,000, just a little over a third of the original listing price of $1.49 million in July 2013. The listing price for the four-bedroom, two-bath house was cut seven times, according to zillow.com.

"Unfortunately, there are multiple properties on that street in this price range," said Frank J. Cotrona owner of Cameo Builders in Wallingford, which renovated the house. "They aren't as new as ours, but they aren't selling either." Cotrona said he took a $200,000 loss on the project, but it was time for him to move on, after trying to sell the brick, Federal-style home for more than a year. By most accounts, new owners Michael and Lynn Herlihy paid a fair price for the well-appointed 5,000-square-foot home, built in 1828 as a tavern. Veterans of at least two home renovations — the latest, at their current West Hartford house — the Herlihys could see Cotrona's attention to detail, right down to decorative flourishes on baseboards. "We're just amazed at the great work done in here," Michael Herlihy, president of an investment advisory firm in West Hartford, said during a walk-through with a visitor this week. " He took what was probably a fragmented and chopped up floor plan, and now it's a great fit." Prospect Avenue divides Hartford from West Hartford. The Wadsworth House is on the Hartford side. For all the stately appearance of the street, sales in the area north of the Governor's Residence to Albany Avenue have mostly ranged between $500,000 and $900,000 in the past five years, an analysis of Multiple Listing Service data shows. One notable exception was the French chateau-style mansion at 1060 Prospect Ave. that sold for $2.2 million in 2012.

 Rob Giuffria, President of Prudential Premier Homes in Farmington, said the initial asking price was too high, given the property is on the busy corner of Prospect and Albany avenues. "Think of the million-dollar property owner," Giuffria said. "They are not going to buy on a busy street, unless the house is set far back from the road." The recovery in the market for homes $800,000 and above in the Hartford area generally remains slow, Giuffria said. Prices are relatively stable but not making any significant gains, he said. Cotrona took a gamble on the house. Though historic, it had suffered through two unsuccessful renovations since 2006. At one point, a burst water pipe damaged much of the interior woodwork that dated from the initial construction.

 Old-home admirers, the Herlihys had driven by the Wadsworth House several times in recent years during Sunday drives around the city's West End. Even in its deteriorated condition, the Herlihys saw potential and, as the price for the renovated property came down, they decided to make an offer. The Herlihys plan to move into the house before Christmas, becoming the newest stewards of a home with a storied history. First, it was an inn facing Albany Avenue. Then, in the early 1900s, it was turned to face Prospect and converted into a house. A front veranda and a real ell were demolished, and a new addition and third-story dormers were added, along with modern plumbing and heating.

 In the latest renovation, workers restored the exterior, repointed the brick, replaced the slate, and refurbished the copper gutter system. Inside, spaces have been reconfigured for 2014, but not in a cookie-cutter kind of way. The living room was fashioned by combining two smaller sitting rooms, giving it two fireplaces. "It could be kind of an awkward space," Michael Herlihy said. "But we have a piano and we're going to put it in here. It will take up a lot of the space." The house's interior still retains some sense of what makes it 186 years old. On the second floor, Lynn Herlihy walks through the master bedroom with its new hardwood floor. "You can still feel how uneven the floors are," she said. The floors, Michael Herlihy said, are evidence the house still retains the feel of its 186 years. "That's part of the charm of an old house," he says. Giuffria said Cotrona could have fared better in the sale if he had chosen to make the house a commercial property, perfect for a doctor's office. It would have capitalized on its location on a busy corner. But the Herlihys said they couldn't be happier with their purchase. Lynn Herlihy said she has already bought 40 Christmas candles to illuminate each window in the house. Michael Herlihy is conscious that his new home is at a busy intersection. Back downstairs he stops in the formal dining room, which may instead be used as a more modern great room. He said the new windows block out most of the noise. "You can't even tell there is traffic out there," he said.

Two weeks ago, The Hartford’s Liam E. McGee announced he would be stepping down as the insurer’s chief executive officer in July amid health problems.

Friday, McGee listed his 12-room, Colonial in West Hartford on Woodridge Lake for $2.7 million.

The 7,700-square-foot home at 64 Waterside Lane, built in 2001, has 6 bedrooms, 7-1/2 baths, home theater, basketball court on the grounds and a dock on the lake. The property encompasses nearly 4 acres in exclusive Wood Pond.

Online property records show McGee and his wife, Lori, purchased the home for $2.6 million in late 2009. The property had previously been owned by the former CEO of Phoenix Cos., Dona D. Young.

Julie Carter, an agent with William Raveis in West Hartford, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment today.

The $1 million-plus market has been slow to recover from the last housing downturn, but one agent said the home’s lakeside location is a plus.

“It’s a different dynamic for homes that are on the water,” said Rob Giuffria, of Prudential Premier Homes in Farmington.

Giuffria said he didn’t expect the house to sit long, probably between two and six months. He also didn’t expect much room for negotiation, and he anticipates a sale price of no lower than $2.5 million.

In 2013, The Hartford Financial Services Group disclosed that McGee had a brain tumor surgically removed. Earlier this month, the insurer said McGee had a “follow-up procedure” related to same health issue, as the company said McGee would step down. The insurer did not elaborate on the procedure.

McGee will remain chairman until The Hartford’s next annual meeting.

McGee came to The Hartford in the fall of 2009 as the company was struggling, having taken $3.4 billion in assistance from the U.S. Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, which it paid back with interest in the spring of 2010.

Rob Giuffria, GMS | President, Prudential Premier Homes

Farmington, CT – Prudential Premier Homes will remain a Prudential Real Estate affiliate and not convert to the Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Brand. We will continue to offer our clients one of the best brands in real estate and to offer realty services throughout the state.  According to the most recent performance metrics provided by Prudential Real Estate, Prudential Premier Homes Executive Relocation Team was #1 ranked in both volume AND units of homes sold of all Prudential Real Estate teams statewide!

This success has been enabled by creating a brokerage model that is client centric versus office centric. Historically, real estate companies opened bricks and mortar offices in the towns they served. This model is outdated, archaic, and is simply 20thcentury real estate. It focuses on the office, not the agent. Ironically, according to a recent Inman study, the more successful the agent, the less time they spend in a physical office. While this sounds intuitive, traditional real estate brokerage companies continue their office centric model. Our success over the past 7 years has been primarily due to this new client centric model.

The future of real estate will continue to change and we believe it will involve leveraging more technology while decreasing bricks and mortar real estate offices.  Established real estate brands, Prudential/Coldwell Banker/ReMax/Century21, will continue to win against lesser known names in the market, provided that they are client centric, leverage technology and continue to reduce their bricks and mortar footprint.

©Prudential Premier Homes

CTROB.COM|203.918.9180|860.796.4555|ROB@CTROB.COM

Rob Giuffria, GMS |Prudential Premier Homes | Farmington, CT| October 28, 2012

What is the possibility of Connecticut residents having power restored in a timely manner after the effects of Frankenstorm exit our state? We all remember last year as Jeff Butler, CL&P’s former COO, promised power restoration timeline projections that were continuously missed. Will this time be different? Let’s hope so…

Listed below are just a few of the CL&P/NU Utility executives that will lead the effort to restore power to Connecticut residents. As a former military officer who was taught to lead from the front, I have a challenge for these fine leaders who hold the keys to our lights and internet connections. Until 100% of Connecticut residents (CL&P serviced) have power restored, these homes should remain dark.  And no, they and their families cannot stay in hotels, while the rest of us wait in the dark. Sounds like a fair deal? I think so…

NU/CL&P Execs

Role

Home Address

Town

Price

James A Muntz

Pres and COO

126 Waterside Ln

West Hartford

$1.7M

Leon J Olivier

COO and EVP (NU)

111 Shore Rd

Old Lyme

$580K

Kenneth B Bowes

VP - Energy Delivery

111 Chippenwood Ln

Bristol

$480K

William J Quinlan

SVP - Emergency Prep

4 Ash Creek Rd

Branford

$237K

If you agree, insist that these leaders lead from the front and commit to being the last four homes to have power restored by emailing Mr. Kenneth Bowes  at boweskb@nu.com or anyone you may know in the media and ask why they have yet to accept this challenge.  Got power? I think we just might…

Sophie Giuffria and Former #1 World Tennis Champion Ivan Lendl

by Rob Giuffria

Sophia Giuffria and Ivan Lendl, Farmington Farms Tennis Club

Sophia Giuffria, Age 9 and Ivan Lendl, Former Tennis World Champion, Farmington, CT. September 2011

Ivan Lendl (born March 7, 1960) is a former World No. 1 professional tennis player. Originally from Czechoslovakia, Lendl became a United States citizen. He was one of the game's most dominant players in the 1980s and remained a top competitor into the early 1990s. He is considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time.[2] Lendl captured eight Grand Slam singles titles. He competed in 19 Grand Slam singles finals, at the time a record for a man since surpassed by Roger Federer in 2009. He reached at least one Grand Slam final for 11 consecutive years, a record shared with Pete Sampras. Before the formation of the ATP Lendl reached a record 12 year end championships (equaled by John McEnroe). He won 2 WCT Finals titles and a record 5 Masters Grand Prix titles,tied with Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. He also won a record 22 Championship Series titles (1980–89) the precursors to the current ATP Masters 1000. Lendl first attained the World No. 1 ranking on February 28, 1983 and bolstered his claim to the top spot when he defeated John McEnroe in the 1984 French Open final. For much of the next five years, Lendl was the top ranked player until August 1990 (with a break from September 1988 to January 1989 when Mats Wilander was at the top). He finished four years ranked as the world's top player (1985–1987 and 1989) and was ranked No. 1 for a total of 270 weeks and set a new record previously held by Jimmy Connors since broken by Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

Andrew and Adrienne Greenwalt knew from the start that they wanted to live in West Hartford.

After taking a job at Pratt & Whitney right out of college, Andrew, 29 an engineer, rented an apartment there and liked the town's many amenities. City living didn't appeal to the couple, nor did they want to live in a rural setting, like West Simsbury, where Adrienne, 26, had grown up.

But even in a tepid economy, they soon learned, the competition for homes in their $400,000 price range can still be stiff in sought-after towns like West Hartford. The owner of the first house they bid on rejected their offer. Then they bid on a second one, only to get beat out by another party offering cash. The couple's attempt to buy a third house also ended in disappointment. Their offer was accepted, but the inspection turned up problems, and they had to back out of the contract.

Finally, on the fourth try, things went the Greenwalts' way. At the end of June, they closed on a three-bedroom, 1.5-bath bath colonial on the northwest side of town. They paid $365,000 for the property, $4,000 less than the asking price.

The couple decided to buy after Adrienne, a nurse, got a job at Hartford Hospital. They met at Tulane University, were married in 2009 and had been renting in New Haven for 11/2 years while Adrienne completed a nurse practitioner program at Yale.

"I was getting tired of commuting to East Hartford," said Andrew, a Louisiana native. "We were ready to have a home."

Must-haves for the first-time home buyers included a minimum of three bedrooms, a modern kitchen and a nicely landscaped yard, Andrew said. "Good bones" were another requirement, in case they wanted to update or add on. They also did not want a fixer-upper, and the house had to have at least a one-car garage, he said.

The 1,744-square-foot house they bought was well kept by the previous owner and move-in ready, Andrew said. It was built in 1951 but looked like new construction, he said. The house has a spacious master bedroom, finished basement and a nice backyard with a big deck. A family room off the kitchen has wrap-around windows and two skylights.

"We love the whole thing," Andrew said.

West Hartford is a place they can raise a family and where the home they bought would likely hold its value, Andrew said. The house was one of about 40 the couple looked at during their roughly three-month search. Nestled in a hilly subdivision near Norfeldt School, it had been on the market only two days when their broker, Rob Giuffria, took them to see it.

"West Hartford is doing extremely well and is more stable than some surrounding towns," said Giuffria, president of Prudential Premier Homes. "There is not much available under $425,000, and when a house comes on the market, it sells quickly."

— Loretta Waldman, Special to The Courant

SOURCES: Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development; Connecticut Economic Resources Center; The Warren Group.

20 LOSTBROOK ROAD

BEDROOMS: 3

BATHS: 11/2

SQUARE FEET: 1,744

LIST PRICE: $369,000

PRICE PAID: $365,000

Calculate New Connecticut Conveyance Tax - CTROB

by Rob Giuffria, GMS

HOW TO CALCULATE 2012 CT CONVEYANCE TAX

Connecticut Real Estate Conveyance Tax – Residential Property (July 1, 2011)

The Connecticut real estate conveyance tax has two parts: a state tax portion and a municipal tax. In addition, 18 selected towns have a higher tax rate. Municipal town clerks collect the tax and remit the state share to the Department of Revenue Services (CGS-12-494 to 504h)

New State Tax (Effective July 1, 2011)

The tax is 0.75% on the first $800,000 of value and 1.25% on the remaining value.

Many types of transactions are exempt from the tax, including transfers between spouses, sales to certain nonprofit entities, and certain relocation company resales of residential property acquired through employee relocation plans.

Municipal Tax (Effective July 1, 2011)

In addition to the state tax, sellers must pay a municipal real estate conveyance tax. The municipal tax rate is 0.25% for all towns plus an additional tax of up to 0. 25% for 18 eligible towns that chose to impose the increased rate. Thus, the municipal tax rate can range from 0.25% to 0.5%, depending on where the property is located.

The law allows 18 towns to adopt the higher tax rate. All 18 have done so. They are the targeted investment communities and a town that has a manufacturing plant that qualifies for enterprise zone benefits: Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, East Hartford, Groton, Hamden, Hartford, Meriden, Middletown, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Southington, Stamford, Waterbury, and Windham.

Examples

 

 

 Municipal Tax

State Tax

Total   Tax

Residential

     

 

$800,000 or less

0.25%**

0.75%

1.00%

 

Portion over $800,000

0.25%**

1.25%

1.50%

 

Non-Residential

0.25%**

1.25%

1.50%

 

           

 

Exemptions

  1. Foreclosure sales conducted pursuant to a foreclosure by sale conducted by a court committee
  2. Deeds in lieu of foreclosure
  3. Most short sales
  4. Properties valued less than $2,000

 

Housing crash slows in 6 cities: What the bottom looks like | CTROB

by Julie Schmit, USA TODAY

Author: Julie Schmit, USA Today

The U.S. housing market looks like a scorched landscape.

Nationwide, home prices are down almost 32% from their 2006 peak. Many economists expect them to fall at least 5% more this year. Some predict even steeper declines.

Even if home prices bottom later this year — a big "if" for many markets — they're not likely to rise much for several years, forecasters predict. "It'll take a long time for markets to recover," says Paul Dales, economist at Capital Economics. That's because millions of homes still face foreclosure. Lending standards are tight. Almost one-quarter of homeowners with mortgages are underwater, which means it will be tough for them to move up into nicer homes because they owe more than their current house is worth.

Yet, even charred terrain sprouts green shoots eventually. And some areas have laid the groundwork for better days, according to an analysis for USA TODAY by real estate website Zillow.com. Of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas, Zillow identified six —Las Vegas; Fort Myers, Fla.; Stockton and Vallejo, Calif.; Hartford, Conn.; and Columbus, Ohio— that show best what housing markets look like when they are bottoming out but not yet in recovery mode. To identify them, Zillow considered factors such asthe trajectory of home prices, housing affordability based on a ratio of prices to local incomes, and foreclosure rates.

None of the six is seeing price gains, just lessening declines that are expected to continue. Their foreclosure rates have peaked, so the worst could be behind them. Homes in these markets also are becoming more affordable, relative to local incomes, than they were before the real estate boom and bust of the past decade. Investors in many of the markets say the housing deals won't get much better. "In these markets, you can kind of see a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's been a pretty long, dark tunnel," says Stan Humphries, Zillow.com chief economist.

Las Vegas: Flat: The new up

Investors are betting that the home market here has bottomed — or is about to.

Daniel Callihan, 57, a former mortgage company officer, sees that when he hits foreclosure auctions held in a parking lot near downtown. There are twice as many bidders as a year ago, Callihan says. He's bought and sold 10 Las Vegas homes in the past two years.

Many Las Vegas investors are paying cash. In February, more than half of southern Nevada's existing homes were bought with cash, local agents say. Investors also are turning many homes into rentals, says Paul Bell, president of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors. No wonder: Homes that sell for $60,000 can fetch $800 a month in rent — an investment return almost three times the rate in Manhattan or Los Angeles, says Patrick ONeill, CEO of ONeill Group, which is buying Las Vegas homes. Before softening in recent months, Las Vegas home prices had been largely flat for more than a year. "Flat, for us right now, is very good," Bell says. Whether prices will stay flat is another matter. Moody's Analytics doesn't expect Las Vegas single-family-home prices to bottom until mid-2012. One problem: The city still has thousands of homes headed to foreclosure, says University of Las Vegas economist Stephen Brown. He says it will take at least three years for the market to absorb the excess homes. Perhaps the only sure bet in Vegas? That its housing bottom "will be a long one," Brown says.

Vallejo, Calif.: Bruised but with 'good bones'

Realtor Ramon Torres has a front-row seat on the housing wreckage in this San Francisco suburb. Seated next to a living room window during one of his recent open houses, he saw just one couple coming up the steps in the first hour. They stayed less than five minutes, apparently underwhelmed by the $269,000 five-bedroom house with streaked windows and chipped paint. The owner, who owes $470,000 on the house, wants a short sale. Sixteen similar homes are for sale within a 1-mile radius, and Torres fears that the "worst is yet to come" for Vallejo as more homes are lost to foreclosure. Last year, one in 16 homes here received a foreclosure filing, the nation's 10th-highest rate, RealtyTrac says. Torres also fears that Vallejo's reputation will scare off home buyers, given that the city declared bankruptcy in 2008 and has made deep cuts in city services, including police and fire personnel. But Vallejo, along with Stockton, Las Vegas and Fort Myers, also was hit early and hard by the national housing bust and will be one of the first to recover, Zillow says. Last year, Vallejo's foreclosure filings dropped 12%, while they edged up nationwide almost 2%.

Today's Vallejo buyers are mostly investors who can get good rent for some of the lowest-cost housing in the San Francisco Bay Area, real estate agents say. "There's a very strong investor presence," says David Tipp,owner of Tipp Realty at Glen Cove. Jay Boberg, 52, a Los Angeles-based investor, has bought four Vallejo properties in the past two years. He's rented them all and immediately went cash-flow positive. He sees Vallejo as a city with "good bones," including a waterfront, views of the San Francisco Bay and proximity to San Francisco. "The fact that you can rent an apartment or a house here, with a view of the (San Francisco) Bay, for $800 to $1,300 a month is incredible," Boberg says. "I can't believe real estate here won't be worth much more in 15 years."

Columbus, Ohio: Getting in young and cheap

First-time home buyers are having a hard time in today's market, given tight lending standards and competition from all-cash buyers. In February, 34% of existing-home buyers were first-timers, a National Association of Realtors survey says. In a healthy market, that would be 40%, the NAR says. But Columbus and the five other markets Zillow analyzed for USA TODAY have become so affordable that people who didn't think they could afford to own are finding that they can. Lisa Lee, a 25-year-old business analyst, recently bought a $60,000 three-bedroom home in a suburb here that had gone through foreclosure. Her monthly mortgage, including insurance and property taxes, will run about $140 less per month than the rent she paid on her two-bedroom apartment. She secured an FHA-backed loan. Her down payment and closing costs came to about $2,900. "I couldn't believe the house was so cheap," Lee says. "Why keep wasting money on rent?"

Columbus is also getting a little boost from consumers with stable finances who put off buying homes during the recession, says real estate market analyst Robert Vogt of Vogt Santer Insights. Given signs of a national recovery, people are "getting the confidence to move," Vogt says.

Fort Myers, Fla.: New values 'wow' buyers

Ray Bayer, 59, of Pittsburgh has long planned to retire in Florida, but prices were too high. In January, the postal worker finally bought a $255,000 Fort Myers home that he says would have fetched $400,000 at the market's peak. Bayer and his wife, Kathy, 57, a nurse, expect to retire to it in a few years. Fort Myers, like much of Florida, has been battered by foreclosures. In 2010, one in 12 Fort Myers homes had foreclosure filings, the nation's second-highest rate after Las Vegas.

Even so, Fort Myers' foreclosure pace last year was down 28% from 2009. And recently, banks have slowed the pace at which they put homes on the market. That's driving multiple offers and buyers who have to settle "for their third or fourth choice," says broker Terri Lodge of Century 21 Sunbelt Realty. In February, the number of single-family homes for sale in Fort Myers was down 52% from the same month in 2009 and sales were up 2.4%, says Bob Groves, managing broker of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate. Snowbirds and retirees are fueling much of the activity, Realtors say. "They've seen the deals and said, 'Wow,' " says Rob Keller, a Coldwell Banker agent.

Hartford, Conn.: Jobs to help

Adam and Clare Baroncelli have been on the open-house circuit for several months and have seen good homes get snapped up more quickly. The increased activity drove them off the fence. They have made an offer on a $370,000, four-bedroom home in Simsbury, near Hartford. "There's a lot more activity," says Clare, 34. The Baroncellis moved in August from Florida to Connecticut because of Adam's job change. Job growth is expected to help the Hartford region.

Of the four major labor markets in the state, Hartford has the best prospects for job growth, says Steven Lanza, editor of The Connecticut Economy, the University of Connecticut's economic publication. Late last year, just 12% of homeowners with mortgages in the Hartford region owed more on their homes than they were worth, Zillow data show. That's far better than the national average, then 27%. Fewer underwater homeowners means there are more homeowners who can move up into more expensive homes.

Rob Giuffria, president of Prudential Premier Homes in Farmington, Conn., says there are huge differences among Hartford areas in terms of the current housing market. Some upper-scale neighborhoods — fueled by white-collar workers and executives — may be bottoming, while some inner-city areas are worsening, he says.Lanza looks for a broader "recovery" soon. As with the other markets Zillow analyzed, that doesn't necessarily mean improvement. "It means you're not getting worse and maybe you're getting better," he says.

Stockton, Calif.: Pain and opportunity

Few areashave been through a longer and darker tunnel than this central California city.

Since peaking in 2006, Stockton's median home price is down 62%. For three of the past four years, Stockton ranked in the top five nationwide for foreclosures, says market researcher RealtyTrac. In January, six of 10 homes for sale in the city either were bank-owned, in foreclosure or tied to a delinquent mortgage. Yet there are glimmers of change. Last year, Stockton dropped to No. 7 in foreclosures nationwide. Local Realtors say there are more non-distressed homes for sale now than there were a few years ago. More low-ball offers are being refused. And multiple offers are common on lower-end homes. "It's a very competitive market," says Jerry Abbott of Grupe Real Estate in Stockton. He recently got six offers for one home priced at $121,000, a short sale in which the lender agrees to sell a property for less than is owed.

The big concern is when banks will begin to list for sale more of the distressed homes they've kept off the market, which could hurt prices. Banks slowed their foreclosure processes last fall after a public outcry over thousands of improperly documented foreclosure cases. The other issue is when Stockton will regain jobs. The unemployment rate in the local county — 17.6% in February — is one of the nation's highest. Moody's Analytics predicts Stockton-area home prices won't return to their 2006 peak for more than 20 years.

Still, some people say it's time to buy, including Cary Fopiano, 41. Since 1996, she and her husband, Steve, 50, have made money on two of the Stockton homes they've owned. They lost money on one but are still far ahead. The stay-at-home mom and manufacturing manager bought their fourth home last year, on a lake in an upscale neighborhood. They're shopping for another to turn into a rental investment.

"Prices are about as low as they can go," Fopiano says.

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