12 Topekas, 1 Beverly Hills: Tough trade

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NEW YORK -- Pity the poor, modern-day Jed Clampett, exchanging the simple and inexpensive life of the Ozarks for the glitz, glamour -- and prices -- of Beverly Hills. A typical middle-class house in the Southern California city now costs more than 10 times what a similar place sells for near Clampett's old stomping grounds, Fort Smith, Ark.
That's according to the Coldwell Banker Home Price Comparison Index released Wednesday. The index provides


NEW YORK -- Pity the poor, modern-day Jed Clampett, exchanging the simple and inexpensive life of the Ozarks for the glitz, glamour -- and prices -- of Beverly Hills. A typical middle-class house in the Southern California city now costs more than 10 times what a similar place sells for near Clampett's old stomping grounds, Fort Smith, Ark.

That's according to the Coldwell Banker Home Price Comparison Index released Wednesday. The index provides apples-to-apples comparisons of 342 U.S. markets, looking at the cost of a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath, 2,200 square foot house with a two-car garage in a nice, middle-class neighborhood.

This year, that home in Beverly Hills costs $1.8 million; in Minot, N.D. it's just $132,333 -- a difference of nearly 14 times from the most expensive to least expensive market.

"Each year the difference between the most and least expensive city is growing," says Jim Gillespie, Coldwell Banker's CEO.

Last year La Jolla, Calif. was the most expensive U.S. city in Coldwell Banker's database, but prices dropped about 6 percent in the past 12 months to $1.76 million. That was still good enough for third place. Santa Monica, Calif. just barely edged it out.

State by state rankings of the home-price index.

Top 25: The most expensive markets ... and the least

Among the major omissions from the list are Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City. Coldwell Banker explains that the number of single-family homes it sells in Manhattan is too low to calculate for the purposes of the index.

Joining Minot on the least expensive list are last year's winner, Killeen, Texas, at $140,310, and Arlington, Texas, $140,975. Killeen prices rose 7.3 percent while Minot's fell by 0.7 percent. Topeka, Kan. at $148,050, ranks No. 5 on the least expensive list.

Almost all of the costliest markets in the country can be found on the East and West Coasts. California had nine of the top 10 most expensive markets with Greenwich, Connecticut the lone exception.

"California is where people want to be," says Gillespie, sounding a little like Jed's kinfolk, "where there's good climate, mountains and the ocean."

Other states over-represented on the most expensive list were Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida and Hawaii. Chicago, where such a house costs about $916,667, is the most expensive inland city.

Coldwell Banker also surveyed 42 international markets where the company sells properties. Milan, Italy came in as the most expensive foreign city in the company's network. A house there costs about the same as in Beverly Hills. (see table)

Texas has more inexpensive places than any other state; it placed three of its cities in the top 10 for affordability. In no Texas city does the average house of this type cost more than $300,000. Dallas, at $288,278, is the most expensive.

Michigan and Ohio also have many inexpensive housing markets. The costliest city in Ohio, Columbus, averages $251,364 for this kind of house and in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it goes for $324,500.

In Canton, Ohio, though, that home can be bought for $148,333 and in Grayling, Michigan it would cost $144,250.

One significant finding, according to Gillespie, is how many markets out there are still very affordable, even after the outsized price increases of recent years.

"These are more expensive than average homes," he says, "yet 29 percent of the markets we reported on indicated that their surveyed home was below the National Association of Realtors national median home price of $225,000. About 47 percent of the markets we surveyed averaged less than $300,000 for these very nice houses."

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