How much housing bang you can get for $300,000

Remember back in the day -- say, 2007 -- when nice homes with elbow room, a yard, established landscaping and neighborhood amenities cost $500,000 in many U.S. metropolitan areas? In Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston, for example, getting into that median-priced home involved outbidding other qualified buyers and handwritten letters to sellers on scented stationery.

What a difference a few years and a real estate crash make. While the market "is on the upswing" after scraping the bottom early last year, "it's still turning," says Jed Smith, managing director of quantitative research for the National Association of Realtors, or NAR. Read: Homes aren't going for what they used to. But the market does have a pulse. Especially at the entry level.

While national home sales posted a gain in March -- the volume was up 16.1% from the year before, according to NAR -- prices held tight, notching up only 0.4%. Much of the sales activity is at the lower end of the market, says Smith, where first-time buyers face stiff competition from all-cash investors for bank-owned homes.

But what about the buyer who wants that "American Dream" house that once cost $500,000? Today you can get it for $300,000 in many of the cities you were priced out of a few years ago. The median price for a home in Southern California in April, for example, was $285,000, according to MDA DataQuick, which tracks real estate trends. Two years ago it was $505,000.

Here is a sampling of five home listings around the country, all at about $300,000. You may be surprised at what you can get for that sum.

Boston house for saleBoston, Mass.
Price: $300,000
Square Footage: 1,989
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 2

Sales in the Bay State ballooned 22% the first quarter of this year, and prices in Boston are up 10.7%. Homes priced in the mid- to upper-$200,000s "are getting multiple offers," says Velenor Walker-Stratton, a Coldwell Banker agent.

Located in the Dorchester area of Boston -- the city's largest community -- this Colonial-style home, pictured above, was built in 1900 and occupies a corner lot. It has separate living and dining rooms and a family room, plus a finished basement. It's close to public transportation, the YMCA, shopping and a major highway. The property comes with a 2,925-square-foot empty lot, which can be used for parking purposes.

New York home for saleNew York, N.Y.
Price: $299,000
Square Footage: 500
Bedrooms: 1
Bathrooms: 1

New York has reason to crow. The state saw a 27% boost in sales the first quarter of this year, according to NAR. And prices, which didn't tumble as badly in the downturn as those in other regions, were up 2%. OK, so you don't get four bedrooms on half an acre in Manhattan.

But this Upper East Side, top-floor co-op, renovated four years ago, does have 9-foot ceilings and city views. It's on a tree-lined street just steps from Carl Shurz Park. It's walking distance to the East River and has easy access to cross-town transportation. The building has a laundry facility and bicycle storage. It also has no restrictions on subletting, which most co-ops "are very strict about," says listing agent Jonathan Conlon. You do have to pay hefty monthly maintenance fees. But hey, that's New York.

Rowlett, Texas home for saleRowlett, Texas
Price: $299,981
Square Footage: 3,958
Bedrooms: 5
Bathrooms: 3-1/2

You get lots of bang for your buck with this sprawling home on a 1/4-acre lot in the Waterview neighborhood -- about 20 minutes outside of downtown Dallas. The Lone Star State saw a 6% uptick in sales volume the first quarter of this year, compared to last. Lower unemployment and a diverse economy has helped keep buyer demand high, says Sherry Chandler, a Coldwell Banker agent.

This sprawling property has formal living and dining rooms, a study, a niche area in the kitchen for a computer center, granite counter tops in the kitchen and a golf-course view. The area has a water park, tennis courts, and several lakes for anglers. Before the market plunge, the home in this upscale neighborhood was worth $425,000. Such a deal!

Phoenix home for salePhoenix, Ariz.
Price: $298,900
Square Footage: 2,186
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2

Phoenix has suffered more than many cities from the real estate bust, but prices rose 9.1% the first quarter of this year, compared to last, and sales volume perked up 10.4% statewide. Bargains abound, and not just for those vying for foreclosed properties (this one is not).

This spacious house was worth $450,000 at the peak, says Jim Gordon, a West USA Realty agent. It's fully remodeled, has ceramic tile, a new kitchen with granite slab counters and stainless-steel appliances, a master suite with walk-in closets. The backyard has a covered patio and a pool. Best of all, the property is near the Phoenix Mountain Preserve and is in an established, gentrified neighborhood.

California home for saleRancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Price: $299,900
Square Footage: 1,787
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2-1/2

Like the greater Phoenix area, the "Inland Empire" in Southern California has a glut of newly built homes and has been badly hit by the real estate recession. Prices inched up 4.6% during the first quarter of this year, from last, thanks mostly to purchases of bank-owned homes.

This home in a master-planned community is surrounded by parks and is a 45-minute drive to the Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear resorts and is one hour from the beach. The house, in excellent condition, is on a cul-de-sac and has a family room, formal living and dining rooms and granite kitchen counters. It's a split-level house with an open floor plan.
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