There's the little-known Northern California town of Ross, established more than 100 years ago on a tract of land owned by a Scottish liquor wholesaler named James Ross. It doesn't get any media attention, even though the median list price for a home in its ZIP Code is $5.3 million.
But that's no match for the even-less-heard-of town of Alpine, N.J., where single-family homes have been thrown on the market for a mind-boggling $50 million.
Click through the gallery below to see where -- surprisingly, in some cases -- median list prices are the highest.
City/town:Bel Air, Calif. Median list price: $2.82 million Year-over-year change: 16.4%
In Bel Air, nestled in the hills above Sunset Boulevard, great views command a hefty price tag. Media rooms are a must-have because many locals work in what’s known as “The Industry,” meaning Hollywood. One current listing is a $29.9 million property that boasts 20,000 square feet in a “glorious, gated and private compound.” In ritzy Bel Air, it’s not enough to own a pool -- you also need to have a cabana. Between August and September, median list price in the 90077 ZIP code shot up more than 16%, while prices across the U.S. rose by less than 1%.
City/town:Greenwich, Conn. Median list price: $2.9 million Year-over-year change: 16.1%
Greenwich has catered to many affluent homeowners dating back to its inception in 1640. And while a handful of current listings top $20 million, there are also a number of entry-level family homes available for under $1 million -- something unseen in other communities on this list. No doubt, size is a leveling factor: Greenwich has a population of 61,171 according to the 2010 census. Still, the majority of the Greenwich region is extremely wealthy. In 2010, 43.9% of households in the Greenwich School District earned $200,000 or more, compared to 4.2% of households nationwide.
The fact that Montecito is a 90-minute drive from Hollywood isn’t lost on the dozens of celebrities that claim this 9-square-mile suburb of Santa Barbara as home. Like a trendy restaurant with a line around the block, Montecito could probably fill a waiting list of wealthy people who want to move to its ocean-cooled climate (possibly to live near Oprah). The area is also a retirement destination: More than one in four residents were over the age of 65 in 2010. A slight decrease in homes for sale compared to 2011 isn’t helping to satisfy potential buyers.
This unincorporated part of San Diego County boasts some of the highest earning families in the country, but it has a relatively small population of just 3,117, according to the 2010 Census. That type of exclusivity has drawn its share of wealthy and famous residents, including singer Janet Jackson and actress Geena Davis, among many others. One $40 million home currently for sale in “The Ranch,” as it is known, epitomizes the appeal: eight bedrooms, nine bathrooms, 16,000 square feet and various ponds and waterfalls home to koi fish, according to Realtor.com.
In a town named Beverly Hills, it may be surprising to learn that most of its denizens actually live in the “flats.” Not surprisingly, the most expensive homes are ones with great views. Beverly Hills has been glamorized or satirized in TV shows such as “90210” and “Beverly Hillbillies,” as well as in movies such as “Pretty Woman” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” But these days, it may be best known for extremely high-end shopping and restaurants on Rodeo Drive. Inventory remains an issue for buyers looking at this market.
City/town:Atherton, Calif. Median list price: $4.3 million Year-over-year change: -4.5%
Atherton has the feel of an exclusive club where membership costs continue to soar as prospective members wait to pounce on the next mansion that comes up for sale. Silicon Valley initial public offerings have helped fuel sales, and the town has made a strong post-recession recovery. Unlike some affluent neighborhoods on this list, Atherton boasts exceptional public schools that help offset the San Francisco Bay Area’s notoriously high cost of living. Median income in the greater Bay Area in 2010 was $71,975, more than $20,000 higher than the national average.
City/town:Woody Creek, Colo. Median list price: $4.93 million Year-over-year change: 26.4%
Visitors may find it difficult to believe that this once-rustic part of Northwest Colorado, located near the posh community of Aspen, is centered around an eponymously named tavern where Hunter S. Thompson held court. In recent decades, the presence of other iconoclastic artists, including rock stars, has further strengthened property values. Inventory has held steady since last year, and home prices continue their steep ascent, rising by 26.44% between September 2011 and September 2012.
City/town:New York, N.Y. Median list price: $5.1 million Year-over-year change: N/A
New York City neighborhoods in this ZIP code, which include Greenwich Village and Tribeca, are home to some of the nation’s best jazz clubs, as well as stately homes built more than 100 years ago and condos priced at the top of the market. Demand is so high for this once-Bohemian neighborhood that some one-bedroom apartments command $1 million or more. Some buildings in the area were damaged following Hurricane Sandy, which could mean that inventory may get even tighter.
City/town:Ross, Calif. Median list price: $5.3 million Year-over-year change: 73.6%
Ross residents cherish the comforts of living in one of the nation’s wealthiest enclaves, but one service they don’t have is mail delivery directly to their homes. They must pick up letters at the local post office. Still, it’s not a long walk -- and an easy drive in a Range Rover -- as the town is only 1.6 square miles, and the downtown, known as Ross Commons, is within easy reach. Like other towns and neighborhoods on this list, limited housing inventory is pushing up prices, which rose 73.61% between September 2011 and September 2012.
City/town:Alpine, N.J. Median list price: $6.7 million Year-over-year change: 41.1%
Alpine residents may feel secure behind their iron-gated entrances, but they did not escape Sandy’s wrath, which knocked out power through much of the town and across Northern New Jersey. Mayor Paul Tomasko reported that the storm damaged many homes, but residents of this ultra-upscale enclave are likely to begin restoration efforts immediately. It’s not surprising that a town with so many celebrities, including Stevie Wonder, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock, enjoys a very low crime rate. It’s easy to understand the appeal of Alpine, which is located just 15 miles from midtown Manhattan. Median household income in the area’s Tenafly Borough School District was more than $125,000 in 2010, more than double the U.S. average.