Arcadia neighborhood; Photography by Candace Dorsey, Carrie Evans, Mark Lipczynski, Craig Outhier, Carl Schultz & Aaron Soto

2018 Where to Live

Written by Noah Austin & Craig Outhier Category: Lifestyle Issue: September 2018
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Valley real estate is humming. But how much higher can it go before the next dip? And which neighborhoods have yet to peak? Visit our annual, Valleywide open house for the answers. Bonus: A reconceived map of booming Downtown Phoenix.

Table of Contents
2018: State of the Market

By the Numbers

Home Values: The 30,000-Foot View

Neighborhood Close-Ups

The New Downtown

 

2018: STATE OF THE MARKET By Noah Austin

It might have been fate that led Truman Peyote to his new house, a 1,750-square-foot bungalow in Phoenix’s historic North Encanto neighborhood. After all, he says, it’s in a subdivision called Truman Terrace – named for Harry S. Truman, who was president of the United States when it was built in 1945.

Tina Tamboer, Valley real estate expert; Photo courtesy tina Tamboer“That was part of the reason my agent put it on our list,” says Peyote, who teaches writing in Arizona State University’s online program. He toured numerous homes in Phoenix’s “blue-collar neighborhoods” – smaller lots, more urban, less manicured and generally more affordable – for a year and a half. He started the search between Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, then expanded it outward. In neighborhoods like Coronado and Garfield, the houses were too small for his liking, and the lots were too small to add a master bedroom suite. Finally, he bought this three-bedroom, two-bath house for around $300,000. In May, he moved in.

“The biggest concern was just being as close to Downtown as possible,” Peyote says, citing the ability to walk or bike to First Fridays, Arizona Diamondbacks games and the light rail. And he’s excited about the Sprouts grocery store and other retail development going in at the nearby intersection of Osborn Road and Seventh Avenue.

Such excitement is easy to find in the Phoenix area, where home prices are approaching or surpassing their historic highs in 2006. According to data from the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, in the fourth quarter of 2017, the median home sale price in Maricopa County was about $255,000 – an 8.5 percent year-over-year increase, and only about $10,000 short of its all-time high in mid-2006. And the momentum has continued into this year: A June article by The Cromford Report, which tracks Valley real estate data, found a median sale price of $265,000 – a 9.5 percent jump from the previous June – in the Phoenix metro area. (Other services calculate “value” instead of sales price – see chart.)

Valley Real Estate by the NumbersDespite these bullish indicators, pessimism persists regarding the Valley’s housing recovery. The high watermark that home prices now are approaching came less than two years before the financial crisis of 2007-2008 ripped the bottom out of the housing market, both in Arizona and across the country. Frenzied buying sprees and agents writing up offers on the hoods of their cars gave way to foreclosures and short sales.

It was an extreme version of the typical cyclical pattern of real estate, and some Valley residents wonder how much higher this current roller coaster will go – and how steep the eventual downhill slide.

It doesn’t help that the Valley’s real estate market has been particularly volatile relative to the rest of the country, having been hit hard not just during the most recent crash, but also in the early 1980s – when double-digit interest rates hobbled the home market (see chart, pg. 103) – and again in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in the fallout from the savings-and-loan crisis. The data from the crash of 2007-2008 backs this up: In the U.S. as a whole, the median home sale price went from a high of about $257,000 in the first quarter of 2007 to a low of about $208,000 in the first quarter of 2009 – a 19 percent drop. According to ARMLS data, over the same time period in Maricopa County, the median home sale price started at a similar level but fell to about $130,000 – a nearly 50 percent decrease.

Tina Tamboer, an analyst with The Cromford Report, says fears of another tumble are unfounded, at least in the short term. For one thing, she notes, the median sale price doesn’t tell the market’s whole story. A better indicator is price per square foot, and by that metric, prices are still 20 percent lower than they were before the crash. “So you’re getting a larger home than you were back then,” for the same amount of money, Tamboer says.

Another requirement for a crash: desperate sellers, which Tamboer says the Valley just doesn’t have today – partly because many people bought their homes when the market bottomed out, and are no longer “underwater” (see graphic on page 101). After all, what’s the rush to unload a house you bought for $125,000, maybe even with cash?

a historical home in Encanto; Photo by Candace DorseyPhoenix’s volatility, she says, comes in part from the fact that Phoenix is still a young city. “Places like L.A. and New York are very old, and they’ve gone through the growing pains already,” she says. “Arizona as a whole is barely 100 years old. So in a lot of ways, we’re still in adolescence.” And when there’s room for growth, as there is in the Valley, there’s the potential for homebuilding to outpace demand, which contributed to the crash of the 2000s, she says.

The market, Tamboer adds, is back in a somewhat normal state after an anomalous decade. And all the real estate agents quoted later in this package noted that lending requirements now are much more stringent than they were in 2006 – meaning that homebuyers are more qualified and less likely to default on their mortgages, another contributing factor in the crash.

In short, we could be due for a “flattening out” of home prices, Tamboer says, or maybe even a mild “correction,” but not until at least mid-2019. In the meantime, she says, “real estate in Phoenix is still, historically, extremely affordable.”

Compared to ultra-competitive markets in California, New York and elsewhere, that’s undeniably true. Still, many lower-income and younger first-time homebuyers in the Valley would have difficulty financing a home in today’s market. Consider that a typical 30-year mortgage on one of those average $265,000 homes – with 5 percent down – translates to a monthly payment of about $1,800 during the first few years of the loan, factoring in fees, insurance and taxes. No walk in the park for a family making $50,000 a year.

By middle-class standards, however, it’s affordable, and affordability is what brought Ariana and Chris Moore, both California natives, to the Valley from the San Francisco Bay Area. Unlike many of their fellow millennials, who value being close to the city center, the Moores are happy on the periphery. In fact, it’s almost as if they picked the first house they saw as their eastbound plane descended into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport – a two-story, 2,800-square-foot home in northwest Peoria. Built in 2004, in a Vistancia development, the home has five bedrooms, three baths and a backyard pool. It’s a surfeit of space now, but perfect for the young couple’s future — they’d like to have a large family one day. They moved in this past April.

Chris and Ariana Moore in their Peoria home; Photo by Carrie EvansAriana works in consulting, which means she travels just about every week. “It’s nice to have a home base that’s not too expensive,” she says. Chris’ grandparents live nearby – “exactly a 12-minute drive away,” he notes – and the couple is enjoying the relatively light traffic in the northwest Valley. But their move here mostly came down to economics: Their house, the first they’ve owned, cost $319,000. A similar one in the Bay Area might have cost five times as much, and before they headed east, they were paying around $2,800 a month for their 700-square-foot apartment in San Mateo, roughly halfway between Ariana’s job in San Francisco and Chris’ job in Palo Alto.

The Moores looked elsewhere in the West Valley, including Buckeye and Litchfield Park, before settling on Peoria. “All of our neighbors are friendly, the community center is awesome and we feel very safe at all times,” Ariana says. “The proximity to Phoenix and Scottsdale is convenient for jobs as well.”

Chris adds that the surroundings were what sold the couple. “If there are things about the house we don’t like, we can always change them,” he says. “But you can’t really change the area around you.”

The thought of home prices one day coming down isn’t much of a concern for the Moores. For one thing, Chris would one day like to work as a real estate investor, so “if a crash does happen, it could be an opportunity,” he says. For another, they plan to be in their house a long time, and they’ve got plenty to explore in a brand new metro area. Among their early adventures: their first delicious taste of a Downtown Phoenix institution. “What was it called?” Chris asks, fishing for the answer. Ariana fills in the blank: “Pizzeria Bianco!”

Peyote, the new Phoenix homeowner, also isn’t concerned about market fluctuations. He bought a house in Clarkdale before the worst of the downturn, then kept it for years before finally unloading it at a loss. Now, though, he’s busy building a backyard deck and making Truman Terrace his forever home – which means that, at least for him, worrying about his house’s value is a thing of the past.

“I’m never moving again,” he says, before cracking a wry smile and pointing at his head. “See the gray hair? Yeah. Never again.”

PEAK PERFORMANCE?
Not all Valley cities have recovered from the housing bubble at the same pace. In general, communities farthest from the city core – which benefited the most during the peak cycle in 2006 – have recovered the slowest. How the area’s 20 largest cities are faring:

Peak Performance?

 

3.7% - Estimated one-year rise in Metro Phoenix home values (2018-2019) forecast by Zillow.

Non-Clairvoyant Headline Alert
“Why Arizona real estate may not be a good economic bet in 2016”

Forecasting home values is a famously dicey game. Consider this Dec. 7, 2015, headline in the Phoenix Business Journal. As it turns out, Valley home values spiked 9.9 percent in 2016.

Breathing Easy?
The term “negative equity” applies to a home that is worth less than its outstanding mortgage. In the common parlance: underwater. During the darkest days of the housing crisis, more than 2 out of every 3 homes in the Valley were underwater. Homeowners are in much better shape today.
May 2018 - 8.7%
November 2010 - 68.4%

 

Critical Adjustment
Valley Home Values

 

HOME VALUES: THE 30,000-FOOT VIEW
The housing market’s recovery was more evident in some areas of the Valley than others in 2017. Here’s a look at how some parts of Metro Phoenix fared last year. This data comes from Street Scout, a web project by The Information Market – a subsidiary of the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, or ARMLS – and The Arizona Republic. Because Street Scout pulls data from multiple public records sources, it arguably provides a more accurate picture of Valley real estate than ARMLS data alone, since the latter does not include data such as “for sale by owner” listings, foreclosure auctions and other sources.

North-Central Tempe; photo by Aaron Soto
North-Central Tempe - Tempe as a whole recovered from the bubble quicker than any other Valley city, and as such, values remained relatively flat in 2017. However, the 85282 ZIP code, roughly between Broadway and Baseline roads, saw an 11 percent increase in median home sale price – to $265,000, from $238,000 in 2016. Landlocked Tempe could see further increases if proposed lumber tariffs slow new-home construction, driving up demand for existing homes.

Downtown/South Phoenix; photo by Candace Dorsey
Downtown/South Phoenix - The 85009 ZIP code, south of Thomas Road and mostly west of Interstate 17, is one of the Valley’s most affordable areas, and it also saw the biggest increase in median sale price last year: $124,000, up nearly 30 percent from $96,000 in 2016.

Arcadia (Phoenix); photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images
Arcadia (Phoenix) - Maybe it’s time to amend the old saying, because it seems three things in life are certain: death, taxes and Arcadia home values. In 2017, the median home price in the 85018 ZIP code, which includes Arcadia, was up 25 percent, to $550,000, from the market’s 2006 peak of $440,000. That’s among the highest percentage increases in the Valley over that 11-year stretch.

Westgate; photo courtesy Yam Properties
Westgate - The median sale price in Glendale’s sports and entertainment district (otherwise known as ZIP code 85305) was $265,000 in 2017 – well off its mark of nearly $381,000 during the market’s 2006 peak. That could indicate that there’s room for continued increases around University of Phoenix Stadium, the new Desert Diamond Casino (set for completion next year) and Westgate’s other attractions.

Coronado; photo by Candace Dorsey
Coronado - In 2011, at the bottom of the housing crash, homes in this historic Phoenix neighborhood (ZIP code 85006) were going for a median price of just $63,000. In 2017, that number was more than $211,000 – a more than 200 percent increase, among the largest jumps in the Valley.

Northwest Mesa; photo courtesy Visit Mesa
Northwest Mesa - From 2016 to 2017, Mesa’s 85201 ZIP code, which includes downtown and the Sloan Park area, saw a healthy 11 percent increase in median home price, from $180,000 to $200,000. Among the area’s draws: a recent extension of the Metro light rail line through Main Street.

Encanto & F.Q. Story; photo by Candace Dorsey
Encanto & F.Q. Story - Some of Phoenix’s biggest houses are in this historic area, covered by ZIP code 85007. But median sale prices since the 2011 bottoming-out were up just 60 percent, to $192,000, in 2017. That’s among the smallest increases in the Valley, which could indicate home values here have some more growing to do.

South Tempe; photo courtesy City of Tempe
South Tempe - This area, covered by ZIP code 85284, was something of an anomaly during the recession. In 2011, the median sale price here was $260,000 — well above the levels of the surrounding ZIP codes. That’s partly due to this neighborhood’s larger homes. By last year, the median had risen to $400,000.

Downtown Gilbert; photo courtesy Discover Gilbert
Downtown Gilbert - Homes in the fast-growing 85234 ZIP code are nearly back to their pre-recession values. In 2017, the median home price was just under $300,000 — a little short of the peak of $320,000 in 2006, but nearly double the 2011 median of $165,000. It’s hard to say how much of the demand for homes here is driven by the burgers at Liberty Market, but those have to be a factor.

Broadway/South Phoenix; photo by Candace Dorsey
Broadway/South Phoenix - Here’s another area that saw a big jump in home values last year. In the 85040 ZIP code, south of Downtown and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, median sale price went from $132,000 in 2016 to $165,000 in 2017. New housing developments on the south side of this ZIP code are at least partly responsible for the 25 percent increase.

 

NEIGHBORHOOD CLOSE-UPS
Which Valley neighborhoods are most likely to experience home-value spikes in the next year? Which are most likely to hold their value in the event of a recession? Which are smart gambles? We attempt to answer these questions by spotlighting five Valley neighborhoods – each an object lesson in homebuying.

LAVEEN
The Value of Connection

It isn’t often that a roadway changes a neighborhood’s complexion. But the South Mountain Freeway-Loop 202 extension has the potential to do that for Laveen, a relatively isolated southwest Phoenix borough, when it’s completed in late 2019.

The Shields family of Laveen; photo by Carl SchultzMyranda Shields, an EPIC Home Realty agent who covers the West Valley, sees Laveen and nearby neighborhoods becoming affordable options for East Valley commuters. One of her clients, an electrician who recently bought a home in Laveen, plans to work at an Intel facility in Chandler for the next several years. That commute will be made simple once the new stretch of Loop 202 opens. “Not everyone who’s working [in the East Valley’s tech sector] makes a ton of money,” she says, and Laveen offers a newly accessible option for those who can’t swing East Valley housing prices.

For decades, Laveen was mostly known for dairy farms and cropland, but the cows and alfalfa are now giving way to housing and commercial properties. Some of that development is being fueled pre-emptively by the new freeway connection, but Laveen isn’t without its extant charms. Its views include South Mountain Park to the south, with access to some of the mountain’s best hiking trails, and the Estrella Mountains to the southwest. In the neighborhood, one of the most diverse in the Valley, residents enjoy the city-owned Aguila Golf Course, plus the lake, running path and dog park at adjacent César Chavez Park. And in both of the neighborhood’s ZIP codes – 85339, which includes part of the adjacent Gila River Indian Community, and 85041 – the median home price was around $200,000 in 2017, according to data from Street Scout.

César Chavez Park; photo by Carl SchultzThe freeway isn’t the only coming attraction, either. Early this year, a long-discussed plan to revitalize Phoenix’s normally dry stretch of the Salt River – which forms Laveen’s northern boundary – got a boost from more than 100 Valley business and political leaders, including U.S. Senator John McCain. It also got a catchy new name: “Rio Reimagined.” While details are scant at this point, the general idea is to turn a dry, ugly scar into an attraction for residents, visitors and commerce, much as Tempe Town Lake did for Tempe’s section of the river in the late 1990s.

With mountains to the south, a possible riparian area to the north and a new connection to the rest of the Valley, it’s clear Laveen has potential. And Shields thinks it’s reflective of the way West and Southwest Phoenix, along with the West Valley’s suburbs, are catching up to their neighbors to the east.

“We’re finally getting big things,” she says. “It used to be: ‘Oh, you want to go to a dueling piano bar? Well, we have to go to Tempe.’ So it’s nice to finally have things to do.”

Belmont Stakes
At some point in the future, Belmont could be a model for a new kind of American city. Right now, though, it’s mostly just empty space. Late last year, The Arizona Republic reported that a group controlled by Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ investment firm had poured $80 million into the nearly 25,000-acre development west of the White Tank Mountains and north of Interstate 10. A buzzword-laden press release from the investors talked of a “forward-thinking community” built around “cutting-edge technologies” and “autonomous logistics hubs,” leading many media outlets to declare Gates was pouring a piece of his fortune into creating a “smart city in the desert.” But Slate and other publications pointed out that the deal might have very little to do with Gates personally, and that the investors might simply be betting that Interstate 11 – a not-yet-funded highway from Phoenix to Las Vegas and beyond – will one day make the land more valuable. No timetable for construction has been announced, and there don’t even seem to be many rumors about when building might start. In the meantime, it’s fun to dream of a “smart city” rising from the dry washes out west.

DETAILS
Location
Bounded by the Salt River to the north, the Gila River Indian Community to the southwest, South Mountain Park to the south and 27th Avenue to the east.

Drive-By Appeal
Mountain views, trail access and an impending lifeline to the East Valley.

Signature Landmark
The Sachs-Webster House, at 75th Avenue and Baseline Road, is a Sears and Roebuck “kit house” that dates to the early 1900s and is listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register.

Comparable Neighborhoods
Avondale, Chaparral Estates (east Gilbert)

 

ARCADIA
The Bubble-Proof ’Hood?

Mia Brito and her sister Ava Schultz living the Arcadia dream; photo by Carl SchultzYear after year, the Arcadia neighborhood finds itself at or near the top of various rankings of the Valley’s best places to live. And real estate agent Doug Hill – whose agency, The Hill Group, mainly covers East Phoenix, Scottsdale and the East Valley – says that hasn’t changed. He still sees plenty of demand for Arcadia, a place where, as he puts it, “to live there, you’re going to have to have some money.”

Now, though, many of Arcadia’s homes are getting a second life, Hill says. “A lot of what’s driving [the demand] now, for the older homes in that area, is that people are going in, fixing them up and flipping them,” he says. “And then people are in there, buying them up.”

While Arcadia’s generally accepted definition puts part of it in Scottsdale, the majority is in Phoenix’s 85018 ZIP code, where the median home sale price was $550,000 in 2017, according to Street Scout. Arcadia proper, though, features bigger homes, bigger lots and sale prices that typically range from $800,000 to $8 million or more, Hill says.

Beyond the home sizes, there’s plenty to like about the area. “You’ve got a lot of great restaurants close by,” Hill says, “and they’re very walkable.” One of the nearest is The Henry, a Sam Fox twist on the neighborhood eatery that’s drawn rave reviews since it opened in late 2013 (it now has a sister location in West Hollywood). Education options in the area include Hopi Elementary School, where test scores consistently rank far above the state average, and Phoenix Country Day School, the Valley’s only independent school for pre-kindergartners through
12th-graders.

the legendary Arizona Falls; photo by Carl SchultzAnother plus for high-income neighborhoods like Arcadia is that they tend to hold their value, even through a recession. According to Street Scout, the 85018 ZIP code bottomed out at a median home sale price of $275,000 in 2011. That’s half of what it is today, but still well ahead of surrounding ZIP codes, where the swing back to financial health has been much more pronounced. It’s not rocket science: A tony neighborhood like Arcadia has residents more financially able to weather the storm, thus avoiding foreclosures – a key cause of home values falling in a neighborhood. And avoiding foreclosures positively impacts a neighborhood’s neighbors, too, such as the 85251 and 85008 ZIP codes near Arcadia.

Throw in the neighborhood’s proximity to downtown Scottsdale to the east, Desert Botanical Garden to the south and Camelback Mountain to the north, and it’s easy to see why homebuyers who have the means are still clamoring to live in Arcadia – and keeping property values climbing.

DETAILS
Location
Bounded roughly by Camelback Road to the north, 44th Street to the west, the Arizona Canal to the south and 68th Street to the east.

Drive-By Appeal
Large homes, large lots, plenty of greenery and easy access to shopping, hiking and transportation.

Signature Landmark
Arizona Falls, a natural 20-foot drop that’s existed since the Arizona Canal was dug more than a century ago. The restored hydroelectric power plant there is now a neighborhood gathering place, with an emphasis on art and history.

Comparable Neighborhoods
Paradise Valley, McCormick Ranch, Biltmore

 

MCCORMICK RANCH
Sticking to the Formula

The Greer family; photo by Carl SchultzMcCormick Ranch isn’t the Valley’s most affordable area. Homes in the Scottsdale neighborhood typically sell for $500,000 to $1.5 million, Hill says. But the Valley’s sprawl has worked in its favor: When it was conceived in the 1970s, it was considered North Scottsdale. Now, it’s more central. And its convenient location, large lots, and nearby restaurant hubs and cultural attractions invite comparisons to another, even more affluent Valley neighborhood.

“It’s kind of like the new Arcadia,” Hill says. “It’s close to Kierland [Commons] and the Scottsdale Quarter to the north; to the south, you’re not far from Old Town. Without traffic, you’re 20 to 30 minutes from the airport. There’s great access to the freeway. It’s just a really nicely centralized area.”

Naturally, the leafy trees and green grass of McCormick Ranch attract attention, just like those in Arcadia do. “We see a lot of people going in, buying older homes and remodeling them,” Hill says. “Some flip them. Others just fix them up and live in them.”

The neighborhood was Scottsdale’s first large-scale, master-planned community, paving the way for Gainey Ranch, DC Ranch and other such areas. But McCormick Ranch’s location puts it a cut above the other Ranches. Just west of the neighborhood is Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks (and, uh, the Colorado Rockies, if that’s your thing), plus large-scale festivals at other times of the year (viva the Arizona Taco Festival!) and the always-growing entertainment district on nearby Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community land. Just across Indian Bend Road, to the south, is McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, which draws train lovers of all ages with its miniature locomotive setups and not-quite-so-miniature train rides.

Hash Kitchen server with cannoli pancakes; photo by Carl SchultzIf you’d rather ride the links, you don’t even need to leave the neighborhood, whose centerpiece is the 36-hole McCormick Ranch Golf Club. And Camelback, Scottsdale Silverado and Talking Stick are all right next door. After your round, you can grab pancakes and a build-your-own-bloody Mary at nearby Hash Kitchen, one of the Valleys most popping brunch spots, or get an Original Chopped Salad (one of the few salads with its own Facebook page) at Citizen Public House in Old Town, a few miles south.

Don’t write off McCormick Ranch and other Scottsdale neighborhoods as being only for older people, either. Hill sees more and more millennials taking advantage of a solid housing market as they age, get married and start families. “A lot of it has to do with education,” he says. “I don’t mean that people have higher education; I just think millennials have been educated on the process and the benefits of buying a home. And they’re taking advantage of it.”

DETAILS
Location
Roughly bounded by Shea Boulevard to the north, Scottsdale Road to the west, Indian Bend Road to the south and Loop 101 to the east.

Drive-By Appeal
In-neighborhood and nearby golf courses, trendy restaurants, tall trees and green grass.

Signature Landmark
Mountain View Park, in McCormick Ranch’s northeast corner, offers courts for volleyball, tennis and basketball, plus three soccer fields, an exercise court and a 12,000-square-foot community center.

Comparable Neighborhoods
Arcadia, Gainey Ranch, Kierland

 

SOUTH PHOENIX
Starter Home Central

Homeowner Shawn Williams walking his pooch; photo by Carl SchultzThe Cromford Report analyst Tina Tamboer looks at a lot of real estate data. And she says there’s one surprising area of the Valley where the numbers suggest homebuyers could get in on the ground floor of an up-and-coming neighborhood.

“The neighborhood I’m watching right now is South Phoenix – the 85040 and 85042 ZIP codes,” Tamboer says, east of Central Avenue and south of Downtown Phoenix. And maybe it could benefit from a rebranding that references its neighbor to the east. “I tell people about it, and they say, ‘Oh, you mean west of Tempe?’” she says. “Well, yeah! That’s South Phoenix!”

In the second quarter of this year, Tamboer says, home sales in those two ZIP codes were up 19 percent from a year earlier. And those numbers were being driven by new-home construction, with sales of new single-family homes up a whopping 107 percent from the same time in 2017. Tamboer adds that these ZIP codes are “one of the few areas [of the Valley] where you can get a single-family home for under $200,000.”

Valley lookout at South Mountain; photo by Carl SchultzBut housing bargains aren’t the only reason to live in South Phoenix. The gorgeous backdrop of South Mountain Park offers myriad hiking trails and scenic drives to the park’s overlooks of the Phoenix area. Legacy Golf Club, in the center of the neighborhood, has repeatedly been ranked among the Valley’s best public courses. And there’s easy access to Los Angeles Angels spring training at Tempe Diablo Stadium and to Arizona Mills mall, just across Interstate 10 in Tempe.

More local dining options are sure to arrive as the neighborhood grows, but for now, The Farm at South Mountain, near 32nd Street and Southern Avenue, offers “farm to table” dining at Morning Glory Cafe (breakfast and brunch), The Farm Kitchen (special events and made-to-order pies) and Quiessence (fine dining dinner). On the neighborhood’s northern edge is nationally renowned Little Miss BBQ, where you’ll want to line up early for lunch. And South Phoenix is home to numerous nurseries and tree farms – appropriate for a neighborhood that’s quickly growing up. And maybe growing into a new identity, whether you call it South Phoenix or “West of Tempe.”

“You’ve got this beautiful preserve, it’s close to the airport, and it’s close to employment centers,” Tamboer says. “There’s just a lot of potential.”

DETAILS
Location
Roughly bounded by University Drive and the Salt River to the north, Central Avenue to the west, South Mountain Park to the south and 48th Street to the east.

Drive-By Appeal
Affordable homes and easy access to Downtown Phoenix and Tempe.

Signature Landmark
Mystery Castle, built by a local eccentric in the 1930s and now open for tours from October through May. It’s in the South Mountain foothills, near the southern end of Seventh Street.

Comparable Neighborhoods
Maryvale, South Phoenix (ZIP codes farther west)

 

ADORA TRAILS
The Final Frontier?

Gilbertians Jason and Cassandra Kidd; photo by Carl SchultzThere was a time, not too long ago, when the only reason most Phoenicians found themselves in Gilbert was because they’d taken a wrong turn. Now, the southeast Valley suburb boasts nearly 250,000 residents but has retained its small-town feel, despite a thriving downtown restaurant scene. And in the sprawling town’s southernmost reaches, a master-planned community that weathered the worst of the crash is carving out a niche of its own.

Adora Trails, south of Riggs Road and east of the Roosevelt Canal, is a joint project by Taylor Morrison and Maracay Homes. The Taylor Morrison homes, which make up the majority of the community, are one or two stories and roughly 1,800 to 4,500 square feet, with prices in the mid-$200,000s and up. The Maracay section (nearly sold out by press time), named The Preserve at Adora Trails, offers 82 single-story homes from 2,500 to 3,500 square feet. The Maracay homes are designed to use 30 to 60 percent less energy than typical houses, the builder says.

The community opened in 2010, in the deepest depths of the housing crash, and a lack of demand and available labor meant much of it went unbuilt early on. But it’s taken off in the past few years, says Michael D’Elena, a Tempe-based real estate agent who covers the East Valley for North & Co. “It’s a newer community that’s still being built and is growing very fast,” D’Elena says. “It’s been very hot the past few years and should still be building for a couple more.” And while Gilbert still has plenty of infill to build on, the town now butts up against the Pinal County line, meaning it can’t expand any farther. In the long term, that could boost home values.

the iconic downtown Gilbert watertower; photo by Carl SchultzD’Elena notes the advantages of buying a new home, as opposed to a resale. You can customize some aspects of the home’s look and design, and you won’t encounter any rusted pipes or rotted floorboards, since everything is new. (Most builders also offer a two-year warranty for added peace of mind.) But there are downsides: A new home generally costs more than a resale, and there can be hidden costs, such as lot premiums, upgrades and landscaping. Time can be a hidden cost, too: “You have to wait six to 12 months to get into a home,” D’Elena says.

The wait is worth it for buyers at Adora Trails, where the in-neighborhood school – Patterson Elementary, which greatschools.org rates as a 9 overall and a 10 for test scores – is attractive to families. Active families, that is, thanks to another amenity that’s right in the name: Adora Trails features 12 miles of picturesque walking trails, plus a 10-acre park, a lake, a fitness center and a community pool.

There’s plenty to like outside Adora Trails’ boundaries, too. For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a new temple opened a few miles north of the neighborhood in 2014. For hikers and mountain bikers, San Tan Mountain Regional Park is just minutes southeast. And the community is an easy drive from downtown Gilbert’s booming restaurant scene, the annual Peach Festival at Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek and Lola Empanada in San Tan Valley. That restaurant was honored by Yelp this year as the best-reviewed eatery in Arizona, with a rare five-star rating and more than 80 reviews.

In short, there’s a reason many of Adora Trails’ vacant lots already have “Sold” signs in front of them. And it’s not because their buyers took a wrong turn to get there.

DETAILS
Location
Bounded by Riggs Road to the north, the Roosevelt Canal to the west, the Pinal County line to the south and Constellation Way to the east.

Drive-By Appeal
A ready-made neighborhood, with amenities inside and recreation opportunities nearby.

Signature Landmark:
From the neighborhood’s southern boundary, views of the San Tan Mountains are spectacular.

Comparable Neighborhoods
Morrison Ranch (Gilbert), Cadence at Gateway (Mesa)

 

THE NEW DOWNTOWN
Our long-standing secret shame as Phoenicians: downtown envy. Defined as that vague pang of inferiority one feels while strolling through a high-density metropolis, with its rich, walkable pod of semi-autonomous enclaves – each with its own cool-sounding nickname – and wishing they had that. The thing is, maybe we do have that. The real estate rebound is redrawing Downtown Phoenix. Midrise multifamily units are going up, vacant lots are infilling like nobody’s business, and individual city blocks are developing their own cultural identities. So at the risk of letting someone else coin the next SoHo or RoRo, we’ve pre-emptively rebranded some of our favorite portions of Downtown. Please use and repeat freely. They’re yours now.

The New Downtown