Put your roots down with our annual guide to the Valley’s best places to live – even if it’s just for a year, you wily Millennials.

Hot Neighborhoods 2016

Written by Leah LeMoine Category: Lifestyle Issue: August 2016
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Historical: F.Q. Story Neighborhood Historic District

Why it’s hot: Historical charm without the sticker shock of Encanto-Palmcroft or Windsor Square

This CenPho historic ‘hood consists of 602 homes – a mix of Bungalow/Craftsman, 20th-century revival, English Tudor and modern homes built in the late 1920s and early 1930s – in the stretch from McDowell Road south to Roosevelt Street and from Seventh Avenue west to Grand Avenue. “The kind of cottage-y feel and the neighborhood-type feel with trees was really appealing to me,” says structural engineer F.J. Pfitzer, who bought a home in F.Q. Story five years ago. “It has a little bit of character,” Pfitzer says. “I like being close to Downtown, I like being close to Sky Harbor, I like being close to pretty much everywhere in the Valley. This is one of the most centrally located neighborhoods.” And though “it’s gentrifying a bit, for better or for worse... it’s just been getting better [with] all the development going on Downtown. More restaurants, more things to do.”

Local attractions: Pfitzer frequents the Vig Fillmore (606 N. Fourth Ave., 602-254-2242, thevig.us) and Cibo (603 N. Fifth Ave., 602-441-2697, cibophoenix.com) for their pleasant patios. “For a bar, Bikini Lounge (1502 Grand Ave., 602-252-0472) is right around the corner, and the Grand Avenue district, if you’re into the arts.”

Bottom line: $300,000 and up

Residents Joe and Joyce Murphy at Generations at Agritopia in Gilbert

Senior/Active Living: Generations at Agritopia

Why it’s hot: Senior living in an idyllic, multigenerational “Agrihood”

The Johnston family’s dream of “village life” entails “people from all walks of life living within the community, rather than separating groups of people,” according to visionary Joe Johnston. Realized in 1999, the dream came full-circle two years ago with the completion of Generations, a senior living facility on the grounds of Johnston’s beloved Agritopia in Gilbert. Generations offers independent and assisted living as well as memory and respite care, and rent includes meals, weekly apartment cleaning and activities like painting and looming classes. True to its name, “They try to bring in kids from school and they will come in and interview us and we interview them,” resident Joyce Murphy says. She marvels at the development in the area. “When I was growing up, nobody went to Gilbert. Are you kidding me? Gilbert?” Her friend and fellow resident Dee Buckles chuckles. “There’s grandchildren and young couples and parents and grandparents all living here,” Buckles says. “It was an unexpected pleasure for us to learn this.”

Local attractions: Downtown Gilbert is a short drive away, but why leave the sprawling Agritopia community when there are enticements like Joe’s Farm Grill, The Coffee Shop and The Farm at Agritopia on the property? (agritopia.com)

Bottom line: Starting at $3,395 per month


Avilla in Goodyear

Luxury Rental: Avilla

Why it’s hot: Master-planned privacy and comfort meets the low-cost, hassle-free benefits of renting with these “hybrid products”

With three kids and a fiancée, Shawn Parris was ready to close the chapter on apartment living, but not quite ready to purchase a home. He figured he’d find an older home to rent until he was ready to buy – until he found out about Avilla, a community of detached, for-rent-only luxury homes that include all the amenities of apartment complexes – including a pool, spa and a maintenance team for when lightbulbs go out and drains clog – but typically rent for less than comparable, privately-owned homes. “I don’t understand why nobody ever thought of this concept before,” Parris, who works in security and community relations for the Arizona Cardinals, says. “I love it here – the quietness, the privacy, my backyard, because I’ve got one of the larger backyards.” There are currently two completed Avilla projects (in Goodyear, where Parris lives, and in Chandler) and five under construction, with plans to expand to other cities. Josh Hartmann, CEO of developer NexMetro, says Millennials and empty nesters are particularly drawn to the “four walls of freedom” and the “carefree, maintenance-free lifestyle.” 

Local attractions: The “suburban infill projects,” as Hartmann calls them, are all situated near freeways and shopping centers for convenience.   

Bottom line: $900-$1,600 per month, depending on square footage 


Melrose couple and Rebel Salon & Vintage owners Annie Cavanagh and D. Miles

Manor 38 by Green Street

LGBT: Melrose District

Why it’s hot: Arts, culture, shopping, restaurants and LGBT-owned businesses with a dash of history and quirk

“You would think with Phoenix being somewhere around the fifth largest city in the country that we would have a ‘defined’ LGBT neighborhood like San Diego with its Hillcrest Neighborhood District or New York with its Chelsea neighborhood,” says realtor Della Davis of Ventana Fine Properties. “The Melrose area around Seventh Avenue and Indian School Road/Camelback Road has become an area of LGBT business.” One such business is Rebel Salon & Vintage, owned by partners Annie Cavanagh and D. Miles. “This area has always been so welcoming to all flavors of the rainbow... We are so proud to be a same-sex-couple-owned business in general, but to be in such a neighborhood where we can bring our own level of acceptance and appreciation for LGBT diversity really makes a difference,” Cavanagh says. “Our single bathroom has [an] E.T. in drag sticker instead of a stick person. We just like to do things different here.”

Local attractions: Get your hair done at Rebel Salon & Vintage (4150 N. Seventh Ave., 602-279-0082, rebelsv.com) and then shop for vintage clothes and furniture at Zinnias at Melrose (724 W. Indian School Rd., 602-264-4166, zinnasatmelrose.com). Finish with spaghetti at Harley’s Italian Bistro (4221 N. Seventh Ave., 602-234-0333, harleysitalianbistro.com).   

Bottom line: From $140,000


Urban Infill: Manor 38

Why it’s hot: Close to Arcadia; new, large houses in a part of town where they’re typically old and small

We love the concept of urban infill: Find a pocket of disused or underused real estate in the city core and fill the sucker, helping enhance that all-important “urban density.” Infill residences are typically more energy- and water-efficient than the older properties around them, and more centrally located than comparable builds in the sticks. “It’s the hottest segment in the market today,” says vice president of market research and investment manager Jim Belfiore of Belfiore Real Estate Consulting. “Over the last 36 months that segment of the marketplace has really come on strong, with Downtown Phoenix being one of the first areas... to come back.” To that end, we offer Manor 38, a spanking-new neighborhood of 21 homes from developer Green Street that has instantly transformed a small pocket of East Phoenix north of Thomas Road and 38th Street into a Phoenix Home & Garden fever dream. For fans of vertical infill, Belfiore recommends CityScape above the Hotel Palomar.

Local attractions: All the Arcadia delights: Crudo (3603 E. Indian School Rd., 602-358-8666, crudoaz.com), Beckett’s Table (3717 E. Indian School Rd., 602-954-1700, beckettstable.com), The Market by Jennifer’s (3603 E. Indian School Rd., 602-626-5050, themarketphx.com).

Bottom line: $609,990 and up


Best Investments: West Valley

Why it’s hot: Competitive prices, surges in values and lots o’ land

For a good ROI, go west. That’s Valley real estate investor Rob Binkley’s mantra. “I bought a house in El Mirage for $43,000 four years ago and now it’s worth $150,000,” Binkley says. “Those are the kinds of wild swings you typically get in the hardest-hit areas [like the West Valley]. In a recession, a home in Scottsdale might go down 30 or 40 percent. That’s a lot, but where you really get slaughtered are the newer builds in places like Laveen or Tolleson, which will lose 60 or 70 percent. But they’ll also gain the most when the market recovers.” Like it is right now. Catherine Reagor, senior real estate reporter for the Arizona Republic, also says to keep an eye on the areas around Grand Canyon University and Arizona State University West for fixer-uppers. Also hot? “Central Glendale,” she says. 

Local attractions: Feast on old-school comida mexicana at Rio Mirage Cafe (12245 Santa Fe Dr., 623-583-7708, riomiragecafe.com) in El Mirage or do a pho crawl near ASU West at Pho Avina (4920 W. Thunderbird Rd., 602-439-2547, phoavina.com) or Pho Viet Vietnamese Restaurant (4332 W. Bell Rd., 602-235-0282, phovietkitchen.com)   

Bottom line: Start as low as $55,000 for foreclosures 

New Master-Planned Developments: Horizon at Asante

Why it’s hot: Abandoned north Surprise community rebounds from bust with lots of land and lower prices 

Families are flocking to this Northwest Valley community, located one mile west of the Loop 303, Jim Belfiore says. “North Surprise plays a unique role in the marketplace in the sense that it’s a lot like South Surprise – it has very good schools, there’s ample land there,” Belfiore says of the suburban subdivision ideal. “But the price is lower than North Peoria, so buyers that can’t afford more expensive Peoria are focused on... communities like Asante, a large, master-planned community that was developed by Lennar Homes.” Real estate reporter Catherine Reagor agrees. “People are lining up [to get in to Asante], and we haven’t seen homebuyers line up since the boom.” 

Local attractions: Residents enjoy neighborhood playgrounds, picnic areas, basketball court, baseball field, soccer field, biking trails, greenbelts and even a pond, located just east of the community.

Bottom line: $221,990-$276,990 



Millennials: Arcadia Lite Jr.

Why it’s hot: Such a cool area, even Millennials are tempted to buy 

For the most part, when it comes to homes, Millennials aren’t buying. The exception: trendy Arcadia for the upwardly mobile Millennial, “Arcadia Lite” for the mid-level Millennial, and “Arcadia Lite Jr.” for the more budget-conscious. “Arcadia Lite is one of the big buzz words,” Binkley says. “I have a colleague, five years ago he bought a house on 32nd [Street] and Camelback [Road]... 1,100 square feet and he paid $170,000. It’s worth $500,000 now. It’s ridiculous. But that area is trending down, and the demand is picking up in the 32nd Street and Thomas area” and even beyond, to the 20s and Indian School Road. “We do see Millennials going in there and doing their grays and whites. Those are the trendy colors, with granite flooring, and copper and gold fixtures. Nobody was doing those kinds of improvements in that neighborhood 10 years ago.”

Local attractions: Grab a craft brew at Helton Brewing Company (2144 E. Indian School Rd., 602-730-2739, heltonbrewing.com) and then go see a local indie band at Rebel Lounge (2303 E. Indian School Rd., 602-296-7013, therebellounge.com)

Bottom line: Starting in the $120,000s


Tech Hotspot: Echelon at Ocotillo

Why it’s hot: Luxe subdivision vibes just up the street from Intel

Ocotillo is a master-planned golf community in south Chandler that began development in the 1990s. Echelon is its newest build-out, a neighborhood curiously built on the site of what was once Compadre Stadium, a spring training facility that had been defunct for more than 15 years. “They started selling homes in February of this past year and they’re selling really well,” real estate consultant Jim Belfiore says. “This is probably the best-selling community in Chandler. [It’s a] hot area, it’s right up the street from Intel. There’s going to be a high number of families supported by the technology industry living in that particular community because it’s new and very close to tech.”

Local attractions: Share a bottle of red with friends at D’Vine Wine Bar and Bistro (3990 S. Alma School Rd., 480-782-5500, dvinebistrochandler.com) or happy hour pints at SanTan Brewing Co. (8 S. San Marcos Pl., 480-917-8700, santanbrewing.com).

Bottom line: From $300,000


Rendering of Vista College Preparatory expansion

Best Schools

Judy Huffman, associate broker at Ventana Fine Properties, gave us insight into the best schools in the Valley, one of the most important factors for her clients who have children. “A school’s rating is determined by its students’ performance on state standardized tests compared with other schools in the state,” Huffman says. These are ones parents are looking at, plus a Q&A with a school founder.


Central Phoenix: Phoenix Union Bioscience High School (public charter 6-12), Veritas (Great Hearts Academies), Vista College Preparatory, Madison School District

North Valley: Glendale Preparatory Academy (Great Hearts Academies)

West Valley: University High School, Tolleson

East Valley: Chandler Preparatory Academy (Great Hearts Academies, public charter K-12)

Scottsdale: Cheyenne Traditional School (K-8), Grayhawk Elementary School (pre-K-6), Desert Canyon Elementary School (K-5), Sonoran Sky Elementary School (K-6), Cocopah Middle School (6-8), Desert Mountain High School (9-12)


Julia Meyerson

Q&A with Vista College Preparatory founder Julia Meyerson


Q: What is the mission of Vista College Prep? 

A: Through academic rigor and leadership development, Vista College Prep educates all K-5 students for success in middle school, achievement in high school, and graduation from college. Vista College Prep is a high-performing kindergarten through fourth grade, tuition-free, public charter school educating a 93 percent minority student population, and about 97 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. 


Q: Why did you choose this area to establish the school? When did you open?

A: We opened in August 2013 at 812 S. Sixth Avenue – just south of Downtown Phoenix on Sixth Avenue between Grant and Buckeye. We are located in the heart of Central City South – a part of Phoenix with deep history and passionate community advocates. We have also been recently approved to open our second elementary school campus in Maryvale in the fall of 2017. 


Q: How has the school been received by the community?

A: The Central City South community has been amazing. We are fortunate to have connected with incredible local organizations, like the Phoenix Revitalization Corporation, I.G. Homes Boys and Girls Club, and others, as we all are committed to ensuring that all students have access to an excellent education. Over the last two years we have started an after-school Bucket Band that now makes an appearance at nearly every local community event in our area. Central City South parents and families are committed to excellence for their children – we are fortunate to be part of this vibrant community and look forward to another year where we can continue to make a positive contribution through the strong academic achievement of our students. 


Optima Kierland rendering

Built in 1974, this ranch-style home (this photo) in Raskin Estates was
updated in 2005; wall removal, hardwood floors and the addition of a
sliding glass door open up to a cavernous Raskin living room, left.

High-Rise Living: Optima Kierland

Why it’s hot: Towering luxury in tony North Scottsdale

It’s “the height of luxury” says Judy Huffman, associate broker at Ventana Fine Properties, describing Optima Kierland, slated to open for occupancy in 2018. “The first building will be designed as luxury rentals and will be 10 stories high,” Huffman says. “The other three buildings will be 12 stories, with approximately 170-220 units in each building.” Bonus: Units can be combined, and each will have “a sky deck with pool, spa, indoor kitchen, fire pits, steam room, hydrotherapy and sauna,” Huffman says. “It’s going to be beautiful,” real estate reporter Catherine Reagor says. “And it’s taller than people expected.”  

Local attractions: Nearby Kierland Commons (15205 N. Kierland Blvd., 480-348-1577, kierlandcommons.com), of course. But a case could be made for locking oneself into the luxe compound, what with the lush gardens and Residents’ Club, complete with exercise facilities, basketball and squash court, golf simulator, game and theater rooms, business center, hydrotherapy and much more. 

Bottom line: $297,000-$1.4 million


‘70s Salvage: Raskin Estates

Why it’s hot: Homes with good bones and nostalgic touches, without historical preservation restrictions

For the best of old and new, homebuyers are snatching up 1970s-era homes and renovating them. This Scottsdale neighborhood at Scottsdale and Thunderbird roads is a mecca for people who are history-minded yet modern, like fashion designer Natasha Duran-Lynch, who purchased a home in the ‘hood this year after renting for four years. “You can have an original-looking home instead of the cookie-cutter-looking home,” she says. “There is lot of work that needs to be done to the home and property, but we have the choice to do so and how we choose to do it, which is really refreshing.” Duran-Lynch has noticed the majority of her neighbors doing the same thing. “There are so many people coming to the neighborhood snatching up these old homes and doing some major renovations and making these homes/properties absolutely beautiful... I think most of these renovations have kept the signature structures, but some have not and totally changed the home. It is great that our neighborhood has so many styles of homes – almost every home is different.”

Local attractions: Get your kebab and hummus fix at Eden’s Grill (13843 N. Tatum Blvd., 602-996-5149, edensgrill.com) or cruise up Scottsdale Road for some retail therapy at Scottsdale Quarter (15059 N. Scottsdale Rd., 480-270-8123, scottsdalequarter.com). 

Bottom line: From $375,000


Culture Hub: Between the Sevens

Why it’s hot: It’s a veritable Valhalla for foodies

It’s a marvel, really, how so much good food and drink can be packed into one neighborhood – especially in this sprawling desert metropolis we call home. But they managed to do it in the neighborhood we’re calling “Between the Sevens,” that fertile food-land in the north-central area between Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue between Glendale Avenue and Colter Street. “We call that Uptown,” real estate reporter Catherine Reagor says. “It’s the hot spot. Great diversity, cool crowds.” In addition to a bevy of local restaurants (see below), the area also boasts Uptown Farmers’ Market, where chefs, farmers and food lovers rub elbows while perusing seasonal produce.  

Local attractions: It’s all about the restaurants, from the Upward Projects stable (Windsor, Federal Pizza, Postino Central, all along Central Avenue, upwardprojects.com) to Stock & Stable (stockandstable.com), Chef Joe Absolor’s buzzy new spot nestled in The Colony mixed-use hub with the Herb Box and, soon, a new sushi joint from the owners of Pure in Scottsdale. 

Bottom line: Huge range, from $125,000-$1.45 million