The Valley’s Best Neighborhoods of 2021

Keridwen CorneliusSeptember 9, 2021
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Jennifer Duff and fiancé Ivan Martinez enjoy a cup of joe at their historical Mesa home; Photo by Camerawerks
Jennifer Duff and fiancé Ivan Martinez enjoy a cup of joe at their historical Mesa home; Photo by Camerawerks

This guide to the Valley’s best neighborhoods for a variety of personalities can help you navigate today’s crucible of a real estate market and find your ideal home.

The Valley’s real estate market is on fire.

True, we proclaimed the same thing last year, in our inaugural Top Agents issue, but what was a hot market then is doubly hot today. More accurately, 2.7 times as hot. That’s how fast year-over-year home values climbed in the intervening 12 months. A theoretical home worth $400,000 in June of 2020 was worth $506,000 in summer 2021.

The reasons for the Valley’s home-value bonanza are myriad. Some pundits say it’s fueled by a countrywide craving to flee crowded, expensive cities in favor of a less-impacted outdoor lifestyle. Concurrently, few Phoenicians wanted to sell during the pandemic, resulting in low inventory and pitched bidding wars. Finally, the Valley is growing faster than most metros. In August, the U.S. Census Bureau proclaimed Phoenix the fastest-growing large U.S. city between 2010 and 2020.

All of it adds up to this: Buying a home in the Valley requires perseverance and planning. Sindy Ready, treasurer-elect of the Arizona Association of Realtors, is practically doubling as a life coach for her bidding-war-weary clients. “I say to them, you’re going to battle right now to buy a house, and you’ve got to be willing to get in there and fight, stay positive and stay in the game,” she says.

It’s possible to find your dream home even in today’s Zillow inferno, and these 10 neighborhoods can provide inspiration. Whether you’re searching for a historic ’hood amid boho haunts, a leisure-land where every day is a staycation, or a semi-separate space where you can live with the whole clan – from the babies to gran – this guide can help you discover a compatible community.

Phoenix Metro Typical Home Value

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Hot ’Hood 2022 Forecast

According to Zillow, the arc of rising home values will taper off slightly in 2022. Still, homeowners can expect significant gains, particularly in the Valley’s less-developed periphery. These 10 areas in the Phoenix Metro have the most bullish outlook, as reflected in the year-over-year percentage gains in estimated average home values in June 2022.

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Helium Homes

Technically, every Phoenix-area neighborhood was hot in 2021. In a study of 583 Valley subdivisions by Zillow, even the most static area in Greater Phoenix – Tempe’s affluent Los Tesoros neighborhood – gained a healthy 16 percent in average home value. Here were the top-performing neighborhoods in various Valley cities.

Gilbert

Neighborhood: Lacy
39% gain
This working-class enclave of north Gilbert (average home value: $253,442) posted the highest-percentage gain of any Valley neighborhood.

Mesa

Neighborhood: Continental Townhouses
35% gain
Affordability (avg. value: $247,000) and low upkeep make these modest townhomes popular among investors.

Scottsdale

Neighborhood: Buenavante
32% gain
Buyers like the spacious late-century lots and relative affordability (avg. value: $977,387) of this Shea-area Scottsdale subdivision.

Avondale

Neighborhood: Fieldcrest
34% gain
With a June 2020 median value of just $221,889, this neighborhood south of the I-10 attracted many first-time buyers.

Phoenix

Neighborhood: Central City
32% gain
Encompassing Downtown and Sky Harbor, this sprawling district (avg. value: $294,983) includes both trendy, stadium-area townhomes and Capitol-area fixer-uppers.

Tempe

Neighborhood: Papago Parkway
30% gain
Built-out Tempe generally saw less dramatic value gains than other Valley cities. This mid-income district (avg. value: $471,020) east of Papago Park was an exception.

No. 1: Midtown 24th Street Corridor

For first-timers, Gen Zers and foodies.
Along a once-unsavory stretch of 24th Street from McDowell to Osborn roads, destination restaurants now line up like mise en place. Five years ago, skeptical epicureans shook their heads when Kevin Binkley moved his namesake flagship here to uncork an ambitious moveable feast of 20-ish courses. But other surprise hits soon followed, including Claudio Urcioli’s improbably tasty Italian-Peruvian grill, Pa’La, and swoon-worthy Northern Thai hot spot Glai Baan. Sprinkled throughout these big hitters are hip haunts like Rewined Beer and Wine Bar, Reap & Sow Coffee Bar, Wren House Brewing Company and PIP Coffee + Clay.

“We’re building a real foodie community here,” says Valentina Huerta, co-owner of Nomada, a bite-size coffee, wine and gourmet food shop. True to the neighborhood’s friendly vibe, Huerta, who lives nearby, knows all her regulars by name and steers them toward special finds (that Corsican rosé, mwa!).

This culturally diverse corridor lacks the luster of Scottsdale or the name recognition of Arcadia. Heck, it lacks a name. But that means it comes with a more purse-friendly price tag. So even first-time buyers may find a new address in the verdant Green Gables or Loma Linda districts, where homes are a mix of fixer-uppers and charmingly revamped historical abodes, some brightened by colorful murals.

Cheeses and wine from Nomada; Photo by Nate Cooper/Courtesy Nomada
Cheeses and wine from Nomada; Photo by Nate Cooper/Courtesy Nomada
bar at Wren House Brewing Company; Photo by CAPSFOTO/Courtesy Wren House Brewing Company
bar at Wren House Brewing Company; Photo by CAPSFOTO/Courtesy Wren House Brewing Company
’Hood Price Range

Upper $300Ks to upper $500Ks for a three-bedroom. Compare that to nearby Arcadia Lite, where three-bedrooms are going for mid-$600Ks to $700K.

Lydia and John Beaulieu with their two adult sons, who grew up in this Midtown home; Photo by Camerawerks
Lydia and John Beaulieu with their two adult sons, who grew up in this Midtown home; Photo by Camerawerks

No. 2: Gilbert’s Lake ’Hoods

For permanent vacationers and faux retirees. 
For the past year and a half, while many of us were anchored to our sofas, some Gilbert denizens were cruising pontoons around palm-fringed waters and making fists with their toes on a sandy beach – without ever packing their bags. Hundreds of homes have a lake in their backyard at Gilbert’s Val Vista Lakes and The Islands, where residences range from condos to single-family starters to gated custom builds.

When your community clubhouse is a popular wedding destination with a tropical lagoon, you know you’ve reached peak staycation living. C’est la vie at Val Vista Lakes, where the HOA provides pedalboats and kayaks for residents, along with dive-in movies, swim lessons, ballroom dancing and a holiday boat parade. “It has the feeling of a country club while maintaining the family atmosphere you’ve come to expect in your typical Gilbert neighborhood,” says realtor Ryan Meeks with My Home Group. What’s more, this oasis near US 60 at Val Vista is within bicycling distance of birdwatching at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, shopping at Dana Park and skateboarding at Freestone Park.

Similarly, The Islands – about five minutes southwest of downtown Gilbert – harbors 400 waterfront homes on streets with nautical names like Lobster Trap. Islands inhabitants can enjoy boating and fishing on the lakes, then sip a cold one at nearby Desert Monks Brewing Co. or San Tan Brewery & Distillery Tours.

The Islands residents neighbors Charlotte Adcock, Diana and Chuck Hummel; Photo by Ron Adcock
The Islands residents neighbors Charlotte Adcock, Diana and Chuck Hummel; Photo by Ron Adcock
’Hood Price Range

From $375K for an off-lake three-bedroom to $800K for a lakefront three-bedroom to seven figures for a waterfront mansion.

View from the dock at The Islands; Photo by Ron Adcock
View from the dock at The Islands; Photo by Ron Adcock
SanTan Brewery & Distillery; Photo courtesy San Tan Brewery & Distillery
SanTan Brewery & Distillery; Photo courtesy San Tan Brewery & Distillery

No. 3: Queen Creek’s Cortina

For young millennial families and suburban flight-ers.
Every morning along the shady Queen Creek Wash path, bicyclers and joggers can spy cottonwoods and roadrunners, circle around a lake where fishermen cast for bass and listen to the bang of new home construction. Welcome to Queen Creek, a sleepy Farmville where real estate development is racing like a runaway bull.

“Queen Creek has really taken off for families,” says Blair Ballin, owner of the Ballin Real Estate team at Conway Real Estate. What’s the draw? “At the top of the list is the newness of the homes and the area, and after that, bigger lots,” he says. “There’s room for a pool, a trampoline and space to park the boat or the four-wheelers. Families know they don’t have to redo the home, and they’re in a good school district.”

For comparison, a “small” in-fill lot in Phoenix is around 6,000 square feet, while new homes in Cortina sometimes have lots as big as 14,000 square feet.

Neighborhoods in QC won’t win prizes for architectural distinction: beige boxes generally rule. But the Cortina district, for one, is admired both for its centrality and newer homes with old-fashioned flair. Drive around, and you might see kids picnicking on the lawn or parents gathering at communal spaces like a basketball court or barbecue. Cortina Elementary is within walking distance, and the Queen Creek Wash is a short bike ride away. Hop in the car, and in roughly 15 minutes you can nibble antipasti in a grove at Queen Creek Olive Mill, pick peaches at Schnepf Farms, saunter the San Tan Mountains or watch a rodeo at Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre.

Cortina resident Steve Rogers; Photo by Monserrat Apud De La Fuente
Cortina resident Steve Rogers; Photo by Monserrat Apud De La Fuente
’Hood Price Range

From $430K for a four-bedroom to about $800K for a six-bedroom on a .3-acre lot.

Bicycling at San Tan Mountains; Photo by Monserrat Apud De La Fuente
Bicycling at San Tan Mountains; Photo by Monserrat Apud De La Fuente
train ride at Schnepf Farms; Photo by Foskett Creative/Courtesy Schnepf Farms
train ride at Schnepf Farms; Photo by Foskett Creative/Courtesy Schnepf Farms
Queen Creek Olive Mill; Photo courtesy Queen Creek Olive Mill
Queen Creek Olive Mill; Photo courtesy Queen Creek Olive Mill

No. 4: Culdesac Tempe

For utopian-minded sustainability warriors and bicycle enthusiasts. 
People who walk or bike to work are significantly happier than drivers, according to research from the University of York. But while most of us remain tethered to our Toyotas, the dream of congenial commuting is motivating some progressives to reserve their spot in a futuristic new community.

Culdesac Tempe is currently a 17-acre construction site on Apache Drive east of McClintock Drive. By 2022, it’s on track to become the nation’s first built-from-scratch car-free neighborhood. Residents will be contractually prohibited from parking on-site or within a quarter-mile of the property. Instead, they’ll satisfy their commuting needs by taking Valley Metro light rail from outside their doorstep, riding their bicycle, grabbing one of Culdesac’s shared bikes or scooters, or renting a handful of on-site electric vehicles by the hour or day. Visitors can park in a mini-lot on property.

Culdesac’s founders, Ryan Johnson and Jeff Berens, grew up in Phoenix and want this complex of 761 apartments, eateries, shops and shared spaces to be a template for post-car living nationwide. Their aim is to curb carbon emissions and reverse the Bowling Alone trend by fostering frequent neighborly encounters. Residents can promenade through lavishly landscaped pedestrian malls and have meet-cutes at the makerspace, dog park and communal grill. They’ll get to know business owners and newfound friends at on-site FireCreek Coffee, the Street Corner Urban Market and Cocina Chiwas.

Art renderings of Cocina Chiwas; Photo courtesy Culdesac Tempe
Art renderings of Cocina Chiwas; Photo courtesy Culdesac Tempe
Rental Cost:

Starting at $1,090 per month for a studio and $1,250 for a one-bedroom.

the shared park area at Culdesac Tempe; Photo courtesy Culdesac Tempe
the shared park area at Culdesac Tempe; Photo courtesy Culdesac Tempe
Street Corner at Urban Market in Culdesac Tempe; Photo courtesy Culdesac Tempe
Street Corner at Urban Market in Culdesac Tempe; Photo courtesy Culdesac Tempe

No. 5: Surprise’s Zanjero Trails

For compound living and multigenerational clans.
These days, many families are making a lifestyle change that sounds like The Brady Bunch meets The Golden Girls. Grandparents, parents and their kids are moving in together. An estimated one in four Americans now lives in a multigenerational household, according to Generations United, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit.

You can chalk it up to the pandemic, when families were driven bananas by isolation, remote work, homeschooling and lack of child care. But Alan Jones, Arizona division president of Lennar homebuilders, anticipated this trend in 2012 when he pioneered Next Gen Homes. These semi-divided dwellings have a one- or two-bedroom suite with its own entrance, kitchen, bathroom, washer-dryer, side yard and – often – garage. The chic, airy suites can serve as a classroom for homeschooling, an office, a gym or a home for gran and gramps. “This provides for great interaction between grandparents and grandchildren, and it also provides an opportunity for people to take care of their aging parents,” Jones says.

Next Gen homes are available in Lennar neighborhoods Valleywide, but one of the most popular is Zanjero Trails, near the 303 freeway in Surprise. The area offers numerous places to recreate en famille: You can hike the 30,000-acre White Tank Mountain Regional Park, watch baseball at Surprise Stadium and feed the giraffes at Wildlife World Zoo.

Kim O’Connell with her daughter and grandson in front of their multigenerational Zanjero Trails home; Photo by Eric Cox
Kim O’Connell with her daughter and grandson in front of their multigenerational Zanjero Trails home; Photo by Eric Cox
’Hood Price Range

Starting at $492,990- $554,990 for a four-bedroom, three-bath Next Gen home.

spring training at Surprise Stadium; Photo courtesy Surprise Stadium
spring training at Surprise Stadium; Photo courtesy Surprise Stadium
home office in a house at Zanjero Trails; Photo courtesy Lennar
home office in a house at Zanjero Trails; Photo courtesy Lennar

No. 6: Haverville in North-Central Phoenix

For smaller families and Midcentury Mod fans. 
Among devotees of Phoenix’s Modernist period – circa 1945 to 1972 – the name most spoken in reverent tones is Ralph Haver. Longtime Phoenicians have a special place in their hearts for the architect’s sinuous (and, sadly, demolished) Ciné Capri theater and his bank that became The Vig Uptown. Haver also put his stamp on thousands of tract homes, notably in North-Central Phoenix’s Marlen Grove, Northwood and Mayfair Manor neighborhoods, all constructed in the early ’50s.

As Alison King, founding editor of ModernPhoenix.net, aptly puts it on her website, Haverhoods are prized for their “understated promotion of cheerful good living.” Their low-pitched gable roofs, clerestory windows, concrete masonry and classic carports speak of serenity, modesty, playfulness and character. They’re a tonic to the terracotta McMansions that telegraph genericness, and to the Chip and Joanna Gaines-style faux farmhouses running roughshod through Arcadia.

Many Haver homes are lovingly preserved, but others have been thoughtlessly altered. “So we’re seeing people who are in love with the Midcentury Modern design ethic going in and rescuing these homes,” says Trevor Halpern, owner of the Halpern Residential real estate group with North&Co.

Urbane types also gravitate to North-Central Phoenix’s culture of civic pride and commitment to living with a small yet stylish footprint. Locals can often be found taking Fido to the Uptown Farmers Market, sipping wine among citrus trees at Luci’s at the Orchard and hiking Piestewa Peak. “It’s a wonderful combination of urban and suburban right in the center of town,” Halpern says.

North-Central residents Sabeca and Rick Layne at their Haver home; Photo by Camerawerks
North-Central residents Sabeca and Rick Layne at their Haver home; Photo by Camerawerks
’Hood Price Range

Well-preserved or restored Haver homes in North-Central Phoenix typically range from the mid-$600Ks to the upper $900Ks.

Chef Doug Robson does a culinary demo at Uptown Farmers Market; Photo courtesy Uptown Farmers Market
Chef Doug Robson does a culinary demo at Uptown Farmers Market; Photo courtesy Uptown Farmers Market
breakfast at Luci’s at the Orchard; Photo courtesy Luci’s at the Orchard
breakfast at Luci’s at the Orchard; Photo courtesy Luci’s at the Orchard

No. 7: Trilogy at Verde River

For active, sophisticated Boomers who don’t want the Sun City stigma.
When South Carolina residents Harold and Margaret Tabor retired, they looked around the country for a place where they could enjoy hiking, biking and social events with other active types. Their search led them to Trilogy at Verde River, where they’re having almost more fun than they can handle.

They’ve joined Trilogy’s hiking club, wine club, bourbon club and book club. They play pickleball and bocce. They’ve gone on the community’s organized trips to the Prescott rodeo, Tubac’s art galleries and the Verde Canyon Railroad. Their neighbors introduced them to tent camping, and now they bivouac around the state every month. Several nights a week, they do potlucks at foodie friends’ homes. “Sometimes we enjoy our down days when we think we’re going to watch TV,” Harold says, “and then the phone rings and someone invites us over for a glass of wine. It’s a busy, active life here at Trilogy.”

And there’s even more action on tap in this mostly 55-plus community. At Trilogy’s adventure hub The Outfitter, residents can rent kayaks to paddle the Verde River, mountain bikes to slalom between saguaros in the Tonto National Forest and e-bikes to throttle through the community. Creatives can hone their painting and pottery techniques in the Art Loft. Golfers can play the Tom Lehman-designed course. And fitness fans can do HIIT and boxing, because it’s never too late to be badass.

Trilogy at Verde River residents Margaret and Harold Tabor; Photo by Camerawerks
Trilogy at Verde River residents Margaret and Harold Tabor; Photo by Camerawerks
’Hood Price Range

Two-bedroom homes start at $638,000. By comparison, two-bedrooms can sell in the $400Ks at Trilogy’s Encanterra community in Queen Creek.

community golf course; Photo courtesy Trilogy
community golf course; Photo courtesy Trilogy

No. 8: Goodyear’s Estrella

For playful young middle-class families and down-sizing older ones.
Sandwiched between Estrella Mountain Regional Park and the fishable Gila River, a town within a town is developing that sounds a bit like Pleasantville. Except it has a yacht club. In the desert. With a population of more than 20,000 and boatloads of amenities, Estrella in Goodyear hits the sweet spot between rural town and resort. “There’s a real sense of community, and many people who moved here 20 years ago have sold and moved into different homes in the community,” says Bill Olson, senior vice president for Newland Communities, which runs Estrella.

This master-planned community consists of several reasonably priced villages including a 55-plus enclave. So within the same neighborhood, young families could buy a starter home, and their retiree parents could downsize. They might meet up at the three residents’ clubs to swirl down water slides at the resort-style pool, take in a show at the lakeside amphitheater, dine in various restaurants, play the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and cycle the 50 miles of on-site trails. And thanks to the yacht club, they can even launch kayaks and sailboats onto the lake for free.

street scene at Goodyear’s Estrella; Photo courtesy Estrella
street scene at Goodyear’s Estrella; Photo courtesy Estrella
’Hood Price Range

In the 55-plus community, two-bedrooms start at $336,990. In the all-ages communities, three-bedrooms start at $394,900.

Marina and boating; Photo courtesy Estrella
Marina and boating; Photo courtesy Estrella
mountain biking; Photo courtesy Estrella
mountain biking; Photo courtesy Estrella

No. 9: Mesa’s Historical ’Hoods

For fixer-uppers and next-hot-thing pioneers.
When Mesa vice mayor Jennifer Duff moved to the West Second Street Historic District in 2009, the area formerly known as Millionaire’s Row had gone from riches to rags. Adjacent downtown Mesa was marred by shuttered storefronts, so Duff hosted art and music parties in her bungalow just to have something to do. “The area was very depressed,” she says, “but I could feel the community and the charm, and I knew things were going to turn around.”

Then the light rail arrived, and downtown Mesa became the makeover show contestant everyone loves to root for. Main Street is now stylin’ thanks to homespun businesses like retro furnisher Atomic Age Modern, Tacos Chiwas and beloved taprooms including 12 West, Cider Corps, Oro and Chupacabra. Mesa Arts Center is a wellspring of concerts, plays and creative classes, while the i.d.e.a. Museum and Arizona Museum of Natural History keep the kiddies edu-tained with crafts and dinosaurs.

But though downtown is poised to dazzle, it hasn’t yet emerged from the makeup chair. The surrounding ’hoods are still a patchwork of dapper and dingy. So it’s possible to get a deal here if you’re down for DIY. Next to the stately Mormon temple, the Temple Historic District is as fresh as a flowery summer dress, but many nearby streets are rumpled around the edges. Likewise, the West Second Street district delights with button-cute cottages and cheery citrus trees, and many houses in the Wilbur Street Historic District and neighboring areas have the bone structure but would benefit from beautification.

Jennifer Duff and and fiancé Ivan Martinez at their historical Mesa home; Photo by Camerawerks
Jennifer Duff and and fiancé Ivan Martinez at their historical Mesa home; Photo by Camerawerks
’Hood Price Range

Near these historic districts, two- and three-bedroom fixer-uppers have sold this year in the low $200Ks. But you’re more likely to find a modest home in the mid-$300Ks to low $400Ks.

taco medley from Tacos Chiwas; Photo by Gabe Williams/Courtesy Tacos Chiwas
taco medley from Tacos Chiwas; Photo by Gabe Williams/Courtesy Tacos Chiwas

No. 10: Seven Desert Mountain

For sociable CEOs and VIPs. 
There was a time when the fashionable classes desired the ultimate in social distancing: an opulent lair hidden behind a fortress of foliage on Camelback Mountain, far from the madding crowd. That’s just so pre-COVID. Today’s Zoom-fatigued luxury seekers want to stroll from their villa to the clubhouse to meet friends for a cooking class or a conversation about adventure travel.

That’s what brought Jason Yetter to Seven Desert Mountain. “Our preference is to be near the action and socialization,” he says. “The clinking of glasses in the clubhouse is what we want to hear from our patio.”

Seven is the newest enclave at Desert Mountain, an 8,000-acre Sonoran Desert Shangri-La near Carefree. It’s centered on an 18-hole par-3 links that complements the resort community’s six Jack Nicklaus-designed courses. The energy-efficient homes sport smart and clean home technologies, neo Frank Lloyd Wright-esque designs and sigh-inducing views. Once approved for membership, each homebuyer can automatically access one of three membership tiers, which is a boon because Desert Mountain memberships have recently sold like hand sanitizer, and there’s now a waiting list. With full membership, everything is your oyster: the seven golf courses, 10 restaurants, spa, fitness center, 20 miles of hiking and biking trails, more than 50 social groups and events like dog park “Yappy Hour.”

residents lounging by the pool; Photo courtesy Desert Mountain
residents lounging by the pool; Photo courtesy Desert Mountain
’Hood Price Range

$1.4 million to $5 million-plus.

Dining at Desert Mountain; Photo courtesy Desert Mountain
Dining at Desert Mountain; Photo courtesy Desert Mountain
hitting the links at Desert Mountain Golf Glub; Photo courtesy Desert Mountain
hitting the links at Desert Mountain Golf Glub; Photo courtesy Desert Mountain
strolling the grounds; Photo courtesy Desert Mountain
strolling the grounds; Photo courtesy Desert Mountain

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