Rating the Suburbs 2010 - Bargains

With homes that are less expensive than comparable properties in other cities, this suburb may be the region’s best-kept secret.
<< Willoughby

A woman walked into Twice Loved resale shop last year with a pocket full of jewelry from Tiffany & Co. They were relics from a relationship gone bad, and she wanted them out of her house. She sold the whole lot to the shop’s owner, Denise Selan-Tegge, for a fraction of its original cost. Anyone who stopped by her downtown Willoughby store back then could have left with a silver Tiffany necklace in perfect condition for as low as $25 — definitely a bargain.

Deals aren’t something new to Willoughby, a boot-shaped city of about 22,000 people with Interstate 90 running across the sole and just over a mile of lakefront land at the very top.

It’s the kind of place where Selan-Tegge recently heard about a lakefront cottage that sold for $45,000 and where houses in premier neighborhoods can cost tens of thousands of dollars less than similar homes in other cities “They’re the Polos and Ralph Laurens,” Selan-Tegge says of pricier suburbs. But Willoughby is the L.L. Bean, offering the same quality but without the cache. “You can get a really nice home here for $150,000 to $350,000.”

Willoughby has the same charm that makes Hudson and Chagrin Falls so desirable. Its downtown is packed with so many Greek Revival, Italianate and Classical Revival storefronts that it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. And, in recent years, it’s been packed with nightlife, too.

“My kids call it the little West Sixth Street,” says Selan-Tegge, referring to the trendy downtown Cleveland street of restaurants and bars. Only, here you have Willoughby Brewing Co., Gavi’s, Lure Bistro and Cork’s Wine Bar, to name a few.

Some of the city’s nicest houses, Selan-Tegge says, are on streets within walking distance of downtown, especially Waldamere and Brown avenues. “If there’s a house for sale there that’s fairly priced, it goes right away.”

Just like that lakefront cottage. Yes, it was tiny. Sure, it needed work. But it was on the lake. Selan-Tegge loves a bargain, she loves Willoughby, and she still can’t stop thinking about that cottage and what a fabulous deal she could have gotten.

“I was kicking myself,” she says. “Why didn’t I hear about it?”

Ten years from now, people might be saying the same thing about Willoughby.




Eastlake

Über-cheap, ultra-entertaining Lake County Captains baseball isn’t the only dollar getting stretched in this town. The Willoughby-Eastlake City School District has been rated excellent with distinction by the state for two consecutive years. Last year’s best bargain in our rankings, Eastlake boasts a median home sale value of $123,200.

<< Mayfield Heights

Tidy rows of affordable ranches and two-story homes mingle off the busy Mayfield Road corridor near Interstate 271. Although residents once had to contend with gridlock, city engineers made changes with the completion of a $17.5 million improvement project, so traveling through the city now takes three minutes on average. For those who prefer to walk, the 4.2-square-mile Cuyahoga County suburb has 95 percent of sidewalks throughout.

North Olmsted

North Olmsted’s median sale value of $136,000 is about two-thirds of its neighbor, Westlake. The yards may not be as big, but the city-owned recreation center, which has two ice rinks, a gymnastics room, indoor and outdoor pools and a giant skate park, should keep your future Olympian or X-Gamer busy.

Willowick

New families searching for a starter home shouldn’t look past this lakeshore suburb, which offers plenty of two-bedroom bungalows for less than $90,000. Big families can also save a bundle. When we checked, many spacious four-bedroom homes were selling for less than $120,000. // John Hitc
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