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Where you can still find a great home at a great price

For many years now, U.S. housing prices have continued their upward march. In some markets, they’re rising so swiftly that desperate buyers are resorting to unorthodox tactics, such as dangling rich offers in front of homeowners before they’re officially ready to sell.

Yet in plenty of plenty of places in the U.S., buyers can still land a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home for less than $250,000, according to a newly released study by Coldwell Banker.

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The firm’s annual Home Listing Report ranks U.S. markets by home prices, based on the average listing price for a four-bedroom, two-bath home, which is considered an “aspirational,” or trade-up, house in the real estate world. The ranking is based on an analysis of Coldwell Banker listings in more than 2,000 markets between January and June of this year.

According to Coldwell Banker, the national average listing price of a four-bedroom, two-bath home is $320,120. But while the average price for such a home tops $1 million in 25 markets, nearly 40 percent of the cities included in the ranking had similar houses selling for less than $250,000.

“What people really need to understand is that real estate is local. So often we get caught up in the national headlines about what is going on in real estate, but at the end of the day, every market is different,” said Charlie Young, Coldwell Banker’s president and chief executive officer.

Unlike the country’s 10 most-expensive real estate markets -- all of which are in California -- the most-affordable markets are a geographically diverse group, yet they have a few things in common (see below for both the top 10 most and least expensive markets). Many are mid-tier or small cities within an hour’s drive of larger metro areas. According to Coldwell Banker, that means “you don’t have to live in the middle of nowhere to find an affordable home.”

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At the same time, you may need to be willing to put down roots in a postindustrial city that’s still struggling economically. Detroit, Cleveland and Scranton, Pennsylvania, for instance, are among the 10 most-affordable markets, according to the study. The average list price for a four-bedroom, two-bath home in Detroit is slightly more than $64,000, and in Cleveland and Scranton such a home lists for $73,073 and $104,842, respectively.

The 10 most-affordable markets also include Park Forest, Illinois, which is about 33 miles away from Chicago, and Palatka, Florida, some 60 miles from Jacksonville. In Park Forest, the average list price for a four-bedroom, two-bath home is $78,392. In Palatka, it lists for $110,655 on average.

Some of the struggling postindustrial cities that are among the most-affordable markets in the country are undergoing an economic renaissance, fueled in part by investment in real estate. Detroit, for instance, is enjoying an economic revival, thanks in part to the huge amount of money that Dan Gilbert, the billionaire founder of Quicken Loans, has pumped into commercial real estate there.

What’s more, housing prices in the Detroit metro area are gradually regaining value lost during the real estate crash. The region’s home prices are up 67 percent from their low point back in April 2011, according to the latest Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price index.

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Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley real estate is a primary reason California so thoroughly dominates Coldwell Banker’s list of most-expensive housing markets. Six of the top 10 are in the Valley, with the average four-bedroom, two-bath home going for more than $2.4 million in this year’s costliest market, Saratoga, California, just southwest of San Jose.

Tight inventory and high demand have contributed to the surge in prices in Silicon Valley, said Young. “You have good, high-paying jobs, a great climate, a terrific lifestyle and limited space” for new development of housing, explained Young.

In an effort to address housing affordability for rank-and-file workers, some tech companies have opened outposts in smaller, lower-cost cities that appeal to millennials. Interestingly, that has contributed to rising home prices in places like Portland, Oregon, and Salt Lake City, Utah, which has become known as Silicon Slopes, said Young.

Here are the costliest and least expensive real estate markets, according to Coldwell Banker’s 2016 survey, along with the average list price for a four-bedroom, two-bath home:

Top 10 Most Expensive Markets

1.    Saratoga*, California, $2,453,718
2.    Newport Beach, California, $2,130,338
3.    Cupertino*, California., $1,812,833
4.    Redwood City*, California, $1,807,068
5.    Arcadia, California, $1,748,680
6.    Carmel, California, $1,722,500
7.    San Francisco*, California, $1,672,100
8.    La Cañada Flintridge, California, $1,571,846
9.    Sunnyvale*, California, $1,566,616
10. Los Gatos*, California, $1,470,524

*Indicates Silicon Valley

Top 10 Most Affordable Markets

1.   Detroit*, Michigan, $64,110
2.   Cleveland*, Ohio, $73,073
3.   Park Forest*, Illinois, $78,392
4.   Jamestown*, New York, $88,891
5.   Utica*, New York, $92,891
6.   Wilkes-Barre*, Pennsylvania, $94,436
7.   Scranton*, Pennsylvania, $104,842
8.   Huntington*, Indiana, $105,614
9.   Augusta*, Georgia, $106,567
10. Palatka*, Florida, $110,655*

*Indicates a market in or within commuting distance to metropolitan areas