In the September 2012 issue, Money magazine released its annual Best Places to Live list, a ranking of "America's best small cities." While that seems like an arbitrary distinction—what happened to towns and, uh, big cities?—it does turn up some quality living off the beaten path. Coming in at #5 on this year's list is Redmond, Wash., famous as the home to software giant Microsoft. All that tech cash has fueled a red hot property market in the city, which lies 16 miles east of Seattle, but there are still deals to be found. This 80s contemporary might have a bit too much wall-to-wall carpeting but otherwise it is far more reserved than some homes of its era, with a price tag to match. The three-bedroom, 2.5-bath house, which features some trick features like a folding glass wall, is listed for $700K.
? The tony Boston suburb of Newton, Mass., which came in at #4 on Money's list, has been home to the wealthy for years and many of those residents left behind some spectacular historic mansions. That doesn't mean there isn't still space to build in this town, which has some of the best schools in the state. This nouveau-Shingle Style estate, completed earlier this year, is listed for $2.299M. It includes five bedrooms, six bathrooms, 5,500 square feet, and family-friendly features like a mudroom and open kitchen.
? The third-place finisher, Eden Prairie, Minn., might sound like a rural idyll, but it's a bustling exurb of Minneapolis. The economy might be partly propped up by the insanely profitable Indian casino, nearby, but the housing isn't aimed at gamblers. This 2006 stone spread is asking a whopping $2.25M, a price that includes just three bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. The fancy interiors, which skew a bit tacky, are offset by the desirable location on the Bearpath golf course.
? McKinney, Texas, a sizable suburb of Dallas, comes in at #2 in this year's list, and part of the desirability lies in the extravagant housing stock, so long as buyers are prepared to spend seven figures. This 6,100-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-bath manse might not have much in the way of architectural charm, but the 2004 build crams in plenty of extra features. There's a "richly paneled study, wine cellar, craft room and solarium," plus a swimming pool out back for $1.475M.
? There are plenty of surprises in the #1 spot. For one, the winning city is relatively unknown Carmel, Indiana, but the real surprise is that the most expensive house for sale in that city is also one of the most eye-searingly hideous homes ever to grace these pages. The $5.5M mansion measures 16,000 square feet of vaguely Mediterranean style—though even that's an insult to the Med—a Star Wars-themed bar, another bar inspired by Chicago's Rush Street, a home theater, exercise room, wine cellar, coat room with rotating rack, and his and hers living rooms. To say it's over the top is an understatement.
· Best Places to Live 2012 [Money Magazine]
· 17405 NE 131st Street [Zillow]
· 116 Oxford Road [Zillow]
· 18146 Bearpath Trl [Zillow]
· 504 Kings Lake Drive [Zillow]
· 1332 Queens Way [Zillow]