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Real Estate: 10 Homes You Could Rent for $1,500


Minyanville explores 10 diverse North American rental markets to see where would-be lessees can get the biggest bang for their buck.

If you've been kicking yourself for failing to capitalize on the housing slump and missing out on the home-buyer tax credit because you were either gun shy, a commitment-phobe, or simply didn't have the 20% down payment, here's a little validation for your inertia. Despite historically low interest rates hovering at around 4.2% and signs that the housing market is beginning to stabilize, some experts like SmartMoney's Jack Hough still favor renting over buying. Home ownership, Hough argues, is a low-yield investment and he happily fritters away $1,100 to his landlord every month in order to put his money into stocks and other investments which produce far better returns.

Now that you can pat yourself on the back for your unwittingly prudent decision to rent, the next question is, where to rent? With a budget of $1,500 per month, Minyanville explored 10 diverse North American rental markets to see where would-be lessees can get the biggest bang for their buck -- from a bed-bug-infested shoebox in the big city to a sprawling mountain estate in no-man's-land.

New York, New York
To some, living in Manhattan with limited means and in substandard conditions is a badge of honor. Exhausting their resources for relatively little is the payoff for the privilege of the unique experience only New York City can provide. This logic will most certainly prevail in the mind of the renter who inks a lease for this Upper East Side prewar studio apartment that's so small its realty company, Prudential Douglas Elliman, has thought better than to reveal the square footage.

An exposed brick wall, two light fixtures, and "high ceilings" (with an unspecified height) are among its selling points, but the $1,500 this renter will fork over won't be for the benefit of the apartment's "fantastic light"; it will be for the amenities outside the building -- like the shops, bars, and restaurants at each end of the block and the express subway a 10-minute walk away. And since the tenant will be working 12 hours a day in order to afford the space, they'll spend little time there anyway.

Los Angeles, California
At the northern end of Koreatown, this first-floor unit in a condo on West First Street has presumably seen better days. The most drab and depressing rental on the list, it looks like a place where dreams go to die. The highlight of this two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with its cheap, dated wood paneling and trim, linoleum, and carpeting - is that two people get to split the overpriced $1,500 rent. However, considering the 2008 median household income for the neighborhood was $30,558, the annual rent of $18,000 (excluding utilities) far exceeds the salary-rent rule of thumb of devoting 30% of income to housing costs.

A far cry from the glitz and glamor often associated with Tinsel Town, Koreatown catches the run-off from Los Feliz and West Hollywood which have priced out many of its residents. But that's not to say K-Town doesn't have a draw of its own with its unique collection of authentic Korean boutiques, cultural sights, dining, and karaoke bars. And if assassinations are your thing, you'll appreciate that the neighborhood (then known as Wilshire Center) was home to the Ambassador Hotel where Robert F. Kennedy was shot.

Seattle, Washington

Downtown Seattle's Avalon (AVB) Belltown is offering one-bedroom 767-square-foot apartments for $1,480 (although the rate is subject to change). The individual residences in Avalon apartment complexes aren't much to write home about with generic, boxy layouts, iffy carpeting and tile, and outdated kitchens and bathrooms but they're outfitted with some stand-out features like air conditioning, stackable washer/dryers, and walk-in closets.

Where Avalon exceeds your average, run-of-the-mill apartment complex is with community amenities like landscaped grounds, fitness centers, lounges, and clubhouses. The Avalon Belltown, in particular, offers an on-site Subway restaurant and dry cleaner and, although it can't exactly take the credit, unobstructed views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. In an apparent effort to reach more of the youth demographic, the building has created virtual spaces as well with its own blog and Facebook page.

Chicago, Illinois

The Windy City is known for its dirty politics, not reasonable rents. But apartments like this one-bedroom, one-bathroom doorman condo in the affluent Near North Side Chicago neighborhood should earn the city a new reputation. The mid-rise Sexton loft building is a converted 1916 warehouse that retains many original architectural elements like exposed beams, brick, and concrete. In addition to an open layout, (actually specified) 12-foot ceilings, and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the city and the building's common courtyard, the $1,500 unit features hardwood floors, a private balcony, gas fireplace, and storage space. The kitchen and bath don't boast top-of-the-line appliances and amenities but the apartment has its own washer and dryer.

The building is a few blocks from the brown and purple line elevated trains and a quarter-mile drive to Chicago's central business district. With a Walk Score of 98 out of 100, the apartment's location on Illinois Street among the city's best restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and a thriving arts scene, makes it a "Walker's Paradise."

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Our $1,500 budget gets stretched further still in the City of Brotherly Rents with an impressive one-bedroom, 1,015-square-foot loft in another century-old, renovated warehouse. The Lofts at Logan View incorporates the industrial elements of its previous incarnation like open living spaces, high ceilings, expansive two-story windows, exposed brick, and timber beams - but unfortunately the floors are covered in wall-to-wall plush carpeting. The residences feature modern kitchens with all new stainless steel appliances.

The neighborhood, just north of Logan Square, is served by city bus and subway and is minutes from both universities and major employers like Comcast (CMCSA) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as well as the city's cultural and recreational hubs. The Lofts are a five-minute walk to Starbucks (SBUX), Whole Foods Market (WFMI), and a number of local shops and eateries but Pat's and Geno's cheesesteaks in South Philly are about a 10-minute car ride.

Montreal, Quebec

Ooh la la! You can live out your French fantasies without having to cross an ocean in Downtown Montreal on Rue Saint Thimothée. At $1,495 (CAD) this two-bedroom, two bathroom (one with large soaking tub) split-level 938-square-foot condo with fireplace and modern appliances and cabinetry is well worth the green card hassle and Rosetta Stone investment. While the home has a private outdoor garden, Lafontaine Park, the centerpiece of Plateau Mont-Royal, is practically at your doorstep. This is, how you say... amazing?

Charleston, South Carolina

We're going down South for another under-budget bargain with this 19th century carriage house. The one-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom historic dwelling oozes with Old World character, retaining architectural details like moldings, cherry floors, and French doors while including updated touches like stainless steel kitchen appliances and new mahogany cabinets. The classic Charleston porch that overlooks the Elliotborough neighborhood of antebellum and Victorian-era houses is awaiting your rocking chair and mint julep.

Des Moines, Iowa
If you work in the insurance industry and get relocated to its hotbed of Des Moines, one of the best deals in town is this pristine three-bedroom Victorian. At a mere $1,450 per month, you'll get a whole lotta old house (1,687 square feet) with remodeled modern features that don't spoil its historic character. Located in Des Moines' oldest neighborhood of Sherman Hill, which dates back to the 1870s, the property is in good company among its fellow Queen Anne, Italianate, Four Square, Stick Style, and Flemish homes.

Iowa may conjure up images of potatoes and endless cornfields, but its capital city is a thriving metropolis. Topping this year's Forbes list of Best Places for Business and Careers, nearly 60 life, health, and casualty insurance companies including Principal Financial Group (PFG) are headquartered in Des Moines.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

You can't get much more Southwest than a Santa Fe pueblo revival home with a coyote-fenced yard on a street called Waking Sky. For $1,500, this 2,100-square-foot, four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom property with exposed ceiling beams, columns, and fireplace can be your very own adobe abode. The city is so faithful to its architectural origins that a zoning ordinance requires all new buildings to be traditionally styled, hence the rusty brown stuccoed Target (TGT) complete with wooden vigas two miles from the residence.

Santa Fe isn't just an award-winning travel destination, garnering numerous 2010 honors from TripAdvisor and Travel + Leisure magazine, but ranks among the country's most livable cities. It was even the beloved residence of D.H. Lawrence who wrote in 1928, "I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had."

Stevensville, Montana

With more employers offering telecommuting opportunities these days, we're becoming less bound to a locale by our work. If the world is our rental market oyster, why not take advantage of our freedom-of-housing choice and think outside the boundaries of traditional city or suburban life? Nestled between two mountain ranges and national forests but smack dab in the middle of nothing else, this massive, 2,688-square-foot modern log cabin home is just that outside-the-box option. Sitting on 40 acres of wilderness, your only neighbors will be the occasional wild elk and deer who stop by to graze on the Montana grasses and wildflowers. But before you sign the lease - just make sure you can get an Internet connection.

In addition to its four bedrooms, the house has a bonus media and exercise room and a new kitchen outfitted with granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, and travertine tile flooring. There's even enough room for two horses in the property's corrals. Yeehaw!

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