House hunting can be daunting, but you can reduce your stress quotient by first figuring out what you want. Do you want a stylish urban loft? A quiet residential street with a couple of bars on the same block? Sensible and conservative neighbors or progressive types? Do you care if you can walk to a coffee shop? Do you need a big garage for your cars and toys, or stairs wide enough to get your bike up to your apartment?
All this is available in St. Paul, Minnesota, a city that consistently ranks at the top of the best places to live in America. Take a look at the city's 17 neighborhoods in St. Paul, which coincide roughly with the city's 17 District Councils.
To find a real estate agent, start with the annual national list by the trade publication "Real Trends," which works with the Wall Street Journal and partners with Zillow and Trulia to compile a list that covers all 50 states and 600 major cities. On the home page, click on Minnesota and then search the state list for St. Paul.
Angie's List also publishes a list of the top-rated real estate agents in St. Paul (and hundreds to avoid). Zillow has 25 pages of client reviews of St. Paul real estate agents, which can be sorted by "Most Active."
"Best Places" guru Bert Serling suggests test-driving a neighborhood in St. Paul with an affordable short-term rental. His St. Paul pages are a treasure trove of statistics.
This neighborhood is in the southeastern part of St. Paul. A large section of the neighborhood surrounding the river is industrial with a wastewater treatment plant, factories, and rail yards.
The city of St. Paul used the Pigs Eye Lake area as a hazardous materials dump for many years. It is far from being cleaned up, although the city says it only poses a health risk to those who actually trespass on the site.
On the positive side, housing in Battle Creek is more affordable than the average for St. Paul. The area immediately surrounding and north of I-94 has a higher-than-average crime rate. However, there are many quiet, affordable family homes south of I-94, and there are larger, attractive homes along the river bluffs.
The Como neighborhood surrounds St. Paul's large Como Park and Como Zoo, and Lake Como is adjacent to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Small apartments line Snelling Avenue, the main road through the neighborhood, but much of the area consists of single-family homes of various sizes; some converted to duplexes. Como is one of the more desirable neighborhoods in St. Paul, especially for families, and home prices are slightly above the average for St. Paul.
Como is a quiet residential place, except during the Minnesota State Fair in late August through Labor Day. The eastern half of the neighborhood is turned into a no-parking zone, although many residents make quick cash by letting fairgoers park on their front yard.
Dayton's Bluff is a hilly neighborhood immediately east of downtown St. Paul. The area has been settled by Europeans almost as long as St. Paul has, and it has a fascinating history.
Before Europeans settled the area, it was home to Hopewell Native Americans. There are several Hopewell burial mounds located on the river bluffs, in Indian Mounds Park.
In the 20th century, Dayton's Bluff had a reputation for slum housing and immigrants suffering squalid conditions.
Today, Dayton's Bluff is still home to many recent immigrants and is a diverse community. The character of the neighborhood is as diverse as its residents: Some parts are quiet and safe, some areas experience problems with crime and drugs.
Dayton's Bluff has a mix of older housing and newer postwar homes.
Areas on the Mississippi River bluffs have older, attractive houses, and generally, prices for the neighborhood are lower than the average for St. Paul.
Downtown St. Paul
Downtown St. Paul doesn't have the number of residential buildings that Downtown Minneapolis does, but a growing number of people are choosing to make downtown St. Paul their home.
Until recently, Downtown St. Paul was very quiet with very few amenities for residents. But lately, new bars, restaurants, and stores have been opening, making it more attractive for young urbanites.
Lowertown St. Paul, the eastern end of downtown, has seen the most change, with artists moving into studios and the very popular St. Paul summer farmers' market.
Most homes are condos or apartments in converted historical factories, office buildings, or warehouses. A house in Downtown St. Paul costs more than the average St. Paul condo but is less expensive than the equivalent in Downtown Minneapolis.
Greater East Side
The Greater East Side is in the northeastern corner of St. Paul.
The southwestern section of the neighborhood, which is closest to the center of the city, has problems with crime, and there are many repossessed housing units here.
On the other side of the neighborhood, near the border of St. Paul, the tone changes to a much more suburban feel, and although this area is much quieter, the perception of the neighborhood as a whole keeps housing prices low compared to St. Paul's average.
The Hamline-Midway neighborhood is on the west side of St. Paul; University Avenue forms the southern border, and it is bisected by Hamline Avenue. Hamline University gives the neighborhood its name, and many residents are students.
The areas immediately north of University Avenue have some of the highest crime rates in St. Paul. The northern parts of the neighborhood are much quieter, although it can be sketchy next to the railyards, warehouses, and light industrial buildings in the north.
Small and medium-sized family homes and apartment buildings are the types of homes you'll find in Hamline-Midway. The prices are significantly lower than St. Paul's average nearest University Avenue and rising slightly as you go north.
Highland Park, tucked into a bend in the Mississippi River in the southwestern part of the city, can feel separate from St. Paul. The neighborhood is mostly Victorian, a blend of single-family homes and some smaller apartment blocks. Highland Park is an expanse of wooded parkland, and there's a convenient commercial district with a good selection of stores and restaurants on Ford Parkway.
The Mississippi River isn't commercialized here. In 2013, The Woodward Avenue Action Association entered into a purchase agreement for The Highland Park Ford Plant, a former Ford Motor Company factory. The intention was to turn two of the eight buildings into a center that would house a theater, informational kiosks, automotive history displays, and a gift shop. However, as of 2018, it has not been built.
In most places, the trails along the river are pleasant for walking, running, and cycling.
Highland Park has some of the lowest crime rates in the city. It's known for being politically one of the most conservative areas of St. Paul, which is, for the most part, a moderate liberal city.
The calm, quiet neighborhood, with attractive housing and tree-lined streets, is very desirable for families, professionals, and seniors. The housing prices are higher than the average for St. Paul.
Macalester-Groveland takes its name from Macalester College, a large private liberal arts college, and the neighborhood has a large student population. The name of the neighborhood is usually abbreviated to Mac-Groveland. Macalester-Groveland was developed in the early twentieth century. Summit Avenue forms the northern border, and the western part of Grand Avenue, a popular commercial district, runs through the center of the neighborhood.
Macalester-Groveland has many large houses and some smaller to medium-size family homes. Many have been converted to duplexes and fourplexes, and there are also many small apartment buildings.
While rents can be reasonable due to demand from students, housing prices are significantly higher than the average for St. Paul.
Merriam Park is very similar to Macalester-Groveland, but with bigger homes. Merriam Park is St. Paul's oldest neighborhood. The original developer specified that the houses built there be large and of high quality. Most residents have taken good care of their homes, and if you want a well-maintained Victorian house, Merriam Park is a great place to look.
For a smaller home in Merriam Park, look at the many duplexes or fourplexes. The old stately homes were subdivided because they are too big for today's smaller families. There are also a few early-20th-century apartment buildings with one-bedroom or two-bedroom units.
Merriam Park is on the Mississippi River, with scenic river trails. The area has an easy commute to downtown St. Paul or downtown Minneapolis. Merriam Park is a beautiful neighborhood, so unsurprisingly, home prices in Merriam Park are among the highest in St. Paul.
The North End is between I-35E and Como Park. The neighborhood is mostly residential with some light industry and railroads.
The eastern part of the neighborhood—the Western Avenue and Rice Street corridor—has problems with drugs and crime, although it's far from being the worst part of St. Paul.
Away from this area, to the east of the neighborhood to I-35, the city becomes a quieter residential neighborhood with smaller homes, which are an affordable choice for young families and those buying their first home.
House prices in North End are below the average for St. Paul.
Payne-Phalen is in northeastern Downtown St. Paul and encompasses Phalen Park and Lake Phalen, one of St. Paul's largest lakes. It is home to several annual events like a Hmong cultural festival, a solar-boat regatta, ice-boat races, and a huge holiday light display.
Parts of Payne-Phalen are affected by crime, and some parts are quiet, very livable neighborhoods. Like Dayton's Bluff, the neighborhood is experiencing problems with crime, with some of the highest rates in St. Paul. Although the crime rate for the whole neighborhood is high, the character of the neighborhood can change markedly from block to block, and there are areas with quiet streets. The southern part of the neighborhood, around Maryland Avenue and Case Avenue, experiences the most problems.
Most housing in the Greater East Side consists of early-20th-century, smaller family homes, and small to medium-size apartment blocks. If you choose carefully, you should be able to find a good value on a quiet street in Payne-Phalen, especially in the northern half of the neighborhood. House prices for Payne-Phalen are lower than the average for St. Paul.
St. Anthony Park
St. Anthony Park is in the northwestern part of St. Paul, on the border with southeast Minneapolis. The neighborhood adjoins the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, and it is understandably home to students and many faculty members.
The St. Anthony Park neighborhood was originally planned as a suburb for wealthy residents. The gentle hills and curving streets have many historic houses, almost all larger single-family homes. The Hampden Park co-op serves residents, as does a small commercial area with shopping and restaurants on Como Avenue.
House prices for St. Anthony Park are higher than the average for St. Paul.
Summit Hill (Crocus Hill/Grand Avenue)
Summit Hill is the official name for this neighborhood, but it's often referred to as Crocus Hill by local merchants. Summit Hill is the neighborhood on the south side of Summit Avenue, bordered by I-35E and Ayd Mill Road.
Summit Avenue is lined with Victorian mansions, and it has always been the place to live for St. Paul's wealthy residents. Grand Avenue is the neighborhood's main attraction, a street lined with independent businesses, restaurants, and stores.
Summit Hill was developed in the early 20th century and has many small attractive condos, together with larger single-family homes. There are also some enormous family homes on Summit Avenue. Many of the larger houses have been divided into duplexes or fourplexes, which is the most likely option for a two or three-bedroom home in the area.
Considering the fashionable Grand Avenue and the grand Summit Avenue homes, real estate in Summit Hill is pricey. A mansion is always going to be expensive, and more approachable family homes cost significantly more than the average for St. Paul.
Summit-University is the neighborhood to the north of Summit Avenue and encompasses the area up to University Avenue. Summit-University is like two different neighborhoods. Large houses on the blocks north of Summit Avenue until just south of I-94l make this part feel similar to Summit Hill. Immediately around the freeway and north of it, things change significantly in what was, until the 1960s, the heart of St. Paul's African-American community.
The neighborhood was decimated by the construction of I-94, which was built on top of the neighborhood's commercial corridor, Rondo Avenue. Businesses were lost, jobs disappeared, and many people were forced to relocate. The area is now home to many of St. Paul's Hmong and Vietnamese population. Asian businesses and community organizations line University Avenue, the main commercial street.
House prices are higher than the average around Summit Avenue and toward the freeway; they are significantly lower north of I-94.
Thomas-Dale, also known as Frogtown, is a neighborhood bordering a stretch of University Avenue west of the Minnesota State Capitol. Thomas-Dale was first developed with cheap worker housing in the late-19th century, and it has remained a blue-collar neighborhood. Thomas-Dale has some of the highest crime rates in St. Paul, and there are many reposed houses in this area.
The Greater Frogtown Community Development Commission and other community organizations are working hard to preserve low to moderate-income housing in the area. They also help support local businesses. As a result, gradually, things are changing in the area.
A light rail line now connects downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, running along University Avenue and serving the Thomas-Dale neighborhood.
House prices in Thomas-Dale are among the lowest in St. Paul.
West Seventh is a diagonal neighborhood following the east bank of the Mississippi River out of downtown St. Paul. There's little in the way of attractive river-view housing, and many railyards and industrial areas are now abandoned. The neighborhood does have many historic homes and buildings, mostly along West Seventh Street and around the High Bridge.
The landmark of West Seventh is the vacant Schmidt's Brewery, currently the subject of plans for redevelopment into apartments and commercial units.
This area is one of St. Paul's up-and-coming neighborhoods, particularly the central and eastern areas. It is driven by the interest in restoring St. Paul's industrial buildings and the area's proximity to downtown and ease of access to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.
Several new independent businesses have opened, joining many older, stores and bars on West Seventh Street, the main thoroughfare. Artists favor the area for the industrial-urban vibe, and popular co-op Mississippi Market opened a store in the area. The neighborhood has a broad appeal, with families moving in as well as artists and young professionals.
House prices are above average for St. Paul but are still among the more affordable in the southern and western parts of downtown St. Paul.
West Side isn't on the west side of St. Paul. Rather, it's on the west bank of the meandering Mississippi River, which puts it south of downtown and separated from the rest of St. Paul by the river. Four road crossings over the Mississippi River link Wests Side to downtown St. Paul: the High Bridge, Robert Street Bridge, the Wabasha Street Bridge, and Highway 52.
Being relatively isolated gives West Side a different character, and some parts feel almost suburban. There are pockets of new development, and some new low to moderate-income housing.
West Seventh has a higher elevation than downtown St. Paul, and there are some larger homes near the river with a great view.
The eastern part of the neighborhood contains a small airport, St. Paul Downtown Airport (aka Holman Field).
The central part of the neighborhood is the heart of St. Paul's Mexican community, known as the District del Sol. The annual Cinco de Mayo fiesta in the district is one of St. Paul's largest celebrations.
House prices are a good value for St. Paul, being lower than the average for the city.