When it comes to luxury living in the Southwest, Phoenix has long been the top destination of choice. However, other desert towns in the region promise equal allure, along with more affordable home prices.
Michael Valdes, the chief growth officer and president of the real estate firm eXp, said that property values in Phoenix are surging because the city continues to be an enduringly popular place to own a home, both as a primary and vacation residence. But there are other desert locales that offer the same appealing lifestyle.
“Home buyers can expect similar warm weather, options for lots of outdoor activities, fantastic food and beautiful high-end houses,” he said, all at “significantly lower prices.”
In a pattern that follows Phoenix, the residents in other upscale desert alternatives include an international contingent, although to a lesser degree, Mr. Valdes added.
Below, a look at five desert cities that aren’t Phoenix.
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Santa Fe offers an attractive and unique combination of culture and the outdoors.
The city has more than 200 art galleries, elite art museums and an internationally acclaimed symphony and opera, said Bruce Adams, an associate broker with the luxury real estate firm Santa Fe Properties. Pursuits in nature include hiking the dozens of trails in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that border the east side, and skiing in the winter at Ski Santa Fe, a resort that’s 20 minutes from town.
“The heartbeat of Santa Fe is the central square called the Plaza, and it’s a bustling area with lots of people and great restaurants and stores,” Mr. Adams said. “The city’s more than 300 days of sunshine a year and the clean air are other benefits.”
Santa Fe’s housing stock is mainly adobe and pueblo style homes that feature rounded corners and insulated walls, allowing them to stay cool in the summer and warm come winter. However, contemporary homes figure into the mix.
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No matter the style, Mr. Adams said that the houses are designed to be environmentally sensitive and blend into the landscape. “Many have efficient water systems and take advantage of passive solar heating by having windows that face the sun. This generates heat that streams into the house,” he said.
Upscale enclaves include Las Campanas, a golf community with two Jack Nicklaus-designed courses, and Sierra del Norte, north of downtown and featuring spacious contemporary homes with mountain views.
Prices for luxury properties start at $900,000 and top out at $4 million.
“You can get a 1,600-square-foot two- or three-bedroom house within a mile or two of the Plaza for around $1 million,” said Mr. Adams.
He added that the city’s real estate market is strong. Prices have risen steadily over the last several years but remain within reach.
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Located about a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, Sedona is known for its red rock mountains juxtaposed with greenery and stretches of desert landscape.
Cheyenne Rocher, a real estate agent with Re/Max Sedona who specializes in high-end real estate, said that the city is a popular spot for tourists who visit for the extensive hiking and to enjoy the serene setting. Golf is also a draw: The town has four courses including Seven Canyons, spanning 200 acres and set along a forest.
Most of the real estate is single-family homes, according to Ms. Rocher, and options for apartments are few and far between.
“Luxury properties are almost always in gated developments,” she said. “Some have amenities such as swimming pools and clubhouses.” Examples include The Aerie, a secluded community in West Sedona; Foothills North, which has homes on generously sized lots, many of which have swimming pools and views of the red rocks; and Casa Contenta, featuring a clubhouse with a swimming pool and tennis and pickleball courts.
Ms. Rocher said that a three-bedroom home with four bathrooms, high-end finishes and views starts at around $1.5 million. Buyers can also splurge on multi-acre properties with five or more bedrooms for $10 million and up. “Home prices have inched up slowly over the years and hold their value,” Ms. Rocher said. “But the biggest attraction to Sedona is the sheer beauty of the place.”
Situated in southeast Utah about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Salt Lake City, Moab is a small desert town between two prolific national parks: Arches and Canyonlands. “Having the parks as a backyard makes Moab very international because of the many tourists from around the world who visit,” said Becky Wells, an associate broker with Sotheby’s International Realty in Moab.
Opportunities for outdoor recreational activities abound here: The biggest draws are four-wheeling through the expanses of desert, rock climbing in the many canyons and valleys (Wall Street Climbing Area is one of the most famous spots) and white water rafting on the Colorado River. Other pursuits include mountain biking and hiking.
The housing stock comprises condominiums, townhouses and single-family homes, and Ms. Wells said that the most high-end houses are set amid the desert and offer stunning views. “They’re usually built in a contemporary style and have floor-to-ceiling windows that maximize natural light and the panoramas,” she said.
Luxury homes in gated developments such as Navajo Ridge usually span 3,000 square feet and have swimming pools, according to Ms. Wells. Prices start at around $2 million and top out at $3 million.
Home prices in Moab have appreciated 30% or more over the last few years but are currently leveling out. “Home buyers like to invest in a property in Moab because they get a great rate of return by renting it out to the many visitors who come to spend time in the national parks,” said Ms. Wells.
Set about a 20-minute drive southeast of the Las Vegas Strip, Henderson is a city that’s renowned for being family friendly and offering an abundance of outdoor recreation.
Gene Northup, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty in Henderson, said that the town has an extensive network of hiking and biking trails and numerous parks. A main attraction is the 320-acre Lake Las Vegas where residents can kayak, boat, swim, fish and paddleboard. There are also 11 swimming pools and a vibrant downtown with locally owned restaurants and stores.
“People are up and out early and stay out after dark. They love to be outside,” Mr. Northup said.
Buyers will find a diversity of choices for homes, such as apartments in glitzy developments with numerous amenities, townhouses and single-family homes in gated neighborhoods. Mantova, a condominium complex with amenities such as a swimming pool and a putting green, is one of the most high-end options. With respect to prestigious neighborhoods, Caliza at Lake Las Vegas and Shoreline are in high demand and have home prices ranging from $1 million to $3 million.
“Most houses tend to be contemporary and have an open layout with lots of patios and an abundance of light where the outdoors literally come in,” Mr. Northup said. “There’s also a lot of development in Henderson with more houses in the pipeline.”
Home prices have dipped 3% in the last six months after several years of steady increases, but overall, he said that Henderson is a stable market where prices don’t dramatically fluctuate.
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Todos Santos, Mexico
Located on the Pacific coast of Mexico, about an hour’s drive north of Cabo San Lucas, Todos Santos is a charming town that combines a desert setting with the ocean.
Saddia Rahaman, a real estate adviser with Engel & Volkers in Los Cabos, said that visiting Todos Santos is akin to taking a step back in time. “You’ll find small unpaved roads, family-run groceries, no traffic and farm-to-table restaurants,” she said. “It’s very much a community where everyone knows each other.”
Housing options include condominiums and single-family homes, either in town or on the outskirts. Houses are traditional hacienda structures with thatched roofs and courtyards, or contemporary properties with clean, modern lines and light colors. The most prestigious residences are on the ocean and have the desert as the backyard. “You can go for a bike ride in the desert in the morning and swim in the sea in the afternoon or even hike through the desert to the beach,” said Ms. Rahaman. “It’s an unbeatable quality of life.”
Real estate in Todos Santos is significantly lower compared with Los Cabos, but prices increased during the pandemic by at least 30%, she said. Currently, upscale homes start at around US$600,000 and usually have three or more bedrooms, a garden and ocean views.