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The Priciest Small Town in America

Venessa Wong

What’s it worth to live in a place with peace and quiet? Consider the small town of Duck, N.C., a growing, upscale resort area in the Outer Banks region that was voted one of “America’s Best Little Beach Towns” by Travel + Leisure. Four-bedroom homes in Duck are listed for about $449,900, according to Zillow.com, the real estate website. Then, head 530 miles north to Sagaponack, N.Y., one of the country’s most exclusive beach towns, and the median list price for a four-bedroom home jumps nearly tenfold to about $4.25 million.

In dollar terms, Sagaponack overshadows not just Duck but all its peers. With a median home value of about $3.49 million, this community, home to lavish estates and a 55-acre vineyard, is the country’s most expensive small town, according to a new ranking by Zillow (Z) for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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To compile this list, Zillow compared the median home values in December 2011, the most recent data available, in places nationwide with populations smaller than 10,000. In total, 4,972 places were considered. As the ranking considers only small towns, famous luxury communities including those in Beverly Hills, New York City, and Honolulu were not included due to the size of their populations.

Following Sagaponack—the No. 1 town for the third year in a row—are Jupiter Island, Fla. (with a median home value of $2.61 million), Los Altos Hills, Calif. ($2.16 million), Water Mill, N.Y. ($2.08 million), and Belvedere, Calif. ($1.92 million).

Multimillion-dollar abodes make living in Sagaponack a luxury, especially considering that it’s mostly a second home market: The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 71.3 percent of homes in the village are for seasonal or occasional use. (Water Mill and Jupiter Island have a notable portion of seasonal homes as well, 60.5 percent and 35.8 percent, respectively.) Sagaponack’s wealth is not unusual in the area, which has long been a destination for affluent New Yorkers. Long Island might even be considered the country’s hub for posh communities, with nine of the 20 most expensive small towns in the ranking located in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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Luxury home markets have performed better than average in the housing slump, but even they have dipped slightly. The median home value in the 20 most expensive small towns saw an average drop of 3 percent in December from a year earlier, according to Zillow’s data.

The median home value in Sagaponack in December dropped by 10.2 percent from $3.87 million a year earlier. The discount won’t make Sagaponack any less exclusive, but it’s almost enough to buy a decent beach home in Duck.