Last year, sellers in Alpine N.J., took their lumps like the rest of those trying to unload their properties in today's real estate market. The borough (population: 2,200) saw sales volume plummet by nearly half. Only 19 homes were sold between July 2006 and June 2007, compared to 36 the year before.
A bad year for Alpine? Hardly.
Though sales were down, values went up. The area's median home sale price jumped $1.06 million to $3.4 million. That's enough to place the northern New Jersey ZIP (07620) in a tie with Miami Beach's Fisher Island (33109), for No. 1 on our list of the nation's 500 most expensive.
It's easy to see why. Alpine has provided New York's power brokers a quieter lifestyle since steel magnate Henry Clay Frick put the borough on the map in the early 1900s. Last year, the hamlet, which boasts rolling hills and multi-acre mansions, was the site of the market's highest-priced home sale: Richard Kurtz's $58 million purchase of a 10,000-square-foot home on 63 acres of land. He now calls hip-hop royalty such as Sean "Diddy" Combs, Fabolous and Lil' Kim neighbors.
Fisher Island, a man-made body of land named after developer Carl Fisher, is just as luxe. It teems with large waterfront mansions and boasts an impressive country club. It boasts a median income of $200,000 and residents including mutual fund manager Martin Zweig and Vector Group Chief Bennett Le Bow.
Behind The Rankings The list is dominated by ZIPs in the nation's coastal states. Blame it on supply and demand. There just aren't large plots of land waiting to be developed along the Pacific Coast Highway or in West Palm Beach. Scan local listings and you'll find that 120 feet of Palm Beach beachfront starts at $20 million. Want an acre in Newport Beach? You'll be lucky to pay under $5 million. Oceanfront properties like these, real estate agents say, are more desirable than acreage along a lake or prairie.
The top ZIPs also tend to be in areas boasting healthy industry and reflect the investments of the local economy's beneficiaries. Silicon Valley tech billionaires buy in Los Altos, Calif.; bonus-rich Wall Street bankers scoop up summer homes in beach towns such as Amagansett, N.Y.; film stars often settle in Beverly Hills, Calif. What's more, foreign oligarchs don't tend to go too far inland: The flights from Tokyo to San Francisco or from Moscow to Miami are already long enough.
This is nowhere more evident than in California. The Golden State boasts 291 of the nation's ritziest areas.
In Rancho Santa Fe (ZIP 92067), outside San Diego and No. 3 on the list, a median house runs $2.58 million. Close on its heels are Santa Barbara (93108) and Ross (94957), representing the Central Coast and Bay Area, respectively. In Los Angeles, Santa Monica (90402) beats out Hollywood and the vaunted 90210 Beverly Hills ZIP code for the title of Los Angeles County's most expensive.
Back east, New York posted 79 top enclaves, a figure that jumps to 139 when joined with tri-state neighbors New Jersey and Connecticut.
Still, though Manhattan is home to some of the world's most expensive real estate, only three Big Apple ZIPs broke the top 100. The reason? ZIP codes aren't drawn to reflect neighborhoods, and top properties in dense areas are often brought down by less expensive ones.