The struggling housing market has sellers and buyers searching for the best regions to get a great deal.
Nationwide, home values are down 12 percent, compared with the same time a year ago, according to real estate website Zillow.com.
Zillow, which tracks virtually every house sale in the nation, has ranked the top five best locations for home buyers and sellers.
The results may surprise you, because the best places to buy a home are not necessarily where the houses cost the least.
"For people who are financially qualified, it never has been a better time in nearly 40 years," said Lawrence Yun, at the National Association of Realtors. "I think this is good long-term investment opportunity to get into the market now."
The Best Cities to Buy a HomeWhen you go to buy a house, low-priced markets not the only factor you should consider.
"The No. 1 factor for a market holding its value over time has to do with what types of jobs are fueling the local economy," said Amy Bohuntinsky, of Zillow.com
Look for communities with a strong job market and stable housing values. Some common threads: cities with military bases, state capitals and college towns all fare well because they are more "recession proof," according to Zillow. A strong tourism industry helps too.
Virginia Beach, Va.
For that reason Virginia Beach, Va., is one of the top picks for buyers. The city has a beautiful beach, and three military bases with steady jobs that make it one of the best places to buy.
And right now, there are bargains: 30 percent of homes there sell for less than the asking price.
"Virginia Beach is an area where home values have fallen, but they appear to have bottomed out," Bohuntinsky said. "If you're a buyer, this is your real, real opportune time to get in there and buy when home prices are at the bottom before they start going up again."
New York's capital city is always busy with government work, making it a best buy location. Plus, Albany's homes are affordable with a median price of less than $200,000.
"Albany is a good value. It's right at the median of home values across the U.S.," Bohuntinsky said. "This is a good, affordable place to buy and you're going to get more for your dollar."
San Diego, Calif.
More than a third of homes in San Diego are foreclosures, which could result in possible bargains in a normally costly market.
The home values are falling, but statistics indicate San Diego will bottom out in the next year.
"San Diego is not at a bottom yet, but it will hit a bottom at some point in the next year," Bohuntinsky said. "That's something that we can't say about a whole lot of markets."
"The market appears to be turning the corner for the better, inventories are beginning to shrink and this is a good sign that home prices will soon stabilize in many parts of the country," Yun said. "We are beginning to see buyers coming back to the marketplace, and the housing market appears to have turned a corner for the better."
Austin, TexasCollege towns are another good bet for buyers. And in Austin, Texas, houses cost just $98 per square foot. That means more house for your money.
"The Austin housing market has not been as volatile as some of the coastal cities," Bohuntinsky said.
The college town of Madison, Wisc., rounds out the top five cities best for buyers. It's consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in America.
An added bonus: Home values in Madison are flat from five years ago, and they are paying 3 percent less than listing price
"If we're looking in an area where home values are flat year over year, that's great. It means you haven't lost money in the value of your home over the past year and that's performing better than most areas of the country," Bohuntinsky said.
When to Buy
No matter where you buy, statistics show you should stay at least seven years if you hope to turn a profit on your house.
"We're not out of the woods yet as far as a housing market that's declining," Bohuntinsky said. "But if you're thinking about living in the home for seven years or more, you're likely to ride this out and that's really important for buyers to think about when figuring out where to live."
Best Cities to Sell a Home
It's a tricky real estate climate nationwide, that's for sure, but in some markets home values are flat.
Flat is the new "up" in a recession. Actually, a few rare markets have even seen home values rise in the past year, only eleven nationwide. In markets like this, sellers are getting close to their asking price and are recouping the money they put into their home when they bought it.
Washington, D.C .
While the city's median home value is down 4.1 percent from a year ago, the housing values in Washington, D.C., are actually up from the beginning of this year.
Residences are selling for 2 percent less than their listing prices, which is excellent in this climate.
Fayetteville has the nations best performing housing market in the country. The median home value is $120,060 and that's up 13 percent from a year ago.
It's property values also are up 6.3 percent when compared to five years ago. In Fayetteville, 95 percent of homes sold for a gain.
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Property values are up 6 percent when compared with five years ago and 87 percent of homes sold for a gain.
Oklahoma City has a median home value of $118,700.
In boulder 85 percent of homes were sold for gain and property values are up 2 percent when compared with five years ago.
The median home value is $ 318,900. And 61 percent of homes are increasing in value.
The median home value in Yakima is $131,300, which is down 2 percent from a year ago. In addition, property values are up 4.8 percent compared to five years ago.
Homes are selling for 2 percent less than list price.