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4. Lakeland, FL
4. Lakeland, FL
59% Projected gain in home prices (5-year)*
Median home price Median home price
2006: $178,000
2011: $282,000
Population Population
2006: 551,000
2011: 599,000
Per capita income Per capita income
2006: $30,200
2011: $39,100
*Metro region statistics


Aside from the panhandle and Vero Beach, few places in Florida scream out "buy now" like Lakeland. A house goes for a fifth less than the national median of $227,500, and Lakeland is just 30 minutes from Tampa, a juggernaut of 2.7 million people that's projected to add almost 210,000 more residents over the next five years.

Lakeland is the Greenfield - actually, orange and yellow, because of the surrounding citrus groves - that developers are divvying up to house many of those newcomers.

Meritage Homes, one of the fastest-growing U.S. builders, plans to build more than 1,300 homes in the area by 2008. "All the big national and regional builders have moved into town," says Larry Comegys, Meritage regional president. "Lakeland has become major." It also sits along I-4, where the density of development is beginning to mirror the Dulles corridor in Virginia.

CAUTION: Prices tend to top out more quickly in areas like Lakeland that are largely populated by semiskilled service workers.