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9. Fort Collins, CO
9. Fort Collins, CO
28% Projected gain in home prices (5-year)*
Median home price Median home price
2006: $196,000
2011: $251,000
Population Population
2006: 278,000
2011: 306,000
Per capita income Per capita income
2006: $36,600
2011: $48,400
*Metro region statistics

Fort Collins appears time and again on the media's "best" lists - best place to live, best place to retire, best place to raise a family, best "dream" town, even the best place to "reinvent your life."

"Great schools, low crime, good jobs in a high-tech economy," Money Magazine crowed earlier this year when it named Fort Collins its No. 1 small city. And talk about a lifestyle play: The city is an outdoorsman's fantasy come to life, boasting 40 parks within the city limits, more than 60 miles of hiking and biking trails, three city-owned golf courses, and easy access to whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, and skiing.

The presence of Colorado State University makes it a college town, to boot. Add to all this that Colorado has been a housing price laggard in recent years, with "relatively anemic" price appreciation, according to economist Andrew Leventis at the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight. With tech companies fleeing high-priced Silicon Valley, bringing California émigrés with them, now looks like a good time to buy.

CAUTION: Another tech slump could dampen the housing forecast. With large divisions of Agilent Technologies, Eastman Kodak, and Hewlett-Packard based here, the regional economy leans mighty heavily on tech-industry growth.