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Best Bang for Your Buck: $1 Million Home Challenge

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Home prices may be rising nationally, but real estate is still all about location. Value varies necessarily from place to place. So in an effort to gauge what you get for the money, CNBC is reviving a favorite feature—with a new twist.

The Million Dollar Home special is back, but now it is a contest. Six reporters, including yours truly, were sent to six secret locations and assigned to profile just one home listed for $1 million. We documented the interiors, exteriors, marketed features and one unique bonus offered by each home.

(Read More: Want a Million-Dollar Home? Tips From a Mega-Broker)

Tuesday on CNBC and CNBC.com we turn the tables. Starting on "Squawk Box" we will show two homes, but we will not disclose their locations. Then we will ask a panel of experts, headed by real estate maven Dolly Lenz, to decide which house, on its merits alone, gives a better bang for the buck.

We will then reveal where the two houses are located, and with that added to the mix, the panel will make a final choice of a winner. That house will then go up against the next mystery location on the next CNBC show. By "Closing Bell," we will crown a winner.

Here are the million-dollar picks from across the country:

Round One:

Older Colonial

First up is a three-story colonial house with a two-car garage in New Have, Conn. This 7,400 square foot house has 8 bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms and sits on about half of an acre.

The house has five fireplaces and an outside raised patio. Its office is accessible through a separate entrance, making the space ideal for a dentist or perhaps a private yoga studio.

Painted Lady

This late 1890s Victorian house sits on one third of an acre and measures 3,700 square feet plus a finished basement in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Ill. Its has a colorful facade, which is known as a "painted lady," and features stained glass windows throughout. The home's rich history includes a stint as a former brothel, which could serve as a talking point during your future housewarming party.

The house has six bedrooms and three baths, one of which includes a quadruple jet stream shower, which was installed by the current owner who's a stress management expert.

The winner: the Painted Lady.

Round Two:

The Painted Lady house located in a sought-after suburb of Chicago advances to the next round against a classical revival home with some deep historical roots.

Greek Titan

Talk about getting some bang for your buck. This 1873 classical Greek revival home is priced at $899,900 and measures 11,544 square feet, roughly three times the Painted Lady's space.

This historic home located in York, Pennsylvania has hosted presidents, cabinet members and even military generals within its spacious walls. It has 10 bedrooms, six bathrooms and nine fireplaces.

The 1.85 acre estate comes with a carriage house that's been converted into a four-car garage. The house also includes an elevator, a barn and 10 chandeliers.

But does bigger always mean the better value?

"Better value without a question, metrics say is York," she said. "But you really have to go with what's going to appreciate most in the next five years and if you ask me, there's no question it's Painted Lady. Painted Lady is in a top suburb of Chicago, it's an exciting place to live, right near Chicago. And that's going to get the buyers."

Round Three:

After proving victorious for two straight rounds, the Painted Lady got some competition from Charlotte, N.C.

European Estate

This three-story European-style home includes six bedrooms and 5.5 bathrooms within its 5,300 square feet. Its verandah deck overlooks a fenced-in yard on a landscaped 0.4 acre lot.

The priciest home so far at $1 million, it also includes a gourmet kitchen and tall ceilings.

But only one house can advance to the next round. So what's Lenz's pick?

"They're both great houses, great locations, great lifestyles but at the end of the day, you really have to look at price appreciation," she said. "Without question, the better bet in that case is Chicago."

Round Four:

Still victorious after three rounds, the Painted Lady went head to head with an English-gardens style house in Houston.

English Manor

Although it sits on only 0.15 acres, this two-story home packs a lot of house into a small lot. Its 4,400 square feet include four bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms along and a gourmet kitchen with granite counter tops and stainless-steel appliances.

To help residents take advantage of Houston's warm weather, the home's covered patio includes a built-in gas grill, wet bar and fridge along with surround sound.

The price for this outdoor weather retreat? $1 million.

Ultimately, Lenz's pick came down to Texas' lack of state income tax and Houston's lower unemployment rate.

"It's a tough, tough go on this one," she added. "Both houses are amazing. Both houses are in beautiful condition. Both houses just are winners. But taxes wins."

Round Five:

Though it dethroned the Painted Lady, Houston's English manor may have met its match with this small Coronado, Ca. bungalow.

Cozy Cottage

"This house is tiny but amazing," Lenz said of this 1,038-square-foot, 1950's bungalow just a block away from the beach in a cozy suburb of San Diego. "And how can you beat that location?"

Other highlights of the area include a public school system ranked No. 1 in the region and an unemployment rate of just 5 percent.

The price? $1.08 million.

It was a tough call but Lenz ultimately ruled that size matters.

"How do you overlook the fact that one house is 4,400-square-feet in Houston and the other house is only 1,000-square feet?" she said. "It's livability."

The winner: the English manor

—By CNBC's Diana Olick and Katie Little; Follow Diana on Twitter @Diana_Olick or on Facebook at facebook.com/DianaOlickCNBC

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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