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Best Bang for Your Dollar: $1 Million Summer Home Challenge

Home prices continue to rise in the double digits compared to a year ago, but state to state, neighborhood to neighborhood, the story changes. In addition to location, price point is playing an even greater role in the sales picture. Fewer homes priced under $100,000 are selling, while the higher-priced market is suddenly taking off.

That's why CNBC is once again taking a closer look at the million-dollar market — this time with a summertime twist.

(Read More: Vacation Home Sales Sizzle, Rentals Booking Fast)

The Million-Dollar Home challenge, which returned this past spring to resounding response, is now venturing to the vacation-home market.

Starting on "Squawk Box," CNBC reporters will show two homes without disclosing their locations and document the interiors, exteriors, marketed features and one unique bonus offered by each home. Then we will ask a panel of experts, headed by real estate maven Dolly Lenz, to decide which house gives buyers a better bang for the buck.

(Read More: 5 Tips for Buying the Right Vacation Home)

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. Join the conversation on Twitter using the million-dollar homes hashtag #MDH.

Round One:

Ocean Duplex

First up is a beach cottage on Hilton Head Island, S.C., that is priced at $995,000. This nearly 2,000 square-foot house has four bedrooms and three bathrooms and sits on about 0.25 acres. The house has a two-car garage, swimming pool and a wrap-around porch to watch the sunrise. But the best view is down the garden path—the ocean itself.

An extra bonus for the location is that this beach house is surrounded by 16 acres of designated park area that can never be developed.

While the views are outstanding, the inside of the house could use a little sprucing up, according to Lenz.

"The finishes aren't very high end. The furniture isn't terrific, so I think most people would go in there and do some tweaking," Lenz said. "But it's the only one on the market."

Rustic Retreat

Going up against the ocean duplex is a 20-year old timber-frame cabin in Jackson, Wyo., that's priced at $975,000. The house offers about twice as much living space as the first home and sits on nearly four acres of land.

The cabin has four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a spacious kitchen. With cathedral ceilings and a wooden fireplace, the house bears western touches all around and a view from every room. The ample cabin has a basement that can serve as a game room and its master suite leads to an outside jet Jacuzzi.

The house is located less than a mile from a national forest and only 10 miles away from the famous Jackson Hole resort. The place is a fly-fishing paradise, but does not beat the ocean view.

The winner: the Ocean Duplex.

Round Two:

The Ocean Duplex located on South Carolina's Hilton Head Island advanced to the next round against a lake house in Northern Michigan.

Woodsy Estate

This 18-year-old two-story house with wood-frame cedar siding sits on 140 feet of waterfront in Walloon Lake, Mich. The cabin is priced at $995,000 and offers "twice the size, twice the value" of the Ocean Duplex, Lenz said.

The 4,000 square-foot house has five bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms and sits on half of an acre, that's been landscaped by a master gardener. The house offers cathedral ceilings, hickory kitchen cabinets and a rec room above the garage.

The home's many amenities include a hot tub, sauna, dock and a covered boat house.

"It is a great location. It is on the water," said Lenz. All wealthy people from Chicago and St. Louis area vacation on that lake, and this property has "every bell and whistle," she added.

"There is just nothing missing from that house," she said.

The winner: the Woodsy Estate.

Round Three:

The Woody Estate located on a lake in Northern Michigan goes against a house on Texas' Galveston Island in the next round of the $1 million summer home challenge.

Porch Palace

This beach-front house sits on just under half of an acre, overlooking the ocean in Galveston, Tex. It has a three-car garage, an elevator and multi-level porch and comes fully furnished at a price of $1.02 million.

A private path leads to the beach from this 3,500 square-foot house with five bedrooms and four bathrooms. The kitchen is fully equipped—granite counter tops, a wine cooler and two ovens. A large living room with arched windows leads to a covered porch. The master suite's bathroom boasts his-and-hers sinks, a dual-head shower and a Jacuzzi.

"The best part of the entire story is that it's 45 minutes from Houston," Lenz said, adding that the state does not have individual income tax. About 80 percent of all vacation home buyers want to be in a close proximity to their vacation property, she explained.

Lenz said that the house is gorgeous with its ocean view and beautiful furniture and that it is "very appropriately priced." And it goes to the next round.

The winner: the Porch Palace.

(Read More: Luxury Real Estate Braces for Troubles From China, Brazil)


Round Four:

The beach two-story house in Galveston competes in the next round against a house in the Hamptons that is off the beach but provides a great value for the money.

Shore Chateau

This traditional house is a little more than 10 years old and is in walking distance from a private beach in East Hampton, NY. A 2,500-square foot of living space sits on a third of an acre, with in-ground heated pool and a cabana to house surfboards. The house is priced at $995,000.

The living room with 30-foot high ceilings provides a plenty of wall space for art work. The home has five bedrooms and three bathrooms. The master suit includes a sitting area, a walk-in closet and a bathroom featuring a Japanese soaking bath.

"It's not quite on the beach—so that's where you get your million dollars. But it is in a terrific location, and it's a really cool house as you saw," Lenz said.

"The great thing about the Hamptons is that it is the Hamptons," she added.

The winner: the Shore Chateau.

(Read More: The 10 Best States for Retirement, Regrets to Florida)

Final Round:

The Hamptons' pearl, Shore Chateau, that beat the beach-front house in Galveston in the previous round is running against a floating house on the West Coast in the final competition. Let the best house win.

Boat House

This 1,100-square-foot renovated house is located on the water in Seattle,Wash. It does not come with land, but it has its own moorage and is priced at $1.08 million.

The Boat House has 2 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms and the loft space on the upper level that can serve as a third bedroom or an office. The kitchen has stainless steel appliances, custom cabinets and leads to an open living area with a gas fireplace and a view of the deck.

But the crown jewel of the house is a renovated outdoor patio that gives 360-degree view of the lake. It's also only a short bike ride away from the downtown area.

Listed at more than $1 million, this 1,100 square-foot house boat in Seattle beat out the competition because it's "almost irreplaceable," real-estate maven (and judge) Dolly Lenz said.
Listed at more than $1 million, this 1,100 square-foot house boat in Seattle beat out the competition because it's "almost irreplaceable," real-estate maven (and judge) Dolly Lenz said.

"Sleepless in Seattle" romanticized the boat houses and made them very popular, while supply remained limited, Lenz said.

She explained that her main criteria are the re-sale value and the long-term price when choosing a winner of the competition.

And the winner is….the Boat House, which is "almost irreplaceable," Lenz said.

"There are so few of these, they can't build anymore. So, It's fantastic," Lenz said. In East Hampton, you can always build another house almost anywhere, she added.

The winner: the Boat House.

By CNBC's Diana Olick. Follow her on Twitter @Diana_Olick or on Facebook at facebook.com/DianaOlickCNBC.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

  • 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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