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Trick or treat: The million-dollar home challenge

Thursday, 31 Oct 2013 | 11:24 AM ET
Source: Paul Theron Silas

Forget flying candelabras and ghoulish apparitions—home prices are the scariest thing in real estate right now. Values are up over 12 percent annually from a year ago, thanks to limited supply and investor demand.

Foreclosures used to frighten potential buyers, concerned that too much distress in the market would keep downward pressure on prices, but the opposite is the case: Hungry investors are fighting for what foreclosures are left and are in turn bidding prices ever higher.

Since investors are largely using all cash, first-time buyers, who have a harder time getting mortgages, have been priced out of the market. Credit continues to be tight and could get even more so with new mortgage rules coming down the pike. That may be why so much of the action now is on the high end, with the lower end faltering.

(Read more: Best bang for your buck: $1 million home challenge)

Sales of homes priced under $100,000 fell 7.4 percent in September year over year, according to the National Association of Realtors, while sales of homes above $750,000 were up 42 percent. The luxury market—residences priced at over $1 million—is also seeing a resurgence, with sales up 40 percent from last year.

Just a year ago, 20 percent of all sales were of houses priced under $100,000, but that share is down to 17 percent, while the share of pricier homes continues to climb.

(Read more: The 10 most haunted cities in America)

With this new competition in the high-end market, we wanted to see what buyers are getting for a cool million. It may buy a mansion in Mobile, Ala., or a stuffy studio in San Francisco.

In an effort to gauge differing values, CNBC is creeping through the million-dollar market again, this time in our Halloween edition. The houses aren't haunted, but locations, facades, even market realities may send a chill through buyers and sellers alike.

(Read more: Want a million-dollar home? Tips from a megabroker)

Starting on CNBC's "Squawk Box," two reporters will show two homes without disclosing their locations; they will document the interiors, exteriors, marketed features and one unique bonus offered by each home.

Real estate maven Dolly Lenz will decide which house gives buyers a better bang for the buck.

We will then reveal where the two houses are located, and with that added to the mix, Lenz will choose a winner. That house will then go up against the next mystery location on the next show.

We will crown a winner on CNBC's "Closing Bell."

Trick or treat: Spooky $1 million homes
CNBC's Josh Lipton and Mary Thompson tour two million-dollar homes with a spooky history. Broker Dolly Lenz takes a look at the mysterious real estate and weighs in on which home is the better buy.

Round one:

Spooky Splendor

Located on Elm Street, this home is no nightmare. It's in Glen Ellen, Ill., and priced at $998,900. Built in 2001, this 3,800-square-foot home has five bedrooms and 3½ bathrooms on a quarter of an acre. The family-friendly house has an oversized mud room with lockers and laundry, as well as a finished basement complete with a wet bar, guest bedroom and bathroom.

The open-floor plan features floor to ceiling windows in the kitchen's breakfast nook view to the landscape's gorgeous gardens.

Monstrous Marvel

Going against the dream house on Elm Street is a 110-year-old mansion in Portland, Maine, priced at $1,050,000. This 4,200-square-foot colonial-style brick house with stained-glass windows sits on just over 0.10 acre. With one less bathroom than the first home, this house features five bedrooms, 2½ baths, four fireplaces and original woodwork throughout.

A dramatic stairway leading to a master bedroom features spectacular views from a bay window. Added to the charm of this historic place is a spacious kitchen with stainless steel appliances and a six-burner stove. This grand home includes an exposed brick attic and a basement with an original billiard room as a great spot for entertaining.

"It's an undersized lot for the house," said Lenz. "It's a tough sell. It's only 2½ baths."

The winner: Spooky Splendor

Spooky Splendor: $1 million homes
CNBC's Josh Lipton and Kayla Tausche tour two million-dollar homes with a spooky history. Broker Dolly Lenz takes a look at the mysterious real estate and weighs in on which home is the better buy.

Round two:

Spooky Splendor, near Chicago, moved onto the next round against a nature lover's colonial house in Blairstown, N.J.

Eerie Estate

Nestled in the forest down the street from the site of "Friday the 13th," this 6,300-square-foot custom-built colonial is priced at $985,000. This grand estate has an in-ground freshwater pond that sits on 14-plus acres and includes a guest house and a stable.

This wooded retreat has an open floor plan that features three fireplaces including one off the kitchen. Mountain views can be seen from all four bedrooms and each of the 4½ baths are fitted with skylights and Jacuzzis.

"It has low taxes in New New Jersey a tri-state area. It has everything going for it." Lenz added. "How do you beat 14 acres? It comes with two horses."

The winner: Eerie Estate

Trick or treat homes: 'Eerie Estate' vs. 'Ominous Oasis'
CNBC's Kayla Tausche and Diana Olick tour two spooky million-dollar homes. Superbroker Dolly Lenz reveals the mysterious locations of the mansions.

Round three:

In the next round of the spooky $1 million home challenge, the Eerie Estate in New Jersey goes against a four-story townhouse in an area famous for its ghost tours.

Ominous Oasis

Built in 1847, this house in Savannah, Ga., has a roof terrace that overlooks a cathedral. This 3,300-square-foot home is priced at $1,064,000 and sits on a quarter acre with a bewitching garden.

With lots of room to tell ghost stories in this three-bedroom residence, the master suite features two of the home's five fireplaces. The gourmet kitchen is fully renovated with double ovens and a wet bar. Also perfect for guests, the house includes a garden-level suite with a full kitchen and bath.

"It's a beautiful house renovated in 1995," Lenz said. "It has a guest apartment where you get income of $2,000 a month that defrays most of the cost of the house."

The winner: Ominous Oasis

(Read more: Real estate's new frontier: Crowdfunding)

Ominous oasis: $1 million homes
CNBC's Diana Olick and Jackie DeAngelis tour two million-dollar homes with a spooky history. Broker Dolly Lenz takes a look at the mysterious real estate and weighs in on which home is the better buy.

Round four:

The ghost-friendly townhouse in Savannah, Ga. competes in the next round against a house with a mysterious past in the historic town of Salem, Mass., located on one of the most beautiful streets in the country.

Witchy Warmth

This four-story Italian revival house is set on a 10,000-square-foot lawn with a lush garden. Built in 1856, this home is more than 4,000 square feet and is priced at just under a million dollars.

Crown molding tops the high ceilings in each of the four large bedrooms and the state of the art newly renovated bathrooms are all covered in luxurious marble. There is a fully renovated kitchen with wood floors and an elegant dining room. The library was restored to maintain the home's original cozy character.

"Both houses are hundred-year-old houses, both historic in beautiful condition and well maintained," commented Lenz.

"But the big difference between them is one is 30 minutes away from town," she said. "One is in town. You can walk to the art galleries, the restaurants, the pubs, everything."

The winner: Ominous Oasis

$1 million homes: Ominous oasis vs. Ghoulish Glory
Superbroker Dolly Lenz decides whether she'd buy a home in New Orleans or Savannah, Ga., for $1 million.

Round five:

Winning the two previous rounds and hailing from the Peach State, the Ominous Oasis competes in the next round against a French provincial-style home with water views that overlooks a golf course in New Orleans.

Ghoulish Glory

Priced at $949,000, this sprawling 7,600 square foot home has four bedrooms and 5½ baths. The master suite features a balcony and a spacious bathroom with a huge shower and Jacuzzi. The grand foyer leads into a family room and on the other side of the house is a gourmet kitchen and dining room.

This Louisiana home has an in ground pool, hot tub and a two car garage. The main house is adjacent to a guest house that has a full kitchen with space for another bedroom to add to this impressive property.

"It's a perfect house," Lenz said. "The best part of all, it rented for $10,000 a month. You've got phenomenal exit strategies whether you sell it or keep it."

The winner: Ghoulish Glory

(Read more: Home affordability sinks as housing slows)

'Tricky Retreat' spooks competition
Thursday, 31 Oct 2013 | 4:23 PM ET
CNBC's Janet Shamlian and Jane Wells tour two million-dollar homes with a spooky history. Broker Dolly Lenz picks the mysterious real estate with the best value.

Final round:

The French provincial New Orleans manor that defeated the two-time champion Italian revival house in the previous rounds is running against a beach house in an area known for its great restaurants in the final round. May the best house win.

Tricky Re-Treat

This house sits on a 3,500-square-foot half-lot on a hilltop in San Diego. This three-level home is less than 2,000 square feet and is priced at $1 million.

All three floors have bamboo floors. The ground floor has a two-car garage with a dumbwaiter to tote all your groceries. The middle level comprises three bedrooms and two full baths. Last but not least is the kitchen on the top floor, outfitted with top-of-the-line appliances.

"We almost said it was a tie because they both rent for $10,000 a month and they're both terrific houses," said Lenz. "

"This beach house has two sets of buyers," she added. "Both the buyer for a summer house and the primary resident."

"That's a really great point," said Maria Bartiromo on "Closing Bell." "And you're right next to everything in walking distance."

The winner: Tricky Re-Treat

By CNBC's Diana Olick and Ismaela Best. Follow Olick on Twitter @Diana_Olick.

Questions? Comments? facebook.com/DianaOlickCNBC

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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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