Million dollar homes: Home for the holidays

For many of us, heading home for the holidays means heading back to homes we could never afford today. Back when our parents were buying, home values were a far smaller percentage of annual incomes. A nice house in a nice neighborhood didn't mean leveraging your pocketbook for life.

Home values today are crawling back from an epic housing crash, but potential buyers are constrained by a tricky triad of tight credit, limited supply and shifting attitudes toward home ownership overall. Prices bounced back dramatically last year, thanks to investor demand on the low end of the market. Now, as there are fewer distressed homes for investors to buy, the market is left to mortgage-dependent, owner occupants; hence the price gains are easing.

Home prices nationally rose 4.8 percent in September, according to the S&P Case Shiller National Home Price Index. In August, the annual gains were larger.

"Other housing statistics paint a mixed to slightly positive picture," noted S&P's David Blitzer, pointing to improvements in existing home sales and home builder sentiment. "With the economy looking better than a year ago, the housing outlook for 2015 is stable to slightly better."

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Housing, however, is still out of reach for many first-time home buyers who can't get the credit they need at the rates they can afford. First-time buyers are remain at less than one third of the market, compared to historical norms of 40-45 percent. Instead, the high end of the market is now hottest. Sales of homes priced above one million dollars rose 16 percent in October from a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors.

But what does a million dollars buy today? On Wednesday, CNBC reporters will showcase properties in their own childhood housing markets in the latest edition of the, "Million Dollar Home Challenge." Beginning on "Squawk Box," viewers will have the chance to vote live during the segment to determine which home has the best bang for a million bucks. That listing moves on to the next show to compete against another hometown house. The winner will be crowned on "The Closing Bell."

Follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #milliondollarhome.