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Melrose tops list of hottest ZIP codes

Real estate website rates oft-overlooked suburb nation’s hottest

Main Street in Melrose.
Main Street in Melrose. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff File/2014

So the next “it” place to live in Massachusetts is . . . Melrose?

Yes, Melrose, that overlooked little suburb with a quaint downtown, where the big event of the year is the annual Victorian Fair.

Melrose is officially hot, according to realtor.com, one of the largest real estate websites in the United States.

In its annual ranking of the nation’s 10 hottest ZIP codes, realtor.com on Thursday crowned Melrose number one, based on how fast houses sell and how often listings are viewed on its site.

“This is literally the most desirable spot in the country,” said Jonathan Smoke, the site’s chief economist. “That’s what the list tells us.”

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The honor provoked some good-natured condescension from Melrose’s neighbors.

“I consider it a stepping-stone to Wakefield,” sniffed Ronnie Puzon of Re/Max Trinity realty in Malden, who added that Melrose’s role in life is to serve as a way station to a better address: First you buy in Malden or Medford, then you move to Melrose, and ultimately, if you do well, you end up in Wakefield or Winchester.

Meanwhile, the folks in Arlington can be forgiven for feeling slighted. That town would have been number seven on the list, but realtor.com limited the top 10 rankings to just one community per region.

“There’s no way that Melrose is more attractive than Arlington,” joked Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, who bragged that Arlington’s restaurant scene “blows away” Melrose’s.

Actually, realtor.com might be onto something: Giacomo’s, a North End favorite, is apparently planning a restaurant in Melrose. Still, it’s no Somerville, which boasts a lively bar and dining scene and a hip culture right out of an episode of “Portlandia.”

Luckily for Melrose, being hip wasn’t necessary to get onto realtor.com’s list.

The service ranked communities based on housing demand, which it noted is driven by the strength of the local economy, and “it factors” such as strong schools, access to public transportation, and proximity to shopping and restaurants.

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All of which means Melrose is not easy to get into.

Last year, Yael Mazor-Garfinkle, 29, and her husband left Somerville for Melrose when they finally were able to buy a house after several years of being outbid by other young couples.

True, there isn’t much nightlife. “Things shut down pretty early,” Mazor-Garfinkle acknowledged. But the couple is enjoying the slower pace. “It’s really kind of idyllic,” she said.

Melrose’s housing stock is mixed but includes many graceful older homes on tree-lined streets. The median home price is $448,000, and the houses sell quickly: Properties are on the market for a median of 24 days, realtor.com says, 25 days less than those in Boston, the country’s 19th-hottest market. And the average Melrose listing on realtor.com gets 841 views per month, three times what listings in Boston receive.

It helps that Melrose has not been a historically hot market.

“You’re more likely to land high on our list if you’re up-and-coming than if you’re a place that everybody’s been wanting to live for the past 10 years,” Smoke said.

Case in point: the second-hottest ZIP code on the list, Worthington, Ohio.

Or number nine: Fargo, N.D.

But Melrose residents are fiercely proud of where they live and the strong sense of community, lively downtown, easy access to Boston, and walkable scale.

“I think Melrose is just as beautiful as extremely pricey Winchester,” said three-year resident Susan Samuelson. “If the schools improve even more than they are at, I think we are the next Winchester.”

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Katie Johnston can be reached atkatie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter@ktkjohnston.