It has fewer sunny days than most “best places to live,” and almost a quarter of its residents commute 45 minutes or longer each day, but Fairfield’s celebrated school system, very low crime rate and abundance of close-by leisure and cultural activities helped earn the city the ranking of Money Magazine’s ninth-best place to live in the country.

“Fairfield is definitely a hot spot,” said Raymond Mendoza of Alberti Realty in Fairfield.

Fairfield, which has a population of 57,800, was the only New England city to rank in the top 10.

Realtor Helene Daly of Fairfield County Real Estate hopes the publicity – the city has been featured on CNN because of the ranking – will have a positive effect on the real estate market there.

“It certainly can’t hurt,” she said.

With interest rates up, inventory of for-sale homes is at an all-time high right now, as is the case in much of the rest of the country. There are about 550 to 600 active listings at the moment, which is relatively unheard of for a city that typically draws keen homebuyer interest.

“[The publicity is] always welcome,” Daly said.

The high ranking for the community is deserved, she said. Daly raised five children in Fairfield, and emphasized the quality of the school system. The city’s test scores are well above the state average and the average for the “best places to live.” Reading scores are almost 26 percent above the state average, and math scores are about 18 percent about the state average. About 28 percent of kids living in Fairfield attend private schools, while about 72 percent attend public schools.

Fairfield also is the home to two universities, Sacred Heart and Fairfield University.

And despite a median home price of $565,000 and a one-year home price gain of 14 percent, according to CNN, the city also has more economic diversity than one might think, Daly said.

“It has a little bit of everything,” she said.

Although it is quickly becoming more expensive, there are still starter homes and condominiums to be found. So it is not just CEOs who live there; many middle- and working-class families still populate the city.

“Everybody lives here,” Daly said. “If you want to get into this town, there is a place for you.”

Fair Assessment

Fairfield has been a popular spot for first-time homebuyers who move up from Manhattan. They often start out with condos or small homes, but many stay in the community and eventually move into bigger houses, Daly said. According to Money, homes start at $350,000, and property taxes are low for the New York metro area.

The city is also popular because it is on the train line to New York City.

“You’re always connected,” she said.

Mendoza has a slightly different take on the rankings. He also believes Fairfield deserves a top spot, but said upscale homes are a big part of the community’s charm. Despite a slowing market, Mendoza said homes in Fairfield are unlikely to lose value anytime soon because of the location of the city and the high quality of the schools.

Fairfield is not a city that needs a billboard on the highway to attract people to buy homes there, he said.

“You don’t have to advertise here,” he said.

It can be a hard market to crack as a new Realtor because most real estate business is done by word of mouth. It can also be hard to crack as a homebuyer, Mendoza said.

“If you have to ask the price, don’t ask. You can’t afford it,” he said.

The demand for high-end homes is such that many Realtors who market them do not hold open houses, but show the homes by appointment only.

While there are high-end homes aplenty, Fairfield still offers more inexpensive living options than New York City.

“Compared to New York, Fairfield is cheap,” Mendoza said.

Fairfield ranked in the top 10 “best places to live” behind Fort Collins, Colo.; Naperville, Ill.; Sugar Land, Texas.; Columbia/Ellicott City, Md.; Cary, N.C.; Overland Park, Kan.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Boise, Idaho. It placed just ahead of No. 10, Eden Prairie, Minn.

Fairfield ranked well in crime risk. The risk of both property and personal crime was 3 percent, if the national average is considered 100 percent. The city’s median commute time is 22 minutes, although about 24 percent of the population commutes for 45 minutes or more each day. There are two Fortune 500 companies in the city, as well. GE and R.C. Bigelow both have facilities there.

Money Magazine highlighted several other statistics. The median age in Fairfield is 39.1, while the average for the 10 best places overall was 34.5. About 66 percent of Fairfield residents have completed at least some college. The average for the top 10 cities is 64 percent.