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10 Best Cities to Buy a Home – Buyer’s Markets in the United States

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If you owned a home between 2005 and 2009, there is a strong chance that you lost a good chunk of change on your investment. If you were lucky enough to sell at the top of the bubble and rent during the subsequent downturn, you’re probably still reveling in the afterglow of your fortuitous decision.

The U.S. housing market has come a long way since the trauma of the late-2000s housing crash. In many local markets, prices are now comfortably above the pre-recession peak, and inventories of foreclosed and short-sold homes are much closer to historic averages. Indeed, it’s worth asking whether any affordable markets remain.

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The short answer is, yes, one can still find buyer’s markets in the United States. This list features 10 American housing markets – scattered about every region of the country – that are affordable and accessible by any measure. These metro markets have reasonable prices relative to national and regional averages, ample supplies of attractive homes, and good prospects for further price appreciation. They should be at the top of every bargain-seeking home buyer’s list – at least, those willing and able to move for better housing deals.

What Makes a Buyer’s Market?

In the world of real estate, the term “buyer’s market” describes a local or regional market in which the supply of housing outweighs the demand for housing. Buyer’s markets are marked by relatively affordable prices, negative gaps between asking prices and selling prices, a generally slow pace of home sales, and certain other telltale factors.

These conditions can be frustrating for sellers who want nothing more than to sell their homes and move on with their lives, but they’re great for patient buyers who seek long-term investment opportunities – or who just want to upgrade to a better home at a reasonable price. Since they feature low prices and ample supply, buyer’s markets are particularly attractive for first-time home buyers. Thanks to online data aggregators such as Trulia and Zillow, identifying and capitalizing on buyer’s markets is easier now than ever before.

Important Criteria That Affect Housing Affordability

Real estate professionals use a variety of metrics to classify buyer’s markets. Each figure tells prospective buyers something about the overall strength and affordability of a given housing market:

  • Median Home Price. The median price for homes sold within the metro area is critical to determine whether the area is affordable for regular home buyers.
  • Selling Price Discount to List Price. When homes sell at a premium to their asking prices, it suggests that demand outpaces supply in the market. In true buyer’s markets, homes usually sell for less than their asking prices. On each list, areas where homes sell for such a discount are noted by a “-” symbol, followed by a percentage. Areas where homes sell for a premium to their list prices are noted by a “+” symbol, followed by a percentage.
  • One-Year Change. The change in median home prices over the preceding 12 months is a good indicator of overall price momentum in the market. Rapidly appreciating prices indicate that a buyer’s market may soon be ending. Falling prices, meanwhile, are often indicative of an ongoing buyer’s market. While one-year price drops can also mean that a market is overvalued and needs to correct to a lower price level, buyers can avoid getting stuck in a falling market by looking at the overall one-, three-, and five-year price trends. When the rate at which prices have fallen appears to be slowing – in other words, if the one-year change is either positive or only slightly negative after sharper three- and five-year drops – buyers can be more confident that they’re getting in near the bottom of the market.
  • Three-Year Change. This medium-term figure measures price momentum over a longer period of time and hints at the overall strength of a buyer’s market. Since the national home-price average has risen slightly over the past three years, markets that post a drop may be undervalued – and, therefore, may be good candidates for opportunistic buyers.
  • Five-Year Change. This longer-term metric shows how home prices have fared since the depths of the financial crisis and recession. While most buyer’s markets have posted price drops during this period, markets with especially large drops may have structural or economic issues that could get in the way of any price recovery. Buyers should be wary of such markets.
  • Average Time on Market. This metric represents the average amount of time that elapses between a home’s listing date and closing date in each market. Lower “time on market” figures indicate elevated demand for homes. Buyer’s markets tend to have larger “time on market” figures. This data may not be available for some of the smaller cities on the list.
  • Local Unemployment Rate. It’s not directly related to housing, of course, but the unemployment rate is a good indicator of a metro area’s overall economic health. Economically strong regions that continue to experience housing market softness – as indicated by elevated housing supply figures, slow sales rates, and falling prices – may soon turn the corner, creating lucrative opportunities for home buyers who time their purchases just right.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics are current to the first quarter of 2019.

Best Residential Buyer’s Markets in America

These are among the best buyer’s markets in America for residential real estate.

1. Cleveland, Ohio (Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH)

In June 1969, a chemical slick on the Cuyahoga River caught fire within sight of downtown Cleveland. Word spread quickly, and the following month, an image from an earlier, far more serious fire appeared on the cover of Time magazine, cementing Cleveland’s image as a polluted industrial wasteland. The city instantaneously became the butt of jokes. Its image has yet to fully recover.

Nevertheless, buyers from northeast Ohio and beyond are peering under the regional housing market’s hood once more. Even after decades of neglect, during which disfavored neighborhoods’ housing stock withered, Cleveland proper and its inner-ring streetcar suburbs are awash in vintage homes dating back to the first three decades of the 20th century; many need nothing more than a fresh coat of paint and some modern finishes.

Although northeast Ohio is dominated by heavy industry, Cleveland isn’t quite as one-note as, say, nearby Canton, the long-faded automotive rubber capital. Thanks in large part to the presence of the Cleveland Clinic, the city’s largest private employer, it’s a world-class healthcare hub. Together with Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland, the Cleveland Clinic is a nexus for biotechnology research, as well. NASA even has a research facility here: the Glenn Research Center, named for native Ohioan John Glenn.

  • Median Home Price: $139,900
  • Selling Price Discount/Premium to List Price: -27.8%
  • One-Year Change: +3.0%
  • Three-Year Change: +19.8%
  • Five-Year Change: +23%
  • Average Time on Market: Not available
  • Local Unemployment Rate: 3.8%

2. Toledo, Ohio

Toledo’s location at the heart of the Rust Belt was once a boon for the local economy – in the not-too-distant past, the city was the world’s principal supplier of automotive glass. Today, northwestern Ohio suffers from an image problem, despite rebounding factory employment and a concerted effort by state and local policymakers to reorient the region away from heavy industry.

While Toledo’s economy does remain subdued, nearby communities have added thousands of decent-paying jobs over the past decade. What’s more, bargain-basement land and housing prices are proving to be irresistible for real estate investors and urban pioneers who know a good deal when they see one.

Indeed, sheer affordability is what stands out the most about Toledo’s housing market. The Toledo area is home to nearly a million people, but the city’s median home price remains shockingly low. This figure is rising quickly – sale prices increased by nearly 45% in five years – so there may not be much time left for buyers to get in on its once-in-a-generation deals. For experienced real estate investors, plentiful fixer-upper homes beckon; as in nearby Cleveland, many date back to the 1910s and 1920s.

  • Median Sale Price: $129,100
  • Selling Price Discount/Premium to List Price: -12.2%
  • One-Year Change: +8.4%
  • Three-Year Change: +14.2%
  • Five-Year Change: +44.8%
  • Average Time on Market: 83 days (November 2018)
  • Local Unemployment Rate: 3.4%

3. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD)

Philadelphia is the United States’ sixth-largest city and one of its most popular tourist destinations. There’s a good chance you’ve been here before, if only to admire Independence Hall and its environs. You probably left after a day or two, your appetite for early U.S. history satiated.

Maybe you should have stayed. Among major northeastern cities, Philadelphia is by far the best value for homebuyers; you’ll get far more house for your money here than in nearby Washington, D.C., or New York City. Traffic is rough, as elsewhere in the northeast corridor, but the public transit system punches above its weight and provides decent coverage well out into the suburbs. If you plan to work in central Philly, there’s a good chance you’ll take the train or bus to work.

Speaking of work: It’s not difficult to find in Philly, thanks to a solid, diversified regional employment base and a lively tech scene. Plus, New York City is only 90 miles away by train; thousands of Philly-area residents make that long, long commute. The jobs-rich northern New Jersey suburbs are closer still; the comparably low cost of housing in Philly and the southern Jersey burbs may justify the attendant fuel or train bill.

Closer to home, Philly and close-in suburbs have a mind-boggling array of charming 19th- and early-20th-century rowhouses and detached homes just begging for new owners’ sweat equity.

  • Median Sale Price: $213,000
  • Selling Price Discount/Premium to List Price: -23.5%
  • One-Year Change: +7.5%
  • Three-Year Change: +7.5%
  • Five-Year Change: +9.2%
  • Average Time on Market: 113
  • Local Unemployment Rate: 3.1%

4. Miami, Florida (Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL)

Geographically, Miami lies at the continental United States’ southeasternmost extent. Culturally, it’s all Caribbean. Endless peaches, waving palms, pastels, cubanos and ropa vieja galore, and not a hint of frost – no wonder people keep flocking to South Florida in good times and bad.

These days, South Floridians keep one eye on the steadily encroaching Atlantic – especially those living on the region’s barrier islands, like Miami Beach. Climate change may eventually render coastal South Florida uninhabitable, but you wouldn’t know it by taking the local housing market’s pulse. After a dramatic pre-recession crash and years of anemic recovery, Miami is clearly on the upswing; prices have risen by half again in five years.

Does that mean prospective buyers should wait the hot streak out? That’s not clear. Miami’s housing inventory remains elevated, an artifact of the overbuilding boom of the mid-2000s, and properties tend to linger on the market. As long as you’re not set on a coastal condo, you’ll find a place that fits your budget here.

  • Median Sale Price: $270,300
  • Selling Price Discount/Premium to List Price: -24.7%
  • One-Year Change: +4.2%
  • Three-Year Change: +23.9%
  • Five-Year Change: +50%
  • Average Time on Market: 105 days
  • Local Unemployment Rate: 2.9%

5. Rockford, Illinois

Rockford is located less than 100 miles from downtown Chicago, but it bears little resemblance to the Windy City. Like many medium-sized cities across the industrial Midwest, Rockford has historically relied on massive assemblies and logistical installations to drive its economy. Needless to say, the past two decades haven’t been kind to these major employers, and many have reduced their local footprints or moved on altogether. A handful of automotive and aerospace companies remain, but Rockford’s leaders recognize that the city’s industrial glory days are gone for good.

Fortunately, Rockford is a growing hub for the insurance industry, and has had some success in attracting high-tech manufacturers. Two of the Midwest’s busiest interstates meet here, so the city is also a noteworthy trucking hub. Call Rockford’s economy boring, if you must; better than boom-and-bust.

After a sharp and prolonged correction during and after the late-2000s recession, Rockford’s housing market is slowly and steadily recovering. Homeowners who bought at what turned out to be the market’s rock bottom in 2013 and 2014 have seen their investments appreciate by about 20%, on average. Given that recent price appreciation here has been lower than the national average, it stands to reason that prices could continue to rise.

  • Median Sale Price: $124,600
  • Selling Price Discount/Premium to List Price: -4.2%
  • One-Year Change: +2.7%
  • Three-Year Change: +16.2%
  • Five-Year Change: +19%
  • Average Time on Market: Not available
  • Local Unemployment Rate: 5.4%

6. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa has a strong economy that shows no signs of slowing down. Dozens of energy firms maintain headquarters or branch offices here, so the city has benefited greatly from the ongoing shale gas boom. Tulsa’s location near one of the world’s largest energy terminals (at Cushing, Oklahoma) helps too. Meanwhile, the city is a jumping-off point for tourists looking to escape to the Ouachita Mountains, which peter out not far east of here, and the nearby lake district of northeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Missouri.

While opportunistic buyers might be wary of a market that has posted strong price increases during each of the past five years, Tulsa remains incredibly affordable by national standards. If history is a guide, that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

  • Median Sale Price: $161,300
  • Selling Price Discount/Premium to List Price: -21.1%
  • One-Year Change: +7.5%
  • Three-Year Change: +17.7%
  • Five-Year Change: +26%
  • Average Time on Market: 97 days
  • Local Unemployment Rate: 2.8%

7. Hartford, Connecticut (Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT)

Located near the geographical center of its diminutive host state, Hartford’s faded industrial glory conceals its aces in the hole: It’s a hub for the global insurance industry, home to a sizable aerospace cluster (anchored by United Technologies, based in nearby Farmington), and a state capital to boot.

Hartford proper has suffered its share of post-industrial ills, and the discriminatory housing policies of the 20th century continue to cast a long shadow here, but the city’s relatively diverse economic base keeps it in better shape than other rusting New England factory towns. In central-city neighborhoods, much of the housing stock dates to the late 19th and early 20th century – catnip for DIYers who know what they’re doing. Elevated property values in newer, perennially desirable suburbs like Farmington, Bloomfield, and Vernon help boost the metro average.

Still, Hartford is one of the only metros on this list not to see significant price appreciation during the past five years, making it a compelling choice for value-hunting homebuyers for whom price matters more than location. After all, this is the Northeast; Hartford doesn’t operate in a vacuum. The roughly equal-sized cities of New Haven (home to Yale University) and Springfield, Massachusetts, lie well within Hartford’s commuter belt. All the more reason to set up shop in this still-affordable pocket of New England.

  • Median Sale Price: $210,800
  • Selling Price Discount/Premium to List Price: -18.9%
  • One-Year Change: -3.7%
  • Three-Year Change: +3.4%
  • Five-Year Change: +1%
  • Average Time on Market: 114 days
  • Local Unemployment Rate: 3.4%

8. Spokane, Washington (Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA)

Founded on a dramatic cataract that’s now the centerpiece of a beautiful city park, Spokane is the economic and political hub of Washington State’s eastern two-thirds. Although it’s barely four hours away, Spokane bears little resemblance to Seattle. The climate is drier and colder. The culture is more family-oriented (though there’s plenty of counterculture here too). The politics are, by and large, more conservative. And, not surprisingly, the housing market is far more affordable.

Indeed, Spokane’s housing market isn’t even in the same league as Seattle’s, and that’s great news for buyers. Despite a five-year increase approaching 45%, median home prices here remain very affordable, and buyers can expect substantial discounts to list price. The relatively low average time-on-market suggests inventory is tight, but the region’s above-average unemployment rate – still nearly 6%, even with the national average at or below 4% – may keep exuberance in check.

Shaky employment notwithstanding, Spokane has a stable, growing base of healthcare companies, universities, and high-tech manufacturers that invest heavily in its community. Plus, its urban corridor extends well into neighboring Idaho, along Interstate 90, and the two states enjoy a reciprocal relationship: Washington doesn’t tax personal income, and Idaho has a famously lenient corporate tax, so many workers live in the former state and commute to well-paying jobs in the latter. If you do settle out here, do be sure to make it across the state line – Coeur d’Alene is beautiful.

  • Median Sale Price: $234,500
  • Selling Price Discount/Premium to List Price: -16.2%
  • One-Year Change: +7.1%
  • Three-Year Change: +29.6%
  • Five-Year Change: +44.6%
  • Average Time on Market: 49 days
  • Local Unemployment Rate: 5.8%

9. Virginia Beach, Virginia (Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC)

Virginia Beach anchors the sprawling, waterlogged southeastern Virginia region known as Hampton Roads, officially the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metropolitan area. With 35 miles of continuous beach supporting hundreds of oceanside hotels and innumerable condos available for short-term rental, Virginia Beach is a wildly popular destination for sweat-soaked city slickers seeking respite from the interior Southeast’s relentless summer humidity.

It’s also within commuting distance of Naval Station Norfolk, one of the U.S. military’s most important installations. At least a dozen more military outposts call Hampton Roads home, serving as a critical stabilizer for the local economy; more than 50,000 civilians support military operations here. Not surprisingly, major non-military sources of employment revolve around transportation; Norfolk Southern is based here, as is the world’s largest shipyard, operated by Newport News-based Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Housing-wise, Virginia Beach’s best bargains are found away from the coastline, amid the city’s dozens of square miles of suburban tract housing and low-rise condo-and-townhome complexes. Though you’d never know it from the congested beachfront, much of the city of Virginia Beach is undeveloped. As new housing on the city’s western and southern fringes increases supply, prices may remain in check. That’s great news for bargain hunters, now and tomorrow.

  • Median Sale Price: $226,900
  • Selling Price Discount/Premium to List Price: -20.4%
  • One-Year Change: +0.4%
  • Three-Year Change: +11.8%
  • Five-Year Change: +18.8%
  • Average Time on Market: 92 days
  • Local Unemployment Rate: 2.8%

10. Albuquerque, New Mexico

The jury is still out on whether “Breaking Bad” was a good thing for Albuquerque. On the one hand, it generated tremendous visibility for New Mexico’s largest city; on the other, it was about a ruthless drug dealer who turned the city into his personal playground. Regardless of where you stand, you’ll probably agree that Jesse, Walter White’s trusty sidekick, got a great deal on his mansion. Albuquerque offers a solid sale price discount and steadily but not spectacularly appreciating list prices. A high foreclosure rate sweetens the deal for buyers who want to fix and sell.

Outside of its southeastern oil patch, New Mexico’s rural economy seems locked in perennial decline. In Albuquerque, though, things are looking better than they have in a long time. The University of New Mexico and several major healthcare companies support a booming knowledge economy, and the city’s beautiful surroundings and unique culture make it an unheralded – but increasingly popular – tourist destination. (An hour up the road, Santa Fe has long been a magnet for out-of-state visitors.) Just do your fellow Burquenos and stay on the right side of the law.

  • Median List Price: $229,900
  • Selling Price Discount/Premium to List Price: Not available
  • One-Year Change: +2.2%
  • Three-Year Change: +11.1%
  • Five-Year Change: +18.5%
  • Average Time on Market: 66 days
  • Local Unemployment Rate: 4.0%

Final Word

Of course, housing market affordability isn’t the only factor that should inform your next move. Good schools, vibrant culture, ample lifestyle amenities, and strong job prospects are all critical elements of any moving decision. While not all the cities on this list tick every single box, they do have one thing in common: impressive discounts on new arrivals’ most important investment, housing.

Buyer’s markets don’t last forever, though, so be sure to investigate these particular ones before they disappear.

Did you recently get a great deal on a home in one of these cities? What about places that weren’t mentioned here?

Brian Martucci
Brian Martucci writes about credit cards, banking, insurance, travel, and more. When he's not investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, you can find him exploring his favorite trails or sampling a new cuisine. Reach him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

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