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15 Best Cities to Buy a Rental Property for Investment in 2019

“I want to buy a rental property, but the numbers don’t work in the city where I live.”

It’s a common conundrum for would-be rental investors. Affordability and returns on rentals in metropolitan coastal cities tend to be poor, yet that’s where many aspiring rental investors live.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to buy rental properties long-distance. Between better virtual tour technology and turnkey real estate platforms such as Roofstock, investors can now buy real estate anywhere in the country with ease.

But that raises another question: With no geographical limits, how do you know where to invest?

While there’s no perfect city for investing, you can evaluate cities from a long-term real estate investor’s perspective based on economic and demographic trends. We’ve done just that for you here and come up with a list of the 15 best cities for investing in rental properties.

What Makes a Good City for Rental Investing

Always remember that rental properties are a long-term investment. Unlike flipping houses, investors must take the long view, evaluating a city’s growth and demand.

Below is a list of each data point used to evaluate the cities on this list, along with the source of the data.

  • Home Value Index. The average home value matters for affordability. After all, if you can’t afford a $200,000 down payment on a $1,000,000 rental property in San Francisco, there’s no point in even looking in that market. While Zillow’s Home Value Index isn’t identical to median home prices, it’s close, and Zillow includes convenient data such as growth projections for the next year. (Source: ZIllow)
  • Year-over-Year (YoY) Home Price Growth. This is the percentage increase in home values over the past year. (Source: Zillow)
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth. As you might have guessed, this is the projected increase in home prices over the next year. (Source: Zillow)
  • Rent Index. This is analogous to median rents in a given city. (Source: Zillow)
  • YoY Rent Growth. This is the percentage increase or decrease in rents over the past year. (Source: Zillow)
  • Gross Rent Multiplier. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds. It’s a ratio of home price divided by annual rents – in this case, using citywide averages. In other words, it’s the number of years it would take for gross rents to pay for a property’s purchase price. For example, a $120,000 home with $12,000 in gross annual rents would have a gross rent multiplier of 10. Note that these are gross rents and don’t include any expenses.
  • Unemployment Rate. As a measure of economic health, the unemployment rate offers insight into whether residents can afford to spend more on housing. Also, a strong job market attracts more working-age residents, fueling population growth and demand for housing. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS))
  • YoY Job Growth Rate: This is the percentage increase in total jobs in the city over the past year. Along with population growth, it indicates a demand for real estate. (Source: BLS Current Employment Statistics)
  • Median Age: Median age is another indicator of potential growth. As a general rule, the younger the median age in a city, the more vibrant its economy and the greater its potential for future growth. Children and young, childbearing-age adults drive both population and economic growth. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder)
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: This is not an annual growth rate, but rather the total percentage of the population increase between 2010 and 2018. Note that 2018 data remains a projection. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s American Factfinder)

Capitalization rates, or cap rates, are not among the included city metrics because cap rates vary widely based on expense figures – and expense figures, in turn, vary by neighborhood, property type, and the property itself. Expenses in some cities are inevitably higher than in others, but that data is not readily available.

Best Cities to Investigate for Rental Properties

The cities below may or may not make for the perfect rental investment for you. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but most are more affordable than nationwide averages. Do your own research and invest based on your priorities. For instance, you may opt for cities with the lowest possible gross rent multiplier and care little for fast population growth, or vice versa.

Cities are listed in order of job growth rates, from highest to lowest, as this rate is a leading indicator of housing demand. Job growth drives population growth by drawing working-age transplants, and population growth drives home values and rents, which fuel future returns.

Nationwide Numbers

Economic and real estate data is meaningless without context. Here are the nationwide figures so that you can compare any given city to the nation as a whole.

  • Home Value Index: $226,800
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 6.1%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 2.8%
  • Rent Index: $1,486
  • YoY Rent Growth: 3.05%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 12.72
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.6%
  • Job Growth Rate: 1.58%
  • Median Age: 37.8
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 5.97%

1. Orlando, Florida

Orlando Eye Florida Ferris Wheel City Sunset Cityscape

Orlando is booming economically, with an outstanding 3.46% jump in jobs year over year. Population growth and rent growth look equally impressive.

Located in Florida’s central Sun Belt region, Orlando caters to a massive tourist industry, migrating retirees, and offers plenty of jobs for young adults. It doesn’t hurt that there are lots of beaches within easy driving distance.

Orlando topped Forbes’ 2019 list of the best places to buy a second home, and it shows no signs of slowing down as a thriving metropolitan area.

  • Home Value Index: $238,900
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 7.5%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 3.4%
  • Rent Index: $1,559
  • YoY Rent Growth: 6.78%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 12.77
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.7%
  • Job Growth Rate: 3.46%
  • Median Age: 33.3
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 19.90%

2. Charlotte, North Carolina (Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC)

Charlotte North Carolina Skyline Cityscape

The greater Charlotte metro area also boasts excellent job and population growth. One reason is that it’s a business-friendly city – the third best city in the country to start a business in, according to CNBC.

As home prices have risen, the gross rent multiplier has also risen, making the city less attractive to rental investors in the last year or two. Still, all signs point toward continued growth and demand in this surging city.

  • Home Value Index: $224,800
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 6.9%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 3.3%
  • Rent Index: $1,420
  • YoY Rent Growth: 3.42%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 13.19
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.3%
  • Job Growth Rate: 3.10%
  • Median Age: 33.9
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 19.29%

3. Houston, Texas (Houston-Sugarland-The Woodlands, TX)

Statue Garden Houston Texas Sunset Park

With roughly 7 million inhabitants, the Houston metro area is the fifth largest in the country. And it continues to grow, nearly doubling the nationwide population growth rate.

Houston is another business-friendly city, which helps fuel its employment and economic growth. It claims 53 companies on the Fortune 1000 list, making it the third most concentrated city behind New York and Chicago. Yet despite Houston’s size and wealth, real estate remains affordable there, with median home values under the national average. Its gross rent multiplier is also attractive.

Just be careful of notoriously high property tax rates in Texas; with no income taxes, Texas makes up for lost revenue elsewhere.

  • Home Value Index: $205,600
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 4.6%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 1.6%
  • Rent Index: $1,591
  • YoY Rent Growth: 1.92%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 10.77
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.2%
  • Job Growth Rate: 2.67%
  • Median Age: 32.9
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 10.77%

4. Cincinnati, Ohio (Cincinnati-Dayton, OH)

Cincinnati Ohio Cityscape Sunset Skyscrapers

There’s an old truism in real estate investing that you’ll never lose money if you invest in between two close and expanding cities. Cincinnati and Dayton are both cheap, with home prices 25.1% lower than the national average. And with a healthy gross rent multiplier and rising rents, they make a tempting target for investing.

Their healthy job growth rate and low unemployment rate defy their anemic population growth. Of all the cities on this list, these sister cities appear to have the greatest potential for future rental performance. Their strong economy can’t help but attract faster population swelling – if it can sustain its current job growth.

  • Home Value Index: $169,900
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 7.5%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 3.7%
  • Rent Index: $1,336
  • YoY Rent Growth: 3.25%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 10.60
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.9%
  • Job Growth Rate: 2.31%
  • Median Age: 32.4
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 1.91%

5. Arlington, Texas (Arlington-Fort Worth, TX)

Arlington Texas Football Stadium Dallas Cowboys Sunset

Arlington and nearby Fort Worth have grown markedly in the last decade, seeing strong population growth and job growth. Housing prices and rents reflect that, with home prices skyrocketing by 8.3% in the last year. Even so, Arlington’s home prices remain 8.3% under the national average.

With a young population, a low unemployment rate, and a reasonable gross rent multiplier, Arlington and neighboring Fort Worth invite a closer look. Again, be careful of Texas property taxes, though, as you run the numbers for individual rental properties.

  • Home Value Index: $207,900
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 8.3%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 4.0%
  • Rent Index: $1,568
  • YoY Rent Growth: 3.50%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 11.05
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.8%
  • Job Growth Rate: 1.98%
  • Median Age: 33.1
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 8.94%

6. Huntsville, Alabama (Huntsville-Montgomery, AL)

Huntsville Alabama Rocketship Fireworks Saturn V

Huntsville and neighboring Montgomery are home to several Fortune 500 companies with deep roots in the aerospace and military industries. In fact, NASA and the military make up the two largest employers.

Even with so much federal money fueling the metro area, home values remain roughly 25.3% lower than nationwide averages. And as an outlier on this list, rents have actually outpaced home prices – a promising sign for rental investors.

Other economic fundamentals remain strong, from a low unemployment rate to healthy job and population growth rates. After scoping out some properties on Roofstock, consider visiting in person to enjoy some good old Southern hospitality. You can find out firsthand why U.S. News & World Report ranked Huntsville No. 11 on its list of 125 best cities in America for 2019.

  • Home Value Index: $169,500
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 5.0%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 1.9%
  • Rent Index: $1,210
  • YoY Rent Growth: 6.61%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 11.67
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.9%
  • Job Growth Rate: 1.94%
  • Median Age: 36.9
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 9.56%

7. Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs Hiking Mountains Nature Rocks

There was a time not that long ago when Colorado Springs had a bad reputation for crime and gang violence. Crime rates have dropped significantly in recent years as cost-of-living refugees from Denver and other high-priced Colorado cities flee to Colorado Springs.

That same surge in population, education levels, and income levels in Colorado Springs also created an unwelcome side effect: surging home prices. Colorado Springs has one of the highest average home prices on this list after seeing a sharp 8% increase over the last year alone.

Rents have also risen, but not at the same pace, which leaves an unattractively high gross rent multiplier. So do your homework carefully before investing in Colorado Springs. It could become the next Denver or Fort Collins with an economic explosion and sky-high property values, but its higher-than-average prices and gross rent multiplier mean you should be extra careful when analyzing cash flows.

That said, Colorado Springs ranked No. 3 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of America’s 125 best cities. That’s quite an achievement for a city that many viewed as Denver’s poorer, uglier cousin just a decade ago.

  • Home Value Index: $293,000
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 8.0%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 4.3%
  • Rent Index: $1,565
  • YoY Rent Growth: 2.83%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 15.60
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.3%
  • Job Growth Rate: 1.85%
  • Median Age: 34.6
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 13.51%

8. San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio Texas Riverwalk

With so many entrants on this list, Texas is clearly doing something right.

San Antonio has seen strong population and job growth, with exceptionally low unemployment at 2.6%. Many of those new jobs jobs are high-paying technology jobs in fields such as cybersecurity, bioscience, and renewable energy.

And as the second largest city in Texas, San Antonio remains surprisingly affordable, with home values 22.4% under the national average.

  • Home Value Index: $176,100
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 5.9%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 2.4%
  • Rent Index: $1,316
  • YoY Rent Growth: 2.49%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 11.15
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.6%
  • Job Growth Rate: 1.81%
  • Median Age: 33.2
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 15.43%

9. Tampa, Florida

Tampa Florida Downtown Daytime Palm Trees

With strong tourism, a range of Fortune 1000 companies, and beautiful beaches, Tampa benefits from both an influx of well-off retirees and a pipeline of young graduates from the University of South Florida. That combination has led to a ballooning population growing nearly three times faster than the national average.

Job growth is healthy and unemployment is low, although the citywide gross rent multiplier is nothing special. While home values aren’t exactly a bargain, they still clock in below the national average.

Given Tampa’s strong tourism and proximity to St. Petersburg, consider scoping out vacation rentals in the area, not just long-term rentals.

  • Home Value Index: $213,800
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 5.7%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 2.1%
  • Rent Index: $1,470
  • YoY Rent Growth: 4.85%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 12.12
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.9%
  • Job Growth Rate: 1.78%
  • Median Age: 35.6
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 17.03%

10. Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville Florida Cityscape Water Fountain

Are you noticing a trend with all these Southern and Southwestern cities? Beyond being warm and sunny, another reason for Florida’s popularity might be that it joins Texas among the few states that impose no income tax.

Jacksonville also benefits from a business-friendly environment and strong health care, with over 20 major hospitals – including a Mayo Clinic – and a thriving bioscience sector.

Like Tampa, Jacksonville’s average home value is higher than many on this list, though it remains lower than the national average. Home values shot up by 8% over the last year, and rents rose quickly as well, fueled by population growth over 67% faster than the nation’s as a whole.

  • Home Value Index: $214,100
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 8.0%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 4.0%
  • Rent Index: $1,409
  • YoY Rent Growth: 5.28%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 12.66
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.8%
  • Job Growth Rate: 1.66%
  • Median Age: 35.8
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 9.99%

11. Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City Missouri Cityscape Sunset

Given its lower-than-average unemployment and higher-than-average population growth, Kansas City seems to have been “discovered” by real estate investors over the last few years. That’s driven property values up by nearly 8% in the last year.

Still, home values remain 14.9% lower than the nationwide average, and rental deal opportunities persist for savvy real estate investors. One strength of Kansas City’s economy is its diversity, with robust health care, manufacturing, auto, and IT sectors.

  • Home Value Index: $192,900
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 7.9%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 3.6%
  • Rent Index: $1,350
  • YoY Rent Growth: 3.29%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 11.91
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.0%
  • Job Growth Rate: 1.29%
  • Median Age: 35.2
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 6.99%

12. Columbus, Ohio

Columbus Ohio Main Street Bridge Night Cityscape

Like Cincinnati, Columbus has witnessed impressive population growth in the last decade, more than doubling the national average. Young professionals in particular have flocked to this once-sleepy Midwestern city, driving the average age down to 32.

The secret is out, though, and Columbus’s home values shot up by 9.4% over the last year. Zillow forecasts another 6% growth in the coming year, faster than any other city on this list. That means the window may be closing on the city’s reasonable home prices – 31% below the nationwide average – and investor-friendly gross rent multiplier. Keep an eye on the tepid job growth rate, though.

  • Home Value Index: $156,500
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 9.4%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 6.0%
  • Rent Index: $1,239
  • YoY Rent Growth: 3.16%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 10.53
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.7%
  • Job Growth Rate: 1.23%
  • Median Age: 32.2
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 13.40%

13. Indianapolis, Indiana (Indianapolis-Carmel, IN)

Indianapolis Indiana Cityscape Twilight Blue Hour

Indianapolis real estate values have skyrocketed in the last year by a whopping 11.5%. Yet they remain 26.5% lower than the national average, and gross rent multipliers are better than average too.

Among its strengths, Indianapolis touts a revitalized downtown, diverse job market, and plenty of local colleges. It also serves as the seat for the state government, providing the stability of public sector jobs.

Still, the population and job growth rates have lagged behind nationwide averages, which should give rental investors pause. Invest with care, and make sure you score a good deal.

  • Home Value Index: $166,800
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 11.5%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 5.9%
  • Rent Index: $1,248
  • YoY Rent Growth: 3.23%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 11.14
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.8%
  • Job Growth Rate: 1.14%
  • Median Age: 34.1
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 5.69%

14. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Penn Station Railway Pennsylvania

The “City of Bridges” – 446 to be exact – offers cheap rental properties. Really cheap rental properties.

Other perks include a reasonable gross rent multiplier, which has improved over the last year as rents rose faster than home values. The downtown area has been rejuvenated in recent years, appealing to Pittsburgh’s younger-than-average population.

Like so many post-industrial cities, Pittsburgh has suffered population loss and sluggish job growth, but don’t write it off just yet. A positive job growth rate coupled with cheap housing and low unemployment could prove a recipe for a further renaissance in the years to come.

  • Home Value Index: $143,200
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 2.9%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 0.0%
  • Rent Index: $1,123
  • YoY Rent Growth: 3.03%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 10.63
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.1%
  • Job Growth Rate: 0.71%
  • Median Age: 32.9
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: -1.52%

15. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee Skyline Cityscape Water View

Rounding out the list is the option you’ve been waiting for: a dirt-cheap city with a spectacular gross rent multiplier. Such low home prices in a major city rarely last, though; homebuyers have driven prices up by 9.3% in the last year alone.

Despite slow job and population growth, Milwaukee has a few things going for it. First, it’s a surprisingly young city, with an average age of 31. Second, despite slow job growth, it claims exceptionally low unemployment at only 2.7%. And did I mention it’s cheap?

Zillow rates the Milwaukee real estate market as “Very Hot,” with homes averaging 70 days on the market compared with 81 nationwide.

Take a closer look at Milwaukee. Be wary of bad neighborhoods, but you can find some great deals in the more stable ones that offer strong cash flow and appreciation in the years to come.

  • Home Value Index: $122,800
  • YoY Home Price Growth: 9.3%
  • Projected One-Year Home Price Growth: 5.6%
  • Rent Index: $1,159
  • YoY Rent Growth: 2.66%
  • Gross Rent Multiplier: 8.83
  • Unemployment Rate: 2.7%
  • Job Growth Rate: 0.71%
  • Median Age: 31.3
  • Population Growth 2010 to 2018: 0.47%

Final Word

There’s no single magic metric that makes one city better than another for rental investing. Instead of searching for one, evaluate cities holistically. Consider current pricing and numbers, past growth, and the factors that drive future growth. The metrics above are a good starting point, but look further to crime rates, turnover rates, and vacancy rates.

Then, go deeper still, evaluating how landlord- or tenant-friendly the laws are in a given city. Believe me; laws make a difference in your returns. I once had an eviction take 11 months in Baltimore because the tenant used every loophole in the tenant-friendly local laws to drag out the process. I lost tens of thousands of dollars on that property.

As you research cities across the country for rental investing, keep an eye on properties listed on Roofstock.com. It does a great job of providing extensive local market data and offers two outstanding guarantees to boost your confidence in long-distance investing. For a full breakdown of its advantages and risks, read our Roofstock review here.

What have your experiences been with rental properties? Have you ever invested out of state? How did it go?

G. Brian Davis
G. Brian Davis is a real estate investor, personal finance writer, and travel addict mildly obsessed with FIRE. He spends nine months of the year in Abu Dhabi, and splits the rest of the year between his hometown of Baltimore and traveling the world.

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