By Sara Ventiera
Sep 7, 2021
sometimes it feels like homebuyers just can't catch a break. Prices these days are continuing their meteoric rise, while the inventory of available homes remains paltry, effectively shutting many would-be buyers out of the market. And the crushing demand continues to fuel feverish and demoralizing bidding wars—pushing prices even further out of reach for many.
But wait! Hope is not entirely lost for buyers navigating what's become an extreme seller's market.
Things have started to cool as more people are listing their homes and buyers are pushing back against cumulous-scraping price tags. Some sellers have even been forced to cut those prices. And while some employers are beginning to call workers back to the office, remote work is expected to become more of a norm, especially for white-collar workers. That could allow buyers to find homes within their budgets if they're willing to expand their search radius.
That's why the data team at Realtor.com® wanted to find the metro areas where homes are the most affordable, especially for first-time buyers. Many of these places are located in the Midwest. Some of them have been struggling, losing jobs and residents for years. And the main cities in these metros tend to have higher crime rates, some also have lower-performing schools. But they also offer prime opportunities for bargain hunters who can work from anywhere and can help to revitalize these areas.
"If you're working for a company in L.A. or San Francisco, where prices are sky-high, you might feel like you're locked out of homeownership," says Frank Nothaft, chief economist for real estate data firm CoreLogic. "But some workers are able to pick up and relocate anywhere. And it may be where the prices of homes are one-tenth of what you'd pay in the Bay Area."
There is certainly no shortage of struggling would-be homebuyers who could use some options. Last month the national median listing price grew by 8.6% compared with a year ago, according to Realtor.com listing data.
Prices remain high, too: The national median home price for active listings was $380,000 in August. While that's slightly lower than the month before, that's mainly due to smaller homes coming on the market and bringing down prices.
So where are these places where buyers can find a home under the national median price? The data team ran the numbers and combed through the 300 largest metros to find which had the lowest median home prices in July 2021. To ensure geographic diversity, we limited our list to just one metro per state. (A metro includes the main city and surrounding towns, suburbs, and smaller urban areas.)
Ready to find out where buyers don't need to have a fat trust fund to become homeowners?
Median home price: $109,900
About two hours from Philadelphia and two and a half from New York City, Pottsville hasn't benefited from a big emigration of urbanites seeking space.
This coal region is home to D.G. Yuengling & Son, the oldest operating brewing company in America, as well as lots of hiking, hunting, and fishing options. However, the rural area has been losing residents for a while now—nearly a 6% drop in the past decade, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. After a massive spike of layoffs at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate in Schuylkill County, where Pottsville is located, was 7% in July—much higher than the 5.4% national unemployment rate.
But that doesn't mean a house is easy to come by here. Locals and renters have been buying in the Pottsville housing market in numbers real estate agents haven't seen in years, says Nadine Hinkley Daubert, an agent with Ramus Realty Group.
In spite of the rush of first-time buyers, house prices are still low compared with the rest of the United States. With current interest rates, it just might make more financial sense to buy than rent. For example, this three-bedroom house in nearby Saint Clair is listed for $179,900. There's also this two-bedroom house with a massive garage right near several green spaces in Bunker Hill, asking just $68,000.
Median home price: $119,900
Home prices have risen in Peoria—just at a more subdued pace. High taxes in the state of Illinois have driven out more residents than brought them in, and business closures over the past couple of decades mean fewer jobs. While the rush to buy some land may not be quite as hectic as, say, L.A., there are huge differences in the markets between different school districts, parts of town, and price ranges.
In the highly rated Dunlap School District, homes priced below $300,000, like this $99,000 three-bedroom house on a half-acre, are flying off the market. Pricier abodes, including this sprawling four-bedroom house listed for $510,000, aren't quite as in demand since they can be out of budget for some Peorians.
Median home price: $120,000
The prevailing norms of real estate supply and demand are flipped in Terre Haute's market. Unlike many metros across the United States, there's more supply of housing than there is demand. Part of that is because homes here are on the older side and may need extensive repairs—nearly half were built before 1939 and a quarter were built between 1940 and 1959.
The population of the five-county metropolitan area fell 2.1% since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, as more people have left the area in search of work. And in Terre Haute, home to Indiana State University, the population fell below 59,000 residents for just the second time in over a century.
To combat those losses, the city unleashed the See You In Terre Haute 2025, a business and tourism development plan, a couple of years back, aimed at retaining and growing the local population.
For now, buyers can find stunning homes in beautiful neighborhoods such as Farringtons Grove. There are options such as this lovely century-old four-bedroom house asking $119,995, or this cute newer two-bedroom bungalow near downtown and Indiana State University on the market for just $59,900.
Median home price: $135,000
Like pretty much every other affordable metro in the United States, Youngstown has recently been getting a slew of pandemic transplants seeking more affordable real estate. While home prices in this manufacturing town have spiked since the pandemic, they still remain low. That's partly because the economically depressed Youngstown metro has a higher unemployment rate, at 7.5% in July.
Still, after months of getting knocked out of the market by bidding wars and rising prices, buyers who decided to wait on the sidelines have been coming back to this affordable market, attracted to the lower cost of living and higher quality of life.
"I've gotten two buyers in the last month from California and two buyers from Nashville," says Al Cerritelli, an agent with Howard Hanna Real Estate Services. "Last year, I had buyers from New York and New Jersey. They're definitely coming to our area so they don't have to put up with the craziness of big cities."
While the best deals in the metro area are found in the city limits, most house hunters have been looking to suburbs with good schools, such as Canfield, where it's possible to find nice properties for less than the median home price. They include this historic $129,000 two-bedroom house and this three-bedroom Cape Cod asking just $99,000.
Median home price: $139,900
Set on the Ohio River at the meeting point of West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky, Huntington is one of the largest river ports in the United States. Like the rest of the state, however, Huntington is losing residents—down more than 8% over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The region has struggled with mass unemployment and a large opioid epidemic, so more people have fled the area looking for more opportunities.
But Huntington does have its charms. Home to Marshall University, it boasts cultural offerings, including a beautiful performing arts center, galleries, and plenty of fun restaurants and bars. Its location in the western foothills of the Appalachians—just two hours from New River Gorge National Park—is one of the biggest draws.
With home prices starting well below $100,000, buyers can pick up properties in walkable locations. They include this $59,900 three-bedroom fixer-upper located near Ritter Park and Marshall University. For double the price—but still well below national numbers—it's possible to get into a fully redone one-bedroom high-rise condo asking $119,900.
Median home price: $142,500
In the 1990s, Saginaw was experiencing the same phenomenon as many of its Rust Belt counterparts: lots of blight. In the past 15 years, about 4,000 decrepit homes were demolished, which has helped to beautify the area.
With fewer homes and layoffs at major employers, including at the 100-year-old General Motors plant, the population is down about 4.6% over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means that folks looking to buy a home in the area have plenty of options to choose from.
Nice homes in the city can be purchased for less than $100,000, such as this four-bedroom house with a porch listed at $69,900 or this three-bedroom Cape Cod on the market for the same price. And for folks who prefer a quieter, more suburban way of life, it's even possible to buy in some of the fancier burbs nearby for a relative steal. This three-bedroom house in the coveted suburb of Frankenmuth, hailed across the country for its unique Bavarian-style architecture, is asking $199,900.
Median home price: $144,000
Located on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, Davenport is known for its lovely parks, green spaces, and community-centered feel. It regularly hosts events such as the Quad-City Times Bix 7, a race through downtown Davenport, and Alternating Currents, an arts festival for comedy and film aficionados. When there's not something special going on, the town offers residents plenty of craft breweries, local shops, and live-music venues.
Oh, yeah, and the real estate is very affordable. While Davenport itself has seen a slew of new residents, this metro area also includes nearby Moline, IL, which saw massive layoffs at the start of the pandemic. High taxes and cost of living in that state has also sent residents elsewhere looking for more opportunity.
In the moderately growing city of Davenport, folks can get into comfortable homes, such as this two-bedroom houseasking $89,900. There's also this five-bedroom duplex asking $170,000—the cost of a down payment in one of the pricey coastal cities.
Median home price: $145,000
Despite job opportunities in health care, education, and a Marine Corps base, like a lot of places on this list, the population in the city of Albany has decreased compared with a decade ago. Job cuts and high crime rates have sent people out of the city. But in the same metro area, just a few minutes away, neighboring Lee County has grown due to its similarly low cost of living, better schools, and lower crime rate.
"Basically Albany is a place where you work and shop and eat, then you go and live in Lee County," says Kyla Standring, a Realtor and owner of ERA All in One Realty. "You can be in Lee County in one minute and Dougherty [Albany] in the next."
Active and retired Marines as well as out-of-state investors have been snapping up Lee County properties in desirable school districts for less than half the U.S. median home price. Such properties include this three-bedroom home on an acre lot asking $168,500 and this three-bedroom ranch listed at $129,900.
Median home price: $159,900
Like the rest of the Lone Star State, this year, Wichita Falls house hunters have been feeling the pressure of rising prices and low inventory. Young families and first-time buyers have been especially feeling the heat when looking for a place below $300,000.
In spite of the housing hysteria, the area still boasts way more affordable housing than the rest of Texas: The median home price is about $125,000 less in Wichita Falls than the state average. The biggest employer here is the U.S. Air Force, but layoffs in the manufacturing sector have kept home prices relatively subdued.
Values and competition are up in even modest neighborhoods like Faith Village. But buyers can still find steals such as this three-bedroom house listed for $129,900 or this adorable two-bedroom home asking just $89,900.
Median home price: $175,000
Located in the Ozarks, this area has also been roiled by the opioid epidemic and high crime rates, which are part of the reason prices are so low. Still, folks from pricey parts of California, Arizona, and the Carolinas have been flocking here. Many of those new residents are retiring, seeking out a more affordable place to live out their golden years, and buying in cash so they don't have to pay a mortgage.
"Prices are a lot higher than they've been in a long time," says Audrey Sneed, an agent with Keller Williams Realty of SW Missouri. Still, new buyers coming into the area, especially ones used to big-city prices, are willing to pay up. "A lot of the out-of-state buyers are paying cash."
While cash might be king, even folks who need a mortgage can still find a nice first house for a steal. This nicely done three-bedroom house is listed for $119,900, while this three-bedroom ranch in nearby Webb City's desirable school district is asking $144,900. That's just in case the grandkids follow along.
Sara Ventiera is a journalist based in New York City and Los Angeles. She writes about food, travel, and real estate for Zagat, FoodNetwork.com, BBC Travel, and more.