Homebuyers are always looking for a deal. That’s nothing new. But a true bargain today is scarcer and more valuable than ever, as buyers and sellers both feel the viselike squeeze of a tightening housing market.
Soaring mortgage rates have pushed monthly housing payments up hundreds or even thousands of dollars for homebuyers. That’s straining budgets that would have worked fine just a few months ago. The result is a quickly cooling real estate business, with buyers largely pulling back from purchases and sellers forced to drop prices to meet the new reality—or to just skip the market altogether.
But here’s the thing: This slump isn’t happening everywhere. In fact, some cities still have humming home markets, with low prices that insulate, to some extent, against the effects of rising mortgage rates. So the Realtor.com® data team found them: the cities where buyers can find the most affordable homes in America, right now.
These are generally smaller metropolitan areas in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, and the South, many of which have gone through economic challenges in recent years. Prices in these places have historically been lower than the rest of the country—and they didn’t go through the dramatic COVID-19 price pumps of the past couple of years seen by red-hot markets such as Phoenix, Boston, and Denver. Many are state capitals and former manufacturing powerhouses in the Rust Belt that saw population shifts as plants closed and jobs migrated overseas.
They may not all be thriving tech centers or America’s most fashionable metros, but they all have plenty of surprisingly nice homes that are seriously well-priced. All had median price tags that were significantly less than the $427,250 median national home price in September.
Sorry—you won’t find any areas in California, or the entire western half of the U.S., on this list. Home prices there remain too (damn) high.
To come up with our findings, we dug into our listing data in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, compiled at the beginning of October, to see which had the lowest median home price per square foot. We used price per square foot instead of the overall price to account for seasonal trends as well as the different sizes of homes around the country.
Metros include the main city and surrounding towns, suburbs, and smaller urban areas. We included only one metro area per state to ensure geographical diversity.
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Median home list price per square foot: $95
Median home list price: $149,900
Youngstown, about halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh on the Ohio side of the state line, is the cheapest metropolitan area in the nation. This is in the heart of the Rust Belt, and like other boomtowns of the 19th and early 20th-century steel industry, it saw population declines starting in the 1970s. With more homes than buyers for them, prices fell.
The city has a low cost of living, something Al Cerritelli, an agent with Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in the Youngstown suburb of Poland, says has become a self-perpetuating fact of life in upper Appalachia. That’s appealing to folks moving in from other higher-priced parts of the country looking for bargains.
“People who come in from out of state, they talk about people being so nice here, how there’s not a lot of traffic, the cost of living is so affordable,” Cerritelli says.
Things have slowed down in the past several weeks, as interest rates have hit new highs, Cerritelli says. But when he sends new listings to home shoppers, they’re opening his emails and clicking through to the properties.
Prices in Youngstown have come down a little over the past several months, dropping a little more than 2% since hitting a high in August. And prices are still up year over year by around 12%.
Cerritelli says he thinks costs had been artificially low before the pandemic, but with remote workers looking for cheaper places to live and work from home, prices were pushed up.
“We had a lot of value that was not being perceived,” he says. “Then over the past two years, we saw some bidding wars, buyers walking in and elbowing each other to the side to get a contract going.”
Median home list price per square foot: $124
Median home list price: $225,000
Scranton, about 2.5 hours north of Philadelphia, may be best known as the home of the fictitious Dunder Mifflin paper company from “The Office” and is the real-life hometown of President Joe Biden. It’s also one of the most affordable ski towns in America.
The city has a rich history, as it was a coal industry center in the mid-19th century and was even dubbed the “Electric City” in the 1880s, after becoming one of the first with electric lighting and then electric streetcars. The population declined in the late 20th century, like in many industrial-era boomtowns. Now the city is home to five colleges and universities, and a vibrant downtown.
The home prices in Scranton are low even after steady increases over the past year. Prices per square foot climbed 20% year over year, outpacing the national market’s 12% year-over-year increase. It’s 1 of 4 metropolitan areas on this list bucking the recent trend of prices falling a little.
For just under $225,000, you can get a large, three-bedroom home, built in the 1940s, with an updated kitchen.
Median home list price per square foot: $130
Median home list price: $217,250
Syracuse, a college town in Central New York, was recently named one of the best places for middle-class homebuyers by Realtor.com thanks to its low price tag.
But buyers on a budget may want to turbocharge their searches as prices are on the rise. They jumped about 10% year over year.
The number of homes for sale in Syracuse is the lowest of any metropolitan area on the list. However, despite the housing shortage, homes are sitting on the market a little longer than the national average, selling in anywhere from 47 to 60 days over the past four months, according to Realtor.com data.
Right now, buyers can get a three-bedroom, brick ranch in a cul-de-sac in Syracuse’s historic Washington Park neighborhood near the center of town, just a five-minute drive from the Onondaga Lake shore, for $220,000.
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Median home list price per square foot: $134
Median home list price: $304,475
Wichita is known as the “Air Capital of the World,” attracting aviation enthusiasts from around the world. The area is a high-tech manufacturing hub that is home to companies like Beechcraft, Cessna, Learjet, and Boeing’s Stearman Aircraft. However, it still offers residents a low-cost, high quality of life—along with some fantastic barbecue.
Wichita is also credited as one of the birthplaces of the American desegregation movement, marked by a sit-in at the Dockum Drug Store in 1958.
Home list prices in Wichita have increased the most of any city on the list, rising 24% in the past year. And the Wichita market has so far completely avoided the downturn seen in other U.S. metropolitan areas, instead hitting a yearlong high in September.
Buyers searching for deals can check out this three-bedroom, two-bathroom house spanning 2,500 square feet on nearly a third of an acre for $180,000. Or they can look at this three-bedroom, two-bedroom ranch for $265,000.
Median home list price per square foot: $138
Median home list price: $299,000
Jackson, the birthplace of country singer LeAnn Rimes, has been in the news lately due to its toxic drinking water. The crisis appears to be affecting the real estate market.
Home inventories have climbed as sellers have rushed to list their homes. There are now about 50% more homes for sale than this time last year.
However, the drinking water hasn’t hurt home prices—at least not yet. Jackson is one of the four metro areas on this list where the current price is still the highest it’s been in the past year. Prices here have fluctuated a little each month, rising about 17% year over year per square foot.
The city has historically been a flashpoint in the struggle for civil rights, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just announced a civil rights investigation into the current water crisis, after formal complaints argued that the current situation is the continuation of systemic neglect of infrastructure needs in the heavily Black urban center of the Jackson metropolitan area.
Median home list price per square foot: $141
Median home list price: $298,873
Buyers can also look toward the capital of Arkansas to find affordable homes, even though prices are rising. The city was recently named one of the best for middle-class buyers thanks to its low cost of living and massive revitalization of its historic downtown.
The price per square foot is up about 15%, and homes in Little Rock are still selling quickly.
For around $300,000, a buyer in Little Rock can afford a one-bedroom condo with floor-to-ceiling windows and a patio overlooking the Arkansas River and the downtown River Market District. The same price will also get a large, four-bedroom home on a big lot in the wooded suburbs farther from downtown.
Median home list price per square foot: $144
Median home list price: $300,000
Indianapolis, best known as the home of the Indy 500, has frequently been included in the most affordable cities lists. Buyers in the state capital can find some of the cheapest mansions in the nation.
Prices in Indianapolis were up 11% year over year. However, they did dip a little, by about 2%, from the high in May.
Buyers can find snag a recently remodeled three-bedroom, one-bathroom house for about $150,000. They can also schedule a showing for this 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house for $250,000. (You’d better hurry.)
Median home list price per square foot: $144
Median home list price: $270,000
Some of the best deals today can be found in McAllen, a city of around 150,000 situated right on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley about an hour’s drive from the Gulf Coast.
Visitors travel to the city to see its nearly 550 species of birds and 300-plus species of butterflies. It’s also a regional shopping mecca for those on both sides of the border.
Home prices in this trade-port city have defied the housing market’s recent price downturn. They have been steadily rising since this time last year.
This three-bedroom, brick starter home that could be rented out is on the market for $205,000. Those with a bit more expendable income can check out this newly constructed three-bedroom house with a big backyard for $285,000.
Median home list price per square foot: $146
Median home list price: $308,900
Columbia is yet another state capital as well as a college town, home to the University of South Carolina. (Go Gamecocks!) It’s become more popular with out-of-state buyers during the pandemic who were looking for places with more affordable prices, low taxes, and warmer weather.
Of all the metropolitan areas on the list, home prices in Columbia have seen the biggest price slump in recent months, falling almost 5% since prices peaked here in June. Still, prices are more than 10% above where they were this time last year.
For around $310,000, buyers in Columbia can get an 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom home in a suburb just a few minutes north of downtown.
Median home list price per square foot: $150
Median home list price: $311,575
Only about an hour southwest of Columbia, Augusta is best known as the site of the elite Masters Golf Tournament every April. It’s also a medical, tech, and military hub. The city is host to Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia, the state’s sole public medical school, as well as Fort Gordon Army Base, an Army cybersecurity and electronic warfare training center.
The university and military base normally keep the real estate market humming, says Katerra Godbee, a Realtor with Realty One Group Visionaries.
“We see a lot of people who relocate here for work or for school,” Godbee says. Many leave and then return later to stay permanently. Plenty are drawn in by the baked-in Southern charm.
“People are very friendly,” she says. “It still has a small-town feel, and you can get a home on bigger lots.”
Buyers typically can get homes on a half- or full acre. That was very appealing during the height of the pandemic when everyone wanted more space.
“Because of our low cost of living, we had a lot of people permanently relocating here, from California, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, all over really,” Godbee says. “They came here and were able to buy with cash.”
Inventory in Augusta has grown the most this year of any of the metros on this list, increasing by a factor of nearly 2.5. And housing supply has continued to rise in recent months.
Despite the low prices, however, Augusta buyers haven’t been immune to the higher mortgage rates.
“At the beginning of the year, maybe they were looking at homes at the $300,000 mark, but now they’re at $250,000,” Godbee says.