Take a look at our deep dive into determining the most and least affordable cities for homebuyers in the U.S.
A common part of the American Dream for many Americans is being able to purchase a home. While the aspiration of home ownership is widespread across the nation, the affordability of homes varies widely from small midwestern towns to big coastal cities. In this study, AdvisorSmith takes a deeper look into the most and least affordable housing markets for American homebuyers. In this study, we examined home price data from Zillow and household income and home configuration data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
This study examined data at the metropolitan statistical area level for 507 cities. To determine the affordability of home purchases, we used average home price data for each city for homes with one to five bedrooms. We used census data to determine the distribution of households in homes of different sizes for each city and combined this data with the home price data to create a weighted average housing price for each city.
Additionally, our study considered the purchasing power available to households as measured by median household income. This factor for each city provides insight into the ability of home buyers to earn income that will allow them to afford their homes. Our study calculated the price-to-income ratio, which is the average cost of a home as a multiple of the median household income in a city.
The price-to-income ratios in this study ranged from as low as 1.5 in the nation’s most affordable city, Danville, Illinois, up to as high as 9.7 in San Francisco, California, the nation’s most expensive city. Nationwide, the average price-to-income ratio was 4.0. The top five least affordable cities were all in California, with San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, and Los Angeles leading the way. The most affordable homes were mainly found in small midwestern cities.
Most Affordable Cities for Homebuyers by City Size
AdvisorSmith examined the most affordable cities in the country for homebuyers segmented by city size. We segmented the cities into small (population less than 150,000), midsize (population 150,000 to 500,000), and large (population above 500,000) cities to provide a comparison of cities with more similar characteristics.
Top 3 Most Affordable Cities for Homebuyers
1. Danville, IL
Danville, Illinois is a small city located in eastern Illinois near the Indiana border. Historically, Danville was a major industrial city and coal town. President Abraham Lincoln also practiced law in the city for 18 years, so there are many historical sites in the city related to Lincoln that tourists can visit.
Danville’s median household income is $43,655, but the weighted average home price is just $67,527. The city is the nation’s most affordable city for homebuyers with a price-to-income ratio of only 1.5.
2. Pottsville, PA
Located in Pennsylvania’s Coal Region, Pottsville is a small city that sits along the banks of the Schuylkill River in eastern Pennsylvania. The city is known as the home of the Yuengling beer brewery, which is the oldest brewery in America and the second-largest American-owned brewer.
The median household income in Pottsville is $48,458, while the weighted average home price is $78,454, leading to a price-to-income ratio of just 1.6. This makes Pottsville the second most affordable city in the nation for homebuyers.
3. Johnstown, PA
Johnstown, Pennsylvania is a small city in Pennsylvania located just east of Pittsburgh. Early in the city’s history, the city served as a port along the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal. Later, the city became a railroad stop on the Pennsylvania Railroad and went through a period of industrial revolution, as the city produced coal, steel, and iron. In 1889, a major flood hit the city, bursting a dam upstream of the city, killing thousands of residents, which led to major changes in liability laws in the United States.
Today, households in Johnstown earn a median income of $45,084, and the average home price is $74,083. The price-to-income ratio for homes in the city is only 1.6, making Johnstown the 3rd most affordable city in the country.
Least Affordable Cities for Homebuyers by City Size
In addition to the most affordable cities, we also found the least affordable cities in the country by city size.
Top 3 Least Affordable Cities for Homebuyers
1. San Francisco, CA
As one of the most prominent cities on the West Coast, San Francisco is a major world city located in Northern California. The city is known for its dense fog, steep hills, cable cars, and the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco is home to many major technology businesses, such as Salesforce and Uber, and also hosts a large financial services sector.
San Francisco was the nation’s least affordable city for home buyers, with the average home costing 9.7 times the median household income. While household incomes were $107,898, far above the national average, weighted average home prices were over $1 million, at $1,047,516.
2. Santa Cruz, CA
Located on the northern side of Monterey Bay on the Pacific Ocean, Santa Cruz is a midsize city just south of the San Francisco Bay Area. Besides hosting the University of California, Santa Cruz, a major research university, the city has a substantial organic agriculture economy, along with high-technology businesses and outdoor recreation tourism.
The median household income in Santa Cruz was $86,941, while the weighted average home price was $834,681, leading to a price-to-income ratio of 9.6, placing Santa Cruz as the second most expensive city for homebuyers in the nation.
3. San Jose, CA
Located along the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay is San Jose, another major city in the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Jose metro area is considered by many to be the global center of the high-tech industry, sometimes called Silicon Valley. Major global technology companies such as Cisco, eBay, Paypal, and Zoom are headquartered in San Jose. The city hosts San Jose State University, and other nearby universities include Santa Clara University and Stanford University.
San Jose had the highest median household income in the nation, with households earning $124,696. However, the city also had the nation’s highest weighted average home prices, with the average cost coming in at $1,117,917. Potential homebuyers in San Jose faced price-to-income ratios of 9.0, making it the third most expensive city for homebuyers in the United States.
Top 50 Most Affordable Cities for Homebuyers
Ranked below are the 50 most affordable cities for homebuyers, along with data on each city’s weighted average home price, median household income, and the price-to-income ratio. To qualify for the top 50 most affordable cities for homebuyers, the price-to-income ratio for homes was 2.27 or less, meaning that the average house costs 2.27 times the median household income or less in the city.
The vast majority of the most affordable cities were small cities, with 39 of the top 50 being small cities, while only two large cities made the top 50: Youngstown, Ohio (#20), and Scranton, Pennsylvania (#45). Over two-thirds of the most affordable cities were located in the Midwest.
|Rank||City||City Size||Weighted Home Price||Median Household Income||Price-to-Income Ratio|
|9||Roanoke Rapids, NC||Small||$67,981||$37,027||1.8|
|17||Wichita Falls, TX||Midsize||$100,127||$50,309||2.0|
|23||Terre Haute, IN||Midsize||$102,769||$50,256||2.0|
|39||Wisconsin Rapids, WI||Small||$121,241||$55,273||2.2|
|40||New Castle, PA||Small||$105,119||$47,853||2.2|
|44||St. Joseph, MO||Small||$120,119||$53,321||2.3|
|49||Pine Bluff, AR||Small||$84,649||$37,314||2.3|
|50||Sioux City, IA||Midsize||$139,753||$61,576||2.3|
Top 50 Least Affordable Cities for Homebuyers
In the table below, our study ranks the top 50 least affordable cities for homebuyers in the United States. The data below includes each city’s weighted average home price, the median household income, as well as the price-to-income ratio. Cities that had a price-to-income ratio above 5.5 were included in the top 50 least affordable cities. This ratio indicates that the average house costs 5.5 times the median household income in the city.
Over one-third (18 out of 50) of the most unaffordable cities in the nation were located in California, and the state also dominated the top ten, taking the top five positions, as well as seven of the top ten positions. San Francisco was the nation’s most unaffordable city, with a price-to-income ratio of 9.7, and other major cities in California were also among the most unaffordable, including San Jose (#3), Los Angeles (#5), and San Diego (#16). Western states also represented 38 of the 50 least affordable cities in the country.
|Rank||City||City Size||Weighted Home Price||Median Household Income||Price-to-Income Ratio|
|1||San Francisco, CA||Large||$1,047,516||$107,898||9.7|
|2||Santa Cruz, CA||Midsize||$834,681||$86,941||9.6|
|3||San Jose, CA||Large||$1,117,917||$124,696||9.0|
|4||San Luis Obispo, CA||Midsize||$618,496||$71,148||8.7|
|5||Los Angeles, CA||Large||$627,705||$72,563||8.7|
|6||Glenwood Springs, CO||Small||$650,182||$76,184||8.5|
|7||Key West, FL||Small||$611,195||$71,973||8.5|
|10||Santa Maria, CA||Midsize||$644,601||$77,472||8.3|
|14||Santa Rosa, CA||Midsize||$619,824||$81,395||7.6|
|16||San Diego, CA||Large||$563,982||$79,079||7.1|
|21||Oak Harbor, WA||Small||$431,068||$64,793||6.7|
|22||Barnstable Town, MA||Midsize||$455,945||$68,902||6.6|
|27||Ocean City, NJ||Small||$433,015||$67,007||6.5|
|28||Coeur d'Alene, ID||Midsize||$346,184||$55,236||6.3|
|29||Santa Fe, NM||Midsize||$376,690||$60,193||6.3|
|30||Grants Pass, OR||Small||$298,092||$48,315||6.2|
|37||St. George, UT||Midsize||$322,855||$56,333||5.7|
|38||Show Low, AZ||Small||$231,103||$40,463||5.7|
|40||Fort Collins, CO||Midsize||$404,094||$71,091||5.7|
|45||Hilton Head Island, SC||Midsize||$355,304||$63,723||5.6|
|46||Carson City, NV||Small||$312,375||$56,160||5.6|
|49||New York, NY||Large||$434,012||$78,478||5.5|
This study examined housing price data from Zillow’s Home Value Index, as well as household income, household composition, and population data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Data was collected at the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) level, which we call “cities” in this study. Data from Zillow was current as of the end of Q2 2020, while data from the American Community Survey was from the survey’s 2018 data release.
For each city in the study, we determined the number of households (including both households that rent or own their residences) living in 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-plus bedroom residences. For simplicity, 0-bedroom residences were considered 1-bedroom residences and included in the 1-bedroom total. For each city, we determined the percentage of households living in each of the five possible configurations.
From the Zillow Home Value Index data, we determined the average cost of 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-plus bedroom homes in each city. To calculate the average weighted home price for each city, we multiplied the percentage of households living in 1-bedroom homes by the average price for 1-bedroom homes in the city and did the same for 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-plus bedrooms. We summed together these 5-bedroom configurations to calculate the average weighted home price for each city.
To determine housing affordability, we used median household income data from the American Community Survey for each city. We divided the weighted average home price for each city by the city’s median household income to calculate the price-to-income ratio for each city. The higher this ratio, the less affordable a city is for homebuyers.
We divided the cities into three size categories: small, midsize, and large based on the population of the city, with small cities having populations under 150,000, midsize cities having populations from 150,000 to 500,000, and large cities having populations over 500,000. We then ranked the cities by size and affordability to determine the most and least affordable cities of small, midsize, and large sizes.
1. Zillow Home Value Index (Data Provided by Zillow Group)
2. U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey