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Buying a home is always a major expense. But recently, with inflation, rising mortgage rates and prices increasing higher than wages, that expense has become greater, pushing homeownership out of reach for many people.
However, not all housing markets are created equal. Your housing dollar will go a lot further in some locations than others. If you are able to relocate or work remotely, it’s worth considering a move to an area where homeownership is more affordable. Let’s take a deeper look at the housing market, and cheap housing in particular. What are the most affordable places to live in the U.S. in 2023?
Key housing market data
In the past 20 years, wages have not kept pace with home prices. The median household income increased by only $6,005 between 2001 and 2021, from $64,779 to $70,784, and median home sale prices increased by more than $250,000 in that same time frame, according to data from the St. Louis Fed.
Comparing the data from 2013 to the most current numbers available makes it easy to see why homebuyers are feeling the pinch:
|Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Freddie Mac, St. Louis Fed and Bankrate. 2023 numbers reflect the most recent data available.|
|Median household income||$52,250||$70,784||+$18,534 (+35.47%)|
|Median home price||$266,000||$467,700||+$201,700 (+75.83%)|
|Average 30-year fixed mortgage rate||3.98%||6.66% (as of February 13, 2023)||+2.68|
Home prices have risen at more than double the rate of income. On top of that, current interest rates are significantly higher than they were in 2013. So, not only will homebuyers likely need to borrow more, borrowing will cost them more. It makes perfect sense, then, that the country’s most affordable housing markets are seeing growth.
Cheapest housing markets in the U.S.
A lot of factors go into whether a city is right for you. Cost is certainly a major component, but so is opportunity. “It’s important to compare the cost of living to the quality of life that the area and community provides,” says Aaron Robbins, an executive broker with Realty Executives of Hickory in Hickory, North Carolina. He adds that, while cheap housing costs have their place in the equation, “so do the local wages, the amenities nearby and the tax rates.”
This list represents the 10 cheapest cities in the U.S. to buy a house in, per a Realtor.com study from the fourth quarter of 2022. Beyond just low listing prices, each city has its own individual personality and culture. If you’re looking for an affordable place to call home, look no further.
1. Youngstown, OH
- Median list price: $149,900
- Median down payment: $29,980
- Median household income: $31,020
Topping the list is Youngstown, which sits close to the Ohio/Pennsylvania border, about halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. While it has a history of steel production, the city’s downtown now houses start-up tech companies and the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater, which hosts big-name concerts, festivals and more. The community enjoys both art and science museums and easy access to state parks, bicycle paths and nature trails.
2. Syracuse, NY
- Median list price: $217,250
- Median down payment: $43,450
- Median household income: $40,076
Located near the center of New York state, Syracuse is just south of Lake Ontario and adjacent to the Finger Lakes region, famous for its natural beauty and its many wineries. As the home of Syracuse University, with more than 20,000 students, it’s also very much a college town. SU athletics are popular, and the city boasts a thriving art scene too, with several museums, galleries and live music festivals as well.
3. Scranton, PA
- Median list price: $225,000
- Median down payment: $45,000
- Median household income: $54,279
Scranton — notably the home of fictional TV series “The Office” and real-life president Joe Biden — is located in northeastern Pennsylvania. While it was a heavy coal-producing town in the early 20th century, the city is currently going through a major restoration, with many historic buildings being redeveloped, and Census numbers show the population is growing. The city’s Montage Mountain ski resort is popular for winter sports, while also offering year-round fun with outdoor festivals and big-name concerts.
4. McAllen, TX
- Median list price: $270,000
- Median down payment: $54,000
- Median household income: $57,359
McAllen is a city of 142,210 at the southern tip of Texas, just over the border from Reynosa, Mexico and not far from the Gulf Coast. While originally an agricultural area, the past few decades has seen it grow into a thriving city with a growing economy. In addition, McAllen consistently ranks as one of the safest cities in Texas.
5. Little Rock, AR
- Median list price: $298,873
- Median down payment: $59,775
- Median household income: $53,565
Situated on the Arkansas River, Little Rock is the state’s capital and its most populous city. It’s an economic hub of the South, with Simmons Bank, Bank of the Ozarks and the financial brokerage Stephens Inc. all headquartered there. The city is also home to a University of Arkansas campus, the Wildwood Park for the Arts and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.
6. Jackson, MS
- Median list price: $299,000
- Median down payment: $59,800
- Median household income: $35,070
The state capital of Mississippi, Jackson is set along the Pearl River, which runs south into the Gulf of Mexico — a location that has helped make it an economic center. It’s also a center of American history, as the home of the HBCU Jackson State University, the Mississippi Freedom Trail, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and more.
7. Indianapolis, IN
- Median list price: $300,000
- Median down payment: $60,000
- Median household income: $58,479
In central Indiana sits the capital city of Indianapolis. The metro area boasts a population of nearly a million, making it the most populated city on our list and third in the entire Midwest, behind only Chicago and Columbus, Ohio. Indianapolis has a lot going on: It’s home to multiple Fortune 500 companies, museums and universities, two major league sports teams — the Colts and the Pacers — and of course the famous Indy 500. The city has seen steady population growth in recent decades, and with all it has on offer combined with its affordability, it’s easy to see why.
8. Wichita, KS
- Median list price: $304,475
- Median down payment: $60,895
- Median household income: $56,293
Wichita is the largest city in Kansas. The Arkansas River and the Little Arkansas River converge at the city’s center, which sets the stage for many attractions, including the gorgeous Botanica gardens, the Wichita Art Museum and the Keeper of the Plains, an imposing 44-foot statue created by Native American Blackbear Bosin. The city hosts several events in the summer, with many venues for live music.
9. Columbia, SC
- Median list price: $308,900
- Median down payment: $61,780
- Median household income: $47,524
Columbia is the capital of South Carolina and the second most populated city in the state, behind Charleston. It is about halfway between Charleston and Charlotte and home to more than 10 colleges and universities, including the University of South Carolina. One of the city’s most prominent draws is the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and welcomes a million visitors every year.
10. Augusta, GA
- Median list price: $311,575
- Median down payment: $62,315
- Median household income: $43,009
Augusta is famous all over the world, not for its affordable housing prices but for golf — specifically the Masters, one of the biggest professional golf championships, played each year at the Augusta National Golf Club. The city itself sits on the banks of the Savannah River in eastern Georgia, right along the South Carolina border. Non-golfers can enjoy the Augusta Riverwalk and Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, which offers several multiuse trails to hike and bike amongst wildlife.
We developed our list of the 10 cheapest cities in the country to buy a home based on data from Realtor.com. Cities are ranked in order of median list price. For each city, we’ve also included median down payments (based on the standard 20 percent required by most conventional lenders) and median household income (based on Census Bureau data).
Other affordable housing options
If you can’t afford your dream house just yet, your most obvious choice may be to continue renting. There is government-sponsored help available in the form of federal rental assistance, which helps 10 million people (in 5 million households) afford housing. These programs include Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance and public housing.
Set on homeownership? While moving to a cheaper city may save on housing costs, there are many options beyond the traditional single-family home that can help you set down roots for less:
- Attached properties: If a detached single-family home isn’t within your budget, a condo or townhouse might be. With this sort of multi-family property, you own the unit itself, but typically share the costs of common areas within the building or community. Condos and townhouses also usually require significantly less maintenance, which can save you money if you aren’t particularly handy or don’t want to spend time mowing your lawn.
- Manufactured homes: Manufactured homes have increased in quality significantly over the last few decades. They averaged $108,100 in 2021, according to data from the Census Bureau, and they can be placed almost anywhere: You can buy your own land or rent a lot in a manufactured-home community.
- Prefab/modular homes: If you’re considering building a house, these options can be a cheaper, faster way to go. In contrast to traditional stick-built residences, with these houses, there’s some level of construction that takes place offsite. Then, either major components (in prefab homes) or entire sections (in modular homes) are trucked to the lot for assembly. Building a modular home costs an average of $270,000, according to HomeAdvisor — not counting the cost of buying the land.
- Tiny homes: Tiny homes are extremely small residences — typically 400 square feet or less — and since size does matter, they cost significantly less to purchase, ranging up to $180,000 on the high end. You can purchase land to put them on, erect them on a friend or relative’s land, or rent a small part of someone’s property.
The cost of your homeowners insurance depends on various factors, including your location, home value, home size and previous insurance claim history. That said, some companies offer better deals than others. Compare rates for the cheapest homeowners insurance using Bankrate’s table.
One way to keep homebuilding cheap is by completing as much of the work as possible yourself. Taking construction classes at your local community college or even trying to get a job in the industry can help you learn and gain experience. However, since safety is crucial and building codes are complicated, you might want to hire a general contractor to oversee your homebuilding efforts. You could also consider building a prefab or modular home, which tends to be cheaper than traditional custom building.
Finding a cheap home for sale takes a lot of research and patience. You’ll want to get started by narrowing down the areas of the country you’re willing to move to, then the cities, then the neighborhoods. Focus on fixer-uppers, foreclosed homes and HUD homes in the area you want, as they’ll likely have the cheapest price tags. And enlist the services of a local real estate agent, who will know the market well and be able to find opportunities that you might not.
Housing prices tend to vary drastically from market to market, even within the same state. That said, the cheapest states to buy real estate in are often those experiencing economic or population declines. Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana all have markets with affordable housing, as do many Southern states, like Alabama and Mississippi. In contrast, California is one of the most expensive places to buy a home in the U.S.