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We all know that buying a home is expensive. And it’s getting more so: In August 2022, the median U.S. existing-home sales price rose 7.7 percent from one year ago to $389,500, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
What’s more, in the last 20 years, wages have not kept pace with home prices. The median household income only increased by $6,005 from $64,779 in 2001 to $70,784 in 2021, and median home sale prices increased by $252,500 in that same time frame, according to data from the St. Louis Fed.
But all housing markets are not created equal: Some are more economical than others. If you can relocate, or if your job lets you work remotely, it’s worth considering an area where homeownership is more affordable.
To that end, here are the 10 cheapest cities in the country to buy a home, based on data from Realtor.com, listed in order of median home listing price. For each, we’ve also included median down payments (based on the standard 20 percent required by most conventional lenders) and median income in the town.
Of course, there are tradeoffs: Housing is just one factor that makes up an area’s cost of living. You’ll need to consider food, utilities, transportation — car ownership is a necessity in most of these burgs — and medical costs as well. Also, many of these cities historically were heavy manufacturing centers. So many have reflect a recovering-from-Rust-Belt-blues local economy — and some of the ramifications of that, such as a shrinking population and a higher-than-average per capita crime rate (though this can vary greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood).
That said, each city also offers plenty of advantages, beyond its supply of affordable housing.
1. Youngstown, Ohio
- Median Listing Price: $115,000
- Median Down Payment: $23,000
- Median Income: $30,129
Youngstown is located near the Pennsylvania border, halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, so the bright lights of the big cities are easy to get to. While still home to the steel and metalworking industries that put it on the map in the early 1800s, its downtown now houses start-up high-technology companies and the 4,800-seat Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater. Youngstown has several highly rated public schools, according to the educational research site Great!Schools. The community is very tight-knit and enjoys several nearby wineries and access to nature trails, including those of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
2. Saginaw, Michigan
- Median Listing Price: $129,900
- Median Down Payment: $25,980
- Median Income: $30,845
A quintessential Rust Belt river town, Saginaw was built in the 1800s on lumber and, later, on automobiles — like so much of Michigan. It remains an agricultural and manufacturing center, though the economy’s emphasis has shifted somewhat to newer technologies, like photovoltaic technology research and production. Saginaw offers many outdoor activities within minutes, with several popular hunting areas, hiking trails and wildlife refuges a short drive away.
3. Peoria, Illinois
- Median Listing Price: $139,900
- Median Down Payment: $27,980
- Median Income: $55,729
Peoria is a moderately sized city — population just over 100,000 — situated on the Illinois River in the central part of the state. The general cost of living is low here, even if property taxes are high (Illinois state-wide has the second-highest property taxes in the U.S.). This city features more amenities than you would expect of one of its size: a zoo, several museums (including a children’s museum), a minor league baseball team and a lively dining/nightlife scene. And it believes in preparedness, recently putting levees in place to deal with flooding from increasingly severe and frequent Midwestern rainstorms.
4. Terre Haute, Indiana
- Median Listing Price: $139,900
- Median Down Payment: $27,980
- Median Income: $37,299
Located along I-70, about 80 minutes outside of Indianapolis, Terre Haute is one of the smaller cities on our list, with the Census Bureau estimating a population of 58,525 people. Home to Indiana State University, it’s a college town, so there’s a young, intellectually vibrant atmosphere (though ironically, only 23 percent of the local population has a bachelor’s degree or higher). According to Great!Schools, the public primary and secondary schools rank slightly above average.
5. Erie, Pennsylvania
- Median Listing Price: $159,900
- Median Down Payment: $31,980
- Median Income: $38,655
Erie is the fifth-largest city in Pennsylvania. It’s another historic Rust Belt town, seeking to maintain its manufacturing roots while also shifting to service sectors like insurance and healthcare. As befits a maritime center, located on the shore of Lake Erie, many of its attractions are aquatic, including several water parks, Presque Isle State Park, a maritime museum and a historic lighthouse.
6. Charleston, West Virginia
- Median Listing Price: $165,000
- Median Down Payment: $33,000
- Median Income: $49,769
On the banks of the Kanawha River, Charleston has the highest percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher of any city on our list, at 41.6 percent — small wonder, as it’s home to the University of Charleston. The town also houses West Virginia’s State Capitol building and governor’s mansion. Charleston may be the cheapest city in the country that has such close access to world-class whitewater rafting and rock climbing opportunities at the nearby New River Gorge.
7. Utica, New York
- Median Listing Price: $169,900
- Median Down Payment: $33,980
- Median Income: $42,624
Located on the Mohawk River at the foot of the Adirondacks, Utica is one of the Big Five New York cities on the Erie Canal. Once a major textile manufacturing town, it’s now home to arts and crafts enterprises, farm-to-table restaurants and breweries (all of which are celebrated in several festivals throughout the year). It has much lower home-sale prices than other parts of upstate New York, including nearby Albany (though it cannot escape the Empire State’s relatively high combination of income, property and sales taxes).
8. Topeka, Kansas
- Median Listing Price: $175,000
- Median Down Payment: $35,000
- Median Income: $49,647
Only about an hour from Kansas City, Topeka has impressively low poverty and crime rates. It has several schools rated above average, according to Great!Schools. The state capital, it’s also the host of major companies like AT&T , Goodyear and Mars, the candy company. There are museums devoted to the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education (which originated here) and Evel Knievel, and plenty of recreational parks, lakes and gardens.
9. Davenport, Iowa
- Median Listing Price: $185,000
- Median Down Payment: $37,000
- Median Income: $53,140
Davenport is one of the “quad-cities” along the Mississippi River (the others are Bettendorf, Iowa; Moline, Illinois; and Rock Island, Illinois). The quad cities are home to several universities, including Palmer College, one of the leading chiropractic schools in the country. Davenport has one of the lowest poverty rates of any city on this list, at 15.9 percent. Its citizens love to take to the streets, enjoying the many music festivals, street fairs and parades held throughout the year.
10. Macon, Georgia
- Median Listing Price: $189,900
- Median Down Payment: $37,980
- Median Income: $41,317
Located about 90 miles southeast of Atlanta, Macon has much lower housing costs than that metropolis and an ample supply of new construction. It’s also full of rich 19th-century history, in the shape of well-preserved antebellum architecture and local museums. Along with tourism, manufacturing, aeronautics and medical services drive Macon’s economy, with farming in the surrounding county. The public schools rank above average, according to Great!Schools.
Other cheap housing options
While moving to a cheaper city may save you on housing costs, switching up your search to different types of homes can also make your first home purchase more affordable. A detached, single-family home may be the most traditional option, but thinking outside the box can save you significant money and give you the residence of your dreams in the process.
- Manufactured homes: Manufactured homes (formerly known as mobile homes) have increased in quality significantly over the last few decades. The average sale price of one is $128,000, 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.
- 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: $4,000 on the low end and $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.
- Community 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 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.
- Prefab/modular homes: If you’re considering building a home, these options can be a cheaper, faster way to go. In contrast to the traditional stick-built on-site 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. Prefab homes cost an average of $240,000 to build, according to HomeAdvisor; modular homes can be as low as $180,000 — not counting the cost of buying the land or lot.