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Cincinnati has just about everything you’d expect from a large American city: major professional sports teams, art museums, trendy breweries and unique local foods. But it also has something that most big cities don’t: an affordable housing market.
Buying a house in Cincinnati is much less expensive than it is in many other big cities. According to the Realtor Alliance of Greater Cincinnati (RAGC), the median home sale price here in July 2023 was $290,000 — about $120,000 less than the national median. If you’re thinking about buying a home in the Queen City, here’s what you should know.
Deciding where to live in Cincinnati
There are plenty of neighborhoods to put down roots in this riverfront city, including popular areas like Hyde Park, Mount Adams, Mount Lookout and Oakley. The Cincinnati Reds and the Bengals play right in Downtown, and historic Over-the-Rhine is full of pubs, restaurants and breweries.
When choosing which neighborhood is right for you, don’t forget to consider local conveniences (like shopping, dining and entertainment), commuting distance to your job and everyday expenses. The cost of living in Cincinnati is actually cheaper than in many other Midwestern hubs: 18.5 percent lower than Chicago and 6.74 percent lower than Detroit, for example, according to Bankrate’s cost of living calculator.
How to buy a house in Cincinnati
The market moves fast in Cincy these days — homes are selling in less than a week, per RAGC — so it’s wise to be as prepared as possible before diving in. Here are some crucial steps to take to make sure you’re ready.
Saving for a down payment in Cincinnati
Traditionally, the standard down payment is 20 percent of a home’s purchase price. On a median-priced $290,000 Cincinnati home, that would come out to $58,000. However, there are many options that don’t require as high a percentage. For example, qualified borrowers can get a conventional loan for as low as 3 percent, which is a much less daunting $8,700. FHA loans also allow for lower down payments, and if you’re a military service member or veteran, you could be eligible for a zero-down-payment VA loan. But keep in mind that if you put down less than 20 percent, you’ll likely have to pay a monthly premium for private mortgage insurance.
Get preapproved for a mortgage and find a lender
Getting preapproved for a mortgage is an important step to take before you start house-hunting. This will help you determine your budget, as you’ll know how much a lender would be willing to loan you, and it will also show sellers that you’re qualified and ready to buy a home. To apply for preapproval, you’ll need to send the lender your financial info, including bank statements, pay stubs and more.
When you’re ready to buy, you don’t have to officially take out a mortgage with the same lender that preapproved you. In fact, it’s best to shop around for the Ohio mortgage lenders who offer the best rates and loan terms that meet your needs. When you’ve narrowed down your list, you can compare offers to make sure that you’re getting the best deal.
Find the right local real estate agent
The Cincinnati housing market is competitive — Redfin data estimates that homes for sale here receive an average of three offers. When you’re navigating a tough market like this, it helps to have a knowledgeable local agent on your team. An agent will find properties that match your budget and needs, help you put together competitive offers and lead price negotiations with sellers.
To find the best real estate agent for you, start by asking your friends, family and neighbors for referrals. You can also look up online reviews. Interview several candidates to find someone you feel comfortable with.
Start house hunting and make an offer
With the help of your agent, now is the time to start searching for houses that fit your criteria. Think about what’s truly non-negotiable versus what you might be willing to do without. For instance, let’s say you find a fantastic home, but it’s missing the modern kitchen that you had your heart set on. Is that something you could tackle after you move in? In Cincinnati’s booming real estate market, you may need to make a few compromises.
When you’re ready to make an offer, your agent will lead you through the process. You’ll have to move fast, as homes in Cincinnati are selling so quickly, so let their expertise guide you.
Get a home inspection and appraisal
After you go into contract on a home, there’s still a bit more work to do before the deal officially closes. An important next step is scheduling a home inspection, which will uncover any problems that need to be dealt with, either immediately or at some point down the road. If any repairs are needed, you might ask the seller to pay for them, at least in part — they don’t necessarily have to agree, but such concessions are common.
Although an inspection isn’t a requirement, your mortgage lender will almost certainly require an appraisal of your new home. A professional, objective appraiser will assess the property, typically in person, to determine its value — so the lender can feel confident that they’re not lending you more money than the home is worth.
Requirements to buy a house in Cincinnati
Can I afford a house in Cincinnati?
Home prices are rising here — they’re up 7.4 percent year-over-year, per RAGC — but even so, the cost of buying a home in Cincinnati is surprisingly affordable. The city’s median home price of $290,000 is significantly lower than the national median. However, as in the rest of the country, inventory is tight and mortgage rates are high, which can make finding an affordable home more difficult.
According to Bankrate’s mortgage calculator, a 30-year loan for a median-priced $290,000 home with an interest rate of 6.8 percent would result in monthly principal and interest payments of $1,512. The home-affordability calculator can also help you crunch the numbers to determine how much house you can comfortably afford.
First-time homebuyers in Cincinnati
For many people, a house is the largest purchase they will ever make. If the prospect of saving up for a down payment and closing costs is daunting, financial assistance is available that can help cover those expenses. And if you’re buying a home for the first time, Ohio has first-time-buyer programs designed to help you specifically. These types of programs help lower the costs of buying a home by providing or helping you find grants, low-interest loans, deferred-payment loans and more.
Before you can officially get the keys to your new home, you’ll need to go through the closing process. At the closing table, you’ll sign a number of documents pertaining to your mortgage and the transfer of ownership from the seller to you.
The other major responsibility you have on closing day, of course, is paying the various fees and expenses you owe as part of the deal — better known as closing costs. In Ohio, closing costs for buyers are typically mortgage-related, and they can include fees for title search and insurance as well.
No — quite the opposite. According to the Realtor Association of Greater Cincinnati, home prices rose 7.4 percent between July 2022 and July 2023. Redfin data shows an even higher increase of 10.9 percent in the same time frame.
No. Housing is in short supply in Cincinnati, as it is in much of the rest of the country, which means the city is a seller’s market with demand outpacing supply. But even though sellers might have an advantage, the market is still more affordable for buyers than many other major cities.