Pittsburgh skyline
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A group larger than the population of Pittsburgh spread out last year to the 50 counties in the U.S. where home prices have been rising the most relative to existing residents’ wages, according to a Bankrate analysis.

The 314,640 fresh residents will likely make housing — including buying homes — even more difficult in the counties near Dallas, Phoenix and other major metros. Bankrate used ATTOM’s affordability index from first quarter 2019 and population estimates released in April by the U.S. Census Bureau to see whether residents were flocking to or fleeing areas struggling with housing costs.

“Does more population growth decrease affordability? The answer is yes for sure. It’s just a simple supply and demand dynamic,” says Todd Teta, chief product officer at ATTOM Data Solutions.

More people means more demand for the limited supply of apartments and homes in an area. New residents compete for real estate alongside those already in the community. The competition helps keep the inventory in these housing markets tight and prices high.

ATTOMs affordability index measures whether home prices in a county are more or less affordable than their historic average. Some residents who are new to places considered unaffordable by this measure might find lower home and rent prices than where they came from. This might be financially beneficial for them if they’re able to maintain or exceed their previous incomes. However, they’ll likely keep or push prices higher for residents already living in the area.

The 50 counties with the lowest affordability scores on ATTOM’s index grew by 1.4 percent from July 2017 to July 2018, collectively adding more than 850 residents per day. Only four of the counties — Muskegon and Genesee counties in Michigan and New York and Niagara counties in New York — lost population last year, according to the analysis.

During the same time period, 23 of the 50 counties with the highest affordability scores lost residents. The growth rate was essentially flat with a loss of 1,063 people.

Why people move to areas with spiraling home prices

Counties with crimped housing markets which tend to be larger, often offer access to more jobs and higher wages than their smaller peers. And more Americans are moving as the job market is its best by some measures in nearly half a century. More than a fifth (21 percent) of full-time employees said they would look for a new job in 2019, according to a Bankrate survey released in December.

In some cases, the counties we identified also feature better lifestyle amenities like green or natural spaces, art and culture institutions or vibrant food and drink scenes.

“People will look past affordability for job opportunities,” Teta says. “Unless you’re at a fixed income point in your life, the decision can’t be solely based on housing affordability.”

Residents have to decide what’s best for them, he says.

Moving to somewhere less affordable for higher wages or quality of life benefits might mean you need to give yourself more time to look for a place to live. Or you might need to create a tighter budget or cut back in other areas in order to save. At the very least, you can expect to be one of many new faces.

For this story, Bankrate paired U.S. Census population data with the counties who had the top 50 highest and bottom 50 lowest affordability scores from ATTOM Data Solutions affordability index. We compared population change from 2017 to 2018 (both as percentage and totals) for the 100 counties.

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