Face it: Being at the midpoint is no picnic, whether you’re a middle child or a middle manager, stuck in middle school (shudder), or wedged in the middle seat from New York to L.A. Toughest of all? Being a card-carrying member of the middle class—especially if you happen to be looking to buy a home in today’s fraught and freaky real estate market.
Of course, pundits have been bemoaning the death of the middle class for years. And, it’s hard not to be pessimistic as the cost of everything seems to be skyrocketing—except the size of most Americans’ paychecks. Rising home prices and mortgage and inflation rates—oh, my. But middle-income families aspiring to become homeowners shouldn’t give up. We’re here to help!
Even as home prices and mortgage interest rates continue to soar, there are still pockets of America where regular Joes and Janes can still comfortably afford a home of their own—without selling a kidney. Realtor.com® found these places where middle-class buyers can find homes that fit within their budgets. They do exist.
“Today’s middle-class home shoppers and renters are being squeezed on all sides, particularly those hoping to become homeowners by making their first home purchase,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist of Realtor.com. “A dwindling number of homes for sale prompted fast sales and rising prices, making it hard for middle-class families whose budgets are already getting squeezed by inflation to find a home that is in budget.”
But affordable opportunities are out there—if you know where to look.
“Middle-class households are going to have a better shot of making the math work in areas with more affordable housing, which tend to be found in the South and Midwest,” she adds.
The crack Realtor.com data team set out to find the metropolitan areas where a middle-class family could find the most homes they can afford. We assumed that a middle-class household made about $72,000 a year based on Claritas data. (A household includes everyone living together, including extended families and even roommates.)
Then we did the math. We determined that these families would most comfortably afford homes priced up to $280,000—about 38% less than the national median price of $450,000 in June, according to Realtor.com data. The team calculated that homeowners should spend no more than 30% of their annual income before taxes on housing—which on $72,000 amounts to annual housing costs of $21,600—or $1,800 a month. (Still with us?)
This amount assumed that buyers could snag a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with a 10% down payment and a 5.25% mortgage interest rate. We also factored in private mortgage insurance (required on down payments below 20%) and other taxes and insurance.
Finally, we scoured Realtor.com listings in April to find the 100 largest metropolitan areas with the greatest share of homes at or below $280,000 for sale. To keep the list geographically diverse, we capped our list to just one metro per state. (Metros include the main city and surrounding towns, suburbs, and smaller urban areas.)
Can America’s stressed-out, cash-strapped middle class still afford to buy homes? You bet. Let’s take a look at the everyman towns offering some serious deals.
Median home price: $129,900*
Percentage of homes affordable for middle-class buyers: 85.5%
Like a lot of Rust Belt cities, Youngstown has shrunk in population as factories have closed over the decades. But that hasn’t stopped the real estate market from going gangbusters throughout the COVID-19 pandemic just like the rest of the country. Prices have been rising and bidding wars have been commonplace as investors compete with first-time buyers. What really differentiates this former steel town from most places is the abundance of ultra-affordable homes.
“We’re midway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland and New York and Chicago,” says Al Cerritelli, a Realtor® with Howard Hanna Real Estate Services. “It’s kind of a sweet spot with a lower cost of living and easier lifestyle.”
In desirable suburbs like Canfield, OH, which boasts some highly rated schools, buyers can find really nice homes for less than the cost of a down payment in pricey coastal metros like Los Angeles or New York.
This four-bedroom house has a two-tier deck and a pond for just $200,000. Meanwhile, handy buyers with tighter budgets can pick up this historic two-bedroom house in need of some work in a lovely location for $129,000.
2. Scranton, PA
Median home price: $215,000
Percentage of homes affordable for middle-class buyers: 72.3%
The Scranton and greater Northeast Pennsylvania real estate markets were already becoming red-hot before the pandemic. Now the area is becoming hotter still due to a surge of new residents fleeing higher-priced metros like New York City.
Despite its persistent rep as a backwater, fostered by nine seasons of “The Office,” there are plenty of things to do in this city year-round. In fact Realtor.com named the Scranton metro area one of the nation’s most affordable ski towns last year. But even with an upswing in population and popularity, Lehigh Valley still has managed to remain affordable for middle-class homebuyers.
3. Syracuse, NY
Median home price: $199,900
Percentage of homes affordable for middle-class buyers: 70.3%
This Rust Belt city, about 250 miles northwest of New York City, was one of many to see jobs and people move away from its city center, leaving large swaths of vacant properties behind. However, recent downtown revitalization projects have made the affordable city a far more attractive place to live.
The college town, home to Syracuse University, already boasts a vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene as well as what’s purported to be the world’s fastest 5G network. And last year, the state set aside an additional $10 million in funding to expand downtown to the south and west of the Central Business District into a walkable destination.
Buyers who want to invest in the area before it takes off can find a wide array of homes that cost less than a studio apartment in New York City. They include this two-bedroom multifamily home right near the zoo in the city’s Tipperary Hill neighborhood asking for $154,900. They can also get this two-bedroom condo in the heart of Armory Square listed at $289,900.
It’s places like these that have been drawing in younger buyers seeking to be part of the change in the city.
“We have had quite an influx of a younger population moving in, which is great,” says Sarah Barrows, a real estate salesperson with Keller Williams Realty Syracuse.
4. Wichita, KS
Median home price: $265,000
Percentage of homes affordable for middle-class buyers: 63.3%
Don’t snooze on Wichita. A whopping 35% of the aircrafts built in the entire world are built in this Midwestern aviation capital, according to the Greater Wichita Partnership. The metro is home to Wichita State University, one of the fastest-growing research universities in the United States, and McConnell Air Force Base. The birthplace of Pizza Hut and White Castle, Wichita also offers this unique, local culinary treasure: cinnamon rolls served with bowls of chili. (You’ll have to experience it for yourself.)
The area boasts a notably diverse population of different age groups.
It’s easy to buy a nice home here without going broke, including this four-level three-bedroom house with a theater asking for $179,900. There is also this fully remodeled three-bedroom house in the coveted Goddard School District on the market for $205,000.
5. McAllen, TX
Median home price: $260,000
Percentage of homes affordable for middle-class buyers: 58.8%
Californians and Midwesterners have been packing up their minivans and migrating south to this family-friendly border town. The population has increased 9% in the past decade with a whopping 30% of the city’s residents under the age of 18. The metro, which is considered a shopping mecca, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.
Known for its mild winter weather, beautiful birds, and low cost of living, McAllen also offers great deals on homes for growing families.
This three-bedroom house, which is walking distance from the restaurants and stores in South McAllen, is on the market for just $170,000. And this sprawling six-bedroom—yes, six!—right across the street from Bill Schupp Park is listed for $299,000.
Median home price: $273,900
Percentage of homes affordable for middle-class buyers: 58.5%
St. Louis has a lot more to offer than most people realize. The city boasts one of the Seven Architectural Wonders of the World—the iconic Arch—as well as 700 life science and agriculture technology firms, a thriving startup scene, 45 colleges and universities, one of the best zoos in the county, and a whole lot of national restaurant awards.
Plus, it’s one of the most affordable cities in the United States with an incredibly high standard of living—a fact that many locals are trying to keep on the DL.
“St. Louis is a secret; we don’t want it to get out,” says Luan Meredith, real estate broker-owner of Realty and Associates. “The next thing you know is, we’re going to become the new Denver.”
Middle-class buyers might want to consider buying a piece of the Gateway to the West before word does get out. Some deals include this three-bedroom house in prime Kirkwood asking for a cool $249,000 and this four-bedroom, Victorian-style home in the historic Academy neighborhood for $185,000.
7. Detroit, MI
Median home price: $249,900
Percentage of homes affordable for middle-class buyers: 57.4%
Detroit is still America’s favorite comeback story. The birthplace of the nation’s auto manufacturing got walloped hard by the Great Recession, which accelerated its multidecade population decline. But over the past 15 years, an influx of artists seeking cheap housing, who wanted to see Motor City revived to its former glory, started attracting even more residents—and money—to this iconic U.S. city. Developers and prospectors came to inflate real estate prices despite its still-dwindling population.
As is the case just about everywhere, home inventory has been low in Detroit throughout the pandemic and buyer demand has been high. But home seekers on a budget can still find nice homes for affordable prices throughout the metro area.
This three-bedroom house in suburban Grosse Point Woods is asking for $200,000. Meanwhile, this $195,000 three-bedroom, two-story house in Jefferson Chalmers is set on a tree-lined street with lots of community gardens right near all the parks, eateries, and bars in neighboring Grosse Pointe.
Median home price: $279,900
Percentage of homes affordable for middle-class buyers: 56.5%
Little Rock is another city that has undergone massive revitalization. Its historic downtown, which hugs the Arkansas River, has recently been transformed into a desirable, walkable destination. In addition to its renovated Robinson Center Performance Hall, the area is home to William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park, great restaurants, nightlife, markets, and more.
And because housing prices are so reasonable, locals can afford to spend their money living life rather than just paying a mortgage.
Buyers who want to be in the middle of all the action can find nice, new homes right around downtown for a steal, including this three-bedroom townhome with rooftop views of the state Capitol for $259,900. And those who want more room to spread out with a private yard in the burbs can also find great deals such as this three-bedroom house listed at $200,000.
9. Tulsa, OK
Median home price: $295,000
Percentage of homes affordable for middle-class buyers: 56.5%
The former “Oil Capital of the World” has been in the news a lot over the past several years due to an influx of coastal urbanites who have taken advantage of the $10,000 grants it’s been offering for its Tulsa Remote program. Yup, new residents can get paid just for moving here.
So far, more than 1,700 remote workers have moved to Tulsa for the one-year program. Many of those new residents have used their grant to help buy nice homes right in the heart of downtown.
This two-bedroom condo is on the market for $245,000. And families who’d like space to spread out while sticking close to all the happenings can find great deals on single-family houses with yards, including this three-bedroom ranch asking for $215,000. It’s within walking distance to the Tulsa Fair Grounds and about five miles from downtown.
10. Louisville, KY
Median home price: $289,900
Percentage of homes affordable for middle-class buyers: 54.2%
During peak COVID-19, house hunters in Louisville had just two to four hours to view and make an offer on a home. Like the rest of the country, the real estate market in the city and its surrounding towns was booming. It’s no surprise that people fleeing large cities would want to move here, where there are noteworthy restaurants, parks, museums and, most importantly (or, at least, most fun), ample distilleries and bars.
While the housing market is still not back to its pre-pandemic inventory, it’s improving, and home prices have somehow remained affordable in comparison to other metros.
“Louisville is one of the … most affordable areas in the United States to buy,” Bobby Harding, co-owner of Nest Realty of Greater Louisville, says. “We’re a small country town, yet we still have a city feel.”
In coveted neighborhoods like Fern Hill, first-time buyers can get into the market with nice homes such as this spacious two-bedroom condo listed at $170,000. Those wanting more space can check out this three-story, four-bedroom house asking for $252,000.
* Median metro list prices are as of April from Realtor.com.