In the words of President Donald Trump, the nation’s economy is booming. After clawing our way out of a terrible recession, Americans are finally working and getting raises again. But please, hold the applause.
Finding a job these days is the easy part. But scoring one that pays enough to cover the monthly rent or mortgage bill with enough left over for everything else is a big challenge for many folks. And it’s getting worse.
Home list prices have jumped 41.7% over the past decade, while median incomes have climbed just 23.8% during the same period. That’s resulted in plenty of places across the nation becoming unaffordable for the folks who have long lived there.
Affordability is a top-of-mind concern for renters and aspiring home buyers. So realtor.com wanted to find out: Where is the gap widest between what people earn and what they shell out for housing? What we found wasn’t necessarily the most flat-out expensive real estate markets. No, our focus is on the places where too many folks are spending way above the widely recommended ceiling of 28% of their household income on a place to live.
And that can be a perilous financial line to walk.
“The more you spend on housing the less you have to spend on other things you value and to fund your financial goals,” says Roger Ma, a financial planner at Lifelaidout and New York City–based real estate agent.
Some cities made our list because foreign, out-of-state, and second- and third-home buyers have driven prices out of reach of the locals, many of whom work in lower-paying, tourism-related jobs. Others are popular with retirees, who usually have lower incomes or are living on savings. And the cheaper places in our rankings are here because of low, local wages and not enough high-paying job opportunities.
To come up with our findings, we looked at the median monthly housing costs in roughly 500 metros* to pinpoint the markets where folks are spending the most on their homes. We did this by dividing the median monthly costs for renters and homeowners by the median monthly household income. We limited our ranking to just one metro per state. And keep in mind that these are median figures, so half the folks in these cities are paying even more than the figures cited. Sometimes much more.
So let’s take a look at where folks are stretched the thinnest.
Median list price: $895,800
Median monthly housing cost: $1,840
Median household income: $73,663
Share of income going toward housing*: 30%
On a trip to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an amusement park that runs a mile along the Pacific coastline, parkgoers can ride the Giant Dipper roller coaster and eat fresh-roasted corn at Barnacle Bill’s. This town has a down-to-earth feel—and that attracts deep-pocketed techies who come down from nearby San Francisco and San Jose, CA, in attempts to escape the hustle and bustle for a weekend of beachside fun.
“We have a lovely bookstore [in Santa Cruz] that is the epicenter of downtown, and great coffeehouses … also, beaches, redwoods, and Big Sur around the corner,” wrote a niche.com neighborhood reviewer who moved from Silicon Valley to Santa Cruz.
But this loveliness has a price: All these second-home buyers pushed prices up in Santa Cruz, making it the country’s fifth most-expensive U.S. housing market. The San Francisco Bay Area escapees are purchasing Instagrammable, luxury, two-story homes on scenic hillsides with ocean and mountain views. They can afford it—unlike the long-term locals, who have an increasingly hard time competing. There’s simply not as many high-paying jobs in this town.
For years, the city’s housing market experienced double-digit price increases. But that’s changed as many buyers can no longer afford the seaside city. In the past 12 months, prices are essentially flat and inventory is up 45%.
“I’m seeing some buyer pushback,” says Realtor Kaelin Wagnermarsh of Keller Williams Realty Santa Cruz.
2. Miami, FL
Median list price: $385,100
Median monthly housing cost: $1,280
Median household income: $51,758
Share of income going toward housing: 29.7%
Let’s state this upfront: Living in Miami ain’t cheap. Just off its shores, exclusive Fisher Island in Miami-Dade County is one of the nation’s most expensive enclaves, packed with luxury, high-rise condos—many of them second homes for the wealthy— priced over $5 million. Luxury suburbs like Doral, 15 miles outside of downtown, have their share of 10,000-square-foot mansions. And let’s not forget Paramount Miami Worldcenter, a 60-story luxury downtown condominium that will be the sixth-tallest building in Florida.
Over 9% of homes in the Miami market are second homes, many purchased by non-Americans. But unlike other cities like New York or San Francisco, which also have a lot of affluent foreign buyers, Miami doesn’t have the similar high-paying jobs that help locals to compete.
But there might be some relief for would-be home buyers: January home prices in Miami are down 1% year over year, and inventory is up 11.8%.
Median list price: $334,600
Median monthly housing cost: $918
Median household income: $40,705
Share of income going toward housing: 27.1%
The affordability gap is a hot-button issue in Grants Pass, credited with playing a leading role in the area’s growing homeless population. The problem is so bad in Josephine County, home to Grants Pass, that a developer last month proposed building a series of tiny homes to house some of those living on the streets.
Grants Pass is generally known as an increasingly popular retirement town, with most shops closing at 7 p.m. Many seniors come here for the calm Oregon climate and the fishing or boating on Rogue River, which runs through the city. Unfortunately for locals, newcomers are paying top dollar for homes like this riverfront log cabin with a wood interior. Longstanding residents, many of whom have fixed incomes, are finding themselves boxed in.
Median list price: $240,000
Median monthly housing cost: $1,290
Median household income: $57,514
Share of income going toward housing: 26.9%
During the summer, the boardwalk in Atlantic City is teeming with tourists buying street food and cheap souvenirs. But Atlantic City’s big draw is its casinos—and that means plenty of lower-paid, service jobs for locals. But these gigs make it tough to afford the area’s luxury, beachfront condos and even the significantly more affordable single-family homes and condos.
Atlantic City also has a fair number of retirees who don’t necessarily have huge take-home pay, and tend to spend a higher share of income on housing. They flock here because Atlantic City is still a relative bargain compared with much of the Northeast.
But homes prices in Atlantic City are growing fast, rising 6% year over year in January. That’s because after a number of hard years, the city is on the upswing again—rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, and even opening new casinos after decades of closings.
5. New York, NY
Median list price: $515,100
Median monthly housing cost: $1,588
Median household income: $72,205
Share of income going toward housing: 26.4%
Complaining about rent is about as New York as pizza by the slice. These sky-high monthly fees make it hard for many New Yorkers to save up for the down payments they need to purchase homes (and unlike many places, you actually need the full 20% down payment to buy here). Naturally, condo and home prices are pretty darn expensive.
Prices in the city have long been astronomical thanks to the limited supply of housing, the many highly paid professionals who work there, and the slew of international home buyers. But fortunately, there is a big range of housing available, from high-end apartments and condos in Manhattan to $3 million brownstones in Brooklyn and two-story, single-family homes on Staten Island.
But at least these rent-burdened folks are getting some price relief from the slowing New York real estate market, right? Think again. Homes prices in January were up 8.7% year over year.
6. Kahului, HI
Median list price: $928,800
Median monthly housing cost: $1,594
Median household income: $72,743
Share of income going toward housing: 26.3%
Kahului is a tropical paradise come to life with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. But this city on the Hawaiian island of Maui is almost as renowned for its astronomic prices as for its jaw-dropping vistas. In fact, the typical household in Kahului spends the same on housing per month as a typical person in Seattle, despite earning $5,000 less per year. Only Silicon Valley’s San Jose, CA, has a higher median list price.
That’s partly because nearly everything here must be shipped in—and prices reflect that. That includes building materials, which, in turn, drive up home prices. And then there are the foreign buyers and vacation home buyers who aren’t on tight budgets, pushing up the cost of homeownership for everyone else. That’s problematic for locals as the island lacks the jobs that pay workers enough to afford real estate on the island. Sometimes up to three families are packing into one home.
“Almost a quarter of Maui residents are severely cost-burdened,” wrote the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice in a March 2018 report. “Less than a quarter of prospective Maui home buyers are able to make an adequate down payment.”
Median list price: $203,300
Median monthly housing cost: $1,028
Median household income: $48,162
Share of income going toward housing: 25.6%
Hurricane Florence hit coastal Jacksonville hard in September 2018, destroying homes and driving up rents. The 246-square-mile Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune sustained $3.6 billion in damages and was forced to kick out some civilian workers living on base. That helped to drive up rental prices in the region. One-bedroom apartments for rent can easily exceed $900—a high price for someone on a shoestring budget.
“Families are still living in hotels because their homes were destroyed and there aren’t enough rentals,” says Jon Myers, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage Realty.
Many folks were already struggling to make ends meet before the hurricane.
“A lot of the population is around 22 years old, and the majority of military [at that age] don’t earn a lot of money,” Myers says.
But it might not be as bad as it looks on paper: The government gives active-duty military a stipend for housing, which isn’t taxed or counted as income. Regardless, Myers says, most enlistees don’t have a lot left over after housing.
Median list price: $415,000
Median monthly housing cost: $1,203
Median household income: $56,419
Share of income going toward housing: 25.6%
With a population of just 89,000, Bellingham is a walkable port town packed with mom and pop shops and boutiques. Locals hike the lush forests that surround the city or head to nearby Mt. Baker Ski Area. It’s the kind of place you go to get away and take in the fresh air—and that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Deep-pocketed folks from Vancouver, Canada, and Seattle come here to buy second homes on its waterfront or cabins deep in the woods nears ski slopes. This puts home prices above what many longtime Bellingham residents can afford.
“What is frustrating is that I built roots here,” says Jim Pope, a broker for Re/Max Whatcom County. “But [my sons] couldn’t stay here. That’s just the norm.”
But for many, the charms of this small city make it hard to leave, he adds. “Because of the quality of life, people choose to live here and accept a lower pay.”
For good real estate deals, some buyers look to Sudden Valley, a smaller suburban community on the banks of Lake Whatcom, where a two-bedroom home in the woods costs around $290,000.
Median list price: $525,00
Median monthly housing cost: $1,411
Median household income: $68,048
Share of income going toward housing: 24.9%
The dream for many wealthy New Yorkers and Bostonians is buying a vacation home on Cape Cod (in the Barnstable Town metro) and whiling away their free time lounging on a boat, eating lobster rolls, or perfecting their tans. All of that outside money keeps real estate prices high.
Traditional Cape Cod homes priced around $400,000 are the hot ticket here. Affluent second-home buyers also snag beachside, wood shingle–style mansions priced around $5 million. Sometimes they’ll even buy older cottages and tear them down to build megamansions. But over the past year this luxury market has cooled a bit, with median list prices falling 4.6% and inventory jumping 21.4%.
And Barnstable Town has lots of retirees buying up homes. In fact, realtor.com named Barnstable Town one of the fastest-growing retirement towns last month, and 39% of its population is above 60. Given the harsh New England winters, many of these retirees go South for the cold months to their homes in Florida.
10. Carson City, NV
Median list price: $347,100
Median monthly housing cost: $1,012
Median household income: $49,341
Share of income going toward housing: 24.6%
While everyone is talking about a national housing slowdown, buyers in Carson City can’t catch a break. Prices are up a shocking 16% year over year. Some of this is driven by the new Tesla Gigafactory, which as of last year employs 3,000 workers and is less than a 40-minute commute outside town.
“Housing is just a huge problem. We don’t have enough of it,” says Colleen McKoy, a broker and owner of Brick & Mortar Properties in Carson City.
Buying a home was already a struggle for many Carson City residents, who have to compete with retirees and second-home buyers who push up costs. Why are they coming here? Nevada doesn’t have a state income tax, so Californians will buy a home here and live for six months of the year to shave their tax bill. Plus the community is just minutes away from the clear-blue waters of Lake Tahoe.
This western community, with regular quail and deer sightings, has a number of homes out in the forest that run up to the edge of Tahoe. Second-home buyers will buy homes like this recently built $3 million mansion in the woods.
* A metropolitan statistical area is a designation that includes the urban core of a city and the surrounding smaller towns and cities.
Allison Underhill contributed to this report.
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