Prepare for the Ultimate Staycation

You don’t need to stay in a hotel and play tourist to have a proper staycation. Look no further than your own home for a staycay dreams are made of.

Make no mistake, an at-home staycation doesn’t just mean a lazy weekend on the couch. Turn your humble abode into a resort made for relaxation with a few days of planning and prep work.

Here’s your guide to creating the ultimate staycation.

Tackle chores in advance

Sure, a hotel stay comes with amenities like maid and room service, but you can have a work-free staycay with a bit of planning.

Make a list of chores you want to tackle a few days before your staycation begins. At the very least, cover the basics, like washing linens, dusting, and vacuuming.

For an added level of sparkle, schedule some time to clean your windows. That way when you’re staring out to your backyard garden or pool (aka your staycay resort spa), your windows will be as spic-and-span as those at a five-star bed and breakfast.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.
Photo from Zillow listing.

Don’t ruin your staycay by thinking about household tasks you should be doing. Better yet, for a totally chore-free staycay, consider setting aside extra cash for a housecleaning service to do the work for you beforehand.

Maximize your comfort

Maybe your home is already perfectly comfy and cozy. But for maximum staycation relaxation, why not add a few extra comfort elements to make your home feel like a luxury B&B?

  • Adjust your lighting. Look for soft, ambient lighting options to help create a calming environment. New lamps for bedroom and living areas, and candles for the master bath can completely change the mood of a space.
  • Add new rugs. Soft, plush area rugs boost the comfort level of a room and make a cozy reading spot if you add a few floor pillows.
  • Buy new bedding. For maximum luxury, invest in new bedding. Not only will it feel like you’re truly on a vacay somewhere else, but new sheets are an added perk after your staycation comes to a close.

Create designated spaces

Think about what kind of environment will best help you reach peak relaxation. You can do a quick makeover of your bathroom to create a calming home spa, or carve out a quiet corner for a meditation or reading nook. Just think Zen.

If a spa setting is more your style, look at bath pillows, aromatherapy candles, and bath oils. Or if you simply crave a reading corner, pick up some new reads that have been sitting on your wishlist for too long.

spa-like bathtub
Photo from Offset.

Don’t forget the kiddos: Create a designated craft or board game corner, or come up with a few activities they can enjoy during your staycay.

Look outside for added comfort ideas, too. Whether you add a hammock, porch swing, or patio furniture, look for ways to blend your staycay lounging with the great outdoors.

If your family members are big fans of the outdoors, set up your camping gear in the backyard for part of your staycay, or try out a DIY firepit and enjoy fireside chats and s’mores.

Manage meals ahead of time

Just like with tidying up your home and amplifying relaxation spaces, you’ll want to plan your meals ahead of time for a quality staycation.

Don’t waste precious relaxation time during your actual week off figuring out menus. Pick your favorite family recipes, plan which meals you’ll have delivered from favorite eateries, and knock out grocery shopping before your staycay begins. Bonus tip: When you do go on that grocery store run, pick up a few special snacks and treats for everyone.

If you enjoy cooking, consider using some of your staycation time to make more intricate meals than you typically have time for – or bring in a local chef for a family cooking lesson.

Plan ahead to make it count

With a few well-planned tasks on your pre-staycation to-do list, you can turn your house into a staycay sanctuary. Map out what you want your staycation to be like and delegate tasks. Soon you’ll be ready for a few days of ultimate relaxation – without ever having to leave your home.

Top photo from Shutterstock.


Originally published July 5, 2016.

Forget Florida: More Northern Retirees Head to Appalachia

Boats moored at Lake Blue Ridge Marina last Friday in northern Georgia.

Melissa Golden for The Wall Street Journal

BLUE RIDGE, GA—When former New Yorker Marty Stefanelli and his wife contemplated retirement, they didn’t know where to look until a visit to this Appalachian mountain town last year.

“We bought a house that week,” Mr. Stefanelli said. “I need to find time to wind down, and Blue Ridge forces you to wind down.”

For the 57-year-old Mr. Stefanelli, the area’s draws included moderate weather, a lack of traffic and low costs on everything from property prices to restaurant bills to taxes.

The twist is that the Stefanellis weren’t moving from New York but rather from West Palm Beach, FL, part of a movement known as “halfbacks”—northern transplants to Florida who are retiring in mountain communities of western North Carolina, northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee. These retirees are reshaping local economies, boosting everything from tax revenues to restaurant receipts to sales of electric chair lifts for the elderly. Along the way, they are chafing locals who say the migration is pricing them out of homes and bringing in a sort of big-city brusqueness.

Mr. Stefanelli says he pays about $3,000 in taxes a year for his Georgia house, compared with about $20,000 for his home in Florida. He also maintains a home in New York that costs him about $30,000 a year in taxes. He plans to make Georgia his main residence in a few years.

“I bought a pickup to fit in,” he said.

The halfback phenomenon—so named because the retirees are said to be moving roughly halfway back up north—was well under way by the early 2000s before coming to a halt during the recession. For several years afterward, many retirees found themselves unable to sell their Florida homes, and property values in many Appalachian areas plummeted.

But the trend has come back, according to federal data, as many of the nation’s 74 million baby boomers move for retirement.

East Main Street in Blue Ridge, Ga.
East Main Street in Blue Ridge, GA.

Melissa Golden for The Wall Street Journal

Census data show that from 2010 to 2017, net migration to retirement-destination counties in Appalachian regions of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee increased 169%, the same percentage of growth for retirement destinations in Florida, according to Hamilton Lombard, a University of Virginia demographer who has tracked the halfback phenomenon. During the same period, net migration to all U.S. retirement-destination counties increased 67%.

In Georgia, many of the mountain counties experienced an increase in the 65-and-older population, including Blue Ridge’s Fannin County, up to 27% in 2016 from 22% in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Net migration to retirement-destination Appalachian counties in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee has risen steadily from about 10,000 in 2011 to more than 46,000 in 2017, census data show. The U.S. Agriculture Department designates counties as “retirement destinations” if their population 60 and older grew by 15% or more within a decade due to net migration.

Rebecca Tippett, a chief demographer at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Population Center, said that postrecession, retirees are once again playing a large role in western North Carolina’s growth. “We’ve seen a major return to previous migration levels,” she said.

In Blue Ridge, about 75 miles north of Atlanta’s downtown, it’s now common to see Florida license plates in a grocery store parking lot, hear New York accents as a couple walks by or see older men on a bench wearing Chicago Cubs baseball caps. Realtor Brian White, who sold the Stefanellis their mountain home, said at least three-quarters of his clients come from Florida, most originally came from northern states.

A sign off East Main Street in Blue Ridge notes the distance to the point of origin of many of the newcomers.
A sign off East Main Street in Blue Ridge notes the distance to the point of origin of many of the newcomers.

Melissa Golden for The Wall Street Journal

Ken Brenneman, owner of Blue Jeans Pizza, said that when the restaurant shows football games in the fall, customers overwhelmingly cheer for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or New England. Many Florida investors have come up to scout for residential and commercial property, he said.

“This place is not Sleepy Hollow anymore,” he said.

Nathan Fitts, a local real-estate agent and newly elected city councilman, said the influx has helped raise tax revenue and revive the local economy.

Bret Benson, owner of Scooters & More Factory Outlet in Blue Ridge, said business for scooters and installing lifts for elderly clients was up more than 20% last year from the level five years ago. And James Nichols, co-owner of Love Those Mountains Realty in Ellijay, Ga., said, “the halfback process is very much in motion again,” with about 75% of their sales to retirees coming up from Florida. Sales are booming, he said.

The median home sales price in Fannin County last year jumped 75% from 2012 to $250,000, according to Attom Data Solutions, an Irvine, Calif., property-data provider. During the same period, the U.S. median home sales price rose 51%, to $236,000.

Long Island-raised Mike Galinski, owner of a semiconductor company who is also a real-estate developer in Florida, bought property in Fannin County after the recession. He is building restaurants and plans to add homes in and around McCaysville, a town on the Tennessee border.

“The upside is there,” said Mr. Galinski, who also built a home for himself in the area.

A house being built in Blue Ridge, Ga., in a development where more than 40 houses and townhouses are planned.
A house being built in Blue Ridge, Ga., in a development where more than 40 houses and townhouses are planned.

Melissa Golden for The Wall Street Journal

But increased development has created its own problems, including extra traffic and strained water infrastructure, as well as a higher demand for medical services. When a developer proposed recently to building a 3 1/2-story building in Blue Ridge, many complained it was “a skyscraper,” said Mr. Fitts, the real-estate agent.

Jeremy Jones, a 34 year-old auto mechanic whose family has lived in Fannin County for four generations, complained that the influx has driven up rents making it tough for locals.

“This used to be a very tightknit community, the Bible Belt. Now it’s about money,” he said. “Us, the regular people who are here, are struggling.”

Terry Stonecipher, a 43-year-old mechanic who has lived in the area most of his life, said area residents have bristled at some of the newcomers. “People that have no manners,” he said. “Go back where you came from.”

The post Forget Florida: More Northern Retirees Head to Appalachia appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Here Comes the Bride! 10 Castles for Sale That Are Fit for Royalty

American fans of the British monarchy will be double-checking their alarms to ensure they don’t miss a moment of the upcoming royal wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry to American actress Meghan Markle.

Inspired by their impending nuptials, we’re highlighting 10 castles fit for a king and queen, or at least a duke and duchess. As Lorde helpfully pointed out, most of us will never be royals. But that doesn’t mean we can’t live like royalty, right here in America.

There are gorgeous properties in varying styles, sizes, and ages. One of them is a stunner in Milwaukee, modeled after a French chateau.

“My sellers have put the house on Airbnb, and they were booked solid because of the castle feel,” says listing agent Melanie Gilmore-Gaar.

Because who wouldn’t want to be queen for a day—or a least a weekend?

But a weekend stay is far different from owning your own castle, which means maintenance, more maintenance, and lots of mowing the lawn.

“The backyard is the size of a football field,” Gilmore-Gaar says of her listing. The upside is a spacious place for entertaining and perhaps even hosting events such as (nonroyal) weddings.

Practice your bow and curtsy, put on your fascinator, and check out these 10 glorious castles on the market.

3266 N Lake Dr, Milwaukee, WI

Price: $1,845,000
Regal details: There’s no need to head to France for a chateau. Built in 1912 and designed by Wisconsin-based architect Alexander Chadbourne Eschweiler, this castle is modeled after the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau in the Loire Valley. The 9,154-square-foot structure opens up to lake views in the back. High points include a grand staircase, remodeled great room, family room with a vaulted ceiling, and guest apartment above the three-car garage.

Milwaukee, WI


6435 Stillhouse Ln, High Ridge, MO

Price: $319,900
Regal details: This “magical” and affordable stone castle is nestled on a wooded lot and comes with four bedrooms, a great room with stone fireplace and wet bar, and an updated kitchen that leads out to a deck.

High Ridge, MO


1739 Crystal Ridge Ct, Riverside, CA 

Price: $1,499,900
Regal details: Custom-built in 1989 on 2.75 acres in SoCal, this castle features a foyer with a skylight and grand staircase. The updated kitchen has a cooking island and an eating island adjoining the family room, which comes with a bar and fireplace. The grounds include a running stream, and swimming pool with spa.

Riverside, CA


722 39th St, Downers Grove, IL

Price: $2,699,995
Regal details: Let’s get medieval! This 6,387-square-foot castle was built in 1952 and comes with 1.8 landscaped acres. The finished basement contains a gym, dance floor, and game room. The immense great room and indoor pool, spa, and sauna can easily entertain royal guests. The landscaped grounds include a water fall, reflecting pool with fountains, and a koi pond.

Downers Grove, IL


600 Chateau V Rd, Evergreen, CO

Price: $12,990,000
Regal details: This limestone structure is modeled after the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, NC. The home features 126 chandeliers, a dining room with a 25-foot-high ceiling, and a kitchen with a turret. Multiple balconies and stone decks offer scenic views of nearby peaks. 

Evergreen, CO


18 Skyline Dr, Bolton Landing, NY

Price: $12,800,000
Regal details: Lords and ladies, Highlands Castle is still searching for a buyer. The custom-built residence was built with 800 tons of stone and has a secret passageway, a secret staircase, turrets, balconies, two guest cottages, and handcarved knights standing guard in the great room. Originally on the market in 2015, it’s still in search of a buyer who’d appreciate the property’s waterfront views. 

Bolton Landing, NY


35308 Pabst Rd, Oconomowoc, WI

Price: $10,500,000
Regal details: The property known as Minnewoc is a standout in Lake Country. This replica of Anne Boleyn‘s castle was built in 1892 and has been fully renovated in recent years, including a large addition in 2014. The property includes 800 feet of lake frontage and 7.2 acres of land, including a private island. The home’s high-end finishes make for an opulent 16,000-square-foot space, inside and out.

Oconomowoc, WI


1155 N River Blvd, Wichita, KS 

Price: $3,500,000
Regal details: A historic landmark, Campbell Castle was built in 1888 by Col. Burton Harvey Campbell and his wife, Ellen, and is reportedly a reproduction of a Richardsonian Romanesque Scottish castle. Original features include fireplaces, handcarved fretwork, German stained glass, and a 300-year-old staircase imported from London. The 17-bedroom home also contains modernizations such as a high-end kitchen and updated baths.

Wichita, KS


4720 Grosvenor Ave, Bronx, NY

Price: $3,200,000
Regal details: Built in 1899, this French provincial–style castle has been updated without losing any of its original grandeur. The living room includes leaded-glass windows, a beamed ceiling, and stone fireplace. The high-end kitchen features Carrara marble counters, custom cabinets, two sinks, and two dishwashers. The 5,158-square-foot castle features a master suite with walk-in closets and a dressing area. The property includes terraced gardens and is an easy commute to midtown by mass transit (no horse-drawn carriage necessary). If you’re not quite ready to be betrothed to this residence, it can be rented for $10,000 a month.

Bronx, NY


116 5th Ave S, Lake Worth, FL

Price $1,245,000
Regal details: Designed by architect G. Sherman Childs and built in 1925, Lakeside Castle has undergone major restorations, with original details preserved. There’s a formal dining room with chandelier and fireplace, and a living room with vaulted ceiling and exposed beams. A conservatory opens to a courtyard with a gazebo and pool. There’s also a game room with a wet bar. We’ll raise a glass to that.

Lake Worth, FL

The post Here Comes the Bride! 10 Castles for Sale That Are Fit for Royalty appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

This $1 House in Edmond, OK Is Real Estate Brilliance At Its Best. Here’s Why

$1 house

A $1 house listed in Edmond, OK, has stirred up a huge hubbub among home buyers, home sellers, real estate agents, and others: Come on, is that even real? There must be a catch. 

So, of course, we had to find out what’s up.

For starters, the listing price is not an error; it really is one buckaroo. And as the pics below show, the house is gorgeous as all get-out. It’s 4,000 square feet of magnificence with four bedrooms, four baths, a swimming pool, and so much more on a 2-acre lot.

Based on comps and other data, the house is valued at about $413,000.

$1 house
The open house for this $1 listing drummed up seven offers.

If there’s any “catch” to be found, it’s that, as most people know, a home’s asking price is rarely where it ends up; that all depends on what a buyer is willing to offer. And if there are multiple buyers because the home is garnering tons of attention, this can kick-start a bidding war that can drive up the final sum to whatever the market can bear.

That’s exactly what these home sellers—Dan and Sharla Bradley—were hoping would happen.

“I often tell sellers that we could price their home for a dollar and the market would determine what the sales price should be,” explains the home’s listing agent, Ryan Hukill at Keller Williams. “This time, I had some sellers who were bold enough to take me up on trying that theory out.”

So did it work? Well, let’s just say that their first open house—scheduled on a Sunday two days after the listing went live—reeled in around 60 buyers. Seven submitted bids by the deadline of noon on Tuesday.

In other words: After less than a week, the home is under contract. While Hukill won’t share specifics until the deal is officially done, he says, “we ended up a little bit above what the sellers initially thought they’d get.”

Which begs the question: Should more home sellers consider pricing their home at $1?

$1 house

$1 home listings: ‘It’s a big risk’

While it sounds insane, it’s not unprecedented—and other agents agree that home sellers who try it may see bigger and better returns than if they price their home high to start.

“It’s an excellent strategy that I’ve recommended in the past. With the right marketing, this will make your home the talk of the town,” says real estate agent Cedric Stewart with Keller Williams, in Washington, DC. “Auction-style bidding draws something out of people and often causes them to pay slightly more than they normally would.”

Nonetheless, “most sellers are afraid to take such a risk,” Stewart adds, conceding that this approach does come with some pitfalls.

For one, in the same way Black Friday deals bring out the rabid bargain hunters, sellers could be deluged with lowballers, looky-loos, and other less serious candidates who’ll only clog up the process.

“Many of the buyers may be unqualified and submitting offers that are not worth consideration,” warns William Fastow, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s in the Washington, DC, area. “These junk offers all legally have to be presented to the owner by the listing agent and detracts from the agent’s time and resources, crowding out legitimate buyers.”

This sales gimmick might also drive away legitimate buyers.

“Imagine you are in the market for this home and you arrive to the open house and it’s flooded with people,” Fastow adds. “The agent announces proudly that they have 15-plus offers. If you’re a serious buyer, is this really a situation you want to get involved in?”

$1 house
Living room

Some real estate experts say the downsides of $1 homes go far beyond fending off bargain hunters.

“This is a horrible idea for one overriding reason that has nothing to do with the strategy, but rather with the technology that people use to find listings,” says Kevin Deselms, a real estate agent with Re/Max Alliance in Golden, CO. “Most people will search for homes in a price range that’s comfortable for their financial situation. The vast majority of those searches will not have a $0 minimum limit. The buyer will want to focus on a range that represents their budget. This will leave the $1 listing out of a whole lot of people’s search results.”

Yet there are things you can do to mitigate some of these risks.

“Make sure to consult an experienced real estate consultant and an attorney to make sure all bases are covered,” Stewart says. “To avoid sellers getting sued by unrealistic deal seekers, it’s imperative to set a reserve price and ​very clear rules about how the sale will take place. It should be understood that the seller has the right to accept or reject any offer. If the bids end up being low, the sellers shouldn’t be expected to sell.”

$1 house
Backyard with swimming pool

Even Hukill isn’t so sure he’d try this $1 sales tactic again.

“I definitely felt like we got some tire kickers, and a lot of jokesters saying they’d pay me $100 or $1,000,” Hukill tells Another surprising downside: “Even serious buyers didn’t know what to offer, or where to start.”

But overall, “I’ve gotten a lot of comments along the lines of ‘This is a brilliant idea, why didn’t I think of that before?’ I don’t know if it’s brilliant, but it’s a conversation I’ve been having with sellers for 10 years,” he concludes. “And these sellers are very happy; they had a lot of fun with it. They were excited to try something different.”

The post This $1 House in Edmond, OK Is Real Estate Brilliance At Its Best. Here’s Why appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

The Best Affordable College Towns for Recent Grads—and Everyone Else


It’s the classic collegiate circle of life. You prep, you study, and then you just flat-out pray you’ll get into the school of your choice. Then once you’re there, you reach an inflection point, somewhere between your first game of beer pong and your final midterms, when you start counting the days until you can escape—to the place where you’ll start that whole adulting thing for real.

But these days more and more grads are skipping that final step and opting to stay put. And it turns out they’ve got plenty of company. Because you don’t need to be a student or recent graduate to appreciate all that the best college towns typically offer: walkable enclaves of innovative restaurants, lively music scenes, and tons of fun, unique businesses. And most importantly, many of ’em are becoming employment hubs as companies searching for top talent open offices nearby. Home prices are usually still reasonable. And homeownership is often a smart investment as there’s strong demand from both young and old buyers.

So where are the best college towns that offer the best of everything? The® data team set out to find them.

“People go [to college towns] with the intention of pursuing a degree … but find these places have lots of the advantages of much larger places,” says Blake Gumprecht, author of “The American College Town.” He’s also a graduate of the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, one of the towns that made our list.

To find these top college towns best suited to putting down roots, we looked at the 700 largest markets around the country. We included only those with at least one four-year university with at least 10,000 undergraduates. Then we ranked them based on a variety of factors, including their percentage of college students, unemployment rates, home appreciation, and median income.*

The biggest cities didn’t make our list—they’re so large that the percentage of students isn’t as dominant as in smaller communities. In case you’re wondering, if we had simply  looked at the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, Boston, the nation’s ultimate college mecca, would come out on top, thanks to schools such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston University. But with so many other nonstudent residents, nearly 675,000 just in its city limits, Boston didn’t make our list.

So crack open a Pabst Blue Ribbon and let’s go on a tour of the best college towns.

College towns where grads should stick around

Claire Widman

1. Ames, IA

Number of college students: 34,935
Median home list price**: $265,200
Median household income: $56,800

Fountains of the Four Seasons on the campus of the University of Iowa State.


Familiar sights along Ames’ Main Street include an array of historic buildings, funky restaurants, and a seemingly endless parade of Iowa State sweatshirts, banners, and knickknacks. Just about everyone here, regardless of age, seems to love their Cyclones.

With nearly 30,000 undergraduate students, Iowa State attracts many firms and employees from around the world. All of these companies mean lots of well-paying gigs for recent grads and just about everyone else. Did we mention that Ames’ jobless rate is just 1.7%? That’s significantly lower than the national rate of 3.9% as of April.

The region also has a slew of startups founded by former students. Iowa State’s Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship has helped launch some of them, including KinoSol, which sells solar-powered food dehydrators to farmers in developing countries.

“The phrase is ‘Iowa nice.’ If you’re starting a business, people are very open to helping you,” says Diana Wright, a marketing and programs coordinator at the center. “Serial entrepreneurs here help others launch their businesses.”

College grads who stick around flock to neighborhoods such as Hillside. It offers new developments of ranch-style, single-family homes that run anywhere from $300,000 to $450,000.

“They like the town’s good vibe, and Iowa State football and basketball, and the concerts and entertainment,” says Mark Greenfield, a local real estate agent at Re/Max Real Estate Center.

2. State College, PA

Number of college students: 48,480
Median home list price: $257,600
Median household income: $61,100

Downtown State College


For home football games, the Penn State Nittany Lions are cheered on by more than 106,000 fans at Beaver Stadium. And if they beat a rival such as Ohio State University, you can expect Penn students—current, former, or wannabe—to rush the field. Good times!

But State College isn’t known only for its football. It also boasts the annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, which takes over the city in July. And don’t worry: When it comes to actually making a living, there are no shortage of good health care jobs here.

Right out of the gate, it can be challenging to buy a home, however. Recent graduates prefer to live in walkable areas close to downtown. But those a bit further along in their careers find it’s very doable, says Mary Lou Bennett, a real estate agent at Re/Max Centre Realty.

After completing his studies in broadcast journalism at Pennsylvania State University, Thomas Frank Carr weighed an out-of-state job offer or a part-time position at a local radio station near the school. He eventually decided to stay put in State College. Since then, the 27-year-old has gotten married and been promoted. Now the on-air radio talent is thinking about buying a home. This is a feat that many of his peers who went to bigger cities, where prices are steep, might never be able to do.

“The way I describe [sticking around is] it’s the best party you’ve ever been to, but you just stayed,” Carr says. “The longer you stay, the more you appreciate the town. It is a small town with city-sized entertainment opportunities.”

3. Lawrence, KS

Number of college students: 28,883
Median home list price: $289,000
Median household income: $58,600

Downtown Lawrence, KS


Plato said, “A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.” That’s fine and dandy, but getting your bank account out of the red each month sure helps, too. You don’t need a math (or philosophy) degree to see that the dollar goes far in Lawrence.

The University of Kansas, the state’s flagship university, is home to about 19,000 undergraduates students. It’s also the dominant employer in the region. But employers such as Boston Financial Data Services and Hallmark Cards also have major offices here.

As for fun, you don’t need to be an alumnus to dig Kansas Jayhawks games. The men’s basketball team, winner of five national titles, has been top-drawer attraction over the years.

4. Blacksburg, VA

Number of college students: 46,722
Median home list price: $231,400
Median household income: $52,900

Hikers at McAfee Knob on Appalachian Trail near Blacksburg, VA

Joel Carillet/iStock

After receiving their diplomas, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) graduates often head to cities such as Washington, DC, or Charlotte, NC. But those who prefer the great outdoors over big-city life are choosing to stick around.

For starters, the Appalachian Trail is just a short drive out of town. Claytor Lake State Park is the go-to for fishing and boating, and New River Trail State Park is a fantastic place for horseback riding.

“Blacksburg has a great quality of life,” says Mel Jones, a research scientist at the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech. “The mountains are beautiful, and the area has all the benefits of being a large university town.”

Like many college centers, the biggest employers in the region are the universities themselves. But there are lots of other options, too. Dish Network employs around 1,000 here, and Moog, an aerospace and defense company, also has a large presence.

The most popular homes are often the historic, single-family houses in downtown. However, they ain’t cheap, with price tags often topping $500,000. That’s led many entry-level buyers to opt for homes outside the city limits into the rest of Montgomery County instead. It’s rural, but has more affordable homes for those on a tight budget.

5. Ithaca, NY

Number of college students: 31,547
Median home list price: $250,700
Median household income: $61,700

Downtown Ithaca at Night


You might not expect Ithaca, home of Cornell University and Ithaca Colleges, to have a booming startup scene. This city, four hours north of Manhattan, isn’t exactly thought of as a bustling place. But prepare to be surprised.

The startup vibe is bolstered by low startup costs as well as the Cornell eLab student accelerator program, a special yearlong program aimed at budding entrepreneurs. Alumni have launched ventures such as the Rosie App, an online grocery app, and Ursa Space Systems, which collects satellite imagery to help companies make business decisions.

“The traditional go-to locations after graduation are New York, Denver, and Boston,” says Adriana Condarco, an economic development specialist at the Center for Regional Economic Advancement in Ithaca. “But here you have access to interesting and exciting companies that you might see elsewhere.”

Yes, those soul-crushing winters can be rough, but a good craft beer or two can definitely help. Head over to the Ithaca Beer Co. for supplies and wait for the summer thaw.

6. Ann Arbor, MI

Number of college students: 75,929
Median home list price: $334,100
Median household income: $69,200

Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor


Google employees get free lunch, can bring their dogs to work, and have access to an on-site masseuse. But here’s the news flash: They don’t have to move to the tech giant’s Silicon Valley HQ, in Mountain View, CA, to do so.

Companies such as Google have set up shop in Ann Arbor in order to attract top talent from the University of Michigan. That saves employees from having to live in the uber-expensive San Francisco Bay Area. The median home list price in Mountain View is $1,400,000—about four times that of Ann Arbor.

That may be why buyers are diving into the market, despite Ann Arbor being the most expensive college town on our list. Over the past year, the share of millennials buying homes here jumped from 38% to 48%—the biggest such increase among the places we ranked.

The area has a lot of housing options, too. There are new condos and townhomes all over this walkable downtown and plenty of single-family houses in the burbs, including this three-bedroom, one-story home on a tree-lined street for $373,500.

7. Champaign, IL

Number of college students: 51,442
Median home list price: $158,100
Median household income: $55,500

University of Illinois campus


Located two hours south of Chicago and two hours east of Indianapolis, Champaign is great for those who want to save some cash—while still being just a drive away from big-city perks.

But what’s really important to many residents is the Research Park at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. It has become a technology hub with around 100 companies (e.g., Yahoo, Capital One, and Caterpillar) with nearly 2,000 employees.

The inexpensive housing stock is also a draw, with a median home price well below the national median of $289,900. The downtown is full of multifamily, two-story homes priced under $125,000. These homes can double as rental properties for students.

This college town also has a lively cultural scene, including the famed Spurlock Museum and the Krannert Art Museum.

8. Lafayette, IN

Number of college students: 39,768
Median home list price: $191,600
Median household income: $54,000

Lafayette, IN

Rodrigo A. Rodriguez Fuentes/iStock

Do the math. Lafayette is home to Purdue University, a school known for its superb engineering programs. That’s attracted top-flight employers from all over the world hoping to snag some of Purdue’s finest alumni. They include GE Aviation’s $110 million aerospace technology plant and Rolls-Royce’s jet engine research and development facility.

All of these good jobs have led local home builders to try to ramp up production. This new ranch-style home with stone countertops, a sunroom, and a clubhouse in its subdivision is priced at $178,000—and the builder will allow buyers to customize the finishes.

But buyers should act fast. Median home list prices shot up nearly 9.2% from March to April and almost 5.8% year over year, according to data.

9. Columbia, MO

Number of college students: 39,099
Median home list price: $240,400 
Median household income: $53,500

Columns in front of University of Missouri


This is no one-college town. The University of Missouri, the state’s flagship public university, Stephens College, and Columbia College are all based here—meaning there are students and graduates everywhere.

Many locals work in the area’s thriving health care sector and are fans of the annual True/False Film Festival. Some admit to being addicted to Hot Box Cookies, a late-night cookie delivery company that started locally.

Students “stay, or they come back later in life,” says Jim Meyer, a real estate agent at Meyer Works in Columbia. “People from a lot of different places around the world live here and have made this into a unique community.”

Young professionals often want a newer, single-family house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, Meyer says. But sometimes they have to lower their expectations. The going range for starter homes here is $150,000 to $200,000.

10. Iowa City, IA

Number of college students: 29,192
Median home list price: $290,000
Median household income: $61,400

Downtown Iowa City


Students from around the Midwest flock to the University of Iowa, known for its law, pharmacy, and business programs. But when they’re done, some have a hard time leaving. That’s thanks to the University of Iowa Health Care, a large medical center that employs many recent graduates as well as more-seasoned professionals.

Younger residents are particularly fond of the historic homes in walkable downtown neighborhoods such as Longfellow. Most homes here are smaller, single-family bungalows that cost between $175,000 to $275,000, says Julie Dancer, a real estate agent at Lepic-Kroeger in Iowa City.

“Iowa City has great Midwestern values. It is easy to meet and trust people and become a part of the community and get your hands in the dirt,” Dancer says.

* Sources: Home price appreciation from; number of college and university students as calculated by Emsi; median household income from Nielsen; unemployment rates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; population trends and share of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher from the U.S. Census Bureau; and median rent figures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

** Prices are a median of the past 12 months ending in April 2018. 

The post The Best Affordable College Towns for Recent Grads—and Everyone Else appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.