Everyone loves to discover a real bargain, whether it’s a discounted lunch special, a mysteriously cheap laptop, or a home. Especially a home! The sad truth: While we all tend to obsess over the nation’s famously desirable, famously overpriced markets—San Fransisco and New York and Denver, oh my—they don’t exactly offer a lot of unexpectedly affordable housing options. And along with the stratosphere-scraping prices comes crazed competition among buyers. Who needs the drama?
Don’t despair! None of this means you have to put your homeownership dreams on hold. In fact, there are places where you can land your ideal home for a low price, where homes don’t go off the market in a matter of minutes, and where you can still find plenty of fun things to do. But they just might not be the first places you’d think of.
That’s why our trusty data team members put on their headlamps and most durable duds and started digging, working to uncover the most overlooked housing markets—the hidden places where buyers can score a deal on a home and land a good job, all without dying of boredom. After all, seeking out a mellower market can save your sanity and open up options.
“In a really hot housing market you might have to buy a home quickly, make an offer that’s more competitive with a larger down payment, or waive contingencies you might prefer to keep,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist of realtor.com. “It’s less likely you might have to make those concessions as a buyer in a colder market.”
To figure out where buyers can get into the housing market without raising their cortisol levels (too much), realtor.com’s team of treasure hunters looked at the metro areas with the following:
- The longest days on the market
- Median home prices below the national median of $310,000
- Unemployment rates lower than the national rate of 3.6%
- A high number of restaurants and bars listed on Yelp
We limited the list to just one metro per state and ranked them in order of longest days on the market.
“Even though properties are sitting on the market in many of these areas, values are still increasing,” Hale says.
So let’s take a stress-free ride across the country, and check ’em out.
Median home list price: $299,950
Median days on market: 87
Set on the Gulf of Mexico in serene Southwest Florida, Cape Coral boasts 400 miles of canals where homeowners can tie up a boat behind their own home and fish from their own dock. Those beautiful inland waterways were overtaken with toxic foul-smelling, blue-green algae blooms after Hurricane Irma swept the area in 2017, which took its toll on home prices for a couple of years.
But the Army Corps of Engineers has been testing water filtration systems to collect and remove those sorts of deadly algae blooms in the future—and, as a result, buyers have been slowly creeping back into town to pick up deals.
“We haven’t had any problems this year, and my phone has been ringing off the hook,” says Mike Lombardo, broker with Old Glory Realty.
For less than $300,000, it’s possible to score a home with Gulf access, like this three-bedroom, two-bathroom place—as well as newly remodeled places with pools, higher square footage, and waterfront views for right around the same price.
2. El Paso, TX
Median home list price: $187,725
Median days on market: 76.25
El Paso made headlines when it was shaken by a mass shooting in August, and the emotional impact is still being felt. But by all economic measures, things have been looking up in recent years for the Texas border town that sits right at the crux of Las Cruces, Ciudad Juarez, and Chihuahua City.
The population is growing fast, recently hitting 800,000. The Mexican peso has gained strength on the U.S. dollar, helping the borderland economy hit $13 billion in commercial activity. And home values are creeping up—11% over last year, according to recent realtor.com data.
“When I moved here five years ago, it was a very different city from what is now,” says Alex Cordova, real estate agent with Alexander Cordova Luxury Real Estate. “It’s a huge, booming city right now.”
The military town has also been transforming into a bigger college town with a broadened research program at the University of Texas at El Paso. To serve all the young residents, the city boasts more than 1,000 restaurants and bars along with 35 museums.
In the desirable neighborhood of Castner Heights, buyers can get three-bedroom homes, in a variety of styles—from Colonial and Pueblo Revival to ranch—for $175,000 (or less). Or you can land a brand-new, four-bedroom home for just $229,900.
3. Albany, NY
Median home list price: $294,950
Median days on market: 74.5
Outdoor enthusiasts, rejoice! Along with its whopping 1,331 restaurants and bars, 46 museums, and a thriving indie music and arts scene, come wintertime Albany offers more sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling, and tubing per capita than just about any other metro in the U.S. Still, Albany still has plenty of deals on homes—you can get into a three-bedroom restored historic home in the desirable Pine Hills neighborhood for $189,000.
“You can get a really nice house in the city within walking distance to restaurants and bars,” says Anthony Gucciardo, broker at Gucciardo Real Estate Group.
While the state capital and college town has started marketing itself as a tech hub—gaining some good-paying biotech, engineering, and pharmaceutical gigs—the city has had its share of economic struggles over the past few decades. It has kept homeownership rates low: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 37.2% of all housing units are owner-occupied.
But a never-ending supply of college students searching for housing also makes Albany a prime opportunity for potential buyers who want an investment property and need a strong pool of renters.
A lot of empty nesters and first-time buyers pick up deals in coveted neighborhoods like the aforementioned Pine Hills and Buckingham Pond, a vibrant, walkable area with tons of eateries.
4. Augusta, GA
Median home list price: $224,285.5
Median days on market: 73.5
Augusta might be most famous for the Masters golf tournament—and its legendary pimento cheese sandwich—but it has way more to offer than an annual sporting event. The historic city founded in 1736, on the beautiful banks of the Savannah River, is just two hours from Atlanta and two hours from the coast.
Over the past couple of years, the military town has diversified its economy with medical and manufacturing jobs, like E-Z-Go golf carts, and opened a U.S. Army Cyber School in Fort Gordon. The town’s unemployment rate has dropped substantially, from 5.8% (a couple of points higher than the national average) in 2016 to 3.3%.
But that’s not all—Augusta boasts more than 700 restaurants, 14 museums, and a wide range of homes that cost a fraction of the price of other Georgia metros. Buyers can score a charming four-bedroom Colonial, just 10 minutes from the city’s famed 18 holes, for just shy of $250,000.
Median home list price: $292,550
Median days on market: 72
Des Moines, quite simply, is thriving. The city’s population has increased 6.2% since 2010, drawing a plethora of young professionals who come for jobs in the large financial, insurance, and publishing sectors, with offices for Wells Fargo, Nationwide, and Meredith Publishing.
And those white-collar workers are staying for the amenities. Des Moines boasts 1,000-plus restaurants, an annual arts festival, and regular concerts on the river that feature bands such as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Foster the People.
“In the last 10 years, the city’s culture has shifted to very artsy,” says Tim Scheib, a Realtor® with Re/Max Precision.
Because of the thriving economy (the unemployment rate is just 2.5%), developers have been working on a wide array of housing projects for every level of the market. For instance, to the west of the city, a project called Kettlestone is currently underway. The 1,500-acre, mixed-use development features a range of residential housing, restaurants, and offices connected by trails, parks, and ponds. In this community you can score a three-bedroom home for under $300,000.
“These kinds of areas are attracting a lot of families and young couples preparing for a family,” Scheib says.
Those who want to be in the heart of the city—and care less about space—can find industrial-style, one-bedroom condos starting around $145,000.
Median home list price: $247,446
Median days on market: 70.5
Even though Baton Rouge has seen an influx of restaurants and bars (it has more than 1,100 listed on Yelp) in its walkable downtown, the high-in-crime state capital has been losing population. But as many city dwellers have decamped for the suburbs, the larger metro’s overall population is up 3.6%.
The first-time buyers and young families moving to burbs can get a large four-bedroom, French-inspired home for $275,000, smack dab in the middle of the desirable Ascenscion Parish school district, just minutes away from the city
These areas are full of historic buildings and Spanish moss–covered oak trees as well as lots of parks and waterways. And, since it is Louisiana, there’s excellent Cajun- and Creole-style fare.
While home values have increased about 4% from last year, the market is still better for buyers than it was a couple of years ago. Catastrophic flooding in 2016 decreased the area’s housing stock, causing home prices to surge as a result.
“There was a huge demand for housing with multiple offers taking place per listing,” says David McKey, broker with Coldwell Banker One. “We’re back to a more normal market now.”
7. Columbia, SC
Median home list Price: $239,950
Median days on market: 64
South Carolina’s state capital might not get the attention of its darling coastal sister, Charleston, but it still has plenty of respectable amenities—and its housing is far more affordable. Charleston’s median list price of $325,000 is nearly $100,000 higher than Columbia’s.
Columbia boasts a solid mix of global companies like BlueCross BlueShield, students and educators at the University of South Carolina, and a large military base. The city has nearly 750 restaurants (including some award-winning barbecue joints) and 32 museums. The crime levels within city limits remain a problem point—the city was ranked as the 25th most dangerous city in the U.S.—but some of the surrounding towns are statistically much safer, and still affordable.
For instance, in the nearby suburb of Lexington, buyers can get a new three-bedroom, 2.5-bath Colonial Revival home for right around $230,000. The town attracts young professionals and families with its highly rated public schools, multiple parks and nature preserves, and its own fun winery.
Median home list price: $189,750
Median days on market: 62
After years of industrial decline, Steel City has become the poster child for urban renewal. It’s now a tech hot spot and medical hub, and it regularly comes up on national lists of best cultural and dining destinations. The city of 300,000 residents has a staggering 1,800-plus restaurants—offering everything from vegan pierogies to award-winning Basque cuisine—and 129 museums, far more than any of the other cities on this list.
All that revitalization doesn’t make up for the fact that the city is still bleeding population. Since 2010, the city lost 1.4% of its population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But here’s the thing: Fewer people means more housing options for buyers—and better deals. Techies and other young professionals have been snatching up large homes in Brighton Heights for a steal, like this historic five-bedroom for $199,000.
“The basic story is the death rate is higher than the birth rate,” says Bob Strauss, professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, who says the net in-migration hasn’t caught up to the existing housing stock. “But what you’ve got in Pittsburgh is a relatively safe, culturally diverse, and affordable place to live.”
Buyers who want to enjoy all of Pittsburgh’s cultural capital can get some serious deals in hip enclaves like East Liberty and Lawrenceville, where you can get a redone three-bedroom row house for just $239,900.
Median home list price: $284,425
Median days on market: 61
With its burgeoning downtown scene and location nestled near the Great Smoky Mountains, Knoxville has been drawing new residents in recent years. Its population has increased 5.2% over the past decade thanks to its temperate climate, lower cost of living, and an unemployment rate of just 2.6%.
That growth has led to a steady run-up in home prices in the college town, with sellers getting about 99% of their asking price through much of 2018, according to local real estate agents.
That might seem like a deterrent—and indeed, entry-level homes are still flying off the market. But houses in the $300,000-plus range are sitting around longer—for somewhere between 90 to 120 days, says Glenda Johnson, broker-agent at Coldwell Banker Jim Henry. That means buyers who have a higher budget are poised to score a sweet home for a steal, like this three-bedroom Colonial in the popular Seven Springs subdivision.
10. New Haven, CT
Median home list price: $279,050
Median days on market: 58
After decades of decline in manufacturing jobs and languishing downtown retail, New Haven’s population has been on a slow uptick for the past several years, and unemployment is finally below the national average at 3.1%.
The median days on market in the home of Yale—which along with a nationally regarded theater scene happens to have the best clam pizza on the face of the earth (yes, really)—is on par with the national averages. Like many other college towns, much of New Haven’s population is driven by transient students and faculty: Only 27.8% of housing units are owner-occupied.
That means buyers can pick and choose from a wide array of historic homes priced around $300,000 in fun areas like Wooster Square, like this chic three-bedroom loft in a sun-drenched warehouse for $335,500.
The market has been seeing a lot of action recently with tons of investors who have taken note of the growing strength of the market, says Jack Hill of Seabury Hill Realtors.
“It’s a great little city.”