10 Surprising Cities Where a $60K Middle-Class Salary Can Snag a Sweet Home



iStock; realtor.com



Can America’s stressed-out, fought-over, cash-strapped middle class still afford to buy homes?

That’s the megamillion-dollar question these days. Because while the economy is strong and wages are rising, these gains are being left in the dust by runaway home prices. Combined with creeping mortgage rates, it’s enough to make any average-income worker wonder: Will my paycheck ever catch up?

Before you throw up your hands and despair that your so-so salary has placed a fragile glass ceiling on your hopes of buying a home, take heart! The thrifty realtor.com® data team crunched the data to figure out just how much home regular Joes can actually afford to buy—and where they can find a plethora of sweet, comfortably priced abodes.

So where did we locate the greatest share of these real estate unicorns? Hint: It wasn’t Manhattan or the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Generally, these aren’t found in high-growth areas of the country … [places] where we haven’t seen commensurate wage and salary growth,” says Sean Snaith, an economics professor at the University of Central Florida. “You won’t find cities in California on this list.”

Instead, for middle-class affordability, “you need to look toward areas where housing prices have not seen the same appreciation,” he says.

But buckle up: We found a few surprise markets along the way.

To zero in on these hidden mainstream meccas, we started with the definition of a “middle-income” family from the latest U.S. Census Bureau data: a median household gross income of $61,372 per year. (For simplicity, we rounded that down to $60,000).

Then we did the math: We calculated that homeowners should spend no more than 28% of annual income on housing—which on 60 grand amounts to annual housing costs of $16,800. We assumed that these homeowners could get a 30-year mortgage with a 5% down payment and a 5% fixed-interest rate, plus 0.5% in private mortgage insurance (required on down payments below 20%). So we determined that a family earning $60,000 a year could comfortably buy a home priced up to $257,400, max.

Finally, we looked at realtor.com listings for September to find the greatest share of available housing there is at or below $257,400 in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas (limiting the rankings to two metros per state).*

We found tons of great homes, in nice neighborhoods, that middle-class earners can afford to buy—without becoming “house poor.” No inheritance, lottery payouts, Ponzi schemes, or fantasy-level raises required!

Cities where a $60K salary can buy a home

Claire Widman


1. Pittsburgh, PA

Median list price: $179,100 Share of affordable homes: 64.3%

Home in Brighton Heights in Pittsburgh

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These days, Pittsburgh has shaken off its image of a Rust Belt city in decline and reinvented itself as a bustling tech hub. Aided by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, it has attracted major tech and health care companies to the region. Look no further than Über, which has an office here focused on designing autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

Despite all the changes, home prices have stayed low here. Many houses built in the early 20th century during the city’s heyday were neglected during the city’s years of population loss. But now, these places are getting investor attention. Take Brighton Heights, for example: The neighborhood has Craftsman-style homes built in the 1920s and 1930s lining its streets, as well as young buyers and investors flocking here to snag and remodel homes priced under $125,000.

“Communities that were once the nicer neighborhoods in Pittsburgh in the ’60s and ’70s are now seeing a resurgence,” says Bobby West, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker in Pittsburgh. “It is a shock to come to Pittsburgh and find that.”

2. Rochester, NY

Median list price: $177,500 Share of affordable homes: 63.1%

Home in Rochester

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New York City remains one of the most brutally competitive markets on the planet. But not upstate in Rochester, where home buyers encounter a dynamic mix of inventory and affordability. The median down payment in Monroe County (aka Rochester) is just 5%, compared with 27.8% in Manhattan.

The road to those low prices wasn’t pretty, though. During the ’80s and ’90s, the city lost loads of manufacturing jobs, many of them at former photographic film titan Eastman Kodak, long the crown jewel of corporate Rochester.

But now home buyers can snag beautiful homes only a short walk or bike away from the city’s downtown nightlife. This three-story Victorian would be well over $500,000 in many American cities, but in Rochester it’s only $275,000—and that’s on the high side! There are even a surprising number of four-bedroom homes priced at just $50,000.

3. Buffalo, NY

Median list price: $185,100 Share of affordable homes: 61.8%

Four-bedroom home listed for $139,000 in Buffalo.

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For decades, Buffalo was the poster child for manufacturing decline as plants went under and workers fled for greener pastures. But a flurry of downtown investment by the city and the University of Buffalo has helped line the streets with new restaurants, and corporate parks with startups. Meanwhile, outdoor enthusiasts love that you can now kayak down the Buffalo River, a once-befouled industrial waterway that has recently been restored.

“If you came to Buffalo 15 years ago, just about everyone hated it. Locals would tell you to get out as soon as you can,” says Vincent Rondinelli, principal broker at Rondinelli Real Estate in Buffalo. “It’s not like that anymore. The people who live here love it.”

And they love the home prices, too, which are still a bargain compared with other markets—but probably not for long.

“We have investors coming in from out of state as far away as California,” Rondinelli says. “They’re buying old, cheaper homes as investment properties. They’re gutting them and reselling them, and that’s driving up prices quite a bit.”

Bonus: Even the long-downtrodden Buffalo Bills are finally winning these days! (Sorry, just kidding.)

4. St. Louis, MO

Median list price: $209,500 Share of affordable homes: 61.7%

Brick house in St. Louis

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In the early part of the 20th century, St. Louis was an industrial giant and among the nation’s largest cities, but decades of job loss and a dwindling population turned some neighborhoods into veritable ghost towns. But that old narrative doesn’t hold as much anymore. Case in point: In September, over-capacity crowds flocked to Anheuser-Busch Brewery’s first ever Love Beer Fest to imbibe not just Budweiser, but over 100 beers from brands across the country. Beer snobs are a clear sign that a city is on the up!

This city is full of beautiful historic homes from an era when one-of-a-kind craftsmanship was the rule rather than the exception. Parts of St. Louis like Lafayette Square and Benton Park are places where buyers can find charming brick bungalows built in the early 1930s.

Plus, like many Midwestern cities, St. Louis has seen a revitalization in its downtown, with cranes popping up and a flurry of remodeling of the area’s gorgeous historic houses. These gigantic brick homes are selling at bargain-basement prices compared with other parts of the country.

5. Cleveland, OH

Median list price: $179,500 Share of affordable homes: 61.7%

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