Here’s what Mom and Dad never told you: Parenthood involves a staggering, surreal, and often stressful amount of change—all at once! Late-night feedings carve into your beauty rest. Happy hours at the craft cocktail bar morph into play dates at the playground. Strange objects like the Diaper Genie (look it up) and Lego Death Star kit litter your living spaces. Work schedules become dictated by baby watching and, later, taekwondo classes. Wild parties? Now they often center around hired clowns and end at 3 p.m., not 3 a.m. Crazy!
Perhaps the biggest change of all is location: You need to figure out where to raise your little bundle(s) of joy. Your growing family will need more space, and of course you’d like to find somewhere where your kids are poised to succeed.
The thing is, the places with Blue Ribbon schools, low crime rates, and tons of stuff to do that will keep your kids entertained and you from pulling your hair out also tend to be the most expensive. That’s because good schools + amenities = higher home prices. So what’s a budget-conscious parent to do?
The realtor.com data team set out to uncover the places where young parents truly can have it all—the Venn diagram of affordable, family-friendly spots where you can still grab Sunday brunch and the occasional pomegranate kombucha mimosa. We looked at metropolitan areas, which include the main city and surrounding communities, so you have your choice of urban or suburban lifestyles. Then we factored in educational quality, safety, cultural activities—and, of course, affordability.
“It’s really about the search for quality lifestyle and affordability,” says Senior Economist George Ratiu of realtor.com®. “Families are looking for cities with a diversified economy, strong employment, and a lot of family-friendly amenities like art museums, zoos, botanical gardens and playgrounds—and housing they can afford.”
To find these places, we looked at the following data*:
Median home prices
High school graduation rates
Percentage of local residents under 18
Percentage of teachers, child care workers, and other professionals who work with children
Low rates of violent crime
Percentage of adults with college degrees (as an indicator of education’s value in the community)
Percentage of toy stores
To make sure these places truly were affordable, we capped the median home price at $350,000. (Nationally, it’s $305,000 as of Sept. 1.) We also limited our list to just one metro per state to ensure some geographic diversity.
Ready to discover the best family-friendly metros? Figure out how to install those kid seats (we’ll wait), and let’s take a tour!
Best places to raise your kids, affordably
Median home sales price: $212,000**
Urban garden in Des Moines, IA
Iowa and its caucuses are on many Americans’ minds right now as we wait to see which Democratic candidate will win the hearts and minds of voters in the 2020 presidential race. But the state’s capital—home to nearly 60 corporate headquarters—has already won over families.
That’s because Des Moines and its surrounding burbs boast many parks, interconnected bike trails, top-notch restaurants, and plenty of great schools surrounding a recently revitalized downtown.
“Even though it’s a big metro area, it still feels like a small town,” says Shane Torres, a local real estate broker at Re/Max Concepts. “Most places have rush hour—we have rush minutes.”
Full of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks, the Waveland Park neighborhood attracts families and young professionals who want to own a single-family home in the center of it all. The area has decent public schools and a plethora of affordable homes, including this three-bedroom ranch for $199,900 and this three-bedroom Cape Codder for $250,000.
And about 20 minutes southwest of Des Moines—just a 10-minute drive from Blank Park Zoo—the suburb of Norwalk has also seen an influx of young parents, due to its even lower price points and higher-performing schools. The walkable town offers first-time buyers a chance to get into brand-new construction, like this three-bedroom house, for just shy of $200,000.
Median home sales price: $200,000
Findlay Market in Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati is home to 30 Fortune 500 companies, four professional sports teams, a diverse population—and its very own chili (hey, what’s with the spaghetti?). Those family-friendly features, along with the affordable home prices, are drawing a host of out-of-town buyers.
“Here you can get a lot more for the money,” says local real estate agent Robert Smith of Coldwell Banker West Shell.
Just a five-minute drive from Eden Park and the Cincinnati Art Museum, the East Walnut Hills neighborhood is home to turn-of-the-century million-dollar mansions, plus walkable bars, cafes, and shops. It’s a nice mix of urban and suburban, attracting young professionals and families who appreciate the good schools.
And even those who can’t throw down seven figures on a set of walls can still get into the desirable area. The tony ZIP code offers options under the median home price, like this two-bedroom brick home for $238,000 or this large two-bedroom condo for $225,000 right next to those fancy abodes.
Of course, like with many metropolitan areas, families who want more space often go a bit farther afield. Many have been gravitating to Wyoming, a historic town 20 minutes north of downtown with one of the top 30 high schools in the United States, along with parks, mom and pop restaurants, as well as a swim club, golf course, and tennis courts.
Median home sales price: $195,500
Three-bedroom home in Lexington, KY
A short drive from Cincinnati, Lexington is that rare university town that is affordable and boasts a thriving art scene, which includes an outpost of the very hip 21C Art Museum Hotel and historic museums. Plus, Lexington has a 100-acre botanical garden, multiple horse farms, and plenty of family-friendly places to eat and drink. Oh, and it’s home to multiple Fortune 500 companies.
Parents have a range of affordable options circling downtown Lexington, from neighborhoods like Danby Corners with its A-rated elementary schools, and the Hamburg area, which boasts the largest shopping and dining area in Central Kentucky. In these communities, you can find homes like this large three-bedroom for $231,900. Then there are subdivisions such as Beaumont—which is full of office buildings, hotels, banks, doctors’ offices, and more—where residents can work, play, exercise, and socialize without leaving the neighborhood.
“Cities like Lexington are the poster cities for what I’ve termed ‘the renaissance of suburbs,’” says realtor.com’s Ratiu. “Developers are building higher-density projects that marry living with shopping and playing in a very dynamic atmosphere.”
Median home sales price: $208,000
Three-bedroom bungalow in Fayetteville, AR
Fayetteville and its surrounding Northwest Arkansas metropolitan-area cities have been growing at a rapid clip. The area has seen nearly an 18% population increase in the past nine years.
“It’s a very progressive area,” says Lance Ellington, a Realtor® with Re/Max Real Estate Results’ Annette Gore Team. “And just about anywhere around Fayetteville is nice and family-friendly.”
The region has become a mountain biking hub with 100 miles of trails stretching from Fayetteville—past a number of smaller towns and municipalities that each have its own distinctive downtown—north to the city of Bella Vista. Throughout this stretch buyers can find nice homes under $300,000 within a mile of shops and cafes.
In Fayetteville proper, one of the most desirable hoods is Wilson Park, situated near the University of Arkansas. Although they’re a bit pricier than in other parts of town, affordable abodes do exist, including this adorable three-bedroom bungalow for $349,000.
A 30-minute drive north to Bentonville can get your kids into one of the top 100 high schools in the country. Home to the corporate headquarters of Walmart and world-class museums such as the contemporary Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and interactive, kid-focused Scott Family Amazeum, the city consistently ranks as one of the best places to raise a family in the state.
Parents and kids can spread out without going broke in nice-size homes such as this 2,500-square-foot, four-bedroom house for $290,000.
5. Hartford, CT
Median home sales price: $237,500
Wait, the self-proclaimed “Insurance Capital of the World” is actually a good place to raise kids? Yes, indeed. Aside from the plentiful gigs for the ‘rents—not just all of those actuarial tables, but also tech startups, Fortune 500 firms, and even the headquarters of ESPN in nearby Bristol—there are lovely parks and great museums here. It’s no wonder the number of young families is rising fast.
Near the University of Hartford, in Asylum Hill, parents can find sprawling Victorians, including this four-bedroom house, close to highly rated magnet schools such as the University High School of Science and Engineering and Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School.
The city boasts some world-class amenities, including the lovely 102-acre Elizabeth Park, with the nation’s oldest municipal rose garden, and the Mark Twain House, now a museum honoring the “Huckleberry Finn” scribe. Many of the surrounding suburbs consistently rank as top places to live in the state.
To the north, the town of Simsbury, CT, is one of those places. The area has highly rated public schools, a historic downtown with lots of shops and restaurants, as well as tons of character with mature trees and charming homes. There, families can find some personal space in traditional-style homes that meet and beat the median home price for the metro—including this split-level, three-bedroom home for $239,900.
6. Omaha, NE
Median home sales price: $212,000
Old Market farmers market in Omaha, NE
Omaha might be best known for being home to Berkshire Hathaway and its billionaire founder, Warren Buffett, who still lives in the same modest house in Dundee that he paid $31,500 for in 1958. But this town boasts nearly 1,000 other companies, too, including 10 on the Fortune 500.
It’s not just jobs and proximity to the third-richest man in the world that has people loving Omaha—the city also has a near-endless flow of activities to wear the little ones out. Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is home to the world’s largest indoor desert and glazed geodesic dome as well as North America’s largest indoor rainforest. Plus, there’s even a thriving indie rock scene here, led by Bright Eyes‘ Conor Oberst!
“They used to call Omaha the 20-minute city,” says Carl Christian, a Realtor with NP Dodge Real Estate, of the close proximity to all of Omaha’s family-friendly activities. But, he notes, “it’s grown a bit so it takes a bit more than 20 minutes to get around these days.”
It now takes about 25 minutes to get from downtown Omaha to Hillsborough, a neighborhood that’s been attracting young families for its magnet schools and big homes with mature trees and expansive yards. Prices start in the mid-$200,000s for homes such as this remodeled three-bedroom for $269,950.
7. McAllen, TX
Median home sales price: $161,200
Three-bedroom home in McAllen, TX
An hour’s drive from the beautiful beaches of South Padre Island and just 5 miles from the Mexico border, McAllen is a haven for food lovers, offering a wide array of casual seafood spots and all kinds of Mexican restaurants. At family-friendly places like Costa Messa, kids jam out to live music while parents nosh on enchiladas and sip margaritas. Sweet!
It should come as no surprise that McAllen boasts dozens of restaurants that cater to families. Nearly 30% of the city’s population is under the age of 18. To keep said demographic entertained, the metro offers a wide range of activities, including a sprawling amusement park, International Museum of Art & Science, and the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Hiking and biking trails can be found throughout the metro, too.
With a top-rated primary school (Gonzalez Elementary School), North McAllen is popular with parents of young kids. For just a bit over $150,000, buyers can find newer townhomes, including this $169,900 three-bedroom, and older single-family homes, including this three-bedroom ranch for $169,000.
8. Madison, WI
Median home sales price: $280,000
Downtown Madison, WI
There’s a lot more to this Wisconsin city than brats, cheese curds, and great beer—though, there sure is plenty of all that to go around. The esteemed university town has great restaurants, farmers markets, and outdoor activities that range from hiking, kayaking, and building sandcastles on the beach to biking along miles upon miles of urban greenways. On weekends, families come together for a wide range of events around the Wisconsin state Capitol.
“It’s still a very small town,” says Kinsey Schulz, an agent with Great Rock Realty.
In the Midvale Heights neighborhood, a 20-minute drive or 30-minute bike ride will take you to all of the restaurants and bars near the Capitol. Plus, families can walk to the library, ice cream shops, and local golf course, or ride their bikes along the trails. Buyers can pick up nice homes with large yards, including this three-bedroom Cape Codder, starting in the high $200,000s.
Median home sales price: $130,000
Home in Huntington, WV
“It’s hard to narrow down all the things to do here,”says Lorre Wilson, a broker at eXp Realty.
Huntington has its own symphony orchestra, which performs outdoor concerts during the summer; a kid-friendly museum of art; and the recently developed Pullman Square, a downtown park that hosts events—from hot dog fests to 5K runs—nearly every weekend.
In desirable Southeast Hills, you can get classic brick two-story homes and split-levels starting at as low as $30,000. (Yes, you read that right.) Or you can pick up this four-bedroom home for just $144,900.
10. Raleigh, NC
Median home sales price: $295,000
Bungalow homes in Raleigh, NC
As an anchor on the Research Triangle and surrounded by universities, Raleigh offers a wide range of well-paying medical, information technology, and textile jobs. Those gigs—and the affordable home prices—have been attracting folks from costlier states like California and New York; in fact, since 2010, the city’s population has grown by 16.1%.
There’s no dearth of kid-friendly activities in Raleigh, either. The downtown area has museums, including the beloved Marbles Kids Museum, which is right across the street from 1792 Moore Square. The public gathering space is one of Raleigh’s two surviving original parks and was recently revamped with a water park and burger stand.
Families have been gravitating toward suburban-feeling areas like North Hills, which is known for its proximity to the greenway and good schools. It’s one of the fastest-growing parts of the city, but it’s not the cheapest. A four-bedroom ranch in the area will set you back just under $400,000.
Buyers who want more space for less money head to suburbs such as Apex, NC. Less than 20 minutes from downtown, the small city has a cute business district with breweries, quaint restaurants—and a range of homes that ring in at $300,000 and less. For instance, you could snatch up this brand-new, three-bedroom Craftsman bungalow for just $229,900.
“We get a lot of young families looking to grow,” says Angie Cole, a broker and owner of A Cole Realty.
* Data are from realtor.com and the U.S. Census Bureau.
** Sale prices as of July 1
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Source: Housing Trends Feed