Back in his mid-20s, John Malone was right where he’d always dreamed he would be: working as a software engineer in San Francisco. Yet even with a full-time job, Malone found himself “totally broke. I lived in a three-bedroom house with six other guys.”
Realizing he could never afford to buy (or even rent) his own place, Malone started searching for work back where he’d grown up in Minneapolis. He was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of tech jobs offering decent salaries—and (the clincher) affordable homes.
A decade or so ago, this was an unusual tale. Now it’s playing out over and over: Tech workers flock to San Francisco, San Jose, CA, and the gaggle of nearby suburbs that make up Silicon Valley, but eventually flee in search of more affordable housing and better lifestyles.
Even some who can very much foot the bill—like tech titan Peter Thiel—have bailed, leading the New York Times to declare, “Silicon Valley Is Over.” That’s why the realtor.com® data team set out to find the new Silicon Valleys—where folks can score a good job at high-powered startups and some of the nation’s top tech companies and snag some reasonably priced real estate.
“Starting again in the Twin Cities made sense,” says Malone, who is now 40, married with a daughter, and living on the bottom floor of a spacious Minneapolis duplex with a yard. “As you get older and have a family, you can’t have roommates. It’s about quality of life.”
Peruse Silicon Valley real estate listings, and you’ll understand the appeal of pulling up roots. Nationally, the median home list price was $315,000 as of July 1, according to realtor.com data. But within San Francisco city limits, you’ll pay about 4.5 times more—$1,435,000 million. It’s not much better in San Jose, where buyers are dropping a daunting $994,000.
Meanwhile, according to job listings website Glassdoor, the average information technology worker makes $80,512 per year, which falls woefully short of footing a mortgage that size. A 20% down payment alone is roughly four times that annual income.
“Silicon Valley’s extremely low unemployment rate—due to the abundance of tech jobs there—has caused housing costs to skyrocket,” says David Armendariz, general manager of the technology division for recruitment firm Lucas Group.
“Tech companies are recognizing this, and they’re opening offices in other cities. While Silicon Valley will continue to be the tech industry’s epicenter, other secondary markets are now providing not only incredible job opportunities, but the opportunity to build a life as well as a career,” Armendariz adds.
Unlike in prior decades, today’s tech companies can operate almost anywhere, says KC Conway, chief economist at the CCIM Institute and Alabama Center for Real Estate in Atlanta. And workers are increasingly all-too-happy to follow.
“Today’s tech workforce doesn’t want insanity—they want quality of life,” says Conway.
So where, exactly, should they go? To find out, our data team examined the 500 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, which include the main cities and surrounding towns, and used the following criteria* to rank them:
Number of people employed in the tech sector
Number of public tech companies
Percentage of tech job listings
Average tech job salaries
Median home list prices
We then sifted out those pricey places with median home prices over $400,000. What’s left are the hidden gems that have it all: tons of good gigs, affordable homes, plus plenty of things outside those doors that will keep your inner geek’s brain cells firing—at work, home, and everywhere in between.
Top Affordable Tech Metros
Median home price: $266,526**
Think Huntsville is a sleepy Southern town? Actually, its explosive nickname, “Rocket City,” is well-deserved: This is home to the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, the U.S. government’s civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion research center. Meanwhile, fledgling startups are also taking off, thanks to nonprofits like Urban Engine, which helps support the entrepreneurial goals of 18,000 members.
According to a study by info technology association CompTIA, IT workers in Huntsville make an enviable median salary of $91,998—and the number of IT jobs here is expected to grow by 4% over the next five years. Combined with a cost of living 3.3% lower than the national average and low home prices, Huntsville has a lot going for it, including a revitalized downtown that’s looking up.
“The market is just going crazy,” says local real estate agent Sid Pugh of Re/Max Alliance.
Homes here can be found for well under $300,000, including this three-bedroom brick house with shared swimming pool and tennis courts for $279,900.
2. Dallas, TX
Median home price: $349,950
Just 25 miles south of Dallas in Midlothian, a massive structure of concrete and steel is rising up from some 375 acres—Google’s $600 million call center. This tech titan’s investment is a sign of the times: The Computing Technology Industry Association has dubbed Dallas “the largest tech labor force in the South.” And it’s still growing—the area’s demand for tech pros is forecasted to increase by 10% over the next five years.
Tech heads here earn a median salary of $84,614, and they’re finding that it goes far. Gorgeous homes like this brick, four-bedroom house with a vaulted ceiling in the master suite are selling for just $325,000.
“While our house prices have been climbing, it’s still a very affordable market compared to the West Coast,” says Ted Wilson, principal at Residential Strategies in Dallas.
Another bonus: “We’re one of seven states with no state income tax,” he adds.
And there’s plenty more to Dallas than football and barbecue: This city is also home to the nation’s largest arts district, with 19 blocks of museums, venues, and galleries.
“It’s a great quality of life,” says Wilson. “People who move here like it and want to stay.”
A four-bedroom home in Dallas for $325,000
Median home price: $325,050
While Baltimore may not seem like a buzzing tech mecca, get this: Baltimore ranks third in the nation in residents graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computers or math, according to the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.
The city is also second only to Washington, DC, in the number of civilians employed in government positions—and all of these companies and governmental outposts need tech. That explains why the growth in that sector is forecasted to grow by 8% over the next five years, and already pays an impressive median annual salary of $93,080, according to CompTIA.
Baltimore also has location going for it—the city is just a short drive or flight to DC and New York City—without the surreal real estate prices. You’ll especially enjoy Baltimore if you can score a Georgian classic like this one with a gazebo out back for $345,000.
And while it’s no secret that the city has some troubles, including pockets of poverty and high crime, many areas boast elegant architecture and a quaint, small-town feel. That may be why the locals call it Charm City.
4. Chicago, IL
Median home price: $309,950
News flash: Chicago is among the cities with the fastest startup growth over the past 10 years, according to a recent Center for an Urban Future report. The number of startups spiked 270% from 2008 to 2018; only the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles have more.
As the largest city in the Midwest, Chicago appeals to those who want a big-city life at a small price. From the Chicago Riverwalk to world-class restaurants, museums, and galleries, you don’t need to leave town to experience all the energy and culture of a large, vibrant city. (We hear Chicago has pretty good hot dogs, too. No comment on the pizza.)
Those with kids or plans for them are heading to Bridgeport, just south of downtown, which has been touted as one of the most family-friendly areas in the city. Buyers can score houses such as this five-bedroom, three-bathroom model with an in-law suite with separate entrance for $319,000.
5. Atlanta, GA
Median home price: $336,895
“Hotlanta” is hopping these days—not just with great music and even greater food, but also with tech jobs. Much of the latter is homegrown and nurtured by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Advanced Technology Development Center, which has successfully launched more than 120 companies and is considered one of the nation’s top technology incubators.
A few years ago, the city also started offering tax incentives for startups. Combined with a cost of living 4% lower than the national average, that means more money to spend on everything, especially housing.
“We see new firms locating here nearly weekly,” says Atlanta-based real estate agent Bruce Ailion of Re/Max Town & Country. “Tech companies are looking for locations with solid infrastructure, youth culture, high quality of life, and low cost of living. Atlanta has all four qualities, and is a beneficiary of tech flight from higher-cost tech centers.”
So where are these tech pros settling?
“Most are in areas within 5 to 6 miles of the urban core—the areas west of midtown, and south and east of downtown,” Ailion says. “We see blighted neighborhoods being replaced by luxury apartments. There’s a new vitality to these areas.”
Atlanta’s urban sprawl is epic, with buildings going up farther and farther from the city’s center in an effort to meet the demand, which helps explain why realtor.com ranked it among the top 10 cities for home flips last year.
One of the fastest-growing neighborhoods is Scottdale. Just 25 minutes from downtown, Scottsdale homes cost around $250,000, significantly less than the city’s median. But buyers had better act fast, as prices have shot up here a head-snapping 178% in the past five years.
6. Austin, TX
Median home price: $369,998
Dell HQ in Round Rock, TX
Austin has been dubbed “mini Silicon Valley” for good reason: The Austin metro now has the fifth-largest share of IT jobs in the country, according to a recent report by RentCafe. Dell Computer is based here, and companies such as IBM, Amazon, and Apple all have outposts in this funky state capital.
The tech boom has sparked a rash of luxury homes in now chi-chi areas like the Barton Creek. But for those who don’t have stock options—yet—there are plenty of cheaper options, thanks to rapid new housing construction and outward sprawl. You can even find a brand-new, three-bedroom, three-bathroom house in the mid $300s.
What’s that you say? Don’t think of yourself as a stereotypical Texan? Don’t worry—metro Austin is a far cry from cattle ranches and dusty trails. South by Southwest! Weird indie bands! Greasy breakfast tacos! What’s not to love?
Median home price: $275,050
Three-bedroom apartment in Fishtown.
Philly is famed for health care (as evidenced by five medical schools and 22 nursing schools), but its tech sectors are expanding rapidly, too. Groups like Philly Startup Leaders have helped link resources across the Philly tech community, spurring some big growth.
Affordability is a big pull for Philadelphia. “We’re both economically and culturally diverse,” says Jeanne Whipple, owner and team leader of Elfant Wissahickon Realtors in Philadelphia. “There are tons of opportunities for tech folks working in the gig economy, and we’re big in the eds [aka education] and meds [medical] sector. Let’s not forget, those industries are high-tech, too.”
Thinking of leaving Seattle, but afraid you’ll miss the coffee? Philadelphia takes beer and coffee seriously. The city is known for pop-up beer gardens, as well as independent coffee houses with offerings like nitro cold brew and draft lattes—particularly in the hipster enclaves of Norris Square, Old Kensington, and Fishtown, where you can find a single-family home like this two-bedroom in the low $300,000s.
8. Raleigh, NC
Median home price: $349,950
Raleigh, along with Durham and Chapel Hill, is part of the famous Research Triangle, a trifecta of world-class educational institutions. In fact, it’s one of the most educated communities in the country—and tech is a healthy part of the job mix.
According to commercial real estate firm CBRE’s Tech Talent Scorecard, 6.6% of employment in the Raleigh-Durham area is tech talent, nearly double the national average of 3.5%.
That doesn’t mean Raleigh is all work and no play—this Southern city boasts parks, mountains, water, craft breweries, and plenty of dog runs (this town is about as canine-friendly as it gets).
On the real estate front, you shouldn’t have to save for years to get into a home in Raleigh. Homes like this three-bedroom, with a front porch that’s almost the definition of a Southern welcome, still sell for under $350,000.
A three-bedroom in Raleigh, NC, for $342,000
9. Detroit, MI
Median home price: $252,675
Microsoft building in Detroit, MI
In 2010, the headquarters for tech mortgage company Quicken Loans moved to downtown Detroit. Founder and chairman Dan Gilbert and his partners now own or control over 80 buildings in town. Meanwhile, tech companies like Twitter and Microsoft have deemed Motown worthy of outposts, too.
In other words, after decades of decline, Detroit appears to be finally on the rebound. No kidding, Detroit is doing just fine!
“Downtown and midtown are on fire,” says Tom Nanes, a real estate agent at Community Choice Realty. “Parts of the University of Detroit district and Palmer Woods are attracting millennials. There are some fabulous old homes that take a lot of money to update, but whatever the cost, it’s a bargain compared to other cities.”
For between $200,000 to $400,000, you can get an architecturally impressive house like this beauty with a grand staircase and soaking tub that you couldn’t touch for two or three times the price in other cities.
A four bedroom in Detroit for $299,000
10. Minneapolis, MN
Median home price: $372,663
Minneapolis is right behind Chicago as the second-largest economic center in the Midwest. What most folks don’t realize is that the area is home to a whopping 85 firms on Inc. 5000’s 2019 list of the fastest-growing companies in America. Many of these firms are high-tech, including software company SPS Commerce and online networking platform Field Nation, which has grown by more than 1,073% since 2010. It’s also the headquarters of megastores Target and Best Buy.
Minnesota isn’t just importing its tech talent, it’s also nurturing it in a grass-roots way, too. The Best Buy Teen Tech Center, open since 2017, is dedicated to bringing tech access and skills to teenagers at five locations (and counting) in the Twin Cities.
Yes, the winters in Minnesota can be a challenge, but you won’t mind it so much when you realize you can purchase fantastic digs, including this four-bedroom home with a walk-in closet in the master suite and back deck, in the mid-$200,000s.
A three-bedroom home in Minneapolis for $230,000
** Median list prices as of April 1
Source: Housing Trends Feed