The Best Places to Live in America, 2018: Revenge of the Burbs!

best places to live in america 2018 edition


Home is where the heart is, home is where you make it—but given the option, wouldn’t you want to make your home and store your heart in a place with a great sense of community, excellent schools to set your kids up for success, and affordable homes so you can set yourself up for financial stability?

Of course you would. And we’re here to help!

For the second year in a row,® teamed up with Money magazine to come up with its annual Best Places to Live list. Having focused on small towns last year, we set our sights this time around on places with populations of 50,000 or more.

To figure out the best of the best, we took into account more than 135,000 data points, covering economic health, public school performance, local amenities, housing, and cost of living. We disqualified places with high crime rates (more than double the national rate), depressed income (less than 85% of the state median), and a lack of racial diversity.

The resulting list doesn’t feature any of the nation’s best-known big cities (could it be due to their higher crime rates and skyrocketing home prices?), but many suburban towns that are within a decent commute of one. That means you get those classic suburban amenities (a big house, a backyard for barbecues, great public schools) without totally giving up on the big-bucks jobs and fun factor of the big city.

“For someone who’s starting from scratch, this is a list of areas with great quality of life, healthy housing markets where affordability is important, and great overall community,” says Danielle Hale,’s chief economist.

Ready? Let’s take a cross-country tour of America’s top-drawer places, 2018. (See the list of all 50 here.)

Best Places to Live

Claire Widman

1. Frisco, TX

Median home price: $449,900 Median household income : $117,642 Population: 177,286

A three-bedroom home in Frisco for less than $500,000.

For the first time in at least five years, Frisco topped the U.S. Census list of America’s fastest-growing big cities. From 2016 to 2017, the city added an average of 37 new residents every day. Over a year, that added up to a population jump of 8.2%.

The city about 30 miles north of Dallas is home to the splashy new headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys, The Star, a megacomplex that includes offices, a hotel, and swanky bars and restaurants. North Texas is on fire economically, and as Mayor Jeff Cheney pointed out in his (apparently unsuccessful) sales video aimed at snagging Amazon’s new headquarters, Frisco still has plenty of room to grow.

With its 177,000 people, Frisco is already a good-sized city—but one that still has a sense of community, says Julie Howell Stutts, who’s been a homeowner there for seven years.

“You still kind of feel like you know everybody here,” she says.

Schools here are top-notch and a prime draw for families. But while in the past the area’s housing consisted of mostly single-family homes, the recent spate of building has included apartment complexes more appealing to single professionals.

2. Ashburn, VA

Median home price: $519,990 Median household income: $120,862 Population: 49,692* 

A large home in Ashburn

Tim Kitchen/Getty Images

A couple of decades ago, Ashburn was a country town with just one grocery store. That’s when Kim Rabinowitch and her husband bought a townhouse, just after their marriage.

“We liked it because we could get a lot for our money back then,” she says. But they fell in love with the schools and their neighbors, and when they decided to trade up to a house, they bought one just down the street.

“People want to move into our school district,” Rabinowitch says. “Houses go on the market, and they’re on there for less than a day.”

With great schools and convenient transportation—it’s 10 minutes by car to Washington Dulles Airport and 40 minutes to the District of Columbia, plus there’s a new metro station to DC under construction—it’s no wonder that Ashburn has become popular with commuting federal employees. And other nearby suburban towns such as Tysons Corner and Fairfax offer more job opportunities closer to home.

Single-family homes, many with four to five bedrooms, dominate the housing stock, along with some townhomes. An impressive 83.4% of those homes are owner-occupied.

3. Carmel, IN

Median home price: $374,000 Median household income: $106,546 Population: 92,198

Coxhall Public Garden in Carmel, IN


Just 26 miles north of Indianapolis, Carmel has become a sought-after suburban destination for its excellent schools and amenities.

“It’s mostly young families that are moving in,” says Kelly Lavengood, a real estate agent with the Lavengood Team in Indianapolis. “I frequently receive calls from people looking to relocate to Carmel from out of state.”

But it’s not just a magnet for parents—Carmel’s walkable downtown and plentiful parks also make it appealing to empty nesters.

“A lot of times, people think that suburbs are just an extension of the city,” Lavengood says. “But Carmel has really become an entity of its own.”

There’s a variety of homes for Carmel buyers to choose from, from entry-level abodes all the way up to mansions. Architectural styles vary, too—there’s even a pocket of midcentury modern homes designed by Avriel Shull.

4. Ellicott City, MD

Median home price: $558,950 Median household income: $121,019 Population: 70,780*

Shops in Ellicott City, MD

Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

Founded in 1772, Ellicott City has plenty of charm, particularly in its historic downtown district. Here, you can dip into boutiques and antiques stores in buildings that are pretty much antiques themselves.

But that doesn’t mean this place is stuck in the past. Its top-rated schools attract young families, and its affordable housing and access to two major metropolises appeal to professionals as well.

“The cost of living is high in Maryland; Ellicott City just happens to be located between Baltimore and Washington [DC], and it offers affordable housing,” says Jon Sandler, a real estate attorney who has been practicing in Ellicott City for 21 years. “Half the people are [Washington] Redskins fans, and the other are [Baltimore] Ravens fans.”

It’s the kind of place, he says, where locals stick around, or eventually come back to their roots. Many of the older buildings downtown have rental apartments upstairs, and there are also historic single-family homes, typically built with granite blocks, just outside downtown. There are also quite a few newer developments aimed at young professionals, Sandler notes.

But if you buy here, you’d best get flood insurance—the city has been subject to disastrous inundations in the past, and is weighing whether to invest tens of millions of dollars to redirect water from downtown.

5. Cary, NC

Median home price: $389,000 Median household income: $94,617 Population: 165,904

Four-bedroom home in Cary, NC

Cary sits within North Carolina’s Research Triangle—an area of scientific innovation marked off by the cities of Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham, which is home to more than 200 companies.

The area is rife with highly educated professionals who want the best schools for their kids—and Cary can offer that, says Merry Ann Cutler, a real estate agent and relocation expert with Re/Max United in Cary.

“Some of the people moving here are coming all the way from the West Coast,” she says.

Plus, it’s relatively affordable—you can buy a nice, single-family home here for $400,000.

“There’s a huge influx of people moving in right now, and construction can’t keep up with it,” Cutler says. “Homes sell very, very fast.”

Despite the development, there’s still plenty of green, crisscrossed by the largest number of walking and biking trails in the Triangle.

6. Franklin, TN 

Median home price: $549,900 Median household income: $88,961 Population: 78,321

Downtown Franklin, TN

Dan Reynolds/Getty Images

Franklin may bask in the reflected glow of nearby Nashville, but it has a gravitational pull of its own. Big-name companies such as Nissan, Schneider Electric, UBS Financial Services, and United Healthcare have offices here. The surrounding Williamson County is one of the country’s richest, with the lowest property taxes in the region and top-rated schools—a knockout combo.

“Franklin is a desirable place to call home,” says David Wright, a real estate agent with Benchmark Realty in Franklin. “It’s a variety of people moving in: families, empty nesters, and newly graduated professionals.”

Developers are still building out the city, Wright observes, with new communities and commercial areas. Westhaven, one of the most successful new communities that’s still under construction, has a target of 2,750 homes, townhomes, and condominiums. It features trails, resort-style pools, drop-in day care, and even a 37-seat theater. The townhomes and houses range from roughly $500,000 to $1,500,000 for 2,100 square feet to over 5,000 square feet.

7. Dublin, CA 

Median home price: $898,000 Median household income: $128,403 Population: 60,939

Dublin, CA homes


If you thought there were no good places to live left in the San Francisco Bay Area—Crazy expensive! Unfriendly! Dirty!—well, Dublin is here to tell you that you are wrong. This East Bay burg has a small-town feel that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find within just a few miles of Silicon Valley.

“Even though it has been rapidly growing, it still feels close-knit and family-oriented,” says Rebecca Briggs, an elementary schoolteacher (in neighboring Pleasanton) who’s lived there since 2002.

Like the other cities on this list, Dublin’s public schools are a prime attraction.

“Dublin stands behind its schools, and in turn that increases the level of educational excellence,” says Briggs, who sent her two children through the system. She notes that the community consistently votes to pass parcel taxes or bonds when they’re needed to meet the schools’ funding needs.

8. Highlands Ranch, CO

Median home price: $475,000 Median household income: $111,332 Population: 106,596*

Home for sale in Highlands Ranch

While many towns have sections dominated by new construction and tract homes, in Highlands Ranch, that’s all there is. The entire suburb outside Denver was planned out back in the late 1970s by the California-based Mission Viejo Co. Highlands Ranch has since ballooned, with different parts being built out by various developers. But unlike some other communities that have experienced growing pains, this town already has infrastructure in place, like wider roads, to accommodate growth.

Terance Freeman and his wife moved to the area in 2013, mainly for a shorter commute to his job in Aurora.

“The first thing that I really noticed was how family-oriented the community was,” he says. He noticed there were always kids playing in the street.

And despite the community’s upscale reputation, he soon realized that it’s actually cost-effective.

“Per square foot for the area, we actually got a better bang for the buck than we did in Aurora or would in Denver,” he says.

The flip side is that without kids, Highlands Ranch loses a bit of its luster. Kevin Mullen lived in the community for 14 years. But with his sons nearing the end of high school, he’s decided to pull up stakes.

“I don’t think it lends itself to a place that you’d want to live once your kids are up and gone,” he says.

9. Sammamish, WA

Median home price: $1,137,000 Median household income: $153,253 Population: 64,548

Lake Sammamish


Head due east from Seattle as the crow flies, and you’ll eventually find yourself in Sammamish, which has turned into a bedroom community for Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond, home of Microsoft.

Ann Gallinger moved to Sammamish about four years ago from Gig Harbor, where she and her husband felt they didn’t click with the community. Sammamish was a different story.

“It’s been exactly what we’ve hoped for as far as a sense of community, people being involved, people being open, and having a sense of the importance of things that we feel are important”—including funding parks and schools, she says.

The Microsoft force is strong here—Redmond is just 6.5 miles away. And with workers continuing to pour into the area, builders have been cramming large, two-story homes onto modest lots.

Amy Nielsen Hanson has seen the city develop over the 21 years she’s lived there. When she bought her first condo, she was just 21—prices were still affordable then. These days, despite the building boom, there are fewer options for first-time buyers. In addition, infrastructure such as roads haven’t been improved at the same pace as the housing expansion.

“For people who actually do have to commute, it’s gotten atrocious,” she says.

10. Woodbury, MN

Median home price: $369,642 Median household income: $101,922 Population: 69,756

Woodbury, MN

In Minnesota, there are the famed twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. And then there’s Woodbury, a suburb of St. Paul and the largest city in Washington County.

“Woodbury is the economic energizer of Washington County, which is basically all the eastern suburbs of Minneapolis,” says Matthew Johnson, a real estate agent with Anew Real Estate Group in Woodbury. “We have the largest population in the county and the most jobs. We’re known for great restaurants, great shopping, and great people.”

Health care provides both abundant job opportunities—280 of the 900 local businesses are in the health care industry, Johnson says—and good quality of life for residents who know they will be well taken care of.

A large part of the local housing stock is two-story houses with two to three bedrooms, Johnson says, and that’s what most families are looking for. Those homes run about $390,000.


Editor’s note: Median household income and population numbers are from 2016 U.S. Census data, with the exception of * entries, which use 2017 data. Home price data are from

Allison Underhill contributed to this report. 

The post The Best Places to Live in America, 2018: Revenge of the Burbs! appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Source: Housing Trends Feed