Home prices continue to hit new highs during the COVID-induced housing boom. Rising house prices have been a godsend for homeowners, but a headache for first-time buyers, who can be forgiven for thinking homeownership is becoming increasingly out of reach over the course of the week.
For frustrated homebuyers, moving to a cheaper housing market can solve the affordability conundrum. Some metro areas offer an enticing combination of affordable real estate, strong job markets, and high scores for safety, public health and cultural institutions.
The study identified 11 data points in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. We found Pittsburgh to be the most attractive location for first-time homebuyers, followed by other inland cities that offer affordable housing, a strong local economy and a less-thriving housing market.
At the other end of the scale, the Los Angeles metropolitan area is the least attractive area. Amazing prices across California give first-time buyers pause: The Golden State metro area makes up three of the bottom five on our list and five of the top ten.
Best metro areas for first-time buyers in 2022
We divide metropolitan areas into five categories: house prices relative to local wages, rigidity in the local housing market, crime rates, employment, and health and welfare. According to this review, the major areas are:
- Pittsburgh: This metro area scores highly on affordability, housing crunch and safety. The Pittsburgh region lags in only one respect: Its employment value is weighed down by higher unemployment. However, most 25- to 44-year-olds in the metropolitan area have enough income to get a mortgage.
- Minneapolis: The Twin Cities area ranks sixth in the labor market category due to low unemployment. Although it didn’t dominate any other category, the metropolitan area performed well, ranking in the top 15 for health, culture and safety.
- Cincinnati: This metropolitan area performed well in affordability, ranking fourth and seventh in safety.
- Kansas City: The Kansas City metro area ranks first for market congestion or lack of congestion. In this category, ranks metro areas based on the number of homes for sale compared to a year ago and how quickly those homes are selling. In the nation’s fierce seller’s market, Kansas City stands out as the least crazy.
- Buffalo: This metro area ranks in the top 10 for affordability and housing stress.
Housing costs in Pittsburgh: ‘Very attractive’
According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the average home price in the Pittsburgh area was just $169,000 in the first quarter of 2022. That’s the lowest of the top 50 metro areas—a fraction of the average price of $1.4 million in Silicon Valley, $1.1 million in San Francisco and $860,000 in Los Angeles.
Some Californians are noticing the price difference and are looking for homes in the larger Pittsburgh area, said Jim Jarrett, president of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Association of Realtors and associate broker for Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Preferred Realty.
“I showed Californians homes that were $750,000 to $800,000,” Jarrett said. “They said, ‘That’s going to be $3.5 million from where we came from.'”
Jarrett’s own son moved back to Pittsburgh from Manhattan last year. His son was surprised to find that he paid less in total for a spacious house and a new car than he would pay for a one-bedroom apartment in New York City.
“The cost of living here has always been attractive,” Jarrett said.
Pittsburgh isn’t like a backwater either. The city is home to major universities, museums and professional sports teams. With a population of 2.3 million, the metropolitan area ranks 26th nationally. Income is also in the middle — according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average income for a household between the ages of 25 and 44 is nearly $76,000. That’s enough to afford a house. (Cleveland and Detroit have similar real estate prices, but unlike Pittsburgh, the typical prime-age resident there earns less than $70,000 a year.)
Pittsburgh native Dan Hill bought his first home last year, a four-bedroom home. He only paid $185,000, but that’s hardly a repairman. Hill said his home has a new kitchen, a new roof, and a newly replaced heating and air conditioning system.
Hill, who works in information security, said the position gave him the best of both worlds: staying in his budget-friendly hometown while still earning an above-average salary.
“I could live in a really affordable neighborhood but get paid at the state wage,” he said.
The worst metro areas for first-time home buyers in 2022
At the bottom of the ranking are five metropolitan areas with high real estate prices and tight housing markets:
- San jose: First, good news for Silicon Valley workers: The San Jose metro area offers some of the highest wages in the nation. Most households headed by ages 25 to 44 earn more than $150,000 a year. Unfortunately, that money doesn’t go very far in the country’s most expensive real estate market.
- Riverside: California homebuyers willing to move inland can buy a home for hundreds of thousands less than they would in Los Angeles or San Diego. One downside is the long commute, which puts Riverside down in our rankings. Lower incomes also make affordability a challenge compared to coastal Southern California.
- Seattle: The hometown of Amazon and Microsoft reflects the challenges of Silicon Valley. Households headed by young adults have stable incomes, but house prices are unaffordable. Inventory in the housing market is also low, putting further pressure on first-home buyers.
- Las Vegas: Las Vegas was once an affordable option in California, but rising real estate prices and a hot market have made Sin City less attractive to first-time buyers. The Las Vegas metro area has also been hit by the ongoing employment aftermath of the pandemic — the metro area still has relatively high unemployment rates.
- Los Angeles: Los Angeles is the second-largest metropolitan area in the United States, but has developed a reputation for high housing prices and low incomes. According to the Census Bureau, the median income of Los Angeles households headed by 25 to 44-year-olds is $80,643, slightly higher than Pittsburgh. Los Angeles’ only standout results came in the health and culture categories, but that wasn’t enough to move it up from last place in the top 50 metro areas.
Where all 50 metro areas rank
|MSA||Affordability rank||Wellness rank||Job Market rank||Market Tightness rank||Safety score||Overall rank|
|Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA||23||27||26||19||23||23|
|Austin-Round Rock, TX||43||23||11||27||18||31|
|Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY||7||38||30||7||13||5|
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||34||35||28||38||18||36|
|Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT||10||19||31||39||7||9|
|Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX||28||42||45||16||44||44|
|Kansas City, MO-KS||12||26||18||1||27||4|
|Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV||38||32||41||37||39||49|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||49||3||48||39||30||50|
|Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN||5||33||31||19||39||19|
|Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL||41||14||16||32||32||32|
|Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI||22||17||23||3||28||10|
|Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI||14||13||6||26||12||2|
|New Orleans-Metairie, LA||21||19||39||18||48||34|
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||45||2||50||3||6||27|
|Oklahoma City, OK||8||46||3||22||43||12|
|Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA||42||48||44||13||24||47|
|Salt Lake City, UT||32||5||1||29||38||20|
|San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX||30||50||20||9||45||32|
|San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||47||9||25||44||11||41|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||48||1||13||32||47||43|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||50||11||17||49||20||46|
|St. Louis, MO-IL||2||30||37||10||30||8|
|Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL||33||40||9||35||9||25|
|Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC||20||28||10||47||21||26|
The Home Buyer Study was compiled using data from a variety of sources, including the United States. U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Labor and FBI. A breakdown of each category:
Affordability: In this category, we calculated the typical income required to obtain a mortgage in each metro area with a 10% down payment and 30 years based on the median home price in each area for the first quarter of 2022 as reported by ATTOM Data Solutions The mortgage interest rate on the term loan is 5%, and the mortgage debt-to-income ratio is 25%. We then compared that number to the latest Census Bureau estimates for the median income of households ages 25 to 44 in each metro area. We also calculated homeownership rates for 25-44 year olds in each metro area.
Labor Market: We rank each metro area based on the March 2022 unemployment rate as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor. The index also takes into account the average commute time in each metro area based on census data.
Safety: This category is based on the violent and property crime rates for each metro area as reported by the FBI. The Bank Rate Index is based on the latest crime data from the FBI in 2018 or 2019.
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