1. Home
  2. Mortgages
  3. Most expensive cities in the U.S.

Most expensive cities in the U.S.

Six of the top 10 in housing costs are on the West Coast

Author picture
Written by Vincent Landino
Edited by Jon Bortin
san jose, california skyline

Housing costs have been rising historically fast. The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies reported that typical asking rents in September 2021 were up 11% over the previous year. The median sales price of U.S. homes increased even faster, rising from $322,600 to $428,700, or 32.9%, from 2020 through the first quarter of 2022, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Nearly half (49%) of Americans last year thought access to affordable housing was a major issue, a survey by Pew Research Center found.

In this environment, ConsumerAffairs wanted to figure out which cities have the highest housing costs. Many other “most expensive city” rankings focus solely on the cost of buying a home. Others try to add in cost-of-living factors, like groceries and gas. Instead, using the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, we ranked major U.S. cities based exclusively on how much residents spend each month on housing, whether they own or rent their homes. We also factored in how highly properties are valued overall.


Key insights

  • The most expensive city in the U.S. in terms of housing costs is San Jose, California. It combined the highest monthly housing costs in our study with the second-highest home values, but San Francisco wasn’t far behind. In fact, there’s a bigger gap between San Francisco (No. 2) and Seattle (No. 3) than there is between Seattle and Denver (No. 10).
  • Housing costs may be affecting population growth. Each city in our top 10 saw its population shrink during the pandemic; in fact, four of them are on a U.S. Census Bureau list of the 15 cities with the fastest population declines between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021.
  • Detroit has the most affordable housing in the nation. It had the lowest monthly costs overall, and its median home value was less than half of the next-lowest city’s (Memphis).
For our rankings, we analyzed data for cities with more than 500,000 people, considering each city’s median monthly housing costs (per housing unit) and median home values (as provided by owners) using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. These factors were scored for each city according to their relation to the overall average and combined for a total score.

The 10 most expensive cities

We ranked the 36 largest U.S. cities based on multiyear census estimates covering monthly housing costs — including spending on mortgages, rent, real estate taxes, property insurance, utilities and other recurring housing expenses — and how homeowners valued their homes. Here are the top 10. We also provided info on each city’s median household income, median asking price range and housing costs as a percentage of income for added context.

1. San Jose

San Francisco often rules statistical analyses of high-cost cities. Surprisingly, not this one. San Jose, California, now edges out its Bay Area neighbor, with the nation’s highest median gross rent ($2,232) and highest median monthly housing costs ($2,389 per unit of housing). San Jose also has the second-highest median real estate taxes paid ($7,211) of any city in our analysis. Those data points, combined with its median home value of $925,800 (second only to San Francisco), make it the nation’s most expensive city for housing.

  • Median monthly housing costs: $2,389
  • Median household income: $117,324
  • Monthly housing costs as a percentage of income: 24.43%
  • Median asking price range: $750,000 to $1 million

2. San Francisco

San Francisco, California, is a close second on our list, surpassing San Jose in median real estate taxes ($7,347) and home values ($1,152,300) but being slightly less onerous in terms of median monthly housing costs ($2,189) and gross rent ($2,010). However, this still leaves both Bay Area cities as the most expensive by far. San Francisco residents make up for this in part by earning a high median household income ($119,136 per year), which explains why it has the lowest housing costs relative to income of our top 10 most expensive cities.

  • Median monthly housing costs: $2,189
  • Median household income: $119,136
  • Monthly housing costs as a percentage of income: 22.05%
  • Median asking price range: $1 million to $1.5 million

3. Seattle

As costly as it is, Seattle, Washington, is a distant third on our list, thanks to median monthly housing costs $539 lower than those in San Jose and a median home value more than $400,000 less than San Francisco’s. Median gross rent ($1,702) and real estate taxes paid ($5,646) are also significantly lower than what you’ll find in the two biggest cities by the Bay.

  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,850
  • Median household income: $97,185
  • Monthly housing costs as a percentage of income: 22.84%
  • Median asking price range: $500,000 to $750,000

4. San Diego

San Diego, California, isn't far behind Seattle and actually surpasses the Emerald City in a few measures of costliness: Median monthly housing costs ($1,874) and gross rent ($1,770) are slightly higher in San Diego, but median home values ($629,500) are lower. Despite having overall higher median monthly housing costs, median real estate taxes in San Diego are substantially lower, at $4,343, down $1,303 annually from what Seattle residents pay. However, household incomes tend to be a bit lower here as well, so San Diego residents may end up spending a larger portion of their paychecks on housing each month.

  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,874
  • Median household income: $83,454
  • Monthly housing costs as a percentage of income: 26.95%
  • Median asking price range: $500,000 to $750,000

5. Boston

Boston, Massachusetts, has lower housing costs than San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego in every category we looked at. But it has the highest housing cost of any East Coast city, with a greater proportion of household income going to housing than any city in our top 10 but Los Angeles.

  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,798
  • Median household income: $76,298
  • Monthly housing costs as a percentage of income: 28.28%
  • Median asking price range: $500,000 to $750,000

6. Washington, D.C.

The District of Columbia comes close to Boston in several key cost metrics, and median home values here are nearly $37,000 higher. However, Washington is lower on our ranking because its median monthly housing costs ($1,770) are slightly lower — in part thanks to cheaper real estate taxes and gross rent.

  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,770
  • Median household income: $90,842
  • Monthly housing costs as a percentage of income: 23.38%
  • Median asking price range: $500,000 to $750,000

7. Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, California, high median home values ($670,700) are coupled with relatively low median monthly housing costs ($1,686). Median real estate taxes paid in LA ($4,577) are high but in line with San Diego, another California city with comparable home values. Los Angeles also had the highest monthly housing costs relative to income of any city in our top 10.

  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,686
  • Median household income: $65,290
  • Monthly housing costs as a percentage of income: 30.99%
  • Median asking price range: $750,000 to $1 million

8. New York

New York, New York, has lower median housing costs ($1,548) and more affordable median home values ($635,200) than LA. But the median for real estate taxes paid here ($5,256) is $679 higher than in Los Angeles and over $1,700 more per year than in Washington, D.C.

  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,548
  • Median household income: $67,046
  • Monthly housing costs as a percentage of income: 27.71%
  • Median asking price range: $500,000 to $750,000

9. Portland

Median home values in Portland, Oregon, are almost $200,000 lower than in New York City. Portland also features a slightly higher median income than LA and New York, bringing median monthly housing costs down to a more manageable 24.41% of the median household income.

  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,488
  • Median household income: $73,159
  • Monthly housing costs as a percentage of income: 24.41%
  • Median asking price range: $400,000 to $500,000

10. Denver

Denver, Colorado, just edged out Portland in terms of affordability. Median monthly housing costs ($1,466), property values ($427,600) and gross rent ($1,397) are all comparable between the two cities. However, you may spend less on property taxes in Denver, with residents paying a median of $2,055 per year. That’s less than half of what people paid in Portland.

  • Median monthly housing costs: $1,466
  • Median household income: $72,661
  • Monthly housing costs as a percentage of income: 24.21%
  • Median asking price range: $500,000 to $750,000

Most expensive to least expensive cities, ranked

map of the most expensive cities in the u.s.
Median monthly housing costsMedian home value estimates*Overall score**
1. San Jose, CA$2,389$925,800-9
2. San Francisco, CA$2,189$1,152,300-8.34
3. Seattle, WA$1,850$713,600-4.49
4. San Diego, CA$1,874$629,500-4.38
5. Boston, MA$1,798$581,200-3.69
6. Washington, D.C.$1,770$618,100-3.61
7. Los Angeles, CA$1,686$670,700-3.19
8. New York, NY$1,548$635,200-2.1
9. Portland, OR$1,488$438,500-1.03
10. Denver, CO$1,466$427,600-0.84
11. Austin, TX$1,442$358,600-0.44
12. Sacramento, CA$1,389$361,300-0.08
13. Chicago, IL$1,282$267,6000.99
14. Charlotte, NC$1,209$235,0001.61
15. Las Vegas, NV$1,186$279,7001.63
16. Nashville, TN***$1,185$264,6001.68
17. Fort Worth, TX$1,189$190,4001.9
18. Phoenix, AZ$1,141$250,8002.04
19. Fresno, CA$1,123$256,002.15
20. Mesa, AZ$1,116$245,5002.23
21. Dallas, TX$1,129$208,7002.26
22. Baltimore, MD$1,131$167,3002.39
23. Houston, TX$1,090$186,8002.61
24. Jacksonville, FL$1,082$187,7002.66
25. Columbus, OH$1,035$160,0003.09
26. Philadelphia, PA$1,023$171,6003.13
27. San Antonio, TX$1,012$156,7003.26
28. Albuquerque, NM$968$204,1003.41
29. Oklahoma City, OK$937$161,8003.77
30. Indianapolis, IN***$939$145,2003.81
31. Louisville, KY***$929$165,4003.82
32. Tucson, AZ$890$165,9004.09
33. Milwaukee, WI$906$128,3004.1
34. Memphis, TN$913$107,1004.12
35. El Paso, TX$877$132,8004.29
36. Detroit, MI$734$52,7005.56
*Median value of owner-occupied units. **Overall scores are based on a scale where cities more expensive than average have negative scores, while more affordable cities have positive scores. Scores may be rounded or shortened. ***Data for these consolidated cities is based on the city “balance,” which is the city without any of the semi-independent incorporated places within its limits.

Methodology

ConsumerAffairs used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) to determine the most expensive cities nationwide. Our rankings were based on two measurements provided by the ACS: “median monthly housing costs” and “median owner-occupied unit values.”

The median monthly housing costs for each city come from a formula developed by the Census Bureau to account for how much residents spent on the following:

  • Rent
  • Payments toward mortgages, deeds of trust, contracts to purchase or similar debts
  • Real estate taxes
  • Fire, hazard and flood insurance
  • Utilities (electricity, gas and water/sewer)
  • Fuels (oil, coal, kerosene, wood, etc.)
  • Condominium fees
  • Mobile home costs (personal property taxes, site rent, registration fees and license fees)

Median owner-occupied unit values are estimates from the owner or co-owner of the home regarding how much their properties would sell for if they were put up for sale.

We started our analysis with the 36 U.S. cities that had more than 500,000 residents, according to the ACS. All statistics used in this analysis were taken from 2020 ACS five-year estimates, which represent data collected between 2016 and 2020.

Individual scores for the two factors we analyzed are calculated in terms of a z-score. This involves subtracting each statistic from the weighted 36-city average, then dividing it by the standard deviation of all 36 cities’ statistics for that factor. Therefore, each single-factor score represents how many standard deviations away from the average a given city’s statistic is.

These z-scores are then clipped from -3 to 3 and weighted so that monthly housing costs count three times as much as property values. Finally, the weighted scores are added together for each city’s overall score, which is scaled to range from -10 to 10. A negative overall score indicates a more expensive city, and a positive overall score indicates a less expensive city.

ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page.
  1. Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, “RENTS HAVE SOARED ACROSS THE COUNTRY, BUT HOME PRICES GREW EVEN FASTER.” Accessed July 27, 2022.
  2. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, “Median Sales Price of Houses Sold for the United States.” Accessed July 20, 2022.
  3. The White House, “Housing Prices and Inflation.” Accessed July 19, 2022.
  4. Pew Research Center, “Key facts about housing affordability in the U.S.” Accessed July 19, 2022.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau, “New Data Reveal Most Populous Cities Experienced Some of the Largest Decreases.” Accessed August 4, 2022.
  6. U.S. Census Bureau, “Explore Census Data.” Accessed July 18, 2022.
  7. U.S. Census Bureau, “American Community Survey and Puerto Rico Community Survey: 2020 Subject Definitions.” Accessed July 18, 2022.
  8. U.S. Census Bureau, “Median Value of Owner-Occupied Housing Units.” Accessed July 27, 2022.
Did you find this article helpful? |
Share this article