When the COVID-19 pandemic introduced widespread remote work, people took advantage of that to find larger and more affordable homes, often in other states. Now that rising mortgage rates have made many housing markets even less affordable, evidence suggests that Americans are on the move once again.
Kristina Morales, Realtor at eXp Realty in New York, said she saw people migrating to more affordable markets early in the pandemic, and she doesn’t think that’s going to end anytime soon.
“I actually think with rising interest rates and inflation, we may see this increase,” Morales told ConsumerAffairs. “As long as people are able to continue to work remotely, this gives them flexibility on where they live. Areas with more affordable housing markets will certainly attract these people.”
The 10 most affordable large cities
Employees who are able to work from just about everywhere would do well to consider less expensive cities where home prices remain well below the national median. The ConsumerAffairs Research Team has crunched Census Bureau numbers on America’s most affordable cities with a population of at least 500,000. We identified the most expensive housing markets as well as the least expensive.
We ranked major U.S. cities based exclusively on how much residents spend each month on their housing, whether they own or rent their homes, arriving at a monthly “median housing cost.”
We arrived at that number based on multiyear census estimates covering monthly housing costs for residents—spending on mortgages, rent, real estate taxes, property insurance, utilities, and other recurring housing expenses.
Here are the top 10 most affordable big cities:
Median housing cost: $734
Median home value: $52,700
Median rent: $850
Once a major industrial center, Detroit is now part of the Rust Belt. However, the city has spent the last few years redefining itself. National Geographic recently reported that “Detroit is Cool Again.” It attributes the city’s rebound to energetic leadership, both among elected officials and citizens.
Detroit native Dan Gilbert, who founded Quicken Loans, moved his company to Detroit. He bought dozens of properties for rehab, fueled dozens of start-ups, and employs more than 12,000 people.
The city offers several neighborhoods with homes priced below the national median. For sports fans, Detroit has Major League Baseball, NFL, and NBA franchises.
Median housing cost: $877
Median home value: $132,800
Median rent: $857
El Paso, Texas, which is located on the U.S./Mexico border, is America’s 23rd largest city, but it ranks second in affordability. The City of El Paso’s emphasis on the formation of neighborhood associations has resulted in strong communities and active citizens.
Jobs are plentiful, especially in energy production and health care. El Paso is home to Marathon Petroleum and the Medical Center of the Americas, the only medical research and care provider in West Texas.
The University of Texas at El Paso has an enrollment of more than 23,000 and offers 169 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in 10 colleges and schools.
Median housing cost: $913
Median home value: $107,100
Median rent: $915
Memphis’ status as an affordable housing market is underscored by one statistic: Realtor.com reports that the Tennessee city on the Mississippi River is the nation’s number one housing market, where first-time buyers are competing with investors for the best homes.
Besides affordable housing, Memphis boasts a strengthening job market. It’s the home of Fed Ex, Auto Zone, and International Paper. It’s ranked number one in the nation by Bloomberg for job creation when compared to the average area employment rate over the past 10 years.
Culturally, Beale Street celebrates the blues, while Elvis Presley’s Graceland draws rock music fans from around the world. In fact, music is an important force in a city considered by many to be the birthplace of rock and roll.
Median housing cost: $906
Median home value: $128,300
Median rent: $866
Milwaukee’s affordable housing market has drawn lots of interest since the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite strong sales activity, the market still remains within reach for many people who have been priced out of larger, more expensive cities. However, buyers may face more competition here than in the other markets on our list.
Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin and sits on the western shore of Lake Michigan. It’s less than a two-hour drive from Chicago, where homes go for a lot more. The city’s health care facilities include two major hospitals –St. Luke’s Medical Center and the Wisconsin Heart Hospital – as well as Ronald McDonald House.
Milwaukee entered 2022 with a robust job market. According to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), the manufacturing sector is particularly strong and has increased the number of jobs to well above pre-pandemic levels.
Median housing cost: $890
Median home value: $165,900
Median rent: $861
Tucson is ranked by Realtor.com as one of the nation’s hottest housing markets, but it has been able to retain its affordability. It’s Arizona’s second-largest city behind Phoenix, which is one of the nation’s more expensive places to live. Tucson has attracted remote workers from all over the country with a near-perfect climate and high quality of life.
The city boasts a strong economy that has a diverse blend of private and public business sectors, including education, aerospace, biotech, defense, information technology, and international trade. Tucson is home to the University of Arizona, which is ranked among the top 20 public research universities nationwide.
While homes in the Tucson metro are affordable now, buyers should prepare for some stiff competition. According to the Tucson Business Journal, bidding wars in 2022 have increased faster than in Pheonix, where rising mortgage rates have slowed sales. People considering a move to Tucson shouldn’t wait too long, as market conditions could change quickly.
Median housing cost: $929
Median home value: $165,400
Median rent: $878
Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky and sits along the Ohio River. It’s connected to Cincinnati via I-71 and to Nashville and Indianapolis by I-65. It includes aspects of both the South and Midwest and offers plenty of Southern charm. Home to the Kentucky Derby, it exudes a graceful way of life and a very affordable housing market. In fact, WalletHub recently named it one of the top cities for renters.
Jobs are plentiful at major employers like Papa John’s Pizza, UPS, KFC, Louisville Slugger, and Brown Forman distillery. Ford Motor Company operates a large assembly plant in the city.
Pandemic buying pushed home prices higher, but there are still plenty of affordable homes. Homes sell quickly, but Redfin reports that Louisville home sales are recently down nearly 6%, offering an opportunity for buyers.
Median housing cost: $939
Median home value: $145,200
Median rent: $911
Although Indianapolis is on our list of affordable housing markets, prices in the capital of Indiana are rising. Redfin reports that prices were up nearly 14% in June. That said, its median home value is the lowest of any city on our list.
To find the cities with the best deals, it sometimes pays to follow the investors. HousingWire has reported that Indianapolis has drawn the most attention from out-of-state investors, who are scooping up single-family homes and converting them to rental properties.
Indianapolis has a strong job market and is home to a number of major health care employers, including pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly, Anthem, and Community Health Network. On the industrial side, it's also home to Cummins.
Median housing cost: $937
Median home value: $161,800
Median rent: $884
Oklahoma City is yet another housing market that’s attracting attention from investors. For that reason alone, it might be enough for a first-time buyer to check it out. Other reasons include the strong economy and job market.
The energy industry is a major player, with OGE Energy, Love’s Travel Stops, Chesapeake Energy, and Sandridge Energy based there. In addition, Baker Hughes has a strong presence. But the economy is not a one-trick pony, as Oklahoma City is home to a diverse assortment of enterprises in aviation and aerospace, bioscience, and financial services.
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is a cornerstone of the city’s cultural landscape, while the Bricktown Entertainment District is a major part of its revitalized downtown area.
Median housing cost: $968
Median home value: $204,100
Median rent: $889
Albuquerque remains a very competitive housing market, but fortunately for buyers who are willing to move, home prices are considerably lower than in many other metropolitan areas. Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico and is the center of business and economic activity.
Albuquerque is another affordable city that offers plenty of jobs in health care. In recent years, it has also added high-tech manufacturing capacity. The state and federal governments are also major employers.
Now may be a good time to go house hunting in Albuquerque and its surrounding areas. KRQE-TV recently reported that the red-hot pace of home sales has slowed considerably. Local realtor Jesse Garcia told the station that the market is experiencing a slowdown, with a higher supply of homes on the market but less demand.
Median housing cost: $1,012
Median home value: $156,700
Median rent: $1,025
San Antonio is the only city on our list with a population of over 1 million, putting it in the top 10 U.S. metro areas. But despite its size, it is still affordable, with a median home value of $156,700. In fact, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) ranked San Antonio as one of the nation’s “hidden gems” when it comes to real estate.
The city is located in South Central Texas, about a one-hour drive from Austin and three hours from Houston. It’s home to the Alamo and was a Spanish colonial outpost dating back to 1718.
It offers a diverse economy with an especially strong job market. Industries include health care, the military, financial services, and energy. The city has won praise for its quality of life and rich Hispanic heritage.
Opportunity for remote workers
Bob Bilbruck, CEO at Captjur, says these 10 housing markets, and others like them, will see more activity in the months ahead. He says it might be wise for people who can work remotely to consider a move.
“The migration to more fluid markets will keep happening as these areas are pro-growth and have less regulatory hurdles for people to build new homes or for builders to build new homes and sell to these people,” Bilbruck said.
Jeb Smith, a broker at Coldwell Banker Realty in Huntington Beach, Calif., says today’s real estate market is shifting back to more “normal” times, reducing the demand for homes and eliminating some of the competition. He says that can create opportunities for buyers, especially in America’s more affordable housing markets.